Tag Archives: podcast

From podcast to publication — the social media success story behind J.C. Hutchins’ The 7th Son

The 7th Son

I just received the first 10 chapters of J.C. Hutchins newly published thriller, The 7th Son: Descent, in a free, down-loadable “special edition” pdf.  It was sent to me courtesy of CC Chapman’s podcast Managing the Gray.  I say newly published, because the novel has been around for awhile.

Hutchins originally released it as a serialized podcast, also for free.  From those humble beginnings the story’s fan base spread through online word-of-mouth until it eventually caught the attention of a “real” publisher, St. Martin’s Press.  It is “now in bookstores everywhere,” as they say.

Hutchins’ web site, J.C. Hutchins Thriller Novelist, is highly interactive, providing links and downloads, updating fans on the novel’s progress —  e.g.  Amazon ratings, recent reviews and the like — and even has a section called “evangelize,” where fans will soon find tools for spreading further world of mouth.

It’s a wonderful case study in how online social connections can build a groundswell of support for an aspiring novelist’s work that eventually leads to publication by a recognized institution of the trade with access to an even wider audience. Interesting that despite everyone talking about the democratization of content and the wisdom of the crowd, the ultimate “legitimization” of a work of fiction, or for that matter non-fiction, still seems to be if it is picked up by an “old media” publisher and gets reviewed by the likes of  The New York Times and Publishers Weekly.  Why is that?  Deep down inside, do we still rely on the official arbiters of literature to tell us if something is good or not?

Despite the fact that Hutchins can now earn money on his work in book form, he continues to offer it for free as a podcast or pdf.  I admire his generosity and idealism, and I hope, for the sake of his bank account, that there will be enough readers who are willing to spend $14,99 to read the novel in what for many is still the most enjoyable format of all, words on a printed page between two covers of a book.

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The Manic Mommies — now “trying to do it all” with Saturn

I’ve written before on this blog about the partnership between Saturn cars and the amazing Manic Mommies — Erin Kane and Kristin Brandt, two moms “trying to do it all, and then some…” according to the lead-in to their entertaining weekly podcast about the triumphs and tribulations of motherhood, family and career.

The Manic Mommies -- Erin Kane and Kristin Brandt

The Manic Mommies -- Erin Kane and Kristin Brandt

That cooperation has now moved up a notch.  In the past, Saturn’s involvement has been in support of specific Manic Mommy events.  But in a recent podcast, Erin and Kristin announced a new deal with Saturn involving an ongoing year-long sponsorship of the blog and podcast.

What especially struck me about this what not so much the deal itself, but the refreshingly open and transparent way Erin and Kristin informed their audience about it.

I’m not a mom, I’m not even a dad, except perhaps to my parrot Emil, who does indeed have the intelligence and temperament of a 2-year old.  Perhaps that qualifies me somewhat as a rightful Manic Mommy listener.  (I can certainly relate to leading a manic life.)  But since I work on the Pampers brand at Saatchi & Saatchi, and like to stay in touch with what’s on the minds of moms, and as I am also interested in social media, the Manic Mommies are a natural for me.  So as a loyal listener to the podcast, I also appreciated the way Erin and Kristin informed me and the rest of their loyal fans about their new relationship with Saturn.

Jill Lajdziak of Saturn

Jill Lajdziak of Saturn

The centerpiece of the announcement was an interview on Episode 153 of the podcast with Jill Lajdziak, Saturn’s General manager, and — appropriately —  a mom.  Kristin talked with Jill about the sponsorship in a conversational way that fit perfectly with the tone of the podcast.  Jill, like other marketers who have been on the show, understands that to be effective in this space, they’ve got to be people first, marketers second.  (I wonder if this is due at least in part to a good briefing from Erin and Kristin.)  So before the ladies talked about the sponsorship, they first shared experiences about being a mom, exchanged thoughts about kids and cars, moved on to the topic of safety and, before you knew it, Saturn.  Saturn was built into the conversation, rather than the conversation being built around Saturn.

