Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Social Media Mavens - An Interview with Patagonia's Kasey Kersnowski

If you're reading this post, then you probably know that I'm a big fan of Patagonia's The Cleanest Line, and often use it as an example of a great company blog in my social media posts and presentations. So when Kasey Kersnowski, and The Cleanest Line's managing editor emailed me to thank me for covering his blog, I had to ask him for an interview (BTW notice Kasey was smart enough to be monitoring for brand mentions, and reached out to me because I was blogging about his company). Kasey graciously accepted, and here he gives us a 'behind the scenes' look at what goes into crafting one of the best company blogs on the internet.

MC - As you know, I'm a big fan of Patagonia's blog The Cleanest Line, and how you position the blog as being focused more on customer-centric themes such as environmental activism and the outdoors. Why did Patagonia take this approach?

KK - Our founder, Yvon Chouinard, laid the foundation that made the choice an easy one for us. We have a heritage of story telling in our catalogs that goes all the way back to the first Chouinard Equipment catalog in 1972, before the company was called Patagonia. To this day we still devote a significant number of pages in our catalogs to environmental essays and sport-themed field reports -- pure editorial content. We know from years of printing these types of stories in our catalogs that they resonate well with our customers.

The Cleanest Line gives us a place to tell the stories we don't have room for in our catalogs. By telling stories we inspire one another to experience new things and new places, or take action on behalf of worthwhile causes. Part of Patagonia's mission statement says "use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis." The nature of social media makes it a great way to fulfill that part of our mission.

MC - Does Patagonia actively monitor what customers are saying online about the brand and your blog?

KK - We're very interested in what people are saying about us. We monitor on a daily basis. It's free feedback that helps us improve all aspects of the company. The key is properly interpreting what is being said, both positive and negative, and recognizing what feedback is appropriate to act on. Every company will have to make those decisions on their own.

MC - What impact has social media had for Patagonia as a business? Are you able to apply any lessons learned from The Cleanest Line into other areas of the business as a whole?

KK - It's helped us get to know our customers better and empowered them to play a bigger part in Patagonia's success. One example: We now give our customers the opportunity to review products on They tell us what we're doing well and what needs improving. That's always existed to a degree – customer letters and phone calls have been around for a long time – but the fact that the comments are now public has given our customers a more potent voice.

The Cleanest Line also helps us embrace a more transparent business model. The feedback we received when we launched the Footprint Chronicles was filled with negative comments toward China and the fact that we manufacture some of our garments there. Instead of hiding that fact or blowing those people off, we engaged them on our blog. By hosting the conversation in our house, so to speak, we were able to respond to questions more quickly and clarify our reasons for doing what we do.

The result of that interaction was an important shift in policy. Previously, our catalogs and Web site only listed whether a product was "Made in USA" or "Imported." We now tell our customers the specific country where each of our products is made. If a customer doesn't want to support a product that's made in a particular country, they now have the information to make a precise, informed decision.

MC - Finally, everyone is talking ROI and measuring the success of social media efforts. For The Cleanest Line, how does Patagonia track the 'value' that's being created by the blog? For example, if you write a blog post today, what will need to happen for you to determine that it was a successful blog post?

KK - We track basic statistics like page views, comments, clickthroughs, fans and followers. We certainly want to know if our efforts are relevant and attractive to people. But it's very hard to directly attribute a growth or decline in sales to social media efforts. Our metric is simple: Are we having a good conversation with our readers? Is it inspiring? Are both parties benefiting from the interaction? Through conversation you build a relationship, and the bottom-line of any worthwhile relationship isn’t dollars, but trust. If we can establish trust through our social media outlets, then all our efforts have been worthwhile.

Great insights from Kasey, and I love how Patagonia is using its main website, as well as The Cleanest Line as a place to collect feedback from customers, then implement changes based on their feedback, then notify them of those changes! Perfect example of how you use social media to give your customers a greater sense of ownership in your brand! Make sure you read The Cleanest Line and follow Patagonia on Twitter.

If your company would like to be considered for a future interview in the Social Media Mavens series, please email me. Look for the next interview in this series in two weeks!

Monday, September 28, 2009

If you create online content, Google's SideWiki just changed your world

Seth Godin has ruffled feathers for years in the blogosphere by not allowing comments on his blog. He's stated flatly that he appreciates your feedback, but if you want to leave comments, you're going to have to do it somewhere else, besides on his blog. In fact in 2006 he flatly stated that "So, bloggers who like comments, blog on. Commenters, feel free. But not here. Sorry."

