Redefining the US Political Campaign: Obama’s successful rise to the US Presidency

I had the distinct opportunity to attend the Rotman Lecture series to watch an insightful presentation by Rahaf Harfoush, a key member of Barack Obama’s Campaign that helped reshape the way political campaigns are run.  Ideally, the voice of the people should be represented and to garner that support means listening to their concerns, and persuading them that you will answer those concerns. The Obama Campaign took it one step further: It harnessed this support by arming people with tools to help spread the message and making them feel integral to the campaign.  This provided incredible individual empowerment that caused an explosion of smaller campaigns that fueled the Obama fire. The Campaign unleashed its brand to the masses and the public embraced it and made it stronger.   A great example of this is the Yes We Can Video by Little Will.i.am, an initiative developed by supporters who took Obama’s message, made it their own, and spread the word. It became synonomous with the Campaign and eventually amassed over 14.5 MM views.

For the first time, as far as I know, the financial support for this Campaign truly was bourne out the masses. Traditional political support from constituents  ie the rich, corporate and organized interest groups have strongly influenced and directed the decisions and policies of past presidents.  Could this be the one time that Abraham Lincoln’s view of true government has come to fruition?  “Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth.”  I urge you to view this presentation and share it. I think it’s a great model, not only for modern politics, but for modern business.

Adapt or Die: The current economic crisis creates a much harsher picture of what lies ahead in 2009.

I read a pretty compelling, albeit morbid, email the other week from Jason Calcanis, founder of Mahalo.  He spoke about “The Start-up Depression” in the wake of current economic conditions in the US. He followed up with an equally forceful article titled, “Good News for People who Hate Bad News“. It sounded more like Armageddon was imminent. His words were harsh and foreboding:

The severity of what has happened can’t be underestimated. There will be no white knight. Even the massive coordinated government action–including the first global rate cuts and bail outs–has done nothing to stop the panic or create a bottom (at least from where I sit). Bottom line: there is zero chance of a short or medium term-rebound.  Zero.

It’s clear that he’s not overexaggerating.  Market conditions are impacting investing. Here are some harsh realities:

• Just yesterday, Tim Hortons has decided to close many of its stores in New England citing lackluster performance.
• The big car giants are rationalizing big time and talks of merger between GM and Chrysler come out of a necessity to survive. It’s being felt close to home as families in Oshawa – mine included – are shaking their heads wondering where it all went wrong. In past economies these institutions have taken care of their employees, where you were seemingly guaranteed employment until you retired. The union would fight for the best benefit packages for their workers and the carmakers acquiesced – all at the expense of the company’s eventual survival.  The funny thing is that GM, Chrysler and Ford’s  market share was  being taken away from the foreign competition AND their business did not adapt, let alone, anticipate what this could mean in times of serious downturn. And now they’re scrambling.

• Banks are going to feel a softening in credit sales, and mortgage services. Credit card companies,  which would traditionally promote low introductory APR for 6 months don’t have the luxury of making these offers today. Mortgage rates will be at prime plus for the time being. Banks have no choice but to secure existing investments and mitigate risk.  This “Death Spiral” as Jason Calcanis’ labels it, will impact consumer spending, so consumers will become much more aware of reducing their debt → the very necessity that have kept financial institutions going……until now.

• I went to the mall the other day and took a chance to observe. There were sale signs in many of the stores but the prices were not indicative of perceived discounts. Traffic to individual stores was pretty light. I noticed my favourite place, “Linens and Things had closed up shop – it had recently gone bankrupt — and a few more smaller shops had popped up in its place … a glimmer of optimism or maybe foolish hope?

There are those that equate today’s crisis to the Depression of the early 30’s. I don’t know if the coming year is going to be as doom and gloom as everyone predicts. I agree that people and companies will tighten their belts and look to create efficiencies, and produce more with less resources.  While it’s upsetting to even think about how the jobless will make ends meet in a survival-of-the-fittest economy, I have to wonder about those who are fortunate to have secured their jobs. What kinds of pressures will they have to endure as they are forced to do the job of 3 people and continue to meet their performance goals, which probably will remain unchanged?

