Charlene Li's Open Leadership A Must-Read For Ethical Marketers

Charlene Li, formerly of Forrester Research and co-author of Groundswell, does with Open Leadership what so few authors would find possible: making a convincing argument regarding a real and very powerful movement in the zeitgeist, despite it being inherently fuzzy to understand and difficult to prove.

But just because it is difficult to determine ROI, does not mean the elements of open leadership are not effective. From Li:

"In actuality, the activities taking place on [social sites] are inherently highly measurable, but we have not yet established a body of accepted knowledge and experience about the value of these activities versus the costs and risks of achieving those benefits." (page 77)

The Value of Ethics

And not only is this leadership style actionable and (somewhat) measurable, but it also serves as a venue for your personal values. My favorite aspect of this book is the relation of an open leadership style to the leader's own ethics.

Li writes in great detail about trust building, personal values and humility. Social technologies and open leadership simply allows broader activation of the leader's (your) personal values.

When she speaks of humility, Li notes that open leaders accept "that their views...may need to shift because of what their curious explorations expose." (page 169) She quotes Ron Ricci, Cisco's VP of corporate positioning, as saying "Shared goals require trust. Trust requires behavior. And guess what technology does? It exposes behavior." (page 198)

You begin to understand that Li isn't railing against command-and-control operations nor does she dive off into kumbaya territory. But she does convince the reader that a world of ubiquitous social technologies, business transparency, and digital communication will require a different kind of leadership.

Open Leadership Isn't Trying To Be The New Groundswell

As a huge fan of Li's previous book, Groundswell, I couldn't wait for Open Leadership. But they really are two different animals.

I found myself wishing there was more about the inevitability of openness. That - along with KPIs and a few other fundamentals - are given short shrift. Maybe there's not a lot to say. Maybe not many studies have been done.

But unlike Groundswell, which was data-driven and highly intuitive, Open Leadership doesn't provide enough ammo for younger leaders to march these ideas into the C-suite.

In order for these ideas to be enacted, one likely must already be in some position of leadership. While Groundswell provided the facts and figures for anyone to persuade doubters, Open Leadership does not. It's an idea book, not a text book. That's OK - just something to know before you begin reading.

Buy The Book

Overall, I wholeheartedly recommend Open Leadership. It's innovative, smart, and unlike any book you've read before. All that and it's highly convincing as well. Do yourself (and your employees) a favor and read this book.

[I received a free advance reading copy of this book from Jossey-Bass publishers, but that did not influence my review of the book. I profoundly apologize to Ms. Li for a stunningly late review of the book she kindly sent me. Better late than never, I hope.]

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5 Things Napoleon Can Teach You About Strategy

BG and I love documentaries and she has been on a "royals" kick. This week is a tad different, with Netflix delivering a four-hour documentary on Napoleon.

Needless to say, our Friday night was exciting. War, intrigue, ambition, wine (OK, lots of wine).

You all know how much I prize classic strategy. I've quoted Sun Tzu. I sleep with a copy of Machiavelli's The Prince on my bedside table. (True story.)

Honestly, I didn't know much about Napoleon before this video. But I was particularly impressed with one of his first major battles as a General.

He'd been promoted to Commander of the Interior and given command of the French forces at the Italian front. No one expected much. The promotion was likely arranged by his new wife, he was largely untested, and this army had been in disrepair for over two years.

Things could not have looked more dire.

However, as you might expect, Napoleon turned this all around, starting with a rout of the Piedmontese who were aligned with the strong Austrian force just east of Nice. Napoleon entered this battle out-manned, out-gunned, and out-classed. There was no reason for him to win, but he did.

Here are some of the reasons for his victory. It's amazing to see how many can be applied to online marketing and the strategic efforts we make everyday.

