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I love plaid. Plaid Nation that is

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I fell in love with Plaid today.  Not the pattern, the Agency and its road show Plaid Nation.  Plaid is a small shop hailing from the mega-communications metropolis of Danbury, Connecticut.  They do some cool work creating online communities and social media programs for organizations and brands that include Boehringer Ingelheim, Iron Horse Bikes, Segway, Sony Music, Virgin Records and — how lovely — the Westport Country Playhouse.

I fell in love because everything about Plaid lives and breathes the best qualities of social media.  They’re open, real, honest, charming, relaxed, human.  And frankly I just like the design of their web site. It’s fun and funky.

The way I got onto them, though, wasn’t through the web site or their work.  I’d been hearing for awhile  about something called Plaid Nation on different blogs and podcasts.  I knew it was some kind of road show or tour, with a team that went across country meeting with anyone doing interesting, innovative things — people, companies, NGO’s, even other creative agencies.  But I didn’t know much more than that. Today I finally got around to visiting the Plaid Nation 2009 web site and getting behind the story.

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The first Plaid Nation tour happened in 2007.  It began as an idea for Plaid to generate awareness and PR.  A group of company staffers made over a van in plaid and drove across country to visit — unannounced — brands they liked or would like to get to know.  Since then the tour has become, according to Plaid’s Darryl Ohrt in Ad Age, “a produced ‘show’ that profiles some of the world’s greatest, most interesting and innovated business thinkers.”

Indeed it does.  Go over to Plaid Nation where you’ll find interviews featuring:

  • Scott Monty, Ford’s head of social media, talking about his recently completed tumultuous first year at the corporate giant.
  • Steve Pacheco,  Director of Advertising for Federal Express.  Federal Express’s late-delivery rate is tiny.  But when you consider that Fedex delivers millions of packages on any given day, even a fraction of a percentage of late arrivals can amount to a significant number of complaints on Twitter.  In contrast, no one on Twitter is going to post that his Fedex package arrived on time this morning.  That’s just one reason that Fedex has begun to engage in social media.
  • An inspiring visit to the Make it Right project, an organization started by Brad Pitt to help rebuild New Orleans’ post-Katrina neighborhoods with economically and environmentally sustainable housing.
  • A talk with the people running the The Q Hotel  – the first green hotel in Kansas City and one of only 11 hotels in North Amercia that has been certified green.

And that’s just a small selection.  All in all this year’s Plaid Nation July tour spent time with inspirational movers and shakers in Detroit, Milwaukee, Chicago, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Kansas City, Branson Missouri, Jackson Mississippi and New Orleans.  And the tour members shared their experiences through a vibrant combination of videos, blogs, tweets and Facebook posts.

What strikes me most about the Plaid Nation tour is its generosity.  Of course Plaid launched the tour to promote their business.  But  they realize they have the most to gain by giving.  Everyone who visits Plaid Nation profits from the ideas and inspiration they discover there, while Plaid profits from the exposure, sharing the way think and work, and letting potential clients get to know the people who make Plaid what it is.  And of course the people and projects they visit gain through the exposure as well.

Apparently it works.  Plaid says the tour has been a major driver of new business since its inception.

So pay a visit to Plaid Nation.

And to Plaid Nation I’d just like to ask, can we hope to see you in Germany some day?

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The latest station in Charlene Li’s crusade to prove the business value of social media

Sometimes I get the feeling that Charlene Li is on a crusade — a crusade to prove with hard data that social media can have real value for business.  First there was Groundswell, co-authored with Josh Bernoff, which highlighted an array of companies leveraging social media successfully to achieve business objectives.  Now there’s a new study from Charlene’s company, Altimeter Group, and Wetpaint, that shows a correlation between social media engagement and financial performance.

Engagementdb

The ENGAGEMENTdb Report looks at the top 100 performing global brands according to the BusinessWeek/Interbrand “Best Global Brands 2008” ranking and measures and ranks their engagement in a range of social media channels for both depth and breadth.  The analysis shows a clear correlation between social media engagement and financial performance.

While correlation is not the same thing as cause and effect, the data is impressive.  And as Mark Pack points out in a blog post, if one assumes that the world’s top performing companies are run by the world’s most capable managers, it’s noteworthy that these business leaders appear to endorse a deep and committed engagement in social media.

The report concludes with a useful assessment of the best practices of four of the most socially engaged brands — Starbucks, Toyota, SAP and Dell.  It’s interesting that the way companies engage in the space can vary greatly.  For example, while Starbucks only permits a small group of designated employees to speak for the company in social channels, SAP has 1500 employee bloggers.

There are a few details missing from the report that I would like to have seen.  Each company was rated on 40 engagement attributes, but the report doesn’t provide the specific attributes.  What’s more, while it lists the specific social media channels analyzed, there is no analysis of which, or in what depth, each company engaged with the individual channels.  This might have helped to better understand while Apple, a company that doesn’t receive particularly high marks from me for online social engagement, made it to the top third of the ranking.

So, what will be the next station in Charlene Li’s crusade to prove the business value of social media?  I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s already working on the next quantitative study, the one that show not only a correlation, but an actual cause-and-effect relationship between social media engagement and business results.

Some crusades are good.

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A 30-second message from our sponsor — how cool is that?

In this amusing clip Malcom Gladwell fantasizes about a world in which digital media always existed and newspapers were only invented a few years ago.  He imagines that digital natives would find it totally cool — information on paper, no need to lug your laptop to the breakfast table every morning.  I’ve had a similar thought about 30″ TV spots. What if blogs, product rating sites, consumer generated content, online conversations, etc. were the only ways to learn about brands? Then someone came along and said — “Hey, I can tell you most of what you need to know in 30 seconds! How cool is that?”

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