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Why Chatbots Work: Tips for Top Customer Service

robot in speech bubble

Back at the start of computer AI, things were a little more clunky, and a lot more sci-fi feeling. But over the last 50+ years, since the time when the first chatbot name ELIZA was developed, artificial intelligence has definitely come a long way. 

What used to be simple question and answer-type computing has now evolved to something almost human-like. Enough to make some of us do a double-take at who/what we’re really chatting with. 

Did you know that 84% of customers have stopped doing business with a brand due to a poor customer experience? That can feel like a lot of pressure to get it right. So let’s get down to what makes a good chatbot, and how employing one can improve your brand image. 

What do consumers want from an AI Chatbot?

We as consumers can be quite fickle these days. New trends in shopping can seem to appear overnight, but can also quickly die out. Audiences can switch focus on what entertains them, where they find their news, and how they research brands and topics on their radar.

But not all is lost, because there are plenty of noticeable consumer habits that are predicted to last (at least in some iteration) for years to come. Things like monthly subscriptions, digital shopping, grocery deliveries—all amplified by the events of 2020—have become fast habits for many households. 

Consumers need a chatbot that can help them with these tasks. When a delivery doesn’t come as planned, they have questions about what they received. Many consumers look to chatbots as an updated form of a website’s Q&A, but others need support with more nuanced issues. 

Utilizing a system that can help with all of these things is key. Especially options that allow for a human customer service representative to be called into that chat as necessary. No one wants to be going in circles with automated responses that aren’t solving their problem. 

Do you have a chatbot incorporated into your site? The best way to know if it’s providing proper CX is to try it out yourself from time to time. How does it handle conversation? Did you get your answer in the least amount of steps? How easy is it to access a customer service representative? 

Facebook chatbots, and other social options

The other major thing to consider with chatbots, and really all customer service, is how they may differ across all the platforms your customers are using to interact with your company. Do you have Facebook or other social accounts set up? Does your website chatbot integrate with these channels? 

In addition to a chatbot service, it may be valuable for your company to utilize a dashboard-type service for the backend that allows you to aggregate all of the platform messages into one place. These types of services allow you to give a unified front.

Many of these aggregate platforms can save money by employing AI of their own. One computer system can organize chatbots and customer service representatives together, and determine what an incoming message needs before handing it over to the correct area. 

Although chatbots are computer systems ready to spit out planned answers, they can still play into how customers view your brand on a human level, just like the stat we shared at the start of this article. Chatbots can be used to save customers time, help them find answers more quickly, solve their problems, and move them along to customer service associates when needed. 

Choosing the right chatbot

As with most things, finding the correct chatbot platform depends on your needs. Website traffic, customer interactions and budget all play into how robust of a service your company should use. 

For larger companies and ecommerce sites, running several platforms with customer interactions, a premium service like Botsify is a good option. They can connect to multiple platforms to help customers in a variety of aspects to simplify customer service.

Another great option out there is Freshchat. This company provides multiple tiers of services, including a free trial, which can really be useful for a growing business. Every tier has slightly different levels of support, and can be increased as your needs grow without the trouble of changing chatbot companies. 

Chatfuel is a third, and possibly more cost effective option of the three. The benefit to this platform is they have a free option for those needing only basic support, but also options to scale up to paid plans if desired. 

How you utilize your chatbots may differ depending on your customer needs, but the one thing that should remain a priority: how your offerings can save them time and hassle, and keep their customer loyalty strong.

How to Utilize User Generated Content

It’s the age of the Millennials, the first digital natives, the social media enthusiasts and the content creators. According to Crowdtap, Millennials, “report spending 5.4 hours a day with content created by their peers.” That said, not only is there more user generated content being produced at this point but it is also the preferred content for users to consume.

But, what is user generated content (UGC) really? User generated content (UGC) is defined as “any form of content such as blogs, wikis, discussion forums, posts, chats, tweets, podcasting, pins, digital images, video, audio files, and other forms of media that were created by users of an online system or service, often made available via social media websites.” As marketers we often use UGC to our benefit. However, are you sure you’re getting the most out of user generated content? Keep reading for three ways to use UGC to better your marketing game:



The first use of user generated content may seem obvious, since it’s part of the phrase itself: content.  Repurposing user generated content for a client’s digital content, including social media posts, blogs and videos, can be a big win that can make a brand appear more approachable. The right usage, attribution and timing can result in shares, engagement and additional user generated content that a brand can use.

According to Socialnomics, “90% of consumers trust peer recommendations.” With that in mind, it makes complete sense to leverage content produced by average consumers who have naturally become brand advocates, instead of a traditional celebrity endorsement or spokesperson. The authenticity that is created when a “real” everyday person advocates for a product is what using UGC as brand content is all about.


Focus Group

A focus group is a demographically diverse group of people assembled to participate in a guided discussion about a particular topic. When it comes to sampling a demographically diverse group of people, there is no better place than the world wide web. Once of the greatest accomplishments of the digital age, is the ability to connect with people all over the world.

We recently learned about a new third party program called Chute Insights, “which monitors photos and videos shared about your brand, industry and competitors in real-time and organizes then by popularity, trends, content creators or time.” When Chute’s co-founder, Gregarious Narain, introduced Chute Insights, he referred to it as an “always-on focus group.” This analogy immediately made sense in a broader way.

As marketers we have the access and knowledge to utilize user generated content as a focus group anytime we need. By viewing UGC in this way you’re able to glean insights about demographics, sentiment, etc. and use that information to inform future strategy, campaigns and product development.