  • He is cunning - Napoleon wanted to outnumber the enemy, even if he didn't have the bodies to actually do so. He separated the Piedmontese from the Austrians and went after the weaker of the two. Before the battle, he spread his forces out. Not knowing where exactly he is, the Piedmontese do the same. And at the last minute, Napoleon brings his forces back together and makes a crucial push - at that instant with more men on his side than the enemy's. How are you planning for success? How are you preparing for the next brand crisis or industry shake-up?
  • He is fast - Napoleon's army moves at 30 miles per day. The Piedmontese at 6 miles per day. With greater speed, Napoleon also understands the power of shock. He attacks when it is unexpected. How are you insulating your brand from the unexpected? How are you moving faster than the competition?
  • He is relentless - From the documentary: "He attacks everyday. He attacks when it snows, he attacks at night, he attacks when it's cold. It's not the way the game is played." Later, Historian Jacques Garnier says "He looks for the enemy, fights it, and when they assume he's going to stop - he continues! And the next day he fights again. It surprises them." When was the last time you surprised your competition with your relentlessness?
  • He is ruthless - Napoleon doesn't seem like a man who lost sleep over winning. A historian reports that a Peidmontese officer would later complain, "They sent a young madman who attacks right, left, and from the rear. It's an intolerable way of making war." When was the last time you felt blood on your teeth? How do you press forward ruthlessly for your clients?
  • He gets results - After defeating the Piedmontese, Napoleon insisted on silver and gold, with which he paid his army - the first money they'd seen in months, if not years. Results garner loyalty. He made no apologies for success and he expected his soldier to take risks, but he also rewarded those risks as well. Are you encouraging your staff? Do you recognize their sacrifices? Aligning them to your objectives can pay off royally for everyone.

Perhaps even more persuasive - and more ubiquitous - is Napoleon's near-insane ambition. But how refreshing too! I'd much rather hear about someone too ambitious than someone afraid to even try. On which side do you fall?

He was crass, intelligent, homicidally ambitious, but a professor of the highest order. There is a great deal marketers and strategists can learn from Napoleon.

When was the last time you were crushing, fast, relentless, ruthless, and delivered results? How about any one of these five?

One can easily poo-poo Napoleon. But wiser wo/men will learn the lessons that delivered him victory. How are you applying these lessons?

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Here's To The Rabble-Rousers


I failed last week.

I got into a big argument over a project I'm doing on the side. That's not the big failure though.

The big failure is that it took this long to have the fight. I'd acquiesced and tried to find parity and compromise. I had grown too tired too quickly of defending my ideas which, after so much work, have proven prescient.

My strategy was sound, but I hesitated.

It doesn't matter that the ideas were correct. Because I didn't fight for those ideas, they're long gone.

So, here's how I hope to ensure this never happens again. I'm making a public pledge today - to you and to other marketers who may fall into the same trap.

I pledge to offend the status quo for the good of my clients.

I promise to be a change agent, even though I may be blamed for the painful symptoms during that change.

I will ruffle feathers. I will not shut up.

If it's good for my client, I will spit on the path of least resistance.

I will be a rabble-rouser.

The client may not accept my ideas, but those ideas are what they're paying for. To give anything less would be tantamount to stealing their money.

Have you ever felt like this? What did you do to get yourself back on the right path?

Could you make this same pledge? Is there anything you would add? We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments box below.

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Do You Lead With Your Eyebrows Or Your Mouth?


It's a summer Friday afternoon - let's talk marketing! Wahoo!

"Yeah right," right? That's why I'll keep this short.

I want you to make a commitment - just something to consider - no sweat or hard work due right now.

Starting Monday morning, I want you to think about the way you lead. If you're a boss, think about the way you foster your young employee's careers, about the way you inspire, about the very nature of how you lead. Same goes for mid-level employees with your intern oversight. Hell, even if you are the office intern, it's a lesson for you as well. After all, who is going to be the boss in 20 years?

Here's the gist: While I was on my honeymoon (just got back last night), I read some non-marketing books. Among them was Boss of Bosses, a story about the FBI's mob take-down during the '80s (it's the closest I got to beach reading...I did get through almost 2 marketing books as well).

This passage about leadership really struck me:

"[Paul] Castellano knew that the most powerful man was the man who needed to say the least. Neil's carrying on, his slapping of backs - it had a certain gruff charm, but it did not speak of power. True power resided in the lift of the eyebrow, the barely discernible nod of the head. If ["Neil"] Dellacroce wanted to play the emcee, fine - that only showed the relative weakness of his position." (pg. 107)

So, what about you? Do you berate your employees with screams and threats? Do they know exactly how to make that vein in your forehead dance the jig?

