RENEGADE THINKING from the CEO of Renegade, the social media & marketing agency that helps clients make more out of less by transforming communications into "Marketing as Service."

Q+A on Niche Social Networks w Gerry Regan

08/10/14

wild_geese_logo_betaGerry Regan, Co-Founder & Executive Producer of  The Wild Geese, was kind enough to not only join a panel on social media for Duke Alums earlier this summer but also to recap some of his observations in the Q+A below.  As you will soon discover Gerry brings a world of experience to his latest venture, a relatively new social network dedicated to the all things Irish.  (Side note: As a social media practitioner, I’m rooting for niche networks like The Wild Geese with the hope they can provide engagement opportunities beyond those currently offered on Facebook and Twitter). And with that bit of cheerleading, here’s Gerry:

Drew:  How did your end up in social media and what are your principal responsibilities?
I found my way into social media through my work as a journalist. After pursuing acting in Durham for a time after my Duke graduation, somewhat half-heartedly, and sampling other pursuits,  I decided to focus on journalism, and received a masters degree toward that end from NYU in 1985. I then worked for several years for Gannett Westchester Newspapers, was let go, and then joined the news team at Prodigy, with AOL a sort of proto-Web. From there I made my way to Newsday Direct, Newsday’s first foray into digital media and the forerunner of newsday.com. It was at that point, in 1996 or thereabouts, that a colleague at Newsday introduced us to HTML and promised us that, together with the burgeoning Internet, these technologies would revolutionize our work.

So in 1997, Joe Gannon, Micah Chandler and I, all three friends, devotees of history and fellow Civil War re-enactors, created TheWildGeese.com, what we anticipated becoming the first of a series of websites designed to facilitate exploring the history that we relished. In the case of The Wild Geese, the focus was the dramatic history of the Ireland and the Irish diaspora. We hadn’t much understanding of how to sustain our efforts as a business, but thought we could figure that out as we went along. We kept our day jobs, though, and kept working on The Wild Geese, using our hand-coded website right till March 2013, when we determined that sustaining a social network held much greater chance for our success than our homespun online magazine. Plus, we saw great value in this opportunity to vastly multiply the voices we could thus bring into the conversations there. Hence, we re-launched The Wild Geese as the only social network focused on exploring and celebrating the epic heritage of the Irish worldwide.

My principal responsibilities these days are crafting and implementing a sustainable revenue model, a pursuit that engages me in building our team, researching digital marketing’s promise and capabilities, exploring our target market’s needs and wants and how to utilize both our team’s passion and technology to cost-effectively deliver on these. I also handle the bookkeeping; write the checks (I’m self-financed for now); write articles (occasionally); suggest and help implement content, community and marketing initiatives; sit in and often lead team meetings; and identify and assign spheres of responsibility, all in an effort to forge a foundation for our mission that will allow us to grow and prosper for years to come.

Drew:  What role if any did Duke prepare you for your future career?
I came to Duke as a world-class introvert, and dreaded public speaking and writing papers, and Duke certainly gave me plenty of opportunities to overcome those phobias. In fact, I chose to major in physics, all in an effort to steer clear of public speaking and paper-writing. When I headed off to Dublin for my third undergraduate year, though, I decided to pursue Irish and British history, along with physics. It was at Trinity College Dublin that I found my metier, discovering that though my perfectionism led to an aversion to writing, when I handed in research papers, I found them hugely satisfying. The storyteller in me emerged, as well as my passion for history and Irish culture. These all have stayed with me. During my final year at Duke, I joined Duke Players and studied public speaking, both, in prospect, very intimidating. But I particularly enjoyed acting and the bon homie it provided. So Duke essentially provided me two things, a vehicle for personal growth and a springboard for professional advancement, even though it took me quite a few years to understand that.

Drew:  You’ve built a very interesting niche business.  How many “members” do you have in your network now and how big would you like to see it?  What do you think it will take to get there?
We’re not a business yet, Drew, in that we’re far from profitable. I think we may need a year or even two to reach that point. We are closing in on 2,300 members, garnered in our 17 months as a network, with very little marketing spend to date. We understand that needs to change, and will. though. We need to grow dramatically if we are to achieve sustainability. We are about to launch our first marketing campaign, with the help of Facebook, and expect within a year to have close to 8,000 members and garner nearly half-a-million page views each month, an eight-fold increase. The page views are really more vital to our sustainability, at least in the short term, than the membership count. We believe that with this marketing thrust, and bringing additional revenue streams into line, such as premium memberships and innovative sponsorships, we have a shot at creating a viable business, and, to us, equally importantly, one that promotes and supports Irish culture ‘wherever green is worn.’

