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Acacia College – Dust to Dust

October 18, 2012

‘Fresh, unique and surprising’. The motto of Acacia College (www.acacia.vic.edu.au) in Mernda has unfortunately demonstrated that surprises are not always good. On 16 March 2009, my daughter Madison (aged 11 at the time) stood proudly out the front of the vacant site that would become Acacia College – the school she was looking forward to joining as a foundation student when it opened in 2010. Now some three-years later, something ‘fresh’ and ‘unique’ has come to a ‘surprising’, saddening and in many ways disgraceful end.

Madison at the Acacia Site - March 2009

The Vision
As recent arrivals in Doreen (Melbourne’s North), we had made the decision to build a home because of the schooling options. The expensive and established Ivanhoe Grammar (out of our financial reach) was being joined by the Uniting Church’s Acacia College (to open in 2010) and the future addition of both Catholic and Government high-schools (projects that have since been delayed or abandoned). The promise in 2009 was a ‘state-of-the-art’ school with community cafeteria, three major buildings and a host of facilities upon the empty land. Many parents made a similar decision to us, choosing to locate in the area on the promise of Government, developers and not least the Uniting Church to facilitate education in the fast-growing area.

Foundations layed at Acacia College Mernda

Foundation and Promise
In June 2009, concrete foundations were being poured and the signage promised the 2010 opening from Prep to Year 7, expanding to Year 12 by 2015. Now some 40-months later, the Uniting Church is closing a school that has grown to over 500 students, that has over 700 enrollments for 2013. How can anyone building a school not plan for at least 5 to 10 years? How can a rate of growth of more than 200 students per year become a failed school? How can parents asking to pay more to keep the school operating, still result in its closure? How can such a rapid area of family growth remain devoid of any high-school, Government or Private, other than those that already operated in the decades before the region became a residential suburb? Everyone involved has a right to better answers! My daughter, promised a school she could be proud to be an alumni of, has every right to be distraught at the unexplained closure, the manner in which the Uniting Church has mismanaged the development and now the closure of the school. Anger that is warranted at a commitment unfulfilled.

Acacia College Administration Building - Feb 2010

Something does NOT add up
Parents given a few hours notice by email and SMS to attend an urgent meeting at 7.30pm on 17 October 2012, were told that the school must close effective 14 December 2012 due to mounting debts totaling more than $10 million. What new school could expect to be in the black after three short years? If the interest bill is around $1 million, and parents of some 700 students enrolled for 2013 offered some $1,500 per annum each, in excess of the circa $6,000 they are currently paying, would this not resolve a financial crisis despite the short-sightedness of the Uniting Church operators. There is something else at play here, to drop a long-term plan in a high-growth market with such cavalier disregard for the impeccable staff, wonderful students, loyal parents and stretched community devoid of other education options. If I were more cynical of mind, I would have three further questions …

1) Is Uniting Church Moderator Isabel Thomas Dobson, of recent MLC fame, equipped to manage education?
2) Is the current media focus on the MLC being used as a ‘blood-letting’ while the brand is already weak?
3) How does closing the school make financial sense when the cost of alternate options will ultimately be greater?

The lack of transparency that has followed delays, litigation, disputes with the developer(s) and a host of other issues has shown that the Uniting Church has no regard for this community and instills no confidence that their reasoning relates to real underlying motivations as they wash their hands of commitment to education in the area.

Day 1 at Acacia - Feb 2010

Surprising End
You don’t have to look far to see promised commitment to families and communities plastered all over Uniting Church websites and marketing communications. These testimonies ring hollow after the actions that displaced over 500 students, some 200 new students planning to start next year, and the whole over-stretched community. In February 2010, when Madison first started at Acacia College as a foundation Year 7 student, she expected to graduate there in 2015, joined by her twin sisters Amy and Sarah who would start High School in the same year. The principal and teachers, given no advanced warning of the withdrawn support, had given up other jobs and many had moved into the area to be part of a new school and a new culture – they are blameless, wonderful and among the most devastated by the mercenary decision.

Some students moved to this area after the Black Saturday bushfires (12-months before the school opened) to build a new life – now again disrupted. Other parents have special needs children and all community networks, built within the formation of a new school will be dissolved. The timing, when most schools have locked numbers and places for 2013, is scandalous. The manner in which the decision has been (mis)communicated is demonstration of the ongoing ineptitude of this branch of the Uniting Church in managing Victorian education commitments. The reasons and motivations are still hidden from hard working parents and a community forgotten by the incumbent Victorian Government.

Student Performance at Acacia College

Many will say ‘so what’, or all education should be public, or financial viability is good reason. I would ask, when is it acceptable for an organization to assume such a fundamental social responsibility and then drop the ball in such a short period of time? I certainly hope that the financial advice, taken as diagnosis of the school’s ‘alleged’ lack of viability, did not come from the same financial managers responsible for salary management at MLC.

Statement of Interest/Bias: I am a disgruntled parent of an upset student in an angry community that wants answers. Acacia was a great school … fresh, unique and this is not the type of ‘surprise’ any of us expected.

R.I.P. Acacia College (1 Feb 2010 – 14 Dec 2012)

Agencies, Lies and Social Media

July 4, 2011

Opinion piece, designed to elicit some discussion (i.e. controversy). As written for the 2011 Marketing Magazine Digital Survival Guide (grab a printed copy from good Magazine stores and see the back pages). Apologies for the length, but hey, it was for print! …

Don’t look to advertising agencies for results in social media, it simply isn’t in their DNA. Oil and water do not mix.

Social media is the hot topic about town. Like all waves before it, the heat in the conversation has an almost religious fervour, nothing new to the church of advertising. So before the advertising fraternity’s fatwa is imposed on me, let’s discuss why the fit of advertising to social media is so poor. Why is it, that the better you are at heritage advertising, the worse you are likely to be at delivering results from environments that require true interaction.

The nature of agency
Important in the definition of agency’ is the concept of ‘a service that acts for others’. Success in ‘classical’ advertising demands that the advertiser act as dual advocate for both the vendor and the consumer.

