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Helped by the internet, “the times, they are a-changin” in Egypt

I got home yesterday morning from a three-day trip to Hurghada, Egypt.  Hurghada is a sprawling resort town on the Red Sea frequented by scuba divers.  I was there to complete my PADI Open Water Diving certification.  As it happened, I had the April 5th issue of The New Yorker magazine with me, which featured an article by Joshua Hammer on the upcoming Presidential elections in Egypt.

The current Egyptian leader, Hosni Mubarak, became President in 1981 following the assassination of Anwar Sadat.  He has since been “re-elected” every six years by national referendum with no opposition candidates, except in 2005 when the Bush administration pressured him to allow multiparty Presidential elections.  The fairness of those elections has been challenged, with human rights watchers reporting massive suppression of the opposition in the weeks leading up to the voting and on election day.

Election year 2011 looks to be different, with several factors potentially ushering in real change.

One is that Mubarak is now 81.  While he once told the Egyptian parliament that he would stay in office until his last, dying breath, he has recently been grooming  possible successors, including his son Gamal.

Another catalyst of change is Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who recently returned to his hometown of Cairo for the first time since retiring as head of the International Atomic Energy Agency.  ElBaradei was the man who questioned the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq prior to the U.S. invasion and urged that inspections continue.  He has now heeded the call from different constituencies in Egypt and is assessing a possible run for the Presidency.

And finally, there’s the internet.  According to the New Yorker article, 16 million Egyptians are now online, most of them under the age of 35.  That’s relatively low for a population of about 80 million.  Nevertheless, Gamal Mubarak, who is trying to position himself as the leader of Egypt’s youth hosted a recent webcast with college students, and more are planned.  (One could also imagine him launching the Arab equivalent of The Great Schlep, the online campaign that mobilized young Jewish voters in the U.S. to get their non-internet affine grandparents living in Florida to vote for Obama.)  ElBaradei has created the National Front for Change, which includes a web site that is collecting signatures for adjustments in the law to make the election fairer.  And unknown to him, supporters also created a Facebook fan page.  Joshua Hammer reported that there were 76,000 fans at the time he wrote the article.  I just looked and there are now over 91,000.

Bloggers are also active in Egypt, although those critical of governmental policies have been called in for questioning and in some cases jailed.  Referring to these incidences, Mohamed Gamal, a leader in Mubarak’s National Democratic Party, said, “There might be some individual cases, but no government can crack down on the internet.”  One wonders if that statement is just a propaganda ploy to play down the ruling party’s efforts to suppress criticism online, or a sincere acknowledgment that in the immortal words of Bob Dylan, the times, they are a-changin in Egypt.  One hopes it’s the latter.

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Foursquare and Gowalla enable true “when and where they are receptive” messaging

Foursquare and Gowalla are the most well-known location based social networks.  They’ve been around for some time, but like Twitter before them, have now reached a Tipping Point of online social media conversation and debate.  Both were much discussed at the recent South by Southwest conference in Austin, as were location based services in general.

Are you signed up yet? To find out more about them, check out Crunchbase.  In a nutshell, both services use geo-location technology to pinpoint where you are.  When you log on via your mobile device, a window shows stores, restaurants, museums, cafes, etc. in your immediate area, and when you check in to one of these locations, you can automatically let friends and followers know, write a message or leave a comment, tip or rating.  You can also read other users’ comments about the location.

Foursquare also incorporates gaming elements through a system of badges that you earn when you become, for example, the most frequent visitor to a place, or have visited a certain number of new places.  As odd as it sounds, people really get into this and it obviously provides promotion and merchandising opportunities for businesses and retailers. Foursquare works with businesses to provide stats based on audience check-ins, so a local restaurant might offer a special deal to its “mayor” (the badge awarded to the most frequent visitor) and his followers to drive loyalty, increase frequency of visits, or motivate lapsed visitors to come back.  Businesses can also set up loyalty programs for customers to earn points every time they check in, redeemable against future purchases.  Those are just a couple of examples of how local businesses are using Foursquare to boost traffic and sales.  You can find more information on Foursquare’s information page for businesses.