Drew: What are the advantages to potential marketing partners to working with The Wild Geese site?
We believe there is an underserved niche in the cultural space, and particularly in the realm of Irish culture, a space we know increasingly well. Small marketers have limited and cost-effective choices. These options include, most notably, Facebook and Google, but these platforms, while easily managed, lack one ingredient we feel is vital — the human touch. We believe that an engaged, dynamic community of potentially tens of thousands of cultural devotees around the globe affords a ready-made audience for purveyors of Irish culture, for artists, artisans, ‘solopreneurs’ cultural institutions, and businesses large and small who can and do support our members’ passions for exploring the Irish experience worldwide. Using the growing technological and human connections that we aim on our mission has powerful appeal, we’re learning, appeal that provides both reach and the personal touch that the mass social media seem to have no interest in providing. Ultimately, we believe we’re offering members — and marketers — a chance to claim and / or support this passion for their own, to in effect ‘get a piece of the rock.’ Connecting our growing membership with hundreds of Irish marketers in direct and personal ways we believe represents a distinct differential advantage in this space.

Drew: What’s the most exciting part about working at your company right now?
Most exciting to me is seeing our team step up and meet our day-to-day challenges, my work in helping forge this team, and seeing it respond to direction and innovate solutions to our challenges. And seeing The Wild Geese’s influence, along with our reach and revenue, grow!

Drew: Talk a little about your own involvement in social media.  How active are you and on what channels?
I use Facebook to communicate with friends and colleagues, and LinkedIn as a professional resource. I tend to limit my Facebook circle to people I either know or whom I’ve met or at least spoken to. Other colleagues and other networkers I steer to LinkedIn (or The Wild Geese). We auto post to Twitter from our Facebook page, so there’s quite a lot of Irish chatter on it that I don’t personally create. I am beginning to appreciate the potential of Twitter, though, as a fascinating real-time news roundup, and may use it more frequently in the months ahead. I’ve used Google+ least of all, but am finding that Google Hangouts are an increasingly important platform for multimedia content for us, so we’re using Google more and more, both for the Hangouts and for chat and talk. It’s become easier and more common for us to post for WG in Google+. I don’t use Google+ for personal use, at least not yet.

Drew: Relative to the other Dukies on the panel, you and I are on the “seasoned” side of our careers.  Do you encounter “agism” when presenting The Wild Geese to younger social media professionals?  Can you speak to the advantages of having more work experience when working in social media?
I’m not aware of age-ism, LOL, perhaps because I never act my age. I don’t have the technical grasp of social media that seems prevalent among our younger peers, and perhaps that’s a plus. I like to operate on a need-to-know basis, which helps keep me better-focused and my life simpler. I understand my limits, but won’t let a disinclination to reach out to those who can and want to help be one of those. These ‘whippersnappers’ inspire in me a sense that with technology (and passion) everything is possible. Drew, when you say ‘more work experience’ do you mean outside of social media? I’ll presume you do. I majored in mathematics at Duke, though  through my years as an undergrad I really found my passion in history and storytelling. I like the approach I stumbled into, that of learning how to think and problem solve as an undergrad, and then pursuing softer sciences and interests later. After all, if one wants to learn a trade, why spend tens of thousands of dollars. I find there’s real power in focusing on what I have in front of me — the challenges and the resources — and looking back for lessons, but not ‘staring’ back. After all, we each have but ‘one day at a time’ to move forward with our dreams and ambitions, no more and no less.