One way of bridging the middle ground between vendor and consumer is the search for ‘fundamental truth’. In some advertising agency right now, an advertising guru is explaining to an advertising greenhorn, that the art is striping back the plethora of market noise to fundamental truth and then crafting a credible brand story. Sound good? Well it certainly pays for the new car! The end result can look like Clemenger BBDO’s work for the NAB … ‘more give, less take’. The campaign was launched in March 2010 to address the ‘fundamental truth’ of the bank’s poor reputation and the relationship imbalance between the bank and its customers. The NAB profit of $4.2 billion for the 2010 financial year is clearly all give! The ‘real’ fundamental truth is that the bank wants consumers to ‘give’ it a better brand image to avoid any political risk to its revenue model and ‘take’ away any consumer hope for better service, lower cost and greater credit availability. Give and take are such conveniently fluid concepts, great for building a concept bridge between parties.

While advertising creates a bridge between the parties (saying nexus would be far too academic), social media only needs to create a venue for the exchange of meaning. Advertising agencies are habituated to act as the middleman in the arbitration of meaning. Social media, in contrast, is about facilitation rather than arbitration. The desire of advertising agencies to tamper with meaning is their first failure in extracting real success from social media.

You talking to me?
The advertising message is not called a ‘pitch’ by accident. The delivery is set to a “particular level, degree or quality”. We all know that advertising messages are targeted at an aggregated audience, a function of the broadcast heritage of mainstream advertising. You are trying to get a single message to a lot of people. The advertising guru is skilled in finding the right target (demographic model) and then ‘pitches’ the message at the appropriate level. The target can be set a little high (aspirational), a little low (dumbed-down or ‘not-aimed-at-you’ humorous) or any number of other strategies that succeed in subtle audience manipulation.

Advertising creatives know what works! Nevertheless, the years of aggregating audiences into demographic stereotypes have taken their toll, and most forget that the audience has been in on the joke all along. The individuals that make up the mob perceive that they are not at the centre of the audience profile (even if they are). Ninety-percent of drivers believe they are ‘above average’, so self-delusion is alive and well. I would argue that when in comes to advertising the same metrics apply. In most cases, more than ninety-percent of consumers do not believe that ads are talking directly to them. The societal distancing of meaning and being ‘in on the joke’, rather than being the ‘object of the joke’ are part of the unwritten code of modern broadcast communication. The broadcast code doesn’t extend to social media. The social media code has more in common with the behavioural norms that exist in true networks: friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances. In the ‘network’ code, the broadcast ‘pitch’ comes across as spin, lies, oppression and being out of touch. Agencies are used to shoving a single blunt idea down the throats of their audiences, and audiences (when they are thinking of themselves as an individual) don’t always like that. Stereotyping is advertising’s second failure to fit into social media.

My design
Advertising is synonymous with graphic design, image motion, sound and aspects of film, photography and fine art. The armoury of the trade is deployed strategically for impact, cut-through, retention, signalling, recall, emotive triggering and a host of other objectives. Copy sometimes takes the back-benches or is reduced to taglines, straplines and the supporting cast for the visual stars of the show.

For most social media the visual hierarchy is reversed. It is true that video drives traffic and meaning on Youtube, powerful images rule the roost on Flickr, and sound does its thing on Apple’s Ping. These exceptions prove the rule that meaning within social media depends fundamentally on text, with rich media, images and design playing an important but ultimately supporting role. It is not surprising that Facebook, LinkedIN, Twitter and a host of other hot social media properties win because they downplay specialist communication skills in favour of simple social interaction using text. Simple user generated meaning wins. Text is fast, searchable, cross-platform and direct. Simple authentic messages trump advertising spin. Personal relevance outplays contrived broadcast. The skills of video, drama and music, done brilliantly by ad agencies are not shared equally in the social media community. The common denominator of text is the message medium of choice. The creative focus and range of skills that reside inside an advertising agency, are poorly aligned to the needs of social media and our third failure to fit. Oil and water!

Get away, don’t touch me!
Many commentators suggest that modern advertising was born in the early twentieth century. Cruikshank and Shultz in ‘The Man Who Sold America’ suggest that it was a transition from ‘keeping your name in front of the public’ to ‘salesmanship in print’. I like simple models, so for me, this was changing the role of advertising from ‘Discovery’ to a combination of ‘Discovery and Engagement’. The evolution took some part of the sales ‘engagement’ away from human interplay (with a storekeeper or salesman) and moved at least some of it into the advertising message. Many of today’s advertising powerhouses owe their decades of success to this simple innovation. The establishment view of the day was supplanted by a new idea that spawned a more complex and transformational model.

It is ironic, that a century later, in our early part of the twenty-first century, a simple idea is transforming the marketplace again. Just as ‘engagement’ was added last century, consumers are now demanding direct communication. Once again, in my search for a simple model, we are adding ongoing and individually meaningful interaction. Social media is taking some of the ‘social’ element away from traditional human interaction and making social media marketing about a tripartite mix of ‘Discovery, Engagement and Interaction’.

In communication exchanges where social media works, the two-part model of advertising just cannot compete with the ‘Interaction’ element. Ad guys don’t walk amongst you, they walk over you. Establishment models do not generally drive innovation – there’s no reason to innovate if you’re the big honcho. So establishment agencies are not equipped for true interaction. The doyens of advertising don’t want to mingle with the great unwashed. Like many of their corporate clients, the thought of interaction is an anathema – professional blasphemy and our fourth failure to fit. The establishment church of advertising is not about to get down and dirty with its constituency.

I was important once
I have dug the boots in pretty hard and now I am having that moment of mild regret. My thoughts have taken on a tinge of melancholy, as I think of the evaporating confidence of many of the advertising moguls, when I hear them speak on the future of the profession, the industry, the art. Like deposed politicians, disgraced golfers and bankrupt tycoons, the journey from magnate to public curiosity is one worthy of some pity. OK, pity party over and the boots firmly back on.

