image_pdfimage_print

To Hell and Back

image_pdfimage_print

Our air condition picked preciously the right moment to die — during a streak of the hottest weather of the summer.  We knew the day was coming for 10 years, ever since the home inspector told us to replace the HVAC system.  We’d light a candle and say a prayer every time the service van pulled up in the driveway.  Our system was the definition of “they don’t make them like the used to” until a 90 plus degree-day, finally made it obsolete.IMG_0378

Calling the heating and air conditioning repair shop that we had developed a relationship with over the years, we dug out the five-year-old quote to finally place the order. But first, we would have to endure ten days of oppressive heat until the unit would be installed.

Fortunately, I had a favorable travel schedule that would take me out of town for five of the ten days.  So, on the day of the installation, I took the bullet, or more accurately, the heat seeking missile, and stayed at the house waiting for the service techs…which also happened to be the hottest of the 10-day stretch.

The techs arrived at 9 am, and I camped out on our deck to get some work done.  With a 20-inch oscillating fan blowing my way, the day started off well.  Walking through the house one of the techs commented that our house was the hottest house he had ever serviced…echoing the same comment the sales person made on his initial visit.

Passing the thermostat, I noticed that the house had reached 93 by 11 am.  Thanks to a new roof and windows, our house held temperature in like an oven, which it was quickly becoming.

By mid-day the house was 95 degrees and showed no sign of stopping. The service guys and I were consuming ice water like it was beer at Oktoberfest.  By this time it was too hot to be outside or inside, with both my phone and computer giving me heat warnings.

Then in a fit of true insanity, most likely heat induced, I decided to cook.  Leaving for vacation the following day, I was determined to eat the vegetables that had finally ripened in our garden. Any man in his right mind, which I obviously wasn’t, would have grilled, but we had ripe zucchini and I was hell bent (pun intended) on making one of our favorite meals.

This would involve doing the top two things you should never do in a hot kitchen — boiling water and frying oil.  At one point in the cooking process, I realized that the house could have been in flames around me and I would have had no idea.  It was the definition of a “hot mess”.

After dinner, and perhaps a result my cooking, the UEI IND151 heat sensor would register a high of 97.5 degrees in the house, shortly before the new AC would kick on.

Through this experience I learned a few things:

  • “Fire” and “heat” are perfect metaphors for Hell.
  • “Crazy from the heat” isn’t just an expression, it’s a reality…I know I lived it.
  • Johnny Cash got it right when he sang “we got married in a fever, hotter than a pepper sprout”.

But more importantly, I was reassured that people can be kind and generous.  Neighbors offered sympathy, fans, shelter and refuge.  A neighbor we had only known for a short period of time offered us their home while they were on vacation.  Others insisted that we come by and use their pools to give us, and our dog, a break from the heat.

The heating and air conditioning company we used wasn’t our first choice but turned out to be the best choice.  The first company told us it would be three weeks before they could schedule us.  My wife tried to reach them unsuccessfully for days, trying to move up the date, concerned about the health and well being our family.

Not getting a return call, she turned to a local family owned business by the name of Snell & Sons, who had sympathetic ear and a reserve of AC units for just this type of emergency.  They were able to install it sooner, for less, and were completely in tune with our situation.

Our lives are busy, often leaving little time to socialize with our neighbors or friends.  We default to email or social media because it’s quick and easy.  But this experience reminded us of how effective, and important, person-to- person communication can be, and like air condition, how often we take it for granted.

People can, and still do, look out for one another.  They can be sympathetic and generous, reminding us that we’re not alone in this world, even though it may seem that way sometimes, and that, a small business can often offer something large nationwide providers can’t, or don’t — empathy.  The best of them know that the lifeblood of their business is referrals and customer loyalty.

They don’t need to offer elaborate rewards or points to gain, or keep, a customer.  Most likely, the customer is won or lost based on how they respond to the person on the other end of the line in their time of need.  And they know, when the time comes, that experience will be shared with others.

It’s often said that we live in a “small world”, and in a situation like this, we’re reminded of why that is a good thing.

The “Stanley Cup” of B2B Social Media

image_pdfimage_print

Screen Shot 2013-06-10 at 1.19.54 PMThis time of year, America’s third or fourth (depending on where you live) most popular sport gets its moment in the sun.   The Stanley Cup finals begin this week and the nation’s attention turns to ice, hockey sticks, pucks, and maybe mullets.

