What Smoking, Complacency, and Fear Of Social Will Do To Brands

It is estimated that in ten years 40 percent of the Fortune 500 will no longer be here.

It is also said that the crash of the auto industry was a result of complacency–defined as “self-satisfaction especially when accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies.” Even better the 2nd definition is, “an instance of usually unaware or uninformed self-satisfaction.”

For those of you who come from brands that are attempting to incorporate social into your employee engagement strategy, and your multi-channel customer strategy,  I know you are fighting the good fight. Keep going!

For those of you who haven’t started, I’m worried about you.

Before you read on I ask you watch this Jon Stewart video.

I laugh as someone who used to spend her weekends and 6am mornings traversing through the NYC parks. There’s nothing worse for a runner than being faced with a park full of smoke.

But the question Stewart poses with the video–for me–is not about second hand smoke. This is a question about action, change and attitude.

This is a blog about making change in small ways, even though it will leave you vulnerable to criticism. Do you change the way you manage one division, although it might leave you looking disorganized in another?

History tells us companies who admit fault, but show they are making an effort to change, are easily forgiven by employees and customers.

Remember when JetBlue Airways was faced with a major PR nightmare after a break-down in the airlines operations? This disaster resulted in more than 1000 canceled flights in a five day span. The CEO, David Neeleman, admitted wrongdoing, apologized and used the information to improve the process. And he did just that.

Forrester just announced JetBlue to be a winner of the Voice of the Customer Award.

Lose the Tude

The hypocrisy identified by Stewart’s video is real. An attempt to clean up smoking is ridiculous in comparison with the smorgasbord of real problems faced by NYC including drug addiction, homelessness and the mentally ill (who are not cared for)–many of whom take shelter in New York’s parks along with the smokers.

The pundit Sammy B says, “how are these drug addicts supposed to tweak properly while being exposed to all that smoke?” She also makes a comment that she will have to go home from the park in order to scrub what she calls “this giant undulating pile of human sorrow.”

We know that yes, in reality the real problem is much worse than second hand smoke.  Those in the Bay Area can empathize as homelessness, drug addiction and the mentally ill (who are not cared for) are an obvious issue.

So Stewart’s stand appears to be-if you can’t fix the whole problem, don’t try [note Jon Stewart used to be a smoker].

To Be [Social], Or Not To Be [Social]?

Collaboration–and leveraging social technologies internally and externally–have nothing to do with smoking. But the issue in both situations is the idea of “complacency.”

This attitude–held by many brands–will cause them much difficulty, if not today, then tomorrow. And every day after that.

“If I can’t fix the entire park, I’d rather do nothing.”

I don’t think I’m just an “idealistic silly young person” because there are many baby boomers who are leading the change within their orgs–and every day is a fight.

Most of us don’t understand how–with the knowledge we have today about lung cancer–people would continue to slowly kill themselves.

One could make the same argument about companies who refuse to move in the direction of social technologies. Companies that don’t pay attention to social are also slowly killing themselves. Ok I’m being dramatic, but seriously if you told the auto industry three years prior to the collapse, that it was going to collapse, would they have laughed? Probably.

What’s happening today is important. Start small. If you show your employees, and your customers that you are *trying,* they will all appreciate you more.

You don’t want to be part of that 40 percent who won’t be here in ten years due to….complacency.

8 Tips From Tina Fey For Launching A Social Media Program

There is something about Tina Fey.

She can literally say anything. She never seems to offend anyone–unless you love Sarah Palin.

Tina Fey is a writer, director, actress and author and she just published Bossypants, a somewhat factual auto-biography. It’s incredibly funny, engaging, smart and refreshing. Here is a blurb about being “the boss” from the book.

I’ve learned a lot over the past ten years about what it means to be the boss of people. In most cases being a good boss means hiring talented people and then getting out of their way. In other cases, to get the best work out of people you maybe have to pretend you are not their boss and let them treat someone else like the boss, and then that person whispers to you behind a fake wall and you tell them what to tell the first person.

Contrary to what I believed as a little girl, being the boss almost never involves marching around waving your arms, and chanting, “I am the boss! I am the boss!”

What happens in the social digital world is magnified and forever burned into history.

If you are a brand, and your company sees customer management as a cost center (an ugly step child to be left in the basement), we see you.

If you are a brand, and you don’t care about your employees, we see you.

If you are a brand that cuts corners to make short term profits, we see you too.

