Again and again, we hear about “community marketing” or some variation of that term – how businesses are leveraging social media and the web to engage their markets at a deeper level with the strict goal of growing their own business – growing revenue and profits. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that there are many positive side effects to businesses being involved within communities, but it should be noted that without the financial component of profit – their interest in “community” wanes quickly.

Today I want to talk about what community involvement really is, and how community is about kindness, not recognition. How one’s efforts are often silent, built up slowly over time, and their effects felt years later, perhaps long after the person has moved on.

Oddly, this is a story about a tree. (please bear with me here…)

On Wednesday my wife, 3 week old son, and I took a drive around some scenic towns. We went through Basking Ridge, and noticed a sign on a corner that read something like: “On December 12, 1776, General Charles Lee was arrested on this corner at White’s Tavern by the British army.”

That’s one thing I love about New Jersey, it’s peppered with history in the oddest of places.

We continued on our journey, and into the more rural horse country areas, including New Vernon. As I drove, my wife noticed this HUGE tree in a field, and that the tree had a plaque on it. Since we had nothing better to do, I turned the car around, pulled over on the side of the road, and wandered onto someone’s property to see what the plaque said. My wife and I were guessing what it would say – something like “Under this tree, General George Washington setup camp prior to fighting British troops,” or something like that. The tree looked like it was hundreds of years old.

So, I approached it, snapping photos:

Warren Kinney Tree, New Vernon, New Jersey
The scale of it was surprising.

Warren Kinney Tree, New Vernon, New Jersey
This could be the biggest tree I have ever seen, and perhaps the oldest.

Warren Kinney Tree, New Vernon, New Jersey
Interesting to see all of the extra supports that people added to it to ensure it wouldn’t fracture under its own weight.

Warren Kinney Tree, New Vernon, New Jersey
Finally, I get to read the plaque: “This tree is maintained in loving memory of Warren Kinney community leader 1924-1975.”

At first, it was a bit of a letdown – that this wasn’t some major historic site. But as I thought about who Warren Kinney was, and how for the past 35 years, this tree has come to represent him after his death, it spoke to me about the history that we don’t see. The history of how our lives affect each other, and how our contributions to communities are still felt long after we are around to experience recognition. That the effects of our lives may not be emblazoned on buildings or statues, but they are woven into the fabric of the community around us. If we are lucky, we get a plaque on a tree.

What did Warren Kinney do to warrant a plaque. I have no idea. But I imagine he didn’t demand one. He had died before it was placed there for him. There was no personal gain in it, and yet somehow, he surely earned it. The plaque is meant to be a physical representation of his effect on the community, and how it extends well beyond his life.

Contrast this to online community marketing – how businesses are “targeting” communities, and “influencers” within them. But they are demanding attention, demanding a return on their “investment” by putting resources into the community. They will be measuring ROI in the very short term in order to determine whether their investment in time and money has paid off. This is not how one serves a community. One’s standing in the community is not based on the promise of what you will do, but on reflection of what you have done.

Successful community involvement is measured in years, not fiscal quarters. As the social web continues to evolve, I hope it helps bring our communities together. That it won’t turn into something to be leveraged for particular business interests, more closely focused on increasing quarterly revenue for the few, not the benefit of the whole.


An interesting footnote to the Warren Kinney story. From The New York Times in 1986:

“Since 1975, the New Vernon, N.J., estate of Warren Kinney, a gentleman farmer, has stood idle. Now, however, the 102-acre property is being prepared for the construction of 22 homes that will cost $1.2 million to $1.7 million.”

I can’t help but find connections to my blog post from last week, where developers turned the famous MGM movie back lot sets into condos.

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I’ve been thinking about 57 things this week. Specifically, the 57 comments left on my Facebook status update of a week ago, announcing the birth of my son.

57 expressions of congratulations. The number itself isn’t really all that important. In fact, there were dozens of other comments on Twitter, my blog, via email, Facebook photos, etc. It is WHO said it, or rather, the context in which I know them, that matters.

It included some of my closest friends and relatives; some folks I sat next to in fourth grade, and barely spoke to then or since; people I worked with awhile ago, that I never actually met in person; to quote from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: “Geeks, sportos, motorheads, dweebs, dorks…” and the like.

And every single one of them mattered to me. Not just because they said something nice to me, but because we were still connected.