For business marketers, the “holy grail,” or in this case the “Stanley Cup,” has been trying to demonstrate the business impact of social media.  Not defined by adoption, usage, or engagement, but by influence.  Proving that social media and/or social networks can influence buyer behavior.   New insight suggests that it might be time to lace up the skates and put on the pads.

Word of mouth (WOM), defined by person-to-person communication be that in person or over the phone, is and has always been the most used, and most influential channel for business buyers.  Sometimes also described and measured as NPS (Net Promoter Score), it is the “Wayne Gretsky” of driving influence among decision makers, both in new acquisition, and for renewal.

Unlike WOM, Social Media has struggled with demonstrating influence.  Adoption and usage rates continue to grow, but the impact on B2B decision makers has been difficult to nearly impossible to measure (btw – this is not unlike other, more established media channels).

That was until now. Research from Buyersphere may give us a clue to how social media may influence decision makers in the near future, and it has given us a couple of “hockey sticks” and a “puck” to play with.

According to Buyersphere’s Annual Survey of B2B Buyer Behavior, even though buyers mention social media (and providers such as Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin) when asked to rate their usage and the usefulness of channels when searching for vendors, they fall off the grid when asked to evaluate their influence.  As you would expect, word of mouth came out on top.

Diving deeper into the research, it revealed a few game changing findings.  Twenty to thirty year olds (Gen Y), act like no other previous generations.  The first “hockey stick” is somewhat known — twenty-something business buyers are roughly twice as likely to seek information or advice from social media as the generation before them (31-40 year olds).   And almost four times more likely to than the baby boomers (51-60 year olds).

Slide1The second hockey stick, and the one that may end up being somewhat problematic for marketers, is that 49% of Millennials stated that they wanted to create and publish their own professional content.   They not only want your content, but they also want to be able to disassemble it and repackage it with their own point of view.

And finally, the puck to play with is that buyers under 30 are the only group that describe word of mouth as social media first, and then phone or in person.  Close to 50% of Gen Y buyers defined WOM as any social media, in person or phone, mentioned by only 33% of the respondents.  Buyers 40-50 by contrast, define WOM as in person or phone 60% of the time with any social media platform only 23%.

Game On

Marketers most powerful and influential channel is now being redefined, and this presents the best opportunity to date to demonstrate the impact of social media on buyer behavior.  “To skate to where the puck is going to be” as Gresky used to say, we need to plan now.

To define the approach we need to understand the components of “social media” that are often lumped together – social networks and social media.  Social networks refer to the connection among users and their social structure (friend, business acquaintance, etc.).

Social media is defined as the online channel used to generate, access and distribute content.  The distinction is important because of the way different generations of business buyers use and value them.  This is key to unlocking influence.

We know that their social network heavily influences Gen Y, more than any other generation.  We know that half of them want to produce and share their own content, 60% upload content to the web, and 62% rate products and services on the web.

So for Enterprise accounts, where Gen Y is 5-10 years from occupying the C-Suite, take a lesson from McDonalds and “grow your own customers.”  Get Gen Y hooked on your content by involving them in your brand and making your content modular so it’s easy to repackage and share.  The route to influence is through cause marketing efforts delivered via mobile devices.  Thirty-seven percent of Millennials say they are drawn to products with co-branded campaigns.

For small businesses, which Gen Y owns close to 1 out of 3, according to the Executive Council of Small Business (ECSB), the goal should be to make them advocate for your brand, product or services to their network.  To do that, focus on issue resolution, the number one loyalty driver.  For prospects, provide them with information that is useful.

According to the ECSB, the number one pain point for all small business owners is sales and customer acquisition; being twice as prevalent among Gen Y owners.  Specifically, lead generation and successfully competing with other small business owners.  Help them understand how your products and services can help them grow their business.

Even though there is potential for social media to deliver a real, tangible business impact, it will be similar to this championship series.  It’s not going to be quick, expect to lose a game or two along the way, and to be successful you’ll need to take many shots on goal…hell, you may even lose a tooth or get a “shiner.”

