Archive for December, 2008

brainI’ve been meaning to put the pen to paperkeyboard to blog on this one for a while now…

Have you started to feel overwhelmed by your growing social networks? We all have growing networks of friends and followers. Not only are our networks growing, but they are growing across multiple platforms – social networks, blogs, microblogs, video subscriptions, photo sharing, forums and other social media platforms. With many of these platforms we unintentionally obtain a new “inbox” of sorts. Trying to keep up with the barrage of communications and updates, and maintaining relationships can easily overwhelm you. Even with the influx of aggregation systems, increasingly people are starting to have a hard time keeping up. Between the pressure from peers (and old high school friends that you may have fallen out of touch with on purpose) to connect, and for marketers the seemingly equivalent pressure of keeping up with the Joneses, it’s sometimes enough to drive someone crazy. Earlier this year I learned about the existence of the Information Overload Research Group …but I was too caught up in my own information overload to attend their conference at the time – ah the irony. Last April the NY Times even ran a story about bloggers dying from trying to keep up.

You are not alone. Enter the Dunbar Principle.

The Dunbar number (first published in 1992 by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar and made popular in the marketing industry by Malcom Gladwell in 2000) is “a theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships”. According to Dunbar, “this limit is a direct function of relative neocortexsize, and that this in turn limits group size … the limit imposed by neocortical processing capacity is simply on the number of individuals with whom a stable inter-personal relationship can be maintained.”

For the record the approximate number is 150. Although it makes sense that new technologies will facilitate the growth of the Dunbar number, just how far can it go?

A recent HP report “Social Networks That Matter: Twitter Under The Microscope“, shows a unique effect of technology facilitating pushing humans past the Dunbar number. As the graph below points out, gaining followers (growing your network) is easy, but as followers increase, your true social connections rapidly become near meaningless. Interesting theory. Think about the ramifications as social media matures and our networks thin out a bit. Deeper social connections versus larger and less valuable ones.

From "Social Networks That Matter", HP 2008
From “Social Networks That Matter”, HP 2008

 Long story short, social media is still in its infancy and has a long way to go. We are about to enter into the era of data portability, where you can take your social graph with you anywhere you go online, rather than simply watching your networks grow at specific destinations. That’s huge – absolutely huge. The ways in which consumers interact with each other and consume content will continue to eveolve over the next several years, not to mention that the monetization models for the platforms will need to emerge for them to stick around. The crossroads where consumer desires meets social media platform monetization has proven thus far to be an elusive place and a disproportionate one. Yes I mentioned monetization (better yet and more accurately, profitability). After all, it must happen eventually and continually sweeping it under the carpet is absolutely the wrong thing to do, as many self proclaimed “social media experts” tend to do. No it is not straightforward, it may not even be on the immediate horizon, but it will happen – it must happen. But make no mistake about it – that crossroads and balance will exist. The consumer has a taste of experiential freedom, and you just can;t put that genie back in the bottle – nor would we want to.

Via the JasonHeller.com blog

sd-collageMany readers of this particular blog may not be aware of my dual lifestyle. One part marketing maven, one part commercial photographer and adventurer. Today is one of the rare times where my two lives have come together (well, at least I’ve found an angle to make it relevant to the digital marketing community). Yesterday, Bonnier Corp, the parent of Sport Diver magazine, #1 title in the scuba diving category (where I am a regular photographer & author of the IMAGES column), acquired Scuba Diving magazine, #2 title in the category.  Scuba Diving magazine, for many years was owned by Rodale and more recently by F+W Publishing, has been an iconic title for some time. As is happening all around us, the new media era has allowed only the absolute strongest to survive and to a degree forced the consolidation of yet another category.  About 5 years ago another iconic dive magazine Skin Diver had folded, and Sport Diver subsequently acquired the remaining assets of their brand and customer lists. Congrats to the team at Bonnier and at Sport Diver for a job well done, and for maintaining a position of dominance in an evolving market. I am proud to be involved with the team at Sport Diver.

We are observing the result of massive changes in consumer media consumption. Niche categories have fared better than broader titles due to the passion their readers have for specific lifestyles. However, even niche categories are being affected by the shift to digital media.  The down economy and large infrastructure of primarily print-based media companies have been colliding lately. Look at what happened to Tribune, the largest newspaper conglomerate in the US.  The print media business is in a state of flux. Many publishers have heard the chants but ignored the mantra of “evolve or die”. Being a media company today means understanding how to distribute your content across multiple channels,  providing consumers the experiences they expect, and building revenue models that will morph and evolve as quickly as media consumption patterns. Easier said than done, of course.

We are watching history unfold in so many ways.

See updates in comments. This situation has since been resolved.

I wanted to use a recent experience with horrendous service from BMW of Manhattan, to reflect on one of the main issues that companies don’t understabmwnd about social media. The basic principle is actually so fundamentally simple. If people are complaining about your service or products in the social media ecosystems than you have a problem with your service or product quality.

The Evolution of a Problem
We bought a BMW X5 in May from BMW of Manhattan. The experience commenced on the wrong foot. The sales guy got the order wrong, which of course we didn’t discover until after waiting for 5 weeks for our car to be delivered to the showroom. We timed the return of the last lease and the pick up of the new car for the same day. We now had no vehicle and my wife drives over 100 miles a day to get to school. One of the selling points of a luxury car is the ability to use loaners when your car is being serviced. However, this wasn’t service-related so they couldn’t arrange a loaner. So we had to rent a car for another few weeks, which I felt was only right for BMW of Manhattan to pay for due to their mistake. After fighting them on this point, the general manager ultimately agreed to pay for half. Although a bit upset (and now driving a rented Chevy for 2 weeks), in the grand scheme of things, I would have let this slide if it was the only problem I ever had with them.