But that was back in 2006.

Last week, Google launched a browser add-on (For only IE and FireFox, no Chrome, yet) called SideWiki. What SideWiki allows you to do is comment on any webpage, and read comments that other people have written. If you want to comment on the content provided, you can do so. If you want to reference a point made and provide more information, you can do that. The screenshot above is a bit hard to see, but it's Seth's Brands in Public post from last week that caused quite a stir. Seth still doesn't allow comments directly on his blog, but notice that if you use SideWiki, you can read comments that others have left on this post.

If you create online content, your world just changed.

With SideWiki, you now have the ability to review any product, right there on the company's website. And you can read what others have said. But you also have the ability to respond to other commenters, and engage them, as Jeremiah did here.

This is just another example of how empowered consumers have become, and how their ability to express themselves online can no longer be ignored. As with other social tools, this will be a potential problem for companies that ignore it, and a potential advantage for companies that embrace it.

What do you think about SideWiki? Is it a great thing, or is it wrong for bloggers such as Seth to have control taken away from them with something like SideWiki? And remember, just as customers would now have the ability to leave comments on a company's website, couldn't competitors do the same thing? Should they be able to?

A lot to consider and digest, but either way, I would advise taking a look at SideWiki and becoming familiar with what it does, cause it might just be the future.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Seth attempts to monetize social media, much teeth-gnashing ensues

Two or three years ago I likely would have been very upset about this.

The gist of it is that Seth has created a Squidoo (Remember them?) lense for a few hundred brands, that aggregates social content about them. Such as blog posts, Twitter replies, even news articles from Google.

And if you pay Seth $400 a month, he'll let you have control over the 'development' of that page, meaning you can put your own content on the wider left column. The right column will still aggregate blog comments, Twitter replies, posts and news stories.

The people that are upset about this, and there are a lot of them, seem to have two main issues:

1 - That Seth is charging for this.

2 - That these pages will probably rank well in search results, and some see that as if Seth is 'blackmailing' companies into having 'control' over the lenses.

First, let me state that Seth is doing this because there is a demand for pulling together content for big brands so they can monitor it. There really is no shortage of companies that understand so little about social media that when they see a negative comment about their company, their first respond is 'how do we get this taken down?' Seth's idea caters to those companies.

Second, while there is a need for this service, companies can do SO much better. That seems to be a complaint of many people, that Seth shouldn't be charging $400 for such a crappy offering. Folks, $400 a month is nothing to these brands, and compared to what they are doing now to monitor brand mentions (probably nothing), it's money well spent.

I do have a bit of a bone to pick with the way Seth attempts to explain the value of the lenses, asking: "There are already monitoring tools online (like Radian6) that allow big brands to watch from behind the scenes. That's great, but what are you doing in front of your audience? Is there a low-cost, easy way to let one of your non-technical marketing people lead and engage with people who are already in the conversation?"

There's no shortage of free tools that will quickly and easily give you access to the same information that Seth will collect for you. And despite Seth's implications to the contrary, you don't need a 'page' to respond to these mentions, you can respond AT THE SOURCE. Why would you want Seth to pull my negative post about your company to HIS site and then you pay him $400 a month for the right to respond to me THERE? How is that helpful since I will never see that?

But come HERE and reply to me for FREE, and that's impressive. That likely changes my tone, and reflects well on you in the process. And it doesn't cost you a dime, other than the time it takes to respond.

Again, Seth is doing this because there's a demand for this type of service. So to that end, I have zero problem with him charging for this service that DOES have value to companies. Granted, this is the 'fast food' version of social media engagement, but for companies that are doing nothing, it's at least a tiny step in the right direction.

My advice to companies would be to invest the money in doing this right. Have a consultant or agency set up a monitoring system internally for you, then have them instruct you on how to respond to customer content appropriately. That way you'll have access to the same customer-created content, and then can respond to it AT THE SOURCE. That's what increases brand awareness, and improves brand perception.

And yes, I offer this service to clients. Please email me if you're interested in a price quote. Be forewarned, the cost is more than $400 a month, but then again so is the value you'll receive from learning how to address and deal with customer issues and complaints via social media channels.