If your CEO doesn’t care about engaging with his/her community, we see that three.

Here are 8 things brands can learn from Tina Fey when they set out on their social marketing journey.

1. Just own it. Don’t try to hide the obvious. If something bad happened to your brand, call it out. If you have food on your face, laugh at yourself. It feels better, and it feels better for us as well. Having humility and addressing vulnerability [even in a joking matter] neutralizes the energy in any room [chat room as well].

2. Listen, really listen. When you think of Liz Lemon [Tina Fey's character] you don’t think of that girl (or guy) in the room who seems completely unable to listen. Today’s best “PR” campaigns include more listening and less talking. Don’t be like Jenna Maroney [Jane Krakowski]. A hilarious and integral part of “30 Rock,” she’s not the sharpest tool in the shed, and you don’t want her representing your brand to the world.

Scene from episode where Jenna dates a Jenn Impersonator.

3. Engage. If someone were to say something to you in “real life,” and you were to not respond, that would generally be considered rude. So don’t do it online. Remember it’s really the same bag. While you get the feeling Liz Lemon on “30 Rock” somehow thinks her team is completely useless, she’s a fairly polite person. She does the best she can to manage the nonsensical behavior from her team. Even Jack Donaghy [Alec Baldwin]–Liz Lemon’s crazy boss.

4. If you have to think twice, don’t post it. Liz Lemon is a wordsmith, a comic and a bit of an eccentric artist. But she works for GE (and Kabletown) so she has to censor her words. If you wouldn’t tell your prospects, your customers, your employees, your resellers, your partners, your…mom, don’t post it. If you have to think twice, don’t do it. Self-censorship is powerful.

5. It’s not cool to be self-promotional. If you are cool, we will notice. It’s important to put your stuff out there for people to find, but if you keep re-tweeting only your own stuff….you start to look desperate. Liz Lemon is very subtle. She’s well-researched, she’s relevant, she’s even oddly beautiful in her own unassuming way. The quiet nerd is way hotter than the self-promotional actress (think Jenna Maroney). Let your fans rave about you. And work hard to give them something to rave about.

6. Wear a bra [kidding]. Don’t hand over your community management to the intern [watch video and it will make sense] who does not know your products, services and processes. If you hire an intern to do it–one that has not cut their teeth somewhere else–will likely make mistakes with your brand. We all were there once–and hopefully we had a great coach who told us to shape up or get out. In any event, if you hand off your messaging strategy and governance to an intern, or someone who does not take care with your campaign, I can guarantee you will not be satisfied with the results.

7. Put a face to your brand. Today people are tired of dealing with logos and personality-less and inhuman companies. I don’t have to remind you it’s all about being human. It’s all about being “global and local.” Don’t smack a big logo onto your twitter alias. Put a nice face there, someone who can say “hello,” “how,” “help” and “thank you.”

8. Scripts don’t work. Neither do rigid rules. In this blog post I even broke my own rules. See rule number 6 [bra] and then remember rule number 4 [censorship]. You need to provide structure, but just like with anything this journey will not always fit into the pristine box you want it to. You need to lose a little control. You will sleep better at night knowing you trained and empowered your people to make good decisions when you are not around. Relax, you will make mistakes. And you will be very grateful for them.

Will the Government Shut Down the Internet?

I was at a dinner party recently and someone said to me, “It’s only a matter of time before they shut down the internet.” As I left the party I thought this was totally insane, but upon further reflection it made some sense.

This holiday I watched a movie Sneakers for the first time. It’s an all-star cast of Sidney Poitier, Robert Redford, Dan Aykroyd, River Pheonix and others. It’s essentially a film about hacking, security and the internet explosion. It’s fast paced, killer dialogue, engaging plot, with timeless relevance.

As it stands today there is still no governing body on the internet. This is a problem because there are always people who will abuse the system if there aren’t regulations. Or at least that is what history tells us. WikiLeaks was a reminder of that.

Is it just me or does Ben Kingsley’s character ["Cosmo"] in Sneakers remind you of Julian Assange?

WikiLeaks is holding a large amount of information from Bank of America which it intends to release early this year. Assange told the Times of London, “We don’t want the bank to suffer unless it’s called for…..But if its management is operating in a responsive way there will be resignations.”

I believe we are on the brink of some major reform. Will the government shut down the internet? I hope not and I don’t think so–at least not in my lifetime.

