As part of building a strong and transparent culture, one thing we like to do a lot is take questions from everyone at the company. We are still very young, growing quickly and things are changing fast. We try and make decisions after a lot of thought and we also try to do what is right for our company, our employees and our clients. Nothing else really matters.
Over the past few weeks I read, Lean In, a book I have heard a lot of buzz in the office written by Sheryl Sandberg, whose career I’ve always admired, albeit from afar.
The book was great, and while it is primarily around gender equality in life and the workplace, a very serious topic and one that we can all stand to learn more about, I want to use some of the lessons from Lean In as it relates to the lessons Sandberg learned in scaling a growing technology company. She helped build two of the most impressive companies of our time: Google and Facebook. Her lessons from the book help explain why we make some of our decisions, what it takes to work at Percolate and why we will always do what is right for our clients.
Lesson 1: The most important thing to look for in joining a company: Fast Growth.
In Chapter 4 of her book she talks about wanting to join a technology company. It was 2002 and she had a long list of companies in Silicon Valley that were recruiting her and she had to make a decision on where she was going to go. At the very lowest priority of her organized spreadsheet, because of vague title and undefined role, was a company called Google. She went to then CEO Eric Schmidt and explained her dilemma. The other companies had her managing big teams, with big titles, a defined role and goals. At Google she was the first “business general manager”. When she said this to Eric Schmidt he responded with what she calls, “maybe the best career advice i ever got”:
He covered my spreadsheet with his hand…… Then he explained to me the only criterion that mattered for picking a job was — Fast Growth. When companies grow quickly, there are more things to do than there are people to do them. When companies slow down or stop growing, there is less to do and too many people to do them. Politics and stagnation set in and everyone falters.
As leaders inside the company our goal is to deliver fast growth. If there is fast growth you can grow as people, you can be challenged and you will learn a ton that you can put on your resume as a signal that you know how to build that kind of business.
From Sheryl’s advice, we have to be conscious of two things as we grow our company:
The good news is that most of the time, these two things are actually just one. By that I mean politics are a direct result of slow growth. This is generally why big companies become political, they are slowing down, or more importantly, slowly slipping into irrelevancy. It’s a land grab, fewer important positions and people can get nasty.
As a company we have to always keep our eyes on the opportunities that will drive fast growth, even if they are something we never conceived of doing before. One of the great things my co-founder Noah has taught me is how to question things that I’ve felt 100% sure about. Breaking down what I perceived as absolutes has helped me think in ways I’ve previously thought weren’t possible. This type of thinking has permeated our culture and I believe it has helped us find opportunities. A good exercise to challenge ourselves with is to ask: what is something that we absolutely wouldn’t do as a company and then try to actually do it.
Lesson 2: It’s a Jungle Gym, Not a Ladder
Chapter 4 of Lean In is entitled, It’s a Jungle Gym, Not a Ladder, and in the opening of the chapter she tells a great story from her 2012 Harvard Business School commencement speech:
When I was first at Facebook, a woman named Lori Goler, a 1997 graduate of HBS, was working in marketing at eBay and I knew her kind of socially. And she called me and said, I want to talk with you about coming to work with you at Facebook. So I thought about calling you, she said, and telling you all the things I’m good at and all the things I like to do. But I figured that everyone is doing that. So instead I want to know what’s your biggest problem and how can I solve it. My jaw hit the floor. I’d hired thousands of people up to that point in my career, but no one had ever said anything like that. I had never said anything like that. Job searches are always about the job searcher, but not in Lori’s case. I said, you’re hired. My biggest problem is recruiting and you can solve it. So Lori changed fields into something she never thought she’d do, went down a level to start in a new field and has since been promoted and runs all of the people operations at Facebook and has done an extraordinary job.
Lori saw Facebook as a jungle gym and she took on the challenge and executed in a fast growth environment. There was no clear ladder and that was perfect, it allowed her to fix the biggest challenges the company was facing and it allowed her to take on additional responsibility within the company.
These two lessons are a great way to think about Percolate. We want to grow fast, we want to set people up to succeed and we want to create multiple paths for our employees to grow.
Now with those two lessons behind us, let’s shift the focus to the future and our clients.
To quote William Gibson, “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.”
We believe this quote is true for our clients and we have done our best to lay it out. Stock & Flow. Intersection of cultural relevance and real-time. Scale, Pace and Pattern of media creation has forever changed. Content is the lifeblood of social. And oh yeah, there is this: For every person online, there are two who are not. By the end of the decade, everyone on Earth will be connected. Where will they be connected? On social platforms.
We love the future, we want to live there but it does us no good to live in the future alone. We want to evenly distribute the future because we can all see it and we aren’t going to let any barriers to that future stand in our way.