I am considering a world my son will grow up in. One where he doesn’t lose connections. Where connections are easier to maintain. When there is less social pressure to send holiday cards each year, and that regardless, you can still congratulate an old acquaintance on the birth of their son, 20 years later.

So I’ve been trying to figure out what this all means. Social media is no longer a big story, we all know it’s important on some level, and reshaping our world on some level. Recently, we hear a lot about businesses are trying to “leverage” social media to move the needle in business metrics somehow. Maybe it’s not direct revenue, but reducing customer acquisition cost, extending marketing dollars, enabling deeper research and the customer data that could not be captured in another manner.

And, you know, that’s fine.

But I can’t help but feel that there is still a human opportunity that is entirely untapped. We have these powerful tools of connection, yet we still live our lives largely the same. We suffer through disease, through disaster, through hardship, and social networks are on the periphery of dealing with those experiences. We have important needs, for financial security, for emotional security, and social media is on the periphery of that. We celebrate, we learn, we dance, and social media is on the periphery of that too.

I love Facebook, yet I am always disappointed in how it prevents me from connecting. Twitter, the same thing. Their search functionality is almost non-existent. I can’t find people I already know on Facebook unless I know exactly which High School they graduated from, and which year. It’s difficult to find like-minded people on Twitter because their personality is broken down into 140 characters, and never put back together again.

We need to put the dots together.

The web is filled with so much useful information and connections. But they are spread among languishing forum threads, nine month old Tweets, blog comments, photos that aren’t tagged, and YouTube videos that aren’t connected to any of the rest of it.

I have been spending a great deal of time understanding how we learn, and how we grow. This is the direction I am moving into – for my personal life, and my business. Inherent in this is to envision not how we shove social media back into old business models, roles, and quantitative financial metrics. But rather, how we rethink the arbitrary financial metrics that our lives are run by, and use social media to consider how we strip away the layers that hold us back. The layers that keep us from connecting. The layers that keep us from learning. The layers that keep us from growing. In our personal lives and our business lives. Both individually, and as a culture. A world culture. A human culture.

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We Are The Music Makers…

by Dan Blank on August 30, 2010

Owen Blank
Last Friday was the first one in five years that I hadn’t sent out a newsletter or posted to my blog. Luckily, there was a good reason: the birth of my son! Owen Blank was born on Thursday morning at 7:25am.

Of course, the little fellow is already blogging. Feel free to say hello to him and leave a comment: http://OwenBlank.com

My wife and I have had an amazing few days with him so far, and every moment is 100% about the present, with an appreciation for what we are creating as a family. To say that everything has changed, and for the better, is an understatement. We couldn’t be happier.

And of course, me being me, I can’t help but take a moment and reflect on how this experience informs my view of publishing, media and how the web is reshaping how we learn and connect. It has been incredible to watch the process my wife went through in creating and birthing Owen. I have so much respect for her, I couldn’t possibily put it into words.

In our everyday lives, in our careers, with our passions, we are all trying to build something. Maybe you are working to change the course of your business to better leverage the web; maybe you are slowly, over the course of years, building a career that you have always dreamed of; maybe you are rethinking what is, and trying to create something entirely new for the market you serve. From startups to 100+ year old businesses, we are all builders and creators.

Recently, I have put such a strong focus in my life on how we learn, and how we grow meaningful communities. To build something that truly gives back, that is better for the many than for the few. That is alive. That reshapes relationships and communities, making them deeper and more powerful.

Watching my wife create and birth a child is without a doubt the most incredible experience of my life. I was involved as much as humanly possible, but as a friend said, even though I was very involved, I am still on the shore, and my wife is out in the ocean fully immersed in the experience.

As things settle down at home, and I begin looking back to publishing, media, and the web, I am filled with an overwhelming feeling: I don’t want to be on the shore. I want to be out in the ocean during the storm. I want to swim in the choppy waters, to experience this moment – this opportunity – 100%.

And there is so much opportunity right now to build the future of publishing, media, and education. I am jumping in with both feet and swimming toward the rough water. And I hope that I am out there next to you, working together to build something new, something incredible, something to be proud of.

The words of Arthur O’Shaughnessy seem appropriate here:

We are the music-makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams.
World-losers and world-forsakers,
Upon whom the pale moon gleams;
Yet we are the movers and shakers,
Of the world forever, it seems.