Businesses will have to start developing strategies that speak to these challenges. To sustain in these trying times, companies will need to create stronger efficiencies while not risking the health of their employees or business.  Here are a few areas that I foresee businesses adapting:

1.  Spending on accountable and measurable channels needs to be a primary focus. Metrics will validate performance and channels that can provide true attribution on a CPA and CPC will see an influx of traffic.  This means increased online spending.  But media companies be warned: you’ll need to prove out channel performance and provide increased optimization strategies to win your clients and keep their business.
2.  Search Engine Marketing will see an increase in business mainly because budgets will have shifted from traditional branding channels and because search conveniently relies on consumers who are already engaged within the purchase cycle. It’s also a channel that’s highly measurable and much more efficient dollar for dollar compared to offline or even online media.
3.  Search Engine Optimization is an absolute must for businesses with an online presence. You need to ensure that your site ranks high on search engines and can draw tons of relevant organic traffic. This will be especially important for companies who have low marketing dollars to spend.
4.  Social media marketing will begin to see more traction in the coming year simply because it’s very much a nascent space and there are no standardized ad practices or industry rates that have been established.  The state of the economy will push more consumers online → the social sphere will see incredible growth as consumers become involved in information exchange and conversation. The organic nature of this space provides a large spectrum for brand building and influencer programs. It’s still relatively inexpensive but also highly measurable, providing strong qualitative and quantitative data to prove its value.
5.  Retention will be tantamount to acquisition. The low-hanging fruit for most companies will be retaining their existing customers. This can be done through email and existing customer touch points: telephone, retail (where applicable). Stronger customer service will be just as important to mitigate churn.
6.  Vendors will play a more significant role in client businesses. Companies who have downsized will increase their reliance on vendors to make initiatives happen. It will be more important for vendors to step up, provide the additional attention to their clients and work harder to own the results as much as their clients. I see somewhat of a shift developing in these relationships as a higher degree of trust creates more of a partner mentality.
7.  Bartering will become more prevalent. This is how original deals were created. Creating true value exchange between companies and a resulting win-win scenario can help companies through the rough cycles, and potentially develop enduring and profitable relationships.

Perhaps riding out this storm smartly will give companies some clear guidance in managing a future of uncertainty. Perhaps, it’s a lesson for all of us: Count your blessings now ’cause nothing is forever.

Here is a video I found with Bugs Bunny. It is a true metaphor for “The Death Spiral” we’re currently facing:

Social Media Success Stories: Final with Alejandro Reyes of Successfool.com

I apologize for my lateness.  I’ve learned so much from two very cool people who have given me amazing insight into this space where there are no established rules. Joselin Mane and Alejandro Reyes, you guys are a few of a handful of people in this space who just “get” it; are willing to try new things, stumble along the way and carve out new paths for the rest of us. Thanks again for allowing me into your world. I strongly encourage everyone to follow Joselin and Alejandro on Twitter. Here are their accounts: Joselin Mane ; Alejandro Reyes

Here is Part IIc of Social Media Success Stories – my interview with Alejandro.

HJ: It looks like you believe that there is a future in display advertising. I was having a conversation with a friend, who says “People’s purchase behaviour will always be based on emotion”. Regardless of what medium you end up using, people will purchase based on what their mindset is at the moment, whether or not it’s planned or impulse. That has not changed regardless of new formats that are introduced into the ad world. Whether you use an SEM, social media or display format, the consumer will get to where they’re intended to go.