Drew: Finally, how important do you think it is for our peers to be active in social media?  What are they missing if anything?
The average age of a member of The Wild Geese is now 54, and I find that both gratifying and amazing, that is to see how these boomers are increasingly finding their way into not only The Wild Geese, but also Facebook, which is clearly pacing the trend. We have members in their 80s, a few of whom complain that they are having trouble figuring out how our platform works, but, Drew, it’s the individuals who complain that we relish, it’s those who walk away without a word or with a bad word or two to others that we fear. I’m not sure boomers ARE, in fact, missing anything — I sense they are joining the social media revolution in increasing numbers. In the case of The Wild Geese, it would seem many are only waiting for a reason to join. For us at The Wild Geese, that would be ‘coming home’ to our Irish roots,  the satisfaction of looking back, getting answers about our past and our ancestry, and saying, yea, we’ve got a few years on us, and what a journey it continues to be!

Q&A with Trish Nettleship, AT&T Business Marketing

08/15/11

I had a chance to catch up with Trish Nettleship, the Social Media Lead at AT&T Business Marketing prior to her presentation at the upcoming B2B Corporate Social Media Summit in Philadelphia.  Trish discusses their newest social media program and the internal training required to make it happen.  

DN: Tell me about the social media program(s) you’ll be presenting at the conference.
We launched a B2B focused blog, the first for AT&T, earlier this year called Networking Exchange Blog. The idea was to bring forth our wealth of expertise, our people, directly to businesses in the industries we serve. We have some of the brightest minds at AT&T, so providing a platform for them to share their thoughts and perspectives on technologies directly to businesses seemed like a great approach to showcasing our thought leadership. We quickly learned that our subject matter experts knew their technologies well, but weren’t as experienced in the ways of social media. We created the Networking Leaders Academy to create an active corps of expert ambassadors who create social proof and digital “trust” in AT&T, it’s people and their points of view on technology. The Academy provides the experts with the incentives, tools, training and support to enable the open and ongoing dialogue with businesses, large and small across the social atmosphere.

DN: What were your goals for this program?
Our initial goal for the blog is about building awareness and credibility in technology spaces not typically associated with AT&T. (i.e. Cloud and Security.)  The goal of the Networking Leaders Academy is to build on the foundation of the blog and empower our experts to do more than just create blog posts, but truly engage with businesses whether it be on blog or in external communities, social networks, blogs or forums.

DN: And how did the program(s) achieve these goals?
We have seen growth in overall awareness of the brand across these technologies. We’ve also seen our experts own credibility and awareness increase through their personal networks, guest blog requests and speaking engagement requests.

DN: Do you see any major differences between B2B and B2C approaches to social media?
The buying life cycle for B2B is typically longer and more engaged. The social media strategy in the B2B space has to take this into consideration. We focus a lot of our efforts on engaging with businesses early in the buying lifecycle. So providing content that is more research oriented in nature is key. If the business doesn’t engaged with us early in the buying lifecycle we may never get a chance to be placed in the consideration set of vendors. Timing, relevant content and the right platform are key to success in the B2B environment.

DN: Has social media become a significant part of your marketing mix?
Yes, our customers want to engage with us on their terms and not be forced into an experience solely created by us. So whether they are on social networks or blogs, or any other digital environment, there is an appreciation of that AT&T is coming to them.

DN: Is there a risk that social media could trivialize your product/service in the eyes of your B2B customers?
No, it’s an evolution of how we engage with our customers or prospects. As more and more businesses are becoming more comfortable in social media, it is expected that we will be there to engage with them.

Webtrends CMO Weighs in on Social Media

05/4/11

After The CMO Club Summit, I caught up with Hope Frank, Chief Marketing Officer of WebTrends to get her take on social media.  As “the global leader in mobile and social analytics,” Hope’s company not only uses social media to market themselves but also  monitors social as a revenue stream making her uniquely qualified to weigh in on this hot topic.

DN: What are Webtrends primary objectives for social media?
We use social media to distribute and facilitate conversations pertaining to WT digital marketing thought leadership, primary research and analysis of buzz and trends online.We also use social media to extend the reach and impact of traditional marketing efforts to grow awareness among key influencers and prospects.

DN: Do you use social media for customer service?
Yes. For monitoring and problem solving as well as for gathering consumer insights.

DN: How important is social media in your overall marketing mix for Webtrends?
It is essential and deeply integrated. Growing our communities, developing and curating compelling content,  experimenting and innovating on social media platforms is part of every effort we execute.

