A Contrarian View on Innovation in Advertising & PR

Lifecycle of a Technological Revolution_today

With the revolution of media and technology disrupting the marketing industry, and business models altogether, marketers are trying to navigate through the storm. On the communications side, TV dollars are shifting to digital. But, digital ads aren’t nearly as effective nor transparent as we want them to be. The traditionally distinct and siloed roles of marketing communications (once upon at time, just known as ‘advertising’) and PR are converging.

Because of the advent of social media, and the frustration with traditional and digital advertising, marcomm is moving into earned media with influencer marketing, native advertising and more responsive campaigns and editorial content teams. Because of the rise of the new influencer – everyday people and celebrities using blogs, YouTube, Twitter, Vine, Instagram, SnapChat, Periscope and other platforms to create personal media companies – PR is expanding beyond traditional media relations and ‘the pitch’, and into influencer marketing, sponsored content and responsive editorial content teams as well. It’s a race to the middle where the lines are blurred. That’s why agencies and publishers are partnering to create wholly new content companies that service brands.

If we take a step back from the race, though, things haven’t changed much since 2009. The big three: Facebook, YouTube and Twitter had launched and matured as three distinct and valuable social communications platforms for users. Since then, other social platforms have launched – Foursquare (and Swarm), Instagram, Pinterest, Vine, SnapChat, Meerkat and Periscope being the most touted. But, each of these just feels like an iterative evolution of the discontinuous leaps that Facebook, Twitter and YouTube made. Platforms, and the content they enable, shifted to become more visual, shorter and ephemeral. When Meerkat and Periscope launched, didn’t it feel like they already existed? And, the fundamental rules for how to engage audiences on those platforms is the same; we must adhere to the Reciprocity Theory.

So, I actually take a contrarian point of view: innovation has slowed in media technology. We’re at the tail end of our current technological revolution’s lifecycle, moving past the discontinuous revolution and into the iterative evolution. While folks in the industry are making claims that: “Advertising is dead.” Or that, “Data will tell us what content to make, so we don’t need creatives anymore.” I’m claiming that we need creative more than ever. The discipline just needs to evolve too. As the roles of advertising and PR converge, storytelling becomes an even more critical discipline for marketing.

Just pushing the message through TV and radio and print and display ads is lazy creative and lazy advertising. Great creative has always been about great storytelling. Now we just tell that story across new media platforms/channels in partnership with the new social influencers and in partnership with our customers. Sometimes those influencers and customers are the same. Great creative (‘the story’) is the glue that holds the story together, wherever we’re telling it. It’s what inspires people to participate.

In the late 2000s in the entertainment industry, we began exploring transmedia storytelling. This is where we would develop a core story – characters and the world in which they lived. And, then we’d plan out those stories across media (books, graphic novels, movies, TV, web series). It was a shift away from the linear model of: writer publishes book –> studio buys book and makes movie –> network turns movie into TV series. Instead, we developed it all at the same time. They lived together as extensions, or chapters, of the same story instead of separately as different and distinct adaptations of the story. This style of storytelling became particularly popular in the fantasy/gaming/comics genres, as we could delve deep into the story of a world we were creating.

Now, in marketing, we have the opportunity to take the same approach. How do we create a core story – the story of our brand, which reflects the story of our customers and employees – and tell that story through new (and traditional) media platforms and people? Like a vision, the story we tell requires an intuitive leap of faith. It must inspire. It must create new possibilities. Is that so different from great advertising fifty years ago? Maybe. Maybe not. But, in an increasingly ephemeral world, wouldn’t it be nice to have some moments that impact and last?

The Purpose Economy, Part 5: Business Transformation

In Part 1 of this series, I discussed The Reciprocity Theory and introduced the need for brands to be purpose-driven. In Part 2, I discussed the foundational human behavior that underlies the purpose economy. In Part 3, I discussed what we can learn from technological revolutions. In Part 4, I discussed the socio-economic evolution that we’re seeing coming from this latest technological revolution. Here, in Part 5, I’ll discuss a framework and roadmap for business leaders to adapt and evolve their firm – particularly their marketing practices.

“Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two–and only two–basic functions: marketing and innovation.”

Peter Drucker, “the founder of modern management” once said, “Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two–and only two–basic functions: marketing and innovation.” Never before, is this statement so true. And, leaders are catching on.