I've always respected my bosses who resisted tantrums. They were the ones that really seemed in control - unflappable, collected, above the fray.

If you have employees under you - or you will someday - you can learn a little something about leadership from the former  boss.

If you agree with this, I'd like you to (re)dedicate yourself to this style of leadership on Monday morning. Take the weekend to think about it. Consider what emotional responses might be chipping away your credibility with your employees. Then take a lesson from Paul and let us know how it goes!

Think about it over the weekend: do you lead with a careful lift of the eyebrow or do you scream your head off to demonstrate your leadership? Which is more effective? And how are you taking steps to make your style the most efficient?

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Marketing During A Recession E-Book

After many weeks of work, I am proud to release a new e-book: Marketing During A Recession: Economic Slowdowns Are Opportunities (PDF)

We're all worried about how the recession will effect us and our business. But there are a lot of misconceptions and downright mistakes about how to use marketing during this recession. This e-book draws from expert advice and provides you a path forward in these difficult times.

Please download it or check it out on SlideShare. (It's free, of course.)

I got some great help from Joann Sondy, a designer in the online community - she's the reason this e-book looks so much better than my previous ones. She was great to work with and knew the best design strategy for this particular material.

Consider hiring Joann for your next project. You can check out her portfolio at (seriously, have your annual reports ever looked this good?) and read her blog at Some more information about her work is below:

Joann Sondy has an extensive background creating and delivering corporate materials for financial and investor relations. With more than 15 years, Joann has produced distinctive communications that help IR/PR agencies build audience awareness and confidence. If your strategy calls for a presentation, e-book, white paper, fact sheet and/or annual report, contact Joann today. joann{at}creativeaces{dot}dom or DM her via Twitter: @jsondy.

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My 2009 Blogging Resolution: More Providing, Less Promoting

I disappointed myself last week.

It was as simple as a reminder in my Outlook: "Check this out and do the usual." I was referring to The Shorty Awards, another vaguely worded contest to feature the world's "Top Twitterers." It was just one more made up PR stunt where I hoped to get some traction and gain a few eyeballs for this blog.

Luckily, local Chicago folks offered a reality check. @Tankboy and @me3dia weighed in, but @BlahGeeTsa put it best by questioning whether Twitter had turned into a high school popularity contest with The Shorty Awards as a prominent culprit.

It's Not The Shorties, It's Me

So why was I disappointed in myself?

It wasn't really about The Shorty Awards, but rather my reaction to them. I didn't question them, didn't investigate, didn't consider why my blog readers would care - I simply went into promotion mode.

That's a tough mindset to break out of. Marketing your marketing blog is de rigueur. You're required to demonstrate your theories while you talk about them. It's akin to giving juggling lessons while keeping all of your own balls in the air.

The danger, of course, is if you start to do these things without thinking. The way I'd begun to flock to every promotional opportunity was similar to the way other people artificially increase their friend count on social networks. It's like an insulation against obscurity.

And of course, this is dangerous and unnecessary. From Scott Brown in November's WIRED: "We squirrel away Friends the way our grand-parents used to save nickels - obsessively, desperately, as if we'll run out of them some day." For me, running blindly toward every marketing opportunity to show off my web 2.0 chops actually hurts the case I'm trying to make about new marketing!

My Resolution

I'm not bad-mouthing The Shorty Awards. If that's your thing, knock yourself out.

Even those who seek to build "Friends" lists as a means to have a bigger audience to pray 'n' spray their marketing message - I find it inane, but I won't say much.

Rather, I'm going to focus on providing better content, helping more people, and showing true leadership. In 2009, I will worry less about my stats or my rank on Technorati and the Power 150.

I would love to see us move more toward Intimacy 2.0, as defined by Mitch Joel:

"Maybe true success in these online social circles will not involve metrics like amount of connections or how many times something happened, but rather how powerful and poignant something is to the specific target market."

