Monday, January 28, 2013

How to Prevent Robots From Stealing Your Job

I read a sobering article last week about how technology is slowly eating away at midpay jobs--the kind of employment that furnishes a middle-class lifestyle. The AP's "Holy Hal! A Robot Stole My Job" notes that "In the United States, half the 7.5 million jobs lost during the Great Recession were in industries that pay middle-class wages... but only 2 percent of the 3.5 million jobs gained since the recession ended in June 2009 are in midpay industries. Nearly 70 percent are in low-pay industries."

What is happening to those middle class jobs? Says the AP, "They're being obliterated by technology."

The article reminded me of another I read in 2011, "Why Software Is Eating The World." It was written by Marc Andreessen, the visionary who co-developed the first widely used web browser and founded Netscape. He saw a technology-filled future with plenty of opportunity and jobs. Andreessen said we are "in the middle of a dramatic and broad technological and economic shift," that made him "optimistic about the future growth of the American and world economies."

So, whose future is correct? The AP's dystopian future or Andreessen's rosy one? Perhaps both--it may be a sad reality that economies can thrive by many measures while large numbers of citizens remain unemployed or find themselves shifted to lower-wage jobs. Just look at last week's financial news--the S&P 500 rose above 1500 for the first time in four years, and  unemployment claims also fell to a five-year low, but the overall unemployment rate remains more than 50% higher than at the beginning of the Great Recession and more than double what the US experienced during the roaring economy of 2000. Meanwhile, median household income after inflation fell to a level 8% lower than in 2007, and the gap between the wealthiest and the rest of Americans grew, with income for the top fifth of American households rising by 1.6% last year compared to declines for households in the middle.

Source: based on US Census Bureau Data
Many forces are altering our world, and technology is at the center of them. In fact, this has been the case for at least the last 150 years. In the mid-Nineteenth Century, 90% of Americans worked in agriculture and related fields, and today, that figure is only around four percent. In 1900, only 5% of the nation's factories used electricity to power machines and just 10% of its homes had electricity--a century later, electricity was universal for both homes and manufacturing. As technology changed the way we worked, it also effected the way we lived. In 1800, over 90% of us lived in rural areas; today, around 80% of us live within metropolitan areas. Technology altering how we live, work and earn money is not new, but there are some profound shifts underway today.

Fritz Lang's--or Marc Andreessen's--
vision for workers' future?
When I first read Andreessen's optimistic article, I feared he overlooked the way his software revolution was creating two very different classes of employee; in fact, his article brought to mind a vision from Fritz Lang's striking 1927 film, Metropolis, where the managers live luxuriously above ground while the workers toil in horrifying conditions beneath the surface of the planet.

Andreessen does not seem to mind--or at least does not have an answer for--the duality his technology creates. He notes, "Many people in the U.S. and around the world lack the education and skills required to participate in the great new companies coming out of the software revolution... (They) will be stranded on the wrong side of software-based disruption and may never be able to work in their fields again." Too bad, so sad, Marc?

The recent AP article notes that technology in the workplace has not been a zero sum game--even in just the last few years, tech has created winners and losers. "Companies in the Standard & Poor's 500 stock index reported one-third more profit the past year than they earned the year before the Great Recession. They've also expanded their businesses, but total employment... has declined by a half-million." The winners of the economic shifts of the past six years have been stockholders and tech employees while many others are losing out.

For an example of how technology has changed an industry look at Amazon, which Andreessen praised for evolving "while Borders was thrashing in the throes of impending bankruptcy." Amazon is one of the greatest success stories of the past two decades, but its success did not come merely by embracing new distribution methods but also by eliminating costly, wage-earning, benefits-demanding workers. Borders is gone, leaving 20,000 local retail employees without jobs, and more than 1,000 independent bookstores closed from 2000 through 2007, leaving about 10,600 unemployed. Meanwhile, printing employment has decreased a whopping 23.5% in just five years, and that drop is bound to accelerate in the next few years thanks to the adoption of new tablet hardware--IDC forecasts worldwide tablet shipments will be 40% higher in 2013 than in 2012 and will more than double last year's volume by 2016.

