Brian Platter

Brian Platter is General Manager of Home Delivery for Peet’s Coffee & Tea Inc, a specialty coffee roaster and marketer of fresh, deep-roasted whole bean coffee for home and office. He joined the company in 2005 and is responsible for managing Peet’s online, call center and catalog business as well as supporting multi-channel marketing initiatives.

Prior to Peet’s, Platter served as the Vice President of Product Management at Coremetrics Inc, the leading web analytics provider for online retailers. As the 6th employee of Digital Impact, Platter served as Digital Impact’s Director of Client Services and Vice President of Product Management from 1998 to 2000. Prior to 1998, Platter led product development efforts at Hewlett-Packard Company and consulting engagements at Gemini Management Consulting.

Platter earned a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Colorado, and an MBA from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. Platter serves on the San Francisco regional advisory board for

Ian Swanson

Ian Swanson is co-founder and CEO of Sometrics, the first analytics company to focus on social networking platforms. Sometrics provides detailed analytics of millions of daily users of social platforms like Facebook, MySpace, Bebo and others. Before launching Sometrics, Swanson was business development manager for Userplane, an AOL company. Swanson actively advises several successful social networking applications, Fortune 500 companies and startups with their brand and marketing strategies within the social media ecosystem.

Paull Young

Paull is the author of one of the more recognized PR/marketing blogs, Young PR which is a member of the Advertising Age Power 150 media and marketing blogs list along with being one of Australia’s top 5 marketing blogs. Paull is frequently quoted on social media issues in the media and his work has been featured in a number of PR & marketing textbooks.

Karl Long

Karl Long is a pragmatic strategist and social media innovator who has been experimenting on the web for 10+ years, along the way learning practical lessons about what works and what doesn’t work on the web. Karl believes the current instantiation of the web has only just begun disrupting business as usual and new approaches to advertising, marketing, and business strategy are imperative for future success and survival.

Karl is currently a Product Manager at N-Gage, the video game group at Nokia, developing strategies and features to deepen and extend the relationships with customers, and market our products and services through the web and social media.

Karl is also the author of (one of Ad Weeks top 5 Digital Design Blogs) where he has been writing and instigating conversation around social media, customer experience and marketing since 2003. Karl holds an MBA in Design Management from the University of Westminster in England.

Think Liquid

Regardless of technological change, the future of social media will be dictated by the community’s rapid adoption of new media forms. Change occurs dynamically in online communities as new applications develop. Though behavior changes, relationships must be maintained. That means successful marketers must use flexible strategies as they move forward with their online efforts.

At any given time, there seem to be hot social media networks and new technologies. Whether it’s Facebook or Mahalo or another social network du jour, marketers will be faced with a consistent challenge of finding new ways to use media forms to engage the community. Like water, the marketer must move with the community and learn the newest technology’s impact on communications. And also like water, this type of activity follows the path of least resistance.

It is important to note that as the “webolution” continues, marketers should avoid getting bedazzled by the hippest, newest media forms. We’ve seen them come and go. Excite, Prodigy, AOL, Friendster, MySpace (fading, but still relevant) and, increasingly, Yahoo are all brands of the past. These passing technologies demonstrate that we cannot get too focused on specific technologies. Why? Because they will evolve, change and, in some cases, disappear.

True strategy is independent of social media form. Instead, like all great marketing strategies, it revolves around the organization’s community. If a marketer understands its stakeholders – really understands them by listening to them and understanding what motivates them and how the organization can provide value for them – then an all-consuming strategy is possible.

Thinking Liquid in a Dynamic Environment

“Water adopts the shape of its receptacle, it is sometimes a trickle and sometimes a wild sea.'”

Marketers are better served by liquid fluidity in their thought processes and approaches. If a marketer elects to reach stakeholders with a content-based strategy that can be communicated across a wide variety of media forms, then anything is possible. The marketer can adapt to sudden changes as well as newly emerging technologies as social media continues its march forward.

This liquid approach toward social media strategy makes sense. As the natural and rapid evolution continues to unfold over time and communities evolve, their consumption of media will evolve too. Marketers who use a value-based approach can then take the communication strategy and offer it to the community in whatever form it wants.