And my target market is you, the readers I appreciate so, so much. Here what you can do for me in return: keep me honest. If you see me veering into hubris or promoting without providing, I want you to call me on it. Immediately.

Thanks for reading and I hope to see you back here soon.


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5 New Social Media Jobs You Will Fill In The Next 5 Years

Social media has already changed business profoundly. If yours hasn't, you are already behind the curve. If you have customers, their expectations regarding how they interact with businesses has likely already shifted dramatically.

So how will you deal with these changes in your business? They will surely impact marketing and legal, perhaps even I.T. But what else is on the horizon?

This is my list of five employees you might hire in the next five years (and whose positions didn't exist five years ago). Part of this equation depends on how big you are and how ingrained social media becomes in your business. Another aspect is your company's size - smaller companies may likely combine aspects of these jobs.

That said, it's likely that someone will need to fill the following positions in some way. How are you preparing?

  1. International Community Compliance Chief: Facebook and MySpace may be dominant in the U.S., but how much attention are you paying to social networks in other countries? Do you have a presence on Korea's Cyworld, Orkut (huge in Brazil), Mixi in Japan, Bebo in the UK, or Grono in Poland? Someone in your company needs to claim the company name on all of these sites, oversee even moderate design, set up unique referral links, and ensure that all of these efforts match your company's over-arching strategy. (Thanks to Paul Gillin's Secrets of Social Media Marketing for these examples, roughly on pages 101-106.)
  2. Community Manager: People are talking about your brand. If they do it within the auspices of the company, in a sanctioned forum, message board, or internal blog, you will need a community manager. This employee needs to both ensure (through personal interaction) that the community is a valuable assets without spammers or flamers (definition #1) and they need to set up the internal documentation with which you regulate employee interaction. These people are the face of your brand to the outside world and the customer ambassador to internal staff.
  3. Online Reputation Manager: While the community manager has a public presence and is sanctioned to act, an online reputation manager is wider-reaching in their scope, but largely hidden from public view. This is the person you turn to when you need to know which online influencers are talking about your brand. They need to have a comprehensive view of your competitors' online reputation. They need to identify openings in the market or current customers' requests. The online reputation manager is the spy agency (within reason) for your company.
  4. Blogger Outreach Manager/Blog Cultivation Expert: A lot has been said about the right way to approach bloggers and the wrong way to approach bloggers. Do you have an expert on your staff who already has relationships with bloggers in your industry? Everyone needs good PR or the occasional digg/stumble/sphinn/[insert goofy web 2.0 term of the day]. "[Bloggers] are a potentially significant new constituency for public relations efforts, and they are the engine that drives successful viral marketing promotions" (Paul Gillin's Secrets of Social Media Marketing, again.) Let the blogger outreach manager cultivate like-minded souls online and advise you to the up-and-comers. Allow this individual to build relationships with them now before you need their help.
  5. Chief Conversation Officer: This is the big kahuna of social media leadership in your company. The Chief Conversation Officer is an amalgamation of many of the roles described above. However, the CCO reports directly to the top and it is a soup-to-nuts position: they are responsible for finding the online conversation, documenting it, sharing it, analyzing it, and ultimately joining in on the conversation (in a non-creepy, non-"marketese" kind of way). Here are more details about the Chief Conversation Officer position.

How are you preparing for the influx of social media into your business? Are you cultivating leaders within your organization to help? Please share your ideas and suggestions in the comments section below.

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My Q&A With Paul Richlovsky Of Fathom SEO

I recently spoke with a good college friend who now works at Fathom SEO, out of Cleveland, Ohio. We discussed objections to participating in social media, the perils of cutting online marketing budgets, ways to gauge website health beyond rankings, and the state of the SEM industry.

You can read the full interview on Fathom's blog. I encourage you to check it out and leave comments, especially if you have stories that illustrate or refute any of my points.

For instance, I have recently been giving a lot of thought to the effects of the economic downturn on marketing budgets and allocation of funds. Tangentially, I've also been considering the role of risk in our profession. This question is one example where those two topics came together:

Give me the best reasons why companies that need to trim advertising budgets in these tough economic times should not cut their Internet marketing funds.