The Disappearing Sales Process

image_pdfimage_print

Twenty-five years ago, I was a snot-nosed kid out of college who suddenly decided that law school was not in the future.  With a recession on, and needing to pay the rent, I took the first job offered and went into sales.

Having learned nothing about the profession in college, I picked up a copy of Miller Heiman’s Strategic Selling — still have a dog-eared copy on my bookshelf.  I learned everything I could about the buyer types, account management, and the sales process.  “Know the process work the process,” as my first sales manager used to say.

Typically, that process came down to 5-to-7 steps that generally covered the following areas below.

Slide1

Over the years, I found that working the process helped give you sense of control.  It came down to the numbers; calls, leads, transaction sizes or conversion rate.  Call on X number of qualified prospects to get Y amount of proposals, at Z close rate, and you made bonus.

But, research from Google and CEB entitled The Digital Evolution in B2B Marketing provides new insight into buyer behavior, and it challenges the conventional wisdom.  According to the study, customers reported to being nearly 60% through the sales process before engaging a sales rep, regardless of price point.   More accurately, 57% of the sales process just disappeared.

Slide2

What are buyers doing if they’re not talking to sales?  Well, they’re surfing corporate websites to identify and qualify vendors, instead of the sales forces qualifying them.  They are engaging peers in social media to learn more about their needs, potential solutions, and providers.  And they’re reading, listening to, and watching free digital content that is available to them at the click of a mouse.  No longer is the sales force the sole source of information.

What does this mean for sales and marketing? 

The study recommends focusing efforts in three areas; 1) improve marketing communication integration, 2) develop and activate a content strategy, and 3) strengthen multichannel analytics.  Nothing new or breakthrough here, but the study provides good examples of how companies are executing against each point.

However, I found a number of other points to take from the research.

  1. It is not all bad news – for products or services with low price points and/or margins, having customers self direct themselves through the sales process can help reduce the cost of sale and/or create leverage for the sales force.  In fact, in certain situations an organization will want to encourage and/or incent this behavior.  The research also found that some customers felt comfortable going through 70% of the process before making contact.
  2. Changing buying behavior – an old manager used to say that technology changes fastest, then consumer buyer behavior, and eventually, organizations.  The “57%” stated in the research makes for a good sound bite; the fact is, that number will vary, greatly by customers, transaction, industry, etc.  The point is that change is a constant; the question is how far ahead or behind is your sales and marketing efforts? Are you keeping pace?  The second question is, how would you know?
  3. Content Distribution – as the study notes, the sales force is still the most effective and important communication channel.  When developing the content strategy ensure that the best and/or most valuable content is not in the public domain, reserve it for the sales force.
  4. Time to Take Social Media Seriously – with well-informed prospects, sales reps have to quickly learn what buyers know or perceive about the organization, products/services and competitors.  Social media can help them better understand what is motivating buyers to take action, what buyers believe to be true, and perhaps most importantly, who they believe.

The Future

Business decision makers will continue to drive their buyer process deeper into the sales process.   As a result, relevant content will continue to escalate in value, especially content related to consideration and purchase drivers, and the business application of the product or service.

Social media and monitoring has helped many marketing organizations understand this trend and to make the transition from being content “dictators” to information “facilitators.”

For sales, the research may be an epiphany.  No longer can it be successful focusing solely on an inwardly directed process intended for reporting and planning purposes.

With ever-increasing knowledgeable buyers waiting longer to engage, sales has to transition from being a “product pusher” following a process, to an insight “provider” adding value to the buyers business.  As the study states, sales must deliver “pointed insights and evidence that seek to challenge an entrenched point of view among potential customers.”

Finally, it is time to recognize that we’re not in control, and perhaps we never were.  The traditional sales process is now obsolete; it is now time to follow the buyers’ journey.

5 Reasons Why Pinterest is a Must of Business Marketers

image_pdfimage_print

Pinterest is likely to be the hottest social media platform for business marketers—next year.

Despite the hype and the record-breaking growth rates, Pinterest is not ready for business marketers; the demographics are wrong, the categories are too consumer focused, and there are significant copyright and measurement issues to overcome.