With wonderful deathless ditties
We build up the world’s great cities,
And out of a fabulous story
We fashion an empire’s glory:
One man with a dream, at pleasure,
Shall go forth and conquer a crown;
And three with a new song’s measure
Can trample an empire down.

We, in the ages lying
In the buried past of the earth,
Built Nineveh with our sighing,
And Babel itself with our mirth;
And o’erthrew them with prophesying
To the old of the new world’s worth;
For each age is a dream that is dying,
Or one that is coming to birth.

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A New Generation of Media Experts

by Dan Blank on August 20, 2010

I’ve recently become obsessed with YouTube. In particular, I’ve been watching people who are creating mini-media brands by reviewing products in very specific niches. Before I dig into the videos themselves, I want to share why I am so enamored with them.

An entire generation is growing with the content, marketing, sales, and technical skills to run their own media companies, and to be their own publishers.

Dan Blank
I am not just talking about the ability to setup a free blog on WordPress.com. I am talking about creating compelling content over the course of years, of learning how to market their content, how to engage with a larger community within the market they cover, and how to evolve with the technology as it changes. Their skillsets are varied, and they are not learning them in isolation, they are in the real world, getting constant feedback on what works and what doesn’t.

What effect will this have on our culture and the future of publishing & media? Here are a few:

  • They Learn How to Build Something
    When I see people creating their own branded channel on YouTube, I see them as entrepreneurs, just as someone would open up a store in my town, or launch a magazine startup. Why? Because inherent in this experience are small failures, dashed expectations, huge surprises, the benefit of iterating their product, growing their skills, and getting real-time feedback from their market. For some of the younger people building channels on YouTube, this experience is wildly more instructive than working at a local fast food restaurant, filling burritos with guacamole from a plastic tube.

  • They Experience the Value of Sticking With Something Over Time
    A lot of people who are serious about their YouTube channels have been creating videos for months or years, and you can see how their “brand” evolved as they discovered the cumulative value of their efforts. I’ve seen this with social media, and I think it applies here: when you stick with something over a long period of time, the value of the experience you receive is exponential. You’ll see what I mean in the examples below, some of these people in very niche areas have millions of views and thousands of subscribers.

  • Hobbies are Now Media Entities
    Most people have hobbies and collect things. Maybe it’s a shelf of NASCAR cars, vintage Leica cameras, scrapbooking supplies, vintage sunglasses, etc. Now, these personal hobbies are no longer just displayed in a 12′ x 12′ room in your home, they are the basis for your own media channel. That is what I am seeing. People reviewing each object in their collection as if they are reviewing it for their own media entity – as if they are a niche magazine covering that market. They are also sharing video from events, and sharing news and history on their little industry. People are turning their personal passions into public media entities.

  • The Value of Partners
    Inherently, I notice that many of these people start off as isolated obsessives, and end up replying to comments, referencing like-minded reviewers on YouTube, and partnering with others to expand the value and reach of what they do. I love this because it is the basis for creating a community of experts, of those whose passion is rare and hard to find.

  • How to Shape a Community
    Taking that theme a step further, these folks are also learning that they are valuable contributors to these communities, and are able to have a profound effect on the market they serve. From a basic self-esteem point of view, that is huge. But from a media perspective, suddenly one realizes that they have the power to shape the world that they care most about. If they don’t work for a major media brand, that isn’t a problem. They can still have a voice, have an effect on the world that matters to them.

  • Connecting Offline to Online and Vice Versa.
    Sometimes you see these reviewers meetup with fellow reviewers and do videos together. You see them attending events in the markets they cover, and otherwise connecting their online media to the offline world. Likewise, the very nature of these videos involves taking a physical object and turning it into online media by reviewing it. This is not a subtle thing – especially as large media companies still struggle to understand how they take their print-based organizations and give them the ability to create online products.

  • Marketing as a Core Part of Creation
    This is not about “social media” it is about identity, about connecting an idea to other people. When I grew up, most everyone I knew had creative ideas for videos, music, art, businesses, etc. And those ideas were born and died inside our own heads. Even for those we acted on, they existed for a brief moment, within a very tiny group of people. To scale beyond that would have cost a fortune, and required extreme dedication to one thing. For the people creating channels on YouTube, many of have multiple call-outs to “subscribe” to their videos, and do giveaways to entice new subscribers and reward existing fans. Inherent in the process is them learning how to grow a fan base and grow the viability of their idea by attracting an audience.