AR: Very interesting… Carlos and Lupe talked about behavioural and targetted type of advertising. When they do their ad buys they’ll go off of demographics and they’ll do a split test on a certain product, and see what converts. So , know your demographics and incorporate tests. These guys do split tests 5 to 7 times a day. So banner advertising is all about split testing. Also, Gmail, Yahoo! and Facebook are using profile information to target relevant ads ie if I’m interested in cars, I’ll get served a Mustang ad. It’s more intuitive type of advertising. Before advertising used to get me so upset because they were so irrelevant. But now if I go someone’s Facebook whose interested in knitting, for example, they are probably going to see a knitting ad. So it’s interesting to see ads tied to people’s profiles and interests. I think that’s where advertising is going.

HJ: Having worked at Yahoo!, they understand that exposure from an ad needed to move away from impressions and more towards performance ie click-through (CTR). Taking it one step further, the addition of behavioural targeting provides a better way for the advertiser to increase CTR performance, but it’s also more expensive to do that. And for advertisers, are they willing to pay the cost for the targeted group they are trying to reach? As well, there are not a lot of places that are doing it well except for Yahoo!. Now, social media sites are under pressure to monetize their sites and they’re starting to incorporate more advertising opportunities. Facebook has received backlash because their users were made aware that their profile and behavioural information was being used to target them for advertising purposes. In this sense, it defeats the purpose of why Facebook was launched in the first place. Everybody talks about the inability to monetize a social media site. You’re talking about it from the perspective of creating authenticity, building credibility and selling it on your terms to your friends and followers as opposed to using the tools on the site.

AR: You’re totally right because it worked for me and I think it can work for other people as well. I just think that people can go out there and for people that want to monetize their site, they have to follow a process to get to there. So why not take that timeframe and add value to people’s lives even though it takes you 3 months or 6 months. Go out there and start it. Don’t completely stop your business but do it as a side project simultaneously. Go to Twitter and connect with your audience – they are out there anyway. But test it and see if it’s working for you.

HJ: How much as your traffic grown: now vs. April when you launched?

AR: It’s so funny because people get on me because I don’t really track all that stuff. On Compete.com I grew 17.9% last month. When I started my site (I don’t know what people think of Alexa) I was at 1 million (est) and now I’m at 120,000. I did that really fast. I went from 600,000 to 300,000 to 120,000 in Alexa. And I’ve been so busy with projects lately that I’ve only blogged about once in the last few weeks. If I would’ve blogged the 3 days a week that I started out with, my site would just be crazy right now. And that’s why I’m revamping my blog to really take that traffic to the next level. But you know, earlier on (June) I started seeing 20,000 visitors then it dropped because I had the baby. Then it started to go back up last month and towards the end of this month I’ll boost it again with a big contest to find the best impersonation of me. Because I’m very loud and crazy and very passionate guy and that’s how my videos are. So, I’m going to give people an opportunity to make fun of me and impersonate me and hopefully that contest will go viral and promote the new blog post. And that’s what people have to do: they’ve got to mix it up and do interesting things that are unique and different to get people coming back to their site. Some people get to the point where they’re not posting enough. Eventually they don’t post at all and they abandon the blog. If people love you and you have a good audience, you will be forgiven and you can be right back to where you were if you do some creative, unique things. And that’s what I’ve done with my blog: I’ve mixed things up and made things different and with this impersonation contest I’ll be right back where I am and get that little boost of energy that I need. I’m getting a green screen, an HD camera and I’m going to do produced show-type videos. I just want to take it to the next level and give people what they deserve. I’m also going to do a lot more podcasting.

HJ: You’re actually using a lot of the social tools out there. And for those looking in, it seems like a daunting task. They’re saying, “Why put in the time? But it’s not really all that difficult, is it? Do you have to be tech savvy to do all this stuff”?