Cartwrights, Pardoners, Philosophers, and Burnishers find it hard to get work these days. I’m not trying to be silly here. Clearly the needs of society change, and supply and demand dictate that certain roles have changing cache. I know I’ve had my shot at banks already but clearly the role of ‘Bank Manager’ in 1910 had a different societal status to a Bank Manager in 2010. Many advertising roles have also seen their halcyon days. Advertising isn’t dying I’m sure, but then neither is Stockbroking and yet Chalkies, Callers and Runners are all gone. Changes in technology and public need have modified financial professions and just as advertising roles related to typesetting and composing are gone, contemporary roles are also under threat from disruptive innovation and societal change.

True strategic thinking, messaging and art may remain important but advertisers who depend on the ‘black-arts’ connected to specific period technology (you may remember when a Bromide Operator was a profitable occupation), could be the Dinosaurs of the next wave of transformation. The real issue here is what economics and social science would call ‘path dependency’. The path to advertising roles with cache and reward, filters out most aspirants. Remove the items along the path (the hurdles) and you change the rewards, barriers, and personality type. Most Cartwrights did not become Automotive Engineers. Most Stock Exchange Callers did not move into new financial services professions. Most advertising specialists have travelled down the wrong path, accumulated the wrong skills, passed through the wrong experiences, and have the wrong motivators to find themselves equipped for social media roles. In general, the lack of desire to transform skills and the failure of emergent social media to provide equivalent financial reward, means that any ‘forced change’ will come too late. I think we have five failures to fit – in this case it is the story of the ‘slow boiling frog’. Google will help if you aren’t aware of the anecdote.

Personally, I hope one day to be able to say ‘I was important once’, when Social Media Strategist is a public curiosity and historical footnote. My place in the proverbial ‘frog’s pot’ is perfectly acceptable to me.

Am I at the right place?
If you have ever turned up to the wrong party, or worse, the right party on the wrong day, you know where I am going. So let’s get straight to an advertising analogy. McDonalds advertises during meal times and for the most part, the advertisements either work at ‘Discovery and Engagement’ or they fail with the occasional derogatory remark. During the cross-media phenomenon of MasterChef, McDonald’s ran a ‘Macca Chef’ campaign. The production quality was high, there was tongue-in-cheek humour and tailoring to the show being used as the delivery vehicle. To the television-only audience, this was ‘Discovery and Engagement’ with a slight twist. It either worked or didn’t, and where it failed it would have only engendered the usual derogatory comment and been quickly forgotten.

In the parallel world of social media, the one that contains ‘Discovery, Engagement and Interaction’, the advertising campaign was lambasted. Clearly McDonalds is not ‘fine dining’ and the employees are not ‘chefs’. The message may have had only one vehicle on TV, however in multivariate social media channels, there was no suspension of disbelief. Each audience member took the social elements, as though they were personally targeted, and the levels of audience dissonance were much higher. Instead of the dampening effect of broadcast, the social media channel can lift both the reach and longevity of the message and broader constructed meaning. I am sure that someone at DDB, Fuse or Fremantle thought the campaign might be pushing both the MasterChef and McDonalds brands to breaking point, but I doubt they realized the reaction in social media channels would be as powerful and negative. McDonalds was not in the right place. The social setting was wrong and while it mattered little on TV, it mattered a great deal in social media channels. Advertising agencies do not understand the media dynamics and societal behaviours as they apply to social media. Just continuing to building out the ‘failure to fit’ argument here, so I’ve lost interest in counting the instances.

Poorly received films die at the box office as a result of consumer feedback. Delayed live events on TV and Radio have reduced value because they cannot prevent real-time leakage of results and even comprehensive audio and video coverage from the social media world. Even the spill of political leadership becomes a wave of rumour before mainstream press can get a story together, creating a need for public figures to be able to handle questions and scrutiny in real-time before a message has time to be crafted and considered by a pollie’s spin doctors.

Need an experiment? Take any major brand strapline used generically in advertising campaigns. Now consider how this might resonate for better or worse in different social settings. The Fresh Food People, Sheer Driving Pleasure (now ‘Pure Individual’ I believe), Determined to be Different, The Fashion Capital … they work for advertising, they jar for social media. The fact is that they lack any real meaning or network anchors, making them useless (or worse) in social media frameworks. Staff and customers creating more meaning (or at least Interaction) than advertising agencies … I feel my excommunication coming along well.

You can’t manage what you can’t measure …
Proof of performance for most organizations is fundamentally about profit and revenue metrics. Real assessment of the performance of advertising is often abstracted to things like Cost-Per-Thousand (CPM), Impressions, Cost Per Lead, Views, Visits, Ratings, Circulation and a raft of statistics that say something, but not always things that are directly attributable to profit and revenue. It isn’t surprising when the advertising process is about ‘Discovery and Engagement’ to find that the metrics have to be extrapolated and broader objectives and timeframes considered.

With social media we have the ability to cover ‘Discovery, Engagement and Interaction’ activity, the available metrics can be extended to conversation numbers, response times and metrics that would normally be more common in call-centres and sales teams. The array is larger, lifting potential complexity. However this breadth also allows for a much more comprehensive assessment of activity as it relates directly to operational performance. The convergence of these business activities and metrics necessitates that social media is considered at a more strategic and transformational level. All sorts of people within a business need to get involved with social media. Your receptionist is on Facebook and Twitter, and so is your warehouse manager. They are both advertising your business, for better or worse, whether you like it or not. The interaction of social media is a broad church, far broader than the discovery and engagement components of broadcast advertising.

The elephant in the room is blind
Social media is not online advertising. The advertising industry has shifted to the Google Adwords and banner placement models with relative ease. These transitions used the same concepts and the same metrics – put simply a ‘page-based’ model. Google depends on a page paradigm for attributing context (search meaning) and order (PageRank). Every search result and banner placement links to a page on the web. Social media is not page based. Facebook is a complex portal, Twitter has smaller granularity and Youtube introduces the complexity of video and rich media. Search and search-related advertising is in trouble, the paradigm is changing, the audience is moving and the advertising locations are disaggregating. The current Google model, based on the print-heritage page driven paradigm, will not exist in its current form five years from now. Advertising agencies, especially those that believe they have shifted to digital, fit the ‘page model’, not the emerging social media dynamics and a network model with far greater granularity.