The employment shifts are not just limited to Amazon and books, of course. Look at Netflix, which employees 2,400 people but has almost single-handedly put 7,000 video rental stores out of business and forced Blockbuster to decrease its workforce from a peak of 60,000 in 2004 to little more than 4,000 today. Or Pixar, a company whose creative output I revere, but which has also replaced scores of animation workers with more powerful, flexible and efficient animation technology. Or online photo distribution sites that replace photo process workers. Or digital music systems that replace those employed in CD production, distribution and retail.

Computers may even replace those jobs you might have thought safe in our digital world. Did you watch IBM's Watson beat Jeopardy's two biggest all-time winners? How might organizations put that same sort of artificial intelligence and computing power to work? Robot journalistsRobot soldiersRobot investment managers?

What about the jobs of the 2.3 million people in the US employed as customer service representatives? IBM notes that "one of the first real-world applications of Watson’s technology" will be in customer service, and an IBM CTO dares us to "Imagine if you had a system where you just called Watson, asked a question, and you get the answer in real time." What I imagine is 2.3 million more people losing their jobs, many shifting from middle-class jobs to something less.

Even legal professionals are seeing a shift. The New York Times draws a striking comparison in a recent article: In 1978, legal discovery for the five television studios entangled in a Justice Department antitrust lawsuit cost $2.2 million to have lawyers and paralegals examine six million documents. Last year, a new e-discovery service helped analyze 1.5 million documents for less than $100,000. 01001111 01100010 01101010 01100101 01100011 01110100 01101001 01101111 01101110! (That stands for "Objection!" in binary code.)

It's not that technology replaces jobs, it simply tends to outplace people to lower paying ones. Notes David H. Autor, an economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, "Over the long run we find things for people to do... but does changing technology always lead to better jobs? The answer is no.”

So are many of us doomed to end up out of work or under-employed as workers maintaining high-efficiency robots and computers? I think that is up to us in large part, because we do have a weapon at our disposal: A deep, ongoing commitment to learning.

The idea that education in our teens and 20s will prepare us for lifelong employment is as dead as, well, Borders book stores. John Dewey, an education reformer a century ago, recognized this well when he said, "Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself."

How many of us are using today the things we learned in school? Heck, how many of us over 35 are using the same skills that propelled our careers just 10 years ago? And while technology may be increasing the speed of obsolescence and the need for constant learning, even tech jobs are not immune. In fact, the commitment that technology workers have to maintaining their own skills has more to do with their relevance and employment today than the fact they have dusty certificates attesting to their knowledge of COBOL, NetWare, ColdFusion or C++.

Software and hardware can replace repetitive tasks; they can disintermediate distribution channels; they can replace the jobs of people who search, compile, compute and report data and numbers; and they may someday answer our questions when we use customer service channels. But software cannot think--at least not yet. (I will leave for others to consider the potential societal and employment implications of technological singularity--a theoretical point when computers surpass human cognitive capabilities--which some predict could come two to four decades hence.)

Software and hardware can replace humans in some tasks, but not all. They cannot inspire others, envision the future, be creative, entertain or apply judgment. A computer may be able to do what a customer service rep or paralegal does, but no amount of hardware or software will ever accomplish what Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos or even, for that matter, Marc Andreessen have. Steve Jobs, who perhaps has done more to advance technology in our lives than anyone in generations, still recognized the vital importance of good people: "The most important thing is a person. A person who incites your curiosity and feeds your curiosity; and machines cannot do that in the same way that people can."

Do you incite curiosity in others? Do you want to change the world? Are you committed to learning every year, every week and every day? Can you discuss the changes that occurred in 2012 within your industry at the same length you can the 2012 record of your favorite sports team or last season's outcome of your favorite reality TV program? My guess is that today, more Americans can name a greater number of people Taylor Swift has dated than they can thought leaders in their own industry. In his 2005 best-seller, "The World Is Flat," Thomas Friedman notes, "In China today, Bill Gates is Britney Spears. In America today, Britney Spears is Britney Spears -- and that is our problem."