Still, there is ample evidence as to why Pinterest could be huge for business-to-business marketers.  In many ways, Pinterest’s platform has the potential to offer far more value than Facebook and Twitter because of its ability to aggregate and naturally curate content. Here are five areas to watch:

  1. Traffic – Much has been made about Pinterest’s ability to drive referral traffic more than Google+, YouTube and LinkedIn. Traffic generated from pinning and repinning is important but most likely benefits small businesses(in particular, retailers). For larger organizations, the following areas may offer greater potential.
  2. Scannability  Business-to-business communication tends to be content heavy. There is a great deal of written content and it keeps expanding. Much like in the consumer world, business decision makers are becoming far more accustomed to searching visually. The Pinterest platform accelerates the process by aggregating and organizing images by category or theme, making it easy to search. For example, we are redesigning a corporate website for a professional services firm. Its “knowledge center” holds a deep repository of data-rich content and is now being reshaped to look like a Pinterest page to make it more inviting and searchable.
  3. Speed – That’s why it is essential to experiment with Infographics (visit Visual.ly for a starting point). As content becomes more crowded and competitive, audiences typically move faster. The average person reads between 200 to 300 words per minute, but visually it takes only 1/20th of a second to process an image. Mashable’s eye tracking study shows that Pinterest is also changing viewing habits from left to right, to top down the center, improving users’ ability to scan information quickly. Offering a “light visual appetizer” may stop audiences long enough for them to order the full content entrée.
  4. Natural Content Curation – This provides marketers the opportunity to capture deeper insights into audience consumption habits. For example, business marketers tend to organize content along the “buying process,” which is typically defined by steps in the sales process. Marketers may find that business audiences within Pinterest organize and consume content by categories or by a pinboard defined as “applications,” i.e., how they intend to use the product and not how they will buy it. This insight could help define the real purchase path and key influencers (pinners) along that journey.
  5. Affinity Data – As Scott Brave, CTO of Baynote, wrote: “Individual pinning choices are interesting, but there is even greater opportunity to analyze segments of people who express an affinity for a product or category in aggregate.” If available, this information could enable marketers to create new segmentation clusters based on common interests, which could help improve messaging and targeting.

“Clustering” could identify brand advocates, key influencers and connectors, local “hot spots” and new ideas for reaching them.

I realize that there are skeptics out there. I may even end up being one, but as we’ve learned with other social media platforms, if you don’t think there is value for the business marketing, there won’t be. Pinterest holds great potential, but that “potential” will only realized by those who seek to define or dare I say, “pin it.”

Social CRM – Who Gets Credit for Closing the Deal?

image_pdfimage_print

Originally posted on August 11, 2010

Social Relationship Management and Social CRM are terms that are now being thrown around for new technology platforms that are enabling multichannel execution.  Companies like Lithium Technologies have created platforms that allow companies to run hosted communities, listen across a variety of social media channels, and manage content to and from social networks in one integrate tool.

While marketing has steadily evolved from “one to many”, to “one to one“, Social CRM is now creating the opportunity for “many to one.”  For example, a customer tweets a question about a product (e.g. is it worth the money) on Twitter, a customer advocate brings that comment into the company’s online forum. Customers response to the question by sharing their experiences with the product, those comments (most likely only the positive ones) are then tweeted by the company to promote the product.

The promise of Web 2.0 has always been about customers selling to customers.  New Social CRM tools are now enabling that by consolidating platforms.  But this has the potential to raise issues over who gets credit for the sale.  If the true ROI on social media is revenue, which many research studies are now suggesting, then who should gets credit for a sale closed by a customer advocate?

Customer references and testimonials have always been critical for closing deals. What happens when customer advocates volunteer their support for the brand and/or endorsement of a product?  Does marketing get credit for providing platforms for enabling customer advocates?  And what about the customer/s  who’s comments help push the prospect over the goal line…do they need to be rewarded, and if so?

One thing is certain: social media is blurring the line between sales and marketing interactions and dialogues.  Given that, we may have to rethink our traditional views of customer coverage and relationship management.  Perhaps in the future, marketing will be responsible for managing customers online relationships, and sales for the offline experience.

Someone call HR and give them the heads up. Territory planning, revenue crediting, roles and responsibilities might need a refresh soon.

One Man’s Quest for a Social Media ROI

image_pdfimage_print

Everybody knows – or thinks they know intuitively – that social elements add value to marketing.  The question is how?

