The Experience Department

The End of My Blog.

For the past 3 years, I’ve been blogging. I started on Posterous; and moved to this site when Posterous closed it’s doors.

I have created 100′s of posts, and it’s been a deeply educational and cathartic experience.

The problem with having a huge archive of keyword-rich posts, is that I get more comments than I can possibly manage alone. Most of them don’t call for a response, but it’s a process I’m not maintaining. In fact, some of the posts are so old that my opinion has changed – or evolved.

The other issue is that Hostile Sheep is getting close to having a launch-ready website. My own blog isn’t being migrated to the new site.

This is the end

Three things are about to happen:

1. All previous posts will be deleted. – In the coming month, all my previously written posts will be deleted. They will not be a part of the new site. In hind-sight, I shouldn’t have migrated my content from Posterous.

2. A new Hostile Sheep website will be published. – I’ve been working on refining the Hostile Sheep business model, processes, partners, brand, etc. A new, simpler, site is in the works and will be published within the next month.

3. A new blog will be created. – “The Experience Department” is the name, and domain, of the new blog. The content that will appear on the new blog will be focused on the practical, implementable, side of user experience, and experience design. It will be lensed under product, service, and message design. I will still write posts on other, more personal, subjects I hold close to my heart; these posts will not appear on the new blog – they will appear on my Medium page (with hopes that Medium will last longer than Posterous.)

The next few months are going to be exciting for me. Revealing the launch-ready site, with the launch-ready brand, is a big step toward the hard launch of the agency next year. Once the site is up, I’ll be filling the blog with all the great thinking, research, and interviews I’ve been working through in order to create Hostile Sheep.



Goodbye, for now.

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Changing the Game

I live in Toronto, Ontario and although this city is one of the largest economies in Canada, it frequently surprises me at how little effort is required to keep certain businesses open. I’ve seen a ton of businesses fail, but its not typically because they can’t keep stable clients (at least not at first). It’s typically because they try changing the game, often without realizing it.

When I really think about it, all my experiences with small organizations, making incremental, manageable growth has always been positive. The biggest crises have been associated with organizations trying to change too quickly. I’d expect most people who own businesses to understand the concept of manageable growth; so, why do smart companies still struggle with the concept? It’s more than just greed. If you look at the past 2 or 3 years, you can determine how you’ve changed personally. How frequently do you log onto the Internet compared to a few years ago. Data suggests that we’re accessing the Internet, sharing ideas, and connecting with each other more than ever. If millions of people change their behaviour, even if markets are slow to react, businesses will need to change too.



Early in my career, I was hired to ‘digitally enable’ a large advertising agency network. The first few months in that role were devoted to properly defining what they meant. Although it turned out to be a simple exercise in changing deep seeded paradigms regarding who the ‘audience’ is, I was actually led to reexamine the agency’s business model. This is what led me to hate the way the industry was using the term “digital”.

Those who were around in the late 90’s and early 2000’s may remember a number of advertising agencies essentially cloning the print or broadcast production team structure, and appending the associated job titles with ‘digital’. (i.e. digital producer, digital account manager.) This led to all sorts of problems that were eventually worked out, with varying degrees of success, over the subsequent decade.



Ok, so if the market is this ever-hastening machine of change; how are organizations able to create manageable growth?

Firstly, forget about digital. Think about your organization (not your clients organization, yours); what does it need to succeed? Did someone say “good clients with lots of money”? Wrong. Every college student knows you need something special to offer your customers. Regardless of whether you’re a service or product oriented organization; you need to create an environment for excellent people to excel. If you can do this, you have the keys to the kingdom. You can sit back and select which clients you want to help, and which ones you’d rather not.

Now, lets talk digital. In a place where niche services, and vendors, are around every corner – I’ve simplified the digital landscape, in my own mind, into one continuum, between pure product development shops, and pure idea development shops.



This might seem confusing; so let me explain my thinking. Many marketing agencies fall close to the middle of this spectrum. They try to do a bit of both. They often consider themselves masters of the idea; and often don’t want to walk away from executing the idea… Regardless of how mediocre they are at creating a product designed to communicate their idea.

The odd organization is capable of striking a balance, within the continuum, to produce an elegant product that communicates ideas in an insightful way. It’s almost too rare to mention. In fact, this happens more frequently by accident, than through a repeatable, well-planned process.


I believe CX & UX principles are key to creating manageable growth, regardless of the type shop; only the approach would change. I’ll break it down, but remember, at its heart, customer experience and user experience is about improving your understanding of, and interaction with your customers.