AR: No, it’s funny because I do internet marketing all of my offline friends and family think I’m a tech geek and they ask me, “Hey I have this issue with my computer, can you fix it for me?” and I say, “Dude, I’m a marketer, not a tech guru.” I have an i-phone, I have a Macbook Pro and when it comes to those things on the internet: search, Skype and recording an interview like this – I can do that stuff. But one thing about social media is that you have to like people because if you don’t like people it’s NOT going to work for you. If you are a jerk, it’s just gonna be magnified online especially in social media. First, you have to be interested in people. Secondly, you have to be interesting and to do this, you focus on your passion and you‘ll build your brand around your passion. And for me, I’m all about momentum. In the first 30 days from launch, between Monday and Friday and sometimes on Saturday, I was on Twitter for 2-3 hours a day and people may say that’s a lot of time. But what happened after that was that I created so much momentum that other people started talking about me. Now I’ll spend 30-40 minutes a day on Twitter and people are still talking about me; people will still connect with me, message me and will still follow me. So, when you create momentum, you can maintain that momentum. It’s going to cost you something now in terms of your time or it’s going to cost you later on in your business where you didn’t take the time. Your results long term are going to be impacted: your traffic, your conversion, your effectiveness and your influence online. I’m the type of guy who likes to pay for things up front even though it might stink to sacrifice some time. But long term, I believe that if you build it right the first time and your work really hard, opening the lines, you will create so much momentum that you’ll be all over the place on the internet. You can’t argue with 17,000 backlinks to your site. That’s insane and I have friends who are SEOs and they can’t believe it. A 4 month linkbuilding campaign – a “spammy” link building campaign will give you the same results. But this was authentic; it was about connecting and getting in the trenches, working side by side with people. I believe it’ll hurt you in the long run if you’re not willing to take the time out right now, work the extra hours ie get up earlier and go to bed later —- just do some of these things. People will say, “I can’t afford the time”. I’m a believer that you can’t afford NOT to do it right now because your business depends on it. Some people think it will magically happen because you have a Facebook account and a Twitter account that will make you this interesting social media person. It just doesn’t happen that way à you have to go out and be willing to put the work into it.

HJ: This has been really inspiring. And I connected with you because it’s evident you have a lot of value that you have given to so many. There are a lot of small businesses looking for that holy grail. I think part of it is within social media and if you have the right approach and the commitment then anything is possible.

Thanks again Alejandro.

Social Media Success Stories: Part IIb Alejandro Reyes of Successfool.com

As promised, here is Part 11b of my interview with Successfool.com’s Alejandro Reyes. It looks like there will be a Part 11c, which I’ll post later this week.

HJ: Well, it’s funny how I ran across you. I was actually just surfing and looking for people to follow on Twitter and Michelle’s (MacPhearson) name came up. I went on her site and I stumbled onto a video about you and she spoke about the success of your business, your use of Twitter and the methods you used to follow and engage with people. There are a lot of people on Twitter who are spammers. There are people using the search to find keyword, “online marketer” and their intention is to sell you their methods on how to increase your online business ten-fold or how to be a millionaire by working at home. And yet the way you had approached it was not as overt. I looked at the profile of some of these Twitterers and they followed a lot of people, but their follower base was much smaller. Can you tell me about Twitter since that was the main driver of your traffic?