  • The Ability to Create Compelling Content
    Many of these people are creating branded names, logos, video intro’s, and multimedia experiences with music, voiceovers, and the like. And that’s before we get into the reviews themselves! You are seeing professional quality stuff here, as the reviews create very detailed videos covering every aspect of the products they cover. Check out some examples below.

All this sounds pretty impressive right? Well, let’s give it some context. For kicks, I’m going to focus on toy reviews. I’ve always loved toys, and even married a toy designer. Unbelievably, my wife actually has her degree in Toy Design, and worked in the industry until she became an art teacher.

So here is the first example of someone doing product reviews online:

What’s amazing is he has 376 uploads, many of them in the exact same style as the one above.

So maybe you are thinking: “Dan, why do I care about some kid reviewing Star Wars toys? What does this have to do with me?” Well, let’s see the effect of all of his effort:

  • 7,671,926 views to his videos
  • 8,678 subscribers
  • He is now a guest reviewer for AFTimes.com
  • Age: 19

I actually reached out to this reviewer, his name is Steve I learned. He answered a few questions I had about his experiences with these reviews:

“I do these reviews because I have a passion for collecting. I’ve never had any close friends that share my hobby & after stumbling across another reviewer here on YouTube I decided it would be cool to share my hobby online. It has brought many benefits, the most notable of which is being a YouTube partner, in which I gain a small amount of revenue from advertisements placed in my videos. I have been contacted by other collectable websites asking me to contribute to them, which I do & am sometimes awarded free goodies which is always a plus & it also enables me to meet people from across the world. I don’t actually see my reviews going any further than they already have, but I do hope my design skills are noticed by the work I do for my channel, as a trainee graphic designer I’ve gained quite a bit of experience doing design work for other YouTubers which again, is always a plus, so hopefully yes, in some way or another it will affect my career.”

His answer is really compelling because it speaks to the difference between creating a media entity for commerce, and creating one for passion. He doesn’t view this as a stepping stone to revenue, he sees it as an opportunity to share his passion with like-minded people.

Let’s look at another example. How about this guy, who ONLY reviews 1980’s GI Joe toys:

Look at all his videos. You can see how methodical he is in creating video after video that has a similar style, and how he reviews every aspect of the toy.

Or this kid (I think he’s still in High School) who reviews LEGO Star Wars toys under the monicker legoboy12345678:

Actually, he seems to be taking this VERY seriously:

  • 2 YouTube Channels (here and here)
  • 150+ video uploads
  • 9,500,000+ video views
  • He creates custom sets and sells them
  • He does stop-motion animation using LEGO
  • He has more than 8,000 subscribers

Think about this: when you were 15, and you had some silly hobby, did you have nearly 8,000 people interested in subscribing to it? Were you able to start a business around it? Did you have millions and millions of people viewing what you do?

This really is the future.

When I was 20 years old, I published my own fanzine. I give a brief history (with photos!) here. Basically, my friend and I contacted record labels, reviewed albums, interviewed bands, and went to shows. I took photos, wrote articles, coordinated contributors, laid out the magazine, printed it, distributed it, and got into loads and loads of debt with it.

Do you know how many people saw that magazine? (And I’m talking about besides my mom and dad) Maybe a few hundred over the course of two years. They would see an issue, glance at it, throw it out, and likely never get another copy.

This is not to belittle my efforts at the time, just to give a comparison of how these efforts scaled back then, and how they do today. If you have a passion today, the tools are available to build a mini media empire at almost no cost. At the time I published the magazine, the opportunity seemed unbelievable: I had contacts at every major record label; I interviewed nearly all of my favorite bands; and I got tons of free CDs each week. And that is what drove me to spend thousands of dollars on printing costs at a time that I earned about $5 an hour during college.

So here I am in the middle of my career, working in media and publishing. And I have to ask myself, what if I had the experience that legoboy12345678 (referenced above) had. What if, when I was 15 years old, I had mastered these tools, learned marketing in the wild, produced dozens of videos, had millions of viewers, thousands of subscribers, and a growing community that I interacted with?

Because people like him are the future leaders of the media & publishing worlds, and of all business in fact. The legoboy12345678’s of the world. Is it a silly username on YouTube? Sure. Is there a lot he can teach us about the future of publishing and media? Definitely.

If you think I can help you grow your publishing & media skills, let me know: @DanBlank, 973-981-8882 or dan@danblank.com.

Thanks!