For our clients and from our site entitled, How We Work:
EVERY STEP OF THE CLIENT EXPERIENCE IS CONSTANTLY EVALUATED. CLIENT HAPPINESS IS WHAT DRIVES US.
With our clients, we take this quote as literally as possible. They are coming from a world where messages lasted months, not minutes. Where reach was defined by cities, not continents and where content was a very expensive story that ended after 30 seconds instead of a continuous, pull-to-refresh, stream of media. The process to build these bridges aren’t easy and we know that. But we also know if we don’t build that bridge, someone else will.
Nothing matters more to me than our employees and our clients. We are aggressive in our viewpoint on where we see the world of marketing going and how we are going to get there. If you like what I’ve said above you will most likely also like working with us.
We have great relationships across all the platforms. Some of those relationships are formal like Tumblr and others remain regular check-ins. Today, after many months of helping brands determine “What should I tweet about?”, we have officially joined the Twitter Certified Products Program (TCPP) to help brands and additional partners create engaging content.
Should you have any questions, please get in touch.
Last night we held our first happy hour specifically for community managers, SPEAKEASY. We had an incredible turnout at Percolate HQ, especially for a night packed with holiday parties across the city.
Our celebrity photographer Dom Goodrum was on hand to document the night’s festivities:
Thanks to everyone who came out including our co-hosts Kristine Michelsen-Correa, bitly; Lauren Cucinotta, TEDx; and Allie MacPherson, TEXT100. We hope you enjoyed meeting team Percolate and other like-minded folk.
We’re busy planning the next SPEAKEASY so look for invites just after the New Year.
Today, Tumblr announced the A-List Partnership Program . We are proud to be included as Tumblr’s technology partner. Through the partnership, Percolate will be providing our technology and lightweight services to brands to help them build their audiences and content strategies on Tumblr in a scalable way.
Tumblr is a unique platform for brands that want to manage all of their digital assets within a single, socially connected environment. We are also excited by the sheer scale of Tumblr’s reach and engagement:
With the scale for brands in place, Tumblr is now laying the foundation for how brands can natively communicate and build a sustained presence on the platform. We have long been fans of Tumblr and we even wrote about the potential we saw in a post sixth months ago explaining how Tumblr was important in the larger social ecosystem. From that post:
Tumblr is a unique channel for brands as it relates to how they think about social content strategies in the future. There is the ability to have your own branded domain (eg.brand.com), enough of an infrastructure in place that you can create unique stock content and house it there (permalinks), while also using the channel to curate 1st party and 3rd party content that flows through the channel with a networked community behind it…..
Why does this all matter? The future of marketing lies in how brands best create content in real-time and showcase it to their audiences. The brands that will set themselves apart from the rest will have an real-time strategy that supports both stock & flow content.
We are stoked and we hope you are as well. If you are interested in seeing how our platform seamlessly works with Tumblr, case studies for how we’re leveraging this partnership with our current clients or how Percolate might help you, please get in touch and say hello.
At Percolate, when we’re introducing people to the concept of Stock & Flow, we use the following quote:
“Change is a constant conversation in the marketing industry, but the last few years have brought two tectonic shifts: From campaign-based thinking to sustained messaging and from 21-week production schedules for television commercials to 21 minutes between tweets. Ultimately, we’re moving to a world where brands start to recognize their roles as content creators. Many argue (and we agree) that brands always were content creators. But clearly there is a difference between a 30-second spot that cost millions and a 4pm Facebook status update.”
Beautiful campaign-based assets that attract new customers, the type of content brands are great at creating — that’s stock: timeless, durable, and traditionally working off of very slow-moving trends. Tweets, pins, tumbls, and status updates represent flow — lightweight content that brands are expected to create in real-time to engage their growing social audiences.
Brands are still struggling to make their way in flow. Like awkward teenagers with gangly arms, brands are slowly finding their way into communicating with millions and millions of fans and followers on social platforms. Consumers aren’t dumb, and they can be mean: They see the awkwardness and may even mock it. (Welcome to the mean girl clique represented by the Condescending Corporate Facebook page.) At the same time, it does us no good in the marketing community, as stewards of brands, to mock these awkward teenage years when we know they are going to grow up into powerful adults.
The key is to understand this awkward transition and how brands are going to get to the next phase. We have talked a lot in the past about why brands struggle in social, how brands have to consume in order to create, how brands have to stop depending on just listening for mentions, and how they need to become a magnetwith their content strategy instead of simply mirroring their audience.
We have also talked about how, as a brand becomes more adept with flow, these lightweight messages can start to inform how they create their more expensive stock. It is at this intersection of stock and flow that brands will thrive. When brands can marry what they stand for with what the consumers they are trying to reach care about, customer engagement and loyalty will follow.
