You can’t build community at the last minute

You’ve got to make a down payment on community before you can take out a loan.

Some of the less-than-wild late nights I had in college were spent in all-night study sessions the night before a big exam, drinking coffee by the pot and furiously trying to memorize everything I should have learned in the semester prior in one last-ditch attempt.

While the tactics were questionable, the results were mixed. I probably got better grades than I deserved on some exams, and bombed others. But, most of us cramming in those late night sessions did reasonably well.

Unfortunately, most challenges in business don’t come in the form of a written test. They come in the form of an ongoing series of pop-quizzes that count on your permanent brand record. And that’s exactly how it is with audience development online. You can’t solve it all in one night. You can’t cram community development.

Why is this important? Here are some scenarios where this might have an impact on your organization: Continue reading

The unstoppable rise of FOMO

Humans have always had “fear of missing out” – the Internet just amplifies it.

FOMO (or “fear of missing out”) is a phenomenon driven largely by our connectedness to the digital layer. We can connect anytime and therefore see anything that our social network is posting online. And access is increasingly universal.

Plus, people tend to put their best digital selves forward: in other words, we lie to make our own lives more exciting than they seem. It’s a vicious arrangement, and it causes a constant, low-level pang of anxiety that we experience collectively.

It’s unclear who first coined the phrase “FOMO”, The New York Times wrote about it as early as 2011:

As the alerts came in, my mind began to race. Three friends, I learned, had arrived at a music venue near my apartment. But why? What was happening there? Then I saw pictures of other friends enjoying fancy milkshakes at a trendy restaurant. Suddenly, my simple domestic pleasures paled in comparison with the things I could be doing.The flurry of possibilities set off a rush of restlessness and indecision. I was torn between nesting in my cozy roost or rallying for an impromptu rendezvous, and I just didn’t know what to do.

My problem is emblematic of the digital era. It’s known as FOMO, or “fear of missing out,” and refers to the blend of anxiety, inadequacy and irritation that can flare up while skimming social media like Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and Instagram. Billions of Twitter messages, status updates and photographs provide thrilling glimpses of the daily lives and activities of friends, “frenemies,” co-workers and peers.

And judging from the Google Trends graph below, that was the year it vaulted into pop culture normalcy. It was even added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013. Continue reading

Is there a business case for ignoring technology?

Old school diner technology

Ignoring technology in the name of memory lane.

There’s a diner down the street that’s perfect for breakfast on weekend mornings. It’s cozy, friendly, and it’s the perfect backdrop for conversation. When you walk in, you’re transported back in time. And the nostalgia-induced high is real.

It’s a time capsule of a calmer era. A time before status updates and check-ins and the vibrating smart phones that have so seamlessly become a part of our interrupted lifestyle. The diner served as a break from all that. Until not long ago, when they added a wall of big-screen and blaring, larger than life TVs.

I don’t want to sound like I’m telling the future to get off my lawn. I understand that the owners were probably proud that they’d made such a long-awaited improvement to their establishment – but did the “improvement” actually just diminish the thing that made the diner special in the first place?

Amidst playing catch-up with emerging trends in technology the diner owners forgot about their brand loyalists.

And the same thing can happen when organizations get carried away with what’s latest and greatest while ignoring what makes them special at the core. What’s newest isn’t always what’s best. Continue reading

When a launch is more of a stumble

All of the best practice documents in the world can’t prepare you for a thud that was supposed to be a splash when your new product hits (or misses) the mark(et).

Launching a new product is as complex as it is seemingly straightforward. Sure, everybody and their 11-year-old-nephew seems to be capable of publishing an app or website and calling it a business, but there’s a big difference between plopping a new product on the web and building a sustainable product or operation that serves a purpose, an audience, and a bottom line.

Intuitively, you already know this. But between the whiteboard, the wireframe, and the “why isn’t this working” discussion in the board room there are a lot of things that can go wrong if you’re not careful.

Here are the potential web redesign land mines you’ll want to avoid: Continue reading

The future the web (is the same as the past)

Predicting the future is nearly impossible.

Constantly emerging technology provides fodder for our imagination to run wild and our brains to crazy with the idea that latest is better than greatest. Especially when it comes to digital publishing.

Imagination outpaces invention. And invention outpaces convention.

