Improve Communication: Think Visually

October 19, 2011

blah blah blah

Book Review
Blah Blah Blah: What to Do When Words Don’t Work.
By Dan Roam.
Portfolio/Penguin Books, 2011.  350 p.

Nothing helps us see a vague idea more clearly than trying to draw it out.

Dan Roam is all about clear communication, and his two previous books make that very clear.

His previous two books, The Back of the Napkin and  Unfolding the Napkin: The Hands-On Method for Solving Complex Problems with Simple Pictures, also demonstrate how we do ourselves a disservice by limiting our communication to words.

This book expands on his central idea that we can, and should, communicate much more clearly by drawing simple pictures to help us clarify our message.

Throughout eons of human development, Roam says, our ability to think has evolved along two different paths. One path specialized in seeing the world as lots of little pieces (Roam’s fox character, clever, witty, and linear), while the other path specialized in looking at the world as a whole (Roam’s hummingbird character, quick, exuberant, and spatial).

Only in the past 5,000 years did we begin the gradual shift to writing words. Now that we find ourselves facing some of the most difficult challenges of all time, we suddenly realize that “we’ve lost half our mind.”

With simple and very clear illustrations, he demonstrates how we can “get our visual mind back” by combining our our piece-by-piece (fox) and all-at-once (hummingbird) views.

In words and pictures, Roam illustrates Einstein’s theory of relativity, the evolution of Starbuck’s coffee from Peet’s, Bernie Madoff’s investment scams, Coca-Cola’s marketing of VitaminWater, the history of the SAT test, and the development of communication from cave wall paintings to the alphabet.

Characters who make informative appearances include Leno and Conan, The Medicis and the Rothschilds, Abraham Maslow, Leonardo da Vinci, Edwin Land, and Dmitri Mendeleyev.

When Roam began The Back of the Napkin about five years ago, he started by asking, “If simple visuals are so powerful, why don’t more people use them?” Then he later realized his starting question was only half-right. The question isn’t “Why don’t more people think with pictures?,” because we DO think in pictures, all the time. The real question is, “Why have we forgotten that?” Blah Blah Blah is his answer.

As in The Back of the Napkin, Roam offers tools to make it easier for us to think about and share complex ideas. The Napkin tools focused almost entirely on the pictorial, but the tools in this book show us how to combine our visual and verbal minds.

One fundamental premise of this book is that we don’t need all the customary blah-blah-blah to get our message across. Regardless of what we want to say, we can make any idea clear and compelling, both to our audience and to ourselves. By learning to engage both our verbal mind and our visual mind we can improve any piece of communication.

Every good idea can be made clearer,  every missing idea can be found, and every misleading or fraudulent idea can be exposed.


Serve niche groups through social media

March 30, 2011

social media playbook

Book review
Social media playbook for business: Reaching your online community with Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and more.
By Tom Funk.
Praeger, 2011. 263 p.

Patagonia, REI, L.L.Bean, and Orvis don’t use social media primarily to sell outdoor gear. They promote hiking, biking, paddling, fly fishing, climbing, surfing—the activities their customer enjoy. These companies also take a principled social stand on conservation, global warming, and the health of oceans and streams.

Companies that succeed in social media are those that emphasize a “bigger idea” surrounding their business, says Tom Funk, author of Social Media Playbook (2011) and Web 2.0 & Beyond (2008).

Tom Funk has been involved in e-commerce and Web publishing since 1995. His goal with this book is to help businesses succeed in social media, the “fastest-growing cultural trend of our  time.” The many social media case studies he presents result from interviews with businesses owners nationwide and from researching small mom-and-pops and big multinationals.

As do so many authors on the subject, Funk emphasizes that social media is not a marketing channel. In fact, social media is anti-marketing. It’s simply a communication platform. Smart companies use this platform for listening to, and corresponding with, followers and customers, particularly in the areas of customer outreach, focus grouping, shareholder services, PR, and R&D.

Along the way Funk offers 15 Facebook tips for business, 12 tips for successful corporate twittering, 9 steps for making the most of LinkedIn, and 5 ways you can really screw up on LinkedIn.

Funk says the 7 sweet spots for social media are lifestyle brands; social, political, and charitable causes; organizations run by a charismatic and well-connected leader; service businesses where the person IS the business; entertainment businesses; celebrities; and businesses that serve hobbyists or special interest communities.

For example, Nikon’s Digital Learning Center connects with passionate photographers on Flickr, the world’s biggest photo-sharing service. Nikon’s presence there is not primarily to sell cameras, but to build a user community and to promote image sharing. Explore Chicago connects with travelers through a Twitter feed, podcasts, YouTube videos, a Facebook presence, a Flickr photo pool, and a YouTube channel.