Campaigns & Promotions

We’ve all been there before, it’s been a long week and now you need a brilliant idea for a new promotion/campaign but your creativity well has run dry. This is the optimum time to turn to user generated content for inspiration. Taking a look at what consumers are celebrating about a brand, as well as, the negative chatter surrounding a brand is a great jumping off point when dreaming up the next big idea.

UGC may just be at the center of that next big idea. Everyone from Red Bull to Target have launched campaigns that revolve around eliciting user generated content from consumers, which in turn creates more content for these brands to use.

User generated content has become a vital tactic in content marketing to increase brand legitimacy, visibility and sentiment. As marketers we think we know brands better than anyone else, but as the saying goes, “The customer is always right.”

5 Things We Learned at SXSW Interactive

Hard to imagine it’s been 30 days since the Flightpath team set our sights on SWSW 2014. While the SXSW glow slowly fades, what remains is the energy and excitement about the work we do, the clients we serve and the enduring lessons we learned:
1.    If we’re too focused on the technology, we lose sight of the psychology
In this evolving digital world, nearly every IPO heralds a new tool that promises increased engagement (ooh!), better functionality (ahh!) and less ads (ohh!). But when we get so excited about the medium, do we lose sight of what we’re trying to share with consumers? That’s when campaigns fall flat.

During Jonah Berger’s session, What Drives Word of Mouth, he highlighted a need for marketers to gain understanding on why people talk and share. True understanding of human psychology will help us create the right message to reach our brand advocates and get them talking. We were so jazzed after the session. We grabbed a copy of the book at the SXSW bookstore and have plans to reinstate our Flightpath book club with Berger’s Contagious as our first selection.
2.    Never underestimate the importance of strategery*
We’ll admit, we first went to this session based on its title: Go Home Marketing, You’re Drunk. And we weren’t disappointed. Kristina Halvorson broke down the importance of a clearly defined strategy in the content marketing space. If our goal is to create and distribute valuable, useful content to our audience, we need know what we’re saying and why we’re saying it. Without a smart strategy? We don’t have focus and will find ourselves working hard but not smart. Smart strategy provides us with the guardrails to know where we’re headed. If we do it right, we end up doing great work with both substance and integrity.
3.    We’ve seen the future, and it’s the debate over wearable technology
Walking around SXSW, we saw our fair share of Glassholes. But as these “explorers” lead us toward a new frontier of wearables, society is asking more questions than the experts are providing answers to at this stage.

During Glassholes: The Cultural Dissonance of Technology, panelists debated wearables as ushering in the next phase of human augmentation (or how we expand our own capabilities with technology). The biggest concern levied by the panelists and the audience was how wearables separate us from the physical world. The Google Glass enthusiasts argued (persuasively) that Glass allowed them to be connected without interference. Those on the other side of the issue felt that the very nature of the wearer using them was interference since unsuspecting bystanders would be drawn into the digital world without their consent. While nothing was solved by the end of the session, it made us think about the digital personas we spend so much time cultivating versus how to live an authentic life where we benefit from technology but aren’t ruled by it.
4.    Use social media for social good
What is a conference without free swag? The notorious stuff we all get was abundant in the exhibit hall. Hordes of people clustered around booths in hopes of securing a shirt, a tote or other tchotchke. But thanks to Twitter and the #SXSW hashtag, we discovered that all those random goodies that we didn’t really need (but couldn’t say no to) could go to a good cause. It made the exhibit hall experience a grab-bag game — how many tees (that you would never wear) could you snag for Austin’s Foundation for the Homeless? Finding the volunteers outside the Convention Center and dropping the goodies into their outstretched arms just felt right.
5.    The true lessons are revealed when you return
Sure, waiting in line for a chocolate chip cookie shot can be a fun way to spend an hour or two, but the real fun? Spending time with colleagues and learning from thought leaders and experts who are pushing the envelope and bringing new technologies forward, left us looking for connections on how we can harness the latest digital trends on behalf of our clients — to help them reach and engage with consumers in a meaningful way.
Until 2015…


*Kristina Halvorson even gave a shout out to Will Ferrell’s hilarious George Dubya character from Saturday Night Live.



Facebook Quick Tips for Community Managers

Community Managers handling social media accounts for clients sometimes want to find the best and fastest way to zip across all channels. We figured, why not increase your Facebook fitness and share some of the tips and tricks we’ve learned along the way to ‘pump you up!’

Community Managers handling social media accounts for clients sometimes want to find the best and fastest way to zip across all channels.  We figured, why not increase your Facebook fitness and share some of the tips and tricks we’ve learned along the way to ‘pump you up!’

SNL Skit Hans and Franz with Arnold Swarchenegger

Image via


1.  Spelling Fail – How to Edit Post after It’s Out There

Keep in mind; this only applies to posts that have images attached to them.  Nonetheless, good to know when you’re in a pinch and already established high engagement.

Let’s just say you found a tiny little mistake (oops!), well this is how you can fix it after it’s been put out there for the world to see.  The best part is… this also applies for the scheduled posts in your Activity Log.

 Here’s how:

a)  Click on the time stamp of the post you want to edit

Facebook Screen Shot How-To 1


b)  Click on “Edit”

Facebook How-To 2


c)  Then make the necessary edits in the text box and then hit “Done Editing”

Facebook How-To 3

Huzzah!  All fixed.


2. Keyboard Shortcuts for Facebook

Thanks to Mashable we can now do our daily Facebook routine sans mouse.  It’s sort of like playing a game on our keyboard.

Shortcuts are based on your browser so you need to memorize the sequence:

Facebook shortcuts

For the action shortcuts visit Mashable.