Being culturally relevant in real-time will allow brands to keep social audiences engaged beyond wheeling out those manufactured ‘timely’ posts: “Llike us if you like Friday. RT this if you like Friday. Pin this if you like Friday. Re-Blog this if you like Friday.” It might sound challenging to live at the intersection of stock and flow or to be culturally relevant in real-time, because it is. But it is a challenge worth pursuing.
The social platforms have themselves been exemplars in this area, with insightful posts from Facebook, Twitter and others explaining how brands can communicate with stock & flow strategies.
Paul Adams, in his his recent post “Six examples of brands doing great work on Facebook,” showed how Oreo married its iconic stock asset, the Oreo, with an event that was culturally relevant: the Mars Rover landing. [See above image.]
Now, you might say that only fun, playful CPG brands like Oreo can do this. But witness Intel, the massive microprocessor company, and its recent Intel Man mashed up Gangnam style. Result? More 500K likes and one of its best ever Facebook posts.
Twitter has provided great examples of how you can build a real-time brand with examples from Tide, Pepsi, and Bonobos.
Tumblr’s announcement of a real-time analytics partnership is also showing how brands can effectively create content on their platform, and that the passionate Tumblr community appreciates clever, relevant and interesting work. IBM withSmarter Planet and American Express with OPEN Forum are two brands doing work on Tumblr at the intersection of what their brand stands for with what is important to their communities. Stock, meet flow.
These examples together provide early suggestions for a standard that works well on these social platforms, for both brands and their audiences.
This emerging standard is very different from the digital boards of the past. The IAB did a great job of bringing together publishers and advertisers to build standards in a world where boxes were needed to complement content.
In this brave new world your content is your ad and the brand is the owner of massive audiences in social. Brands need to live and create in real-time at this intersection of stock & flow to make social platforms more engaging for everyone involved.
[Main Image: WikiMedia]
This post first appeared as a column on PandoDaily.
If you guessed “content creation”, then you’re absolutely right:
As an enterprise, your most important resource is the time of your employees. In light of the above data it is no surprise that the biggest challenge brands face going forward in social is not measuring ROI: it is a lack of sufficient resources.
Brands must consume to create.
We have that phrase in big letters on one of the slides in our Percolate presentation and it occasionally raises eyebrows. But it’s more than just a statement meant to shock: it’s an idea that sits at the heart of how we believe brands must behave in social.
We believe consuming content is the only way a brand can create content at the scale now required on the internet (what we like to call “social scale“). This is not a new concept for us as individuals; we consume interesting content all day and turn it into tweets, posts and pins. But this is a bit of a scary concept for brands who have been disciplined in creating controlled messages, for controlled media, based on very slow moving trends and defined insights.
This new world of consumption and creation for brands is leading us into the next phase of digital marketing, where brands no longer have special boxes (ad units) and are expected to act (and create content) like people on platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.
In this next phase, for a brand to create content, they need something to work off. They need inputs, what we like to sometimes call, “brand brain“, an “interest graph” or even a “content intelligence layer“. (The last one is the toughest to swallow but people get excited sometimes when you put content and intelligence together.) Each one of these terms resonates a little differently with our audiences but they all mean the same thing: brands need to consume in order to create.
What I’m starting to get excited about is marketers running with this concept and many are bucketing it under the term “listening.” For example, Brian Wallace, in an interview with Forbes Magazine talks about how Samsung is positioning itself as being emotionally and culturally relevant with its customers.
You can out-innovate your competitors, but that’s only going to get you so far. I think that’s where Samsung was a year ago. But to compete with some of our competitors that have very strong brands, we need to have an emotional, culturally relevant perspective that Samsung didn’t quite have in this market. And we, in the last six to seven months, have aggressively changed that with great success.
Rather than close ourselves off in a room and get a bunch of data to figure out what perspective we wanted our brand to have and then go tell the world that, what we’ve been doing is actually listening to the conversations that are occurring around our category and then quite simply reflecting those conversations in all the broadcast messaging.
I’m reading a bit into this quote (I didn’t have a chance to talk with Brian before I wrote this), but I think what he is saying is important and a bit different than the “listening” we traditionally think about digitally. Brian is looking to make Samsung relevant with their market by listening to the passion points and emotional connections that their potential consumers have with each other.