Indeed, much of the discussion of around location-based services has been about their marketing value to small, local businesses.  But as these services develop and add on new features, they will become just as valuable for major brands and businesses as well.

An age-old tenet of traditional media planning is to reach consumers when and where they will be receptive to the message.  Indeed, one could argue that a major issue with the traditional one-way, one-to-many communications model of the last 150 years — aside from the fact that so much advertising was, and still is, tedious and boring — is that too many messages reached the wrong people, at the wrong place, at the wrong time.   Location-based services like Foursquare and Gowalla can change all that.  What’s especially exciting is that these services can deliver those messages precisely at the moment when buying decisions can most likely be influenced and acted upon, at the point of sale.

Imagine you’re a mom, it’s Saturday morning and you’ve checked in at your local Tesco or Safeway using Foursquare.  Among your Foursquare friends and followers are other moms like you.  Let’s pretend Foursquare has an interface that allows you to list the categories and brands from whom you’re happy to receive information, as well as an opt-in function that lets you choose when you receive that information and when you don’t.  (It will happen soon enough!)  You opt in because this is precisely when and where you are receptive to hearing about the latest deal on diapers, the newest flavor variety of your favorite salad dressing brand, or a new recipe suggestion for preparing a quick dinner for your family that evening.

Some other ways Foursquare might help you out:

You point your iPhone at a new item you’re considering, and Foursquare immediately shows you comments and reviews from your friends or the broader Foursquare community.

You check in to Foursquare and you receive a personalized thank you message from Tropicana Orange Juice for buying Tropicana each of the last three times you went shopping at this location,  with a 50% off coupon for your next purchase.

Gerber Baby Food lets you know that 10 moms in your Foursquare network also buy baby food and if you all buy $5,00 or more of Gerber this week, you’ll all receive a buy 1 get 1 free offer the next time you visit the store.  You message your friends to let them know.

None of these functions are available yet, but it’s only a matter of time until these or others like them are.

Social media purists may find the notion of using Foursquare and Gowalla as a channel for marketing messages anathema.  Many would say that it’s fine for brands to participate in social media, but if they do, it needs to be in a genuine way, with a human voice, through personalized one-on-one conversations.  I agree that the possibility of the social web to enable more human, collaborative exchanges between people and the companies they buy from is one of the most exciting aspects of the new, post-broadcast age.  But it’s not the only way of doing things.  If a social media service empowers consumers to receive promotional messages from companies and brands that are of interest to them, where and when they want to receive those messages, and on top overlays that information with additional opinions and commentary from their peers, I don’t have a problem with that.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, one of the main reasons that people become fans of branded Facebook pages is that they want to learn about special offers, free samples and promotions.  So apparently consumers don’t have a problem with it either.

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“Search and save” on Facebook, Twitter?

In episode 533 of the For Immediate Release podcast, Shel Holtz provides a remarkably lucid and convincing defense of companies and organizations creating Facebook fan pages.  This was in response to comments from members of the FIR Friendfeed room predicting the end of commercial fan pages on Facebook.

Shel points out that many fan pages are indeed ineffective, because the creators have clearly not put much thought into why people might want to come visit the page.  One of the main reasons customers give for visiting a fan page is to find out about special deals and offers.  Like this one from Starbucks, which was in my Facebook newsfeed this morning.

Of course, there are other reasons people interested in an organization or brand might become a fan and be motivated to return to the page regularly.  As Shel points out, patients with chronic illnesses might become a fan of their local hospital to learn about seminars that help them to manage their condition.  It’s not hard to imagine other reasons as well.  A local retailer could keep its customers up to date on sales or the arrival of a hot new product.  Museums could announce new exhibits, or alert people to slow days when popular exhibits might be less crowded.  Presuming not everyone buys their books on Amazon, a local book seller could let literary types know when a new novel was in stock or its author would be appearing for a reading and book signing.