DN: Since the tracking of social media is part of Webtrends’ product/service offering, how important is it that Webtrends be on the forefront of social media practitioners?
Our Digital Marketing team is empowered to lead by example, to solve big marketing challenges, to iterate and to loudly share our stories. We have direct access to the world’s best global tools and experts, it is amazing! We are fortunate indeed to be in this position.

DN: What has worked for you in social and what hasn’t?
We see the largest impact of social media when we execute integrated ideas that launch with compelling content/experiences then leverage our media engine,  then mix social to amplify the message and increase the value. We have also seen great success running self-contained programs in Facebook where we purchase ads that drive to FB apps. We’ve been able to then take FB campaign learnings and apply them to broad based marketing efforts.

It’s cliché, we all know using social media as another “channel” to push out messaging and brand/product news fails. In the early days when we could only support pushing basic messages out and not integrating or engaging deeper, we experienced limited success.

DN: As evidence of WebTrends ability to monitor social media and turn this into social currency (in this case, PR), Hope provided the following links to all the “brand elevation and buzz analysis” Webtrends achieved during the #RoyalWedding.  The Mashable infographic is quite cool.

 

Social Media Isn’t Easy (Part 2)

04/21/11

When Oscar Wilde observed, “experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes,” he was clearly anticipating the age of social media.  Mistakes abound, some minor, others calamitous but all offering guidance for those who choose to learn from them.  Here are five more mistakes that I’ve observed, each provided with suggestions on how to fix or better yet avoid altogether.

#6 Ignore social media

One in three big brands, across a wide range of sectors have yet to commit significant time and resources to social media. Highly regulated industries like financial services and pharma are particularly cautious given the lack of clarity offered by regulatory bodies like FINRA and the SEC. Other laggards are taking the ostrich approach, hoping that social media will just walk on by and leave them in peace.

Ignoring social media for whatever reason simply won’t cut it. Doing so means the conversation is happening without you, eliminating your opportunity to respond to the negative, reinforce the positive and or close the door to a competitor who is more socially adept. If you are afraid your customers will say bad things, you’re probably right but rather than turning a blind eye, engage your detractors with honesty and fix the problems.

Ignoring social media also means you’ll have no means of fighting a social media fire if one erupts. Domino’s Pizza found this out the hard way when two young jokers thought it would be funny to make a video of themselves putting cheese up their noses and then onto a customer’s pizza. With no social media channels in place, Domino’s HQ floundered and sales dropped nationally. Meanwhile, Ramon DeLeon, the GM of six Domino’s in Chicago, used his long-developed social channels to put out the fire in his area, rallying his fans and growing his sales.

#7 Limit employee access at work

A lot of companies restrict employee access at work to sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube, afraid that productivity will drop. As such, there is a limited understanding of the channels themselves as well as the business opportunities that they can create. So instead of having thousands of eyes and ears to watch, listen and learn, the knowledge remains concentrated and the opportunities limited.

The simple truth is that companies that want to make the most of social media need to have a lot of social people across just about every department. The benefits of this open approach are far reaching, allowing the organization as a whole to cast a broader net to catch fresh ideas, important trends, hidden prospects and even future employees.

One company that has benefited from this open approach is the behemoth IBM. Realizing a few years ago that their clients hire IBM because of IBMers, they made an all-out push to become a social business. Presently, IBM has over 30,000 employees on Twitter, over 200,000 on Facebook, over 200,000 on LinkedIn and over 35,000 bloggers. Add these to internal networks and a 75,000 strong network of ex-IBMers and you’ve got a massive community that creates and shares content with unrivaled speed and agility.

#8 Selling too hard

For most brands, social media is not the ideal place for the hard sell yet that hasn’t stopped many from trying. I heard a marketing director of a hospital call Twitter “a dumping ground” and a seasoned direct marketer describe social as “email on steroids.” Typically the result of trying to sell too hard too fast via social channels is nothing — no engagement, no interaction, no referrals, etc.

No one likes a blowhard and there is no quicker way to be unfollowed, unliked or just plain ignored than by tooting your own horn with relentless monotony. On the other hand, if you take your mother’s advice by “yacking less and listening more,” you’ll have lots more friends, friends who will be very interested in learning more about you when the time is right.

Keep in mind that 50% of the people who “like” or “follow” a brand, do so because they hope to get beneficial information or offers. Curate your content carefully, a bit like you might on a first or second date. Once the friendship is secure, feel free to put forth relevant offers. Skittles, in particular, has benefited immensely from an entirely soft sell approach, amassing over 15 million fans on Facebook in the process.