CEOs now realize that the convergence of technology is creating new business models and disrupting their own. They understand that customers wield an inordinate amount of influence on their organizations. As a result the CMO is becoming more influential in the C-Suite. Strong CMOs are leading their teams to deliver exceptional, integrated customer experience and engagement, focusing on data analytics to gain a deeper understanding of their customers and designing rewarding experiences for those customers. And, they’re leveraging new technologies to help them with both.

Meanwhile, CIOs are coming out of the back office into the forefront. The best are putting their egos aside and recognizing that CMOs are driving technology needs and decisions more than ever. And, thus, those CIOs are partnering with their CMOs to enable the transformation to better customer insights and experience. Where there’s a gap between these two functions, the Chief Digital Officer has emerged, to deliver technological solutions and experiences for internal and external stakeholders.

C-Suite Shifting Focus

In this shifting landscape, I offer up a framework for transforming your marketing organization. Since the advent of digital media, the marketing organization has grown larger and more siloed as each new digital channel emerged: .com and e-commerce, e-marketing and CRM, digital ads, blogs and comments, forums and reviews, and social networks. Now, the path forward is to integrate those channels and experiences with critical disciplines in which the modern marketer is fluent: intelligence, storytelling, design and technology. And, these disciplines are directed by the company’s and marketing team’s purpose.

Critical Disciplines for Marketing & Innovation

Let’s start with design.


Recently, The Design Management Institute and Motiv Strategies released the 2014 Design Value Index where they looked at publicly traded companies that meet their criteria for a ‘design-led’ company. Only 17 companies met the criteria. These include obvious companies, such as Apple and Nike, as well as some companies you may not immediately recognize as being design-led, such as Coca-Cola, Disney and Starbucks. During the 10-year period between 2004 to 2014, these design-led firms grew 219% more than S&P 500 companies – a significant difference.

Design Value Index 2014_2

27 startups that were co-founded by designers have been acquired since 2010 by companies like Google, Facebook, Adobe, LinkedIn, Dropbox and Yahoo

Similarly, in the startup world, design-led firms are being recognized as providing greater value to customers and investors. 27 startups that were co-founded by designers have been acquired since 2010 by companies like Google, Facebook, Adobe, LinkedIn, Dropbox and Yahoo. And, five (20%) of the top cumulative-funded VC-backed ventures that have raised additional capital since 2013 have designer co-founders.*

Design thinking helps these firms elevate the experience with the brand by solving unmet needs for customers, refining the company’s strategy and market focus, integrating a consistent customer experience across every customer touchpoint, and delivering a WOW factor, as Zappos CEO, Tony Hseih would say.


The next discipline that organizations and marketers must become fluent in is storytelling. This is all to often overlooked by companies large and small. Over decades through the advent of radio, TV and digital media brands progressively moved towards one-way push messages through advertising. But, with the rise of social media, customers have regained power over the brands. They expect transparency and exceptional experiences. Advertising and all forms of marketing communications must go back to being more story-driven.

The focus on storytelling is an important distinction. Marketers have been buzzing around hallways and social networks and the speaking circuit touting the importance of content and “brand as publisher”. Yes, content is important. But, there is a lot of shit content out there. The distinction is content that tells great stories. That’s what makes the difference. And, there is actual science to prove that strong storytelling creates a stronger connection with your customers.

Through his research, neuroeconomist, Paul Zak, discovered what he dubs “The Moral Molecule”. Oxytocin is a neurochemical that is key to signaling trust and invoking a sense of empathy. It’s produced when we are trusted or shown a kindness. And, it motivates cooperation with others by enhancing the sense of empathy – our ability to experience others’ emotions. Research found that character-driven stories consistently cause oxytocin synthesis, and the amount of oxytocin released by the brain predicted how much people were willing to help others (e.g. donating money to a charity associated with the narrative). So, is it any wonder why the Ice Bucket Challenge went viral?

Research found that in order to motivate a desire to help others, a story must first sustain attention – an increasingly scarce resource in the brain – by developing tension during the narrative. If that tension resonates strongly enough with the audience, then they will come to share the emotions of the characters in the story, and, after the story ends, the audience is likely to continue mimicking the feelings and behaviors of those characters. This explains your feelings of dominance after you watch an action movie like James Bond or Mission Impossible where the lead character saves the world, or your desire to work out after watching the Spartans fight in the movie 300.