Largely, people want to use social media for meaning, communication, belonging, networking and discovery. Those with a barrow to push need to reconsider messages devoid of meaning (fake ingredients and hollow promises), communication that doesn’t belong (patronising tone) and that is capable of standing up to scrutiny – because it will be scrutinized and failures will echo louder and longer than successes.

Can a marketing and advertising industry that has been built for broadcasting half-truths be the engine room for taking messages of real value to consumers in this brave new world? I guess that is the question posed here. Can agencies change their ways, speak the truth, facilitate interaction, generate personal meaning and provide more appropriate measurement?

We are all watching and making comment thanks to social media!

10 Social Media Considerations

April 28, 2011

The case for Social Media is generally accepted (grudgingly in some cases). Acceptance of the channel and recognition of opportunity is a first step, one that leads immediately to questions on approach, potential issues, concerns and other considerations. The following ’10 Social Media Considerations’ should help to frame your thinking if you are starting out, or provide a good ‘cross-check’ for existing participants keen to assess performance and practice. Please add your comments.

Social Media Puzzle

ONE – Why Social Media? (The Market)
Social Media in some form or another is here to stay! Nielsen research in 2010 highlighted the size of the Australian audience. Over 10 million social media participants in Australia, more than 5 million Facebook accounts, 2 million of each of Twitter and LinkedIN accounts and more than two-thirds of all adults under 35 already actively participating on Social Media channels. In terms of hours spent using these platforms, Australians lead the world. With Australian consumers taking up Social Media, it is not surprising that business follows and most are either contemplating or implementing social media initiatives.

TWO – Why Social Media for You? (Your Objectives)
The best Social Media approach for you is one that achieves your objectives. Instead of letting the hype of Social Media drive your behaviour, come at the subject from a top-down strategic approach. What are your personal or business objectives? How can marketing, networking and online platforms assist? What is the best outcome for you at this current point in time? Do you need more ‘discovery and awareness’? Do you need better ‘engagement and interaction’? Do you just need to be better prepared for the future and signal your awareness of the channel? … Often it will be a combination of a number of objectives, but one outcome will lead the race and help define the best approach. Ultimately you want Social Media to work for YOU! Not you working for social media.

THREE – When should you consider Social Media? (Planning)
“Since the market and platforms are rapidly changing, lets wait until things settle down” … WRONG! Social Media is far more about networking than technology. If there was a new ‘Industry Association’ in your field, would you have more influence and make more connections if you joined early or if you joined after everyone else? Well there’s your answer. You cannot leverage your network, spread the word to your audience or counter negative messages in the marketplace if you have no platform, no presence, no audience, no network and no experience. Build your platform and your network NOW for when you need it most … start today! You can adjust for technology and platform changes and your network and content can be transitioned as things inevitably change.

FOUR – How to use Social Media? (Your Approach)
The best place to start is to use what you already have, what you know and who you know to make the pathway easy, gain early wins and pick off the ‘low hanging fruit’. Now that was a sentence fit for ‘cliche bingo’. Cliched it may be, but taking small steps and using existing material is the proven road to success. You will have content from other places that you can re-purpose into Social Media channels. You know yourself and your industry, trust your experience … this is a network more than a technology. You will know (or know of) people who are using Social Media, connect with them and ask them for support. Pick the Social Media platform that is closest to your
network, audience and objectives and make it work before expanding to others.

FIVE – How to Make Social Media Simple? (Your Tools)
Using the right tool always makes work easier. There are ‘platform tools’ that let you use, research and manage social media channels – ask your network what they use to make their life easier. Even more important are ‘your tools’, these are items that guide you. For example a statement of objectives, a policy on Social Media use, instructions, publishing schedule, monthly metrics report, resourcing model and source content – your ‘internal/personal tools’ will depend on your needs. Get them ready and the exercise of deploying Social Media, producing content and managing this channel in conjunction with other networking and communications activities will be a breeze. My favourite corporate tool is a ‘Brand Lexicon’ … a detailed list of terms and phrases that resonate with your brand, audience and objectives and are known to trigger results. This is a great ‘memory jogger’ and content touchstone for creating compelling content and ensuring great search discovery. I have a methodology for building a great Lexicon but that is a topic for another day.

Social Media Icons

SIX – What should I expect? (Measurement and Return)
Most Social Media activity is a ‘slow burn’. Networks take time to build, cultivate and deliver results. You have to give value to get value and the return is a compounding one. Your returns build over time as your network increases, you grow an established voice and the mechanics of the online world gain traction (search outcomes, network effects and inward links to name a few). This means although you should set clear objectives, you need to grow into them. As a guide, don’t expect anything amazing in the first three to six months. Despite the ‘walk before you run’ caveat, make sure you set targets and measure outcomes. At the very least, this will show you what works and what doesn’t. The simple road to success … do more of what works and less of what doesn’t.

SEVEN – How do I sustain Social Media? (The Long Term)
The best way to sustain your Social Media effort is to build slowly. Deliberate, considered and fully resourced but constrained effort over a longer period will be more successful that a short mad dash. The ultimate issue of ongoing sustainability depends on integration … making your Social Media activity mainstream! Your objectives, content, resources and approach should be integrated. If your Social Media objectives are the same as your business objectives, content is shared and re-purposed, resourcing is shared and the approach dovetails into other marketing, networking, communication and technical activity, then you have a sustainable (and most likely successful) model.

