Francesca Karpel on Bridging Employees and Customers: Fresh Ground #17

Francesca Karpel heads up internal communications at NetApp, a company that has twice been named the #1 Great Place to Work. She connected up with Fresh Ground principal Todd Van Hoosear at the 2010 NewComm Forum to talk about social media and corporate culture.

Some highlights of the conversation:

“Our vision for online community was to … flatten the company if you will, so that it didn’t matter where you were in the world, what function you were in, what level of the organization you were in — that you would have equal access to other people in the company to ask or answer questions, to really transcend so many of the barriers that create silos.”

“As I started to look at [flattening the organization], I discovered that there were a number of pilots going on within the company testing social media, community, blogging, [and how we could help partners and customers. I] asked those folks if they would like to be part of my initiative to find a platform that we could use internally, with a common hope that we could find a platform that would work internally and externally, but no promises.”

“We launched both our internal communities and our external communities at the same time as we launched our [new] brand back in March of 2008…. What this allowed us to do is to offer both our customers and our employees a functionality that they didn’t have before of immediately asking and getting questions answered.”

“Most of our communities are actually public communities, so whether or not you're a part of, say, our services team, if a conversation, if content in that area interests you, you can search for it…. We really only have private communities when there is a business reason for that community to be private — where there’s a need for confidentiality.”

“We’ve created [an] environment which leans to being very open. Actually, the very first employee who commented in our NetApp Live … internal community was someone from Singapore. And what we found with other initiatives is that people who are from outside the U.S. are some of the early commentors.”

“I completely respect the concept and the practicality of a firewall to protect data that needs to be protected. But not all information needs to be protected.”

“We’re using the Jive Software platform, and their most recent upgrade includes a concept of ‘bridging’ [both external and internal communities while respecting confidentiality]. The bridging would allow an employee to see public content … with the same search that they would use … in the internal community.”

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Facebook’s Death by 400 Million Cuts

I don't share my information with Facebook and I bet you don't either.

I share my information with my friends, I just happen to use Facebook to do it. It's a distinction that I wonder if Facebook really understands. Today in a conference call, Mark Zuckerberg pointed to Facebook's continued success by noting that people are still members, the mass quitting that so many discussed never truly materialized, though "Quit Day" still lies ahead. "We have seen no meaningful uptick in the number of people who deleted their accounts," he said.

And I doubt it ever will. But what I'm hearing anecdotally is that with each privacy concern, people share LESS on Facebook. The problem for Facebook is that if people put up less information, then I have less of a reason to go there to see what people are doing, and so do you. Think about how you use Facebook. If you're like me you log in, check out the newsfeed and see what's in people's lives. If that newsfeed doesn't interest you, and continues to be uninteresting, then you'll slowly move away. It'll become a place to grab some basic information (birthdays, locations, jobs, etc.) but its true utility will be gone.

I believe that Facebook is measuring the wrong thing. I believe a better metric would be the number of posts per person over time. You would have to examine their activity and create a standard, then measure how each user stacks up against that.

A drop in this usage would be the biggest threat to Facebook; it would be death by a 400 million cuts to the information we put out. If we stop sharing, Facebook stops existing. Not tomorrow, but slowly, over time, until it's that site you used to visit but doesn't have much pull any longer.

Will the privacy controls unveiled today keep people from fleeing? I'm not sure. In conversations with friends, mostly non-techies, their trust in Facebook has been shaken. While a change could help, rebuilding trust will take much longer and include many, many more steps. We all now realize that we're sharing with Facebook as much as with our friends, and that little change will change our behavior.We'll see what impact that action has on Facebook itself


Becoming a Social Company Means Caring

Bill Warner gave a wonderful presentation at the Mass Inno Breakfast on Friday, one that I know a lot of people have seen. But if you haven't, you need to go. Bill begins the talk by pointing out how he founded two companies (Avid Technologies and Wildfire), one from the heart and the other... well... not so much. One (Avid) is still in business. The other (Wildfire) had some financial success for investors, but ultimately shut down without reaching its goal. Both had great technology, but one failed. He then goes on to encourage all of us to work from the heart, not just from the mind.