#9 Multiple voices

Perhaps because it is so easy to create content, some marketers feel it is okay to present completely different brand voices even on the same channel. A smarter approach is to establish your brand point-of-view upfront and to employ the various channels like instruments in an orchestra, creating a harmonious and synergistic effect. Defining what you are for and what you are against, will not only give you direction for execution but also it will give you permission to engage with your consumer on your subjects of mutual interest.

Among the best examples of this approach comes from an unlikely category — feminine hygiene. Targeting young women 14-24, Kimberly Clark launched a new line of tampons called U by Kotex. Going against the usual euphemistic approach, U by Kotex established a clear POV with a “bold honest attitude towards all things period and to call BS on everyone who doesn’t.” This POV permeated advertising and social media, helping the brand grab 20% market share and remarkably appreciative fan base. (FYI, the U by Kotex presentation was among the best at the BDI’s The Social Consumer Conference last month).

#10 Misalignment of platforms and goals

With so many different social media platforms to consider there is the natural temptation to try a bunch of them. This temptation is further reinforced by the seeming absence of costs to use these platforms and the presumed “cool factor” a brand may think their getting by using them. The simple truth is that not all of these platforms are right for every brand especially when you consider a particular brand’s objectives.

Dell has been particularly adept at aligning the platforms with specific business goals. Dell’s IdeaStorm.com gathers customer feedback and crowd-sources new product ideas. Recognizing various uses for Twitter, Dell has a variety of accounts including @DellOutlet for deals on refurbished computers and @DellCares for customer support. Dell’s Investor Relations team was among the first to use SlideShare.com, a presentation-sharing site, to present quarterly earnings. And their 24/7 “Social Media Command Center” ensures that customer complaints are heard and addressed regardless of the channel.

Final note: Acknowledging the wisdom of James Joyce when he said, “A man’s errors are his portals of discovery,” I do hope you’ll make a few mistakes of your own and share your discoveries with us all.  (This article first appeared on MediaPost.com).

 


Dear Social Media Santa, Here’s My Wish List

12/10/10

Wrapping up 2010 with relief, if not joy, good little marketers are looking at the year ahead with both optimism and trepidation. Even the marketers that triumphed this year know Santa’s lump of coal awaits those who misjudge the rapidly evolving communications landscape as an aberration instead of a permanent shift in power from brand to consumer. To ensure good tidings in 2011, here is a social media shopping list worth checking once — if not twice — to slay your competition.

1. Social Media Strategy

Although more than half of all large companies have a presence on Facebook and Twitter, fewer than 25% have a clearly defined social strategy. Tactical experimentation pleased some, but left many CEOs wondering whether social media like the mythical Rudolph could really drive results. Since yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as a social strategy complete with CEO-pleasing metrics, put this on top of your shopping list — finding the expertise internally and externally to make it happen.

2. Dedicated Social Chair

In 2010, social media was treated by many marketers as a part-time affair, assigned to the junior staffers who just happened to have the most friends on Facebook. Unable to dedicate the time required, they also lacked the experience to put social media into the context of broader customer engagement, thus relegating social to a sexy but modest marketing experiment. Fixing this means assigning at least one dedicated professional who can champion social strategy internally, while coordinating execution across all the departments it can and should touch.

3. A Metric System

Given all the roles social media can play, from customer service to product development and WOM to lead gen, putting precise metrics in place is challenging even for those with well-defined strategies. That said, new tools are emerging that should make measuring results easier and well within the budgets of even the most cash-strapped operations. Startup ArgyleSocial, for example, links social media activity with “real business value,” for under $300/month.

4. An Aggregation Plan

One of the unexpected yet joyous benefits of a strong social program is its potential to significantly improve organic search results. But in order to turn social content into the gift that keeps on giving, brands need to aggregate and archive the content on their own Web sites. HubSpot, a software-as-a-service (Saas) platform, makes this process relatively easy for small business. Larger companies will seek out more robust solutions, including a surprisingly strong social offering from IBM.

