Saturday, February 20, 2010

Born to Brand – Adam Metz, Metz Consulting

This is one of several in a series of interviews, all part of a larger book project tentatively titled “Social Media Success: What these Folks Know that You Don’t.” (Also see my interviews with Louis Gray, Francine Hardaway, and commentary.)

Adam Metz is the Principal of Metz Consulting, a San Francisco-based management consulting firm that works with brands to to acquire, monetize and retain what he terms the "social customer." I first met Adam when was the Social Media Director at LaunchSquad, an SF digital PR firm where I also worked. He stood out a mile with his crazy checked shirts and turbo-charged energy, even in that hyperactive environment.

At the time, he was one of the few people around who knew social media well enough to advise others about it. Turns out, he’s still ahead of the curve. Eighteen months later he’s running his own firm, working with an enviable list of clients that includes several California wineries, numerous apparel brands, Mighty Leaf Tea, SF Convention and Visitors Bureau and  a handful of consumer service brands.

Our interview is slated to take place in person, but at the last minute he apologetically calls to say he’s sick (“something that never happens to me!”). I tap out our interview from a Tully’s on Van Ness, using a combination of my iPhone and AIM to communicate with him. Throughout our interview, he IMs me links and information without ever losing the flow of conversation.

When I ask him what he does for his clients, he answers that Metz Consulting is not unlike any other management consulting firm. They help clients better serve their customers. The difference? Well, for one thing, there are still only a handful of firms that exclusively offer social customer management consulting to mid-sized consumer brands. (His best known competitor is Altimeter Group.)

There are other distinctions. He uses a combination of strategy and customer relationship management (CRM) software that automates the complex and difficult tasks associated with brand management in today’s social media saturated world. We live in a time when like it or not, customers can (and do) say anything they like about a company on very public forums such as Twitter and Facebook. As their advisor, Adam’s number one priority is getting companies to a place where they can track and monitor and engage about everything that is being said about them. This means they can respond in ways that go way beyond crisis management.

Ultimately, they learn how to tap into consumer loyalty and enthusiasm.

“We don’t feel it’s enough to write a social web strategy,” he said. “All collateral has to go to one source. One dashboard. They need to prove a successful ROI. We’re the only shop getting certified by Salesforce Oracle and Microsoft Dynamics.”

An example: one of Metz’s clients’ customers (a thirty-something man) went out to a winery on a Friday night with his wife for their sixth anniversary. Despite a reservation, the couple had to wait an inordinate period of time. They were eventually seated and then all but ignored by the wait staff. Enraged, the man tweeted about his experience. Normally, that would’ve been the end of it, but instead, says Adam, “we immediately got it to them. The chef got through, texted and tweeted a response. The couple got a free tasting dinner. And that person came back as a paying customer.”

“But why the focus on consumer brands? Isn’t high tech still where it’s at?” I ask. “I mean, don’t you miss Silicon Valley?”

“I talk to Silicon Valley companies every day. They’re partners now. Take (cloud sales 2.0 intelligence provider) InsideView. They used to be one of my clients. Now I implement their technology. There’s nothing more fun than going to wine tasting –as I’m planning to do tomorrow--and realizing, this is my client. I’m writing strategy for these folks.”

He talks of fun, but later in our conversation it comes out how dedicated he is to understanding each industry he serves. His engagements substantiate multi-million dollar returns, and he takes his clients intensely seriously. As he admits, if you see him on Muni, he’ll probably have his nose buried in BevNet or Gourmet Retailer—trade publications for the wine and food industries.

There’s another reason he’s chosen to focus on consumer brands. The word “enthusiast” sums it up. Folks often get deeply personal about their favorite beverage or hotel. To illustrate, he had me search for his dad’s favorite brand of scotch on Twitter, Lagavulin. The query yielded hundreds of tweets from around the world.

“There are more reviews on the latest Mighty Leaf tea flavor than there are on the new Dan Brown book on Amazon,” he tells me.

This is beyond brand enthusiasm—it is outright passion. Metz has clearly hit on something. And he’s not keeping it to himself. He’s working on his second book: Dance on the Volcano due out early next year on how to do a million-dollar social customer management implementation.

He describes the book in the following terms: “If Groundswell was Sgt. Pepper, this is Born to Run.” Nice analogy. Think I’ll use it in my headline.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

What SWA (and everyone else) can learn from my cats

Until recently I didn't think much about my cats' behavior. After a busy day at the office, all I really noticed about them was that they were hungry. Now that I work at home, I watch them throughout the day. Today it hit me: they're great role models for social media! Here are some of the rules I've come up with.

1. Wait before you pounce. And when you pounce, don't hesitate. Getting social media right takes guts. Here's a perfect recent example: Director Kevin Smith got into a tiff with Southwest Airlines last week when they threw him off one of their planes for being, as he put it, "Too Fat to Fly." It's true that SWA seemed to snap into action--sending him an apology, offering him an (ahem) $100 voucher--what they really did was react, and rather ineffectually at that. Their attitude is summed up in the weak and painful post they later wrote with the snarky headline "Not So Silent Bob" defending their actions. What would my cat Mitzy suggest? Either jump on him right away and sink your teeth in with blood lust coursing through your veins, or stalk off in a huff. Nothing in between.