3. Organize Your Inbox

Want to move messages that you know you’re done with?  Then you can move them out of your inbox and into the “Other” folder. This way you can control how many messages are in your inbox.

Here’s how:

Facebook How To Move Message to "Other" via

Image via


Tag you’re it!  What other quick tips do you have to share with fellow social media ninjas? Sound off in our comments below.

Can’t get enough of Facebook tidbits and news from Flightpath?  Have no fear just click here.

How to Deliver Customer Service via Social Media – Blog World Expo Session Recap

Rackspace gets over 4,000 mentions during a typical week, but Twitter isn’t the only place consumers are asking questions. The team also responds to questions frequently on Quora, Facebook, blog posts and of course, by phone.

Social media has been used as a customer service channel for the last several years. Companies such as Zappos, Rackspace, and Jet Blue have been lauded for using social as an effective customer service tool. Many companies remain wary of using social media to address customer service issues. We were fortunate to hear insights from the Rackspace customer service team including Jeremy Wasner, Robert Collazo and Matt Wilbanks during a panel discussion at Blog World Expo last week.

So, what makes Rackspace customer service special?

The customer service team reported that their department is empowered to point out lapses in service delivery to the rest of the company.

They have the support of leadership to be the thorn in the side of the company. Culturally, everyone in the company talks. Customer service is encouraged to talk to the team that needs to change, bringing consumer posts straight to internal departments. “Since we know the teams are knee deep in the work and isolated from customers,” Matt Wilbanks said during the panel, “we know it’s our responsibility to inform the teams of problems that need to be fixed.”

Also, they do not use an external call center. Instead, all customer service is handled in house by engineers who can understand and address customer issues.

Monitoring tools are used to find any mention of the company, and a customer service team member responds rapidly. Most of the company’s social media customer service interactions take place on Twitter; Rackspace gets over 4,000 mentions during a typical week, but Twitter isn’t the only place consumers are asking questions.

The team also responds to questions frequently on Quora, Facebook, blog posts and of course, by phone. Rackspace customer service staff post their cell phone numbers publicly so consumers can call them directly. People just seem to want to know that they are heard and that their issue is going to be acted upon, according to Rackspace.

While turn-around time is important when dealing with customer service via social media, the team sees a clear difference in dealing with customer complaints delivered in the form of a blog post. A blog post is often the result of a long-term unresolved customer service issue. So usually, the customer service team involves senior management to respond personally to the post. Subsequent comments are typically positive, with Rackspace getting kudos for responding to the issue.

So what mistakes do they see other companies make when using social media to interact with customers? Many companies use social media as a place to see how great they are instead of listening and responding to customers.  The job of a customer service employee is to relieve stress and pain. Being consistently helpful and genuine helps create a brand image that reinforces the company’s mission of support.

Supporting competitors instead of disparaging them is a better approach. Often, Rackspace sees other companies trolling for Rackspace customers who may have a service issue, then trying to pounce and convert the customers to their hosting service.

Rackspace takes a different approach, never chasing ambulances on Twitter. When a rival hosting company was struggling with a big issue, Rackspace sent $7,000 in pizzas to their corporate office as a show of empathy.

They advised to never pray on customers struggling with their providers or complaining about a rival product. That would be like a car salesperson approaching someone who just had an accident and saying creepily, “Looks like you are having an issue with your car…” By having a strong customer service practice, the number one source of new customers is referrals from existing ones. Rackspace doesn’t do a lot of marketing.

When rivals start talking to customers on social, attempting to disrupt the customer service process, a best practice is to reach out to them publicly and ask if they need anything. If a competitor continues to push, a call to the company and to the social customer service team’s supervisor usually resolves the issue.

In summary: Always be nice. Always be a step above expectations.

SXSW Crazy Energy One Week, “End of Social Media” the Next…What Gives?

We all know the truth can hurt. We also know it can help. But the truth, whether you can handle it or not, has a lot of shades to it.

Last week’s AdAge CMO column framed a POV on social media that got some of us at Flightpath – and from the post’s comments,  many other digital shops, too – really talking about the state of social media.  Given the recent evangelism at SXSW Interactive, attended by the rock stars of the industry (including our own #AustinSix), we figured why not share!

Below is the beginning of the column by brand strategist Jonathan Salem Baskin. He heralds the end of “a fad. No, not the end of social media, but rather the beginning of the end of social media’s infancy.” (Guess they went for the extra shock value of a misleading title.)

Do Campaign Failures, High-Profile Firings Signal the End of Social Media?

The latest news involving social-media pioneers isn’t good. Pepsi has fallen to third place behind Diet Coke in spite of its widely heralded switch from Super Bowl ads to a huge social charity program called Refresh Project. Burger King has grilled through a couple of CMOs and fired agency Crispin Porter & Bogusky after producing Facebook campaigns and viral videos that got lots of attention while the business witnessed six consecutive quarters of declining sales…

Every CMO should use this occasion to pause and reflect on the assumptions that were behind these efforts, especially if you’re about to roll out a social-media campaign or start giving away content for free. Unfortunately, there are many reasons why you shouldn’t, and may not.

For one of our troops, Michael Liss, it all goes back to Gary Vaynerchuk‘s presentation at SXSW about his new book, The Thank You Economy. Some highlights from Mike’s notes:

This is the beginning of the humanization of business. It’s about hitting an emotional center, not pushing coupons. Social media marketing shouldn’t be about push. You shouldn’t be trying to close in one minute – everyone in social media marketing acts like a 19-year-old boy, trying to close too fast. You need patience – this is a cocktail party, start the conversation, break through the noise. There’s no such thing as a social media campaign – a social media campaign is a one-night stand; this is about relationship-building. Social is about talking to human beings. We’re living in the first time when the consumer can interact with you. It’s accepted for us to go into the conversation.