AR: Twitter is definitely my number one traffic source. And the thing about Twitter is that a lot of people ask me, “How much time does it take?” That’s really one of the big things. I was on Twitter on April Fool’s Day but I was on it as a spectator, listening and watching. It all goes back to that awareness I spoke about. And so I used tools like summize. Twitter eventually purchased them but I went to summize , which  was essentially a Google search engine for Twitter. It’s a conversation search engine. So I was looking at the conversations happening, what people were posting and I started interjecting myself into conversations.  Look at it from an off-line standpoint. If you’re at a social mixer offline like a networking event and you’re joining conversations that are irrelevant and you don’t know what people are talking about, you’re interrupting people’s conversations and it’s rude. And what you have to do – and this is how I am offline – is listen to people and if it’s relevant to something I like, something that I’m interested in or a business that I’m involved in like internet marketing or real estate, I’ll jump into the conversation. So that’s the same thing with Twitter: where you start following people, pay attention to what they’re talking about and if something catches your attention you start to talk about it. And that’s the cool thing about Twitter: As I was sitting back watching conversations, there are a lot of people watching my conversations, your conversations and so they start to say, “Who is this guy? He’s answering a bunch of questions and providing some value and he’s getting content.”  And because my blog was in my bio, people started to come to it. On my blog, the hits to my contact form said, “Hey I notice you were talking about this” or “I noticed you commented on Chris Brogan’s blog” or “thank you so much for telling me about that Guy Kawasaki post”. So, I was promoting other people. And, a lot of people don’t like promoting other people’s sites because their mentality is to promote their stuff only. And so I was trying to become a resource of information or “mavens” like in the book “The Tipping Point”. I’m more like a connector or salesman but if you can become that resourceful person, people will start to become drawn to you and watch for your tweets because they know the information you provide, as they’re scrolling through the streams, is worth paying attention. And as I was consistently replying to people, more people rode on my bandwagon and started to reply to some of the things I was asking for. And so with social media, especially Twitter if you can 1) be resourceful but 2) have the ability to cluster or group together — a little community within a community and connect other people to each other just by conversation, you’re seen as the life of the party ie the one that gets people together. In marketing, it’s underrated  and no one sees the value of those people going out there and drawing crowds together in social media. People in social media, for the most part, are non-spammers and they like connecting with other people and if you can be that person that brings everyone together you raise your level of influence and credibility. So as I started to do that, my Twitter following rapidly started growing and after I hit that thousand mark it started growing a lot faster. The thousand mark is a rule of thumb. And I try to tell people to try to get to that thousand but do it in an ethical way. Start with relevant conversations, not forced conversations, very casual conversations with influencers in your niche. The influencers in my niche included Jeremiah Owyang, Chris Brogan and Guy Kawasaki. And when these guys start to tweeted about me (they have 10,000 – 20,000 followers)  I started to pick up their followers because they assume that whoever Guy’s talking to must be legitimate. I wasn’t afraid to connect with the giants, if you will, in my community.

HJ: Interesting approach to get to the influencers and that was exactly what I was trying to do when my company first launched our video product. I wanted to get Guy Kawaski’s attention so I took his video “The Art of the Start” and I created an overlay using our tool. Through Twitter, I sent him the URL trying to nudge his ego a bit and demonstrated how he could promote his video on other sites using our tool. And he responded that it was really cool. And later on as I started talking more about it, he started perceiving this more as a pitch – which it was—and this was me earlier on trying to understand how to connect with people of this stature. Regardless, it really put him off and afterward he started to back off and he didn’t say anything to me. There’s a lot to be said about that because if he doesn’t continue then you know you’ve done something to sour the conversation.

AR: And these people are very savvy. E.g. Are you familiar with the networking community, Direct Sales? A guy comes up and says “I have this great appetite suppressant green tea from China that totally will help your” but in trying to help someone out it’s still a pitch regardless of whether you have the relevant solution. But contrary to what you did with Guy, I knew he was really passionate about Alltop and I know he’s focusing on that right now and so I sent him a message letting him know I had an idea for topics for Alltop. I asked him how he preferred I send it. In the meantime, I pointed him to my blog and requested, “if you deem it worthy to put into Alltop, please feel free to add it.”  Within 12 hours he said, “You’re on marketing.alltop.com” and I’ve been getting traffic from there since. And I also gave him an idea regarding Ustream because at the time they were the only live stream video company that has an RSS feature. Guy gave me his personal email address along with his assistant’s and I sent him an email and asked, “Do you have an RSS for all the good live streams.” He inquired about tracking and I said, “Well, an idea is get the RSS and we’ll find out, through Business Development at Ustream, which shows are the most trafficked.” Long story short, Guy is now on the board of advisors of Ustream. And he’s going to be implementing http://allstream.alltop.com and forever Guy will know that I’ve added value to him and there were no strings attached for me. As I said earlier, sometimes you’ll get the short end of the stick and you’ve got to willing to be ok with that. Some people say, “If I’m not gonna win or I’m not gonna get the better end of this deal, I at least have to have 50/50“. That is the wrong attitude. You have to be willing to give value to people’s lives and their businesses with no strings attached. And so that’s what I do with guy. Sometimes I email Guy some ideas about Alltop and I’ve built a really good relationship there and I haven’t asked him for anything yet. And that’s what I’ve done with Twitter. I get more traffic from Twitter than I do Google.

