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What Businesses NEED to Learn from Romney’s Project ORCA

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Project ORCA was supposed to be the saving grace for the Republican presidential campaign. In a race that came down to the wire in many states, this new way of organizing Romney’s league of enthusiastic volunteers to monitor voting across the country could have been responsible for swinging the votes his way. Obviously, that did not happen, and in a post entitled “The Unmitigated Disaster Known As Project ORCA” one would-be volunteer, John Ekdahl, outlined exactly  how this project failed. Another disgruntled would-be volunteer shared similar experiences with Brietbart News here.

Now that how has been answered, the remaining question is why. And, importantly, what can we learn from this mess?

Simplicity, Defined

Project ORCA was designed to be extremely simple. Using smartphones, volunteers were supposed to be able to easily report who had voted and who had yet to show up at the polls. That way, registered Republicans could be contacted and encouraged to come out to vote.

While the system was fairly uncomplicated for volunteers, the introduction to it was not clear. This is where Project ORCA fell short, and this is where many businesses fall short as well. Simplicity marries design and implementation. One without the other, and you risk failure.

With Project ORCA, volunteers’ questions were not adequately answered during conference calls. They didn’t receive their packets until the night before, and the term “app” confused people (Project ORCA used a mobile website, not an app available on the Android/iPhone store, but they called it a “mobile web app”). Volunteers were not instructed properly about the information they needed to take to their polling location, so many were turned away. Questions to the help line went unanswered.

When you introduce a new technology to your customers, is the implementation as simple as the design? Is your audience prepared for the changes? Are you ready to provide customer support? Have you taken the process out of the users’ hands as much as possible?

Timing is Everything

More important that simplicity perhaps, is timing. The Republican party waited until the last minute to implement this new system, causing mass chaos on election day. Ekdahl reports attempting to reach out for help so he could still fulfill his promise as a volunteer, but it seems as though the system was overwhelmed with people having problems, so he never received a response. Undoubtedly, many others found themselves in a similar situation.

Despite conference calls about Project ORCA in the weeks leading up to election day, too much was left to the last minute, with no real Plan B in place if problems ensued. The timing was just wrong. Had the kinks been worked out in October or better yet, even earlier, through beta testing and mock election day run-throughs, this initiative might have instead been a success. It may have even changed the course of the election.

I’m sure the Republican party did some testing before the big day. I’m not suggesting they just threw this together and crossed their fingers that it would work. But they didn’t also allow their volunteers to be part of the testing. If you’re introducing a new technology to your audience, whether it’s a brand new ecommerce site, a new interface for a digital product, or something else entirely (like a new way of counting votes at polling locations), you have to give people a chance to test out the system before they need to use it.

Half-Truths and Problems Ahead

What I find most troubling about the reports I’ve been reading from Project ORCA volunteers is that they all seem to have been reassured that problems were localized. Even before election day, it sounds like frankenspeak talons were tightly grasping this entire project. Writes Ekdahl,

“From the very start there were warning signs. After signing up, you were invited to take part in nightly conference calls. The calls were more of the slick marketing speech type than helpful training sessions. There was a lot of “rah-rahs” and lofty talk about how this would change the ballgame.”

Never underestimate your audience like this. People don’t want to hear half-truths and false flattery. They want answers to their questions and help with their problems. Nothing will sink a business faster than their customer base feeling like they’re being fed lies.

No matter where your political loyalties lie, I think we can all agree that Republicans have some rough roads ahead. It’s arguable whether the success of Project ORCA could have changed the tide, but it’s inarguable that it’s failure is making many uneasy about party management. This is perhaps the most important lesson businesses need to learn from the Republican party and the downfall of Project ORCA: the seas won’t always be smooth sailing, but when problems arise, how you manage your audience, especially through online channels, will set the course for the future.

Where is your business headed?

Image credit: Gage Skidmore

How to Work with Brand Bloggers

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This post will help businesses, both large and small, understand brand blogs–sites written by consumers that exist for the sole purpose of talking about a company and/or its products. Do you know how to engage with brand bloggers and the opportunities that exist? Read on to learn more!

 

A topic near and dear to my heart is blogs that are created by customers which are all about well-known brands.  This is a phenomenon that is now down-right common.  It’s amazing how many customers have created blogs about well-known brands!

First, a few examples of the kinds of blogs that I’m talking about:

I’m sure there are many more brand fan blogs out there.  Those were just a few that were very easy to find with a few Google searches. The list of customer-created fan blogs is stunningly long.

For the large brand (or even a smaller brand), all of this can equal surprise and uncertainty. If you’re Lululemon, or any other brand where a customer has created a fan blog, you don’t know what they’re going to say next. You don’t know which products they’ll love. And, you never know if the fan blog will turn on the brand. There is a complete loss of control. Even worse, the brand may worry that the fan site will become so large that it will be confused with a corporate-created website. The brand’s voice then competes with the fan’s voice.