2. Move around the house a lot. One of the biggest dangers of social media is that it's actually pretty darn interesting a lot of the time. It's easy to become over-involved. We get into twitfights, retweet everything in sight, stay up nights worrying about whether Google has made too many changes to Buzz, read every Mashable post we can get our hands on... Then one fine morning in May we wake up screaming. Our spouse has to hold us back as we threaten to flush our iPhone down the toilet or toss our Macbook off the top of the Empire State Building. Try thinking of the social web as a sunny place by the window where you go to watch the world go by, talking to the birds and squirrels and (if things get dull) plants. After a bit, you jump off the sill and do something else, knowing it will all still be there when you return. And what better way to break up the day than to take a nice cat nap as my cat Clarence might?

3. Know when to sit in the shade, and when to sit in the sun. I've noticed that out on our back deck, there are definitely sunny spots, and then there are spots under the plastic lawn chair. More often than not, Clarence will have commandeered one of these spaces, while Mitzy or Shnitzy will have settled into one of the others. No one seems to mind who is where. Same goes for social networking. Sometimes you want to be in the center of a discussion. You want to be the one who starts a certain thread on Facebook, Twitter, your own blog, a community site because you've got something to say and you want to lead the discussion in certain ways. There are other times when it's more appropriate and useful to be a follower. Yet, what tends to happen is that people fall into one of these two categories habitually, based on their personality or level of influence. Don't be like that. Follow the flow of conversation, and know when to hang back or step up.

4. If you want attention, go and get it. My cats all seem to have been trained by the same assertiveness coach. If someone rebuffs you, ignore their rebuff and come pinging back up onto the sofa demanding a better attitude. Who among the humans does this? Ever heard of Gary Vaynerchuck? How about Guy Kawasaki? Timothy Ferriss? Seth Godin? Robert Scoble? These are not people who are known for being willing to take "no" for an answer. They plow ahead, ignoring the multiple knocks they get along the way and demand that the world notice them. Just like my cat Mitzy, who does not care how many times I throw her off my lap when she wants me to "groom" her. This is a rather unpleasant task as she likes to press her teeth against my hand while slobbering profusely. But nothing--and I mean nothing--will stop her trying to get me to do this when she sets her mind to it. That is, until she herself eventually decides to move on to another activity (see Rule 2).

5. Only meow when you really need help. When I started out in social media, I had so many questions. I wasn't sure how to go about jumping into the tweetstream, and became obsessed for a time with my analytics. I felt I needed someone--some guru--to help me every step of the way. Pretty soon, however, I became the person people turned to for this kind of advice. I now understood why I got so many brush-offs and blank stares. The problem is, social media is a complex arena. Anyone who claims to have it all figured out is kidding you, and probably themselves as well. So, before you call out for help, consider this--you probably just need to hang in there and figure most of this out as you go along. If you legitimately need some guidance, hire a professional.

6. Know when to use your claws. The online world has always had a bit of a rough and tumble element to it. Those of us who started out in forums, chat rooms and Yahoo! Groups remember the flaming that used to go on. That's settled down a bit, but there are still some pretty ugly smackdowns. Some of us are too sensitive and forget we even have claws. We let ourselves get walked all over. Others of us are just the opposite. We'll scratch you in the face before we recognize that it's all been a big misunderstanding. Know when to get involved, and when to back the hell off and retract those claws.

So you see, cats are amazing models of behavior that apply to myriad social media situations. Perhaps you have other rules to add to this list. If so, please feel free to use the comments field below. And Clarence, Mitzy and Shnitzy say they're also taking catnip donations.

Top picture: Mitzy and Shnitzy Mugrabi
Middle picture: Clarence Mugrabi
Photos: Leor Mugrabi

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Barbie - OK so I'm a little obsessed

I didn't have a Barbie doll as a kid. I found her mile-long legs and major boobage a bit too much to handle, and instead was content with a redheaded, slightly tomboyish pre-teen doll named "Angie." All my friends who did own Barbie ended up torturing her in various ways: taking scissors to her hair, thus transforming her into unintentially "punk rock" Barbie, poking holes in her boobs with pins, unscrewing her head and other body parts. It was not unusual, in my childhood, to sit around someone's bedroom surrounded by an array of severed limbs, headless torsos, and staring blue eyes under ratted hairdos.

Still, I couldn't help but be elated when I heard about "Computer Engineer Barbie" -- the newest, and most revolutionary version of the doll since gay leather guy Ken. Computer Engineer Barbie is outfitted with a pink laptop, a shirt with binary code stamped all over it, and a pair of designerey specs (also pink), among other accessories. True, it's a little nauseating to see her tossing her blond locks back so as to make way for a bluetooth. But when I think about a nine-year-old girl geek in training opening this gift and seeing her inner self reflected by such a glamourous, iconic doll, my heart soars.