What is your opinion?

The Corporate Social Strategist Can’t Move Fast Enough


Recently Jeremiah Owyang released the Altimeter report The Two Career Paths of the Corporate Social Strategist. Be proactive or become ‘Social Media Help Desk’.

Owyang asked 140 Social Strategists what made them successful. 46% attributed their success to their “willingness to take risks.” One other noteworthy trait, and my personal favorite, was “ability to keep a cool head.”

Owyang’s report reminds us that getting support for social is no easy task. The person who does this has to basically have super-powers. It’s that hard. The issue must be attached from all angles.

Joie De Vivre–Joy of Life (can be found at work)

Last Sunday I found myself at the Samovar Tea Room for the Zappos delivering happiness event. There were a handful of guest speakers accompanying Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos and his Delivering Happiness crew. One stand-out speaker was Chip Conley, CEO of Joie De Vivre, also the author of Peak: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo From Maslow.

Chip mentioned the Maslow hierarchy of needs–highlighted in his book–in his talk on Sunday. I can’t blame companies for not considering this hierarchy in managing average companies. It’s very easy to forget “the human condition” when you are trying to hit quarterly goals.

image source

Owyang’s report on the “social strategist” reminds that the biggest hurdle in getting wide-spread adoption of social business is not the user friendly software. The challenge resides in legacy corporate cultures.

There are a few companies that don’t have this problem. Tony Hsieh of Zappos gets it.

When I say “it” I mean the fact that companies that recognize this hierarchy of needs see the return. We don’t need fancy consultants or expensive software programs to start experimenting with social. We just need a culture that’s ready.

After the Zappos event last Sunday on the Delivering Happiness bus I asked Tony Hsieh about social CRM. I told him how frequently his case study is cited.

He laughed at me. And he always laughs at me when I throw out fancy jargon generally used by our industry.

The concept “social CRM” is not complicated. It’s very simple. It wasn’t complicated for Zappos because social slid in easily with their culture. There is a culture war going on. And avant-garde leaders–literally meaning “out in front at battle”–like Tony–are changing the world. But most of us are still on the sidelines watching–a result of what is possibly performance anxiety–at the corporate level.

The Dark Side

When I asked an old friend–who was an executive director–what makes people show up for work, he told me fear. I politely disagreed and I still do. Fear paralyzes workers. It is demotivating. How many of you have worked alongside employees who don’t show up for work even when they do?

Knowledge work requires critical thinking, problem solving and focus. Companies with mentally checked-out employees see their sales will fail.

We’ve known this for a few years. A report released back in 2007 noted companies with low levels of engagement saw operating income drop more than 32 percent and earnings per share drop over 11 percent (Towers Perrin).


One of the most cited management gurus in the world is Peter Drucker. I recognize that Drucker, during his time, had very forward-thinking ideas about management of knowledge workers. But the reality is today his management tactics are outdated.

His books don’t consider disruptive technologies.

Advances in collaboration technology throw out many of the legacy rules we are accustomed to.

For example, Drucker encouraged managers to model the military in leadership style. Simultaneously he preached companies should treat employees like volunteers, free to leave at any time. This is counter-intuitive to me.

You are either using fear tactics, or you are not. And those that use fear tactics are not even aware of it—it’s that ingrained in the culture.

It will take more than a few Jedi-mind tricks for change agents and social strategists to convince upper management of the value of social. We are years away from where we need to be in corporate America. Yesterday it was reported that Wal-Mart made 3.5 billion dollars in the third quarter–and most of this revenue came from overseas. With the state of the American economy, social business might save us–unfortunately it’s going to have to be much faster than we are currently moving.

This can’t happen fast enough.

The Two Step Process to Brand Building Through Influencer Communities

If Christopher Columbus were a marketer he would still be using Google and Facebook.

Let’s veer from the “West Indies” of social media marketing. Below is a map providing a faster route to a land full of sugar and spice and everything nice.

The Map to Social Biz Marketing

We are all in the experimentation phase of social. As marketers we explore. We set out to sea, land (sometimes in the wrong territory), track mistakes and successes and adjust our map. My map isn’t necessarily sexier than your map–but considers some recent mistakes you might not have heard about.

There’s no question that it’s important to have influencers and brand advocates on your radar.  Let’s face it–it’s good to be in the light of the influencer. But influencers aren’t generally as easy to find as omniscient Oprah–they are currently moving targets.