5. Customer Feedback Loop

While listening to the customer has long been an important business credo, it is only lately that marketers are turning to online tools like Get Satisfaction that truly enable and track instantaneous feedback. In 2011, offering customers the ability to engage with fellow customers right on the company website will become more the rule than the exception, especially as companies come to realize that a few negative comments increase credibility and ultimately increase online sales. These conversations also enhance search results by creating tag-able content.

6. Social Business Enlightenment

In the brave new world of social business enlightenment, all businesses are social and all social is business. Even large companies will want to present all their employees, not just those in customer service and marketing, with unfettered, yet guided, access to social media tools. These employees will begin to see what the fuss is all about, quickly realizing that social isn’t just something their kids do but rather a way that generates leads, captures sales, services customers, and advocates new product development well beyond this holiday season.

If you’d like to add to this social media shopping list, just send me an email, preferably not addressed to the North Pole.

The State of Guerrilla Marketing

11/22/10

The following is a Q&A with yours truly on the current state of affairs in guerrilla marketing.

Q: How has guerrilla marketing evolved?

Guerrilla thinking has evolved tremendously in the last 24 months. Press seeking guerrillas have shifted away from street theater to something with online legs. Part of this is fishing where the fish are. Part of this is that if you can gain Likes or YouTube channel subscriptions, your initial contact can turn into a more lasting relationship. Part of this is the press itself—the press is more likely to wax on about a social program than a purely street program at this moment in time.

Q: What’s up with street stunts?

Frankly, I’ve never been a fan or promoter of the street stunt approach. They are typically a brief encounter with little residual value. The challenge with guerrilla has always been to provide a reasonable exchange of value between brand and consumer. In exchange for a consumer’s time, the brand must provide some value, either genuine utility or at least a good laugh. The reason the HSBC BankCab is still on the road after seven years is that the value exchange is extraordinary. First, people love to see an old Checker driving around the streets. Second, when they get in the BankCab, it is a refreshing experience complete with a truly knowledgeable cabbie. Third, HSBC customers get a free ride when engenders brand love. We recently renovated the HSBC BankCab, enabling it to run on compressed natural gas, thus making it a more “green” experience. As street programs go, this is about as good as it gets.

Q: What’s cool right now?

The most exciting area of guerrilla right now, is the social to offline movement. Skittles “Mob the Rainbow” program is one great example of this. Skittles solicits ideas from its 10 million strong Facebook fan base, which sometimes lead to hilarious offline executions. For example, fans suggested sending Valentines to a particular postal worker. Skittles did just that and produced a funny viral video which brought the program full circle. JetBlue is using its strong Twitter following in a similar fashion. Earlier this year, @JetBlue tweeted they were on a particular street corner in Manhattan giving away tickets. In a matter of minutes, 300 eager travelers showed up and of course, JetBlue got some nice ink for this as well. In this way, social media has replaced email as the ignition switch for flash mobs.

Q: How does social fit into a guerrillas plans?

Any marketer considering a physical guerrilla interaction would be crazy not to also bake in a social component. The social component should give the program legs, extending the offline interaction online. It also provides a home for videos and or photos taken of the physical interaction thus sharing these experiences with a larger audience. The social component also helps amortize the cost of the potentially expensive offline component. Finally, the social component provides an opportunity for feedback something that is not always easy to get in the physical arena.

Q: Is the physical street experience dead?

Since marketing success has often been about zigging when others zag, a few enlightened marketers will renew their emphasis on the physical experience and the true engagement opportunity it represents. Touching someone deeply often requires a physical touch. Online dating sites do the matchmaking but typically the fire doesn’t flame until the couple actually meets.

Q: What roles are left for guerrilla marketing?

Guerrilla thinking has never been dependent on one particular type of interaction. It has always been about making more out of less, breaking the ice in order to build meaningful and hopefully lasting relationships. Social marketing has proven its ability to maintain and nurture relationships but the jury is still out on its ability to generate trial from new customers.

Q: How has Renegade evolved from a guerrilla standpoint?

I see social marketing as an evolution of our long-time guerrilla practice. The goals haven’t changed but the tactics  we use continue to grow and evolve. Five years ago, three out of four incoming calls would be from clients seeking guerrilla ideas. Now those same clients are requesting social marketing ideas. The impetuous for the calls is the same—help us engage customers cost-effectively.

[“Delivery.com Street Stunt in October”][]

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