EIGHT – What if my ‘brand’ is trashed? (Dealing with Negativity)
For some organizations, the reason for avoiding Social Media is a fear of inciting attack and hearing negative or malicious comment. The evidence does not support this and usually any ‘negativity’ is occurring whether you are a participant or not. The advantage of participation is an ability to influence conversation, address issues, counter malicious statements and be aware of the depth of negative sentiment. Consider five people complaining with an average individual audience of 100 followers or connections. You have built a quality Social Media network and have 10,000 followers or connections … you carefully respond to one of these complaints. Your considered reply, audience attentiveness and message has an audience of 10,000 compared to the combined negative 500 (5 x 100) that preceded your involvement, regardless of whether you changed the individual view of the individual you replied to. You do not have this power unless you participate and build your network in advance of issues arising.

NINE – What if I make a mistake? (Learning and Transparency)
If you stick to objectives, professional behaviour and use well conceived tools as a guide (see Item Five), the risks are reduced. Most Social Media comment can be deleted or at least rescinded. If at the end of the day, you make an honest mistake, it is usually best to learn it early and the lessons won through Social Media can help stop you from continuing to make the same error in a less discoverable or more expensive manner (such as in your products, services and other communications). If your policy is clear on risk-management, professional behaviour, authorization and escalation, you will have the tools and pathways for dealing with more serious mistakes and issues. In classic risk management, the risks are generally low and certainly not worthy of discounting all of the potential rewards.

TEN – How do I get help? (Quality Support)
The great thing about Social Media is that the network can be ‘self supporting’ and the volume of information online is vast. Use your own filter and experience to determine what will work for you and what fits with your objectives. In terms of a larger organization, a balance of internal resources (close to the action and message) and external resources (with broad experience and domain knowledge) delivers the best of both worlds. The other great thing about an ‘internal/external’ mix is support (overflow, leave, training, crisis management, two sets of eyes and multiple viewpoints). Need external support … well you know who to call (gratuitous self promotion here).

Get started today … ‘learn by doing’! You will never regret the network you built early.

SM trumps DM

March 16, 2011

Social Media is a better choice than Direct Marketing …

Compared to Direct Marketing (DM), Social Media (SM) has a slower build but a much longer and more productive tail. Delivered print has low consumption, social media has low penetration (at present) and as a result for most demographics the net effect is a similar reach in pure numbers. That is where the similarity ends. DM is invasive and short-lived. SM is subtly passive (for the most part) and although ‘status updates’ are short-lived, they have long-tail search discovery and platform permanence benefits.

Platform Permanence
A well conceived and implemented SM spend will build a ‘permission based’ audience that
can be leveraged in an ongoing fashion. In cases where the message has real ‘interest’ and value for the consuming community, the media has the capacity to seed and spread. Communication can be further advocated and expanded by the members of the network (in some cases generating true viral network effects). Even in a ‘run-of-the-mill’ campaign, the search, traffic aggregation and advocacy are far superior for SM options than their heritage DM predecessors.

Progressive Improvement
The SM message can be progressive, varied and modified as campaign performance
data is received. A Social Media delivered message has technology, innovation, audience engagement and environmental messages implied as a result of the selected medium of delivery. The ‘implied’ messages, delivered effortlessly, are ‘contemporary’ and ‘in-touch’ and far beyond the stayed media implications of DM. I don’t even need to touch upon the environmental implications. Perhaps even more important is the fact that SM can be re-crafted, modified, tested, changed and otherwise adapted as the campaign happens. The advantage of digital is the ongoing ‘adaptation’ opportunity and the availability of ‘real audience’ metrics (if the managers are listening to their audience).

Platform, Platform, Platform
The three-Ps of SM – Platform, Platform, Platform. While setting up a Social Media campaign may cost more than DM initially, take a little longer, build steadily and progressively – the resulting investment is like ‘Real Estate’. The network growth is permanent (as long as it is maintained) and is strengthened by ongoing effort and expenditure. The longer it has been running, the more effort, and in many cases the continued spend, build a platform framework that has completely different (and ongoing) dynamic that DM just cannot match.
Once a quality and voluminous network is built, the ongoing cost of marketing delivery is by far the lowest per unit of any form of marketing media. It runs continuously, it prompts action and has compounding effect.

Still Rooting for DM?
Wow, hanging in there. Don’t worry Elvis will be back soon and the pesky Internet is also just a fad! Social Media gathers a host of secondary promotion benefits from normal
online search, delivering a broader and longer-lasting audience and providing permanent traffic benefits and organic search improvements (such as Google PageRank inheritance) for other digital marketing assets (for example a corporate or campaign website).

In a future post, I will talk case studies, metrics and what you can expect in raw campaign numbers. For now, don’t fight it. If you’re part of the ten-percent not implementing a social media strategy. Don’t you think the time is NOW. Of course you can keep your DM going as well if it helps you sleep well at night. Multi-channel is all the go!

SM trumps DM … QED!

House Construction Diary – P7

February 23, 2011

POST SEVEN – PENULTIMATE POST (I HOPE)

We have hit the point in our home building exercise where it feels like we should be able to move in. Exercising extreme patience and restraint (by my standard). All the major work is done, no more contractors spending long days doing major work, now it is all ninja style. Things just appear from nowhere! Clearly someone is doing the work, but never for long enough to notice their passing. In the last ten days, lights and power points went in, floor tiles, baths, sinks, garage door, gas connection, cupboard and robe fittings, toilets and a bunch of minor touches. Although the tradies have been invisible, the result isn’t, and we are painfully close. We have been told we should be in within the next 30 days, so this is my penultimate ‘House Construction’ post. The next will be the last – Celebration!

Sixth Photo Montage

Home Build Montage Number Six

If you missed my earlier posts (don’t bother, the journey is all but over). For posterity however, here is the list: Post One – Ready and Waiting, Post Two – Earth Moving Action, Post Three – Base and Frame, Post Four – Roof and Bricks, Post Five – Internal Work Starts, and Post Six – Looks (Almost) Finished, or follow @drwarwick for my #HomeBuild posts on Twitter. Please feel free to ask any questions or tell me about your own project if you are building as well.

