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Most of us agree that trust is one of the foundational elements of strong relationships – and we seek it earnestly. That’s also true for brands.

The great democratizing effect of the Internet age has provided many benefits for all of us as consumers. Brands and businesses have enjoyed benefits too and many are realizing the opportunity to develop genuine consumer relationships.

If you live in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, join WCG and other business leaders from the Twin Cities on May 7th for a thought provoking event that will highlight ways you and your brand can effectively develop credibility with your audiences.

Our panel of experts from well-respected Fortune 500 companies will share their view of the power of influence and how they are transparently enhancing consumer trust, in contextually relevant ways.

Networking Cocktail Hour (4:00p-5:00p)

Panel Discussion (5:00p-6:30p)

  • Mike Fernandez, Corporate Vice President, Cargill
  • Michael Torres, Senior Director, office of PepsiCo Vice Chair and Global R&D
  • Kelli Carlson, VP, Social Engagement Leader, Wells Fargo
  • David Kersten, VP, Global Communications, Honeywell

Networking Cocktail Hour (6:30p-7:30p)

Click here to register for the event: http://mpls2015.eventbrite.com

If you’re like most people, your online behavior often takes you to your most keen interests. Whether you’re an avid cyclist or a dedicated fan of a particular college basketball team, you tend to congregate with others who have that same interest. The fact is there’s a gravitational pull to niche, online. And, some niches (is that a word?) are larger than others.

So what, right? Here are three quick points – you will likely have others.

1)    Influencers, advocates and enthusiasts. There are influencers in nearly all communities and they are distinct from advocates and enthusiasts, in my view. For a variety of reasons, some people just have more influence. Sometimes, influential voices result from being first to the spot. However, this isn’t always sustainable in the online world. Just like a revolution, they’re quickly overrun by the more ardent. The lasting influencers often have a keen sense of “what’s next,” a logical viewpoint that’s easily expressed, or sometimes they’re just good writers. Other influencers have a knack for connecting – most of us know someone like this. When they hear something of interest, they have a skill for efficiently spreading the news to their network and it tends to resonate beyond their network.

Enthusiasts are the loyal and devoted listeners, who sometimes contribute to the conversations but more often than not, are the consistent sponges of the content. Advocates are activated enthusiasts who spread the word outside the community, usually just to their own network.

If you’re a brand, it’s advisable to know the differences in members of communities relevant to your brand. And, if you have something of value to contribute to the influencers and the congregation as a whole, you can participate and capitalize. You can operationalize these activities at scale.

2)    Adjacent or related passion areas. When you thoroughly study the conversations in your communities, you will likely discover adjacent interests. When examining the conversations of a ridiculously famous candy brand, we found that more than one-third of the conversations were about recipes. Discovering and sharing user-generated, brand-specific content around this passion area drove engagement rates significantly higher for the brand. This is replicable for most brands.

3)    Narrow targets. If you’re a brand, it’s beneficial to narrowly define your target. Doing so will assist in finding the congregations important for your brand.

So, the next time you go online and convoke with others who share your same strong interest, think about where you fit. Are you an influencer, an advocate, an enthusiast? Probably more importantly, where do your brands’ advocates and influencers congregate? They’re out there and they’re following the gravitational pull to a niche near you. Let’s find them.

“It’s not me, it’s you” – a familiar relationship phrase you’ve either used or perhaps even had spoken to you, except you might notice it’s significantly altered. In a different type of relationship, that of a client and an agency, the altered phrase should be the one that clients hear from their agencies.

For the past few years, I’ve had the privilege of working on the client side with some of the most-loved brands in the nation. Yoplait, Cheerios, Progresso, Nature Valley and others at General Mills, as well as Reese’s and the many brands at Hershey, have legions of dedicated consumers. During my time with these brands, I worked with several agencies and had some great working relationships and some that were just okay.

There are lots of lessons to bring back to the agency side, but probably none more important than the philosophy that the clients’ goals have to be first, so to clients I say, “It’s not me, it’s you.” Sounds very elementary, I know. However, the most successful agency relationships truly put my brands’ goals first. Those agencies weren’t blatantly trying to grow their business by always pitching to do more work and meet more potential clients within the building. Ironically, these successful agencies did receive more work and meet more potential clients within the company.

Agencies should deliver great ideas or strategy and then follow up with excellent execution, all while putting the brands’ goals first. What results is trust, which most people agree is the foundation of successful relationships. And, trust grows over time.

One of those successful agency relationships was with WCG. A phrase I heard from one of my main contacts was, “whatever’s right for your business.” So, in addition to being ahead of the curve with what’s next in digital, WCG put my brands first. I also liked that WCG had one P&L, which meant it was easier to do the right thing for my brands.

Back to the title of this post, today I’m pleased to announce that I have joined that agency, WCG, to lead our soon-to-be opened Midwest office, located in the Twin Cities. I’m really looking forward to helping brands achieve their goals because it truly is about “you,” not “me.”

 

With the 2013 version of SxSW Interactive in the books, it’s time for a look back on highlights, key trends (or lack of) and links to some of the awesome content we collected during the several events that we hosted during the event.

