Social Networking

Vaynerchuk, Having Chops and the Question of Expertise

It's a funny thing.

A few days ago Gary Vaynerchuk, the social media expert and consultant (among other things), did an interview with Tech Crunch TV during which, in part, he talked about the 99.5% of 'experts' in the social media space being nothing of the kind.

In fact, he called them 'clowns.'

That has gotten him a lot of kickback.  A lot.  Enough that he decided to put up a separate video clarifying - but not stepping back from - what he meant.  (It's at the bottom of this post.)

Two things here.  First, he's absolutely correct - and not just about social media.

The reality is, when a new business opportunity presents itself or a new space opens up, a lot of people who know some stuff but who are not, in fact, experts present themselves to organizations as if they are.  Experts.

It does the particular space as well as the clients a real disservice.  It's expensive and it can be dangerous. (I've seen newly minted "management consultants" put businesses out of business.)

As Vaynerchuk states (and I love this expression), the experts you hire need to have 'business chops' as well as simple knowledge of social media mechanisms.  You want to bring people in who can help your business - not just get you up on Facebook, et al.

So, whether you're hiring or contracting - be smart.  Most important, be knowledgeable about what you need and want in your social media strategy.

Second, a rather timely announcement.

I have applied my business chops to the arena of social media in my new Working Paper, "Using Social Media to Differentiate Yourself - Locally and Globally."  It will help you with your strategic thinking as you figure out how to use this amazing new world to create and build new worlds of your own.

It won't tell you how to get up on or better use Facebook and the rest - but it will advise you on how to position yourself to get the biggest organizational bang for your social media buck.

Seth Godin, Lean and the Two Percent Rule

In Seth Godin's blog (which I greatly enjoy and highly suggest you receive) he talks about the two percent of your customers who are going to be dissatisfied with what you do.

It won't matter what it is.  There will be a group - his estimated two percent - of unhappy campers.

The problem is, they are usually also very vocal campers.

People who are happy with what you're doing demonstrate it by coming back for more.  They like what you have to offer and how you offer it.  They don't make a big deal of it because there's nothing to make a big deal of.  They show their appreciation by their return to your site, doors, or where you show up on their shelves.

Godin raises the question of whether you should stymie the innovation in your organization because of a small bunch of loud-voiced complainers.

The answer, of course, is no.  His and mine.

But, allow me to add a couple of additional thoughts to his thinking.

First, no matter how loud those voices are, you can - and must - promote the perspective of the other 98% who are satisfied customers.  That comes from your social media strategy.

Whether it's a "Like" or increasing your number of fans or a star-rating system, you positively build your reputation by engaging the people who can easily speak for why they think what you have to offer is great in a way that they enjoy and, potentially, promotes them too.

That makes a viral positive response to any negativity far more likely.

The other thing to keep in mind is that, based on the statistical logic of Lean, 97% of what happens is predictable.  You may not like it, but you can predict that it will occur.

Godin's two percent, therefore, falls into the 97% predictable category.  You know it's going to happen - so you can prepare for it.

To keep those creative juices flowing in your organization, prepare for the complaints by ensuring that your innovators know that it won't stop them - or the company - from continuing to support a robust innovation strategy.

And, since you know it's coming, when you're doing your product analysis before launch, spend some time figuring out what the nay-sayers are going to come up with this time.

Who knows?

Maybe their complaints will lead to a next generation of innovation and improvement from which you can profit even further.

But be prepared.  Because that two percent will still find something to complain about.

Social Networks - Tracking and Profits

There are two important articles for you to look at...right away.

The first is about the new sFund set up by Kleiner Perkins (the iconic Silicon Valley venture firm) with an investment of $250m. Its investors include Amazon, Facebook and Zynga - so you know it's serious.

John Doerr (whom you know from my previous writings that I just about adore for his vision, business sense, courage and good manners) explains that social networking represents a third wave of disruption that the internet is causing. In his words, the internet is Web is shifting “from an old Internet of documents and sites to a new one that’s all about people and places and relationships.”

But if, for some reason, you're wondering whether social networking is taken seriously by the Big Boys, then take yourself to the second article about the new tool developed at Harvard for real-time tracking of public opinion.

It's already got clients the likes of Microsoft, HP and CNN - and you know that they don't play around with their reputations if they can possibly help it.

Like with any other strategy or tactic, the more you understand how others view social networking and the value it will help them create, the more you can build your own strategies and tactics to ensure you get a piece of what's out there.

Google and Sun-Tzu - It's All About Strategy

In Sun Tzu's always re-readable The Art of War, he says, "Keep your friends close but your enemies closer."

He's right - because the more you know about your enemy, the easier it is to win.  The more you learn from them and what they're doing, the more you can create tactics that counter their moves - usually before they make them.

It is exactly that thinking which is at the core of Google CEO Eric Schmidt's most recent comments at the Google Zeitgeist conference last week.

At that conference, Schmidt talked about the conflicts and rivalries that have arisen between Google and, oh, pretty much every other company in the technology space - pretty much no matter how you define it. And he put his finger on exactly why when he said, "This is winning.  If we were losing, we would not have these problems."

But in looking deeper into his comments, what you see is that as innovative as Google is, part of its success comes from building off of what others have developed.

Google didn't invent the smartphone - but the Android platform has given them what they need to get into that market.

