Saturday, October 30, 2010

Were Natural Products Expo East Participants Sharing?

Thanks to a friend of mine with a small start up in the healthy snacking space, I had a free pass to the Natural Products Expo East earlier this month. I was most curious about how brands present themselves in the physical space of the show and how (if) they connect this image to online social media interactions. Despite the fact that the show is for producers, distributors, retailers, and others in the natural products industry (not consumers) my assumption was that I'd see "follow us on twitter!" and "connect with us on Facebook!" signs in many booths...that was not the case (image from

I'd also heard that there were product samples galore at this event, so I packed a spare bag for what could be a good haul of new & familiar products to try.

I had good conversations with a few companies about social media, though my assumption about neon signs blinking "follow us" and "connect with us" was clearly misplaced. With so many companies and limited time I am sure I missed some interesting people and engagement projects. Of the conversations I did have, I appreciated the ones with ECOS Products, Champlain Orchards, and Crofter's Organic.

What was interesting to me was the variety of strategies (or lack thereof) for these brands' social media efforts. From having someone on staff as the Director of Social Media to someone wrapping the function into their existing responsibilities. It was clear that they understood that there was value in their social media efforts, but not clear about what that value is.

Integrating social media efforts into a customer relationship management strategy, marketing campaigns, and measuring the results is the interesting space. The measurement piece is what most companies are interested in, and the area that must be approached cautiously; it is crucial to establish relationships with customers & stakeholders maintaining the authenticity of the brand without turning social media into a PR channel.

Given the importance of word of mouth in purchasing decision-making and the speed with which WOM may travel in social networks, I was surprised that seeking to connect offline and online actions was seemingly not a priority.

For those social media advocates, professionals, and users that attended the event, what do you think? How much did I miss?

Monday, October 11, 2010

M. Gladwell to Social Media...'re not all that

If you're wondering how social media might help you change the world by spreading the word about your cause or the brand(s) you represent, I am sure you've seen Malcolm Gladwell's article Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted in the New Yorker and, more importantly, the barrage of responses to the article. If you read the article, which I think you should, you know that Mr. Gladwell posits that social media's potential to incite social change is overblown by its advocates and promoters.

I decided to wait a week to see what would be written in response to this apparently drastic supposition before wading in and adding my own voice to the conversation (image from Donklephant).

So, the revolution will not be tweeted...

So what?

Look, I'm not trying to be flip (well, maybe a little), I'm pointing out that this opinion by itself doesn't matter that much. The thoughts it's provoked and the conversations that ensue are what's important because it's about what social media can and cannot do (We won't really know for a while anyway).

Mentioning that the "next big thing" may not be all its cracked up to be might raise some good questions about its potential, and avert a headlong rush into a gleaming over-promised future.

Whether or not social media sharing will help change the world (and here we need to ask the question, what does "change the world" mean and whom will benefit from the change?) it presents a new way to connect and spread ideas. This is why online social networks matter.

Sure, as Mr, Gladwell points out, activities like clicking's "like" button on Facebook or buying a pair of "green" shoes online in support of their 10/10/10 Day of Climate Action is easy, and calling it "climate change activism" might be overblown. But it is action. Maybe that Facebook "like" or that purchase will lead to the next step of active engagement. Maybe not, and that doesn't mean they're meaningless acts (though the cynic in me might think otherwise).

Using social media tools for your cause depends primarily upon whether the people interested in
the topics you're seeking to affect, change, contribute to, infiltrate, etc. are there. If they are, why wouldn't you want to be?

If Facebook & Twitter went away tomorrow:

Would many of the connections be lost? Yes.
Would some stay on? Yes.
Would we be better off for it? Probably

Additional Reading: Here's a short list of reactions to Mr. Gladwell's piece (or related articles) that I thought were interesting (in no particular order):

  1. Twitter and Facebook cannot change the real world
  2. Sorry, Malcolm Gladwell, the revolution may well be tweeted
  3. FMC Wire: Malcolm Gladwell wins argument with self edition
  4. The Real Social Network
  5. The Great Brand Dilution
  6. Is digital activism an effective medium for change?
  7. Will social media take us to the barricades?