For starters, there really weren’t any big technologies that shined through at this SXSW like we’ve had at past events. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but likely more of an indication that it’s becoming harder and harder to break through all the noise at SXSW Interactive. There was a larger corporate presence than ever this year and that will likely be a continuing theme over the next few years as companies continue to embrace, grow and operationalize social, digital and mobile into their corporate DNA.

Social Commerce Summit

For W2O Group in particular, we had a very successful set of of events that kicked off with our Social Commerce Summit on Thursday, March 7. During this six hour event, we had 19 speakers each give 10 minute TED-like talks. The talks covered a range of topics including love, marriage and creating brand passion. We know it’s a lot of content but we hope you’ll take the time to watch the video (or at least read the highlights in the blog posts) from the speakers below.

We also had a few nice write ups from the event by former PR Week/current Holmes Report writer, Aarti Shah (here) and friend of W2O, Lisa Grimm (here).

In particular, we would like to thank our sponsors, Sysomos and BazaarVoice, for making all of our events during SXSW possible. They were (and are) great partners.

 

W2O Group Open House/Live from Stubbs Video Podcasts

While there weren’t any breakthrough companies this year at SXSW, we did have a number of themes crop up during our Social Commerce Summit and then again during our Live from Stubbs podcast tapings during our open house on Friday, March 8. In particular we heard a lot about big data, mobile, analytics and the operationalization of digital across the organization from many of our speakers/guests. There was also a significant amount of interest in our partner, SnapTrends, technology that provides for location-based analytics, a topic that W2O is quite bullish on.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be embedding the Live from Stubbs videos in blog posts on our Common Sense blog. In the meantime, you can check out all of the videos on our Youtube channel here. You can also read my Live from Stubbs co-host, Kyle Flaherty’s summary of our interview with Youtube’s Jeben Berg, here. When Kyle is not podcasting he is the VP of marketing at local analytics firm, 21CT who was kind enough to sponsor our Live from Stubbs videos. I would also like to thank local video production and strategy company, UPG for all of their brilliant work with both the Live from Stubbs videos as well as recording/editing all of our Social Commerce videos.

Geek-a-cue

Of course SXSW wouldn’t be what it is without a party. And party we did at our 4th annual Geek-a-cue on Saturday night at Franklin BBQ (ranked best BBQ in the U.S. by Bon Appetit Magazine). Fortunately the rain held off this year allowing us to eat fantastic BBQ, enjoy the brilliant music of local favorite, Monte Montgomery, share a few beverages, take funny photos in our photo booth and play a little Corn Hole out behind the tent.

This short video shot and produced by UPG does a wonderful job of summing up this fabulous event.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l_TYROYXApk[/youtube]

We also need to thank Natalee Norwood and Spoiled Doves for producing our Geek-a-cue. Without all her creativity, foresight and elbow grease, this event wouldn’t be what it was. Thank you to Aaron and Stacy Franklin and the Franklin staff for use of their venue and all the mouth watering BBQ they served up with smiles on their faces.

Digital Brunch

Capping off the week, we hosted a digital brunch at our East Austin offices. In spite of threats of rain, the springing ahead of the clocks and a lot of hung over SXSW attendees, we still enjoyed over 125 visitors to our new offices. The petting zoo, chair massages, drinks (alcoholic and caffeinated) and gourmet brunch courtesy of local restaurant/catering company, Dai Due, probably didn’t hurt.

Biggest thanks of all go to the dream team at W2O Group of Erin Disney, Stephanie Layton, Blaire Borochoff and Katrina Hallowell for their months of hard work putting these events together. Huge props also go to our CEO, Jim Weiss and President, Bob Pearson for making these events possible. Last but not least, a shout out to all of our W2O Group employees who volunteered/attended as well as our clients for being an integral part of our SXSW experience. Thank you!

Last but not least, we also had a little fun with our #sxswpickuplines this year. Details are here. Video that put the cherry on the cake is below.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nR6kVwM2Gp8[/youtube]

Speakers at the W2O Social Commerce Summit continue to challenge the audience with new ways of viewing the digital and social worlds in which we interact every day. Keeping the momentum going was David Witt, Director, Global Digital Marketing and Brand Public Relations, The Hershey Company (and 2012 WOMMA Board Chair), who returned again for the pre-SXSW event. Witt provided his thoughts on the evolution of social media from both a consumer and a brand perspective in this presentation.

When Witt commands the room, we’ve come to expect a strong perspective on the the present, a clarified vision of the future, and a whole bunch of quotables … a few of the tops included:

  • Paid practices are (inevitably) leaking into the social space.
  • (Paraphrasing someone else): Someone let advertising agencies into Twitter through the side door. It will be difficult to get them out.
  • Social WILL BE the new CRM (customer resource management).

Do you have a perspective on Social Commerce? As we kick off SXSWi 2013, tell us what you think about this emerging field and the impact it will have on the future of marketing and communications.

I’ve always been a fan of gaining the wisdom of the crowd. And when you listen to the right crowd, you can learn a lot. This is why I have asked industry leaders to step back for a second and share an important insight of relevance to all of us in 2012. Note that we are not going for the “cool trend”. Rather, we are talking about what really matters as we move ahead from the perspective of an organization.