There are business implications to this. Storytelling enables your audience to better recall the key points in a presentation or speech, or in the brand’s content and advertising. “People are substantially more motivated by their organization’s transcendent purpose (how it improves lives) than by its transactional purpose (how it sells goods and services).” The former is effectively communicated through stories.

Zak’s quote below reflects nicely not only the value of storytelling, but also the alignment with the Reciprocity Theory and the movement towards a Purpose Economy.

If business is about service to others, then business itself is a virtue. You’re engaging in a virtuous activity by serving the needs of somebody else. When you do that, you’re serving the needs of your employees, of your customers, you will induce oxytocin release and they will want to reciprocate…In the old model: greed is good, the management technique is lead with fear. In the new model: empower individuals to be the best that they can be in an organization with purpose, you’re going to lead with love.

This value of telling the story of the company’s transcendent purpose is also seen through the research that Simon Sinek produced, illustrated in this TED Talk and in his book, Start with Why. Sinek looked at the language that leaders have used to decipher why some were successful and some weren’t. It came down to what he describes as The Golden Circle.


Most leaders and organizations talk about WHAT they do, and HOW they do it. Rarely do they speak about WHY they do it. The WHY is synonymous with the organization’s PURPOSE. Successful leaders and organizations lead with the WHY. Sinek references the Wright brothers, Apple and Martin Luther King, Jr. as examples of leaders who may have been less known or under-resourced than their competitors or peers, but yet they succeeded above all others in their respective fields. Each of these leaders led with stories about WHY they were doing what they were doing.

In the advertising space, there is also data that indicates the more creative a campaign the more value to the business. In this case creative is defined as award-winning, using data from The Gunn Report. Peter Field and the ThinkBox team ran a statistical analysis of the most creatively-awarded campaigns defined by The Gunn Report and the most effective campaigns, using data from IPA Databank. This analysis found that creatively-awarded campaigns have several key benefits: (1) Creatively awarded campaigns are 12x more efficient, and become more so over time. (2) The greater level of creativity, the greater level of effectiveness. (3) Creative campaigns are more reliable investments. (4) It is in the power of emotional response that brands really make huge progress. (5) Increasing the emotional response to a brand reduces its price sensitivity.

What do these creatively-awarded campaigns have in common? Great storytelling. These stories create an emotional response (produce oxytocin) in audiences that cause an affinity for the storyteller (the brand) and drive them to share the stories with others. More efficient, more effective, more reliable investments that reduce price sensitivity of the brand. Not a bad outcome.


Big data has been all the rage for the last several years. With the democratization of content publishing online (which we discussed in part 3 of this series), we now produce more information (content) every two days than we did from the dawn of civilization up until 2003. Two-thirds of the digital universe is content consumed and created by consumers.**

The advent of social media listening tools thus became an opportunity to gather all types of new insights about customers and other stakeholders. But, most organizations just became overwhelmed by the sea of “big data”. Back in 2008-2012 era, major brands were standing up listening centers and building their own dashboards to try to make sense of the data. I worked on one of these for a Fortune 20 company. They wanted our us to automate insights for marketers and other stakeholders across the organization because their stakeholders didn’t know how to derive insights from the data. I vehemently argued against pursuing this automation because (1) it removes accountability from your workforce and enables them to be dumber, and (2) technology can only do so much. The best case is a partnership between technology and humans: technology finds correlations and trends in the data, and humans intuitively translate those into meaningful insights.

This is an important distinction: a ‘finding’ vs. an ‘insight’. And, they often get confused. I often see analysts present findings as insights, and I believe this is because they do not have the experience or context of how that finding can be applied. A lack of experience executing can hinder the development of context needed to translate a finding into a meaningful insight. There is something else at work here too: a way of thinking that society has taken since Aristotle.

In “The Second Road of Thought”, Tony Golsby-Smith describes two thinking systems that Aristotle defined: (1) analytics, and (2) rhetoric. Analytics is driven by logic and lives in the domain ‘where things cannot be other than they are.’ This is a rigid approach to thinking and how most organizations are managed today. It lacks intuition. It lacks a leap of faith. It is how we diagnose what already exists – what happened in the past. But, rhetoric lives in the domain ‘where things can be other than they are’. This is how humans design alternative futures and invent new things.