They went on to talk about what Saturn hopes to get out of the relationship with the Manic Mommies and their audience.    Saturn will set up a forum on the Manic Mommies blog.  This will be a place for special announcements, but Jill mainly sees the forum as a unique opportunity to connect with women in an environment that enables open and honest dialog.  This is pretty innovative when you think about it.  Sponsorship of a blog not merely to promote a product, but to leverage the relationship these two bloggers have with their community in order to talk with current and potential owners more freely and effectively.  Innovative as well is the fact that the forum will be built into the Manic Mommies community, rather than requiring moms to go to the Saturn web site.  So moms are on their territory rather than Saturn’s, which should lead to a much more open and truthful conversation.

You could tell that the Manic Mommies were concerned their audience might worry that we would now be inundated with commercial interruptions from Saturn.  So they reassured everyone that not a whole lot would change, and the main thing people  would notice would be the Saturn forum.  Kristin encouraged people to tell Saturn what they really thought “and don’t sugar coat it!”  Saturn wasn’t “just just looking to hit us all with advertising …  they really want your opinion.”

In their typical charming way Erin and Kristin stressed that Saturn’s support would enable them to provide even better content to their listeners and readers, for example by allowing the both of them to conduct more live interviews, spend more time writing on the blog, and as Erin pointed out, “actually spend more time thinking about the show rather than just four minutes before we start recording.”

It will be interesting to watch how the partnership plays out over the next year.  And if it stays true to the spirit of participation and conversation between the marketer and the audience, rather than becoming just a new way of pumping brand messages to “target consumers.”  From what I’ve seen so far from the Manic Mommies, I have every faith that we’ll be seeing something that stays true to that spirit.

So congratulations to Erin and Kristin on their deal with Saturn, kudos to Saturn for upping their involvement in social media, and good look to both in the coming year.  As Erin quipped at the close of Episode 153, “If the Manic Mommies can save the auto industry, you know, single handedly, my work here is done.”  Erin, I’d be thrilled as anyone if the Manic Mommies were to save the American automobile industry, but even if you do, your work won’t be done.  We’ll all still need our weekly fix of the Manic Mommies.

One last thing.  Erin and Kristin, if you’re reading?  I know I’m a guy, but can I join the Big Tent?  I don’t want to crash the party if it’s only open to “gal pals,” but I’d love to be able to visit the Saturn forum and see what your readers and Saturn are saying.

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Inspired social media from an unexpected source — the Mayo Clinic

The Mayo Clinic would not naturally have occurred to me as a topic for Steve’s Social Media Soapbox.  Not because social media can’t create value for medical institutions and their patients.  On the contrary — social media and online communities can obviously be of tremendous help to people challenged by illness, investigating treatments, dealing with the side effects of medications and coming to terms with a host of other health related issues.  Similarly, the people who treat and care for patients can surely profit from the broad ranging opportunities for collaboration and sharing that social media tools offer.

But as a friend of mine who works for a health care communications agency told me, social media is fraught with legal implications and risks for pharmaceutical companies and medical institutions.  For example, a drug maker that hosted a web site allowing patients to share information about a particular medication would apparently be responsible for documenting and, I believe, investigating all claims of side effects that weren’t yet covered in established protocols.  There are also obvious issues with confidentially and patient privacy.

sharing-mayo-clinic

That’s why when the Mayo Clinic recently launched Sharing Mayo Clinic, a blog for patients, families and staff to share  stories, it seemed to be a breakthrough.  In an excellent interview with Shel Holtz on the For Immediate Release podcast (2/05/09), Lee Aase, who heads up social media for the Mayo Clinic, pointed out that there really wasn’t an issue regarding patient privacy.  According to the Mayo’s lawyers, “If someone decides to tell their story on our site, that’s them disclosing their information, not us disclosing their information.” (This and other quotes of Mr. Aase are from the For Immediate Release interview.)

The upside is tremendous.  In the past the Mayo Clinic posted patient stories on their web site.  But these were written by a freelancer, who first interviewed the patient, and then wrote the story.  According to Aase, they didn’t match the impact and authenticity of people telling their own stories in their own words as they now can do on Sharing Mayo Clinic.  And clearly this transparency is much more credible and trustworthy to patients seeking information about the character and quality of treatment at Mayo.  It’s also highly motivating for Mayo staffers to read these patients’ stories, which often praise the professionalism and humanity of the clinic’s personnel across the board.  Finally, it also costs much less than hiring freelance writers!