Product Shops: Make things.

This might seem like an abstract idea to those who haven’t thought like this before, but product development shops focus on creating the best possible product. These types of shops operate best when they have clear requirements & have the opportunity to architect the best solution.

Most organizations down near this end of the continuum have been turned on to UX and CX for years. In fact, many of these organizations are pushing the industry forward, figuring out better, more efficient ways to integrate UX throughout the organization. The biggest opportunities exist for product shops who don’t realize they’re product shops. In Toronto, there are dozens of ‘digital production’ shops that pump out mediocre WordPress sites left-and-right. They either don’t care about the quality of product they produce, or they don’t realize what they’re doing is product development.

Bottom line: If you’re making things. You’re a product development shop & you should think like one.

Manageable Growth: I’ll never forget the line from Shawshank Redemption when Red (Morgan Freeman) said, “Get busy living, or get busy dying.” It became a metaphor for business strategy for me. Organizations are either busy succeeding or busy failing. Organizations that produce satisfactory products are likely going to keep attracting customers who are ready to sacrifice quality for cost savings or time savings. This is an example of an organization that’s busy dying.

What can UX do? UX is more of a philosophy than a specific competency area in my opinion. Adopting this philosophy, one that focuses on understanding the user through research, measurement, and testing, is integral to achieving organizational success. By making the user central to the design and development process; the team benefits, the products benefit, and better clients (who are more trusting) will eventually be attracted to the organization.

Idea Shops: Make content.

In the same way websites aren’t exactly products, ideas aren’t exactly content – but the content creation process is fundamentally compatible with creating good, insightful ideas. Idea shops that understand how to create content are usually familiar with user research, and content planning. The problem are those shops who think it’s their job to come up with a ‘big idea’ and don’t care about execution. Believe it or not, there are shops out there who make a living having good ideas, while producing mediocre products. The reason is often because they don’t realize they are content creators. Instead of using the insights they’ve gathered (in order to create a big idea) to create a content strategy, they often focus on implementing some pithy, a-la-carte, product that merely satisfies the business requirements of the idea.

Bottom Line: If you’re an idea shop, and you’re struggling to pump out products, try focusing on content strategy.

Manageable Growth: Organizations that have a deep understanding of information architecture, and content strategy, are few-and-far-between. This market gap presents huge opportunities for idea shops who understand how to create content. Many organizations like establishing long-term relationships with content creators because there’s usually an ongoing need.

What can UX do? Information architecture, and content strategy, both fall within the realm of user experience. In fact, the best content relies on key user insights that user research is able to uncover. Focusing on what content the user wants, and how to best present the content to create a pleasurable, enjoyable experience is typically time better spent, than building one-off communication, or publication, platforms.


I think the old models of advertising, marketing, and PR are slowly being thrown to the wind. Eventually we’ll be down to two types of organizations: product development shops; and idea shops.

I’m sure there will always be the big agency networks that are willing to spend money producing mediocre work; and there will always be clients who are willing to accept it. However, there has already been a substantial shift in thinking – many organizations have embraced UX and CX. This is a great first step, and represents a link between product strategy and content strategy.

The issue is that there are many organizations who fall somewhere on the continuum between a pure product development shop, and a pure idea shop. These places are trying to do a bit of both; and need to rely on UX to pull double duty. The UX team will need to plan out the product, as well as the content. Although some UX professionals are able to differentiate between these two skill sets; many don’t possess the skills and experience to do both jobs. In fact, most organizations are really strong product developers, or really strong idea shops – it’s rare to find one place that’s really fantastic at both.

What is your organization good at? What is it less good at?

There’s a lack of excellence, and an abundance of mediocrity. Stop trying to do everything; figure out how to offer a complete solution without encouraging mediocrity. Work with vendors, partners, divisions; do whatever is necessary. Just think twice about doing work you’re not skilled at, in order to appease a client. (or in order to increase billable hours.)

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The Social Heartbeat is Powered by Joiners

If content is the lifeblood of social media, then its heartbeat must be powered by ‘Joiners’. Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last few years, if you’re interested in social media communications you’ll have seen Forrester’s Social Technographics ladder; and probably understand the way they’ve segmented the ladder (at least at a high level).