Social media works really well for very specific communities. For example, Middlebury College builds a Facebook page for every graduating class. Some travel and adventure companies create a new Facebook page for each tour group in advance. Prior to departure, travelers get to know their tour leaders and their fellow travelers-to-be.

Scissor-maker Fiskar creates ‘blog ambassadors’ or ‘Fiskateers’ who support the online scrapbooking community. Fiskars says this fan group reduces advertising expenses, generates a dozen product ideas a month, and has increased sales 300 percent.

Funk details social media initiatives by LEGO, Pepsi, Gardener’s Supply, Gap Adventures, Victoria’s Secret, Hips and Curves, Skechers footware, Zappos, Lipton Brisk, Wine of the Month Club,, and

Three big traps to avoid include abandoning company blogs, Facebook pages, and Twitter feeds; selling fake relationships; and outsourcing social media work and giving an agency free rein.

It’s relatively easy to quantify one’s investment in social media, Funk says:  Count the people-hours and any spent. The hard part is quantifying the return. He recommends totaling up direct sales referrals and quantifying the likely worth of email signups and catalog requests. Then try to attach a value to each new fan or follower. Although these numbers will likely be arbitrary, he says, it’s important to come up with some model, then keep it consistent, and track it. As long as you don’t change your assumptions, your model should chart a useful trend line showing the business impact, month by month, of  your social media efforts.


March 20, 2011

gleick the information

Book review
The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood.
James Gleick.
Pantheon Books, 2011. 526 p.

The Information spoke to James Gleick. It instructed him to write a history of nearly everything that has been called information. The story would be scholarly, yet informal. It would contain 45 pages of notes and a 26-page bibliography.  Its 21-page index would include 10 entries for “information overload” and 19 entries for “information theory. The entertaining tale would incorporate substantial references to many people and many ideas, including but not limited to:

Abstraction, catalogues of information, cyberspace, evolution, mathematics, numbers, recursive procedures, telephone, writing.

Alrogithms, channels, energy, logic, machines, neurophysiology, randomness, thermodynamics, meaning, redundancy, quantum physics, time.

Alphabets, communication, error correction, measurement  of  information, networks, telegraphy, probability, symbolic logic, calculating machines, memes  and  memetics, Oxford English Dictionary.

Analytical Engines, culture, cryptography, electricity, knowledge, noise, quantum information science, self-replication, Turing machines.

Charles Babbage, bits, computation, Ada Lovelace, economics, genetics, patterns, signals and signaling,  thinking, uncertainty.

Bell Laboratories, code, English language, incompleteness theorem, memory, paradoxes,  Claude Shannon, transmission of information, entropy, language.

James Gleick ( is author of Chaos: Making a New Science; Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman and other titles including a biography of Isaac Newton, all of which served to prepare him for creating this epic tale.

Social networks trump traditional marketing efforts

March 16, 2011


Book Review

Socialnomics: how social media transforms the way we live and do business.
By Erik Qualman
Wiley Books, 2009, 2011. Revised edition. 296 p.

What’s the best Italian restaurant in Manhattan?  Fewer people care what Google thinks. They are going to social networks to see what their friends and peers think.

More than half the world’s population is under 30 years old. 96 percent of this group have joined a social network. Facebook tops Google for weekly traffic in the U.S.

Erik Qualman argues that social media has become the world’s largest focus group on steroids. Qualman is a consultant, global vice president of Online Marketing for EF Education, and an MBA professor at the Hult International Business School. He blogs at

He says that a small business owner who is only now just starting to practice social media can still succeed. First, define what success will look like. Then take these steps: (1) listen (2) interact (3) react (4) soft sell. If you only do step one, you will at least have a much better understanding about your business and also your customer. That is invaluable.

In this revised and updated edition of the 2009 edition Qualman shows how social media are changing consumer behavior and how businesses will benefit from understanding the phenomenon.

Did you know that more than half of the 50 million people who viewed Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin skits on SNL didn’t see them on television? They watched the skits on YouTube or within their social media network. Where is your advertising budget?

Through social networks consumers are getting more information, faster, and at no expense to them. As one example Qualman points to Zillow allows users and realtors to investigate the estimated values of various real estate properties. It aggregates various public data (most recent sales price, up-to-date selling prices of the surrounding houses, asking prices, quality of schools, etc.) into an algorithm to obtain the estimated property value. To augment this third-party data, Zillow allows its user base to update various aspects.

Consumers pay less attention to traditional advertising while they use social media to decide purchases. A parent in the market for a lightweight, safe, child car seat is likely to enter the query “buying a baby seat” into his social network. There he may discover that 23 of his 181 friends have purchased a baby seat in the last 2 years. Fourteen purchased the same make and model; the average price for the most popular model was $124.99; and 3 friends want to sell their used baby seats. Could traditional advertising match that depth of information?