Sharing Mayo is only the latest of several blogs from the Mayo Clinic.   These cover — among other topics — health policy, clinic news and diseases, treatments and therapies.

Especially pioneering for a medical institution, the Mayo Clinic provides blogging guidelines to Mayo staffers and allows them to represent the clinic online.  Private sector companies should take these words of Mr. Aase to heart, and recognize the potential power their companies have within the organization to communicate with customers (or in this case patients, friends and families) through engaged, well-guided and social-media savvy employees:

“We have a half a million patients a year, we have 50,000 employees, and our goal with our social media team is to engage and empower them and to get them involved in the conversation, not having the top-down kind of messaging where we try to control and script everything.  My position is that we can’t afford to hire enough people to communicate all things that need to happen, but we’ve got these 50,000 employees who we’re trusting to treat patients and deal with patients everyday that they can probably handle a blog too.”

He finishes the last sentence with a chuckle, as if to say, “Wouldn’t it be silly not to entrust your employees in this way?”  But so many companies have yet to free corporate communications from the iron-fist clutch of the corporate communications department.  Surely the possible risks of this transparency aren’t higher for a Fortune 500 company than they are for the Mayo Clinic?  And the potential benefits are the same.

The Mayo Clinic’s social media engagement goes well beyond these blogs.  They run a Facebook page with at last count 4,990 fans, where you can watch videos on specific health issues and Mayo clinic treatments, link to news bulletins and the main web site, and also read stories of patients and their families.  These posts of course have particular word-of-mouth value as they appear on the pages of Facebook friends, coming from the most credible and trusted source of all, people they know.

The magic of Facebook was also apparent when I clicked on photos of Mayo Clinic buildings uploaded there.  I didn’t find the photos particularly good — the buildings appeared monolithic and kind of scary.  A place where a patient could feel lost.  But these two comments about the photos erased any such impression:

mayo-clinic-picture-3Colleen Manley Wells (Orlando, FL) wrote
at 1:24am on January 27th, 2009
Our favorite doctors in the whole wide world work in this building. Dr. Casler and Dr. Maples – the Wells family loves you!

mayo-clinic-picture-21Jill Hughes (Trenton / Princeton, NJ) wrote
at 5:10pm on January 26th, 2009
my second home

What a great example of “patient generated content” improving significantly upon an institution’s own official communications.

The Mayo also produces a large number of podcasts dealing with health issues of all kinds that can be downloaded from the website or from i-Tunes.

The only reservation I had about the Mayo’s social media efforts was a statement on their Blog Comment Policy page.  It said in effect that if you posted a comment on Mayo-sponsored blogs, you gave the Mayo Foundation the “irrevocable right” to “reproduce, distribute, publish, display, edit, modify, create derivative works from, and otherwise use your submission for any purpose in any form and on any media.”

This seems extreme and dictatorial.  Surely, considering the personal dimension of health issues, patients who share stories and experiences on Mayo online properties, which are beneficial to the institution, its patients and its stake holders, should be permitted some say in how their contributions are used beyond their initial appearance.  Perhaps it’s not an issue for many patients and their families, but I imagine that many people, presuming they read this regulation, would prefer not to tell their stories, or would not share as openly and honestly as they might otherwise.  Would you? … Knowing your words could be edited and published anywhere without your permission, at any time in the future?

Other than that, I was inspired by the Mayo Clinic’s wholehearted embrace of social media and the rich and positive  impressions it provided about the institution, its values and its dedication to patients and their families.  If, God forbid, you are ever confronted with a serious illness, this is the place you want to be.

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GM Saturn shows sense and sensibility

Last week I blogged about the Manic Mommies’ “Sponsorship Spotlight” segment with Lisa from Quinny strollers.  This week in Manic Mommies Episode 139, GM Saturn and the Manic Mommies have demonstrated again how brands can successfully engage in the social media space.

While attending the October 11th BlogHer event, Kristin and Erin talked with Steve from Saturn as he took them for a spin in the Saturn Vue Green Line hybrid.  (Actually Erin did the driving.)   Saturn is sponsoring regional BlogHer events around the country with their BlogHer Reach Out Tour.  They’ve arranged carpools and provided cars for bloggers to make their way to the events.  Then they offer information and test rides for interested bloggers at the event.