What do you think? Is Seth out of line here, or are people simply upset because someone is trying to monetize 'free' social media?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Which comes first; the social media strategy, or the social media tactics?

This is a no-brainer, right? Because we all know you create the strategy first, then find the tactics that help you best execute that strategy. Right?


So many companies are jumping on Twitter and Facebook (for example) because they are the 'hot' sites of the moment, and/or because they think they need to be there. They use these sites for a couple of weeks, then realize they have absolutely no idea what's going on. That's when I get the 'we started using Twitter/Facebook but really have no idea what we are supposed to be doing with it' email.

I get that email because the business started using Twitter and Facebook without first having a social media strategy in place. They assumed they had to be on these sites, and once they were there, had to scramble to figure out how being there was going to help their business.

Get the strategy in place first, then decide on the tactics that help you execute that strategy.

Don't focus on social media tools, focus on the reasons why you are wanting to use social media. What are you wanting to accomplish? Some examples:

1 - Grow awareness of a particular product or service, or your entire company.

2 - Establish your expertise within your industry.

3 - Provide greater customer service.

4 - Share and communicate information more quickly with customers, especially during a crisis situation.

Once you know what your strategy is, then you can talk tactics. Because each tool works in a slightly different way, and as such, makes it more or less likely to work for your particular strategy. If you want to connect with your customers quickly, as in a crisis situation, or to provide customer service, a tool that facilitates more real-time communication, like Twitter, would probably work well. If you want to establish your expertise within your industry, maybe a blog would be your best bet.

But before you jump in and start using a particular tool, you have to make sure that it fits your strategy, and that it fits your existing human, skill, and time resources. I understand that many companies now feel the need to 'do something', but you still need to have a plan. And if you aren't sure how your company should craft your social media strategy, please email me and I'll be happy to help you!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Social Media Mavens - An Interview with Citi's Terry O'Neil

One of the elements of social media that's been really exciting to watch is how large corporations are experimenting with these tools and sites as a way to better connect with and understand their customers. Earlier this year, Citi launched a new credit card program, Citi Forward, that features a strong social media presence. I wanted to talk to Terry O'Neil, Citi Card's Executive Vice President, about how the company is using social media in this campaign, and what their concerns about the space are.

Disclaimer - TMG Brand Communications is the agency of record for Citi Cards, and I worked with them (TMG) on the Citi Forward launch.

MC - Social media plays a big role in the marketing of Citi's Citi Forward Card. Was it a conscious choice to use social media, or did it just make sense to integrate social tools based on the market you are trying to reach?

TO - For Citi Forward, Citi is utilizing social media not only because it’s a great way to reach the target market – consumers looking either to build or maintain healthy credit – but also because it provides us with the opportunity to engage more deeply with our customers and consumers. This dialogue began when we were developing Citi Forward. Citi Forward is the direct result of working with both our existing and prospective customers to better understand their needs and wants relative to a credit card. To further this direct dialogue, we focused our marketing strategy almost entirely on the Internet and social media. And we also entered into a partnership with MySpace to build on those relationships we’re seeking with our cardmembers. Today, they can join the conversation at, on Twitter at @Citi_forward and

MC - What has Citi learned from using social media to connect with Citi Forward's customers that Citi can carry forward when you use social media in the future?

TO - With this particular campaign we’re reaching consumers almost exclusively via the web and leveraging the power of social media to more deeply engage with our audience. While doing so, we’ve found that our partnership with MySpace and our presence on Twitter has presented us with a terrific opportunity to build upon our brand platform while establishing a two way dialog with our customers. Through social media, we are able to hear consumer’s views on finances and credit cards first hand and translate that valuable feedback into customer driven programs like Citi Forward.

We’re very pleased with the response to Citi Forward so far and the level of engagement we’re seeing from consumers. Over 3,700 socially responsible acts have been completed by MySpace Users through Citi Forward’s 12 Resolutions Program. @Citi_Forward has a growing base of followers on Twitter and has served as an important bridge between consumers and customer service. Citi Forward has quickly responded to cardmember inquiries, with one customer tweeting: “@Citi_Forward rocks!!! Thanks a lot for the efficient service.” Such response has resulted in naming Citi Forward a Top Bank to Follow on Twitter and highlighting @Citi_Forward as a Tweeter Every Credit Card Hound Should Follow.

