Your employee, your advocate

Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler got it right. In their 2010 book Empowered, they argued the case for companies unleashing their employees as brand advocates especially through social media. (And they continue to discuss employee empowerment on their blog.) Progressive companies understand that building the corporate brand and investing in employee brands need not be mutually exclusive activities. Fortunately my employer iCrossing is one of those companies, as illustrated in two recently published blog posts about the value of employees as brand advocates.

In “How CMOs Can Empower Employees with Social Media Guidelines,” published April 4 on the iCrossing Great Finds blog, I discuss how social media guidelines can support, not restrict, employees as thought leaders and brand ambassadors. I cite the example of how iCrossing tripled the volume of employee blog contributions and boosted visits to our Great Finds blog by 74 percent in one year by helping employees find their social voices with guidelines (which we recently published). Our approach is to go beyond the predictable guideline do’s and don’ts and provide ideas for how employees can use social to speak to our audience of CMOs.

Meantime, in an April 6 Great Finds post, my colleague Nick Roshon asserts that “If Brands Are Publishers, Employees Are Authors” His post focuses on tools that brands and employees can employ to boost authorship authority (especially at a time when search engines like Google are increasingly rewarding content authority).

Nick asserts that CMOs need to “build up their employees as authors of thought leadership . . . Because Google and Bing are already rewarding content authors by making them more visible to search. As Google and Bing embrace technologies that reward the most prolific and authoritative content creators, CMOs that encourage employees to create thought leadership will build more visible and connected brands.

In other words: you can either ride a wave in the direction it is going or someone else will.

How do you empower your employees?

Guy Kawasaki’s golden rules

How well I remember being invited to participate in the newly launched Google+ in the summer of 2011. Right off the bat, Google Plus seemed different from Facebook. Its clean layout encouraged posting more long-form content and graphics. Its membership included luminaries like Guy Kawasaki and Chris Brogan. If Facebook was the biggest network in the world, Google+ was the coolest. Less than one year later, Google Plus has grown to 90 million members and still feels like a more forward-thinking network than Facebook. Facebook now looks a Google Plus follower, introducing features like Timeline and video chat features in response to the robust graphics and video functions of Google Plus. Guy Kawasaki’s new book, What the Plus! Google+ for the Rest of Us, provides an in-depth tour of the many Google Plus features that have made the platform so appealing to brands and individuals. On the iCrossing Great Finds blog, I discuss Guy’s new book. I read What the Plus! expecting to learn how to maximize the value of Google+, but I ended up finding broader meaning in Guy’s book. In advising people how to use Google Plus, Guy has articulated some new ground rules for prospering in the social era: think visually, be a content hustler, and treat social spaces like prized real estate — in other words, safeguard your own social turf (including your Google Plus page) and respect the social spaces you visit.

The best part about Guy’s book? His appeal for people to treat others as you’d have them treat you – and his frank advice to kick out jerks who invade your social turf and behave poorly. Let someone else be the arbiter of free speech while you focus on protecting your own brand.

Let me know what you think of What the Plus!

Let us now praise the Google Doodle

I awoke this morning to discover a fresh coat of snow on my driveway and on Google’s home page. Through a Google Doodle, today Google celebrates the 125th anniversary of the largest recorded snowflake – which was said to be 15 inches in diameter when it landed  in Montana in 1887. Not only are Google Doodles fun, they also inject playfulness and creativity into the Google brand. Note that Google does so by showing you through an engaging experience, unlike Microsoft, which typically tries to tell you (and not very convincingly) how creative and fun its own brand can be. For another example of showing, not telling, check out this video of how Google has celebrated the winter season:

The Google Doodle makes a statement about the global nature of the Google brand, too, having commemorated Federico Fellini’s 92nd birthday in Italy and elections in Taiwan.

Explore more Google Doodles here to see how Google has evolved beyond its reputation as a purely functional search utility.

Google disrupts with Google Search Plus

Google’s launch of the awkwardly named “Search, plus Your World” has the web buzzing with commentary. Blogger John Jantsch believes Google is “shaking things up a bit” by making search a more personal experience. Twitter says Google Search Plus (as “Search, plus Your World” is quickly becoming known) is “bad for people” — an uptight reaction that actually legitimizes what Google is doing. And in a newly published blog post, my iCrossing colleague Nick Roshon offers tips for how brands can benefit from Google Search Plus. In his post, Nick asserts that Google Search Plus is a major overhaul that makes search more personal and social.

“For brands, it is now more critical than ever to pay attention to the intersection of search and social and cultivate an active social following, particularly on Google+,” he writes. “Your social prominence can make or break your visibility in the new Google Search Plus results.”

So what’s a marketer to do about Google Search Plus? Nick articulates seven steps you should take now, ranging from getting active on Google+ to cultivating share-worthy content.

For example, he writes, “Being active on Google+ will provide increased visibility for your brand, both on Google+ as well as the content on your website that you share on your Google+ page.”

We should not be surprised that Google continues to find ways to synthesize search and social — with Google at the center of the experience. Thought leaders such as David Armano and my colleague Alisa Leonard have contended that Google is creating a social data layer across paid, earned, and owned media, giving brands new ways to connect with consumers via rich content on platforms ranging from YouTube to Google+.