Erin and Kristen test drive the Saturn Vue

Sense

These are influential women bloggers, so supporting and building relationships that encourage them to spread positive word of mouth to their audiences makes sense.  And as Steve from Saturn recognized, women control the lion’s share of the household budget and strongly influence the choice of high ticket items.

Steve from Saturn

Sensibility

While talking with the Manic Mommies, Steve showed the same sensibility to the unique situation in which he was representing the Saturn brand.  This was a chat, not a sales pitch.  Like Lisa from Quinny, he made conversation, talked about Saturn like a friend might tell you about the car, joked, and was just genuinely charming.  You got that he truly loved Saturn.  The whole conversation was natural, fun and entertaining.  Just as the Manic Mommies always are.  Like Lisa, we didn’t know Steve’s title or position with Saturn.  It wasn’t important.

Steve, Kristin and the Saturn Sky

Steve, Kristin and the Saturn Sky

The Exception that Proves the Rule

There’s another parenting podcast I love — MommyCast with Paige Heninger and Gretchen Vogelzang.  I never miss an episode, I leave comments, and there’s even a picture of my parrot, Emil, on the MommyCast Facebook page.  But as much as I love them, a couple of months ago they devoted a back-to-school episode to a conversation with one of their sponsors, Staples.  It really got on my nerves, because it didn’t feel like a conversation, it felt like a sales pitch.

Andrew Schneider from Staples — he was the Sales and Marketing Director, or had some other, blah-blah title like that — simply lacked the wit, charm and personality to be effective in a social space like this.  He felt like a fish out of water.  He was stiff and and he talked like a salesman.  I think he did the best that he could.  But he just wasn’t the right person to be talking about his brand in the conversational setting of MommyCast.  No doubt some of the MommyCast listeners heard about some good products and deals from Staples.  But I wouldn’t be surprised if many of them simply switched off.  It was so out of character with what we normally get from MommyCast.  It was more like a half-hour commercial for Staples.

*   *   *   *   *

Thinking about this, there are at least two ways I see brands engaging in social media.  The first one is when a brand creates a community, or consumers create their own community around the brand.  In either of these variations, the brand sets the tone and character and those that identify with the brand participate.  Examples of this are fan pages or blogs, like Moleskinerie for Moleskin enthusiasts.

The other type is when brands are guests within communities that have a culture and character of their own — like the Manic Mommies or MommyCast.  Here the brand walks a fine line.  Marketers who join conversations within these communities must be true to the essence of the brand, but also behave appropriately to the particular community and situation in which they are appearing.  That’s what Steve, from Saturn, and Lisa, from Quinny, both did so well.  And their brands benefited as a result.  The manager from Staples didn’t manage that very well, and his brand suffered.

In future, as more and more brands participate directly in online social communities, perhaps we’ll increasingly observe a new indespensible requirement for a job in the marketing department.  Not only will the candidate have to exhibit marketing sense, but marketing sensibility as well.

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Quinny and Manic Mommies — Sponsorship as Conversation

I was just listening to episode 138 of Manic Mommies, one of my favorite podcasts.  The Manic Mommies are Erin Kane and Kristin Brandt, two funny moms from the Boston area who produce an hour-long  weekly podcast about the traumas and triumphs of family life, career and kids.

Next month the Manic Mommies will host their second annual week-end Escape, a 3-day cruise with 100 or so of their listeners.  Several marketers will sponsor the Escape, hosting on-board events, meeting the moms, running contests and promoting their products.  Episode 138 included the first of a number of “Sponsor Spotlight” segments, featuring Quinny baby strollers.  The segment for Quinny ran about 15 minutes and was remarkably different than your traditional hard-sell commercial sponsorship.  It was more of a conversation than a sales pitch.  And refreshingly honest.

The Intro: Here’s how Erin and Kristin introduced the segment for Quinny, who will sponsor a cocktail reception on the cruise …

Erin:  Everyone needs to indulge with us for a little bit because our sponsors have stepped up to the plate and they have actually helped underwrite the cost of some of our events on the cruise.  And Quinny, our sponsor that is sponsoring Friday night’s cocktail reception …

Kristin: … Open bar baby!