The point of course is that a successful fan page starts with the consumer.  What do they need, what might be of value to them, how could a Facebook fan page help?

Another aspect is particularly important. Companies and organizations can of course feed this information to people elsewhere on line, through their own web sites or email, for example  But that demands more effort and time than most people have today.  It has to occur to them to go to the web site, they need to take the time to remember your URL or find it in their “favorites” list, or consciously decide to click on your email vs. all the others that are cluttering their mailbox.  For more and more people, Facebook is where they are anyway.  And when they’ve opted in to your fan page, you are there with them, because everything you announce shows up in their news feed.  They don’t have to go to your information, your information goes to them — automatically.

Which brings me to the last point.  Most of us don’t have our eyes constantly glued to our Facebook news feed.  The same goes for Twitter.  Facebook should create a “search and save” tool, like an RSS feeder, but for Facebook posts.  It would have a function that allows you to enter the names of the fan pages from whom you would like to receive posts, and then automatically collects those posts for you to review at a time that’s convenient, with the reassurance that you didn’t miss the latest big deal or event.  I’m not aware of a tool like this, either on Facebook or Twitter, where it would also make sense.  Do you know of one?

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Have T-shirt, will twitter. I Wear Your Shirt is social media marketing at its simplest and most human

Evan White and Jason Sadler of I Wear Your Shirt

Jason Sadler rents out his torso as a billboard.  At his web site I Wear Your Shirt, companies, organizations or just regular folks like you and I can hire him to wear a T-shirt sporting our brand.  Jason wears the shirt for a day in Jacksonville, Florida, where he lives.  He uploads videos to YouTube, posts and chats to his community on Twitter and Facebook, and hosts a daily chat about the shirt and the sponsor at UStream.tv.  His videos are like those long-length knife set commercials you see on late night television, only much more fun and not so blatantly about making the sale. Sometimes his audience can win prizes when they leave their own posts mentioning the brand, helping the name to spread.

His pricing model is as simple as it is serendipitous.  Two dollars for January 1st, $4 dollars for the January 2nd, increasing by two dollar increments every day.  So December 31st comes in at a whopping $730.  Last year it was half the price, but Jason doubled his staffing in 2010 with the addition of Evan White, who parades his T-Shirts around Los Angeles, California.

In 2009 Jason netted a reported $84,000.  “Kleinvieh macht auch Mist,” as they say in my adopted country.  Literally it means “Small livestock also makes manure,” or more politely, “Every little bit helps.”  (I prefer the literal translation.)

Most of Jason Sadler’s customers are indeed “Kleinvieh,” not your big major marketers by any means.  But I think it’s cool how the connectivity of the social web can make a micro-scale business idea like this even possible.  Jason earns some pretty good income, and small businesses, with small budgets, get to trigger some potentially significant word of mouth.

Hmmm.  Maybe I’ll hire Jason to promote this blog.  I’ll have to wait till next year though.  January through August 2010 are already sold out.  And more than 200 bucks would break my budget.

And then there’s the T-Shirt.

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Social media? Let Mikey do it? I don’t think so

Many voices in the blogosphere are saying that 2010 will be the year that social media will move from “nice to have” to “must have” for brands.  Maybe it’s true.  But a conversation I heard this week on episode 85 of The BeanCast makes me think that CEO’s still don’t get what is happening here.

The topic of the conversation was the newly emerged position of community manager, who many companies are now putting in place to “manage” their online relationships with consumers, bloggers, etc.  (There must be a better term than manager.  Managing sounds pretty close to commanding and controlling, which is precisely what social media is not about, but that’s a whole different blog post.) It seems that in many cases these jobs are being assigned to junior people, just out of school, for salaries in the $20K range.  What that says to me is that the CEO is thinking, “Okay — there’s this Facebook, Twitter, blogger thing happening on the internet, I don’t really get what it’s about, but hey, it’s another way to get our message to consumers so let’s put the new kid on it who knows how to use this stuff.”

Mikey, our new online community manager

You’ve got to be kidding me.  The new kid?  The one with this least experience and the least understanding of what the company and the brand is all about?