Here are some simple tips on how you can commit to regular, ongoing learning and keep the robots at bay:

  • Every single weekday, find something professionally pertinent to post as a LinkedIn Update--a news story, interview, survey, infographic or research report. If you have not found something to post today, then your work is not yet done for the day. (This habit not only helps you stay on top of news in your profession but also elevates your reputation among your peers. Take that, robots!)
  • Visit LinkedIn every day as a news source. You can find a lot of interesting web sites and blogs to which to subscribe, and sites for professional associations are also particularly good for career oriented news and information, but many overlook one of the best professional information sites around--LinkedIn. The company has been busy improving the discovery of content with LinkedIn Today and new Original Content, and while many of the LinkedIn communities can be spammy, you can also find terrific, well-managed communities to join.
  • Schedule non-work time for career learning. If you can make time for "appointment TV," then make an appointment with your career outside of work hours. Once or twice a week, schedule time on your calendar to read. If you focus your research on where you want your career to take you in two or three years, this habit will help you get there.
  • Don't overlook books. I'll admit I can be guilty of this one. In our mile-a-minute culture, it can seem that today's blog post is more relevant than a book published last year, much less last decade. While books may not be a source of the most recent case studies, great books do more than just furnish fresh stories--they can inspire new ways of thinking. For example, Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff may be several years old, but its approach to getting social media right is still as solid as ever. Find out what your boss or others in your company are reading, or ask them for a book recommendation--this can provide good reading and good professional bonding. Better yet, seek out or start a professional book club where you work--that is something no robot will ever do.
  • Create a professional Twitter list and follow some industry leaders on Facebook. Twitter is fun and informative, but its damn noisy. I long ago stopped paying attention to my tweet stream and instead focus on lists. Create or subscribe to a Twitter list of some of the best thinkers, research firms, professional associations and publications in your industry and check it daily. Don't forget Facebook, which has been making inroads to the professional networking space. Whereas two years ago almost none of my professional networking occurred on Facebook, today I'd estimate a third does. Instead of friending people you do not know, follow them, instead.
  • Write a blog. I made this recommendation in a recent blog post, so I won't repeat myself here except to say that consuming news and information is helpful, but it is much, much more powerful and beneficial for you to turn that into your own ideas, insights and recommendations. 

You and I cannot change the course of the world or alter how technology will impact the lives and wages of workers, but we can change our own course. If we are hurt by the fact we fail to keep our knowledge, skills and abilities current, that is not the fault of our employer's training programs, bosses, government agencies or our education system; the fault is entirely our own.

Thomas Friedman's book popularized an African proverb appropriate to bring this blog post to a close:
“Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up.
It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion, or it will be killed.
Every morning a lion wakes up.
It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle, or it will starve to death.
It doesn't matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle.
When the sun comes up, you better start running.”
The robots are waking. They have already killed slower gazelles. And they are getting faster every day.

Start running!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Future of Facebook Graph Search (and Google)

If you do not think Facebook Graph Search is a big deal, you have not been paying attention to the way data, particularly social data, is changing the world. And if you believe Facebook's move is a threat to Google, you may have no idea how true that is, not in terms of today's search advertising market but Google's strategy for the future.

Facebook's big play here is not merely that it may have a search engine that competes with Google's. Yes, this innovation could shake up the search market and allow Facebook to make a bigger dent in Google's revenue in the online and mobile ad space. That may be good news for Facebook investors who, even if Facebook announces great Q4 results in two weeks, will still be holding Facebook stock at a price-earnings ratio that is somewhere between five and fifteen times higher than mature companies such as Google, Apple and eBay.

Instead of thinking about search in the way we do it today--reactive, slow, relatively difficult and often frustrating--flip search on its head. Think of your device knowing you well enough to furnish you with the information you would want when you want it without asking. This is a vision of "serendipitous search" that Google has been hinting at for years.

Now add the Facebook social layer--all the data it knows about you, your friends and strangers. Today, you may pull out your phone and spend five minutes with a Yelp app to find a clothes store; tomorrow your device could proactively let you know you are walking past one of your friends' favorite boutiques. And who do you trust more--strangers who may be compensated for posting trash reviews or your close friends?