Often in the social media world you hear people make similar comments, that they should capture their "passion." The concept isn't new, for years people have told me to follow your passion and the money will come.

But most importantly, Bill asked the people in the audience to think about who it is that we're helping and to keep those people in mind as we build our business. It's not an easy exercise, as you don't want to define the people you're helping as a demographic, nor do you want to define them in business terms, but you want to define them as people. You need to tell a story about them.

Let me tell you mine.

I want to help James (identities changed). James works in a retail store and has a passion for what he's selling. He doesn't plan to be there forever, but still, working with stereo products and music is something he cares deeply about. It's why he's there. Still, the owners of the shop think like marketers in that they only want certain people tweeting, blogging, Facebooking, etc. James works on the shop floor, he's not in that management area that has been "blessed" by the owners. But when I go into the shop, I work with James, I like him, he gives me great advice, to me, he is the face of the store.

Despite his relatively low level, James wants the store to succeed. He loves working there, he cares about his work, he has a job satisfaction that goes well beyond money. Still, his bosses don't see it as something that can help them.

My job is to help James and, by default, help his bosses. I believe that people like James are the key to making businesses, all businesses, successful. Helping James is no easy task, of course. A lot of education must go on from the top down and from the bottom up. Companies need to identify the "James" within their employee base. Frankly, they need to look for more James' when they go to hire. They also need to give James the tools and guidance so he can help them grow by bringing his passion to the public.

One person who understands this is Jules Pieri, founder and CEO of the Daily Grommet. She has a wonderful piece on her blog about pitching VCs with feeling. Originally she'd gone in with a by-the-numbers type of presentation, but then one day she said "I want to change the world...."

The VC told her the presentation gave him chills.

That passion comes through in ways that go well beyond VCs. Check out a post by an anthropologist who notes "As you can see from this post, the story of The Daily Grommet resonated with me.  Jules and her team appear to be very passionate about and good at what they do, and it feels to me like Jules is ‘following her bliss’, so to speak."

But it's not just Jules, her employees are all out there in the public talking about their passion and lovingly describing the products they're finding.

That's why her site is, and will continue to be, successful.


PR: Whose Minds are You Changing?

A few days ago I wrote about change, and how "social media, if done right, is first and foremost an exercise in change management."

I was speaking about changing how businesses operate and communicate, but if you look at PR in a more specific sense, it's about changing minds (and subsequently creating action).

Often, it's not the minds of customers and prospects that good PR practitioners need to start with -- in reality, a good PR practitioner concentrates on changing minds (and processes) inside the organization first. This can be a challenge, but is critical not only to ensure success, but in reality, given where PR is evolving, to make sure that PR practitioners remain relevant as the media landscape continues to shift.

Whose minds are YOU changing?


Facebook Blues: Will YOU Quit?

Trying to figure out what all the Facebook fuss is about? Considering signing off of Facebook for the last time yourself? Here's a video roundup of the Facebook fiasco, courtesy of Greater Boston (and featuring our own Chuck Tanowitz):

Chuck I think makes a very good point: "Facebook is a business and it's sitting on a treasure trove of valuable information ... demographic data that the advertising industry has been asking for for generations." As the Australian Broadcast Corporation's Stilgherrian points out:

Facebook's business model is best served by exposing your personal information as widely as possible. To advertisers, so they can target advertising more accurately and pay more for the privilege. To other users, to encourage them to share more as well. To search engines, to bring more traffic to Facebook. To anyone who wants to pay.

If you want a better understanding of how Facebook makes money, incidentally, Nicholas Carson has a good, short write-up.

PC World's Brenon Slattery summed it up perfectly:

Facebook has had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad month, and it's only getting worse.

Where to start? E-mails leaked, private IM conversations exposed, apps sneaking into profiles, creepy geolocation additions -- the worries mount. It's hard to distinguish what Facebook is actually doing right.