And then, interestingly enough, Gary predicted this entire debate:

Social media is going to start getting beaten up: Does this really have value? People will start looking at the money they’re pouring into this. The next couple of years might be a bad time for social, like the internet from 2000-03, when people thought the internet was a fad.

(You can read much more about the seven things Mike brought back from SXSW – five extra lbs. not included.)

Flightpather John Whitcomb agrees completely with the notion of “smart social,” as referred to in some of the AdAge post comments. He finds some of those comments  dead on, especially when it comes to ROI:

It’s amazing we still haven’t been able to come up with a system that utilizes social media metrics and quantifies them with actual results tied into business objectives. If this was the case, perhaps Pepsi and Burger King would have abandoned the strategy mid-way or at least tried to tweak it to make their campaign work.

I think the real issue, though, is that we cannot force people to buy anything using any sort of advertising medium. All we can do is create brand awareness, and hopefully drive affinity through the connections we forge on these various platforms with our consumers. But that’s still just leading the horse to water.

The Beginning is Ending, Yeah, Long Live the Ending!

So what to make of this debate? The coolest part of being involved in social media is the constant state of change. Change isn’t just in the air, it is in the DNA. The importance of social marketing (fine, media!) is how it connects people to people, people to brands, and people to opportunity in the most seamless, organic way.

If you believe the reality of “if you build it, they will come,” then you know what the build-out of any new and imaginative field is about: not infrastructure, but possibility.  Brands will take advantage of an ever-growing range of social options because community engagement is as rich a philosophy in marketing as it is in life. Social media will clearly lead brands to people and meaningful revenue to brands in the years to come.

Or, to slip in one more movie quote: “Evolution finds a way!”

SXSW 2011: Photo Report – Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of our collection of SXSW photos. (If you missed Part 1, you can find it here.) In this final installment of our Photo Report, you’ll see more people, panels, food and fun stuff. Enjoy!

Star Wars Uncut was a scene-by-scene recreation of the original Star Wars film made by fans around the world, using everything from animation to live-action to stop-motion. And it’s a great example of crowdsourcing. The first 15 minutes of the movie was played, and it was truly a blast.

The folks behind Star Wars Uncut, left-to-right: Jamie Wilkinson, Casey Pugh, and Annelise Pruitt.

At the “Has Facebook Jumped the Shark” panel, everyone pretty much agreed that it hadn’t. More interesting was the debate that emerged on whether or not young people should or should not censor themselves on Facebook.

At the great “Social Media and Comedy: F**k Yeah!” panel, featuring Marc Maron and Michael Ian Black (far left and far right).

Marc Maron discussed (in hilarious detail) an infamous tweet he made next to former GOP Chairman Ken Mehlman.

Marc Maron gets emphatic!
The view from the trade show floor. Tons of companies, ranging from small to large, all showing off interesting software and gadgetry...

But this was my favorite thing there.

My view from the floor of the Google/Bing Q&A. The message, as always, was that content is king.

Harry Knowles, founder of Ain’t It Cool News and altogether Nerd God, along with fellow AICN writers at the “Ain’t It Cool News 15th Anniversary” panel. What I learned here: their early review, which was not too positive, of “There’s Something About Mary,” earned them major respect from both the studio and the Farrelly brothers. Also, Jar Jar Binks was originally going to die in Episode III!

Josh Shabtai (hands), Creative Director/CEO of Vertigore, shows off his company’s awesome iPhone/Droid game, “Star Wars Arcade: Falcon Gunner.”

Finally, I leave you with this. Bask in the glory of Lucky J’s

...and their amazing chicken-in-waffles taco.

And that does it for our SXSW photos! If you want to share your own SXSW memories (especially if they’re chicken-in-waffles-taco-related), please leave us a comment!

Seven Things I Brought Back from SXSW (Five Extra lbs. Not Included)

Attending SXSW Interactive felt like being inside a popcorn popper: You ricochet from one idea to another, hurling into everyone around you, energy bursting everywhere. What did I bring back from Austin beyond the 5 lbs I probably packed on? Where to even start?

Attending SXSW Interactive felt like being inside a popcorn popper: You ricochet from one idea to another, hurling into everyone around you, energy bursting everywhere. What did I bring back from Austin beyond the 5 lbs I probably packed on? Where to even start?

It’s a Social, Engaged Community (Duh)
For all the digital landscapes we carve out, there’s nothing like interacting with real people in real life. SXSWi registration was up 40% this year, and it wasn’t small to start with. This was truly a community of passionate people – and truly a community. That conversation on the shuttle, in line, before the panel, at the party was every bit as meaningful, inspiring and enlightening as the biggest keynote addresses. And everyone was open to that conversation.

Be Enchanting
Achieve likability. Perfect your handshake. Achieve trustworthiness. Default to yes. Make sure everything you do is Deep, Intelligent, Complete, Empowering and Elegant. Launch with a story, not a feature set. Empower action. Plant many seeds: Today’s nobodies are the new somebodies, and you don’t know where the people are who might embrace you. Enchant all the influencers: It’s not the top down, it’s the bottom and the middle.

It’s a Thank You Economy, Stupid
Your brand should hit an emotional center and do something that matters, instead of just pushing more coupons. Humanize your brand. Don’t try to close in one minute. A social media campaign is a one night stand – and this is about relationship-building. What’s going to work for you as a human being is going to work for you as a business. We’re turning into a small-town world. Human elements matter. Have a voice and a point of view, and don’t talk like a corporation.