Finding and engaging influencers, and turning them into advocate, takes blood, sweat and tears. Or at least it used to…

The good news is some people are working very hard to simplify this process. It’s now a refreshingly easy two-step process.

Step 1: Identify Your Influencers.
Step 2:
Bring Them Into A Branded Community.


1. What is the easiest way to identify your influencers?

Recent college grads are kicking themselves for wasting a $100,000 dollar education “googling” all day. Fortunately for these millennials Google is possibly on its way out-at least for marketers.

What defines an influencer?

In defining an influencer there’s the philosopher‘s answer and there’s the scientist‘s answer.

The philosopher’s answer–>

Influence comes from confidence, vision and timing.

The scientist’s answer–>

If you ask Michael Wu, PhD, Principal Scientist for Lithium, he might tell you something different. In Michael’s blog The 6 Factors of Social Media Influence he talks about two criteria for gauging influence:

a. Credibility: The influencer’s expertise in a specific domain of knowledge.

Please note: There is no such thing as a universal influencer, because no one can possibly be influential in all domains. The best that anyone can hope for is an influencer in a specific domain of knowledge

b. Bandwidth: The influencer’s ability to transmit his expert knowledge through a social media channel.

Please note: Active influencers in one channel may not even be present on another channel. So influencers are not only specific to a domain of knowledge, they are specific to social media channels

Marketing is a different animal today. The way we gauge influence has shifted. As Michael wrote, not only are influencers specific to a domain, but they are also specific to a particular channel. At first glance this seems to make marketer’s jobs even harder.

How do we hit these rapidly moving targets?

The answer is Klout a service that measures overall influence across the web. To measure influence the metric considers:

  • the size of your engaged audience
  • the likelihood that your messages will generate actions (retweets, @messages, likes and comments) on a scale of 1 to 100
  • Network score indicating how influential your engaged audience is

I recently met Klout’s CEO Joe Fernandez. He told me he had the idea for the company when his jaw was shut for a period of three months due to a medical procedure.

Klout counters one of the biggest fallacies about social media–the lie that that brands have lost control. Companies like Klout illustrate the fact that the power is there for the taking. Power can be re-assumed by the brand and its care-takers. 

Step 2: Now that I’ve found my army where do I put them?

Courting influencers can be likened to paying for celebrity endorsements–only difference is courting influencers is much cheaper and less risky. Remember when GM paid Tiger Woods $40 million for a 5-year contract ending in 2009. Well we all know how that turned out.

So let’s make your life easier. Find your influencers and bring them into a private external community.

Stop! I know you are thinking about le Facebook. Facebook is not a long-term strategy. Rather Facebook is a short-term investment where you don’t control the data. You are essentially investing in the future valuation of Facebook.

With this map you are now investing in YOUR OWN platform. You have assumed control over your brand’s communication and messaging. This route leads to sugar and spice and everything nice. You are not in the West Indies-and you know that 100%.

*Carlos Diaz, CEO of blueKiwi Software and Doug Stephens President of Retail Prophet both contributed to  research for this blog.

An Interview w/ Ovum Analyst Aphrodite Brinsmead–the Real “Oracle” on Contact Center Tech 3.0

Yes her name really is Aphrodite! And no she is not the real goddess of love.

One year ago I met Ovum Analyst Aphrodite Brinsmead from the customer interaction team at the New Orleans ATA annual conference. Aphrodite is a young (hip I will add) thought leader who you can expect so see more from in the next year. She gets just as excited about business and technology as me. She sat down with me at Oracle Open World, “the world’s largest information technology event,” to give us the scoop on this year’s content.

Photo of Aphrodite at Oracle Open World

Blake Landau:
Why are you here at Oracle Open World?

Aphrodite Brinsmead: I’m here to learn about Oracle’s contact center and social media strategy.

BL: Is there anything compelling that you’ve learned so far?

AB: I went to a good session on Oracle RTD (Real-time decisions) – it’s a decision engine that provides recommendations to contact center agents and sales staff on how to answer customer queries or find information. It integrates with Oracle Business Intelligence to analyze historical customer data, find patterns and provide relevant recommendations for the agent within Oracle CRM system.

BL: Most companies aren’t doing that now?