When Quality Assurance Fails
Within the first 30 days of owning the car, we started experiencing electrical problems. We brought it into service and somehow the problem seemed to “fix itself” (yeah right – that happens a lot with technology). By September, the entire navigation system and screen to control all the other electronic amenities went out…then came back…then went out. It was clear that there was a problem.  Again, upset, but in the grand scheme of things, I would have even let this slide if it was fixed in a convenient and timely manner at no cost to me.

When Promises (and Brand Positioning) Are Not Fulfilled: “The Ultimate Driving Machine”???
When we bought the car we were told that loaners are always available when we need service for the car. We were also told that the loaners can be picked up from any service location. LIES on both counts! Loaners are one of the reasons why we buy luxury cars. Our previous experience with several Infiniti models was excellent and we had no reason to expect any different from BMW. When my wife told me that we had to book a service date in December (2 months away) in order to schedule an available loaner I was taken back. Taken back at the fact that we were lied to, taken advantage of, and as a marketer – taken back that BMW would sacrifice the desire to keep me as a long term valuable customer, generate word of mouth, and fulfill on their brand promise.  Although I enjoy the car, the problems were beginning to get on my nerves. I expect exceptional service from a brand like BMW, and so far I have received  anything but that from BMW of Manhattan. I have left messages for the general manager and sent letters to corporate. Nothing. The BMW service center in Brooklyn was MUCH better, but again, since we were lied to by BMW of Manhattan, we apparently are unable to pickup a loaner vehicle in Brooklyn. Today my wife spent hours waiting to get the car back because the service center was short staffed and very busy. Anything else to add to the list of problems guys? Let’s see how long the problem stays fixed. I am going to go ballistic if it returns.

The Social Media Lesson
So here I am blogging about the poor experience, even going out of my way to layer the post with enough mentions of BMW of Manhattan that it hopefully comes up on the first page of search engines when someone searches for “BMW of Manhattan”. My 700+ connections in Facebook, my Twitter network, and my LinkedIn network, which are all comprised of affluent luxury car buyers, many of which are actually in the New York and surrounding areas, are now commenting about my experience with the poor service. Word of mouth to not buy from BMW of Manhattan is now spreading, even if only within the microcosm of my network, and some of the networks of those individuals within my network. This is not a social media problem – it is a service quality problem.

I wonder if anyone from BMW of Manhattan (or even BMW corporate) is monitoring social media to hear the multiple rants and posting I have published about this issue. If so, please post a comment here and I will be able to get back to you and discuss. I’d be happy to discuss some ways to improve your service. For the record – I really do love my X5. It’s a solidly built vehicle, andmaybe I just had bad enough luck to have a bad saleperson, and got one with a bum navigation system. But I cannot endorse doing business with BMW of Manhattan after all that I have witnessed. It seems that the problems started with my first experience on the sale floor, and continued with some faulty equipment, but the clincher was that after all of that, there were no records in my customer record saying “we screwed up with this guy already, please take care of this valuable customer”. This lack of basic customer service quality assurance now reverberates throughout the fabric of my social media ecosystem. What an easy problem to solve. Also an easy problem to discover by listening to the social media conversations. BMW are you listening?

how_it_works2Data Portability. No two words should make any publisher and marketer shiver more with anticipation about the potential of tapping into the power of the social graph and engaging more consumers in deeper ways. This may be the only way for many publishers to tap into the organic and exponential growth patterns of social media.

So far… OPenID has not achieved widespread adoption, (granted it’s clunky and not really user friendly. Yahoo is the only recognized and trusted 3rd party login partner most consumers would recognize). MySpace has launched a data portability API earlier this year on the OpenSocial  platform, as did Google, and neither have had much fanfare. Facebook Connect was supposed to launch on Sunday (odd day of the week to launch a data product – did anyone look at the calendar when announcing that day?). I have been eagerly waiting to hear more about it, but alas I have not heard the world ablaze with Facebook Connect on the brain. Essentially the new development allows members of Facebook to login to other sites and share data from their social graph, benefiting both FB and the partners (launch partners were supposed to include CitySearch, Twitter, Digg, CNN Forum, MoveOn.org, Red Bull, eVite, Vimeo,  Plaxo, Hulu, Stumble Upon, ABC, and a handful of others), and in theory making the web easier for consumers to log into simply using their FB credentials.

With Facebook Connect, you can incorporate your users’ true identities as represented on Facebook whenever they visit your site. By integrating their personal, privacy and account information, you can add Facebook’s rich social context to the content they create on your site. Likewise, you can publish information to Facebook based on the actions your users take on your site. You can also dynamically show which of your users’ Facebook friends already have accounts on your site.

facebook-connectSo, is the web not ready for data portability just yet? Did Facebook not iron out all the bugs yet?

The answer is probably a little yes to both. Either way, data portability is the future. It is an opt-in method for consumers to share their social graph data with other sites to create a more interconnected web. Consumers trust Facebook, they have demonstrated this with the barrage of information provided in their profiles. Facebook learned their lesson once about sharing that data without the explicit permission of the consumer. Facebook Connect shows that they have applied the learnings from that mistake, but they still see the value in extending the social graph outside of their walls, as well as pulling in more content and interconnected experiences from the “open web” into Facebook. I agree and think the data portability future is bright.

What do you think?

Is it just me, or is it a total “duh” moment that the FBI should be utilizing social tools, and content syndication to deputize the socially minded consumer base. Hence, the FBI’s 10 most wanted, the widget. I’m sure there are tons of cool things that the FBI and government agencies have been doing online, but it’s great to finally see a few.