The privacy concerns at the root of Facebook's bad month were nicely laid out by The Wall Street Journal's Jessica Vascellaro today, and its corresponding (and evolving) privacy policy has been beautifully visualized by Matt McKeon.

This has supposedly led to what some are characterizing as a mass exodus from Facebook. While it's true that the 6,000+ committed quitters of May 30th's have been joined by some technology thought leaders like Engadget co-founder Peter Rojas, podcaster Leo Laporte, comedian and The Onion editor Baratunde Thurston and ZDNet columnist Jason Perlow, as ReadWriteWeb's Marshall Kirkpatrick points out, "it's hardly a torrent of quitters in the face of more than 400 million Facebook users."

Until there are real live alternatives, users will simply take steps to regain a little more control over their privacy, and wait to see what Facebook (or the government) does.


Business is Change

I have been a big Hugh MacLeod fan for years, and will often retweet his drawings (you can sign up for his mailing list at, but his May 10th piece hit home closely, especially after talking about the importance of change in my recent Marine Week writeup.

It took me years to admit to myself (and my father, a second-generation salesman) that PR is really just another word for sales. And it's taken me some time now to come around to the realization that social media, if done right, is first and foremost an exercise in change management.

More specifically, my job is to help you change the culture of your organization. Here are some slides, derived from my recent session at NewComm Forum, that explore this a little more deeply (sorry for the small font, you can get a bigger version here):

View more presentations from vanhoosear.

Becoming a True Social Organization: What Phase are You?

Most companies look at Social Media only as a marketing concept. That makes sense, it touches quite a bit of the marketing function such as driving web traffic, engaging and educating prospects, building sales leads, etc.

Anyone who watches social media trends knows that it's moving deeper into the organizations, everywhere from HR to customer service to finance. Christina Warren at Mashable asks the question "Who owns social media?" (Full disclosure: I'm quoted in the piece) and it's a good question, but it's also a short-term question. She references the November 2009 study by Econsultancy that points out that the majority of social media programs today are owned by the PR and marketing team.

But it shouldn't stay that way. It can't. Because companies need to focus on becoming social organizations, not on producing "media."

At LaunchCamp David Beisel asked a panel of entrepreneurs about their marketing spend. Each said they hadn't spent a dime, but the marketers in the room bristled at the notion. "Of course they spent something," the argument went. "They spent their time and energy." But if you go a layer beyond that you realize that they are social organizations. That is, the media that they produce as part of who they are is their marketing, their marketing is in their social DNA.

This is where Todd and I are taking Fresh Ground. Yes, our background is PR and marketing, and like other social media programs we start there, but we see our role as helping companies transform into social organizations.

We see this as a process that has four distinct phases. Companies today fall at different points along this spectrum, but if you look hard you'll see your own group here.

  • Phase 1: Authoritarian -- As traditional as you get, this model is a top-down approach with a central voice that pushes out communications. Think of the traditional press-release driven PR and you get the idea. Some people put on a social-media dressing, like a Twitter account that only faces outward, or creating social media releases that still announce the same old stuff, but it's the attitude that defines the phase.
  • Phase 2: Inclusive -- This is where companies begin to truly walk down the social path. You see them start developing more journalistic-style content and interacting with the social world. In this phase you can start to hear the tone in their blogs posts. The Facebook pages start to interact and speak to the audience while the marketing department starts listening to the Twitter stream.
  • Phase 3: Collaborative -- Now things get interesting as they move out of marketing and into more customer-facing departments. No longer content to just listen, the marketing department, as well as customer service, HR, tech support, etc., begin answering queries. They are starting conversations and continuing them. Measurement gets put in place, but usually with a marketing-bent.
  • Phase 4: Social -- The company is now a hub of a community, with everyone taking part. Marketing has now turned its attention as much inward as outward, providing employees, customers, partners and investors with the tools and information they need to interact directly with the community. Companies are now able to take advantage of the army of employees at their disposal, but so are customers. Information that flows in from the community can be put to work helping create new products or offer new services.

