The next frontier part II

Innovation adoption curve

Innovation adoption curve source: Wikipedia

As part of the “next frontier” of embracing the early majority on social media, there are some big questions leaders have to grapple with:

  • How do I encourage people across the business to include social solutions in their strategies?
  • How do I simultaneously cede control to the increasing numbers of people who want to engage in social channels and still guide the strategy?
  • How do I convince even the late majority and laggards that social solutions can improve the outcomes they’re seeking? More specifically, how do I do it without my ego getting in the way?
  • How do I balance time spent between executing strategies and educating?

I don’t know how I’m going to answer these questions yet, but one day soon I hopefully will. If you have any answers borne of experience, please comment.

The next frontier – part I

A new frontier in social marketingI’m biased and I admit it. In the past year or two, something wonderful (or terrible, depending on your point of view) has happened: lots of people are jumping on the “social” bandwagon. As someone who’s been in the trenches pioneering the work to shift a big company to approaching all aspects of our work in a way that incorporates help from our customers, I respect other pioneers more than newcomers. I just do. I suspect the other “first movers” from big companies feel the same way, although no one actually comes right out and says so.

Here’s why: people who were on the boat from the beginning have a shared experience. Without saying so, I know we’ve all faced the same skepticism, rolling eyes, and outright sneers from co-workers we respect and admire. We’ve all experienced the joy that comes with seeing new people understand and adopt new practices that embrace customers. We understand that the wins you have as an innovator may not be the ones you expected, but you celebrate them nonetheless.

A few personal stories on why relationships between pioneers matter so deeply:

When I first met Seth Greenberg four years ago, I suspect we both felt like two guppies in a pond full of goldfish. Both recent hires from internet backgrounds, we found ourselves surrounded by some of the smartest people we’d ever met. And they all thought in a really different way than we did – the consumer packaged goods way. (for those unfamiliar with that approach it’s traditional, disciplined, and steeped in decades of research and data) Our first meeting was at our then VP of Marketing’s staff meeting – he had asked me to present our work with the Inner Circle.  As I walked through the site, explaining how we partnered with customers to create our product, most of the room listened with varying degrees of interest. But not Seth. He lit up immediately, offering ideas of what we could do on the site to make it even more interactive. “Finally!” I remember thinking, “finally, someone I can talk to about this stuff.”

Around this same time two product managers whose opinions I still deeply respect to this day were telling me to, in effect, get a real job because nothing was ever going to come of this social stuff. But not Seth. And when it was time to leave product management for my next career move, our shared experience helped pave the way to a brand new opportunity working for Seth. (Which was transforming for both of us, I think)

Just as surely I knew “social” was the direction to go four years ago, I know the “early majority” jumping on board now is a necessary thing – the next frontier. How can we scale our efforts without their help? We can’t. And like Charlene Li states in her new book Open Leadership I need to find a way to enable even more adoption and still be a leader.

Next up: embracing the challenge of the unknown.

I got a new job!

As of July 5th I’ll be moving into a new role for me: Sr. Manager of Social Media and Corporate Communications. It’s similar to what I’ve been doing, but on the communications side of the house with more emphasis on direct customer engagement. (Incidentally, that’s the part I love) I’ll also get to work directly for my long-time mentor and with a great team of strong, smart women.

Making this move is bittersweet; I’m getting a great opportunity but I’m leaving behind a team I love and a boss I adore in Seth Greenberg. I’ll still be working in very close collaboration with the team (and my replacement) but it hurts a little to move forward from a group of folks that brings their “A” game to every challenge and yet still supports one another.

Here’s to new challenges and opportunities and rising to meet them!