In the finance world, this is what sets Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway apart from the rest of the industry. Industry focuses mainly on financial statements and statistics to calculate risk and bet on the future. They measure the past as the leading indicator of how a company will perform in the future. On the other hand, Buffett places more weight on qualitative indicators such as the quality of executive team and that team’s willingness to invest cash bonuses back into the company. There is a level of intuition that goes into his investments.

In the marketing world, this is why the best marketers bridge the gap between science and art. Logic and intuition. Analytics and rhetoric. Big data only tells us so much. It provides findings, which give us logical next steps we can take based on what customers have done in the past. But, intuition tells us what those customers want in the future. Steve Jobs and Apple are the obvious example. Zappos did this in retail by focusing their culture and value proposition on customer service. Free shipping is actually considered a marketing expense at Zappos. Similarly, Rackspace shared this intuition and insight early on in the hosting space. IT professionals needed more support in managing their hosting needs than the industry provided, so Rackspace focused on customer service and created their Fanatical Support offering. And, Rackspace became a premiere hosting company with passionate customers. The best marketing campaigns are those that take a transcendent insight – an intuitive leap of faith about what their customers desire or feel or need – and captures that insight in a well-constructed story (as described above).

And, this is where design-thinking, intelligence, storytelling and technology converge and interact. Design-thinking enables us to derive those intuitive insights from big data. Design-thinking converts big data into intelligence. Storytelling helps us convert that intelligence into a meaningful artifact that induces oxytocin in customers, creating a sense of empathy and a lasting affinity for the brand. And, all of this can be supported (but not driven) by technology.

Technology can accelerate a transformation, but it cannot cause a transformation.


As we discussed in part 3 of this series, we are at the tail end of a technological revolution. We have seen a convergence of technologies enabling other, new technologies, and empowering entrepreneurs to reshape industries or create wholly new ones. As marketers, we must be diligent in deciding what technologies we need to enable our daily activities: what will automate arriving at findings, so we humans can spend less time crunching data and more time deriving insight? What will enable us to tell better stories? What will help us deliver remarkable experiences? This is priority number one for CMOs. But, is this any different than what the CEO should be thinking about in the context of the broader organization and its business model?

As we move toward the post-capitalist society that we discussed in part 4 of this series, where the key economic resource is knowledge (or intelligence), the best future we can design for humanity is a partnership with technology. Let technology automate as much as possible to eliminate wasteful time and effort from low-value, human activities. Then, we humans can spend our time on high value, transformative activities. As Jim Collins taught us, “Technology can accelerate a transformation, but it cannot cause a transformation.”

Every few hundred years throughout Western history, a sharp transformation has occurred…In a matter of decades, society altogether rearranges itself – its worldview, its basic values, its social and political structures, its arts, its key institutions. Fifty years later a new world exists. And the people born into that world cannot even imagine the world in which their grandparents lived and into which their own parents were born. Our age is such a period of transformation.

Peter Drucker anticipated this transformation to a post-capitalist society, described in the above quote, would be completed by the year 2020. If we believe in the timeline of technological revolutions that Carlotta Perez shared with us (described in part 3 of this series), then the big bang moment for the next technological revolution is just around the corner, scheduled around the year 2021. As much change as we’ve seen over the last fifty years, and particularly over the last decade, it’s hard to believe that change will only speed up. But, it will. We’re on the cusp of yet another transformative inflection point in humanity’s story.

As business leaders, we can learn a lot by studying the cycles of technological revolution to time the market with new products, services and business models. But, it’s equally as important to hone our capability to design the future, the universe that we want to live in, using the disciplines of design-thinking, storytelling, intelligence and technology described above.

I, for one, believe we’re moving towards The Purpose Economy, where technology and recent socio-economic shifts are enabling people to pursue more fulfilled lives – to be economically sustained independently or to work for more purpose-driven organizations with which they share a purpose. To focus on intrinsically valuable (knowledge-based) activities, and leave the grunt work to the machines. To transcend and achieve self-actualization.

This, at least, is the future that I’m designing. It’s the universe that I want to live in.