Traditionally, listening online has been about listening to what your customers are saying about the brand. This listening is critical for all sorts of key metrics, but most of the time it isn’t going to make you more interesting and relevant to people that may not already have you in their consideration set. Imagine, for instance, if we as people simply listened to brand mentions of ourselves. How interesting would we be on Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr? Now, the argument could be made that we, as people, don’t have constant mentions of ourselves on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, so the metaphor is a little jumbled but this is more of a blessing than we might think. As a brand, if you only listen to your fans or followers, then you cede control of your own brand to someone else’s notions of what you are, rather than driving an emotional or aspirational link with the people you want to make new connections with. If you only feed off of others’ opinions (that are based off of what you’ve done or created in the past), you’ll remain static. Great people (and by extension great brands) aren’t limited by someone else’s thoughts or opinions; they build, create, and inspire on their own.
On the static note, the big issue with this type of traditional listening is that it has generally been used to analyze past performance. If we focus on the key challenge marketers are facing, how to create content at social scale, what a marketer needs is inputs that “prompt” them with what they should do next. Brian explains that here:
It was really a reflection of the social media conversations that we were tracking. And, again, this is where I think marketing needs to go. I think a lot of marketers make the mistake of using social media to track what has occurred versus using it to pre-inform what they should do.
We are focused on this world Brian is talking about. A world led by brands being prompted to create content based on a smart understanding of what their consumers are passionate about. A world where you as a marketer, no longer have a special box on a webpage, but are expected to created alongside consumers in real time.
Listening to understand, producing to be relevant.
A few months ago we started talking to the fine folks over at The Awl about what we could do together. We’ve been huge fans of what they’re up to for awhile and were excited to find an opportunity to help them spread their voice with the help of Percolate.
Politics seemed like a natural space to play for lots of reasons (election year, lends itself to absurd headlines, there is no shortage of insanity to report on). Thus was born Approve This Message, the newest media site powered by Percolate (joining the fine company of Counterparties). Each day the team at The Awl curates stories from around the political web as bubbled up by the algorithms of Percolate.
Approve This Message is a link machine with a cyborg brain that is part Awl and part Percolate, the same team that developed Felix Salmon’s Counterparties at Reuters. Percolate is like a butcher with an algorithm, serving up lean news by separating the meat from the fat around the web, whether via Twitter, RSS, or elsewhere.
I think we might just make that our new tagline.
Percolate: Like a Butcher with an Algorithm
Anyway, go enjoy Approve This Message.
Oh, and it may include the first Percolate advertisement. You can refresh the page a few times to find it or just check it out below:
Today Nokia relaunched their platform, Nokia Connects in a very cool way and we are excited to be part of it.
The new Nokia Connects is looking to profile and highlight the very best of what is happening across verticals like technology, creativity and innovation. To break that down a bit further, this is for you folks that might have a Pro Vimeo account, who love to get lost in the bliss and wonder of Kickstarter or if you spend your weekends in the garage burning your fingers with the soldering gun.
From a publishing strategy, Nokia is going about it by creating original content in the form of long-form blog posts, infographics, and web videos and augmenting these pieces with a steady flow of curation that comes from the very best sources of media across technology, creativity and innovation.
We think Nokia’s design philosophy and strategy is one way brands can create amazing content at the scale that is necessary to compete with the newscycle of verticals like technology while also adding their own unique insights to their expanding audiences on their .com and their increasing presence across social channels. In the case of Connects, Nokia has the permission to talk directly about some pretty cool things they do as it relates to technology, creativity and innovation. At the same time, their curation shows that they can reach out and learn from the broader community and give back with links, we like to call them internet hugs here at Percolate, to what Nokia feels is awesome content that the rest of the internet community is creating. As Nokia learns through curation, this can also help inspire some of their longer form content that will continually be updated on a weekly basis.
Finally, if you are in the market for a smartphone, the Lumia 800 and 900 are pretty killer devices. Percolate approved:
Scott talked a lot about how a company like American Express can innovate, and he took an interesting approach to how flow is important to their overall business strategy.
Scott also stressed that finding a balance is the best way to avoid blind spots in creating new products and staying ahead of the competition:
Historically, we have been focused on developing stock, products and services that take time to create, but that last. Developing the next Ford automobile or Amex credit card takes time, months or possibly years. However, today, it feels important that we’re creating news and dialogues all day long. Tweeting, Pinning, Liking. The latter can seem all consuming, even distracting, but it is important to find new ways to create real authentic dialogue with customers and prospects. Stock AND Flow are both important and hence the blind spot. If you’re looking directly at one, you take your eye off the other. If you do that for too long you are likely to crash or at least not realize your full opportunity. There’s no easy way to correct this, you just need to find the natural balance that feels right. Be self-aware and course correct as you go.
As we build Percolate and learn from our clients we are becoming more confident that in order for a brand to scale their communication strategy, it needs to start with flow. And as that strategy evolves, brands need to allow flow to inform the bigger investments they make in stock content.
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