Consider the way Dell Inc. handled its own nightmare in the blogosphere. In 2005, the company was dubbed “Dell Hell” by widely read journalist and blogger Jeff Jarvis in response to a horrific customer service experience he had after buying a new laptop. The episode struck a chord with readers and was soon repeated and shared all over the Internet. Jarvis continued to chronicle his frustrating dealings with Dell customer service, at one point commenting, “Public relations must be about a new relationship with the public, with the public in charge.”

With its hand forced, Dell actively began revitalizing its tainted brand image by taking steps to show it was listening to its customers, not providing lip service. The company got its customer service reps active on social networks like Facebook, where users were already exchanging stories and information about Dell products. In addition, Dell created its own communities like IdeaStorm (“Where your ideas reign”) so that customers could offer suggestions for not only improving Dell’s service, but for sharing work advice on a broader range of technology topics. The company also established Direct2Dell blogs as another channel for customers to talk about their issues – and for Dell to listen to them.

Dell’s response to the situation wasn’t about implementing any one form of social media; it was about adapting to whatever media type the community was already engaged in. Dell adapted its efforts to suit the consumption patterns of diverse communities, and, regardless of media form, the strategy and message were always the same: We are listening. The end result was an Oct. 17, 2007, BusinessWeek Online story written by Jeff Jarvis entitled, “Dell Learns to Listen.” Dell went from hell to heaven.

Creating the Strategy

The social media strategist must understand that the execution of a winning strategy requires superior content, continued innovation and ongoing creativity.

Content is written and initiatives are designed to educate or inform readers, listeners or viewers about a particular or general subject matter. Successful strategy revolves around fulfilling a mission and serving the community with the information that it cares about. Unfortunately, too many marketers fail to understand what the community really wants – or they fail even to try. This often leads to failed marketing initiatives and rants from bloggers, like Jeff Jarvis, some of which spread to the larger blogosphere.

Marketing minds have to understand the importance of creating a mission-oriented strategy for their social media efforts, regardless of the media form. This enables execution with individual tools in different media forms to stay on track and creates value for the community by providing regular, prescient content.

Another successful corporate player in the social media realm is Cisco Systems. Cisco’s entire product line is driven by growth in telecommunications networks. The company is using social media to promote the power of collaboration, which, in turn, promotes the growth of the network. Consider the tools Cisco uses for engagement: video, blogs, user-generated/content and podcasts. The medium doesn’t matter; they’re all used to demonstrate the benefits of collaboration. The marketing message remains consistent.

And that’s really the rub – taking the time and effort to create content that’s truly of value to the community so they’ll keep coming back and bring more people with them. This requires 1) knowing what the community wants; 2) understanding the intrinsic value the company can offer to meet those wants; and 3) being creative enough to deliver this value in a way that’s interesting and compelling.

It seems simple. But simple is not easy.

The one major pitfall to avoid in an organizational content mission is trying to overtly promote the company. This error remains one of the most common reasons corporate social media initiatives fail. Companies want to market themselves. Too many regard social media as just another way to promote their wares. This error creates blogs that are never read, community sites that no one joins, videos that are never played and podcasts that buyers don’t download.

Principles Before Tactics

In increasingly diverse and changing environments, successful social media marketers should also focus on principles rather than tactics. This recognizes that social media is popular because it embraces freedom of speech. A two-way discussion cannot be controlled, and conversational/ relationship marketing needs core building blocks such as honesty, transparency and other fundamental values. And these values should serve as guidance no matter the environment.

The following principles demonstrate that marketing communications and public relations are about building relationships with the community as a whole as well as with individual members.

Relinquish message control: Social media experts have been touting the need to relinquish message control for years now, but businesses are still struggling with the idea. Yet relationships have always been at the heart of traditional PR. And it’s no different with social media marketing. Controlled relationships are considered dysfunctional at an individual level and dictatorial within a large community. Since social media is inherently two-way, a controlling entity that enters the community will be met with anger, distrust and either rebellion or deaf ears by key stakeholders.

Honesty, ethics and transparencies are musts: This isn’t about baring trade secrets or intellectual property. It’s about basic human interactions that create a strong foundation for long-term, two-way mutually beneficial relationships. Follow the Golden Rule: Treat others as you’d want to be treated.

Participation within the community is marketing: Creating content and posting it online is not enough; that keeps you in a one-way relationship. Get out there into the customer’s realm. Comment and contribute to larger community groups and social networks. Read customer-maintained and other relevant blogs (or vlogs and podcasts) and interact with the writers. In short, your organization cannot become respected by the community unless it is part of the community.