The travel company TripAdvisor was an early company to embrace social commerce. Then in June 2010 it added the ability for a visitor to their site to view hotel ratings and to also see who in their Facebook network had stayed at that hotel. That is a game changer, Qualman says. This is what Socialnomics is all about:  The ability for me to see what my friends and peers think about anything and everything. Social networks provide insight into a user’s demographic (age, geography, occupation, etc.) and psychographic information (hobbies, clubs, networks, desires). In the past, advertisers often had to guess at this type of data. With social media, the user tells marketers what they have been trying to determine for years.

Qualman says brand budgets that historically went to television, magazine ads, and outdoor boards are moving to digital channels for three reasons: (1) the audience has moved there, (2) it’s more cost effective, and (3) it’s easier to track.  Qualman predicts that broadcast television will eventually be pushed through the Internet and a majority of content will be viewed on tablets and iPads.

But many executives ask: How do I measure the ROI of social media?  Qualman says some companies and marketers paralyze themselves by attempting to determine the ROI of social media. They use inappropriate tools and measurements. Qualman offers 34 quick statistics that point to ways social media can be measured:

Lenovo reduced expenses with a  20 percent reduction in call center activity as customers go to community websites for answers.

Dell sold $3 million dollars worth of computers on Twitter.

Software company reports that 24 percent of its social media leads convert to sales opportunities.

Qualman then offers 42 statistics that social media isn’t a fad: it’s a fundamental shift in the way we communicate, and provides answers to some of the more common that he has received from reporters and readers over the years.

Crowdsourcing and other powerful tools

February 17, 2011

enterprise social technology

Book Review
Enterprise social technology.
Helping organizations harness the power of social media, social networking, social relevance.
Scott Klososky.
Greenleaf Books, 2011. 279 p.

In Enterprise Social Technology Scott Klososky shows how to build  a holistic plan for incorporating social technology into corporate communications.

Klososky is also author of The Velocity Manifesto. He is former CEO of three startup companies, including Alkami Technology, an online banking platform.

He wants “to move the discussion past whether the CEO should be tweeting, or the organization developing a Facebook fan page.” Enterprise Social Technology clearly delineates how to integrate the full range of social tech tools to make a meaningful difference in an organization.

Social technology is not an assortment of software applications, he says, but a collection of new capabilities including user-generated content, microblogging, and e-communities.  Social technology involves
SOCIAL RELEVANCE, encompassing the online reputation of an individual or organization;

SOCIAL MEDIA, the use of Internet and mobile media (videos, documents, photos, slide presentations) for sharing ideas, messages, or entertainment; and

SOCIAL NETWORKING, reaching people through a variety of communication methods and online communities.

Each of the book’s 12 chapters describes one of the 12 steps in the process of implementing social technology into an organization. Some of his recommendations:

Establish teams to create social technology goals. Members should be aligned with wider organizational goals and should reflect the company’s values, mission, and vision.

When setting its social tech goals the organization should ask “Why do we do what we do?” Only when this purpose is clear are social tech goals assigned and aligned with the company’s broader mission.

Design an internal governance policy so that all employees know their positions when social technology is introduced. The policy statement should focus attention and resources on high-priority issues—aligning and merging efforts to achieve the institutional vision.

Develop a listening process, establish an engagement policy, that defines how you will respond to the positive and negative things said about you and your brand; and implement a measurement system that gauges how often people are talking about you online and whether the sentiments they express are positive or negative.

One of the book’s strengths is the many examples of social tech use. Klososky summarizes success stories from British Airways,, Dell, JetBlue, and even a small, family-run insurance agency in little Henderson, Ky.

Klososky emphasizes the power of crowdsourcing, which harnesses the power of talented people all across the Internet, without a need for the management structure and the overhead found in traditional outsourcing. Examples of crowdsourcing include,, Procter & Gamble’s,, Threadless, and vintner Gary Vaynerchuk’s Crush It!.

Although it’s difficult to measure the return on investment for social technology, Klososky says it can be done:
Measure the current effects of your social technologies.
Set objectives for ROI.
Determine social tech results needed to meet objectives.
Source and implement social tech measurement systems.
Measure results, compare to objectives, and adapt continuously.

Developing a pilot projects may be the most important step in your social tech strategy. Klososky cites examples of pilot programs that have helped companies and brands to achieve larger goals.

As a side note, when Klososky decided to write a book about social tech he was determined to practice what he preached. He used social technology, specifically crowdsourcing, to augment the book.  He created a detailed outline and wrote the first section and the last two chapters. Then he used to crowdsource the content for the other chapters. The whole book was then edited at least twice by both the publisher and Klososky.

You Are a Brand

February 7, 2011

branding yourself deckers lacy

Book Review
Branding yourself: how to use social media to invent or reinvent yourself.
Erik Deckers and Kyle Lacy
QUE BizTech/ Pearson, 2011. 283 p.