Our social media efforts have provided us with an efficient marketing platform and an incredibly effective feedback tool. Looking toward the future, we’ll continue to seek ways to engage more deeply with customers and consumers.

MC - What are some of the real concerns that large corporations have about using social media? What are some of the issues that are relevant to your business environment that we might be missing when we ask why more companies aren't using social media?

TO - Social media requires a long-term approach and cohesive strategy. It’s about establishing and encouraging conversations with customers in order to strengthen and improve products and services. In doing so, companies need to embrace unfiltered dialog from customers, recognize they’re not going to be able to control the conversations and use this real time feedback to improve the overall customer experience.

Thanks again to Terry for letting us learn more about how Citi is using social media, especially with the Citi Forward card. You can follow @Citi_Forward on Twitter here. And if your company would like to be considered for a future interview in the Social Media Mavens series, please email me. Look for the next interview in this series in two weeks!

Pic of Chris Penn and Terry taken at the webcast for the launch of the Citi Forward card in NYC, and via Christopher S. Penn

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Is speaking freely via social media REALLY a good idea for companies?

On Sunday night as #blogchat was about to start, I was asking everyone what they wanted to talk about. Chris Heuer threw out that he wished we'd discuss why conservatives are 'fear and hate mongers' and that he thinks they will tear the country apart.

My kneejerk reaction to this was 'Ok Chris is sounding like a loon', but it turns out he was upset partly due to tweets like this that were aimed at his family.

But if I hadn't seen that tweet, I would have to go with my 'Chris is sounding like a loon' conclusion. And this goes back to a fundamental truth of social media; there are THREE sides to every conversation. There's your side, my side, and then the side of everyone else that forms their opinions based on what THEY saw.

And this is why I think companies need to be VERY careful about letting their employees get on social media sites and engage in hot-button issues such as politics, religion, etc. It is SO easy for people to get into arguments about these topics, because everyone has so much passion for their beliefs invested. And it is SO easy for someone to take a tweet out of context, as I almost did with Chris. On top of that, many people might want to stop doing business with a company if they discover that their employees hold a political or religious stance that they are strongly opposed to. Might not be fair, but it's reality.

What do you think? Should companies strictly forbid any non-business talk from their employees on social sites? Then again, isn't one of the great benefits of companies using social media is that it allows them to 'be more human', and doesn't that mean openly sharing opinions?

I can see both sides of this, but lean toward having greater limitations for employees on discussions involving certain topics such as politics and religion. What say you?

UPDATE: I like Tom Jones' (Tom do you have a site/blog I can add a link to here?) take on this in the comments:

"There is no way companies should try and limit what there employees are posting to only company related topics. This practice would be certain Doom to any company that attempted to impose it. However, it is not unreasonable to ask an employee that when they are representing the company they stay away from certain topics like religion and politics. This is not the same as limiting all speech but it does set guidelines when functioning as a representative of the company."

Friday, September 04, 2009

Subscription drive!

Hey guys, I wanted to make sure everyone knows how to keep up with me on this and the other social sites I am active on.

You can subscribe to The Viral Garden via RSS here, or by email by adding your email address to the form on the right sidebar.

Also, I wanted to make sure everyone knows about my business site that I launched a few months ago, This site is aimed more at giving you information about my speaking/training and social media and marketing consulting services. The content there is aimed at companies that are new to social media, and are either thinking about using social media, or have just started. So it's more 'Blogging and Social Media 101', whereas the content here is a bit more advanced.

So if you're interested, please subscribe to by clicking here. BTW, if you would like to get more information about my social media consulting services, please email me. Most of my clients are small to mid-sized businesses, and B2C companies. Blogging/social media strategies as well as customer-evangelist programs are my specialties.

Now, if you'd like to follow me on other social sites, you can find me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Delicious, SlideShare and Friendfeed.

Thanks guys, and make sure to have a great weekend!

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Have kool-aid drinkers totally screwed the social media space?

Apologies in advance because this post is going to piss some people off, but I want to make a point. I've had many a conversation in the past few months with fellow social media consultants, social media managers, and even conference organizers about the 'state' of social media.

One of the recurring themes I keep hearing is how the 'kool-aid drinkers' have 'screwed' this space by pushing the idea that 'social media is free'. Or at least that social media is cheap and easy to use.

I've been guilty of doing this as well. I think up till a year or two ago, many of us said something similar to this, because we were trying to make companies understand the potential of these amazing tools.