For example, Coca-Cola garnered great respect in the social media marketplace when it launched its Virtual Thirst campaign in Second Life. By letting participants create their own unique Coke machine dispensing experiences, the campaign provided an effective vehicle for the company to engage the denizens of virtual worlds. And, more important, by demonstrating its grasp of the very personal nature of Second Life, Coca-Cola was embraced by the community.

Build value for the community and inspire them with compelling content: This strategic principle dates back to the classic marketing tome Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, by Al Ries and Jack Trout. When looking to “market,” know your community. It is only by listening, reading and understanding them that you can serve them with valuable information. This translates into creating content that fulfills that mission, regardless of the technology or social network.

And that content can’t be a stream of corporate press releases. Often companies recognize the need to build value, but when it comes time to take action, their content is the same old corporate drivel. The community wants information that educates, entertains and solves problems. That is the kind of content that will get them engaged. It will foster the kind of two-way dialogue that provides the company with insights into what customers want and, in turn, will show customers they matter to the company as more than just product consumers.

Parting Thoughts

Social media will continue to change as technologies advance, but that doesn’t mean that marketers need to shift their strategy every time a new online tool is introduced. Rather, marketers need to remain fluid in their approach toward conversations with the community. Readiness to adapt to new media forms and a reliance on social media principles will enable marketers to succeed in their endeavors.

Two Sides of Consumer-Generated Media: Listening and Participating

Social media is providing marketers with an array of tools and opportunities that offer an unusual entrée into understanding the good, bad and ugly of how customers use and perceive brands, your company and even your employees. In today’s world, it is increasingly critical to understand your specific customer needs and to build business relationships both on a local and global basis.

Those strategies become more challenging, however, as the landscape grows more complex. New media strategies present a means of closing the communication gap brought on by time and distance. Valuable global relations are being created through tools that range from text messages to microblogs, podcasts, vlogs (video blogs), social networking communities and traditional blogs. By leveraging these new technologies, people exchange ideas and information, and discover common experiences that transcend cultural differences. Listening and participating in ongoing conversations enables organizations to develop a stronger emotional engagement with customers, prospects and other stakeholders.


These “virtual back fence” conversations, commonly called consumer-generated media or content (CGM/CGC), are found in the comments of blogs, bulletin boards, social networking communities and product reviews. The unfiltered, raw voices of peer-to-peer discussions are frequently rich in passion and emotion, thereby offering a window into a world that previously eluded traditional marketing research methodologies.

Since these virtual chats are Internet-based, they can be tracked, measured and analyzed. Consumer-generated media, therefore, becomes one more source of information that should be scrutinized to mitigate the risk in making business decisions.

Although monitoring social media is gaining acceptance as a complementary piece of marketing research strategy, marketers should keep in mind that there is a difference between data mined from CGM and the information derived from formal surveys or focus groups. Control of the sample is one varying element. CGM seems to have more in common with ethnography than it does with a qualitative study. The information mined from consumer-generated media ranges from product review sites – where customers candidly offer their opinions and often vote on the best product within a category – to positive and negative customer service experiences and trends. A significant benefit of keeping a watchful eye on new media conversations is the ability to tap in to information in real time. The opportunity for rapid response in a crisis situation can be a powerful outcome of consistent listening.

Trend analysis is gaining acceptance as a valuable tool for understanding CGM and dealing with “extreme” content contributed by specific individuals. At least one major automobile manufacturer, for example, began mining data at a high level to measure consumer attitudes toward specific models. This led to a more granular analysis of features and attributes, which then was used to provide insights for product design and development.

Although the customer purchase decision is complex, and social media is but one influencing factor, information gleaned from listening to digital conversations can have an impact on how an organization conducts business and, in turn, can set internal cultural changes in motion:

  • From a C-suite perceptive, the challenge becomes how to integrate this new type of information to support customer-focused business decisions.
  • From an operational perspective, the challenge becomes how to develop internal processes that will quickly pass the right information to the people with authority to take action.
  • From a marketing perspective, the challenge becomes how to leverage the information to develop a better customer experience that supports the brand identity.
  • From an R&D perspective, the challenge becomes how to use this type of customer insight to create new products and services that tie back to the brand.


