Facebook Trades Community for Cash

What a difference a week makes. Last week, Facebook was poised to conquer the world with a $100 billion initial public offering. After a rocky IPO fraught with financial and legal drama, now the pundits are referring to Facebook as “Fadebook” and even asking if Facebook’s best days are behind it. I believe talk of Facebook’s demise to be premature. But I do question whether Facebook is a social brand anymore.

I’ve often compared Facebook to a large country where I like its residents but not the government. As a brand, Facebook is impersonal, difficult to admire, and anything but social. And when Google Plus arrived in 2011, the Facebook brand looked like a follower, as Google+ introduced features that Facebook then emulated to play catch-up. I don’t think Mark Zuckerberg cares about building a community. Facebook is all about valuations now. It’s no wonder companies like General Motors are rethinking Facebook’s value to their brands and launching their own communities.

In fact, music mogul Jermaine Dupri doesn’t even bother spending time on Facebook to build his own brand. In 2011, he created his own social media community, Global 14, which consists of 36,000 members who share common lifestyle interests ranging from hip-hop to fashion. I joined Global 14 in 2011 and have gained 700 friends I’d never met before, including some incredibly passionate hip-hop artists such as Symon G. Seyz. Global 14 isn’t the biggest social network in the world, but its smaller size enables Dupri to personally interact with members and manage a tightly knit community.

But I enjoy my community of Facebook friends, too. What’s different about Global 14 is that as a brand, Global 14 lives community, starting with Dupri. As owner/operator of Global 14, he personally bonds with its members, welcoming them, commenting their posts, and sparking conversations with his own blog posts. He openly friends anyone. And he allows Global 14 members to get involved in the site itself. Global 14 Radio, an Internet radio version of Global 14, was actually launched by Global 14 members with Dupri’s blessing. My belief in Global 14 is one of the reasons my employer iCrossing created an innovative relationship with Dupri to help him and Global 14 become more connected brands.

On May 25, Dupri and I published in Portada magazine a byline to offer advice to businesses who aspire to launch their own networks. As we write in the article:

As it turns out, Dupri has tapped into a growing interest in smaller, more engaged communities, especially those that share content visually as he does.

Facebook and Twitter are about scale. Global 14 is about relationships. It might be time for you to start thinking about creating relationships on your own community.

Relationships are at the heart of Global 14. Relationships are what social media is all about — not stock valuations.

How Houlihan’s Gives Emerging Artists a Voice

Brands are the new DJs. Amid the demise of the music industry, companies ranging from American Express to Coca-Cola now provide exposure for musicians just like music impresarios Murray the K and Alan Freed once did. For indie artists, Houlihan’s Restaurants has a longstanding tradition of providing exposure through the music playlists in its 83 U.S. establishments.

Recently, Houlihan’s put its marketing muscle behind lesser-known artists by launching H-Listed. Each month, Houlihan’s showcases an H-Listed artist by featuring the artist’s music in each Houlihan’s restaurant and providing 1 million impressions via the Houlihan’s website, email outreach, and social media presence. Houlihan’s has already created buzz for its first three H-Listed artists, Big Harp, Feathers, and the Parlotones, starting with a kick-off event at the South by Southwest Music Conference and Festival and continuing with online/offline promotions that include free song downloads.

To learn more about H-Listed, I interviewed Jen Gulvik, vice president of marketing and creative director for Houlihan’s. During our conversation, she explained how music flourishes in the Houlihan’s culture through efforts like H-Listed and the company’s involvement in VH1 Save the Music. As Gulvik’s experience shows, music is more than a means to build a brand for Houlihan’s — it’s a way of life.

Let’s talk about your role at Houlihan’s and how you helped H-Listed get launched.

I am responsible for all of marketing in the traditional sense, but also the customer experience. Ultimately, I am responsible for anything that happens in the restaurant, ranging from the uniforms we wear to the music we play. And obviously music is part of the customer experience. Houlihan’s has chosen to make the music you hear in our restaurants a point of differentiation, similar to the way some hotels make music part of the experience they offer.

H-Listed is our program to offer guests musical discovery while Houlihan’s helps emerging artists. Our intent is to make people in our restaurants feel like they are enjoying a sense of discovery in a stylish surrounding. We deliberately choose unfamiliar musicians such as Big Harp, who we are featuring for the month of May, and the Parlotones, who were H-Listed in April.

Their music is promoted and used in our restaurant playlists, which include many other lesser-known artists through a selection put together each month by PlayNetwork, our outside partner that handles all of our music licensing, artist and label relations, and production in conjunction with H-Listed.


Starbucks has been curating music for years in its stores, and I have always wanted to do something like that. Music often falls under Operations in the dining industry, but fortunately music is the responsibility of Marketing at Houlihan’s. When I ran the idea for H-Listed past PlayNetwork, they had all the resources and relationships to make it happen.

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Smart data: business lessons from the Battle of Midway

I’ll take smart data over big data anytime. Smart data is all about interpreting data to make a wise decision, whether you’re trying to understand your customers or attempting to outsmart your competition. Seventy years ago, the U.S. Navy and the Imperial Japanese Navy gave the world a dramatic demonstration of smart data in action during the Battle of Midway. The decisive and important naval victory for the United States still teaches lessons today about making wise choices with information.