Erin: Need I explain more. Free drinks ladies!

Kristin:  Well two things — open bar, AND they’re going to be giving away two of their Quinny Zapp strollers.  So what we’re going to be doing this month is speaking, briefly, with each of our Escape sponsors in our Sponsor Spotlight.

I love how honest this is.  Kind of like “Hey gals, these people are gonna sponsor our booze so let’s give ’em a break and let them tell us about their product.”

Quinny Zapp stroller

Quinny Zapp stroller

The Quinny Sales Rep: Well, she was anything but.  And I mean that in a good way.  The Manic Mommies introduced her simply as Lisa.  Was she the Marketing Director?  The Advertising Manager?  The head of PR?  Who cares?  It didn’t matter.  What mattered was that she talked like a human being, not like a marketing manager.  In fact, the only time it felt odd was when she occasionally referred to “our target market” or “consumer.”  In other words, when she slipped back into hackneyed and artificial marketing-speak.  Okay. Nobody’s perfect. Old habits die hard.

The Sales Pitch: There wasn’t one.  The style of the Manic Mommies is social, conversational, spontaneous, unrehearsed.  So that was Lisa’s style.  She joined the conversation.  She shared stories.  She was charming, spontaneous, witty.  And she didn’t take herself, or her product, too seriously.  She wasn’t a commercial interruption, she was a natural part of the podcast.  All the while, we learned a lot of useful stuff about Quinny strollers — and enjoyed it.

The Close: Here’s what made it special. Lisa thanked the Magic Mommies for inviting her on the show, and you felt she really meant it.  She shared how much fun it had been, although she admitted that she had really been quite nervous about coming on.

Erin:  Did you have fun?

Lisa:  I did have fun.  I was very nervous.  This is the first ever podcast for our company …

Erin:  Oh my God!

(laughter)

… and somehow I got to be the guinea pig to do it.

Erin:  The pressure!

Lisa:  I know.  It’s better than having video so I think this was fine.

Erin: Yes, audio is always much kinder.

The company spokesperson — vulnerable, imperfect, not slick, human.  Just like most moms, just like all of us.  What a nice reflection on the Quinny brand.

So what does this tell us as marketers about how to be effective in social media?

  • Be conversational, don’t sell.  That way you tap into the strengths of the space.  Selling has its place, but it’s not here.
  • Act and talk in a way that fits the style of the environment.  Otherwise you’ll come across as an irritating and inappropriate interruption.  That won’t reflect well on your brand.
  • Be natural, be human — being perfect isn’t important.  In fact, it’s probably a liability.

Well done Quinny, or should I say Lisa.  Well done Manic Mommies.

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Marketing isn’t communication

Pretty much every social media blogger and podcaster I come across today writes as if marketing and communications were the same thing. Communication certainly has an important role to play in marketing but it isn’t the same thing as marketing.

Marketing is the practice of identifying people’s unmet, or unconscious, needs and fulfilling those needs profitably through appropriate goods or services. It creates tangible value that people are willing to pay for. Fundamentally, it has nothing to do with communication.

Defined in this way, there is nothing bad, unethical or manipulative about it. What could be wrong with understanding people’s needs and fulfilling them, at a price they are ready to pay? We do that every day in our personal relationships. We may not get paid in money, but we certainly are rewarded for it. It’s the same thing that a local store owner will do every day to keep his customers happy and loyal. Understand who they are and provide them with what they need. No one has a problem with that. Certainly his customers don’t.

Why does it matter? Because it’s this confusion that has turned marketing into a dirty word. And stops people from thinking about the true nature of marketing and how to do it well. Marketing can be done poorly. But poor marketing has nothing to with exaggerating the truth, playing to people’s insecurities and fears, dominating the conversation and knocking people over the head with 1000+ GRP TV media plans. Those are the sins of bad communication, not bad marketing.

Recently I heard a podcast suggest that companies should already be thinking about consumer needs at the early stages of product development. That this is what good marketing ought to be about. Excuse me? This is what good marketing has always been about. This isn’t new. Except, apparently, for those social media podcasters and bloggers who believe that marketing and communication are the same thing.

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