Progress Summary
We could just about live in the place now. As mentioned, power is in. Water too is connected (although only cold water so far) but the sewer isn’t – so we could flood the place (not a great idea). The outside is all but finished, just some final painting and staining remains, along with the down-pipe connections. Inside the fireplace and flooring remains to be finished. Over the past ten days, small items like towel rails and toilet-role holders have appeared, alongside their larger cousins, baths, cupboard shelves and the garage door. Perhaps the last multi-day mega-job was also completed, the floor tiles for the wet areas – we are very happy with our colour choice, considering we are far from home designers.

For the record, our ‘ready to move in’ plants are still alive and growing, although Amy’s Cos Lettuce is going to get eaten before the move. I have a number of interstate trips during March, so in one sense, I am happy if the ‘actually moving’ happens a bit later in the month. Guess I want to be there for the champagne.

More Updates
The next House Construction post will be the last, but I might be tempted to do some post move updates on bits and pieces I do myself, better start limbering the old back up! As stated in the last post, we continue to be very happy Henley customers. It is currently 121 days since the final drawings were signed, given that we are likely to be in before 150 days have passed, it is a pretty impressive result. So far the workmanship is also better than we expected

If you are interested, please follow the #HomeBuild posts from my @drwarwick Twitter account and let me know about your own building project and experiences.

House Construction Diary – P6

February 8, 2011

POST SIX – LOOKS (ALMOST) FINISHED …

Construction pace has picked up again after the Christmas break. It has only been a couple of weeks since the last ‘Home Build’ update. We are now at about 100-days since final drawings were signed off and the house is almost structurally complete. Although there is still a significant amount left to be done, it is hard to resist feeling that it is almost ready and that our moving will be happening soon. Better not get too enthusiastic as we are still (most likely) a couple of months away.

Fifth Photo Montage

Home Build Photo Montage Number Five

If you missed my earlier posts (and find this stuff interesting), you can view Post One – Ready and Waiting, Post Two – Earth Moving Action, Post Three – Base and Frame, Post Four – Roof and Bricks and Post Five – Internal Work Starts, or follow @drwarwick and my #HomeBuild posts on Twitter. Please feel free to ask any questions or tell me about your own project if you are building as well.

Progress Summary
The bricks came up a treat after they were cleaned in late January and since then the front facade render, stacked stone, eaves, and downpipes have been completed. Only the painting of the render and the cedar timber above the entry remains to finish the external work. Inside the architraves and skirting were finished and most of the painting has been done. Timber staining is underway and the bathroom tiles have arrived ready for fitting. No doubt the electrical work, flooring and other finishing items will still take some time but the house is feeling largely done (at least during daylight).

If you read the last post, our plants are still alive and growing. We would have purchased a few more however our spare funds went to buying a new car since the last post. The result of an accident in which one of our cars was written off – not great timing (I guess it never is) and everyone was fine. The car is a bonus but the effect is that some of the home related items may have to wait a little longer.

More Updates
With a bit of luck and continued pace guided by our site supervisor, we might be moving in soon. As is now my standard practice, I will post again when the next 9-shot photo montage is ready. We continue to be very happy Henley customers.

If you are interested, please follow the #HomeBuild posts from my @drwarwick Twitter account and let me know about your own building project and experiences.

House Construction Diary – P5

January 24, 2011

POST FIVE – INTERNAL WORK STARTS …

Since the last home build post another month has passed, including the Christmas and New Year holidays. We are now three-months into our building project (some 90-days since final drawings were signed off). Despite the holiday interruption another impressive amount of progress was made. Now that most of the work has moved inside, variable weather is less of an issue. This has given us cause to reflect that during the same period, many Australians have not been as fortunate, with severe floods in Queensland and parts of NSW and Victoria damaging thousands of family homes. I hope restoration efforts progress as well and as quickly as our building project has for us. Donations to the Queensland Disaster Relief Appeal can be made on Queensland Government website.

Fourth Photo Montage

Home Build Montage Four

Our thanks go again to our site supervisor, who despite holidays, has continued to keep the action happening, as you can see from the images above. If you missed my earlier posts (and are suffering from insomnia), you can view Post One – Ready and Waiting, Post Two – Earth Moving Action, Post Three – Base and Frame and Post Four – Roof and Bricks, or follow @drwarwick and my #HomeBuild posts on Twitter. If you have been following, please feel free to ask any questions or tell me about your own project if you are building as well.

Progress Summary
The last of the brick laying occurred 23 December 2010 and the house achieved ‘lock-up’ just in time for the holiday break. Work recommenced on 11 January 2011 with internal doors, skirting, architraves and related wall finishing. This is a larger piece of work than I had imagined and took almost a week for completion. On 19 January 2011, the kitchen cabinets arrived and were put in on the following day, another impressive jump forward visually. During this period, the shower recess frames were installed, the external doors replaced by temporary ones, and with approval we moved some excess bricks and tiles to the back of the lot (handy for something I’m sure). Today (24 Jan) the rendering work on the front of the house started, so the next update should make for some ‘close to finished’ looking shots of the outside of the house. We purchased some plants and pots to start growing them (hoping for a size head-start) before we move in. Also a good test to see if we make good ‘plant parents’ … I hope we can keep them alive.

More Updates
Now at this stage, thoughts of completion dates and moving are starting to enter our thinking. With a bit of continued luck, we might be moving in within a few months. As has become a practice, I will post again when the next 9-shot photo montage is ready. If the quality of work remains at this standard, we are likely to be very happy Henley customers.

If you are interested, please follow the #HomeBuild posts from my @drwarwick Twitter account and let me know about your own building project and experiences.

No value at Harvey Norman

January 7, 2011

“They go for you zealously and with hatred all over Twitter”

Gerry Harvey as he publicly retreats from a poorly conceived campaign to have the Australian Government impose GST on all online purchases from offshore sites (reported on 7 January 2010 in Gerry Harvey beats a retreat by Mathew Murphy, The Age). Mr Harvey goes on to say “because of my profile, I then get all these threats and people home in on me … billionaires, greedy, ugly, old, out-of-date, c—s, and the people writing this seem to think we have been ripping them off for years and that we deserve this”.