As recounted in the recently published book Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945, by Max Hastings, the battle of Midway unfolded June 4-7, 1942, near the Midway atoll. The Japanese forces, led by Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, conceived of the assault in order to achieve a knockout blow against the U.S. Navy — which was reeling only six months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and military setbacks shortly thereafter.  But the U.S. forces, led by Admiral Chester M. Nimitz, held a distinct advantage: its codebreakers had broken the JN-25 code used by Japanese forces to communicate with each other. The U.S. knew where the Japanese were going to strike and used that information to repulse the attack. But of course breaking the code in and of itself did not guarantee victory. The deciding factors were:

1. A bold decision

Breaking the code meant that the Americans expected Midway to be the target – but even still, no one knew for sure. Someone had to decide whether to place faith in the accuracy of the intelligence uncovered by U.S. Commander Joseph Rochefort – at a time when intelligence gathering was an inexact science at best. Writes Hastings: “[E]xactitude of knowledge was still lacking. In a vast ocean, it remained hard to pinpoint ships, or even fleets . . . despite Commander Rochefort’s magnificent achievement, uncertainty and chance characterized Midway.”

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Major League Baseball shows trust on Twitter

Major League Baseball trusts its Twitter fans. When Kansas City Royals Hall of Famer George Brett joined Twitter, the @MLB Twitter account posted this tweet:


If you’re not a Major League Baseball fan and don’t follow its rich history, the reference to “pine tar above the knuckles” is meaningless and perhaps confusing. But Major League Baseball trusts its fans to get the inside joke without needing to explain it. The 2 million baseball fans who follow MLB understand inherently that MLB is referring to the controversial 1983 “Pine Tar Game,” when Brett slugged a crucial home run against the New York Yankees – only to have the home run nullified by an umpire who ruled that Brett’s bat was coated with an excessive amount of pine tar. Brett’s angry reaction — charging from the dugout like a crazed bull — was captured for history (and would become a viral smash had the incident occurred now):

The Major League Baseball Twitter account informs, entertains, and celebrates baseball with a sense of humor, even with its About section (“We don’t understand the infield fly rule, either”). But most importantly, Major League Baseball trusts its fans by sharing content without overexplaining it. Do you?

Photobomb your brand

Have you photobombed your brand lately? At the recently conducted Social Media Strategies Summit in Chicago, social media superstars Ramon De Leon, the marketing mind of a six-store Domino’s Pizza franchise in Chicago, and Jessica Gioglio of Dunkin’ Donuts both showed how and why you should photobomb – or share your brand visually in unexpected places. Their approaches are tailor made for marketing in the age of Pinterest. For instance, recently Gioglio and the Dunkin’ Donuts Chicago social media team spent a day snapping images of the iconic Dunkin’ Donuts coffee cup juxtaposed against famous Chicago landmarks like the Art Institute of Chicago and the John Hancock Tower. Dunkin’ Donuts then shared the images via the Dunkin’ Donuts Chicago Twitter account and Pinterest board – a brilliant way to build brand love locally.


On the other hand, De Leon showed how photobombing can build excitement among employees and involve your fans. Especially because De Leon is known as an enthusiastic Domino’s Pizza brand ambassador, Domino’s Pizza employees are fond of sharing their photobombs with him, such as the delivery driver who sent to De Leon this photobomb at the statue of Michael Jordan outside of the United Center in Chicago:

De Leon creates his own photobombs on the job by involving Domino’s Pizza fans. For instance, as he explained to me, “I love to walk around campus with a Dominos Pizza flag. People either want to wave it for me or take pictures with it,” as shown in this image:

He also creates photo-ops with the Domino’s logo, such as the time he fashioned an “I Heart Domino’s Pizza” ad by creatively positioning Domino’s Pizza boxes while he was making a delivery at a college campus:

And Domino’s Pizza fans inspire De Leon with their own photobombs, such as this image submitted by two fans in New York:

“These user generated photos are incredible,” he told me. “This is when people see your logo and remember you. They take a photo and either tag (If Facebook) or cc you on Twitter usually with a saying, ‘Ramon, look at me.'”

De Leon shares all these photobombs through a massively popular channel: himself. He speaks at events ranging from the Disney Social Moms Celebration to Click 6.0 in Dubai. He sprinkles his talks with Domino’s Pizza photobombs and the stories behind him, which makes for lively presentations, shout-outs to fans and employees, and compelling advertising for Domino’s Pizza.

At a time when Facebook paid $1 billion for Instagram and Pinterest has become the third-most popular U.S. social media destination almost overnight, the message is clear to brands: figure out how to share your content visually or don’t share at all. Photobombing your brand is one way to do so. For more examples of how Dunkin’ Donuts shares visual content through a savvy social media outreach, check out my post on the iCrossing Great Finds blog, “How Dunkin’ Donuts Builds a Connected Brand with Social Media.”

Happy photobombing.