Musings from a (former) SXSWi virgin

This was the first year I’ve been to SXSWi. What finally convinced me to go? A combination of last year’s overwhelming number of tweets and Peter Kim’s wise council. Peter told me that SXSW is a place unlike any other conference: you get the opportunity to be with a ton of like-minded, smart people in a social environment. With alcohol. Did I mention alcohol?

Peter was right about everything including the alcohol. But to really “get it,” I needed to experience the event first-hand. Here’s how I sum up why I loved SXSW: serendipity. When you are in a place as small as downtown Austin, you could “happen to” run into/recognize people you’ve only known online before, people you admire from a distance but hardly ever get to see, people who do what you do at other companies, people you do business with in Austin, and in my case, even catch up with a high school friend who works in the same field as me. (It turns out if we had been more organized we could have had a small-scale Paly reunion right there in Austin – next year!) When was the last time you ran into a list of people like that all at the same place?

I go to a lot of conferences. It’s been a long time since I got much out of keynotes, breakouts, or panels. To be honest, it’s come to the point where I only attend conferences I’ve been asked to speak at. SXSWi was different though. And I’m glad I went. Go if you want, or don’t go, it’s up to you. If you do go, you might “happen to” run into me there next year.

BlogWell Comes to San Diego

The good folks at Gaspedal took and posted video of my presentation at the BlogWell conference in San Diego recently. Fun day that day – it was hosted at the Navy Training area in Coronado. (You know, the one you saw in Top Gun) Being there was super cool – speaking made being there fun and an honor. Thanks, Andy and Kurt.

TurboTax: TurboTax and Social Media, presented by Christine Morrison from GasPedal on Vimeo.

TurboTax on the Social Media Examiner

Recently TurboTax’s social efforts were featured on the Social Media Examiner. The interviewer, Michael Stelzner, knew quite a bit about what we’re doing. As a result, he asked questions I don’t think I’ve ever been asked before. It turned into what I think was a pretty good interview – nice job, Michael.

TurboTax from Michael A. Stelzner on Vimeo.

The Myth of Executive Buy-In

I hear a lot about the importance of selling your social programs to your businesses’ leadership team. Which makes sense. And no doubt you have to do it, to some degree. It’s just not a black-and-white issue.

I recently stumbled across my original deck (5 years old) for selling our then-general manager on the notion of starting the first-ever blog at the Consumer Group.  Asocial media executive buy-infter I got over the initial “Wow, I must have been smart 5 years ago, this is pretty good stuff!” moment of celebration it brought the whole meeting back to me, complete with all the anxiety and anticipation leading up to it.

Here’s the thing I didn’t know then (and it’s better I didn’t): even though our general manager bought off on the idea and we started the blog, I would have many challenges to come with other leaders.

Social believers, here’s the truth no one tells you: you will probably never get buy in from all those executives. Like everything worthwhile in life, it’s a journey.  Partner up with the leaders who are willing to try new things and prove your case as you go to the rest.

P.S. My “from – to” slide in that initial deck has all come true – it’s been quite a journey, but worth the ride.

Psyching out

You know what my big soap box of 2010 appears to be? There is nothing new in the world of the psychology of learning. Just a few days ago I wrote a post about it. Today Ellen Reynolds from Dachis group wrote a post describing Kate Niederhoffer’s presentation about the psychology of teaching people new behaviors. The takeaway: People adopt a new way of doing things (like participating in social media) over time more easily when they are rewarded rather than punished.

If you’ve ever learned about animal training, you already know that’s true: the most effective way to create a new behavior long-term is to ignore undesired behaviors and react immediately and visibly to desired behaviors. From an operant conditioning standpoint, that’s positive reinforcement. Once you establish the new behavior and you want to see it happen more often, you change how often you reward the behavior. So once you’ve got people participating, your start varying the rate at which you reward them. In other words, surprise them with rewards if you want to encourage long-term change. Positive reinforcement changes behaviors and keeps people (and animals) motivated.

And that’s why Kate is so impressive (and rare): science has its place in business. It just takes someone both practical and “on their toes” like her to see it and call it out.

Summarizing what you’ve learned

When you’re moving fast (like is required in social media) it goes without saying that you’re learning from your mistakes as you go, right? Not necessarily. Even for people who don’t love “process” (like me) there is value in taking a few hours every year and writing down your learnings and what the implications are. The process of committing learnings to paper is not unlike the subtly transformative process of writing in a journal:  unspoken assumptions bubble to the surface and implications are questioned and openly re-analyzed.

If you’ve never taken the time to do this process before, do it now. It doesn’t have to be complicated: Make an excel doc with three columns: learning, data, and strategy implications. Keep it to no more than 5 learnings. Commit to doing this process at least once a year. Your ongoing strategies will be better for it.

One more thing Nestle should have done…

Great post today from Sean McDonald (formerly of Dell) about 4 things Nestle should have done better to avoid their current social media fiasco.

I can think of a fifth: don’t put an intern in charge of your social media program. (I think Jeremiah already alluded to this in his blog) News flash: Social marketing is real marketing, people. If you don’t “get” social media yet, take the time to figure it out.

People are the killer app

Being a social media strategist requires a balance of two things: logic and belief. We believe treating people like humans in business when done well will lead to greater consumer recommendation behavior and profits. We logically build our case for the future of big business including this human element, creating tests to prove our assumptions with data. It’s not an easy line to walk: narrowing in on the right tests to illustrate conversion and/or revenue creates a challenge, especially when the tests we want to do have never been attempted by any other businesses. (Beyond the creativity involved, there’s the prioritization issue I’ve written about before)

Today the Dachis Group wrote a blog post summarizing some of our recent “social” work in TurboTax. I love that they “get” that for us it’s about business smarts, not fluffiness and buzzwords.  We believe treating people like humans makes good business sense. And we’re logically proving we’re right.

If you want to be brave, get people to do something new

Make natural behaviors happen more frequently …But if you want to be smart, figure out what they do naturally and see if you can get more people to do it, or get people to do it more often.

From an operant conditioning standpoint, it’s a lot easier to train established behaviors to happen on cue, a lot harder to shape an entirely new behavior. How do I know? I used to teach a Marine Mammal Behavior and Training class at SDSU Extended Studies during my many years of working in Education at SeaWorld.

Some of the “easier” training at SeaWorld happens when trainers see the animal doing a behavior they’d like to repeat on cue. They reinforce the behavior immediately, which increases the likelihood of the behavior happening again. (Kind of like kindergarten teachers give “caught you being good” awards)

So there you go: license to be a little lazy/smart: to increase your success rate, focus your marketing efforts on doing something you know happens organically.