Since September 2009, I have been writing about Starbucks. There’s no doubt, they know I exist. I’m in the unusual position that I’m blogging about a brand close to home. I live not too far from the Starbucks headquarters and the first Starbucks in Seattle’s Pike Place Market. I am so close, I can actually easily go to Starbucks events that would only happen in Seattle. Because of this, I’ve met a number of corporate headquarters Starbucks employees.

My blog, as I write this, receives over 30,000 absolute unique visitors each month. It’s slowly grown over time. A year from now, I might be saying it has 35,000 or 40,000 uniques. It certainly didn’t start out at that level of readership – and that’s still fairly small. And obviously, I am not CNN or a major news source. However, it is possible that at an ordinary customer can have a real voice about a brand. For example, if you look at the Trader Joe’s blog mentioned above, you’ll see that its hit-counter lists well over 2 million hits so far! That’s one very popular blog!

There is no doubt that through Facebook and Twitter, it’s possible that a customer with a big brand fan blog might be able to have direct contact with other fans, possibly brand detractors, company employees, and even possibly corporate executives. All of this comes down to one thing: Each individual customer now has the possibility to have a much larger voice than ever before. Anyone can start a blog. The choice of the brand is to either engage or ignore. That’s it: either engage or ignore. My position is that engagement is the best option.

It’s been cited that a brand advocate is worth much more than an average customer.  Zuberance, a California-based company designed to energize brand advocates, writes “Brand Advocates are worth at least 5x more than average customers. This is because they spend more and their recommendations drive sales.”

The customer-created brand blog is not a mysterious unicorn. It’s real. Any brand could end up with customers writing about them. And honest reviews, unfiltered, and unsolicited, are the most genuine.

4 Tips for Working with Brand Bloggers: 

Recognize that a brand fan blog is fueled by passion for the brand

There is no doubt, for a customer to write for years consistently about a brand, he or she has to be filled with passion for the brand. Probably there are no “wet noodle” personalities with big successful brand fan blogs. Susan Martin’s IKEA fan blog is still going strong seven years into blogging. She started blogging in 2005 about IKEA. One doesn’t blog for seven years about IKEA without really having some passion for the brand.

Your customers who create long-term fan blogs love you. They passionately love you. And expect them to truly characterize the kind of personality that gets very passionate about a topic.

You can expect that one with a big, vocal passionate personality might have fixed convictions that he or she won’t budge on, or may come on strongly when engaged. Despite all this, passions fuels this.

Reach out to dedicated fan bloggers; do not ignore them

It takes a tremendous amount of work to keep a fan blog going. There isn’t a monetary incentive for the overwhelming majority of brand fan blogs. (I couldn’t find any evidence of any monetary compensation in any of the listed fan blogs above.)

A little reaching out goes a long way to keep inspiration alive.

And for many people, the more emotionally invested he or she feels in a brand, the less likely he or she is going to write negative commentary about it. Reaching out to brand bloggers can help lock in that emotional attachment to a brand. A brand can never control everything that is going to be said about it. And often times, honest feedback couched in a true vision of making the brand better is nothing to be scoffed at. Customers have great insights.

And so once again, since the fan brand blogger is not motivated by a paycheck, a little reaching out to the brand goes a long way.

For example, in 2010, IKEA reached out to their fans, hosting a IKEA brand evangelists event in New York City, and giving those fans a bag of gifts, and the latest IKEA catalogue two weeks early. Not every brand is going to host trips to New York City for their biggest fans, but it is definitely an example of a large brand truly recognizing and responding to brand evangelists.

In January 2012, I went to a nicely organized coffee tasting at the Olive Way Starbucks as part of the Starbucks PR department’s blogger outreach. I wrote about it here.  I love events that have a true element of exclusivity to them.  I enjoyed being able to see the Starbucks concept store, Roy Street, shortly before it opened to the public and being able to write about that before the store’s grand opening.

As yet another example of incredible blogger outreach, Anthropologie sent a number of bloggers on a trip to Philadelphia for the opening of a wedding-themed Anthropologie store. I have heard that Anthropologie did reach out to at least one blogger who writes specifically an Anthroplogie brand blog. The trip to Philadelphia is mentioned in an article by a wedding blogger.

Consider the bloggers who are dedicated to your brand. If the brand passes over a very passionate blogger, it may truly come off as if the blog is not appreciated.

I think even small gestures mean a lot. I was reading through Nathan Aaron’s “Method Lust” blog and noticed that now and then he mentions that Method will send him sneak previews of new products. It could be as simple as sending the brand advocate a bottle of Fig Aroma Spray.

Read the comments

The value of a brand blog doesn’t end at the author’s article. Read the comments. That’s so important, I feel like I should say it twice. Read the comments.

A blog that is getting even a dozen comments per article provides a lot of insight about customer response to a specific product or concept.