Hypocrisy of Protection
Of course high profile business leaders can become targets of scorn in social media, or outside of it, they can also attract plaudits, rally support and attract other positive social outcomes. Nowhere in public comment has Mr Harvey suggested that his view is flawed, that the world may have changed, or that there is hypocrisy on wholesale exports arriving in his stores, without the impost of old world tariffs, at the same moment he pressures Government to provide what amounts to retail protectionism. No retailer tariffs, only consumer ones, are apparently the way to save jobs and it always comes to the emotion of fear when logic is missing from the equation.

Nasty Social Media
Mr Harvey is flat out wrong, and that is why media (whether emerging social media or longer-standing press) are taking him to task. It is true that Social Media can be acerbic, I wrote
‘Twitter is Bitter’ during last year’s Australian Federal Election on the extremes of social media coverage. Nevertheless, public sentiment is what it is, it comes with extremes and it is unfiltered, this makes it valuable, if at times unsavory. You can learn from it if you listen (maybe Gerry Harvey isn’t listening), or you can engage and make a case for your cause and change opinion, or you can put your head in the sand and call those connected through Social Media “these people, whoever they might be” – Gerry Harvey’s words. Of course Harvey Norman is on Twitter “for the hottest products”, just not weighing into their mogul’s lobbying. I guess “those people”, some 4,941 Twitter account followers are OK if they might buy something?

Avoiding the rhetoric and looking at why Gerry Harvey would enter this debate, has made me ask a simple question – what fundamental VALUE does Harvey Norman provide?

Value of Harvey Norman
As far as I know, they don’t make anything. Sure, they can give you advice, if a disinterested and largely uniformed sales person is to be considered valuable advice, and you can’t use Google? Correct me if I am wrong, but the main ‘value’ is aggregating product, putting it where you can get it (close geographically and available immediately) and helping you finance stuff you can’t afford (not sure if that is value to you or them?). Perhaps somewhere to return faulty items may have some inherent value as is seeing lots of stuff all at once. Anyone got anything else? Seems to me that this is useful but hardly unique or worthy of anything more than a modest premium. Of course there is collective buying power, but that should be the argument for cheaper prices not higher ones.

Online Versus Physical Store
So if a consumer can go online, purchase a product and get it for significantly cheaper than Harvey Norman, then there is an innate set of problems. Firstly, if Harvey Norman has buying clout, the consumer is not the beneficiary. Secondly, maybe being available immediately, located nearby and presented in a ‘quasi-serviced’ environment doesn’t have the value and cache to justify significant price differentials. Of course there is also the billionaire patriarch (is that $500 margin from every man, women and child in Australia) or am I just “one of these people” on Twitter that is “vicious and hateful”. Personally, I think I’m fair minded, but I’ll listen to the online community tell me otherwise.

Perhaps to protect margin in a marginal value-adding operation, you need Government protection, unspoken price collusion and an effective oligopoly. The price savings online provide prima facie support to such an assumption. It will be hard for Gerry Harvey and others to sustain such an oligopoly in a market that is globalized at the consumer access level. Perhaps that is what is most disturbing to Retail Dinosaurs (borrowing a nasty phrase from Twitter) about online trends and social media – you just can’t get a monopoly from geography alone anymore and the Government isn’t always going to hand out Plasma TV stimulus payments.

Of course if you are up for a more aggressive interpretation, you can read the view of ‘Things Bogans Like’ in #202 – Gerry Harvey, very funny piece, unless you’re a Bogan (or Gerry Harvey).

Agree, disagree, I would like to know you’re view and online retail versus domestic store experiences.

2011 Year of Social Media

January 5, 2011

2011 … The Year of Social Media
It’s official, Dominic Miller has named 2011 the Year of Social Media and that’s good enough for me. After all, why shouldn’t it be an individual, a real person, and someone who wasn’t an initial convert to the trend that gets to make the call. Of course if you don’t agree, you can tell him yourself at @DominicMiller68 and while you’re at it you can blame Melina @houseofturtle for suggesting a blog post. None of my doing at all.

Map produced by Facebook friend-lines

Why the Year of Social Media?
The image above says it best, the world is socially connected in a way that it has never been before. Paul Butler, an intern at Facebook, produced this graphic by mapping Facebook account locations (people) and aggregating friend-lines (connections), the result in his words is an image that “resonated with many people. It’s not just a pretty picture, it’s a reaffirmation of the impact we have in connecting people, even across oceans and borders”.

Facebook, with well over 500 million accounts globally, when illustrated in this fashion creates a map of (most) of the World. Noticeably Russia and China’s exclusion policies impact our global ‘connectedness’, a discussion for another day. See more of how Paul created this image on Facebook at Visualizing Friendships.

Why This Year?
Over the last couple of years the Social Media phenomenon entered the corporate and professional sphere. Organizations started to allocate real budgets to projects aimed at expanding their online communication into Social Media platforms. While the strategies are varied in both method and results, and the road to commercial return is still unclear (as all new pathways are), it is increasingly the consensus view that these interactive and social channels are here to stay, important, and ultimately capable of generating value in a number of ways (discovery, engagement and interaction to name a few).

It may still be early days, but no one really wants to be left behind when transformational and disruptive innovation has finished washing over the world. Be certain of one thing, this is no small global change, in many ways this is the promise of the internet being fulfilled. 2011 is The Year of Social Media because it is the year in which the organizations that are the successes and failures of the future will establish their strategy, implement their model, spend budget and ultimately compete on this battlefield for the hearts, minds and dollars of their audience, prospective audience and future audiences.

The lines on the Facebook graphic, illustrated so well above, are not the flight paths of aircraft, they are the aggregate communication power of millions of human interconnections and billions of messages. People are not taking about what they ate, they are talking about what to buy, where to eat, which brands they support and discussing businesses, building awareness and creating referrals. Miss this ‘land grab’ for your brand, your message, your value proposition and it could all be over for you in just a few short years. Make no mistake … 2011 is the Year of Social Media. Facebook has already had moments when its ‘search volume’ has surpassed Google, this trend is only becoming stronger.