There’s a mix of vendors starting to offer real-time decision making capabilities, including specialist unified agent desktop vendors, CRM players and workforce optimization providers. But it’s still early in the market and there’s very few contact centers using these tools at the moment because it’s difficult to truly predict what customers need. It requires significant data integration and change management for agents – they will be fed information and selecting options rather than making all the decisions themselves and there may be some resistance. Moving forward I think there will be gradual adoption to help agents respond faster to customer queries and automate some of the manual and repetitive processes within the contact center.

Oracle has a large base of customers using CRM for sales, marketing and customer service as well as BI customers that will be interested in using this technology to improve interactions with customers.

BL: Do you think the content this week is behind? What’s Oracle’s social strategy?

AB: Oracle is a follower rather than an innovator in the social space. I’ve heard a lot about cross-channel this week and how enterprises can use Oracle CRM capabilities with knowledge management to understand customer behavior across different channels from the store to contact center and marketing. Oracle has an advantage because its CRM solutions are deployed across multiple business departments – sales/marketing/customer service. But I think it’s difficult for an organization of Oracle’s size to develop additional social capabilities quickly enough to keep up with the market – it’s partnering with InQuira for knowledge management tools and is going to be working with Radian6 for its social media monitoring capabilities.

Oracle also appears to be developing more social enterprise capabilities within its CRM products. I saw a demo where the agents or sales personnel were able to share documents on a particular case, comment and respond to Twitter queries all within the CRM application. Customer value can be determined by their social influence as well as their loyalty and dollar value to the company. The capabilities I saw in the demo seemed similar to what Salesforce.com is doing with Chatter[a1] .

BL: There are a lot of social business software companies popping up. Who do you anticipate will be successful five years out?

AB: I think there are a few important criteria that social vendors need to remain successful in five years time.

  1. Adaptability – Customers, like vendors, are still experimenting with social media and software companies need to be able to add new features and adapt their solutions according to customer behavior. Consumers also lose interest quickly they need a compelling reason to use an online tool or reach out to peers via a forum.
  2. Scalability – The social phenomenon is growing and I believe in a couple of years time these tools are going to be a core part of customer service. At the moment companies haven’t quite worked out how to integrate social trends into their contact center and customers aren’t really conscious of the way businesses are planning to use their information. But this is going to change – both enterprises and consumers will become more savvy and social monitoring and response tools need to be scalable as demand grows.
  3. Simplicity – Enterprises need to understand and justify the business case for implementing new technology. They want quick implementations and fast ROI and vendor solutions must be simple to understand and integrate with existing technology.
  4. A holistic view – Social has been described as a new customer service channel and there’s a lot of talk about contact centers and sales departments developing a social media strategy. I think that both vendors and enterprises need to look at the bigger picture. For example are customers using FAQ pages or forums asking the same questions as customers calling into the contact center? Vendors need to provide a way to connect the pieces through analytics and a shared knowledge base for all channels and interactions.

BL: Any closing remarks regarding the landscape?

AB: I think the landscape is going to change quite a bit within the next five years. There’s still a lot of room for new vendors and innovators in the social space but I also believe we’re going to see more market consolidation. Traditional contact center vendors and enterprise application players, such as Oracle, are likely to add to their social capabilities through acquisition.


Aphrodite Brinsmead covers contact center markets and technologies and voice and video business. Her work primarily focuses on analyzing trends, strategies and practices for technologies such as CRM in the contact center, knowledge management, cross-channel analytics, workforce optimization and the emergence of social media in customer service. You can contact follow her on Twitter/diteb.

Blake Landau is the Marketing Manager for blueKiwi Software.


For an introduction to social business tools and methodologies please join blueKiwi for a free educational webinar “Social Business: The Business of Being Social” Thursday, September 23rd, 2010 featuring Martin Schneider, Senior Director of Communications from SugarCRM and Jacob Morgan, Principal, Chess Media. We are almost at full capacity so sign up before it’s too late–seriously!

bluekiwi, European leading Social Business vendor, enables organizations to engage and interact with employees, partners, customers and web-influencers. Using bluekiwi, companies can set up Internal Social Networks, manage thriving External Communities and harness the increasing power of Social Media in ONE solution. Our SaaS model provides fast deployments, no technical constraints and lower costs with the stability of a true Enterprise-Class platform.

What Alfred Hitchcock Would Have Said About Facebook (For Business?)

What would Alfred Hitchcock have to say about social media? His film Rear Window (1954) hits the premise of social media on the head. The film is about voyeurism. And as the script reads ”we’ve become a race of Peeping Toms.” Sixty years later I think Alfred would agree.