*Design and VC

**Internet Trends 2014

The Purpose Economy, Part 1: The Reciprocity Theory

Charlie Bit My Finger

Back in 2010, I left the movie business to work in digital and social media. I was fascinated by the accelerated growth of Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, and how they were disrupting the content industry. In the movie business, reliable A-list talent weren’t driving people to the box office anymore. But, Charlie Bit My Finger was getting millions of views on YouTube. Seemingly overnight, what was once our audience had become the talent. They’d become the celebrities themselves. And so, as I made a career move into social media marketing, working with bloggers and vloggers and other content producers and startups like BuzzFeed – and working with brands like General Motors and Colgate Palmolive to make sense of it all – I became fascinated by human behavior online. And, I thought deeply about the core motivators that drive participation and action in social media and online.

Newton's Third Law_Ice Skaters

As I thought about these core motivators, I kept thinking back to Newton’s Third Law of of Physics, reflected here with two ice skaters. So long as the force that each skater is acting upon the other is equal, they maintain a balanced relationship. But, as soon as the force of one exceeds the other, the relationship is thrown off balance. In other words, the relationship is mutually dependent, or, reciprocal. Similarly, reciprocity in social psychology refers to responding to a positive action with another positive action, or a hostile action with another hostile action.

This notion led me to a model I call The Reciprocity Theory. At its core, The Reciprocity Theory believes that social motivation is based on each person’s desire to (1) be recognized as an individual, and (2) belong to a community.

Reciprocity Theory_Individual, Community

And, this is what makes social media so sticky: you get to define yourself and showcase yourself as an individual, while belonging to a bigger community. And, so long as you are contributing some definition of value to the community, you will earn an equal value in return. Like the ice skaters, the relationship is reciprocal.

Now, when I took a step back and looked at this model, a few things occurred to me. At the intersection of the individual and the community lies the individual’s purpose. It asks the question, what unique value can I, as an individual, contribute to the community – to the world?

Reciprocity Theory_Individual, Community, Purpose

It is also the basis for influence.

Reciprocity Theory_Individual, Community, Purpose, Influence

If you are truly contributing value to the community, you develop some level of influence on them. In marketing, we talk a lot about influencers. Not just how to engage them with your brand, but also how the brand itself can become one.

And, so I asked: where does a brand fit into this? How does a brand reach the individual – or the community of people?

If the brand interjects itself with traditional, antiquated advertising, then it will throw off the balance and the individual and community will retract. The individual and the community will continue their relationship, but the brand won’t be a part of it.

So, how can a brand earn a seat at the table in a new world where the individual wields more power than the brand? By becoming a valued member of the community as well. By being purpose-driven and enrolling customers into their community.

In this series on what I’m calling The Purpose Economy, we’re going to discuss why The Reciprocity Theory and being a purpose-driven brand is so essential. What are the fundamental shifts in our economy that make this community, purpose-driven approach so critical? And, how a brand can do it. How does a brand operationalize this – institutionalize this? We’ll do this in the following posts on Foundational Human Behavior, Technological Revolutions, Socio-Economic Evolutions, and Business Transformation.

Click here for the next post, where I discuss foundational human behavior.

The Purpose Economy, Part 2: Foundational Human Behavior.

Happy Twitter Addict

Twitter Profile

This is part 1 of the Products I Can’t Live Without series.

For about the last six months I’ve been wanting to clean out my Twitter feed and reorganize my lists. I had been following back everyone that follows me, and it had just become too hard to find good content regularly. Twitter is my main source for news and content (I have two computer screens set up at the office – one with TweetDeck up all the time, and the other I use for the rest of my work). And, when I’m not at my desk I’m checking Twitter about every hour during the week. So, not having a steady stream of quality content was driving me a bit crazy.

Over the holidays, I finally had a chance to revamp my Twitter. And, I set up new rules on whom I’ll follow.

I used two standards to set up these rules. The first, Tony Hsieh‘s rules on what to post on Twitter. He uses the anagram  “ICEE” to remember it.

  • Inspire
  • Communicate
  • Educate
  • Entertain

I generally used these rules already for what I post on Twitter, but now I’m using them as a benchmark for whom I follow too. I want people and brands to inspire me, communicate with me, educate and entertain me.

Similarly, I used the AOL’s definition of valuable original content (which I wrote about here and here) as a benchmark for whom to follow. Per AOL,

Unique Content + Quality (trusted, fresh, relevant, authentic) Content = Valued Original Content.

