Digital is not a channel; it’s a life-connection tool.

At the 2009 International Licensing Expo, I watched intently as people from all over the world walked up and down the aisles with their faces buried in their smartphones.  There were hundreds of exhibitors, featuring some of the most exciting ideas and concepts in the Licensing Industry; yet, I'm sure many excellent opportunities were lost or overlooked merely because those exhibiting didn't make an effort to connect with the lives of those attending.  Most exhibitors just were not in the "lifestream" of the attendees.

I decided to try a little social media experiment at the Licensing Expo to see if we could get into the attendee's lifestream and create personal engagement.  We advertised our presence on Twitter in print and on signs in the booth, we engaged followers of the Licensing Expo Twitter feed (#LX9) on the floor, and we brought a magician to the booth to create a different life experience on the show floor.

Were we successful?

Our Twitter follower numbers are up modestly since the advertisements began to appear, but the real success comes from the buzz we generated on the show floor.  We tweeted multiple times a day, awarding prizes, sharing memorable visits and talking about our booth activities.  The folks at the Licensing Expo and others took notice and retweeted.  Many booth visitors said the tweets were the reason for stopping.

It seems that we were not only successful in getting into the lifestream of attendees but once we gained their attention, we also did well to create a memorable experience (with our magician) when they engaged.  This good memory we helped to create launched many more in-depth conversations about our brand and our opportunities.  Although, had we not made good use of the moment when we captured their attention, attendees would have been off to the next thing.

Some have said this was a successful use of the digital channel, or perhaps savvy social media marketing.  Maybe, although I no longer believe in marketing channel silos when it comes to building customer relationships (see my 2003 whitepaper, Customers are Channel Neutral for details).  Customers effortlessly move between channels, so our old definitions are no longer genuinely relevant except to say that the customer experience must be consistent regardless of when and where the customer connects.  Today, marketers must subtly connect, be accepted in the lifestream, and engage with a passion so that it creates a memory for the customer.  So, it was not the use of the social media that mattered in our experiment; instead, it was the memory we helped to create.  Social media and digital technologies are only tools to help spread the message.  What is most important for marketers to remember merely is: great stories and memorable experiences spread quickly to build brands--the channel and the tools are irrelevant.

With people from all over the world attending, the Licensing Expo provided a microcosm of what is happening in our culture.  Our personal and work lives are intertwined, and we engage both regardless of our location. Life is no longer exclusively defined by what is happening in our physical presence.  For many of us, it resides in the palm of our hands and is illuminated by a tiny screen. As marketers, we must adapt to these changes without being intrusive or obnoxious if we are to keep our brands relevant.

As I see it, this ever-present digital and wireless connection to the world can no longer be called a "channel."  Digital technologies naturally and effortlessly extend the relationships in our lives, and life connections are not channel dependent.

Social Media: This, too, will change.

I have always been an early adopter of technology. I like change, and I get a bit of an adrenaline rush working with and figuring out new tools and toys. Unfortunately, there are a good number of my friends and family who do not understand some of the newer social media enablers. Twitter cannot be explained to most of them, and some flat-out refuse to use Facebook. Others, I am sad to say, carry a cell phone, but cannot manage to “Text.” These are the same people who could not believe I would carry a BlackBerry® and answer emails after working hours, yet they now do the same. Times and people do change.

The use of these electronic tools for conversation isn’t as really the time-waster they insist it is. Frankly, I prefer to think of these devices tools as “time-enablers” instead of a “time-wasters.” Having a BlackBerry®, for example, allows me to take my work with me wherever I go. Whether it's soccer games, band or chorus concerts, or business trips, I can easily bridge the time between work, play, and life most of the time. This technology use means I probably work more hours than the average person does, but I work differently. I like the freedom. After all, it’s all “life,” isn’t it?

Facebook allows me to keep up with my kids and friends while traveling on business or otherwise away from the PC. Twitter opens the doors to ideas and conversations that I would never have if I only talked to the people in my everyday business dealings. For those of us with intense curiosity and a burning desire to continue to learn new things, Twitter is the source of unbelievable amounts of useful information, shared by people with similar passions—even for a skimmer of tweets like me.

In a 2003 blog entry, “The trouble with cell phones,” I shared that my friend Roger might have been on to something when he suggested, “…cell phones have replaced cigarettes as a nervous habit. People pull out their cell phones, call others when they feel bored or need to kill 5 minutes or so, and didn’t plan ahead with some reading material.” Today, this has been replaced with texting, email, Facebook, and Twitter. Tomorrow, it will be something else. As someone commented recently, given a choice, people would rather be doing something than doing nothing. Mobile technologies allow us to do something all of the time—productive or not.

