16th December 2008

Stammtisch II: Now it’s a trend…

Ok, ok, two points is only a line and not a curve so maybe too soon to call it a trend, but it certainly feels like one.  Awhile back I blogged on something called a Stammtisch.  I won’t re-explore the history and context on what a stammtisch is, but feel free to follow the link to the former post for some of the details.  The short version is this:   It’s an informal gathering focused on connections and conversations.  Despite my online life and my more recent role as a consultant, I still believe in the following two things:  Face to face connections are still critically important and networking with your corporate practitioner peers is uniquely valuable. 

With that in mind, I’ve started this Stammtisch series in the Silicon Valley.  My goal is simple. 4-6 times per year, invite a group of 10-20 community and social media corporate practitioners to a casual dinner gathering and then step back and let them talk and socialize.  At Stammtisch I, we had 9 of us from 7 companies including:  , , EBay, , EMC, Adaptive Planning and Cisco.  This time around, we had 15 attendees from:  , , , EMC, Cisco, SAP, Intuit, Wells Fargo and Synopsis.  We met at the Blue Chalk in Palo Alto and a couple of us stayed long enough to demonstrate our horrible pool playing skills. 

Thinking back on the conversations they ranged pretty broadly, including:

  • Where in the organization is your social/community strategy driven from?
  • How is the recession impacting your strategy and approach?
  • What platforms and tools are you using, and what do you think?
  • What’s your most "interesting" travel story?
  • What are the key challenges you’re facing right now?
  • What kind of beer would you like next?

It was a great use of time for me, and I think for all the attendees.  My continued advice is simple.  If you are a vendor/consultant, find ways to get your clients in the same room with one another - it’s a great way to learn and share.  If you’re a corporate practitioner, find ways to connect with your peers and "encourage" your vendors to help make those introductions if necessary. 

Looking forward to Stammtisch III!  For an invite, drop me a note () - but sorry, this event is only for corporate practitioners - I barely invite myself!


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11th December 2008

WOM or Weird…or maybe both :)

I recently stayed at the Cypress Hotel in Cupertino, California for a week while working with a few silicon valley clients.  It’s a Kimpton property which overall I really like.  They have a nice boutique feel and given the corporate rate are no more expensive than any other local properties.  The thing that stands out at this hotel when you arrive at your room is the sort of "African Savannah" theme.  Not overdone in my opinion, just enough to be unique.  Here’s a photo from the Kimpton website to give you the vibe:



I spend a lot of time in hotels - maybe 80 or so nights per year wouldn’t surprise me.  Often times I’m only staying a night or two, but this time I was in town for a week, so I actually unpacked to hang my clothes in the closet.  Like other nice hotels, there were hotel provided robes hanging in the closet - kinda cool, but not generally noteworthy.  At least not until now.  When I opened the closet I saw this robe hanging to the right:


Shwanky!! Leopard print!  Hmmm.  Should I throw this bad boy on and head down to the bar!!  This was memorable and alone worth telling a few people about the next day as I thought it was pretty odd and different.  It was second night when I opened the closet that I looked to the left and saw something else hanging that I had missed on day 1.


Whoa!  I don’t think I’m putting THAT on and heading down to the bar.  This little number had a tag and price on it ($30 per piece)….my first mini-bar "nightware."  Needless to say, this really added to the story the next day when everyone wanted to know just what kinda hotel I was staying in.  I don’t know if my stories will end in any new guests, but in this case, kinda weird did lead to Word of Mouth. 

And for the record, there are no pictures of me wearing the robe….OR THE OTHER LITTLE NUMBER!!!!

A trip to the Kimpton web site and I learned you can buy these items if you are so inspired: Robe and the Cami.


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6th December 2008

Jet Fuel for your community: Finding, thanking and engaging Influencers

On December 10, I’ll be doing a webcast on this topic for Lithium along with good friend, Joe Cothrel who in addition to being the VP of Community Management Services at Lithium is one smart dude on community.  I thought I’d preview the session here in advance and afterwards add a linked to the recorded content.  If you’re interested in attending the webcast, you can register here.

This session will build upon the Influencer Handbook work recently published by WOMMA, for which I was a co-chair and contributing author.  In this handbook, the following definitions were offered relative to influencers:

What is an Influencer:  A person of greater than average reach or impact through word of mouth in a relevant marketplace.