Here is “what’s next and important for 2012:”

Becky Brown, Director Social Media Strategy, Intel – “To understand the young generation, you need to hire them!”

Fifty percent of the world’s population is under the age of 30, and in the world of marketing, there are probably very few brands that don’t classify them in some form as their target audience. This is the first generation where technology is part of their life, and as a result they are the highest users of social media, and 24/7 connected. It’s one thing to have research teams watch their behavior and write reports, but having them become part of the teams that create and implement the programs to reach them is even more critical. They inherently know what’s “in” and the trends because this is their new life. For marketers, we have to consider that this younger generation wants to be included in this new era of a socially connected world, and they want to make a change…for the good of the world. Instead of looking at your talent pool by the years of experience, we must consider the experience the new generation brings and how they add a unique and fresh perspective on how to innovate and resonate. There’s nothing more powerful than having someone on your staff to ask during a meeting “is this cool”, and you get a candid “definitely cool” to validate your ideas.

David Witt, Global Digital Marketing & Brand Public Relations, The Hershey Company & 2012 WOMMA Board Chair – “Showing Favoritism – differentiating between fans and advocates”

Just having fans isn’t enough anymore. Brands’ use of the terms advocates and advocacy skyrocketed a couple of years ago. We will begin seeing earnest efforts to develop real advocates and generate measurable advocacy (WOM) for brands.

Chuck_Leavell, Founder & Director Environmental Affairs, Mother Nature Network & Keyboardist, The Rolling Stones – “Green Still Growing”

…and Green knowledge is growing in new ways. Mother Nature Network, which Chuck co-founded with Joel Babbit, has more than 3.5 million unique visitors each month, proving how important it is to share perspective on our environment. Many environment-focused sites limit “your world” to only “your planet.” However, as our knowledge of what green means grows, it is encompassing many different aspects of our lives (family, health, lifestyle, business, community and our planet). In a nutshell, it used to be that scientists, activists and experts were the ones driving all of the conversations and learning online. Now, the world’s 2.1 billion people online are making this type of learning mainstream in their lives. Green is growing, since the “rest of us” are getting more engaged.

Andy Sernovitz, Founder and CEO, Socialmedia.org – “Social media stops being about the tools and more about the customers”

CXOs will stop asking “are we using Twitter, Facebook, or Platform X” and they’ll start asking “Are we there for our customer wherever and whenever they need us, irrespective of media or technology?” Because serving customers is what it’s all about.

Michael Marinello, Senior Advisor, Bloomberg Philanthropies & C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group –“Urban sustainability is arguably the defining concept of our time”

Its possibilities and its urgency have become top-of-mind for all manner of thinkers. Artists and industrialists; philosophers and physicians are joining the league of policymakers, engineers and economists who see cities as our future. Cities have long been emblematic of innovation and “what’s next.” In tackling climate change issues, as an example, cities are forging solutions while nations and international bodies are stuck in neutral. Solutions in buildings and transportation; enabling sustainable economic growth and better quality of life for citizens in urban areas; as well as actions to prepare for droughts, floods and storms that often affect the most vulnerable populations. By developing and implementing policies and programs; and by working together, sharing knowledge and borrowing ideas, cities are steadily transforming urban infrastructure and systems. And the collective success of these individual cities is benefiting all of us. It is no surprise that TED announced the unprecedented step of awarding its annual prize not to a person, but to a concept: The City 2.0.

Yann Gourvennec, Director of Digital and Social Media, Orange Group – “The end of social media … as we knew it”

Change is happening now. Four to five years of social media practice in the enterprise world have shown us that the social web is pertinent to business and – when used properly – it can enhance our online and even offline reputations. Yet, so many years later, social media can no longer be considered an “innovation”. We need to structure our initiatives if we want to get through the rough patches ahead and thrive beyond 2012. This implies that those who haven’t done so already cease to use social media as a standalone or lame advertising practice but integrate it into their core activities. For example, start with these good old websites of ours which need to be made social. I don’t believe that the Web is dead, but it is certainly being turned into something new, more interactive and more social, which encompasses social media; not the other way round. And it’s happening today.

I can’t resist. I’ll add in one more – “Key aspects of the marketing model will change forever”

We have seen much innovation in social media the last few years. In 2012, we’re going to see the first big shifts to evolve how we conduct media planning and buying, how we conduct market research, how we utilize search and much more. Think about it for a second. We will be able to create media plans based on watching the traffic of our customers, ranging from which sites they visit to what content they prefer to who they actually influence. Market research will start to focus more on understanding online behavior first (long-term, sub-conscious behavior) vs. doing primary research first (short-term knowledge). And search, well, it will evolve in several critical ways. Imagine the convergence of e-commerce and search, the rise of search engines as emerging rivals to Amazon.com for the selling of goods and the relevance of local search to understand what is being said in real-time by street address by store.

I want to thank my colleagues for sharing their insights. This is truly a unique, diverse and valuable collection of insights for the business world.

Happy New Year!

Bob

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