With curation running rampant on the web (note, I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing), I come across many people sharing the same content. I want a steady stream of new (or, unique) content. So, I’m going to start following more people that either write original content and/or are excellent curators of content. In both cases that content has to be highly relevant to my intrinsic interests and their manifestations (social media, technology, entrepreneurship), and the person tweeting the content must be a trusted/authentic source (e.g. a successful VC or entrepreneur, an innovative marketer, a trusted journalist or blogger etc.)

The New Rules

So, here are the new rules for whom I follow:

  1. If someone I know or have met follows me, I’ll follow back (friends, colleagues, industry professionals, etc). These are people with whom I’m going to want to communicate
  2. I also will follow anyone that I deem will provide me with valuable original content that inspires, educates or entertains me (again, these individuals have to be sharing content that is highly relevant to me and have authenticity in the subject of the content they’re sharing)
  3. I will follow/follow back anyone that makes an intelligent remark about or reply to one of my tweets. A simple retweet is not enough, and the individual doesn’t necessarily have to agree with my tweet. S/he just needs to add value to the conversation – to be a valued community member, as I write about here
  4. I follow products that I regularly use, and that I’ll want/need updates on

And, that’s it. Four simple rules.


To help me organize my stream and community, I set up the following lists

  • big-fuelers – Big Fuel is a social media agency I used to work for. This is a list of people I worked with there, and helps me keep up with them
  • wcg-ers – WCG is the marketing and communications agency I currently work for. Again, this list helps me keep up with my colleagues
  • su – Syracuse University is my alma mater, and we have a very tight Twitter community. This is a list of anyone I’m connected to from SU.
  • startups – is a list of VCs, entrepreneurs and people I know that work at startups
  • marketing – is a list of everyone I know and follow in marketing (note: this list used to be called social media marketing, but really social media is ubiquitous across marketing channels. So, now the list is just called “marketing”
  • clients-past-present – is a list of brands I currently work with, or have in the past. It partially serves as a disclosure should I tweet anything about them, but also helps me keep track their activities
  • products – is a list of products I use regularly and want/need updates on
  • testing – is a list of individuals I’ve decided to follow/follow back, but want to test out their content before I put them in my main “filter” feed
  • filter – is my main feed. It’s the only list/feed that I refer to regularly. This is a list of everyone that has passed the follow test and are providing the best content (e.g. I don’t need the brands in the “products” list in my feed all the time; I just want to reference them every once in a while. So, they’re not included in the “filter” list)
  • nyc
  • la
  • san-francisco
  • austin
  • seattle
  • boston
  • boulder-co

The location lists are based on cities where I have lived, travel to and/or want to travel to. I’m hoping these lists will help me figure out people that I can connect with when I’m in those cities. Some I’ve met in person, and some I’ve only met through social media. Either way, connecting with them in person when I’m in town will help deepen those relationships.

The Result

Since revamping my Twitter stream, I unfollowed about 500 people, so now I’m only following 361 people. I actually went through and looked at every individual’s profile and tweets before deciding whether or not to continue to follow them, and how to list them.

My “filter” list/stream is now on fire. I have a constant stream of quality content – more than I can keep up with really (but, that’s a high class problem and a much better situation than the one I was in before). Also, I’m testing a product called Undrip – a San Francisco-based startup that is attempting to help individuals filter through all the noise in their streams and identify the best content in real-time, or from the last 24 hours or 7 days. I’m hoping this product will increase my efficiency in consuming and curating quality content for my community.

I’ve also lost about 60 or 70 followers. But, considering I un-followed about 500 individuals, that’s not so bad. Plus, it’s about the quality of the community, not the quantity of it. I preach that to clients all the time, and it’s the truth. I’d rather have less, but more engaged individuals following me than more, but less engaged individuals.

In fact, I have 590 Twitter followers, 441 Facebook friends and 391 LinkedIn connections (1,422 total across the three networks on which I’m most active; many of those people are duplicative – i.e. I’m connected with them on more than one of the networks). Klout measures my True Reach (the number of people I influence, both within my immediate network and across their extended networks) at 826 people. That means I’m influencing/engaging with 58%+ of my community at any given time. I’d say that’s pretty good!

My True Reach on Klout

I also noticed that, since revamping my Twitter stream, my Network Impact (which measures the influence of my network) increased about 10 points to a score of 33. So, not only am I now engaging with a higher percentage of my network, but that network is more influential on average!