What’s a Social Media Expert, Anyway?
Ask 10 different people what the ROI of SM is, what the value of a fan is, what Facebook strategy really means, anyway, and get ready for 57 different answers.

Open Book Brands
It’s not about apps, technology, campaigns. The brand has to emotionally connect with the consumer. Brands are no longer the mirrors that define us, but have to be magnets that draw us in. They have to deal with us with trust, transparency and truth. Own mistakes, then turn them around. Be genuine and authentic.

Follow Your Curiosity
Barry Diller got into the Internet in ’92 or ’93 because he was intrigued by this new way a screen was being used, and wanted to explore it. “So many people at SXSW are following their curiosity,” he said. “The miracle of the Internet is that it allows everybody who has curiosity to figure out the ideas in their brain, get it together, push a button and get it out.”

Have a Big Vision
The Foursquare founders knew what they wanted to do since their days at Dodgeball. They created the product they wanted to create to make people’s life more interesting, and went where that took them. They’re following their own strong sense of mission, leading always with how they can make their users’ lives more enriched, and doing it as a team.

Sounds pretty easy, right?

SXSW 2011: Photo Report – Part 1

We know that many of you couldn’t make it to SXSW this year to experience all the panels, sights, free stuff, parties, people and BBQ. But fear not! Flightpath gives you a glimpse into what SXSW was like with Part 1 of our SXSW Photo Report. Enjoy!

Outside the Austin Convention Center, the main hub of SXSW, in the morning. Lots of people, but nothing compared to inside the building...
Badge pickup. Not the most exciting part of SXSW, but essential nonetheless. The wait wasn't too bad, and all the convention volunteers were really friendly.
The view from the escalator at one of the many hotels in the area hosting panels. For as many people as there were, it never felt suffocating like some other (::cough::New York Comic-Con::cough) conventions I've been to.
The crowd awaits Anjuan Simmons' discussion about what lessons app designers can take from comic books.
As would become my habit, I was covering all the panels I went to with both my personal and Flightpath Twitter handles. And praying I didn't make a Chrysler-like mistake.
Anjuan Simmons, right, discusses comics and comic book fans. He ended the panel with a comic book trivia contest. Not to brag or nothin', but...
...I won.
The PepsiMAX lot. Free wi-fi, free food, and the PepsiMAX flowed like water.
What would SXSW be without clowns on stilts...
...and free ice cream sandwiches.
The view from the escalator at the Austin Convention Center. Pretty amazing.

And that’s it for Part 1 of our SXSW Photo Report! Come back soon for Part 2, as well as more coverage of SXSW 2011!

SXSW 2011: Finding Twitter Secrets Through Comedy

SXSW 2011

Before I jump into the topic of this post, I just want to report that SXSW 2011 is indeed living up to its hype. Tons of interesting panels, people, and an amazingly good spirit throughout. It is definitely the best convention/trade show/conference I’ve ever been to.

Now, to the topic at hand. Two of my favorite panels thus far have been, “Being Funny On Twitter (Without Getting Fired),” with talk from Chapin Clark of R/GA and Ross Morrison of Huge Inc. on bringing humor and personality to brands through Twitter, as well as “Social Media and Comedy: F**k Yeah!”, which featured comedy-Twitter giants Marc Maron and Michael Ian Black, among others. These were especially timely panels after the Chrysler Twitter debacle last week.

While the two panels attacked a similar topic from different angles – “Being Funny” was about knowing when to use humor on Twitter and for which type of clients, and “Social Media and Comedy” was more about how Twitter has become a new tool for actual comedians – they both ended up presenting similar messages. As Maron said during the “Social Media and Comedy” panel, “You’re not rewarding your fans [if you’re always promoting something].” In other words, people go to Twitter for honesty. If you’re a comedian or a corporation, people aren’t interested in following you to be bombarded with advertisements for your next stand-up special DVD or product release. They want to get a sense of who you are and what your personality is. That’s why being funny on Twitter is valuable to companies where it doesn’t stretch the brand image too far, and why Twitter has become such a great source for comedy from comedians: it’s all about cutting through the facade and learning something real about a person or company.

During “Being Funny,” R/GA’s Clark talked not just about being funny on Twitter, but general conduct as well for when you’re managing a corporate Twitter stream. First-person Tweets from a corporate account tend to raise eyebrows, whether they’re humorous or not — people want to know who is actually writing this stuff. Remember that you’re not just playing to the room, you’re playing to the world. If not everyone is going to get your joke, especially if it’s a corporate Twitter account, it’s best not to Tweet it. Also, however, don’t be afraid to experiment a little bit. If you’re going to try and create a Twitter account for a company with some humor and personality injected, try different styles of humor and see what the audience likes. But what happens when you achieve Twitter success through comedy? Do you hold back once you have a mass audience?

At “Social Media and Comedy,” we asked Marc Maron and Michael Ian Black during the panel whether or not they feel pressure to self-censor as their Twitter followings grow. Both said no — they’re only emboldened to share more of themselves, though Ian Black admitted that when he does feel like he’s self-censoring, he says something more outrageous. This might not be the best strategy for a company using humor, but it does speak to the need to be consistent and not let your followers down. As long as you’re being true to them and yourself, you’re doing your job on Twitter.

We have lots more coming in the days ahead from SXSW 2011, including a photo report, more blog posts, and as always, more Twitter updates! Keep an eye on this space, as well as our Twitter account, @FlightpathNY, or the hashtag #austinsix for all updates from the Flightpathians at SXSW 2011.