I personally referenced the Technographics ladder diagram a number of times in 2008 and 2009. In 2010, I was able to do a deep-dive into social media analytics collected by a large CPG who was collecting data for several years. Although it was relatively easy to map individual users back to segments established in the Technographics ladder, the 3 issues the team ran into were:

    • Segmentation Thresholds: We found tuning the threshold of actions between rungs on the Technographics ladder to be a challenge. For instance, there were a lot of users to were ‘creators’ at some point during the period we were measuring, that doesn’t necessarily mean the brand can utilize that data to establish KPI’s or benchmarks. Although, I agree with the general classification of users the Technographics ladder suggest, putting this framework to use in a piratical setting can be challenging. We wound up creating a ‘tuning’ dashboard that allowed the brand to adjust certain metrics in realtime and see how it affects where users get plotted within the Technographics ladder. Through trial-and-error, over the next 6 months, the team was able to establish segmentation thresholds that returned the most insightful information that predicted behavioural responses.
    •  Perception v. Behaviour Bias:  I had always found the structure of the Technographics ladder to be more useful than the data Forrester’s been mapping to it. Since it’s publication back in 2007, Forrester has been updating and providing new contexts for the Technographics ladder. Much of this was done by analyzing survey data. Since the work I did involved the analysis of behavioural data (i.e. actions users actually did.), rather than perceptual data (i.e. asking the user what they do.), we were able to establish much more accurate segmentation percentages. (These proved to be invaluable for constructing a social content strategy.)
    •  Floating Point Bias: The third issue we ran into was, what came to be known as, the floating point bias. We spent a long time on this issue, commissioning several reports; but to explain, this issue stemmed from the realtime nature of social media. Someone who might be in a creators mindset today, may not be in one next week. This is obviously related to establishing segmentation thresholds, but it’s a little different. Even after we established thresholds that proved to return the highest predictive insights, we found that creators, conversationalists, critics, and collectors frequently moved up-and-down the Technographics ladder, between different segments. There were a ton of insights we got from monitoring this, so to extract one key insight; influential users within a branded community can be more successful at getting a group of users to climb the Technographics ladder than the brand itself.

Just to reiterate, none of these issues caused the brand to abandon the Technographics ladder, but actually invest in developing a better understanding of it. Having been off the business for about 18 months; it seems like the system we’ve established is working, and evolving the way it was supposed to.


I’ve been re-engaged to explore social strategy for a large financial brand. I was able to get the brand to commit to exploring who their community really is. Although, I’ve only just started, I’ve already identified an opportunity that might frame a large part of the overall strategy.

**Disclaimer: Because this references insights I’ve developed based, partially, on information gathered for a client; the client has reviewed and edited this portion of this post.**

“This time around, you can be anyone.” – Helen Stellar

This quote framed the initial presentation that got my proposal accepted by the brand. The two biggest hurdles I needed to overcome was the existing brands perception based on current social media activities, and the quality of user the brands community consisted of. The brand had a PR group that was charged with managing the brands social media presence; the brand was pleased with the results the PR company was reporting. Although they were comfortable with the ‘success’ of their social media activities, they were only looking at top-line metrics. Soon as as I started asking questions about conversion funnels, sources, and influencers the brand started to realize they needed to do some deeper analysis. Because my pitch was so different from the brief I received, after two weeks, I assumed they weren’t going to get back in touch with me; after another 2 months, they reached out and told me they engaged a 3rd party research firm to do some of the things I had suggested in the meeting. Unfortunately they found out that much of their success was manufactured by certain disreputable practices the PR firm employed to make certain activities seem more successful than they actually were. Their ‘successful’ community was actually on a downward spiral; the brand just didn’t realize it yet.


I knew from before, that content is the lifeblood of social media, and as such, is susceptible to infection. Bad content can spread like an infection; contaminating multiple channels, users, and the brand itself. Good content, however, can spread throughout a community bringing to life users who’ve perviously lied dormant. Many brands get confused about what makes good content ‘good’ and wind up mixing good content up with content that receives a positive reaction. This is one of those dangerous downward spirals, where content starts to be produced specifically to get positive reactions, often forgetting why users joined the community in the first place.

I offered to reexamine all the data points they had available, and come up with a plan to fill in any big holes their data doesn’t shed light on. This would allow me to figure out who their community really is, what they want, and how the brand can play a role within their social networks. One important data source we explored was provided by their social listening software. We were able to establish some tests that shed some light on what the most active members in the brands community were doing outside of the community, within the social network. For example, lets say Sally comments on every post the brand publishes. We would try to creep her to find out what else she’s doing. Some users had privacy settings that wouldn’t allow this to happen, but what we found, from the data we were able to collect, was that the most active users within the community are generally very active within the social network. This was the clue we needed to formulate a hypothesis: ‘content has less impact on the behaviour of heavily active users.’