The whole thing has caused a major stir among techies, who are raising all manner of interesting questions about her high plastickeyness and her new career move. Claire Cain Miller notes in the New York Times "Bits" blog that this is a major step forward from the days when Teen Talk Barbie infamously declared "Math class is tough." And Infosmack's Greg Knieriemen blogs that it could make geeky women in the real world "self-conscious" to see the blonde bombshell take on such a techy career. 

As the BBC wonders, are Barbie's wedge shoes practical for someone who will be crawling under desks in order to hook up cables? To which tech journalist Beth Pariseau retorts, "since when has Barbie been about reality?"

Exactly! And therein lies I suppose my new obsession with Computer Engineer Barbie. She is and always has been the stuff of fantasy. When I was little, I liked to play out all manner of daily lives with my dolls. Well, here's a new story for this new Barbie:

Barbie sets her alarm for 7:30 a.m. and leaps out of bed to beat the early morning rush at her local Starbucks. Ken, who works part-time as a male model these days, rolls over and goes back to sleep. Fine with her. She jumps in her Barbie Dream Prius and zooms off onto the Hot Wheels highway to the office park.

She arrives at work just in time to be called in to intervene in a major meltdown at the data center. Someone was up late and now the VMs are waaay overprovisioned. Silly overzealous Lego boys. She'll put things right. Grabs one of their leftover helmets and dives into the virtual zone headfirst, ensuring that there are no more bottlenecks between servers and storage.

She starts by swimming between each zero and one and making all the changes in the living ether of binary code inside the toyland server. It's like sorting out a bowl of spaghetti-O's, she thinks to herself. Her earlier years as a spoiled teenager in Malibu have well prepared her for such tasks. She used to get so bored she would pile up her soup noodles in all kinds of patterns. Partly an attempt to delve into the potential for a unified field theory, and partly a way to pass the time before Skipper got home and they could continue their ongoing chess game.

Now she swims to the surface, and enters the monitor from the inside. The code is all in mirror language, as she's on the other side of it. She enjoys the challenge of interpreting it from this point of view. But wait, could it be lunchtime? Time to have a cheeseburger with extra fries. Sure, this could mean that her waist will grow to an entire inch in circumference, but what's Ken going to do about it? He needs that shared health insurance plan.

Good luck, Computer Engineer Barbie! Or, put another way: 01010111011001010010000001101100011011110111

Friday, February 12, 2010

How to overcome social media phobia

Social media means a lot of things to a lot of companies. One thing it means more than anything else is loss of control. Marketing folks will put on a good face about social media in public, but when they sit down with me, their fears start to spill out.

When I first began consulting with companies about social media, I had a simple, standard answer to this. You have already lost control. Your message is no longer in your hands. It's out there being tossed around like a hacky sack by anyone with an iPhone or a PC. The horse has left the barn. The train, the station. Pick your hackneyed metaphor--you get the point. As someone recently noted: dissatisfied customers were always there, but now they have the platforms on which to complain publicly. Ignore them at your peril.

As accurate as this response is, I'm beginning to realize it's not always that sympathetic or useful. We all know intellectually that the online world has invaded the bubblelike atmosphere of the corporate one. Folks in marketing aren't stupid. They see the writing on the wall. But human nature is to respond in one of three ways when threatened: fight, flight or freeze. And to be honest, freezing is the most common response. Unfortunately, in the real world, this is the least preferable of all three.

Creativity is the antidote. Once you start thinking about what you would like to see--your ideal outcome--the fears are put into their proper place. Here's an example: EMC, a company that very well might have as many detractors as it does fans due to its size and influence. Rather than shying away from controversy, the company grabbed hold of the social media trend and ran with it in ways that few other companies have. Recent evidence of this: their blogs swept through and took the top four slots in a recent poll of storage vendor blogs.

The strategy is simple. Get out of the way and let those inside the company evangelize, argue, and otherwise engage with anyone and everyone who might be trash talking about them. Some have even given themselves names to underline their controversial attitudes, "Storagezilla," "The Storage Anarchist." EMC also made a shrewd move when it allowed employees to generate their own blogs, rather than keeping them in a playpen under the company banner. This sets them apart from competitor NetApp, which has had significantly less success with its blogging efforts.

They're also building networks from within, as this recent slideshow illustrates. All of which adds up to an energetic community that is engaged in social media on multiple fronts in a way that few companies can boast. This is just one example, but one I've been watching closely in order to model it for the smaller operations I tend to work with. There is a certain bullheadedness in they're approach that goes against the grain for most of us. There's also a sense of play and creativity. In short, this is the opposite of how most of us respond to scary situations.

What are you doing to combat your fears about losing control of your message? If it's not something that goes against your first impulse, it might not be enough.