Why are so many of us addicted to Facebook? Because we arguably enjoy watching others and being watched–this is not mean to sound creepy. We are interested in each other’s stories. And Facebook helps us tell the story of who we are through old kindergarten class photos, political/social causes, music and sometimes even photos of our breakfast.

While I try not to bore my networks with photos of my breakfast, I manage my online social profiles with openness. Just like jumping into the ocean when it’s really cold, first you dip your toe, then up to your knees, then your waist and then you adjust and dive in. Slowly we are submerging ourselves in social.

image source

Social Media and Business?

My progression into social media for business was slow. One podcast show turned into a blog, which gave me the courage to do video interviews and eventually other media. I slowly fell in love with content creation and sharing.

And I’ve come to terms with imperfection. I can’t omit all the “ums, ahs, likes or you knows” in my podcast interviews. It’s all out there, floating in cyberspace…forever.

And in addition to all the media out there I still have moments where I’m conflicted about social nuance. This includes which friend requests to accept, reject, remove etc. And just like in real life there’s no one size fits all rule book. It’s generally a “case by case” “use your best judgement at the time” type of situation.

And most of us are still pretty clumsy with this–the blind leading the blind.

Some smart people are trying to solve these issues with us–well maybe not the venting issue mentioned above, but the two areas that are still sort of vague for most of us: enterprise 2.0 (internal collaboration) and social CRM (external collaboration).

You Really Want All That Stuff About You Up There On the Internet?

At a certain point we will have to learn to lose our self-consciousness. It’s a small sacrifice we make for the rich returns we get from sharing. This includes ignoring “the tyranny of public opinion.”

It’s no secret that a lot of us are still clumsily trying to leverage social media internally and externally. There is a lot of talk about brands “losing control” but what about our own individual brands?

How do we maintain our privacy without alienating people (friend requests dangling in limbo)? How do we avoid hurting people’s feelings and maintaining some kind of control over our own online personaes and profiles?

Again there’s no one size fits all solution, similiar to the fact that there’s no one size fits all solution for organizations and their social strategies.

More questions raised include: How can we participate without revealing too much? Do I really want my parents to see the same photos my friends see? My boss? My colleagues? My customers?

I mentioned I had a friend who was visiting the doctor for a very personal check up.

The doctor obviously was a very personable and warm individual, told my friend to add her on Facebook. Just in case of emergency. If the doctor was off duty, she could easily be pinged in an emergency.

The dialogue went sort of like this:

Doctor:“Just add me on Facebook!”
Patient: “What? Really?”
Doctor: “Oh of course, just don’t write on my wall asking for the results of your test. Once I had a patient who wrote on my wall ‘did you get the results back from XXX test?’”

[And it wasn't a test to check a fever]

While consumer packaged goods companies seem to be leading the charge leveraging Facebook to understand consumers, other industries are awkwardly following suit–out of necessity more than anything else. The use of Facebook for business will only progress.

But do businesses really want to always be watched? And what is the best way to watch customers? What would Alfred say?

So what are your opinions on public versus private? How much do you want to share? What are the dangers with Facebook and Enterprise 2.0 or Social CRM?

Customer Data, RCA and the Truth about Sumo Wrestling

I have an Achilles heal for films about sociology, anthropology and pretty much anything ending with (ogy).

Last night I watched the documentary “Freakanomics,” a take off from book written by authors Stephen Levitt and Stephen Dubner. The film is made up of shorts done by filmmakers Seth Gordon (The King of Kong), Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me), Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side), Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing (Jesus Camp), and Eugene Jarecki (Why We Fight).

Each short features a case study zeroing in on a set of data to find the root of causality-to find the meaning behind the variation.

Sound familiar?

To my knowledge the film never mentioned the phrase “root cause analysis,” but that is essentially what they were looking for. Case studies range from cheating in sumo wrestling to financial incentives within Chicago high schools.

Root cause analysis (RCA) is a class of problem solving methods aimed at identifying the root causes of problems or incidents. RCA is related to the term Six Sigma, a methodology using statistical analysis to improve quality. The goal is improving quality and productivity by eliminating. Six Sigma was big in the late ’80s and early ’90s in manufacturing.

But in the social web, variation can be beautiful and tell us amazing things about our products, services and business processes.

Since this is The B(l)akery, let’s look at three kitchen and food related inventions that were happy accidents caused by variation.