My Network Impact on Klout

I was already addicted to Twitter. It’s my first source for news and information that I care about, and a way for me to connect with people and share ideas. But now, after the revamp, I’m a happy addict. More than ever, Twitter is a product that I can’t live without (or at least don’t want to). Thumbs up!

Thumbs Up

Products I Can’t Live Without (Or At Least Don’t Want To)


Over the holidays, I finally had a few days to clean out, reorganize and play with new features on some of my favorite products. This gave me some more clarity on how I can, and want, to use these products moving forward to best fit my needs, and I’m already seeing the benefits.

This has inspired me to write a series on products I can’t live without and how I use them.

Here is an initial list of the products, which I’ll likely be tweaking as we go.

One thing is becoming clear to me: there are just too many great social networks for one person to manage alone (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Foursquare, Instagram… the list goes on). While enthusiasm for social media, mobile and apps is still growing, I wouldn’t be surprised if fatigue starts to set in trying to keep up. Soon, there will be a need for a platform that aggregates your feeds and communications. Some might argue that need already exists. After all, there are plenty of SMMS (social media management system) products out there (e.g. Hootsuite, TweetDeck, Spredfast). But, these were really built for the professional and enterprise in mind. The UX of these products clearly reflects that. I think that there is now a need for a product that aggregates your feeds and communications in a more consumer-friendly experience. I’ll touch on this in more depth in the individual posts.

If you have any thoughts the above listed products or think there are some I should add, please share.

Calculating the ROI of Content and Engagement Strategy

Satisfaction Guaranteed Sticker (Vector)

I often get asked, particularly by clients, what the ROI of content and engagement is. What is it going to cost, and what are they going to get out of it? This is always a tricky question to answer, but I’ll attempt to do so at the end of this post. First, some context.

Nothing in life is guaranteed…unless you’ve been working in advertising.

Content in old advertising was pretty simple: shoot a nice, glossy ad, pushing your product/service and then pay CPMs to distribute that content. Advertisers knew exactly how much that ad was going to cost to produce, how much it would cost to distribute and how many people the ad would (potentially) reach (“potentially” because impressions are not synonymous with engagements).

The Wild Web


Today’s content is a different beast. A good content strategy incorporates paid media, owned media, relationship media and SEO to generate earned media. None are mutually exclusive. And, the emphasis is on the engagement, not the impression.

Social Media

Notice I didn’t even mention social media in there? That’s because social media is ubiquitous across the aforementioned forms of media. Social media is a channel for paid media (e.g. Facebook Ads and Stories, Twitter’s Promoted Trends and Tweets, to name a few of the biggies). It’s a channel for owned media (e.g. Facebook Pages, Google+ Brand Pages, YouTube Channels, Tumblr accounts, Twitter accounts – these are all places to build an owned community). Social media is a channel for relationship media – my term for modern day PR (you can now identify who the top influencers for your brand are; many, if not all, will have a social media presence). Leverage these three media well, coordinated with a strong content strategy, and social media helps facilitate scaled earned media. But, please do not mistake social media as a siloed form of media.

The Brand’s Predicament


Now coordinating these media and solidifying one unified content and engagement strategy is difficult – particularly for Fortune 500 brands with large marketing budgets. That’s because each medium is often handled by a different agency or group. Paid media is handled by media agencies. The content for paid media is produced by the creative agencies. Relationship media is handled by PR agencies. You have a new breed of social media agencies doing some pieces of each (paid, owned and relationship media), while the PR, creative and media agencies are all fighting each other and the social media agencies for a piece of the social media pie. No wonder brands are confused.

Building A Newsroom

Newsroom von RIA Novosti in Moskau

To help solve this issue, I’d like to see brands build something akin to a newsroom. This would be a cross-divisional/agency team focused on content and engagement strategy. They would work together to

  • Identify the key existing and target audiences (i.e. consumers) for the brand;
  • Identify what content is valuable to each of those audiences at different stages of the purchase funnel;
  • Identify where (Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, blogs, TV, news outlets, etc.) and how (video, pictures, text, slides, etc.) audiences like to consume that content;
  • Identify who the brands’ top influencers are; and,
  • Then, assign team members and agencies to produce the appropriate content and distribute it through the appropriate channels (i.e. execute on the plan)

For more detail on the above bullets, see my posts “Content As A Platform” and “Building A Content Platform”.