SXSW Always Gets The Human Side of Digital


Man, did I love SXSW 2010!  It was an incredible experience for a creative marketing digital-newbie-guy, even when gagging on people talking in code…like CSS and HTML5.  Honestly, it was the most profoundly immersive trade show or festival experience I had ever attended.

This year I am SOL (meaning so out of luck...I need this job, okay!) with personal commitments and tons of client stuff; there’s no way I can attend. But six lucky Flightpathians are going – I have affectionately dubbed them the “Austin Six” (hashtag #austinsix on Twitter) – and here’s their rap sheet. They are great, interesting people. If you see them, their Twitter stream, or their meme badge, just say hi for me.  This year there is so much human-ness in the presentations, sponsors and all the before/during and after parties; I know because I have been jealously digging anything SXSW 2011, and wish I could be there with the Austin Six.

I want to end this quick post before having to run to a Vet appointment – my digitally native Airedale Abby had major ear surgery a few days ago and is now deaf, but doing great – with three things you must do in addition to hooking up with the “A6”:

1.       Go to Wholefoods. Their global headquarters store is an easy one mile walk from the show – it is the coolest foodie store – and their breakfast tacos are clearly illegal in NYC!

2.       Think/act like somebody else, for at least one day. If you’re a geek, act like a designer or story teller or desperado for a breakfast taco…but leave your comfort zone for a bit!

3.       Forget about the parties as networking opps. Think about the networking opps as parties. You walk into opportunities everywhere, every minute. Make it all a party – it is the best freakin show on earth, and what better way is there to capture the human side of digital than by truly enjoying your time with the people behind it all?

Make sure to follow us on Twitter @FlightpathNY for continuous SXSWi coverage, as well as hashtag #austinsix to keep up with all the Flightpathians in attendance. We’ll see you there!

The “Austin Six” Are Psyched for SXSW

SXSW The Austin Six

Six members of the Flightpath team (dubbed the “Austin Six” by Flightpath’s own Cliff Medney) are eagerly anticipating their trip to the South By Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Festival in Austin, TX. The festival promises to be a whirlwind of networking opportunities, learning at every corner and of course the chance to experience all the sights and sounds that Austin has to offer.

SXSW has a huge following and just keeps getting bigger every year. Taking place this year from March 11th to March 15th, topics covered range from social media to design to programming. Most of the members will be experiencing SXSW for the first time, but we do have one repeat visitor as well. So starting with the experienced, here is what our team members are looking forward to the most.

Denise de Castro – This is my second SXSW trip. I’m looking forward to great eats, great panels, and catching up with other social media mavens that I tweet with but have never met. I learned my lessons from last year: I’m bringing a battery charging case for my iPhone and planning out what panels/sessions I’m going to attend. Okay okay, what I’m really looking forward to is The Food: barbecue, tacos, and bbq tacos =)

Dan Brooks – Definitely “Social Media & Comedy: F**k Yeah,” on which Marc Maron (who I talked about in my podcast blog post) will be a panelist. (This is a subject we’ll be tackling soon on the Flightpath blog via an interview, though I won’t spoil with whom!) Also, “Ain’t It Cool News’ 15th Anniversary” panel – I don’t think they create the most well-written (or well-thought out) movie/comics reviews around, but they were just normal dudes who created something huge out of nothing, and I’m interested to hear their story. Last (but not least), I’m looking forward to “Second Screen: TV Meets the Web Backchannel,” which is about laptop/mobile usage during TV viewing, a subject recently debated on the Flightpath blog.

Ryan Kitson – Sunshine, tacos, and nerds will definitely make for a great environment to absorb information. Though not surprising, it’s nice to see there is quite the assortment of mobile and tablet sessions, and “Your Mom Has an iPad: Designing for Boomers” has already got me thinking.

I recently had a conversation with my girlfriend about the fact that her mother (who has never had any interest in technology or SXSW, for that matter) is a proud iPad user. Since bringing home her iPad, she heads to bed early each night, curls up with her new Apple wonder, and watches past episodes of “The Bachelor.”

She may not be making full use of the device there, but it’s nice to know us technophiles are not the only ones enjoying the portability of this technology. I look forward to hearing the shtick.

Michael Liss – BBQ. Okay, other than eating some real BBQ, I’m most excited about being awash in people who eat, drink and breathe all things digital – that contagious passion I pick up at industry events that should be rocking to the nth degree at SXSWi. The people, companies, products and ideas that are changing the landscape faster than we can map it. SXSWi doesn’t just gather to examine where the digital world is going, but to forge it, to make it happen, right there.

New products and companies roll out in front of your eyes. Ideas and new ways of thinking come flying from all directions. I’m excited to be in the middle of it, to soak everything up, discuss and debate it, be inspired and invigorated, meet new people who live for this, and come back ready to reengage with a fresh perspective, fresh approach, fresh ideas and a pure excitement for putting what comes next into action.

And I also can’t wait for the BBQ.

John Whitcomb – Everything is bigger in Texas. While this may or may not be true, it does reflect what I am looking forward to the most. A chance to experience a new area of the country that I have not been to that has its own culture and way of doing things. From what I hear, Austin is not your typical Texas vision but it is a different city and will give me a chance to get out of the New York area and discover something new. I am sure the sessions will be full of new discoveries as well and that excitement of seeing and learning something for the first time is what I anticipate the most.

Alex Lindgren – Right now, nothing too specific. But I’m excited to see what new things companies are doing and announcing, and learning about new trends in tech – particularly mobile. I’m also really hoping not to be shot, since it’s my first time in Texas, and I hear it’s a place you don’t mess with.

