Sunday, May 29, 2011

Zombie Fear and Unified Communications

Everyone loves a flesh eating zombie.

They're on the big screen in horror fare like Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead and 28 Days Later.  They fill comedic roles in films like Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead.  And they star in cable television's hit series The Walking Dead.

Now it is the zombies turn to sink their teeth into the blogosphere.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has basked in a glow of positive press and blogger accolades for their post that playfully listed precautions each of us should take in case of a zombie apocalypse.

It was an example of what I refer to as the three Es of social media content - engage, educate and entertain.

At Strategic Communications Group (Strategic), we elected to do more than join the caravan of kudos for the CDC.  Rather, we asked an important question:  how can we leverage the buzz generated by the CDC's post to the benefit of our clients in a meaningful and relevant way?

In partnership with the federal government team at telepresence, video and voice conferencing vendor Polycom, we crafted a response to the CDC suggesting their zombie apocalypse plan wasn't quite complete.  It neglected a critical technology that would enable continuity of government and delivery of emergency services -- unified communications.

Creativity in social media can take many forms, from original commentary to parody.  It's a must to understand what content is resonating with your key stakeholders and then become part of that story.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Consultant Success is in the Execution

A recommendation in the how-to text "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Consulting" is to create a perception with the client that they: 1) have a pressing need with potentially dire consequences; and 2) absolutely require the services of a consultant (preferably you) to solve this problem.

While I see this sales methodology standing up in complex areas of business strategy, product development or technical engineering, the truth is the success of most consulting engagements is more about execution of a proven methodology.

This is certainly true in public relations and social media marketing.  Yes...each client may have a distinct set of goals.  Yet, the market situation, competitive environment and macro trends influencing buyer decisions tend to be fairly consistent.

While we have developed an approach at Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) which is more aligned with a client's sales priorities, our performance ultimately comes down to execution - produce content once, distribute across multiple channels (i.e. traditional PR, social media, digital, etc.) and align with a carefully crafted search engine optimization (SEO).

Here is an example from our ongoing work for Merchant Link, a provider of a secure gateway and data security solutions for the world's leading retailers, hotel chains and restaurant groups.

Press Release: Dan Lane Named President and CEO of Merchant Link

"Security Cents" Blog: Exclusive Podcast with Dan Lane

Editorial Coverage - Digital Forensics Today:  Dan Lane, President and CEO of Merchant Link

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Social Tools and Sites Worth a Review

My daily reading includes informative blogs such as TechCrunch, GigaOm, Engadget, Gizmodo and Mashable. 

In addition to sharing perspective on the news, trends and issues that influence the business of technology, these connected blog sites also point me to interesting Web 2.0 applications and social-oriented sites that could be of value to Strategic Communications Group's (Strategic) clients.

Here is my take on a few I reviewed this weekend:

Storify: an easy-to-use (and free) application that allows a user to create a chronological "story" from content published on different social media platforms.  It's an effective way to provide context in support of a timely news announcement or thought leadership position.  Here's an example of a story I created in 10 minutes:

Relationship Building, Twitter Style another way of presenting yourself professionally or personally in an online environment by integrating your social participation in a profile .  This company was started by a Washington, DC-based entrepreneur (which I like), yet I don't get a sense that there has been much in the way of adoption.  My "Strategic Guy" profile can be found here. offers similar functionality for individual online promotion.  Here's my profile.

StackExchange:  my initial reaction upon visiting this social question and answer site was that it's merely a Quora knock-off.  However, a deeper dive uncovered a rich source of insight and information in a rather diverse set of topics, including technical subject matter such as SharePoint and Drupal to lifestyle issues like Jewish learning and personal finance.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A CEO Age Debate

Last week I was fortunate to participate in one of those lunch meetings that you wished would never end.

A prospective client connected me up with a long-standing relationship who bills herself as a HR and operational management consultant for emerging growth companies.  Admittedly, I wouldn't typically jump at a lunch get together like this as I tend to prioritize my time for colleagues, clients and prospects.

I sure am glad I blocked out an hour though because the entertaining and informative conversation made the somewhat greasy Chinese food more easily digested.

It turns out this consultant was part of the operational team that helped build Sun Microsystems into a global powerhouse.  She has since consulted with start-ups that collectively raised more $7B in the public markets on top of the hundreds of millions of dollars in private equity funding they attracted.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the conversation was when the topic turned to the preferred age of a client CEO.  I shared that Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) tends to shy away from companies led by top executives under the age of 35.

They lack discipline in the execution of a strategic plan which creates stress for their executive team, staff and external consultants.  The aggravation simply isn't worth it, I contended.

She fired back that CEOs who are in their 20s, 30s and (even) 50s are preferred.  It's those in their 40s who she struggles with the most.

Her explanation was crisp and logical.  Younger CEOs take the necessary risks that create value for entrepreneurial start-ups.  They embrace the prospect of  failure.  These youthful executives believe they'll have another opportunity if their current venture implodes.

CEOs who are 50 years+ share this tolerance for risk, although for a different reason.  They've most likely already made their money, so any success at this point merely adds a nice zero to their personal wealth.

She argued it's the 40 something crowd that is often the most gun-shy when it comes to executive risk taking.  If they have yet to make significant money, this could be their last run at wealth creation.  And that can make them nervous and overly analytical.

This perspective has given me something to ponder.  As a CEO in his 40s who has yet to generate significant wealth, pondering is what we do.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Marketers Take a Needed Pause

In the 20 years I have worked as a public relations and (now) social media marketing consultant, I have come to subscribe to an important truism that defines my professional life:  never let the highs be too high or the lows too low.

This past December I was certainly riding a high.  Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) had spent the better part of the past three years developing a unique, sales-oriented methodology for social media engagement in a B2B and business-to-government environment.

We had validated our approach on behalf of a set of the largest, most respected technology companies in the world.  Plus, we were in the process of confirming new social media campaigns with three additional market leaders – Computer Sciences Corporation, Pitney Bowes and Polycom.

Social media buzz was further stoked by trade magazines and analyst firms projecting rapid acceleration of client spending.  Our sales pipeline was frothy.  I sported an air of confidence akin to my pre dot-com implosion chest thumping.

And then…and then…and then…a whole lot of pause and reflection among marketers.  We’ve still delivered well on our existing client programs, yet continuation of funding and the identification of new initiatives have been tough to come by.

It is as if the gloss of social media rapidly dulled based on demands from internal corporate audiences to prove out effectiveness and ROI.  My suspicion has been somewhat confirmed based on a new survey from IBM which found:

More than half of marketers use social media, but based on responses, their enthusiasm is tempered, suggesting that the peak of inflated expectations has passed; marketers are focused on finding the value that social channels can yield with more targeted insights and actions.

While this slow down in adoption and implementation is personally frustrating, it is an absolute requirement for social media to emerge as a core and planned component of an integrated marketing program.

Spend on social media often resides in a company’s experimental budget bucket.  That’s a “nice to have” tag, rather than a “must do.”

For social media to rise in importance, corporate marketers have to ask the tough questions related to ROI, best practices, effective tools and technologies, and resource allocation.  Consultants must stand ready to share advice and set realistic expectations.

The social media high may be tempered a bit.  Yet, I’m committed to the belief that this channel presents dynamic and exciting opportunities for marketers.