Social media isn’t some hip new communications channel.  It is a different animal — an amazing, completely new and ever changing way for brands to interact and collaborate with their consumers and stake holders and address their needs.  What happens in social media is exposed to the entire online world and all it takes is one well connected blogger, enraged or enthused, for a company’s words and actions to be seen, discussed, praised or picked apart by everyone.

This person needs to know how to deal with a disgruntled customer, build a constructive relationship with an influential blogger, understand the complexities of how to be transparent without revealing confidential company or client information, work within the organization with all departments to guide them in understanding their role in social media and its benefit to the company.  He or she needs to understand strategy, and think creatively about how to integrate social media strategically with marketing, communications, customer service, internal communications, R&D and sales to achieve business objectives.

Scott Monty of Ford and Richard Binhammer of Dell, two social media evangelists within major corporations whose efforts have become case studies for innovative and effective social media engagement, aren’t kids.  They are seasoned business people who have been around the block a few times.

If you’re a CEO who thinks this social media thing is simply another communications channel, best handled by one of the kids in the organization just because he’s had a Facebook page since high school, you really need to think again.  Put somebody in place who not only gets the space, but has a few years under his or her belt in communications, marketing, branding building, customer relations or sales.  And who has gained some wisdom and experience in dealing with people and building relationships.

By the way, I’m available.  But not for $20,000.

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Vote for this man and help Hugo Boss democratize the modelling world via social media!

My friend Andre Zaremba has entered the Hugo Boss Runway Model Contest on Facebook.  (Is he hot, or what?)  You can vote for him there.  Just find him via the search box and vote.  He has also created a Facebook fan page.

Hugo Boss will select one male and one female winner who will walk the catwalk at the Boss Black Fashion Show in Berlin on January 21, 2010.  The event will be live streamed on Facebook.

Andre asked me for ideas on how he might rack up the votes.  Here’s what I told him.  Perhaps there are some ideas for you to promote your own personal brand.

Happy holidays!

Hi Andre,

here are a couple of thoughts.  The cool thing is that your fans can vote for you once every 24 hours.  Since they’ve already done it, they’re likely to do it again.  So they’re the ones from whom you are most likely to source the votes you need. “Strategically” it makes sense to give them a little nudge each day but do it in a way that’s interesting/entertaining, not annoying.  You do that by creating some content, that’s fun or interesting to watch, look at and read, indeed so fun and interesting that it’s “spreadable”.  I.e. people will send it on.

You could set up a YouTube page, give it a theme title related to the Boss contest, shoot a short video each day (do you have a Flip camera?) and post it there.  For example, each daily video could be about a different reason “Why Andre will be the Boss model to die for.”

Video 1 “Andre has a great body” (Andre posing like a muscle man in a bathing suit)

Video 2 “Andre has class” (Andre reading the Royal Opera House bulletin)

Video 3 “Andre has great taste” (Andre eating pate)

Each day a new video.  And each day you send the link to your network, post on your Facebook page, etc.  Get the drift?

Add a “call to action” text with a link to the contest.  And a call to action to “Please send this video to your friends.”

You could easily do the same thing as still-photos that you send out in an email to your fan base every day, or as a message on Facebook.

Set up a Twitter account.  You could build on this theme there and send out tweets to your Twitter followers.  A Twitter post can contain links to your Facebook fan page, or to the photos.  But you’ll need to build a group of followers fast.  First, search all your friends to see if they are on Twitter.  Then there are all sorts of offerings that help people build their followers fast. I don’t remember off hand any specific ones, but if you search “Twitter follower” on Google you find one.

Check out Buzzom.  This is a service that let’s you find Twitter users who are more likely to follow you because you have a common interest.  (Click on the people search option and then on bio).  Important is that the little bio on your Twitter home page reflects that interest.  So your bio might include words like style, fashion, aspiring model.  Buzzom lets you find others with those words in their bio and enables you to follow them several hundred at a time, and a day or two later, delete those who didn’t follow you back.  You can then repeat the process, and there’s a tool that allows you not to repeat following the people you’ve already contacted.