Are you on Google+? Is your brand? If not, why not? If so, how has your experience been so far?

Hanging out with the Black Eyed Peas

Well, I did not exactly hang out with will.i.am and the Black Eyed Peas – just with the scores of fans who responded to will.i.am’s open invitation to participate in a Black Eyed Peas Google+ Hangout at 6:00 p.m. Eastern Time before a September 30 show at Central Park. The experience promised to give fans backstage access to the Black Eyed Peas through the power of the Google Plus Hangouts feature (through which people can schedule the equivalent of video chats with their Google Plus friends). After the Hangout, you could witness the actual concert through a webcam onstage. The September 30 Black Eyed Peas Hangout, although imperfect, was an intriguing approach to using technology to build brand in the entertainment world.

As will.i.am commented during the Hangout (which I watched on a YouTube replay), “I don’t think anybody has had a one-to-many webcam interactive experience like this with fans before and during a show.”

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Why Amazon and Netflix don’t always know best

It’s far too easy to allow ourselves to be led around by the nose.

Amazon tells us what to buy. Netflix and Pandora suggest movies and music based on our tastes. Facebook and Google+ suggest friends to us. Twitter tells us whom to follow.

But those tools reinforce what we know already. They broaden our horizons only incrementally.

To make a creative and intellectual breakthrough that forces you to grow, I believe it’s important to find moments of serendipity – when you stumble on new ideas that seemingly lack any immediate application to your life. You won’t find those moments by allowing others to curate your life for you.

Here are a few examples of how I’ve tried to spark moments of serendipity:

1. Getting immersed in a different setting

For most of my life, I was not interested in medieval history. So I had low expectations when I joined my family on my first visit to the Bristol Renaissance Faire a few years ago. The faire re-creates the town of Bristol, England, in the year 1574, complete with period costumes, jugglers, minstrel entertainers, and a visit from the Queen of England. And as I’ve mentioned on my blog, the faire enchanted me on my first visit.

It’s not just the passion and spirit of the fairgoers that attracts me – it’s those moments of personal serendipity that occur on so many visits. Recently, by complete chance, I discovered a band known as the New Minstrel Revue, who opened my mind to the gentle and beautiful sounds of Celtic folk.

One of my favorite things to do at the faire is to walk into the Compass Rose music shop and buy whatever the store is playing at the time. It’s a total hit-and-miss proposition that has introduced me to new music I might not have heard otherwise – such as Sacred and Secular music from Renaissance Germany (a selection that I doubt Pandora would have suggested based on my musical interests).

This year I happened to be walking through the dusty Bristol streets and heard a strange, beautiful drone-like guitar sound. By simply following the siren call of the music, I discovered the Darbuki Kings playing bouzouki and drums with a belly dancer. Even better, Antone Darbuki took the time to show me how he strums an exotic sound with an open G tuning on his bouzouki strings.

I had heard of the bouzouki — but I had no appreciation for what a bouzouki could do until this chance encounter at Bristol.

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We are all content hustlers

It’s ironic Google+ allowed the digital elites such as Chris Brogan early access to Google+ while asking corporations to hold off creating brand profiles. Just about everyone I know on Google+ (including me) uses the social platform to hustle their own content as well as any corporation could.

We are all content hustlers now. In fact, it’s the proliferation of platforms like Google+ and check-in sites like GetGlue that continues to transform everyday consumers into marketers of our own content.

You check into GetGlue on a Friday night to watch Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and the next thing you know, someone responds to your check-in by asking for your opinion, and then you write a mini review in reply. In a matter of minutes, you become both moviegoer and amateur critic.

Case in point: yesterday morning, I needed to do some quick online research to find a business and its street address. I visited Google to do a simple search. Immediately I encountered a Google Doodle that cleverly honored Lucille Ball’s 100th birthday by playing snippets of I Love Lucy via the image of an old-style console TV. How cool! I just had to share the Google Doodle with my friends.

But sharing wasn’t enough: I needed to add my own opinion (my contribution to your content stream) about how the Google Doodle brilliantly synthesized utility and entertainment. Within minutes, I posted a CBS News article about the doodle, plus a brief comment on my Facebook, Global 14, and Google+ content streams. I also wrote the obligatory tweet.

And I wasn’t even working up a sweat – or tapping into the many other platforms I could have used to spread my content (however brief it was) across the digital world.

Within minutes, my mindset had changed from searcher of information to publisher. And then I did what any good content publisher does: checked my metrics. Did I get any retweets? Facebook Likes? +1s? Had I found a responsive audience for the content I was hustling?

A few take-aways:

  • A Google search became an exercise in content publishing. But I also forgot to complete my original Google search, ironically. The content publisher lurking inside me was competing with the simple reality of getting on with my life.
  • Although access to social media sites makes it easier for us to hustle content, not all the content we create is worth hustling. As guitarist Jack White said in the documentary It Might Get Loud, ease of use does not make us more creative.

Yes, we are all content hustlers. But just because we can does not mean we should. Fortunately we can block and manage content, too, by paring our friend lists and curating our information streams (e.g., with Google+ Circles), although doing so is not always as easy as it looks. I’ll let you judge whether I’m hustling content you care about.