Facebook Graph Search as a reactive feature is interesting but turned into a proactive feature, it can change our world. Imagine walking into a bar and knowing a friend is next door. Or entering a salon and finding out your friend loves a particular stylist. Or visiting a Greek restaurant and discovering your Greek friends love a different place around the corner. Or going to a car dealership and being told your friends were left feeling ripped off at this establishment but loved their experience at the dealership up the street. Want to extend your circle of friends? Change a setting and your device can alert you that a friend of a friend is nearby. Playing a tough golf course? One of your friends shared a tip for beating the ninth hole and posted his video birdying the hole! Listening to a song? A bunch of your friends who loved this tune also recommend a band that is new to you! Having a problem with PowerPoint? Searching for the answer is so last year when your device can recognize you are having a problem and inform you not only that your coworker is a PowerPoint guru but that she is online and available now through Facebook chat!

That is the promise of the "social layer," not simply that it populates our news feeds with inspirational Tumblr images but that it becomes data that makes our lives richer, easier and more social. If the term "social layer" rings a bell, it is because that is the phrase Google and others have been using to describe the search giant's own social strategy. And here we see how Facebook's hegemony in social data really brings it into competition with Google--not because a Facebook search engine may be competitive with Google's search engine, but because the company that has access to and uses our and our friends' data and turns it into something that enriches our lives wins and wins big.

And if that is not a sufficient picture of how Facebook and Google are on a collision course, let's take this one step further. In all of those examples I provided of how proactive or serendipitous data might change our lives, think of how this data arrives to you. Today, your phone buzzes or chirps and you need to stop what you are doing, yank out your device, unlock it and look at the screen. If you're driving, this risks lives. If you're walking--look out for that tree! On a first date? Well, that device better stay in your pocket if you want a second date.

Annoying, right? Okay, then put on a pair of Google Glasses--a new way to present information to you without demanding you drop everything, use your hands and shift your field if vision and entire attention. Suddenly the beauty of proactive, real-time information becomes even more evident. No more "third screens" that demand attention; now your real and virtual worlds can become merged seamlessly. Of course, this depends on how well the software and hardware work together and know what information you find useful and what you do not; still, you can begin to see how today's sleek smartphones could look as outdated as a StarTAC flip phone within five years.

Will Facebook be content to let Google own the wearable tech market and allow its hardware to be the conduit for Facebook's features and value proposition? That seems unlikely, and perhaps this is why those rumors of a Facebook phone have never been realized--the brass ring is not that Facebook becomes yet another player in a field crowded with iOS, Android, Blackberry, Windows and soon Tizen and Firefox OS.  Instead, I wonder if Facebook recognizes that its future in furnishing real-time social data depends on finding a way to make that data seamless to users in a way that even today's best smartphones cannot accommodate.

There has been a lot of press in the last two days about what Facebook Graph Search means to Facebook and Google, but I wonder if we are witnessing not another battle for today's eyeballs and ad dollars but the first strategic moves into who owns the way humans merge their virtual and physical worlds in the future.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

How You Can Learn to "Think Like Zuck" (Book Review)

Ekaterina Walter wants you to "Think Like Zuck." She has written a book of the same name, subtitled, "The Five Business Secrets of Facebook’s Improbably Brilliant CEO Mark Zuckerberg." I was provided a free copy of the book so that I could furnish you with a review.

"Think Like Zuck" is easy to recommend, popping with inside information about how Facebook became the force it is today, but the book benefits by considering more than just Facebook and its founder, Mark Zuckerberg (or Zuck, as he likes to be called). Included in the book are interesting insights and tales from companies as diverse as Zappos, XPLANE, TOMS Shoes, Southwest, Apple, Dyson, 3M and JESS3. This makes the book much more approachable by bringing the lessons of good leadership out of the world of dorm room startups and into the realm of retailers, airlines and manufacturers.