Like anything in business, it comes down to return on investment. Social media is not a strategy and it’s not an end in itself. Unless your business objective (and I’d check with your shareholders on this) is only about gaining page views and follows, marketers need to understand how social adds value to everything else in your toolkit.

So how do you find the “sweetspot” for developing an ROI for social media?  Well, start by viewing the tools at their most basic level, as vehicles for sharing and; photo’s, thoughts, content, etc.  Consider them “levers” for improving the performance of known activities that have produced a ROI.

Five years ago, we assessed the effectiveness of demand generation campaigns for a client.  Because the firm was in the hi-tech industry they had a heavily reliance on content marketing for their campaigns.  They spent months designing and building them, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in execution only to see diminishing results.

The audit revealed that their campaign effectiveness (related to lead production) lasted roughly 36 hours after launch (see below).  Meaning that the majority of the leads were being created within the first three days of launch, regardless of how long they left the campaign in the market (btw – they are not alone).

Today, social media has the potential to create a long tail, extending the life of expensive campaigns, ultimately improving ROI, and along the way creating and deepening the relationship with the audience.

I’ll use myself as an example: A blog post of entitled The End of Blogs (and Websites) as We Know Them ran recently in on Forbes. It received no special promotion; in fact, you could say the deck was stacked against it.  Posted on a Friday, the slowest traffic day of the workweek, at midnight (EST) when most of the blog readers at home or are in bed.  By prime blog viewing time (10 am) it had almost dipped below the fold.

But on the following Monday it took off, almost doubling the views of Friday, and continued to build momentum ending the week as the 3rd most popular post of the day.   The following week it was the most popular post on Wednesday.  So what happened?

Social took over. Without any additional investment to promote the post, social sharing accelerated and extended the life of the post, even as it fell off the first, second and third page of the site.  Readers engaged and went from passive viewers to active promoters.

Readers were tweeting their own thoughts and comments about their insights, not just retweeting the post title.  They placed in into Linkedin groups adding their comments on the impact of the technology (the topic of the post) to their particular area of interest or role.  They were actively engaging in sharing their “discover” with others.

 That is the power and the value of social media for content marketing.

The post no longer needed to be pushed because it was being endorsed, and in some ways validated, by readers — the most trusted source of information.

The potential of social media is intriguing, but to determine its true value companies will need to experiment.  Using social media to support your content marketing efforts is a prudent choice, but keep this in mind: It will only be effective if the audience/community finds value in the content and part of that value is defined by those who pass it along.

Social Media and the Upside Down Funnel

image_pdfimage_print

Original post date May 2010, the post was recognized as one of the best post on Social Media for 2010.

As with most new technologies, social media is starting to “settle in” and common applications of the platforms are becoming known.   In many large B2B organizations, that means social media is finding a home in the marketing communications group, often landing in PR.

That seems fine for B2C organizations; however, I’m not convinced that it’s the right spot, and/or the only spot for social media in B2B companies.

The Upside Down Funnel

In most B2B organizations corporate marketing’s role is related to driving “top-of-the-funnel” activities.  From advertising, PR, and now social media, the focus is on creating awareness…and hopefully, driving consideration and preference. There is another opportunity that may not be considered, a part of the funnel where marketing, in particular social media, can play a valuable role.

It’s at the very bottom of what I’ll refer to as the “upside down” funnel. To find such an opportunity you have to think about a funnel that starts with once a prospect becomes a customer.

Just as a sales funnel has stages so does the customer relationship management process. Companies should be actively pursuing strategies and tactics to retain, expand, grow and then leverage customer accounts to win business.

This is where I think the “sweetspot” is for social media in B2B.   Here’s why: social media is about “consumers selling to consumers”, or “professional-to-professional.”  If a company does its job of nurturing and retaining customers, it should be able to transition from having a relatively unknown prospect, to a known customer, to hopefully, a well-understood customer advocate…at least that’s the goal.

The Opportunity

If a company enables those customer advocates with social media it gives them a platform to spread the good word.  The potential of this opportunity is huge, and for the most part, being missed at most companies today.

As we all know, word of mouth is the most effective marketing there is, enabling it with technology creates scale, and the ability to track it.