What is Influencer Marketing:  When a marketer identifies, seeks out, and engages with influencers in support of a business objective.

While I was a contributor to these definitions, I’ll be the first to admit they are pretty high level!  And therefore, maybe a little too high level to assert prescriptive guidance.  To augment this, I’m in the process of authoring an influencer handbook that articulates the end to end steps required in defining, developing and sustaining an influencer program.  More on this at a later date, but if you have experience managing a program like this, I’d love to interview you as part of the information gathering process. 

So, in the webcast, I’ll be focusing on a set of key questions that these definitions raise that help enable taking first steps towards building a successful influencer program.  Here are the questions:

  • What is the strategy?  What business problem are you trying to solve?  To me, these should generally be expressed in one or more (but not all and forced priority) of the following:  Reach, Engagement, Adoption, Loyalty, Efficacy or Quality.
  • What are the business objectives?  Specific improvements your going to make to deliver on the strategy.
  • What is the "relevant marketplace"? A question of audience, segmentation and scope.
  • How do you define "greater than average reach or impact"?  What is the multiplier benefit being contributed by the influencer?
  • How do you find or "seek out" these influencers?  What’s the desired behavior pattern and how do you find those who exhibit the pattern.
  • How do you measure "impact"?  Ah yes, we do need to measure the value in ways that tie back to the strategy and objectives.

While there are many potential benefits of an influencer strategy, I see them as uniquely valuable for catalyzing changes (evidence, early warning and feedback)in overall customer experience.  With this in mind, I’ll use parts of a presentation I gave at WOMMA 2008 regarding the customer experience challenges inherent in organizations that have been optimized against their functional silos (Product Development, Sales & Marketing, and Service & Support).   While communities and social media can offer tremendous insight to these functions, the breadth and depth of the conversations makes "Joining the Conversation" pretty hollow advice.  So I’ll explore an approach for "Deconstructing the conversation cloud" depicted here:


I’ll use this model to dive specifically into the "learning cloud" to illustrate the conversations happening in this space, the business value, the connection to business goals and finally the influencers that are the cornerstone of the the activity.

Lastly, I’ll utilize the Microsoft MVP Award program as a case study to review this in action - a program I was responsible for from 2002-2007 - during which it grew from approximately 800 recognized influencers to over 4000 individuals.  In looking at this case study, we’ll talk about the fundamental pillars of finding, thanking and engaging as well as answers to the questions posed above to illustrate the model.

So, please join us for the webcast or watch later on demand.  I’d love to hear your experiences, questions and ideas around influencer programs.  And of course, if your organization is considering such a program and interested in outside guidance, advice and or assistance, I’d love to talk ().


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8th November 2008

Why is "Why?" still the most under appreciated question?

Questions, in life or in business, fall into the following buckets:

  • Who?
  • What?
  • When?
  • Where?
  • Why?
  • How?

I’ve spent a great deal of time defining my own as well as evaluating and using other methodologies for strategic planning.  For the record, I’m a fan of scenario planning.  If interested, here’s a pretty good read:  Profiting from Uncertainty.  Having said that, strategic planning methodology can be a lot like ice cream…some people just like different flavors and at times a different flavor is just a better choice.  If you’d like to explore methods, there’s another pretty good reference book called Strategy Safari.

Most of work I do today involves strategic planning around Customer Experience, Social Media, Communities, Influencer Programs and Voice of the Customer initiatives.  When it comes to social I often use the following planning framework to help structure a project:


And in case it’s not obvious, if you use this framework, start with Purpose.  I’m in the process of documenting a playbook based on this approach which hopefully I can share at a later date as the above really isn’t as detailed as it needs to be, but perhaps a reasonable starting point. 

Methodology forces you to ask and answer a lot of questions, but throwing all thoughts of methodology to the side, it has struck me in my last 6 months of consulting projects the imbalance in basic questions. 

Most of the focus on questions are the following:  What, When and How?

  • What are we going to do? 
  • What technologies are we going to use?
  • When are we going to launch?
  • When is it going to be done? 
  • How are we going to measure it? 

And far too little time focused on these questions:  Why, Who and Where?  (Especially Why!!)

  • Why are we doing this? 
  • What problem are we trying to solve (ok, ok, that’s a "what" - but it is really a why!)
  • Who is our audience?
  • Who are the internal stakeholders?
  • Where are we going to focus our efforts?