HJ: What do you think about display ads? The Yahoo!s of the world are out there and they’ve banked on display advertising but considering the explosion of social media is it worth speculating about its sustainability down the road?

AR: Using it to market or offering it on your site?

HJ: As a traffic driver for advertisers.

AR: Absolutely. I was just at an event in Minnesota where I spoke. But it was here where I mett Carlos & Lupe Garcia (who are doing deals with Yahoo! And Myspace). They buy traffic in bulk and buy banner advertising and these guys are generating $1-$2MM a month. Now Yahoo! Has in-house banner ads that are taking up inventory that essentially should be sold to advertisers – remnant inventory. So these guys are buying crazy remnant inventory in bulk, on credit and basically converting it.  I believe SEO is changing and I think it’s going be a little bit less relevant or not as effective in the next year or two. You’re going see this banner stuff increasing. Based off of this conversation I had with them — I was in a room with Carlos and Lupe til’ 1:00 in the morning trying to comprehend how they’re making this type of money and they said to me, “Don’t even worry about Google. Google is a small slice of a really big pie.” And I started to think about that and it made total sense. And all these social media sites, when they’ve grown to a certain point, are starting to implement ad systems – Facebook, MySpace. At Facebook, you can get 5cents CPC. The conversions still aren’t the best. But if you would have asked me last week I would’ve said SEO is the way to go but they really blew my mind with banner advertising. I did some research on them and I talked to some of my friends who were SEOs and they all believe that things are shifting and with social media. Old-school SEO  was all about doing backlinks and on-page and off-page titles, incorporate negative key words, descriptions etc. and you waited for traffic to come to you. But I’m the type of guy whose very aggressive so I want to go where the traffic is at. All the traffic right now is on social media and social networks so it almost makes sense for big advertisers to recognize these things and try to advertise on these sites. I don’t know the HOW but if you can figure out a system or a way to make it convert and have a very good ROI then incorporating banner advertising with social media is only going to get bigger. And SEO is gonna change a little bit.

HJ: It’s interesting what you said because social media and SEO are intertwined. And when people search, social media sites come up first in the rankings more often than some of the official sites themselves. So you can’t really have one without the other.

AR: Yes, you have to have both. I’ve barely done any link building and I’m getting good traffic. But for social media I believe you need a blog. I refer to a blog as a nervous system – a cornerstone of a good social media campaign. So instead of purchasing a popular keyword, go find the long tail key words that are getting 100-200 searches a day. And create interesting content/titles with those key words and phrases. And if you get 2-5 clicks a day and you have a 100 different blog posts you’ve just netted 500 clicks from long-tail key words. So long-tail is better long term but making money online or home-based business or work from home or most popular key words — well you’ll just be doing a Google dance forever. But if you incorporate link building (which Google relies heavily) with long-tail key words you’ll see a greater beneft. A friend of mine has a site called SEOCLUB.com and he tracks data from 300 different servers and he says link building based on the SEO process is about 50% of the formula and I agree you have to have both. I’m not doing a lot of advertising right now and I eventually want to but for people just starting out, especially small businesses, you have to take baby steps. Because most of them who hear about Twitter will say, “How am I going to make money talking to people?  How am I gonna monetize this? Where is my ROI?” They want results right away.” Banner ads will always be there but they have to recognize this new space as well.

More to come….

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