Walter's "Five Ps" that form the structure of "Think Like Zuck" are not that surprising. No one, I imagine, will see the list and think, "I never would have thought that was important!" Those Five Ps are Passion, Purpose, People, Product and Partnerships. The magic in the book is not that Walter has hit upon a secret recipe but that she so thoroughly explores why each of these are important to the success enjoyed by Facebook and other industry leaders.

This isn't to say that I completely agree with the five criteria Walter shares. For example, she goes into great detail about why passion is important, but I was left feeling this chapter would be better labeled with a different "P": Perseverance. In fact, Walter herself sounds a little unsure when she says, "What I noticed is this: the most successful entrepreneurs always have one trait in common: they never give up." One can have passion without perseverance--we all know people who have been wildly passionate about a hobby or issue one day while ignoring it the next--but it is difficult to have perseverance without passion.

One portion of the Passion chapter that I found interesting is about how Zuck and other successful leaders take inspiration from things that exist rather than wholly inventing something new. Says Walter, "We have this misconception that our entrepreneurial ideas or the products we want to create have to be one hundred percent original, never done before. The truth is that some of the most successful entrepreneurs (as well as marketers, I might add) steal with pride."  Zuck, the book points out, got started a year after Friendster and MySpace were taking off, but he was able to bring significant innovations to the idea of social networking because of his passion for openness and transparency. (Maybe this is another missing "P": Piracy? Or, perhaps more kindly, Permutation?)

I would have liked to see "Think Like Zuck" spend more time on how great leaders have the ability to be patient and strive for long-term success rather than chasing after quarterly stock maximization. The book touches on this without diving deep. For instance, Zuck felt it was vital he retain majority ownership of Facebook even after its IPO, noting, "Companies are set up so that people judge each other on failure. I am not going to get fired if we have a bad year. Or a bad five years. I don’t have to worry about making things look good if they’re not. I can actually set up the company to create value.” This commitment to long-term success is also seen in another quote from Zuck, “The companies that succeed and have the best impact and are able to outcompete everyone else are the ones that have the longest time horizon.” The ability to put the long-term above immediate gratification of oneself or the market is an important attribute that deserves more than Walter gives the topic.

The Purpose chapter tells how Zuck passed on opportunities to become fabulously wealthy at an even younger age. He turned down a $1 billion offer because "for him, the journey wasn’t complete yet; he knew he could take Facebook much further by not selling it, by staying the course and sticking to his purpose. He knew there was much more opportunity ahead to make an impact, to change the world."

As I read this chapter, I found myself wondering, just a little, if Zuckerberg was incrementally losing his Purpose. Walter notes how the Facebook leader decreed that "advertising should be useful for the user no matter what--it was wrong to make money off of advertising if it wasn’t adding value." It is hard to square that statement with recent advertising "innovations" such as Page Post Ads that are served to people with no connection to the advertiser or charging people to send messages to others who are not friends. These ad features do not add value to the user experience, which reinforces the constant struggle between Purpose and Profit.  (Yet another missing "P!")

The People chapter was another that struck me as mislabeled. It's a great chapter full of terrific ideas, but "Think Like Zuck" seems to be saying that what is vital is not people but leaders who create and commit to culture. Walter gives a nod to this when she quotes from the book "Good to Great," noting that "The old adage ‘People are your most important asset’ turns out to be wrong. People are not your most important asset. The right people are." In addition, she ends this section of the book by noting "I cannot wrap up this chapter without talking about leadership." Maybe she didn't want to ruin the alliteration, but I thought Walter made a much stronger case for how Culture was important rather than that People are.

The Product chapter felt the weakest to me. In part, that is because Walter ends up relying so heavily on the Passion/Perseverance attribute from earlier in the book. She notes, for example, that "Zuck understands that to be successful, one needs to run a marathon, not a sprint." She quotes Thomas Edison, who said, "I failed my way to success." And she shares that James Dyson wasn't successful in developing his bagless vacuum cleaner until his 5,127th attempt.