To do this successfully, companies have to first identify this opportunity within their organization;  second, they have to change their current way of thinking about social media beyond its present use in marcomm and PR.

It means finding uses and opportunities within sales and customer service.  Yes, listening to customers chat about your service on Twitter is important, but I’m talking about creative ways to use it for:

  1. customer-to-customer referrals & recommendations
  2. building communities
  3. facilitating discussion groups

The goal is to find ways to emotional connect avid customers to the company and/or products, and then provide them with an outlet to communicate that passion.  

What to Do

As relationships deepen, customers begin interacting in more personal channels.  Through those interactions they are likely to share more intimate details about themselves, and their relationship with products/services and the company.

Companies have to be able to collect this information across channels to create a complete profile of a customer.  If this can be achieved, an organization will have everything it needs to begin enabling, influencing and studying customer advocates.

Finally, watch out for the “silo” effect.  Typically, at least three different organizations will be interacting with the customer as the relationship develops.  But it’s only one customer interfacing with what the customer expects to be one company.  The organization has to be “in sync” because the last thing a company wants is to provide a customer with a platform for communicating the wrong message.  Turning an advocate into an adversary is not the goal.

 

How Social Media is Changing our “Work” Behavior

image_pdfimage_print

Original post date June 11, 2009
In 1962, Thomas Kuhn wrote The Structure of Scientific Revolution, and fathered, defined and popularized the concept of “paradigm shift.” Kuhn argues that scientific advancement is not evolutionary, but rather is a “series of peaceful interludes punctuated by intellectually violent revolutions”, and in those revolutions “one conceptual world view is replaced by another”.

Social media is creating a “violent revolution” as it relates to our definition of what is accepted as “work.” The paradigm shift is believing that it is acceptable behavior to spent half your time at work on Linked-In, Facebook or Twitter?

In a recent survey by Michael Stelzner, on social media marketing almost 10% of the survey respondents spent 20+ hours a week on social media marketing. Ask senior executives in marketing in my age demographic (age 40-44) and they’ll tell you; “I don’t get it…” In the past, spending time online at work to do personal business was viewed as a major productivity waster.

In a 2006, INC reported the productivity loss to be as high as $544 billion dollars (just think about that, if we all stopped surfing the net at work we could fund the Federal bailout of the Banking, Insurance and Auto industries). As a result, companies took dramatic measures to block or monitor access to sites, tools like IM and other “distracting” technologies.

Now after years of being told that being online at work was a bad thing, this new research and the appeal of Social Media sites, makes the case that it’s not only safe, but in certain cases, necessary to be online. According to the Salary.com & AOL survey, the average 2 hours a day American workers wasted in 2006 surfing the net is now the average time needed to do social media marketing…my, my how times have changed.

And what might be most surprising is that may be “OK” with the boss – the most active users of sites like; Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are small business owners according to Stelzner’s report.

Other interest findings from the research:

  • A New Day is Dawning – although 88% of marketers reported using social media for marketing, 72% have just started (less than 3 months).
  • Once You Start…You Can’t Stop – the research points out a direct correlation between how long marketers have been using social media and their weekly commitment. For folks just starting, the mean is 2 hours a week, compare that with folks who have been at it for years…an average of 20+ hours.
  • One Thing Leads to Another – the more time you log, the more tools/sites you’ll use. Similar to the old thinking that cigarettes and alcohol lead to the “harder” stuff, the same is true with Social Media usage. The “newbies” like to start with LinkedIn, hard core users are most interested in social bookmarking sites, FriendFeed and StumbleUpon.
  • Not the “Youngins” – contrary to popular belief, it’s the 30 to 39 year old segment that logs in the most time, with 44.8% reporting spending 10+ hours a week.
  • Small Business “Sweetspot” – small businesses love social media marketing because it has generated exposure for their business, leads and partnerships, and to close business.

So if you’re going to be logging some social media hours on the company dime you might want to follow a protocol to keep the lawyers happy. In an article entitled “Managing the Tweets” in the June 1, 2009 edition of Business Week the author lays out IBM’s social media guidelines.