So, maybe the old questions we learned in grade school could be a pretty good v1 planning template.  The irony is that the biggest question I get asked is always around metrics and ROI.  They are critical points, but until you answer the question of why (and gain organizational agreement to that answer!!) you can’t answer the ROI question with any specifics.  I can give you a list of metrics to attach to a social site or community, but I can’t tell you if those metrics matter unless I know what the business objective is.

So, maybe some primer questions to start the list, I’m sure you can think of more to add.

  • Why:  Define you purpose
  • What:  What are the business objectives
  • Who:  Define your audience and/or segmentation
  • How:  How do our users do it today (whatever you define it is in the why question)
  • Where:  Inventory where users are going today
  • What:  What are the interactions we need to enable to improve the experience
  • What:  What systems and processes do we need to integrate with
  • What:  What technology and tools are necessary to support this effort
  • How:  How will we know it’s succeeding
  • What:  What are the success measures
  • Who:  Who are the internal stakeholders
  • Who:  Who are the key people and organizations we need to get engaged / participating?
  • What:  What are our policies and/or guidelines to govern internal participation?
  • When:  Define the project timeline
  • How:  How much is it going to cost (to execute AND sustain)

And maybe two last points.  You’ve got to re-validate that why question again and again and ensure you are continuously educating everyone involved on the answer - otherwise you’ll stray.  And lastly, friends don’t let friends plan without execution or execute without plans:) 


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6th October 2008

WOMMA Publishes Influencer Handbook…

Influencers are more than a passing interest to me…generally speaking I don’t take projects that aren’t about reaching out and connecting with influencers as part of a community strategy.  Some time back, WOMMA approached myself, of Keller Fay and of Comblu about being co-chairs of the Influencer Committee within WOMMA.  We met and gathered a broader group of experts - primarily practitioners - with the idea of documenting some practices and recommendations regarding influencer marketing and influencer engagement.  While we didn’t agree on everything (what fun would that be), I’m pleased with the outcome of the work, the Influencer Handbook.  Have a look and let us know what you think.  It includes the following sections:

• Definition of an influencer and influencer marketing
• Types of influencers
• Methods to engage and thank influencers
• Guidelines for influencer self-regulation
• Bibliography of influencer communication research and practices

Working effectively with influencers was the section most near and dear to me.  I’m sure we missed some important points and examples that can further contribute to increasing practitioner success with influencers.  If you’re new to this topic, or not, I simply hope you’ll consider a few key principles:

  • An Influencer program is different than a loyalty program and requires more comprehensive planning and long term commitment to succeed
  • Influencers rarely do what they do to help your brand, they do it to help other users - your benefits are by-products of your commitment and engagement
  • Consider the idea of "fair exchange of value" or an influencer "balance sheet" - ensuring the benefits to your influencers are in balance with the benefits that accrue to you as a brand - if not, the likelihood of failure is quite high.
  • Knowledge, specialized access and relationships are of substantially higher value to all parties than swag/give-aways. 

And if you really want to know about influencers…connect.  Throw away the data, analytics, tools and economy of scale for a few months and go sit down face to face with as many as you can.  There’s "tactile knowledge" required to really understand a brand’s influencers.  When I was a practitioner, it was this seemingly over-investment in face to face that really changed my perspective.


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13th September 2008

Welcome to the Stammtisch: Peer connections for practitioners are critical…

I was lucky enough 3-4 years ago on a business trip to Munich to be invited by a group of local Microsoft MVPs to attend what is known as a stammtisch.  What’s a stammtisch??  Well, according to and translated to English (with some edits for readability by me):

A is a group of several people who regularly gather around a (usually larger and often round) table. Stammtisch are not organized meetings and, therefore, only a voluntary merger of participants…The focus of such a Stammtisch round is social togetherness, card games and often political or philosophical discussions.

Perhaps an experienced German will see this post and provide some welcome expertise to the history and intent of the stammtisch.

It was a great event.  A cornerstone of my job at that time was engaging with communities.  There are lots of ways to connect and gather information:  Events, conferences, surveys, personal participation in the communities, calls, monitoring tools, etc - and they all have their place.  That said, I really like the feel of the stammtisch.  We gathered in a bar around a table, perhaps 7-8 of us, and spent the evening just talking.  Out of the business setting, the conversation could take a much broader and free form route.  Not to mention the co-presence and casual venue allowed for an informality that brought out contributions I don’t think could have happened through other gatherings. 