Kids, there *are* bad ideas

I am tired, ever-so-tired of hearing people say “there is no such thing as a bad idea.” Believe me, there are plenty of bad ideas out there. Plenty. I have no idea how we got to this “I’m okay, you’re okay” place regarding the equal goodness of all ideas but I’m guessing the answer has something to do with New Math. (Thank you, 7o’s)

What’s more interesting to me is what principles can I adhere to ensure the ideas that come out of my mouth don’t suck. Here’s what I’ve got so far… I’d be interested to know what I’m missing here:

  1. Have a strategy. Your strategy should ladder up to the businesses’ strategy. If you do nothing else but refer back to this principle, it would be almost enough.
  2. Stay up on what’s current. If you have a grasp on what’s actually innovative in the here and now,  it’s hard to want to do things that are older just because three years later you finally figured out what you should have done three years ago.
  3. It’s not about you. If social is the “how” you’re using to get business results, it comes with its own set of rules. One of the most important rules is that you are not solving for the application you wish people would like if they all worked at your company, you’re solving for what they actually like. Based on actual behavior you can see and measure in the real world, not what you want it to be.
  4. Know how to build most things yourself. This is my personal opinion based on experience: if you can build even simple applications you will know more intimately how the internet works and what is most important. And you more than likely won’t make an ass of yourself when the time comes to work with real engineers.

What did I miss?

You know what’s hard?

bird feederDuring planning season (like right now) it’s pretty hard for me to post about what I’m thinking about in relation to social media. Because it’s hush-hush top secret at this point due to competitive reasons. And honestly, most of the time I’m thinking about things unrelated to social media. Like which bird feeder to buy for my backyard or how to make gluten free cake that doesn’t taste like sawdust. And people who talk about nothing but social media all the time bore me anyway and feel a little bit like machines.

So to entertain yourself until my next meaty post (God willing) please entertain yourself like I do by enjoying the pic of the happy little birdie on the bird feeder. I’ll try to come up with something more profound soon.

TurboTax social media in Forbes

TurboTax social media in ForbesOur work in social media this year got featured in Forbes magazine; I take that as quite a compliment.

Although at first blush people may wonder about the connection between taxes and social media, I would say they aren’t quite looking at it right. The connection is between people and their friends and family. One of the things people do naturally – especially at this time of year – is talk with their friends about taxes. (Choosing a method to get them done, doing their taxes, getting help with their taxes, being done with their taxes, etc) Our social media efforts are based on amplifying those conversations and helping where needed. Until a few years ago, we called our work in this space “word of mouth marketing.” (I still do)

It’s not all that complicated in concept, but making it happen can be. This blog is about the hard-learned lessons in how I’ve learned (and am still learning) to make it happen.

5 things that matter in a social lead

There’s a lot of chatter among folks in social media about where in an organization the “control center” for social should live. Perhaps not too surprisingly, the answer each person gives to that question typically reflects where they live in the organization. Here’s the thing: if you believe that social is about partnering with customers to solve business problems, is there some area of the business where that won’t apply? (I’m guessing the answer is mostly no, Legal aside) So in the end, since social should be an end-to-end “how” that can solve many “whats,” does it matter where it lives in the organization? In my mind, the answer is no.

In my experience, here’s what does matter for the social strategy lead:

  1. Understanding the medium and how it applies to your business – does the person understand the importance of listening and understanding what your customer base really thinks and wants? Do they already know how your customers talk about you and want to be talked to? Do they already have experience “doing” social?
  2. Strategic thinking – can the person match up strategic assets and emerging technologies? As a former boss of mine used to say, you need to be able to “skate where the puck is going.”
  3. Communication skills – chances are, this person is going to be up against some pretty tall odds in your organization as they try and change the corporate culture to be more open. Can they present to large groups effectively? Can they establish relationships with people in the organization who will be future partners in social solutions they create together?
  4. Advocacy – can the person advocate for customers, even at the thought of short-term career costs? Can they balance what the customer needs are and the business needs are when they need to? Can they identify when to advocate and when to back off?
  5. Leadership – Does the leader in this area of the organization think social is a priority worth fighting for? If they don’t, it’s not the right place for it, regardless of how great the person leading social may be.

Whole Foods, you have my sympathies


Today Whole Foods (and a whole bunch of customers) got hosed by the bad guys on Facebook, who used the Whole Foods brand as a front to phish for personal information from unsuspecting customers. I guess it goes to show you, there are a-holes where-ever you go. Some of them are on social media.

I’d be lying if I said didn’t have a flash of “thank God it wasn’t us.” Because no matter what, if you’re working at Whole Foods in social media this would be a sucky time. Whoever those people are, they have my sympathies.

Seeing what can happen should act as a “teachable moment” for brands: let’s learn from this situation and establish our plans early for how to respond if it does.

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.