New Year’s Resolution
In 2011, putting your ‘Head in the Sand’ (blog link) is not the appropriate action. Activate your internal strategic resources, leverage quality consultancy (cleverly disguised Veridian ad here)  and build new channels to learn what works and will work in the future for your organization. You have a green-field opportunity to engage with the online market (10 million Australians already using Social Media, including over 5 million on Facebook and over 2 million on Twitter). Social Media activation is a quality New Year’s Resolution for the success of your organization and the groundwork for you to say in 12 months … 2011 was truly the Year of Social Media.

Head In The Sand – SM Policy

December 21, 2010

Get me a Social Media Policy STAT
What does an organization do when something big, scary and disruptive heads their way? Well as any good risk manager knows, they implement policy. Organizational Policy on Social Media implemented! Risk averted! Now the Board and Executive can breath a sigh of relief. Am I being too cynical?

Three Approaches to Policy

1 Denial – pretend Social Media doesn’t exist and hopefully it will go away. Denial is the classic policy approach for difficult topic areas like inter-staff relationships and the timely seasonal issue of staff behaviour at the office Christmas function.

2 Shutdown – the fast-acting policy that says ‘you’ll be fired’ if you do it. Or the more politically correct version that just makes the whole thing so difficult to understand or enact that avoidance will be the operationally practiced path for the majority of staff.

3 Understanding – the much harder ‘road less travelled’. The ‘enlightened’ path is particularly difficult when you have to wrap your corporate head around something like social media. The is why ‘understanding and enablement’ is not the normal first-step for a business in relation to Social Media practice. This is a big mistake, since policy drafted for ‘shutdown’, simply closes this entire market channel and opens it for competition. Then of course, there is the issue that the ‘bad news stories’ are still going to be out there in any case, unfettered by response from the organization involved.

Shooting Down ‘Head-In-The-Sand’ Policy
What follows is my recent advice to a well known brand on their policy to dissuade staff from engaging with Social Media. The names are removed, but maybe this could apply, as the case for the affirmative, within your organization (you can make me the bad cop) …

Policy Critique
The current policy (of the unnamed organization) makes it clear to employees that Social Media is a no-go-zone for loyal staff. If someone should want to proceed with Social Media engagement, they do it against policy and in a framework that requires strict approval and complicated guidelines. Clearly the vast majority of staff will simply avoid Social Media engagement or take their use of Social Media platforms ‘underground’.

Resulting Issues
The principle problems for the organization are threefold …

ONE – The organization will be unable to effectively use Social Media as a business growth platform and has through its policy limited brand reach, message frequency and the use of a powerful group (staff) that would primarily advocate on the organizations behalf.

TWO – Negative comment and external Social Media conversation will occur regardless of the policy and since the ‘positive’ internal channel has been locked out, the balance of Social Media comment will favour the negative rather than the positive, and there will be no ‘corrective’ counter commentary.

THREE – Both staff and customers that have a preference for Social Media channels will see the organization as largely inactive in this innovative space – something that will increasingly impact the perception of the brand in the eyes of customers and staff (current and prospective) and allow competitors open access to this channel.

Resulting Message
The current policy, in practical effect, says ‘Social Media is off limits and not valued’. The policy statement that the organization will “appoint someone” to handle Social Media accounts from a central location is particularly poor. The person is not named, the process is not stated and the contact details are not provided. This is clearly an accommodation and in practice, who in the organization would realistically hand over their digital persona to an unknown corporate junior or external vendor? How would this ‘centrally appointed person’ speak more compellingly on behalf of the organization than highly experienced, highly qualified, on the spot, and invested voices that already exist within the organization?

Policy Wording
The 16 rules (guidelines) are far too complex and poorly constructed to be useful. Once the overly wordy comments are removed, the guts of the guidelines are: get permission, be authentic, consider comments carefully, be respectful and use the channel to provide and gain value on behalf of the organization. The guidelines are too complex to be remembered and work against the overarching policy of centralization. Clearly the only value in the current policy, is to scare anyone inclined to use Social Media away from doing so. There are certainly no ‘instructions’ on process or action for any employee who would want to use Social Media for the benefit of the organization.

What Other Organizations Are Doing
Telstra started, like most organizations, with denial and it looked likely that it might enact a lock-down policy. Given the negative brand sentiment attached to telecommunications and Telstra in particular, disengagement would not have come as a surprise. Sensibly, the policy makers within Telstra realised that this would prevent the channel from adding any value, leave negative comments unchecked, leave a market channel untapped and over time signal to customers and staff that the organization was out-of-touch. Telstra needed to be in all markets where its customers communicated, despite the undoubted reservations of management.

Telstra implemented a Three-Rs policy for Social Media … Representing, Responsibility and Respect. These are detailed more fully in terms of expectations and those Telstra staff that wish to engage through Social Media are encouraged to authentically advocate on behalf of the organization so long as their time use is reasonable and effective.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) has perhaps the most simple policy, one that is respectful of its employees capacity to act appropriately and professionally. The single-page standard sets in place four guidelines (copied from the document – download PDF copy here) …
1) Do not mix the professional and the personal in ways likely to bring the ABC into disrepute.
2) Do not undermine your effectiveness at work.
3) Do not imply ABC endorsement of your personal views.
4) Do not disclose confidential information obtained through work.

Maybe if understanding and engagement is good enough for the ABC and Telstra, your organization should consider a more enlightened strategy and draft a more thoughtful policy.

Your Organization
I hope that this post can help you make a case for your organization’s engagement in Social Media. Of course you can always commission someone like Veridian to write policy, help your organization
monitor conversations, set standards and encourage staff to participate in a way that gains significant positive outcomes for your organization.

Let me know how your organization views Social Media and what policy initiatives they have enacted …