If I was a bit disappointed in the Product chapter, I was thrilled with Walter's exploration of the value of Partnerships. This is not a chapter on the importance of crowdsourcing or development partners; instead, "Think Like Zuck" explores how great companies are often led by two types of leaders who bring different skillsets: The Visionary and The Builder. The case is made quite convincingly as Walter examines leader partners such as Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, Walt Disney and Roy Disney, Bill Hewlett and David Packard and others.

I may quibble with whether Walter selected the appropriate chapter labels or too quickly moved away from one or another important topic, but it should be clear from this review that "Think Like Zuck" got me thinking. The book is engaging, full of interesting stories and is an inspiring read. I hope you will consider purchasing a copy and considering how you can bring more Zuck-like thinking to your corner of the world.

Ironically (or not), the most inspirational words in this book do not come from Zuckerberg, Edison or Hseih; they come, instead, from Ekaterina's father: “Don’t try to change the world. Find your purpose, live out your potential to the fullest, serve others kindly, and the world will change around you.” His daughter learned well.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Three Corporate Social Media Trends That Should Die in 2013

Over the weekend, I read a funny article on called, "10 Social Media Trends We Wish Would Die in 2013." Although it is included in the site's "Comedy" section, the article seems an accurate overview of the dubious habits many of us hate on Facebook. Unappetizing Instagram photos of food? Duck faces? Cryptic Facebook posts (a/k/a "vaguebooking")? Die. Die!

The article got me to thinking about the corporate social media practices that should die in 2013. I hope you will comment or tweet me (@augieray) with items to add, but here is my list of three business social media trends that we should kill in 2013:

Demanding people spam their friends in order to participate in Facebook sweepstakes and deals

I did not have to look far for the first item in this list--it comes from the article. Some companies are running sweepstakes and offering deals that require (or give the appearance of requiring) entrants to tag their friends in order to win.

One such sweepstakes was the Acer S7 Select sweepstakes. To enter, participants had to tag seven friends. People entering would then arrive at a screen with two options: Either confirm that friends will receive notifications from the application or "cancel." The "cancel" option would still allow users to proceed to the sweepstakes entry form, but I am sure most people assumed this button would cancel their sweepstakes entry. The result is that many folks believed they needed to spam their friends in order to enter. Similarly egregious sweeps and deal models on Facebook are those that require people to like your brand before they can even view your official contest rules (such as Omni Hotels Social Sweepstakes) and forcing people to repin your images to their Pinterest friends in order to enter (such as Style Bistro's Fashion Week contest.) 

Some may find this a smart way to spread awareness in the social era, but it is difficult to square how forcing customers to disseminate spam is ever a good practice. Moreover, to the extent that people are unaware they are being exposed to branded, sponsored advertising as compensation for a friend's access to a sweepstakes or deal, this practice violates FTC requirements for disclosure. This does not mean that you cannot use social aspects to promote your sweepstakes and deals--go ahead and ask sweepstakes entrants to share, and give them the means to do so.

In addition to being aware of FTC regulations, make sure you also understand Facebook's rules for running a sweepstakes on its platform; for instance, if you require users to take an action using any Facebook features or functionality other than liking a Page, checking in to a Place, or connecting to your app, you are violating Facebook's Pages Terms.

Holding charities hostage in return for Facebook likes

Remember when this 1973
magazine cover was considered
a parody, not a strategy?

Remember when Donald Trump offered to donate $5 million to charity if President Obama released his college transcripts? If so, then you will recall Trump was roundly criticized for withholding money he could have given to charities until Trump got what he (and others) wanted. (Many in the New York City region were further enraged when, in the wake  of superstorm Sandy, Trump took to the airwaves to extend his offer to Obama rather than donating the funds to the many in need in the region.)

It is easy to understand how Trump's "quid pro quo" offer to make a donation only if someone responded to his demands might be viewed as self serving. Why, then, do so many brands do the exact same thing, demanding people like their page before they will make a charitable donation? If your company has money to donate but you will not do so until your customers honor your selfish request, what does say about your brand?