There you have it! That is what each member of the “Austin Six,” as we are known, is looking forward to during SXSW. Make sure to follow us on Twitter @FlightpathNY as well as hashtag #austinsix to keep up on how the festival is living up to our expectations. We’ll see you there!

Certified Organic Marketing

Organic farmers and handlers work tirelessly to obtain and maintain the esteemed USDA organic seal. This process involves a multi-year commitment that begins at least three years before any goods earn the coveted mark. It’s loads of hard work, without convenient chemical shortcuts, and research. Then there’s the certification process and, you guessed it, fees. So while they’re doing all this work to comply with rigorous standards, does it all go to waste the second they step foot in a marketing or advertising agency? Should this really be the case? Or is the world in need of a marcom revolution, a shift to a truly “organic” agency and a new discipline within marketing?

We’re all guilty. Think about the stacks and stacks of paper thrown away—not recycled— each day at our offices. Consider the electricity old devices and poorly engineered technologies waste every second of every day. For proof, just take a walk by your agency’s servers and feel the heat emitting from these massive machines. It’s all a senseless waste of valuable resources that ultimately contradicts the essence of what any product that bears the organic seal is trying to promote. Yet, all these products need to be marketed don’t they? But doesn’t it, in fact, taint the very essence if the agency doesn’t adhere to strict eco-conscious protocol for its own business operations? It’s worth pondering—deeply.

So we’re in a bit of a pickle, but there is a solution. In the wake of global resource depletion and looming environmental hazards, now is definitely the right time to stop talking and start implementing. Organic brands should start demanding more from their agencies.  How about this: If agencies want to be eligible to market organic products, they too, must uphold similar regulations to the USDA organic seal:

  • Ongoing agency-wide recycling program for 3 years before application
  • Purchase and use of only energy-efficient technologies for 3 years before application
  • Purchase and use of only recycled paper, eco-friendly printing inks & office supplies for 3 years before application
  • Undergo annual eco-audits of business operations & maintain “organic-grade” levels of sustainability
  • Fifty percent of charitable contributions must benefit environmental causes for 3 years before application

Only the last one is radical, and it would only apply to those agencies that make significant charitable contributions. The other steps to becoming an “organic” agency seem only logical and fair, considering the steadfast commitment that organic producers make to their business operations. If this was a government program, there could be tax benefits (I know, I said the “t” word) to sweeten the deal.  Fiscal incentives tend to be the most motivating.

Indulge the happy-hippie daydream just a little more. Imagine the competitive landscape of top agencies charging forward with eco-conservation initiatives just to beat one another to a pitch.  It sounds amazing, wonderful, and full of that raw human energy that positively propels the world forward, generation by generation.  Meeting organic brands on the same level of environmental commitment certainly gives an agency perspective into its target consumer group. But the compelling thing, in this case, is the collective energy gathered to sustain the one, shared resource most valuable to all of us: Earth. It’s a cool, new way to do business.

Plan to Succeed Using Social Media

Some of you might be familiar with the saying, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” This is true in many of our everyday tasks, from making sure you have a shopping list to creating an emergency plan in case a crisis ever strikes. Planning is especially important when talking about any kind of communications plan or strategy development. However, the speed of execution sometimes makes that task difficult to complete.

I still hear, from time to time, the dreaded phrase “we need a Facebook Page,” or “we need to be on Twitter.” This is fine, and for the most part true, but creating a profile on Facebook or handle on Twitter doesn’t lead to immediate success. And instead, you may be disappointed in the results if you rush in headlong. It’s best to take a step back, breathe deeply and think about why you think Facebook or Twitter will benefit your company. Do some initial research about each platform to learn about the strengths, weaknesses, and tools available. Brainstorm to develop an effective plan on how not only to create a presence, but also to capitalize on these platforms and tools to help achieve your business goals.

Solid planning also allows you to gauge where you are, in terms of overall effectiveness. Evaluate your entire industry and take a really close look at your competitors to learn some best practices. You’ll discover what’s working and what isn’t and gain deeper insights into social media platforms. With a little bit of luck, you’ll start picking up the language, too.

Once you feel confident that you understand this new space, it’s time to look at measurement. Once you launch this Facebook page or start tweeting on Twitter, how will you know how it’s going? By taking the extra time to plan, you give yourself the opportunity to develop a system for tracking and measuring. Even more importantly, you can record from the onset how your social media efforts on these new tools can tie back into your overall business goals.

I am personally a very goal-oriented person. The main reason I think goals are important is because they give you something to measure yourself against. After all, how do you know where you want to go if you don’t even know where you are? Once you have goals set, the next step is to utilize what you learned from the research phrase. Analyze the best practices insights and target audience research you gathered to develop a road map to help you get to your destination. And just like planning a road trip requires accounting for some unexpected stops, as well as some necessary pre-planned detours, so too, should your communications plan, or your plan for pretty much anything.

My First WOMMA Summit: Not Everything that Happens in Vegas Should Stay There

Last week, I attended my first Word of Mouth Marketing Association Summit (WOMMA).  It was a great experience full of amazing insights that truly gathered some of the best and brightest in the business…and it was in Las Vegas.