Calculating the ROI of Content and Engagement Strategy


Now, I believe that social media and mobile technologies have empowered brands (large and small) to

  • Access more specific data about their audiences;
  • Produce and distribute a higher volume of content that is more valuable to their audiences, and do so more efficiently; and,
  • Build deeper, longer lasting relationships with their audiences

With this in mind, I’d like to see brands and agencies use the following as a benchmark for calculating ROI

  1. calculate the average Customer Lifetime Value (= revenue x time [per month/per year])
  2. calculate Allowable Cost Per Sale (i.e. the amount your willing to spend to acquire a sale – e.g. 10% x CLV)

(Note: Jamie Turner does a great job describing Customer Lifetime Value and Allowable Cost Per Sale in this post)

With a successful content and engagement strategy, average Customer Lifetime Value should increase over time, while average Cost Per Sale should decrease over time.

I’d like to place emphasis on the words “over time”. While you can certainly run one-off social media campaigns, content and engagement are long-term initiatives that involve constantly listening, learning and iterating. You won’t see ROI tomorrow, or maybe even six months from now. Anyone that has ever started a blog and tried to build an audience/community around it will confirm that. But, I think a year in, you should probably start to see these effects starting to take place.

Are any of you building a newsroom in your organization? How are you calculating ROI for your content and engagement efforts? Would love to know.

Building a Content Platform


Yesterday, I discussed content as a platform. Today, I’m going to provide tips for building your content platform.

The 90-9-1 Rule

The 90-9-1 Rule is more of a benchmark, but it states that 1% of the online population is highly participatory (producing original content), 9% participates some of the time (usually curating content – taking an action with the content from the 1% such as commenting, sharing, reposting etc.) and 90% “lurk and learn” or do not participate (they consume the content, but they don’t take an action with it).

It stands to reason then that the 1% are the most influential people on the web, followed by the 9%. But, what about those that produce original content AND curate? They reach influence at scale.

Some brand publishers are already doing this; I touched briefly on the subject in my post, “The Valuation of Content”. The Huffington Post sets the bar with a mix of original content from its editorial staff, curated content where they write two paragraphs and link to another publisher’s content and content from third party bloggers. But, this alone, isn’t enough. They have treated content as a platform, using a social layer to encourage their audience to participate.

Optimization for Participation

One quick look at The Huffington Post homepage, and you can see they’re serving up, not just the latest content, but the most popular, the most discussed, “Hot on Facebook” and “Hot on Twitter”. Dive into an article, and you’ll find it’s easy to comment on posts and share the content through social media.

What does this mean? The Huffington Post are experts at getting their audience to participate, and effectively making content go viral. Their content gets engaged with, curated and broadly syndicated by its own audience because The Huffington Post makes it easy for their audience to find great content and engage/curate/syndicate.

How Can Brands Build a Content Platform?

Ten Tips for Building a Content Platform

  1. Don’t be a used car salesman (i.e. a good content strategy focuses on building a relationship and trust with the audience)
  2. Identify what kind of content your target audience finds valuable
    • Is there a reoccurring complaint about your product/service? Offer up a piece of content that helps them troubleshoot the problem.
    • Are they looking for guidance regarding a topic in which you’re company has domain expertise? Offer up content that can help them (e.g. tips for managing personal finances, a guide to eco-friendly living, considerations when selecting a safe car for your teenager, etc.).
  3. In what format do they like to consume that content (e.g. video, text, photos, slide presentations)?
  4. Where do they like to consume that content (e.g. YouTube, blogs, Instagram, Slideshare, Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Tumblr, etc.)?
  5. Select a product/platform on which to build your hub (WordPress, Facebook, Google)
  6. Add a social layer (commenting and sharing functionality), if it doesn’t already exist. A great tool to incorporate here is Disqus, which is a comments community, serving as the comments engine for over 1MM sites and has almost 60MM users.
  7. Produce original content that meets your audience’s needs.
  8. Curate content that adds value to your original content and to your audience
  9. Engage with your audience, as they comment and share on your content
  10. Listen and improve

The image below represents the type and amount of content you should produce against the 90-9-1 rule. In the end, you want to product content that instigates your audience to take an action, including creating more content for you. As a brand, you likely won’t be able to produce enough good content yourself, in-house. And, it’s not your job to either. But, if you use content as a platform for your advocates to create more content about your brand, then you’re reaching scale both in volume of content and syndication of your content.