-Dan

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Don’t Be A Social Media Rockstar

by Dan Blank on August 13, 2010

This year I began building my own business, an incredible process, where you get to choose your future down to the smallest detail. My experience so far has been positive, and for that, I am thankful. Success VERY much depends on so many other people. I have little interest in “being my own boss,” I simply want to build something of value, something that helps people achieve their goals, and makes their life brighter.

Dan Blank
This has me considering something fundamental for those looking to build their brand online, be it personal or business:

Are you garnering page views or are you changing people’s lives?

In other words: is “attention” the goal, or is the “effect” the goal? This is a critical difference.

For years, success on the web has been measured by quantitative metrics:

  • Page views
  • Newsletter list subscribers
  • Twitter followers
  • Comments
  • Subscribers
  • Etc.

And yes, these things can be results of a deeper effect on people’s lives. That, if you get 100 comments on every blog post, then clearly, you are having some effect on people’s lives, otherwise, they wouldn’t waste their time.

But as writers, authors, media companies, small businesses, and individuals move their life online, I wonder if we judge too quickly if we fail or succeed.

I know people who have thousands of Twitter followers, who struggle to make a living in their business; And others who have very few Twitter followers who have an incredibly successful career.

I’ve noticed that sometimes you can have a blog post read by VERY few people, but if they are just the right people, that it can have a profound effect on their lives. And that growing one’s business isn’t about reaching masses of people, but simply connecting with the one who needs your products or services.

Is your purpose to change people’s lives, or merely grab their attention?

As we all feel the pressure to be “social media rockstars” – to have a follower count that lives up to our resume, I can’t help but feel that this is the wrong way to measure success.

I don’t want to be a rockstar.

I don’t want to stand on a stage in leather pants and shout into a microphone. I don’t want to crowd surf. I don’t want to dive from a wall of Marshall amplifiers.

I simply want to talk to people. Learn about them, what they want, what they need. And then help build that. Because that is creating something for the world, something beyond myself.

Social media is not about elevating my own standing – becoming a “rockstar” – but rather, it is about connecting, learning, and helping. It is about weaving myself into the fabric of the communities I serve, and helping others succeed.

I don’t want to be a rockstar. I want to be a teacher. Not because of what students learn from me, but what I learn from them. Not because of how they empower me, but how I empower them.

If you think I can help you empower your community, let me know: @DanBlank, 973-981-8882 or dan@danblank.com.

Thanks!

-Dan

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Companies now realize that there is business value in social media. That it is worth an investment of their time and resources, that it can bring them closer to those in their market, and can be a powerful marketing platform.

But there is one term that us being thrown around a bit too casually: community.

Dan Blank
Suddenly, every company is “developing” a community online, or engaging an existing community, at least in their marketing plans. But a crowd isn’t a community. A market is not a community.

A brand should be careful about approaching social media as a sales funnel: to establish connections, build ‘trust,’ encourage a ‘community,’ and then market products and services to them. That’s not a community strategy, that is a marketing plan. And there is a difference.

A community puts everyone on an equal playing field. It has the group looking out for those with the least resources. It cares beyond dollars and cents. It is a long term commitment beyond a marketing campaign.

Too many companies have organized themselves into “communities,” only to abandon those communities at the exact moment there is economic question about a slowing growth rate in that specific market. Their commitment to the community lasted as long as they could profit from it.

Likewise, it is hard to truly “build” a community. Communities exist already. A list of Twitter followers is not necessarily a community. For businesses, feeling as though you have built a community simply because you have a significant financial stake in one creates an imbalance, and a rift in perception. Because you bought it doesn’t mean you own it.

You don’t sell to a community. You support a community. You provide for a community. You connect a community. You mediate a community. You balance a community. You sacrifice for a community.

Sure, there are times when you are a member of a community, and times at which you may offer a product to that same group of people. But oftentimes, that does not mean you are supporting the community in doing so, it simply means that for the moment, the community is being used as a market. So when brands talk about building trust, it can never just be one step in the process to a sale.

I’m not saying there is anything wrong with selling a needed and desired product to a group of like-minded people. But I am saying that there is a difference between building a community and selling to a marketplace. As the business landscape rushes into social media – a more nuanced connection with people’s lives – this is something to be understood. The business funnel of marketing to a segmented group of people is not the same as building trust within a community – of supporting a community.

Let me know if I can help you in serving your community: @DanBlank, 973-981-8882 or dan@danblank.com.