Consumer-generated media is Web-based and can easily and quickly be passed along to friends and relatives. However, it is not unusual for a comment from a blog post or discussion points in a social media networking community to find their way from the blogosphere to mainstream media. The Internet has made speed and expositional networking the new customer capital. Through sites such as LinkedIn or Facebook, networking has expanded to include friends of friends of friends. Conversations can spread around the world in seconds, influencing sales and the hard-won good will of the brand.

What may appear at first glance to be an innocuous customer service complaint may find its way to a front page story in the New York Times or Wall Street Journal once it spreads around the Internet and becomes an online cause célèbre. In fact, it’s not uncommon anymore for a reporter to base a story on a blog post. Frequently, the article appears both in the hard copy and online editions of the media outlet, thus extending the firestorm’s reach and awareness still further. As more people copy and paste the media link into emails, blogs and product reviews, the buzz continues to build.

Johnson & Johnson provides an interesting example of corporate participation in the new media conversation. In the summer of 2007, J&J leveraged its blog, JNJ BTW, to address a crisis situation that was rapidly escalating in both mainstream media and among bloggers. The company sued the American Red Cross for what it considered to be inappropriate and illegal use of the “Red Cross trademark,” as explained in this public statement:

After more than a century of strong cooperation in the use of the Red Cross trademark, with both organizations respecting the legal boundaries for each others’ unique legal rights, we were very disappointed to find that the American Red Cross [ARC] started a campaign to license the trademark to several businesses for commercial purposes on all types of products being sold in many different retail and other commercial outlets. These products include baby mitts, nail clippers, combs, toothbrushes and humidifiers. This action is in direct violation of a Federal statute protecting the mark as well as in violation of our longstanding trademark rights.

For the past several months, Johnson &
Johnson has attempted to resolve this issue through cooperation and discussion with the ARC, and recently offered mediation, to no avail. The Company was left with no choice but to seek protection of our trademark rights through the courts.

Although Johnson & Johnson did use traditional public relations tactics to air its side of the story, Vice President Ray Jordan elaborated further on the J&J corporate blog in a post entitled, “You’re Doing What?!” In keeping with the writing style of social media, he explained the company’s point of view in a personal voice using casual language. His eff orts produced a significant number of positive posts from other bloggers, which in turn provided support for Johnson & Johnson’s position. Although negative comments were allowed on the J&J corporate blog, they actually served to reinforce the perception that the company was open and transparent about the situation, thus garnering even more respect for the organization. The blog achieved what no other crisis communication strategy could: It allowed Johnson & Johnson to tell its story the way it wanted to, in its own voice, without mainstream media clouding the message with its own interpretations.

For some organizations, this type of unstructured, conversational dialogue with the public might be an intriguing concept, but it is a risk they are unwilling to consider. Some fear that the application of a social media strategy results in the loss of control of their carefully crafted brand message. The truth is that companies could never fully control the way customers talked about their products and services before either. Those conversations have always occurred in one-on-one chats or in small group discussions. Prior to the Internet, informal customer word-of-mouth might have been slower to impact the brand and more difficult to track, but it’s certainly not a new concept. It’s just taken on a new dimension in the online space.

It would be naive not to acknowledge the inherent vulnerability that comes from allowing unfiltered conversations to take place in the public forum of a blog. Will the brand be compromised? Will negative comments impact sales? Will the blogger represent the company fairly? Can the people writing for a corporate blog hold honest discussions without compromising a competitive advantage?

As Johnson & Johnson learned, people are talking about your products, services and employees anyway – whether you’re part of the dialogue or not. So the question becomes: Where would you prefer that those conversations be held – on a competitor’s blog or on YouTube? Creating a corporate blog or a YouTube channel provides an opportunity to participate and listen in on the discussion on your own turf. By allowing constructive criticism on your company blog and responding to it head-on, you may discourage a negative post elsewhere.

In summary, a successful social media strategy is one that involves two elements: listening and participating. Step one is to develop a continuous, action-focused listening strategy that tracks your customers’ conversations. Step two is to engage your customers with simple and genuine “people talk.”

The bottom line is that people want to do business with people they know and like, and consumer-generated media strongly influences the way your brand is perceived and how purchase decisions are made. Whether through Facebook, You- Tube, blogs or another new media entity, your company forfeits a critical competitive advantage if it is not an active participant in the conversation.