It’s ironic when you think that a word-of-mouth marketing conference would take place in a city that has long used secrecy as a campaign slogan. “What happens in Vegas…”you know the rest.  And I’m sure that some should probably live by that rule.  But key concepts and ideas discussed at this year’s WOMMA should definitely not stay secret. So here are a few of my takeaways:

  • Measurement is still a hard thing to quantify. Ask anyone who works in social media what one of their largest challenges is, and inevitably, you will have them list measurement, ROI, or proving the value of their efforts. This is a problem that has not disappeared, but one that, according to many in the field, we are getting closer to figuring out. Josh Bernoff of Forrester, and author of the new book Empowered, addressed this issue in his keynote speech by introducing the “ROI of Word of Mouth Pyramid.”  Bernoff identifies three levels to this pyramid:
  1. First, is the measurement of activity or items, such as interactions, fans, twitter followers, etc.
  2. Second, is comparisons, slightly more advanced than straight reporting, as this involves taking those numbers and comparing them to other efforts.
  3. Third, is the pinnacle, and the point where all efforts converge is the final measurement of value. This includes emphasis on comparing one activity to the other and a deeper look at what value these interactions have to the overall marketing objectives.

In addition to Bernoff’s keynote, a number of sessions featuring some high profile brands (ESPN, Coca Cola, etc.) also addressed the topic of ROI and measurement.

  • One-on-one conversations are hard to scale. One of the last panel discussions, moderated by Jeremiah Owyang, a leading researcher and analyst with The Altimeter Group, discussed the importance of brand ambassador and advocate programs. Owyang explained that it is impossible for any company to scale individual conversations with customers, but programs that are designed to utilize brand advocates and ambassadors can prove to be very valuable.
  • Engage in dialogue with your fans. This last piece of advice seems like a no-brainer but was still a very popular discussion.  Complete panels were devoted to delivering the best customer service via social media and the resulting wins for the brand.  A panel from Ben and Jerry mentioned they saw a huge uptick when, instead of telling their followers where they were going to be, they asked them where they wanted them to go.

So what is the number one thing that I took away from the summit?  I think it’s this: As much as technology can change and move from platform to platform, there are still going to be some golden rules to live by in social and word-of-mouth platforms.  Keep in mind the three items listed above, and make sure that everything you do provides some sort of value to your community.  Do this and you will have a huge leg up on your competition.

Being a Trust Agent Means Taking Action

As part of our monthly book club here at Flightpath, we recently read the book Trust Agents by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith.  The book lays out principles that an individual can follow to become a so-called “trust agent,” and then illustrates how to apply those learnings to interactions in new media and emerging technology.  The concept of the book is important, but since it is not the main focus of this post, I will quickly outline the six key principles or tactics:

  • Make Your Own Game
  • One of Us
  • The Archimedes Effect
  • Agent Zero
  • The Human Artist
  • Building an Army

If you want to dive further into the book, I highly recommend picking up a copy for yourself.  It is well written, easy to understand, and a quick read.

There is more to this book, however, than just the basic concept.  The lesson or insight that really hit home for me was how every chapter, and the book as a whole, was designed to be an actionable asset, as opposed to basic theory.  This becomes evident in how the book is completed.  The book does not end with a summary, overview, or re-hashing of everything the authors wrote.  Instead, it ends with action items and a plan with the foundation for actual execution.

This to me was the greatest asset the book offers.  I believe the author wrote the book from this specific frame of reference, and this is one of the reasons why it is so easy to relate to on many levels.  If they had a goal for what this book should accomplish, I believe it was exactly that, for the reader to internalize the content in their own way and then apply it and utilize it right away.  When the authors first address the concept of currency and how it relates to digital content, they begin by mentioning a joke.  I won’t repeat the joke here, but the point was that the joke becomes an asset in itself, something that an individual can use for their own benefit.  This to me is how this book becomes a valuable asset that should be applied in each individual’s own way in their everyday lives.  Just like the joke, however, the way one applies it can be completely different.  One person could use the joke as an icebreaker for a one-on-one conversation, another person could use the same joke as an introduction to a room full of people, and yet another could use it to explain his point of view in a blog post (wonder which one I am?).

The point and lesson is that we should approach everything in this way.  You have all heard the quote “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”  This is perfectly applicable here and in everything you do.  If you don’t have a plan to put those intentions to use, then they are just that—dead intentions.  Instead, try to start looking at the world from an actionable perspective.  Ask yourself the questions, “How can I apply this to my situation, my business, my life?”  It is only with this deliberate practice that anything will ever get accomplished.  So what is your plan?  Don’t simply tell me, but as a famous shoe brand says, “Just Do It!”

Is Candy Evil? Confer with Your Social Network

Candy and Social Media

I quit smoking 10 years ago and in the process, ended up exchanging one oral fixation (smokes) for another (candy).  I’m not super-crazy about the stuff but do probably consume more of it than most people and even had to forbid our office manager from regularly filling a communal candy bowl so that I wouldn’t gain (too much more) weight.   – I guess you could say, I’ve got a love/hate relationship with sweets.  So, it was with real interest that I read an article in this week’s New York Times with the title ‘Is Candy Evil or Just Misunderstood?’

While the story did address the pro or con question, the main gist of the piece was: people are passionate about candy!  This should probably come as no surprise.

There are blogs like Candy Addict and Candy Blog.  Apparently, last century doctors blamed candy for the spread of polio! And of course, all kinds of boutique candy companies are popping up – from Liddabit Sweets (quoted in the article) to my West Village neighborhood’s Chocolate Bar.

So, whenever people are passionate about something, where does it provoke the most attention or conversation?  It shouldn’t be a secret that (as of this writing) Skittles has 11,731,208 Facebook fans or that Nestle Crunch has a respectable 242,003 likes.

Candy and social media go together (like chocolate and peanut butter).  So seek out your favorites – whether they’re Life Savers Gummies or Dylan’s Candy Bar and partake in the conversation.  Happy Halloween.