Google didn't invent social networking - but the false starts and upcoming add-ons that they're discussing are designed to create a platform for them as an alternative to Twitter, FourSquare, Facebook and others.

Because what Google wants is advertising revenues.  They want your eyes on what they have to offer - ostensibly through their services, but actually pointing you toward the way that they make their revenues.  And that doesn't come from Android (which is free) or their social networking (which will also be free).  It comes from advertising.

That, too, is the logic of Google Instant - their new "thinking for their customers" search add-on that points you toward where they think you want to go.  Whether you do or not.  (Check out the video below.)

(Full disclosure:  This blog is powered by Google's Blogger, so I'm biting the hand that feeds me, if you get my drift.)

So, what's the take-away on this?  What's your WIIFM?

1.  Be excrutiatingly clear about what the goals, direction and strategy are for your organization.  Know exactly which markets you want to be in, to what extent and why.  Then, know what the customers who shop that market - B2B or B2C - are looking for.

Which will get you directly to...

2.  Keep closer than close watch on what companies in that space are doing.  Learn from your enemies.  See their products and services for the trajectories they offer to their customers - because they're your customers too.

Because then you can...

3.  Quickly and consistently, build your own products and services that compete in that space using what you have to offer to get those customers to direct their money into your organization's offerings.  You don't have to invent it.  You just have to find a way to ensure that what you're taking from your direct and indirect competitors will point the people and businesses you need in your direction.

It's fast, easy and cheap - because, if you follow Sun Tzu's advice, you're letting others do the hard work for you.  Then it's you - and your customers - who are benefitting.

Twitter and Facebook vs. Corporate Reputation and Brand

Lately, I've been thinking about a website that was really, really big in the dotcom years that has, for years, been defunct.  It was called f***edcompany.com.  (You have to fill in the asterisks for the correct site name.  I'm being polite.)

It was an insider's sort of site.  It reported news - and gossip - from within the various technology companies in the Silicon Valley.  It was the go-to resource to find out, initially, where you didn't want to work.  Eventually, it became the site that was reporting where there was no work any longer.

I had an up close and personal experience with that, myself, through one of my clients.

She was (and is) one of the best executives I've ever encountered.  Visionary.  Incredibly smart both operationally and in market strategy.  Created an environment for her employees that led to consistent business growth and innovation.  Truly excellent.

The company for which she worked was one of the beneficiaries of the early days of dotcom mania.  It was a relatively small company with a specialized integration technology that was used by and of interest to lots of larger players.  The company was even seeing profits...an unheard of occurrence in the dotcom days.

As a result, and not unexpectedly, it was part of a series of acquisitions into larger and larger players.  Until a big company decided to buy it.

Really big.  Like giant.  And not at all in the technology space.

And that was the end of the company for which this executive worked.  Within a couple of weeks of the acquisition, the employees found out that the company was being disbanded.  The patents on the technologies had been sold to another company - in the technology space - but the company, itself, was being shut down and all positions terminated.

They found out when one of them went visiting the f***edcompany site - only to find out that they were next on the list.

Interestingly, the executive was finally able to take a call from her employees - who had been bombarding her cell phone with messages asking if the posting was true - after she had just closed the biggest deal the company had ever experienced.  Tens of millions of early 2000s dollars for a relatively small player in one deal.  The next day she had to cancel it - because she was spending the next few weeks shutting down what had been a successful operation.

Granted, there are a lot of different pieces that can be discussed on this story, but the one I want to take on now is how information within and outside your enterprise moved back then - and now.  Most important, is understanding how that information movement can and does impact your brand and reputation - personal and corporate.

First, the proverbial "grapevine" is and will always be alive and well.  The problem now is that it's networked in ways that can make or break your company, its brand or your reputation in minutes.

Add to that the 24-hour news cycle - yes, for business, too - and you've got even more problems.  CNBC, Bloomberg and the rest are gathering and reporting news all day every day.  Their people are also trolling the blogs, Facebook, Twitter and all the other social networking sites with keyword searches 24/7 to stay on top of what's out there.

Or at least what's being said.

And even if you're a small player, your employees are out there, talking and looking out for one another's news, as if it was going to be broadcast any minute.  And it is.

In this case, viral really does mean viral.

All of which means that you need to be paying ever-closer attention to what's being communicated, how, by whom and through which mechanisms than you ever were before.  As well, your HR policies and any employment agreements that include discussions of intellectual property, patents and the rest are updated to reflect how information now moves.

Because, while in its day f***edcompany was the fastest tool around for getting the message out, now it might as well be a dial telephone.  One Tweet is all you need.  One really bad Tweet (especially with a hashmark) and the news - true or not - is out there.

Right now, there's a lot of talk about how social networking will help you build your company, its image, its relationship with customers, its marketshare and more.  And all of that is true.

But, there's a downside, as well - and that comes from not being as aware as you need to be about how those same technologies allow information movement coming from your own employees can work against you.

The value of your corporate reputation and brand - as well as your own - can be not only on the line, but also completely in others' hands unless you're paying attention.

There's nothing wrong with social networking.  In fact, it's an important new - and evolving - tool in an executive's and organization's toolbox.

You just have to remember that just as a hammer can be used to insert a nail, so, too, when not aimed correctly, does it smash your thumb.