Now they get it. But the problem is, they assume that social media is cheap, or FREE. Because that's what we told them.

Another trouble spot is that because social media is 'free', that means anyone trying to monetize their social media efforts is a meanie. @ChrisBrogan is everyone's Whipping Boy of the Day on this topic. It also means that people that ARE smart in this space, often don't want to promote themselves, because that's not what social media is about, social media is about 'the community', right?

Lisa Hoffmann nailed this issue earlier this year, if the smart social media people stay silent, then companies will reach out to the hacks, because they are the only ones promoting themselves.

Folks, social media isn't free, and it isn't easy. I'm preaching to the choir here, but I think we need to be VERY careful in how we represent this space and these tools. And unfortunately, the Genie may be out of the bottle at this point and the damage done, but I think we need to carefully consider some key points here. These are my opinions, feel free to agree or disagree:

1 - It's ok for Joe Blogger to monetize his content. If Joe is creating great content, then he deserves to be compensated for that great content. Mainly because the more compensation he gets, the more great content he can create.

2 - It's ok for Ann to promote her social media writing/speaking/consulting services. If she's build up expertise in this space, it's ok for her to try to make money off her talents.

3 - The world will not stop spinning if Clark calls himself a 'social media expert'. Really, the sun WILL rise again tomorrow. And this is doubly true if Clark is a complete idiot when it comes to social media that's out to make a fast buck. Somehow the world survived hucksters before the advent of social media, I think we'll be ok.

4 - If I don't like how Jessi is promoting herself on Twitter, then I can UNFOLLOW her. But I think it's silly for me to tell HER how SHE should be using Twitter so that it's better for ME.

Something else I've been doing in the last few months is talking to more people outside of the 'social media fishbowl'. And most think that 'social media people' are complete idiots. 'How do you guys expect businesses to take you seriously if the space is all about being free and easy?' is a question I was asked once. @AmyAfrica sent me a link to a blog post recently and added " I think people believe social media experts should not make $."

And I think there's a lot of truth to that. But again, before we start blaming others for that attitude, I think we need to look in the mirror. We create content on our blogs and give it away for free. Nothing wrong with that and I *love* doing this. I love sharing with others and learning from them. But when someone tries to monetize their blogs, a lot of people crinkle their noses. Why? Because social media is supposed to be 'free' and 'pure', right?

Another analogy that Amy had is being a library versus a bookstore with your social media efforts. Many people are trying to make money off social media, but they position themselves as being a library that gives all the value and knowledge away for free.

But what's wrong with being a Barnes N Noble? A place where everyone comes to hang out, read good content, drink coffee, have a snack, meet with friends, and still MAKE MONEY? When did wanting to be a Barnes N Noble become an evil thing? Why can't 'social media people' do the same thing?

Again, let me be clear before anyone jumps to the wrong conclusion in the comments, but I *love* how open and sharing the social media space is. Seriously, the best people in the WORLD are in this space, and I really do believe that. But at the end of the day, bills still have to be paid, and I don't think it's a crime for people to want to make money off their efforts. I don't think it's a crime for people to want to promote themselves.

And I think *we* need to stop acting as if it is. Bad promotion is still offensive, but we shouldn't throw the baby out with the bathwater. If this space is going to move forward and be as successful as it can be, then money has to follow and flow through this space. That's just a fact of life and for the 'purists' that think that bloggers should only write for the 'love' and 'passion', well that might work for some (and definitely does), but you shouldn't begrudge someone else wanting to make a few dollars off their efforts. Why is Jim 'selling out' if he decides after 5 years of blogging for free, that he wants to sell a sponsorship on his blog? Does that make Jim a 'bad' guy? Why is it wrong for me to expect a company to pay me to deliver a social media presentation that took me 20 hours to prepare?

Is it? Should it be? Again, when we frame social media as being 'cheap, easy and sometimes even free!', then we have to deal with these issues.

And this even extends to the tools. What happens every time rumors crop up that Twitter is going to start charging for accounts? Many people say they will leave. Yet when ads via tweets are suggested as a possible alternative to keep Twitter free, people balk at that as well. How many people hate Facebook ads? Do they hate the way Facebook does ads, or that they do ads at ALL?

It seems many people want everything in social media to be completely free and on THEIR terms.


I think I'll stop here because this rant is getting way too long, and I'd like to hear your thoughts.