Driving business changes is often about great story telling. I love getting research, but quantitative data rarely tells you a story - it sets the scene.  Quant data is always improved by qualitative input from verbatims.  Something about reading comments in support of "quant" data gives you a more visceral and defendable story.  Likewise, if you want to take verbatims to the next level, go talk to your customers face to face…and then try it in a bar!  You really walk away with a different ability to tell the story.  Now, to be fair, all qualitative and no quantitative is no way to live either - as it can mislead you to edge cases.

Ever since that Munich Stammtisch, I’ve wanted to try it again.  When I left Microsoft after 15 years to start consulting on community strategy, I knew I wasn’t an experienced, career consultant.  I’d been on the practitioner side a long time.  And while consultants and industry experts had played an important role, the simple truth was I learned the most from my industry peers in other corporations.  Now, as a strategist and consultant, I wanted to see if I could bring together some of the practitioners I knew - to connect them - "stammtisch style!"

I do a lot of work in the silicon valley, up to two weeks a month in the south bay - so that seemed the first and best spot to try it out.  Last Wednesday night, 9 of us gathered (it was a rectangular table - it really does need to be round for better discussion) at the Village Bistro in Santana Row.  The evening included colleagues from , , EBay, , EMC, Adaptive Planning and Cisco.  It was a great gathering and universally we thought worth turning into a semi regular happening (event seems the wrong word).  I think one of my favorite moments was someone sharing the challenges of getting many parts of their company to understand community and the importance of social computing as a customer connection activity.  Given a few of his fellow attendees, he was sure they didn’t have quite the same challenge…LOL!  It was cool to listen to the shared challenges and great ideas throughout the night.  I’ve heard already that 2 attendees are meeting for lunch and another two connecting for coffee!

I’m really looking forward to Stammtisch 2…to be announced.  Here are few thoughts on next time:

  • 1 weeks notice worked, but I should have got on the plan sooner
  • A short round of intros is all that’s necessary - the conversation had no trouble flowing from there
  • Small is better - I think 10-12 people is probably the max
  • Get a round table!
  • Think casual dining not fine dining - this isn’t an event - it’s a gathering of friends!

So, if you’re not connecting with your industry peers - figure out how to do it.  Here’s a couple of other more formal suggestions for making industry connections:


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12th August 2008

WOM @ my local Starbucks…

One of those fundamentals in WOM is creating stories that inspire people to talk.  Often times this comes down to doing the unexpected - which is generally unexpected because the “front lines” just aren’t empowered to do much beyond execute on their function. 

Today, I’m grabbing some laptop time in a local Starbucks and took a table very near where the baristas are working - only table available near an outlet of course:)

As I’m setting up I hear, and then watch, the following transaction.  A guy orders and pays for a grande iced latte.  When the latte is called out at the bar, he takes it and I hear the following:

Guy:  “Is this a grande?  I thought they were bigger than that.” 

Barista:  “Yes, that’s the grande, the venti is the even larger one.” 

Guy:  “Oh, ok.” - no frustration, just simple acknowledgement.

Barista:  “Would you like me to make that a venti?”

Guy:  “Ummm…you can do that?”  (he almost looked guilty, like he shouldn’t say yes - he got what he ordered after all)

Barista:  “Sure, not a problem.” 

She takes the drink back, then a second later, she hands it the orginal grande back to him.

Barista:  “Here, you can just give this to someone if you’d like, I’ll make a new one that is a venti.”

Guy:  “Really, ok, sorry for the trouble”

Barista:  “No trouble at all’

Guy approached me and asked if I wanted the free grande… nope, I have one already, but he took his new “WOM object” with him out of the store:)  I’m pretty certain he’ll tell this story a few times today.

Now it’s gonna be pretty tough to attach any metrics to this, but I thought it was a good moment and a simple reminder of the opportunity every company has to create the conditions for WOM by empowering their front line employees.  I think we can be pretty confident the barista never went to a WOM class.  Many companies have large populations of employees who touch many customers every day at retail, in customer service, in the support org, at their conferences, online, etc…I wonder how often those critical roles are forgotten in the grand plan for creating a WOM campaign.  It’s a shame that so many call centers in particular are seen as cost centers to operationalize instead of the WOM machines they could be.