1. Coca-Cola

Dr. John Stith Pemberton, American pharmacist, soldier, and inventor created a very popular drink called the French Wine of Coca, containing French Bordeaux wine, coca leaves, and caffeine (from the kola nut). When alcohol was banned in 1885 in his hometown Atlanta he had to change the recipe. He added sugar, citric acid and essential oils of many fruits to the drink, and the original Coca-Cola was created. It was named for its main ingredients, coca leaves and the kola nut.

2. Potato Chips

The potato chip was invented in 1853 by George Crum. Crum was a Native American/African American chef. French fries were popular at his restaurant. A customer complained his fries were too thick so a vindictive chef Crum served the customer fries that were too thin to eat with a fork (trying to make Gladys customer furious). But the customer actually loved his french fry variation and thus you have the invention of the potato chip.

3. Microwave Oven

The microwave oven was invented as an accidental by-product of World War 2 Raytheon engineer Dr. Percy LeBaron Spencer. Dr. Spencer used magnetrons–vacuum tubes that produce microwave radiation–and one day found his candy bar melted in his pocket. After experimenting, he realized that microwaves would cook foods quickly. The Raytheon Corporation produced the first commercial microwave oven in 1954; it was called the 1161 Radarange.

Variation in data leads to innovation.

More importantly it leads companies to the truth. It’s the truth about what the marketplace wants.

So Freakanomics reminds us there is truth hidden in the customer data, and the truth will set you free.

Someone Like Me, Customer Value Co-Creation and Biodiesel Fuel

In episode 30 of hit HBO series “Curb Your Enthusiasm” Larry David hires a bald chef for his restaurant (see above clip). Larry is accused of giving bald people preferential treatment by Jeff Garlin his manager.

In response Larry accuses Jeff of giving fat people preferential treatment.

After watching this show I thought about how people, in addition to Jeff and Larry, have an affinity for people who look like them. And it’s true. Most of us want to hang out with people that have a common denominator with us. It’s of course not always physical appearance.

At the 2010 Social CRM Summit (May in Atlanta) produced by Mr. Godfather Paul Greenberg of BPT Partners  one of the topics was “I want to be sold to someone like me.”

After I left the summit I thought more about why people want to be sold to someone like them, and how that relates to trust. On the airplane ride home I came across an older (but still relevant) article from Nielsen featuring a survey of 24,000 internet consumers from 50 countries.

What Nielsen found is ninety percent of consumers trust recommendations from people they know.

I Trust Someone Like Me

So there might be some truth to Larry and Jeff’s perception of each other. We do gravitate toward “someone like me.” Makes sense. Why? I assume that you are your own number one. Who do you trust the most? Hopefully yourself! And this DOES NOT MEAN someone with the same cultural or religious background that I have. It just means someone I identify with–most of my friends are not from the same demographic as I am.

Co-Creation of Value and the Mercedes That Runs on Corn Oil

And yes you are nodding your heads saying “yah yah Blake, we’ve read about the trust barometer.” But so few companies have truly put their money where their mouth is. We as an industry, haven’t made peace with the new reality of an increasingly social customer. Social media will bring a seismic shift to the “management of the customer life cycle.” It’s important for the folks behind big brands to have their ear to the ground.

Companies need to listen for innovative ways customers are using their products.

For example watch this video below. I am sure these local farmers and grocers were shocked when their customer drove up to their parking lot n a car powered by rapeseed (also known as Brassica napus), soybean, mustard, flax, sunflower, canola, palm oil, waste vegetable oils and alcohol.

Who knew that natural crops could be turned into Biodiesel Fuel? I’m sure that the guy from this video didn’t initially buy alcohol to fuel up his 1500 dollar Mercedes.

While most of you who found this article on twitter know it’s not enough to have a “google alert” on a product or brand, our customers and the brands we shop haven’t clued in.

Brands need to be out scavenging the beautiful desert that is the world-wide-web. The good news is we no longer have to go to the ends of the earth to find out how products and services are being used.

Companies who listen can accrue a real wealth of business intelligence. And it’s only a click away.


For an introduction to social business tools and methodologies please join us for this free educational webinar sponsored by blueKiwiSocial Business: The Business of Being Social on September 23rd, 2010 featuring Martin Schneider, Senior Director of Communications from SugarCRM and Jacob Morgan, Principal, Chess Media.