It’s easier for an idea to live in our heads than to actually exist in the real world. And just because an idea exists in the real world, doesn’t mean people will adopt it and make using it the norm. This can be confusing when trying to predict what technological elements your digital presence needs today that won’t seem woefully out of touch in the near future. (And what shiny objects to avoid … at least for now.)

If we bet on technology, we can either be really right, or really wrong. But if we bet on people’s behavior, we know that we have human nature on our side and we’ll be well-positioned for the future. Besides, there’s no prize for beating your audience to the future (unless you’re the inventor – and most of us aren’t).

Despite drastic changes in technology, human nature remains consistent. That’s why the successful website of the future is actually rooted in logic from the past: technology may change, but human nature does not.

Here are 5 considerations for building a website that isn’t instantly outdated. Continue reading

A click is a first date, not a wedding

I'm gonna make you an offer you can't avoid

It’s pretty easy to get carried away when you’re excited about the possibilities of a potential relationship.

You feel the connection. They’re just your type. And they even seem mildly interested in what you have to say.

So then, of course, you pop the question. You ask them to marry you. And then they get weirded out, excuse themselves to the rest room, and flee – never to be seen again.

Why? Because you jumped the gun, of course.

In the context of dating it seems ridiculous. But in the world of marketing, it happens every day. Continue reading

Sponsoring the church and state line

Instead of crumbling the wall between church and state, smart brands are embracing it.

Your ad, our church

As technology permeates the daily lives of consumers, no aspect of our existence is left un-digitized. Media saturation has led to media desensitization and technology finishes the job by allowing us to block ads, skip commercials and look down at our smart phones any time we’re faced with uninteresting stimuli.

For marketers, the bar to engage has never been higher. The rise of branded content has led to saturation. Success in a saturated marketplace takes differentiation. And that takes a shift in mentality.

Successful brands are not just thinking and acting like publishers, but embracing brand journalism. They are investing in resources and systems that can produce and distribute content at scale, and have established measurement mechanisms that allow their teams to use data to improve their content marketing in real time. Continue reading

Relevance: Here today, gone today

”Don’t make no plans to see somebody here next year because a lot of y’all ain’t going to be here next year. That’s how [business] is. Here today, gone today.” -Chris Rock, MTV Video Music Awards 1997

Free beerThe year was 1997. MTV was still playing music videos and in heavy rotation were the Spice Girls, Beck, and that cool video from Jamiroquai where the floor and wall and ceiling are moving around the singer as he dances.

Chris Rock emceed the event and proved to be prophetic with his words that evening: “That’s how the music business is. Here today, gone today.” Seventeen years later, the fates of the award winners are mixed: Some are still as relevant today as they were then, and some are nostalgic footnotes in pop culture’s collective memory lane. The pop culture icons are the ones that continued to reinvent themselves, the pop culture footnotes didn’t.

In the less glamorous world of brand marketing, the same adapt or die mentality is required for survival. Household names are being kicked to the curb and replaced with brands who seem more relevant to people who have unprecedented access to information and alternative purchasing choices.

The effect is not new but is growing in momentum. Several years ago, The New York Times reported that the largest American packaged-foods marketer – Kraft – was on a mission to prevent some of its most storied brands from turning into ghosts, or “once-prominent pantry staples that fade into obscurity through a lack of consumer interest.”

More recently in The New Yorker, writer James Surowiecki stated:

What’s really weakened the power of brands is the Internet, which has given ordinary consumers easy access to expert reviews, user reviews, and detailed product data, in an array of categories. A recent PricewaterhouseCoopers study found that eighty per cent of consumers look at online reviews before making major purchases, and a host of studies have logged the strong influence those reviews have on the decisions people make. The rise of social media has accelerated the trend to an astonishing degree: a dud product can become a laughingstock in a matter of hours.

Relevance, it turns out, has a short shelf life. Continue reading

Think like a startup and act like a blogger

It doesn’t matter if your business is 100 years old or born yesterday, if you’re not solving problems, you’re part of the problem.

This really is an innovative approach, but I'm afraid we can't consider it. It's never been done before.
The best startups focus unwaveringly around one thing: solving a real-world problem.

The best bloggers focus intensely on another thing: being a relevant participant in their community.

Combine the two and your organization has a simple framework for success in today’s attention economy.

Continue reading