Thanks!

-Dan

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What Motivates Us to Innovate?

by Dan Blank on July 30, 2010

I read this news this morning:

“About.com is planning a major move into the business-to-business space, launching a number of industry-specific sites.”

Now, I know of a lot of major B2B publishers who have been in the online space for more than a decade. And yet, this is the reason About.com is making the move:

“We evaluated the landscape and found that it was really underserved online.”

Dan Blank
This is how new competitors encroach on any market. Established brands have been working within a defined space in an established manner for years. Yet somehow, the new competitor sees a gap, and is willing to devote resources to either fill a hole, or overtake the existing players.

What I am most curious about is how existing B2B websites will react when About.com becomes a head-to-head competitor. Will they do nothing, justifying that About.com does not have the reputation, connections, or history in their niche field? Will they partner? Will About.com simply fail at these efforts?

It has me considering what drives innovation. In this case, what leads a B2B media company to go into overdrive to launch new products, devote new resources, reorganize their efforts to serve their market in new and exciting ways?

What pushes us in everyday life? What pushes us when we play games or sports? Some ideas:

We move quicker when others are at our heals.

We move into new areas when others tell us it’s okay.

We feel more confident when others show us how.

We feel comfortable doing things when we won’t stand out.

We band together when we are dealing with a threat.

I suppose this is why people say “competition is good.” It also has something to do with the whole “embrace failure” ideology – that if you are failing, it means you are trying new things, and will eventually hit on a new success.

Why do we innovate? Is it proactive or reactive? Is it organizational or individual? These are questions I’ve had for years – especially in times of massive change like that the media world is experience. As companies strive to protect existing revenue streams and work towards creating new ones, they need to develop skillsets that drive innovation as the norm.

Why? Because About.com is just another in a line of new competitors that B2B media companies are facing. And they are certainly not the last.

Here are other blog posts I wrote this week:

If you feel I can help you evolve the skillsets of your organization, give me a call: 973-981-8882. Here are some other ways you can connect with me:

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I’ve been reading about how companies such as Demand Media, Examiner.com, and Suite101 – those “content farms” – train their contributors on writing and web skills. These companies put a strong focus on creating efficient systems to organize a large group of people to do specific tasks.

Dan Blank

“Early on we decided there would be four pillars of types of courses which will be reflected in 101 courses: editorial; marketing to a growing audience; technical skills, because publishing online means putting tools in the writers’ hands; and then information that is specific to Examiner.com, such as how our referral program works.”

The article makes it clear that these companies can’t require contributors to take the courses, and that while they feel there is positive results, they didn’t share much hard data on their effect.

But this had me considering how traditional media companies and publishers train and evolve the skillsets of their employees. Those in book publishing, magazines and newspapers. Many of these companies are smaller than they were five years ago – with each staff member doing multiple roles. Some may be doing more work to make up for “reduced headcount,” and others may be doing more work because of the changes in media.

For instance: a magazine editor who now must post articles to the web, not just print, send out a newsletter, and organize online contributors. This is not just more items they are responsible for, but a wider range of skills, some editorial, some management, some technical, some marketing, some print media, some online media.

How are companies not just giving these employees more responsibility, but more opportunity to excel at these tasks? Like the Demand Media’s of the world, traditional media companies need to scale systems and processes across a wide range of brands. So they put in systems for content management, for email, and the processes behind them, which clearly makes sense on many levels.

But are these staff members evolving their skills, or are they becoming cogs in the machine? Let’s take our print magazine editor example.

  • Are they learning how email newsletters drive business forward, and becoming experts in email marketing – or are they merely filling in a template with “content” that came from print or the website?
  • Are they learning the process of product development online – how to test and determine what makes a great homepage and article page – or are they merely racing to fill it with “content” that originated with a writer who would have written it the same for print?
  • When sourcing bloggers, are they digging into web analytics and researching who has existing influence in online communities, or are they tapping the same sources in their network – columnists from print who will now write print columns online?

This is in no way, shape, or form a complaint against templates, editors, print, or anything else. My concern is simply this:

How do we help those in established media companies grow their skills and evolve their careers? How do we take them from being cogs to controlling the levers of the machine? How do we increase employee satisfaction, not just their workload?