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9th July 2008

Another way to slice up your phases for driving your Social Media project…

I’m a big fan of the old “crawl, walk, run” approach on most projects that have medium to high complexity and impact (note:  most of the work I do is with $500M+ companies).  Ideally, these phases are defined against business goals and user experience milestones while building what I’d call the operational muscle to drive to the next point in the project.  For example, an operational muscle might consist of a metrics, business scorecard and review process to evaluate status.  Or it might refer to staffing and training the team.  Projects that try to “run” out the gate often end up “running” the wrong direction or take so long to reach fruition that the teams involved lose steam, commitment or even a clear understanding of what they were trying to do in the first place.  Other projects have never looked past “crawl” and get out the door and leave the team thinking “huh, now what?” Or, “wow, this isn’t going the way we expected, what do we do now?”  Or, perhaps the worst crime of them all, the sad “ahhhh… check, that was on my MBOs - mission accomplished.  Next task.”

Quite often the projects I work on cut across multiple organizations and/or businesses within large organizations.  Inherently this brings a new set of challenges to project planning and defining realistic and meaningful schedules.  In a recent session, I described another way to approach crawl, walk, run - especially the crawl and walk phases.  For context, the company in this session was $1B+ in scale and the room include representation from marketing, partner, web/UX and support organizations.  I recommended getting really clear and explicit on the following against the overall business objectives.

  • What can this virtual team do with no additional funding or approval from other stakeholders/execs?
  • What can this virtual team do with no additional funding, but requires stakeholder/exec buy in?
  • What can this virtual team ONLY do with additional funding/resources (stakeholder/exec buy in implied in incremental ask)?

While this CANNOT replace a sequenced approach focused on business goals and user experience milestones, getting clear on each of the above buckets can get projects moving more quickly and help gain valuable experience and momentum that support the longer term project.

Just a thought.


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28th June 2008

Why I’m not a "Social Media Strategist"…

More and more I’m seeing this title - especially amongst consultants.  I’ve been called one, introduced as one and hired as one many times, but let me state for the record, I’m not one.  Huh?  (and yes, this post is partly tongue in cheek…)

Here’s the deal:

  • If someone asks you what you do and they don’t understand your answer, then you might not have the right description - Seriously, next time you’re on a plane, tell the person next to you that you are a social media strategist and see what happens.   Worse, watch how easy it is to devalue what you know and do when they ask you what that is - “oh, I help companies figure out how to use blogging to talk to their customers.”  I admit it.  I said this once on a plane.  Never since.  I immediately thought - wow, I’m tired.  That was a dumb answer.  That is so not what I do or want to do. 
  • Does the phrase really make sense - “social media strategist” - isn’t social media a tactic?  I’ve asked in many speeches, how does social media or web 2.0 change your business objectives?  Trick question - it doesn’t.  This is of course a big semantic game.  Take my last job at Microsoft.  What was a strategy for one of my direct reports, was a tactic to me.  What was a strategy for me, was a tactic for my VP.  What was a strategy for my VP, was a tactic for his Sr. VP…and so on.  These things should cascade up.  What’s important is that everyone up and down the chain are clear on what true north is and how to make empowered trade off decisions that support the bigger picture. 
  • Does this mean I don’t believe in having a social media strategy or I’m not working on social media strategies for companies.  No, of course not.  I think every company needs to have a social media strategy - but the this work needs to support a broader objective around customer experience.  If you ask yourself why you need a social media strategy, you will likely be a lot closer to the real strategic objective.

So what the heck do I do.  Well, that’s the journey I guess.  In the end, I’m in the customer experience business.  Now, fair enough, a “customer experience strategist” doesn’t really sound any better!  So, let’s push this a little further, how about the advocacy business?  I like that a bit better - easier to explain and more aligned with what I do.  It’s a relationship and experiential marketing world.  Driving deeper and more connected relationships between you and your customers across all the touch points in your business is the best path towards building brand and product advocacy resulting in what really matters - growth, competitive differentiation and affinity.  I’m a big believer that Social Media is one of the most important opportunities to re-invent customer experiences - but, if the answer to every customer experience improvement opportunity across your business is social media - you might have hired the wrong consultant!

What would you call it?


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28th June 2008

Nearly as annoying as a blue screen…but a lot more frequent

I used to think this was cute.  A fun, light-hearted way of showing your growing pains.  Now it is driving me away slowly but surely…maybe not that slowly.  Why is that sleepy, smiling whale mocking me!  And why does he seem so content to be out of action.  hmmm.




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