The best reason not to cut your internet marketing funds is because it has been repeatedly proven that the companies who cut marketing during recessions lose market share to companies who don’t.

This is from a recent MediaPost article that puts it pretty succinctly:

“It's well-documented how companies leverage downturns in the economy to effectively market themselves. In the 1970s, marketers like Revlon and Philip Morris increased their advertising to gain market share. Today, companies like Procter & Gamble, General Motors, Verizon, News Corp and PepsiCo all increased their first-quarter ad spending.

The typical response to cut back on ad spending when the economy slows down is understandable. However, advertisers with strong brands, stable monetary resources and compelling value propositions can take share from their weaker competitors by effectively targeting their advertising.”

That doesn’t mean you need a huge pile of cash, either. These days it’s cheaper than ever to retain or expand your marketing during tough times.

How much do you think Bill Marriott’s blog is doing to attract customers? How much do you think Frank at Comcast has insulated the company from (more) online disasters? We’re talking, what – minutes a day for Bill and one salary for Frank? And their worth to the company and brand is through the roof.

Creative companies will not need to risk their market share during this or any recession. They will need to be brave and creative, sure, but the online channel wasn’t meant for the timid anyway.

Go to Fathom's blog to read my full interview with Paul. And please let me know if this Q&A was helpful or not. Thanks for reading.


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Book Review: Toy Box Leadership

TBL1 I was recently asked by co-author Michael Waddell to review Toy Box Leadership. This new book is definitely worth picking up and I will explain why. (This post contains no affiliate links and I received no compensation of any kind except for a free review copy of the book.)

The premise of the book by Waddell and Ron Hunter, Jr., is that childhood toys taught or exemplified many of the skills necessary to lead well. Some examples are direct correlations (a rocking horse describing lots of work without actually achieving anything) and others are more figurative (LEGOs describing relationships that start with connecting).

Seriously? Toys And Leadership?

The connection between childhood toys and leadership lesson fluctuates from poignant to cheesy to fondly familiar. But the important thing to remember is that this is not the point. The connection between the toy and the particular lesson is secondary to your ability to absorb and recall the idea.

The toys simply provide an easily recognized and easily remembered framework of leadership strategy. The metaphors are certainly stronger than, say, a purple cow or square apple.

Let's Just Say It

We need to own up to a basic fact: every book on leadership will contain some similar fundamental truths. Communicating goals to your employees, for instance, will universally be a positive thing while emotional rages around the office will be regarded as uncouth. Stating this universality is not a knock on this or any other business book - it simply is.

If we admit to some similarity, then one of the differentiators becomes the book's ability to be memorable and to find a place in the reader's life. This is ultimately what makes Toy Box Leadership successful. Toys fit with the intended audience (Lite-Brites rather than Xbox 360s) and flow smoothly into the each particular subject on leadership.

The Importance Of Before And After

Toy Box Leadership ties together common memories from the past and transitions them to fit a future scenario. This smooth flow makes it perfect reading for your summer vacation if you need something a little meatier than the standard fare. Or, sample a tasty nugget from the book before and after work on your commute. The book works equally well taken in all at once or in sections each day.

In A Web 2.0 World

Many of the lessons in the book are amplified or especially relevant in this web 2.0 world. For instance:

  • Reliability and trust of your workers when more and more employees are telecommuting (pg. 10)
  • Emphasis on customer service and businesses' focus on personal interaction with customers (pg. 114)
  • Flatter organizational charts (pg. 131)

The effectiveness of the book's advice is proved by the examples that have surfaced since it went to print. "Shortcuts and efficiency are not synonymous. Likewise, some streamlining may actually reduce the quality that defines your organization or product" (pg. 114). Hunter and Waddell use the positive example of Nordstrom's customer experience, but this passage could easily be applied to Starbuck's turmoil in recent weeks.

The Gist

I thought this book was great and I recommend that you pick it up. It wasn't the heaviest read and there were no ground-breaking insights, but I do not think the authors set out with these goals in mind. Rather, it appears their intent was to relate useful leadership advice with memorable icons from your past. And in this, they succeed.

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