I like the idea of creating a blog.  Again make it fun, and about your quest to win the contest.  Send the link to all your friends, and invite them to send it to others.  Post daily or more often – your posts could be blog-appropriate versions of the above, you could update your followers on the number of votes, talk about your latest idea to help win votes, you could even ask your blog readers for their ideas.  Makes sure to include invites in the side panel for you readers to receive automatic notifications of your posts via RSS feed or email.  I use WordPress and it’s pretty easy to set up.

You should register at StumbleUpon and Delicious.  StumbleUpon is a site where people find sites, web pages, blogs, etc. by entering key words relating to a topic.  Delicious is a public bookmarking site. When you’ve registered, you can pretty much post any content to them with tags relating to the content (so again in this case your tags might be fashion, style, Hugo Boss, Hugo Boss contest, and other related words).  People searching StumbleUpon and Delicious can discover your content in this way (e.g. your YouTube page) and may vote for you.  Especially if they encounter engaging content and a clear link to the voting page.

Consider if there is anything you can give your community of fans that they would spread to others.  So maybe you could leverage that great body of yours to make a calendar, or post card of some sort, that straight gals and gay guys would send to their social online networks.  Think in that direction. What else could you create online that’s fun, related to the contest, that people would like to spread to their networks.  Of course whatever it is, include a call to action to vote for you and a link to Boss page where they can vote.

So those are a few things off the top of my head.  Now I have to go and vote for you again.

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A fun activity for Christmas if you’ve failed to board the social media train so far — enroll in SMUG

Two-thousand-and-nine will go down as the year when social media and marketing finally moved beyond the fishbowl of early adopters and entered the marketing mainstream.

I first started getting involved with social media in lurker mode — that is, subscribing to blogs, listening to podcasts, digesting the emerging literature on the topic, but not personally writing or commenting — toward the end of 2006.  As my interest and knowledge grew and I began to breach the topic with colleagues and clients, no one knew what the heck I was talking about.  Even at the beginning of 2008, when I began this blog, there still wasn’t a whole lot of attention being paid to social media by mainstream marketers or the press.

In the meantime, every other article in Advertising Age touches on some dimension of social media, CNN and other traditional media outlets invite you to follow them on Twitter, my clients are experimenting and creating social media staff positions, Ford’s Scott Monty, who was virtually unknown outside the social media fishbowl three years ago, is a marketing superstar, and even my 86 year old mom is on Facebook.  If there’s anyone left in the marketing community who hasn’t at least thought there is something definitely HAPPENING out there, he or she must be living under that proverbial rock.

Okay — but what if you’ve come late to the train?  You’ve recognized something is going on, but for whatever reason — you’ve been buried under the weight of your anachronistic to-do list, your boss has his head in the sand (or worse places) when it comes to social, or 2009 was the year you finally got to the final round of American Idol — you just haven’t had the time to look into it.

Here’s what you do.  Go to SMUG — Social Media University Global.  SMUG — an unfortunate acronym, as there is nothing smug about it — was created by Lee Aese.  Lee is the manager for Syndications and Social Media for the Mayo Clinic and has been a pioneering innovator in the application of social media strategies in health care.  (I have written previously about the Mayo Clinic’s social media efforts here.)

Enroll in the SMUG curriculum.  That sounds kind of old fashioned and boring, but it’s anything but.  The SMUG curriculum consists of Lee’s own clear and concise explanations of social media strategies and tools, as well as links to articles, blog posts, etc. relevant to the topic at hand, authored by others active in the space.  Add to that a good dose of charm and humor that Lee brings to the party and you’ll find that getting up to speed on the new world of social media and marketing can be an awful lot of fun.  Best of all, it’s free.

So in between the figgy pudding, chestnuts roasting on an open fire, and your annual viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life, why not log in to SMUG this holiday season and give yourself a gift that will truly last the whole year long and beyond.

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