Monday, December 7, 2009

DARPA balloon challenge - how social networks perform under pressure

MIT won last Saturday’s DARPA balloon challenge. The Defense Department’s research agency paid a $40,000 prize to the first party to correctly identify the exact location (longitude, latitude) of ten red 8-foot weather balloons anchored in public places around the U.S. It was an experiment to test the response and behavior of social networks toward a large-scale, time-specific task.

I learned about it Friday night from my college daughter back east. I quickly attempted to mobilize the geekiest members of my personal network. (yes, if you got a message from me on Saturday, I consider you a geek.) Taxing my RAM, my computer screen flickered e-mail, Facebook, Twitter accounts and other websites all day.  I called a friend who’s an over-the-road trucker, thinking his chances of seeing a balloon were greater. What I needed was LEGIONS of truckers. I wasn’t surprised to learn that the brains at MIT won before sundown. But how?

CNN reported Sunday that MIT incentivized their extensive network and helped it grow by passing on the prize in tiers: $2000 went to anyone who found a balloon and reported its location (let’s call her Alice), $1000 went to the person that referred the finder (B for “Bob”). $500 went to the person that referred that person (“Charlie”), and $250 to the person who referred “Charlie.” MIT’s invitation page:

TIP: grow your network by aggressively rewarding the people who promote your operation. Referrals are golden!

The day before the challenge (Friday 12/4/09) MIT also reported the story to CNN’s citizen reporter page, called “iReport.”  These citizen networks are how news media outlets aim to keep up with social networks in getting the scoop on the news.

QUESTION: how are you regularly surveying your clients and/or involving them in your product/service development?

Yes, this is a glorified story of “word-of-mouth,” still and always the world’s most effective form of advertising. DARPA (and presumably MIT) will report more details on their findings later. See a map of the locations at the DARPA balloon challenge home page.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Big Money Twitter 12

Slate’s financial page The Big Money rated the top 12 corporate Twitter accounts. They all have more than 1 million followers. They all post several times a day. They are useful to their customers by getting right to the deal, or by connecting with a very human, personal tone. Twitter is becoming essential in a cyber-fast marketing environment.

Small shops, non-profits and celebrities will find that building a following requires a facility with one’s smart phone. Ideas come at all hours of the day, and you will sometimes want to pull the car over and compose and send a good message.

There are hundreds, thousands of great ways to use Twitter. But please, edit thyself. Be interesting. No more dinner plans or bedtime announcements, unless you are inviting the rest of us to join you.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Tiger Woods - what damage control looks like

(This just in: Tiger Woods has handled the tabloids and his critics with today’s written apology posted to his website.  By acknowledging his “personal sins,” most people believe that Tiger is confessing to adultery, which is still considered a serious breach of integrity. Integrity is a sibling of credibility, and credibility means everything in the product endorsement world.)

Tiger Woods’ domestic issues aside, what are the marketing implications of his weekend “incident?” It depends.

First, remember that most endorsement contracts have a “morals” clause. If you get caught chasing children with lollipops, or torturing animals, don’t expect you will still be able to endorse anything. (Denver area radio talk show host Peter Boyles asked his audience if Tiger should rise above such tawdry business because “golf is a gentlemen’s game.” Have you ever heard the language on a PGA golf course? Never mind that professional athletes on the road are assaulted with all manner of temptation.)

Second, Americans are extremely forgiving of its sports heroes. For goodness sake, it took years for people to finally tire of Bobby Bonds’ steroid use and turn a disapproving eye, and that was after he eclipsed Hank Aaron’s home run record. There persists a campaign to get admitted gambler Pete Rose into the Hall of Fame. We’ll even put up with colossally bad judgment from Kobe Bryant or Alex Rodriguez, if they play for our team.

All that to say, in a few months, no matter what happens to his marriage, or for what reason, people will watch Tiger whenever and wherever he plays. If he keeps winning, his fan base will endure. (Winning is everything.)

If he patches things up at home, and if he goes on Oprah or 60 Minutes with a sufficient amount of mea culpa, he will be entirely forgiven, and he can hold on to most of his commercial largesse. (CNBC’s Darren Rovel grades Tiger’s major endorsement deals with Accenture, American Express, AT & T, Buick, Electronic Arts, Gillette, Nike, and Tag Heuer.)  Besides, the target audience for Tiger’s products are mostly adults and mostly men, and every guy in the room TOTALLY understands the issues in play.

Crisis communications is about speed (getting out in front of the story) and accountability. Here is what a full apology includes (not the “I’m sorry if anyone was offended”). The offender must:

• acknowledge that he has not met the public’s reasonable expectations (don’t run in to fire hydrants in the middle of the night),
• explain why he crossed the line (anger issues, substance abuse, temporary insanity, etc.), and
• what he will do to not repeat the offense (rehab, restitution, accountable relationships, good friends and strong family).

This public display requires looking into at the interviewer, eye-to-eye, and expressing both regret (which looks like sorrow) and responsibility (manning up, owning the issue, not flinching or deflecting or excusing). Don’t blame the tabloids.  Don't go on TV to plea for privacy.  Your job in this interivew is humility and contrition, and maybe some talk about golf. The lawsuit is for later.  The privacy debate is for later.

The speed factor: I would retreat with the family to get through the holidays and try to book an appearance early in 2010, far enough ahead of his first tournament so that the two events to not look connected.

A word on Mrs. Woods: yes, inquiring minds want to know (about everything), but really, she is legitimately off limits. I hope our society gets over its attitude that it is entitled to all the details of anyone’s life. Someone must say no to TMZ, no to the National Enquirer, no to the Daily Tattler and the Weekly World News. The Woods family might be the ones to do it. Mrs. Woods should NOT appear on any interview show anywhere, at any time. Do NOT open that door. (I’m counting on the Woods family for one huge lawsuit against the tabloids. The Enquirer’s story now appears faulty, but it flushed out another woman’s story in US Weekly. More women will get paid by the tabloids to tell their story.)

Yes, Chavis Crew Communications handles crisis communications. I hope you never need my services, but if you ever do…

By the way, do you ever wonder why celebrity endorsements sway our buying patterns in the first place?