I can’t pretend to look into the future and think that large media companies in established markets (books, magazines, newspapers) will be larger. Likely, they will be smaller. But how can we make them hotbeds for talent, groups of vibrant people who are growing, who are pushing boundaries, who feel they are being not only respected for what they’ve done in the past, but respected enough to help them navigate a changing media landscape and grow their skillset for the future.

How do we get them to say “I am not a dime-a-dozen, I am Willy Loman.”

If you feel I can help you evolve the skillsets of your organization, give me a call: 973-981-8882. Here are some other ways you can connect with me:

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What Marketers Can Learn From Old Spice

by Dan Blank on July 15, 2010

I never thought I would be writing an article about Old Spice, and yet, here we are. This week, the brand rolled out a series of videos on YouTube where their spokesperson directly responded to people’s Twitter updates in short, funny clips.

Dan Blank
Some of the people he responded to were well-known people, others were not. One guy even used the Old Spice spokesperson as a marriage proposal.

This marketing program spread like wildfire on the web, and to me, it seemed to be an incredibly important example of how the web is changing marketing and how businesses connect with customers. Instead of the top-down one-to-many approach, Old Spice tried the opposite. They tried one-to-one.

In a single day, the marketing team behind the Old Spice campaign produced 89 videos. That’s crazy. And most of them were really offbeat and engaging.

When many businesses try to leverage the web to create an “innovative’ marketing program, they focus too much on the technology, and not enough on the people. They create complicated systems where customers earn ‘points,’ and ask customers to give before they can receive. (eg: opt-in, log in or sign up)

But what often works best are things that are simple. Things that engage real people in basic ways. And that’s what Old Spice did. These are the lessons I am considering from it:

Get Closer to Customers
What I loved most about the campaign is that it made consumers feel a part of it. While Old Spice clearly hoped for this to go viral, it was packaged as if the spokesperson was speaking to a single person.

Be Nimble
Producing so many videos in such a short period of time meant that the normal public relations folks within the brand couldn’t vet the material as they normally would . This took away layers of red tape, and put the creative folks in charge of connecting directly with the audience.

Target Influencers
The marketing team clearly targeted influencers and established a system to help them identify who to respond to. This helped the message spread, as each influencer would promote the custom video to their following.

Target the Little Guy
They also responded to people on Twitter who had small followings. This gave everyone the sense that they could be chosen, that they too could win the lottery.

Don’t Worry About Owning the Platform
Old Spice relied on two platforms they didn’t own: YouTube to post the videos, and Twitter to spread the message. The connection to customers was more important than owning the platform.

Real-Time is a Powerful Engagement Factor
The fact that the video responses came so quickly made the entire program incredibly engaging. It made consumers rethink their own expectations of how to interact with a brand.

Have Fun
Clearly, the creative team who worked on this had a ton of fun. And the consumer feels that two – it’s as if we are all in on it together.

And for the record, I’ve used Old Spice for years and years. Suddenly, I feel relevant!

Read more about the Old Spice campaign here, here and here.

If you feel I can help you out in your marketing evolution, give me a call: 973-981-8882. Here are some other ways you can connect with me:

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Organizational Change

by Dan Blank on July 9, 2010

Let’s say you need to move your business in a new direction. You are hoping the evolve the skillset of your staff, revamp your product and service lineup, and find new ways to partner with those in your industry.

So you’ve done a lot of research, worked through many different strategy ideas, analyzed the technological systems requires to make this change, and come up with a vision for your future. Maybe you’ve even created a PowerPoint presentation to communicate this change, and scheduled a roadshow to meet with each group in your company to get them on board.

But now, you are a few months into the shift, and finding it tougher to affect change. System rollouts are progressing, senior leadership has been working with you to revamp product and sales offerings, and others in your industry are impressed with your vision. And yet, the change comes more slowly than you would like, and at every turn, you find an entrenched business practice, a team that isn’t developing as you had hoped – a ship that can’t turn.

Organizational change is hard. It requires more than just the proper systems, technological savvy and strategic direction. Why? Because it’s easy to get a room full of 100 people to clap at a PowerPoint, but difficult to align and balance the needs, fears, motivations, and skills of those 100 people.

Sure, we try to pretend that this doesn’t exist. That every employee isn’t motivated by logic alone, but perhaps some deeper human emotions. I don’t mean that anyone has any ill-will, just that human beings are a funny bunch. And shoving them into a gray cubes and asking them to drink the PowerPoint Kool-Aid doesn’t always have the intended results.