Technology has naturally evolved since 2003 when cell phones were the primary source of mobile conversations. While we still use cell phones, we use them differently. We talk little and text often. Technology and our use of will continuously evolve and morph into the next generation of tools. Think about it: the “shared applications,” mainframe-thinking of the 70’s changed into tools like Google Apps and cloud computing discussions. AOL’s IM chat communities of the 90’s and classmates.com have evolved into today’s Facebook, and ASP program models of the 2000’s have grown into the Software as a Service (SaaS) program models of today. The technology changed, sure. But, it was the users of the technology who drove those changes.

Knowing how technology changes, it’s hard for me to imagine that a few short years from now what we call “Social Media” and the technology that supports it, will not have undergone a significant transformation for the better. It will do so because of the users. Users of these tools already desire a more streamlined ways to improve communications with others. I have to believe that users will demand better integration of these tools to make their lives easier through increased mobility. This will allow the conversations to continue and the relationships to build all day, every day. Will this mean stronger, better relationships? Maybe. Only time will tell.

I am confident of two things, though. One: Everything about technology and social media interaction will continue to evolve. For those of us who are early adopters, we gain great insights into how that evolution may occur. Two: My friends, who don’t understand Twitter today, will likely not follow the next step in the evolution either. Unfortunately, they will find themselves farther and farther behind; not just with technology, but also in their social interactions with others as many of their friends more readily adopt the changing way we communicate as a culture.

By know, we all should realize that “this, too, will change.” Technology evolves. Communication methods evolve. People do not evolve as much as they adapt. Either they drive such change by adopting, engaging, and sharing or they only adapt to such change reluctantly in fear of being passed by.

Which will you do?

 

Thanks to @heathervescent with whom I had a Twitter conversation about emerging technology, which was the spark for this blog post.

BlackBerry® is a registered trademark of Research In Motion Limited.

 

Twitter and the curse of non-interested followers

With just 140 characters, folks are striking up conversations around the world on a variety of topics and in “real time” with Twitter.  If you are not already familiar with the tool, essentially users get a “platform” from which to speak about their passion (similar to a blog) that occurs at the speed of instant messaging.  Like blogs, it creates a medium where everyone has a voice; like instant messaging, it is sometimes irreverent. (If you’re not familiar with Twitter, Fortune Magazine published an informative article in August 2008, The true meaning of Twitter.)

Once you have a Twitter account, you’ll need to “follow” someone to get the most out of the tool.  This means you’ll be listening (or reading) to what that person has to say.  As an information junkie, I follow those who talk about things that interest me.  Although, I have to admit following a hundred or so simultaneous conversations can sometimes be daunting.  Nonetheless, I learn new things daily, I’ve found a great breeding ground for new things to think about, and I find new sources of information relevant to my interests.  Because these topics interest me, I can also contribute something to these conversations.

On the flip side, some may desire to follow you and here’s where it gets a little sticky.  Not everyone thinks the way I do and follow people who engage in topics of interest.  Some believe that it is the size of the network that’s important.  I would like to think the general idea behind Twitter was “relevant conversations” with others; therefore the size of your network would be somewhat limited by those with similar interests.  Unfortunately, like rabid “network marketers” some desire to follow solely so someone in your network may see them and investigate the latest “business opportunity” being pitched or product sold.  Those people are only trying to increase the size of their network.  I dislike this approach, as it seems to me that the “follow” is somehow disingenuous.

Consider this: When you met your neighbor the first time, did you work to find common interests, or were you pitched all-purpose, non-toxic cleaning solutions that he or she happened to be selling?  I dislike the latter and will avoid that neighbor for a while.

The same is true online, and especially on Twitter.  It’s very easy to “unfollow” someone.  You can also block your updates, as I do so that you must approve everyone who follows you.  I like this because it gives me the opportunity to manage my “implied endorsement” of those who follow me.  I review every website and a Twitter stream of every follow request and make a conscious decision as to the “fit.”  If there is not a fit, I decline.

Social media tools are specifically designed to build conversations.  Think about it like talking with your neighbor across the back fence; only you’re talking across the Internet.  Shared ideas and interests are paramount to building personal credibility and friendships.  Twitter and other online tools can accelerate credibility building, but they can destroy it just as quickly.

For me, Twitter is not about building a large, non-interested following.  It’s a waste of everyone’s time and erodes the credibility of the followers. I hope those I follow feel the same way.