You may or may not be comfortable thinking of yourself as a ‘brand’ a la Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, or Facebook.

But considering your career as a brand will generate ideas that may help you reach your goals.

In Branding Yourself Erik Deckers and Kyle Lacy explain why you should promote yourself, how to build your online network, and how to succeed in ‘real world’ networking (public speaking, getting published, using your network to land a dream job).

Erik Deckers owns a social media agency and has been blogging since 1997. Kyle Lacy runs a digital marketing firm and blogs at, where he is ranked in the AdAge 150.

They emphasize the importance of establishing oneself as trustworthy and credible, carefully distinguishing this kind of branding from false advertising. Here they raise and develop themes developed by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith in Trust Agents and by Dan Schwabel in Me 2.0: Build a powerful brand to achieve career success.

If you ask 10 people to define personal branding you’ll get 10 different answers. Deckers and Lacy offer this: A brand is one’s emotional response to an image or to the name of a particular company, product, or person. Given that, branding yourself means creating the desired emotional response in people when they hear your name, see you online, or meet you in person.

OK, but how? They say that a personal branding campaign involves preparation and planning. One should sit down and craft a positioning statement (what I can offer uniquely) and a transaction statement (what success will look like). The statement will include defining one’s competition and specifying one’s end goal.

Kyle Lacy uses his positioning and transaction statements to keep himself focused. His location, age, being a published author, and running a business distinguish him different from some of the competition.

In a nice touch, Deckers and Lacy created three fictional personas to illustrate the points in each chapter: ‘Allen’ is an influencer with many contacts in the marketing and advertising world; ‘Beth’ changes jobs within the same industry to climb the career ladder; ‘Carla’ wants to change jobs and move into a different industry; and the IT specialist ‘Darrin’ leaves his job every 2 or 3 years to pursue a bigger paycheck. Throughout the book, each persona applies the main points to his or her own circumstances.

The authors discuss building one’s network via blogging, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. For example, forwarding articles and links helps build relationships with customers and colleagues. Facebook’s professional pages help business owners promote and develop their brands, establish community-based relationships, purchase advertising, and track analytics.

The authors wisely realized that this can all get kind of heavy at times. To lighten the tone, they include a selection of humorous Twitter tweets they sent back and forth while writing the chapters. It’s like looking over their shoulders as they worked through this project.

In the Yin and Yang of brand building, it’s important to balance self-promotion with modesty. The authors emphasize remembering to talk about other people more than about yourself. As you promote other people’s ideas and victories you become seen as helpful and resourceful.

Although I generally like the book’s design and layout, I would register one complaint about the information-rich figures, illustrations, and graphs. They are tiny and difficult to read. Often less than half a page, each deserves a full page.

How and Why Social Media Changes Companies

February 4, 2011

Social Media Management Handbook

Book Review
The Social Media Management Handbook:
Everything you need to know to get social media working in your business.
Nick Smith and Robert Wollan with Catherine Zhou.
Wiley, 2011. 328 p.

There are many books about business uses of social media. This one offers more than most: Beyond showing how companies can use social media, it also explains why.

In 18 chapters, the book places the rise of social media in several contexts: generational, technological, and economic. Chapters address how adopting social media affects a company’s marketing and sales, customer service and support, platforms and IT infrastructure, employee responsibilities, recruiting practices, and the duties of the chief information officer and chief marketing officer.

The three primary authors work with Accenture, a global management consulting, technology services, and outsourcing company. Robert Wollan directs Accenture’s customer relationship management service, Nick Smith directs marketing transformation, and Catherine Zhou directs customer analytics.

The 21 contributing authors explain why social media policies must cross departmental boundaries and isolated practices. They discuss how marketers and business analysts need to adopt new measurement methods to account for the streams of brand-related information consumers constantly post to the web. Marketing and PR managers who face a relentless demand for “Return on Investment” will appreciate the book’s observation that the return on investment in social media does not necessarily mean sales: The metrics a company creates to gauge its effectiveness and return should be shaped  accordingly. A company can define its ROI in social media from many angles, including an consumer attitudinal perspective, a behavioral perspective, and an organizational standpoint, as well as from a transactional or conversion standpoint.

The book recommends that companies adopt an emerging online communication discipline called Social Community Marketing. From this perspective, brand-building efforts evolve from a mass-marketing model (which aims to acquire as many customers as possible) to a more targeted, tailored approach that initiates and maintains genuine conversations with customers.

Because so many consumers use smart phones and social media apps, companies need to ramp up their communication efforts in the mobile field. Customers tell their friends about good and bad experiences at the very moment they’re having them.

Accenture’s resource-rich social media portal provides access to updated content and project templates.