Below are some ideas to help organizational change. I’ve utilized quite a few ideas I’ve heard from Simon Sinek, I highly recommend his book and blog.

  • People Want Something To Believe In
    It’s true. Do you think that every mechanic is motivated by the repair sheet for your carburetor? Many believe in the value of machines, or transportation, or in problem-solving, or in customer service. Their motivation may go much deeper than the specific project in front of them.

    Michael Arrington shared a great quote: "It’s completely clear that humans need a mission to accomplish to be happy."

    How do specific tactics (eg: attend training on this new content management system) align to a larger purpose? Telling people they have to, or that it will have new features, or save 15 minutes a day may not be enough to motivate them. Getting them excited about being a part of a revolutionary shift in publishing and journalism just may.

    And it that doesn’t work, tell them that this is how The New York Times does it. Or whoever they want to align themselves to. Because we all have heroes, we all have a vision of who we are that not everyone can see. When you help your employees make those visions a reality, you have given them the life they dreamed of having.

  • People Want To Be Involved, Not Managed
    That’s a quote I heard from Simon Sinek this week, and it’s so true. Maybe you did sit in a room with a few other managers and work out the PERFECT strategy, the PERFECT system, and the PERFECT way to get from zero to sixty as quickly as possible. Well, your project rollout shouldn’t begin until you make everyone feel involved, not just managed.

    An email announcing a shift in strategy or a new system they have to learn – that is not enough. Make the staff feel a part of the process. Even if you can’t integrate everyone’s ideas, at least give them the opportunity – the feeling – that they are involved in shaping the future. Everyone wants to be Willy Wonka. Nobody wants to be an Ooompah Loompah.

  • Make It Seem Like Their Idea
    Sure, to motivate an audience, you must listen before you tell. But things tend to work when you make a group think that the path forward was actually there idea. This is not some form of trickery either, it actually helps you ensure you are not just "listening," but ACTING on what you are hearing.

    Don’t worry about who gets the credit. When you allow people to feel as though the idea is coming from them, and benefits them, then yes you share the credit, but you also make it 100 times more likely that the project will succeed.

  • Personal Goals Must Be Aligned With Professional Goals
    In many organizations, there is an institutional illusion that each employees’ personal lives are somehow small and separate from their professional lives. When a company such as Google offers laundry service or nap space or healthy meals or child care or backrubs – it is seen as revolutionary, even though each of these things are reasonable solutions to basic human problems in our culture.

    People have their own personal goals. How does your plan for your company align to each employee’s personal and career goals? Telling people to "put in the hours" has ramifications that you won’t see: time away from family, perhaps there is a toll on morale, chores that can’t get done, maybe even an argument with their spouse. Just because you don’t see these things in the workplace doesn’t mean they don’t exist and don’t affect your business.

    But when you align business goals with personal goals, you will find employees jumping through hoops to achieve them, instead of feeling peer pressure to stay a half hour later.

  • Make it Easy to Feel A Sense of Achievement
    While business leaders may have an ultimate goal of growing revenue, many line-level employees do not have a direct affect on revenue and may not understand how their contribution has shaped it. Also – most can’t wait until the end of each quarter to know if their effort is paying off. Break down goals by function and then into smaller tasks that can be measured and rewarded.

    Yearly ‘performance reviews’ and bonuses are not enough. How does each employee know they are on track, how do they know they are appreciated? Likely, they sit in a car or on a train for 45+ minutes a day in traffic to get to the office. Let them know what all that traffic is for.

    This is not to say that financial reward is required, most people value social rewards WAY more than financial rewards.

    Don’t make the measures and rewards few and far between. Find ways to recognize people every day, week, month, quarter, and year. Find a variety of measures to focus on so that not only one group (eg: sales) feels appreciated.

  • Make It Fun
    How many offices have you been to where the C-Suite is elegant and professional and the cubes are filled with troll dolls, family photos, goofy objects, movie posters, inflatable objects and other items that employees add to make it feel more fun or familiar?

    Sure, most employees want to see that line chart with revenue going upward and to the right. But how else can you get them on board with strategic direction and the specific tactical steps needed to move forward? What makes people laugh, what inspires people, what gets people to step out of their shell? What gets them to reimagine who they are, their role, and how their contribution is measured? Hint: it’s not a chart, and not a PowerPoint.

If you feel I can help you out in your journey, give me a call: 973-981-8882. Here are some other ways you can connect with me:

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