 

The Social Manifesto

image_pdfimage_print
Original post date December 6, 2010 
I’m on the plane returning from Munich, Germany, and I’m having a “Jerry McQuire” moment.  Today’s Financial Times has an article on Mark Zuckerberg entitled; ‘This is just the early stage.’ In the article, “Zuck,” as friends call him talks about the new technologies and enhancements Facebook will be rolling out soon.
One of which is Facebook Deals, which according to Zuck, will transform the way local businesses reach consumers as they walk down the street. I had to laugh when I read that, as I thought about my previous night’s experience at the Christmas Market in heart of old town (Altstadt) Munich.

German Christmas Market

For those of you who have never been to Germany in December, christmas markets start at the end of November and go through Christmas. The markets, that seem to occupy every square in town, are a mix of vendors selling everything from Gluhwein (a seasonal drink of warm wine) to Christmas ornaments of all types. But, what is must remarkable, is the experience that it creates.
The streets are filed with families, tourists, business people, and college students as they mix drinking, eating, socializing and shopping. I was in a packed square with fresh fallen snow, carolers atop of the Rathaus, with probably 5000 people jammed into a city block, surrounded by vendors and stores filled with shoppers. It’s as close to as you can get to seeing the North Pole and Santa’s workshop.
So, it struck me as funny that Zuck could think that he could change that experience with Facebook. Zuckerberg tells the reporter, David Gelles, that “Facebook’s unique map of human relationships will change business forever.”  To that I say, Facebook, and Zuck, you know nothing about human relationships, and, with the help of other new technologies, you are helping to destroy it.

You only need to watch a pack of teenage girls texting while at the mall, or a father on his blackberry at his child’s sporting event to see it. New technologies are enabling to us to be absent from the present…more so than ever. One thing I noticed last night was the revelers were not checking their phones or texting, they were in the moment, enjoying each other and soaking in the experience…except me.

I was busy sending texts and photos to my wife and my kids pretending that they were with me, when what I really wanted was to have them there or to hear their voices. It left me hollow, longing and lonely, the reason I’m having my Jerry McQuire moment.

 

New technologies are a double edged sword. They can enable good and bad, depending on how we used them. They promise greater “interactions” or “engagement” but that’s not to be confused with, or substituted for, relationships. They are not the same. And for business, don’t confuse your followers as loyal customers, because they are not. Most people are engaging for selfish reasons, they need or want something. What they don’t want, or need, is a relationship with a vendor who only wants to sell them something.

What it has done is enable us to be more self-centered and lazy. “But Scott,” you say, “how can that be? I’m busier than ever, new technologies are helping stay in touch.” Allow me to explain.

The phone eliminates the need to have to go see someone, email and text freed us having to place a call, and now you can simply tweet or post a comment and wait for someone to “Like” it, or leave a comment. No need to get involved, just do it and feedback will be sent to you. “Ah, 10 people like my comment…that makes me feel good.” Really?
Relationships take work and sometimes they can be painful, but they make us feel alive. They’re not easy, and you can’t automate them. Time is finite, and how we spend it, along with those experiences, helps define us. We can’t make more of it, or get it back. The more time we invest with technology means it is coming from something or someone, and it’s keeping us from something, or someone.
Perhaps what Facebook, and other technologies are doing is redefining how we think about ourselves. Technology allows us to express ourselves without having to invest a whole lot of time or emotion. We can go broad without having to go deep.
People now measure themselves by how many friends or followers they have. but what does that mean? To me it means that we are taking time away from family members or customers to interact with people who we don’t, or hardly, know. Why?  Because it’s easy, convenient, provides immediate gratification, and we can carry it around with us at all time…it’s a social security blanket.
The voice in our head saying; “just go online and see what people are posting on your wall, it’s happening now…you should check.”  It’s leading us down the wrong road. More time online means less time spent offline.  I went to Germany…and I almost missed being there.
Facebook now has over a half a billion users. It’s a runaway train.  It fills a need, but so does fast food. Plenty of people have told us that eating it is bad for us, but it’s convenient, cheap and the high salt content keeps us coming back for more. But just as fast food restaurants offer the 1000 calorie meal, they also offer healthy alternatives. It’s up to us to make the right decision.
Our Facebook pages may feed the ego and give us a sense of immediacy, but it won’t nourish the soul, or satisfy our desire for intimacy.  To borrow liberally from Jerry McQuire; ”Technology, you don’t complete me…and you never will.”