Remember the authenticity of the voice is priceless. As a great example of this, earlier this year I wrote an article about the Pink Lime Frozt and the Coconut Lime Frozt at Starbucks. You might be thinking that you’ve never heard of these beverages. In the spring of this year, Starbucks did a large test of these beverages, mostly in Southern states, though to date, there has never been a nationwide launch. But my article on the Pink Lime Frozt has over 50 comments. That’s a tremendous amount of feedback on a test product. The same thing happened when I wrote about the test product, the “Apple Crumble Frappuccino.” Don’t miss the chance to get valuable feedback.

On top of it all, the blog comments may have replies by the blog owner – one more chance to get to know the personality of the brand’s customer with a fan blog.

Be transparent at all times

There is nothing worse than having a brand-blogger customer reaching out to a corporate headquarters, and having him or her sent in circles, and/or being told that someone will get back to them, and no one does. Even worse, completely ignored emails.  It can equally leave a bad taste in one’s mouth if a brand PR person says (hypothetically), “We’d like you to try a new product  …” and then there is no follow up to arrange a trial of the new product.

If someone is passionate enough to dedicate years to blogging about your specific brand, he or she should not be left hanging in conversations with the corporation, whether in person or in an electronic form.

Good business manners are good business manners, whether dealing with people internally or externally.

At the end of the day, some of this is common sense. Develop a positive relationship with bloggers. They’re valuable for the brand due to their reach. A blogger who is reaching even 1,000 unique visitors a day, in some ways, has a megaphone in his or her hands. That person is akin to media in some ways. The positive relationship with the blogger can help ignite a positive outlook about the brand on that blog.

It’s likely that no brand is immune to the possibility of having a customer start an entire blog just to talk about that brand. Be ready and willing to reach and be transparent with that blogger.

The Many Different Ways to Brand Your Social Networking Pages

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When it comes to social networks, everyone has their favorites. MySpace was a huge hit back in the day simply because it was one of the first social networks, but mainly because of the many different ways you could customize your profile pages and make them look however you like. Facebook came along and quickly out grew MySpace, but it wasn’t til recently that Facebook allowed you to give your profile a new look and feel with the introduction of their Timeline setup. In the end, it’s all about online relationships and leaving a lasting impression for the people who visit your profile pages.

Let’s take a look at a few different ways social networks are allowing people to not only personalize their profile pages, but also brand their blogs, web sites, and businesses as well.

Facebook

It’s no secret that Facebook is one of the most active and legitimate places for individuals to create a powerhouse of connections and branding about themselves and their sites. In addition to creating your own personal profile page, you should also be creating Fan Pages for each and every one of your sites and blogs. With the Facebook Timeline now in play you can create your profile and fan pages to match the look and feel of your blog or identity.

You can see my Facebook screenshot below, which showcases the ZacJohnson.com name and toon which I have been branding over the past several years. Many other famous bloggers and online marketers are using Timeline for personal images and branding, check out how they are using it.

Twitter

As popular as Facebook is, Twitter is still extremely strong on the entertainment and television end. Celebrities are always talking about Twitter and how others can follow them, but they aren’t talking as much about Facebook. This is mainly because Facebook has a limit on personal friends that you are allowed to follow, which has greatly helped Twitter engage with users who have thousands or even millions of fans.

With that said, it would be ridiculous for anyone with a massive amount of followers to not be using Twitter backgrounds and profile images to their advantage. My Facebook Timeline image is actually a smaller version of my Twitter background that I had designed a couple years ago. Once again…branding is key, and showing your face, logo or identity over and over again will help with your establishment and authority in any niche.

Staree

As powerful as Twitter and Facebook are, there are hundreds if not thousands of smaller social networks and media sites out there. One of the most recent sites to launch lately is Staree.com, which is a mixture of blogging, Instagram and social networking. Through Staree you can create a custom profile page which allows you to upload your own updates and photo/video posts. Your Facebook and Twitter pages are also posted on your Staree page, which makes it one easy url for you to give to someone, which they can then use to find your other major social pages.

Once again, you will see the customization and branding in play with my Staree profile page below.

How to Benefit from Branding on Social Networks

Just think about how many people are browsing through social networks, blogs, and profiles every day. The majority of these people will visit a page once and never come back. In the end, you want to make a lasting impression and if you only have a couple seconds to do this, a custom logo design or something catchy is a great way to do this. Many people are going to visit my Twitter, Facebook and Staree pages and probably not come back again…but I did my best to make a lasting impression by using my cartoon logo and name on each. This might not seem like a lot right now, but over the course of a month or year, how many thousands or millions of people will have seen my logo and potentially remembered my brand, site, and name?

What you do with your branding and social network pages is key. Focus on long term growth, bringing in new followers and creating content for your blogs and web site that provide value to your followers. In the end, your brand identity is one of the most important things you have, and you will want to keep growing it and spreading it around as much as you can.

What can you do to your social networking pages to make them more brandable and work for you 24/7?

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