Yes, I know this model has worked to gain many fans for many brands, but as consumers experience more of these programs, the message it sends is becoming clearer--not that organizations care but that they are selfish. Does your brand wish to be seen as Donald Trump, only donating cash if people do something that your brand wants, or would you prefer to be Mark Zuckerberg, who selflessly donated $100 million to Newark schools without requesting a single like, tag or share? (If the founder of Facebook can donate millions without requiring Facebook reciprocation, certainly your brand can do so, as well.)

Source: Chase Community Giving
There are appropriate ways to integrate social networks into your corporate giving programs that do not run the risk of making your brand seem greedy and self-serving. One way is to involve customers in the allotment of your brand's charity dollars, as demonstrated by Chase Community Giving. (To participate, users must allow access to the Chase Community Giving application and may earn additional charity votes by liking, tweeting or emailing content from the application.) Chase also does an excellent job promoting its charitable efforts and encouraging others to get involved in their community via frequent Facebook posts and images with a distinct and recognizable brand aesthetic.

Pandering for Meaningless Engagement

Too many brands pursue Facebook strategies with engagement as a primary goal. The problem is that engagement is a means to an end and not a goal unto itself. Brands can get caught in the trap of chasing every like, comment or share without considering the larger brand impression that is being conveyed.

One way a brands' obsession with engagement can manifest is with Facebook pages that are nothing but jokey and vapid posts unrelated to the brand, mission or audience. Check out the page for "Flo, the Progressive Girl." In recent weeks, Flo has posted jokes about unicorns, dogs, the limbo, Christmas sweaters, s'mores, houseplants and dinosaurs. This strategy may increase the page's "talking about this" statistic, but what do these posts say about Progressive? Meaningless posts cannot build meaningful relationships on Facebook; that was quite clear when Progressive faced a PR crisis last year and found the brand had earned little to no advocacy despite having 4.5 million "fans."

Another way to detect brands that are overly focused on engagement is when every single Facebook post requests a like, share or comment. There is a fine line between encouraging engagement and begging for it. The Clorox Facebook page is an example of one that, I believe, crosses that line. Almost every post on the page asks you to "like if you..." or "share if you..." The impression one gets is of a brand desperate for attention and more interested in what fans can do for the brand than vice versa.

Who wouldn't want to share this post?!
There is another way. Disney does not need to ask people to like or share their posts because they provide content that is so good people engage and share without being asked. Of course, not every brand can be Disney, but you do not need to be Disney to furnish strong, powerful, brand-appropriate content that gets engagement. Look at Kit Kat, Starbucks, Samsung, Barbie, Intel, Kohler, PetSmart, Ford, Gibson GuitarMonopoly, Sharpie, Duracell and Duck Tape. These diverse brands are creating engagement on Facebook without having to ask for it, and they are sharing humorous posts that aren't just funny but say something about the brand. These brands do not beg for fans and likes--they earn brand-building engagement by offering Facebook content that conveys confidence, desirability, style, personality, affinity with customer interests and respect for customers' time and intelligence.

It is vital to remember the reason your brand is on Facebook in the first place: not to get "likes" but to build business. Focusing only on the factors that affect EdgeRank will not build awareness, consideration, intent and advocacy. Don't forget your brand vector--if your Facebook posts are not moving people closer to your brand, then you are just wasting your brand's time and opportunities on Facebook. (To learn more about brand vector, please read my blog post, The Complete Facebook Success Formula Every Marketer Should Know.)

In 2013, I would like to see better corporate Facebook strategies that give consumers more reasons to pay attention and that result in stronger brands and customer relationships. If brands can kill these three atrocious social media practices, Facebook will be a better place for both brands and consumers.

What do you think? Do you agree with my list? Anything you would like to add? Comment below, and perhaps I can write a follow-up post entitled, "Three More Corporate Social Media Trends That Should Die in 2013."

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A New Year's Resolution That Helps You Personally AND Professionally

The following is based on a blog post I wrote a year ago, but it seems worth revisiting on New Year's Day. I'm not a huge fan of New Year's resolutions--after all, why not work to improve yourself every day of the year rather than just on January 1?--but I'd like to propose a resolution that can improve your 2013 both personally and professionally: Write. Religiously. Every week. Start now.