How long does it take to move through the phases? Who initiates it? Can every company achieve it? How do you open the lines of communications internally? Those questions are left to be answered, as each organization is different.

Some of it lies in trust. I know small business owners who don't want their employees tweeting or otherwise engaging because the owners worry that they'll lose their best employees. Others feel that marketing must engage because it's "media," despite the fact that the front-line employees engage with customers every day, doesn't it make sense that they engage here? Why doesn't marketing train them and offer the tools they need?

No matter what, this isn't a fast-fix, it's a progression that takes time. Internet time may be quick, but true change happens slowly.


Manish Mehta on the Social Grid, Shiny Objects & Three Mile Island: Fresh Ground #16

Manish Mehta is Vice President, Global Online for Dell Online, where he heads up strategy, social media, community and search worldwide. As one of the founders of, he has been a key player in Dell’s evolution. This is the second excerpt from Manish’s keynote at last month’s NewComm Forum, in which he draws parallels between the rise of social media and the rise of nuclear power. In this part, he describes the value of social grid and the risk of shiny object syndrome, and asks us what our Three Mile Island will be.

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Our opening music is "D.I.Y." by A Band Called Quinn from the album "Sun Moon Stars" and is available from Music Alley, the Podsafe Music Network.


Foursquare: And the Big Monetization Idea is.... Coupons!

Today Starbucks and Foursquare announced that he mayor's of the local Starbucks will get a discount on any Frappucino. Starbucks had previously worked with Foursquare to create a "Barista" badge for people who checked into multiple Starbucks stores.

All of this is interesting, but really it's just coupons. When a Mayor checks into their local Starbucks they'll be offered $1 off a Frappucino. It's just like any other loyalty program that rewards frequent users.

This isn't a bad thing. In fact, it's quite good. When people ask me about "social media" they're often looking for new and different ideas. In reality, social media is really about having new and updated channels for established (and effective) concepts. Every marketer knows that it's easier to upsell a current customer than it is to create new customers, so if you can turn a standard cup of coffee into a $4 coffee shake, it's a better way to go. Offering a coupon does just that, whether it's something you print out from the website or something you get on your smartphone via Foursquare.

What Foursquare offers is an easy way to know when the most loyal customers are in the store and upsell them automatically. There-in lies the difference.You no longer have to print thousands of coupons and stick them in the local paper just to get a small return. You can target those customers you want to reach.

Will this work for everyone? I'm not sure. Smaller brands have offered location-based coupons through Foursquare, so if you check in near a store a coupon pops up to drive you in. You usually see these in bigger cities, like New York, where Foursquare has more traffic. I doubt anyone is going to drive 20 minutes for a coupon, but a person may walk a block out of their way on a hot day to pick up some frozen yogurt.

But in thinking about my favorite coffee bar in Newton, the owner Nik knows most of his best customers (as do his employees). Plus, he has stamped cards that people keep by the register to get a $2 off a drink with each 10 they purchase. Does he need to work with Foursquare for a loyalty program? Maybe not, though, he could use Foursquare as part of his social media campaign and to drive new traffic.

I could see him running a guerrilla campaign, so anyone who checks into the Starbucks around the corner gets a coupon for a $1 off of a coffee to drive them into Taste (and to know what good coffee tastes like), but would Foursquare sell such a thing? I imagine it would annoy a big advertiser.

So when you look at social media campaigns don't throw out good, established concepts just because they are old. Think about how you can use them in new forms.


What's Your Social Salary Ceiling?

Duck your head, you may be close to hitting your social salary ceiling. I hit mine last year. I think my wife hit hers this year.

What do I mean by this? It's the point at which what you know becomes less important than who you know when it comes to getting your next job or winning business. I suspect it's heavily dependent on your industry, but when it comes to PR and social media, I've definitely reached it.

Not to say this is bad -- it's why I teamed up with Chuck Tanowitz to form Fresh Ground. And not to say I don't know as much as I used do of course. Now I'm wiser!

How old were you when you reached your social salary ceiling?

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