You can launch a blog today. It is easy to do on Wordpress or Blogger. Beware, because the few minutes you take to launch a blog will commit you to dozens or hundreds of hours in 2013 to develop content and engage with others, but that's the whole idea, isn't it? (If, for now, you lack the confidence to share your ideas and observations with the world, start by writing for yourself.)  

For me, writing was not an easy habit at first, but now it has become so essential that when I have trouble finding time to write, I become uneasy. The ideas start piling up. I can actually begin to lose sleep because I lay in bed composing in my mind the blog posts I am not producing for my blog. It is not rare for me to wake up with a developed line of thought, head directly to my PC and furiously type before I lose the idea and perspective. Sometimes those ideas stand up but other times they melt in the morning light.

Do I sound like an addict? Perhaps, but there are worse things than being addicted to a habit that leaves one empowered, educated and improved. I have experienced strong and demonstrable benefits because of my work on Experience: The Blog. Here are the ways you might also benefit by making a commitment to write regularly:
  • Reaffirm and strengthen the ideas you bring into the world: The process of blogging forces me to take an idea that I am confident is sound and discover the holes--and trust me, some of your strongest beliefs can begin to look awfully shaky as you convert a string of ideas into a cohesive and persuasive argument. As I compose a blog post to convince others of my perspective, I must first convince myself. I do this by filling in the blanks, taking time to analyze and study, and finding third-party data and information that substantiate my arguments. Once the blog post is fully baked, it not only becomes a piece of content for my readers but also a viewpoint I can call upon in meetings, when I am presenting or as I develop strategies on the job.
  • Develop a point of view: We recognize that brands are strengthened not when they are all things to all people but when they focus on one meaningful perspective for one meaningful audience. In the same way, writing can help you to focus your thinking in a way that develops your personal brand. When you blog for others, you begin to think about who it is you want to read your content and what you want them to think and do. My blog and my audience force a discipline in the things I read, research and think, and this has paid dividends by sharpening my reputation, skills and point of view.
  • Improve your writing: This benefit is obvious: the more you write, the better you become. I hesitate to say this because you may be thinking, "But Augie, you suffer from run-on sentences, passive voice and just misused the colon in the last sentence." All may be true, but do not let your fear of grammar prevent you from improving your grammar. Today, I can look back at my early blog posts and easily recognize that my writing and proofreading have improved. Any embarrassment I may feel about the lesser quality of my writing four years ago is more than compensated by the realization I would still be stuck at that level had I not started and committed to my blog. If you lack confidence in your composition or proofreading skills, ask a friend or peer to review your blog posts before you publish.
  • Build a network around ideas: The world is full of curators; millions of Twitterers share links to interesting articles and blog posts. Curating is valuable service, to be sure, but without creators, there would be nothing for curators to curate. At this stage in social media development, it is no longer easy to develop a following merely by curating--too many people share too many of the same links--but the world always needs more creators. Creators are the people who stop (or decrease) social media from merely being an echo chamber, and creators also earn the most attention. There is no more powerful way to be recognized and build an engaged network than by giving others content and ideas they may consider and share.
  • Create your own database of news and statistics: Ever have the experience of vaguely recalling an interesting bit of data or news but being unable to locate the content when you need it? Blogging is a great way to create your own personal database of the information you want to find again in the future. When I find interesting data or a pertinent case study, I write about and link to it, and that means I can always find this information by returning to my own blog. Take my last blog post, "Where Social Media Will Grow in 2013 (and Where it Won't)"; that one blog post contains more than 40 links; as a result, I will never have to waste time searching for the American Express study that found people tell 15 friends and family about positive brand experiences but 24 people about negative ones 

So now you know my secret--I write as much for myself as I do for you. This blog has improved my knowledge and skills, gained me new friends and professional contacts and helped me to land jobs. I wish the same benefits for you. 

I hope all of my blog posts change minds, at least a little, but nothing would make me happier than to have someone thank me a year from now for encouraging them to write, share and connect in 2013. You may not get thousands of readers right off the bat, but there are people who are waiting to hear your voice. Do not disappoint them--or you.