The temporary nature of social media lends itself to experimentation, so it was relatively easy to get something set up to test our hypothesis. For one week, we included 3 updates each day focused on financial news framed as niche news. For instance, a light analysis of Apples financial status was framed as a tech story & appealed to techies. At the end of the week, nothing had drastically changed within the community. No one was really talking about the pieces of content we used for the test any more than any of the traditional pieces of content. When we went back to the data, we found 2 things that were very interesting:

1. Active users were still active: They were still commenting, and sharing the articles that deviated from the stuff the brand was typically publishing.

2. Clicks are way up: There were similar numbers of likes, shares, and comments; but when we checked on click throughs, we found spikes when we compared the new content to the old content.

So, these two things helped reinforce our hypothesis, and encouraged us to form the 2nd half of our hypothesis: ‘activating less active users will produce more desirable results’. (Side note: we originally thought our test failed because the brands community was saturated with fake/bot/paid users who like a lot of the brands posts. We had to weed these users out before we could get a true representation of how the test faired. We also had trouble determining click through rates because the brand wasn’t using trackable URLs, so we had to do a bit of voodoo math based on a correlation of article views and referrer source.)


Joiners are a bit of a disenfranchised group, partially due to some confusion about the positioning of the ‘conversationalists’ rung within the ladder. Originally, the Technographics ladder didn’t have a rung called ‘conversationalists’, but in a 2009 revision, it was added in. I never agreed with the placement of conversationalists, and all-but abandoned the use of it since it was introduced. I don’t believe that conversationalists should be the second-highest rung in the ladder; I believe commenting, and even collecting can suggest more engagement & interest than posting status updates.

The introduction of conversationalists confused the brand because joiners that maintain a profile on social networks will often ‘post’ updates simply by maintaining their profile. I don’t want to confuse the issue further, so I chose to narrow the definition of conversationalists. I suggested that conversationalists are users who actively participate in a dialog with at least one user directly. This is different than posting updates, and different from commenting. This definition seemed to fit the position it appeared within the Technographics ladder; above critics, but below creators.

This particular brand, and many brands in general, give a lot of attention to the members of the community that are loud, or influential. This focuses the brands attention attention at the top of the Technographics ladder; which is why I’ve started referring to the technographics iceberg. The most visible users are up at the top, but the majority of the fan base sits below the surface waiting to be activated.


“Sometimes building smaller, more intimate, communities is more effective than having a single page with a million ‘fans’.” is how I approached the team to frame the idea of flipping the iceberg. I knew there was some resistance to this idea, the brand was laser-focused on getting a million fans and I’m suggesting that may be an invalid goal.

 **Note: Much of the data I was going to use here was edited out by the brand who doesn’t want to share that level of detail.**

Essentially, I made the recommendation that the brand focus on activating Joiners. There was a ton of data that supports this idea for this particular brand. We performed tests, and are continuing to craft new tests to validate what we think. Almost as important as creating content geared toward Joiners, was the idea of flipping the iceberg to make Joiners more visible to the brand. The typical iceberg has creators, conversationalists, critics above the water because social networks like Twitter and Facebook do a good job at making those types of users visible. It’s more difficult to make less active users visible.


I’ve only just started tests to determine which content is most likely to activate joiners. I’m already getting some great results, and learning some deep insights about why Joiners aren’t as active as users on the other rungs. Keep in mind, many users will climb and descend the Technographics ladder periodically throughout their life within a social network. It’s starting to be clear that joiners just need motivation to climb the Technographics ladder.

Over the next 6 months, I’ll be helping the brand test and target their content to optimize their efforts. I’ll also start testing small branded communities designed to better speak to smaller, more intimate groups of users. LinkedIn already supports sub-groups, but it’s a relatively new concept to networks like Facebook and Twitter.

Although I define the Social Technographics ladder segments in a more fluid way than Forrester, I believe they’re still valid. Although I know conversationalists, and critics tend to be the groups that share and comment on content; I don’t think users who spend the majority of their time in those roles represent the real heartbeat of social media. I believe it’s those users who ascend the Technographics ladder as a response to certain types of content who really represent the social media heartbeat. These users may spend the majority of their time as joiners, but will ascend when something provocative provokes a response.

I’m not saying that targeting Joiners is the way to achieve social media success; I’m saying that targeted content has the potential to activate Joiners without alienating users who are already active within the community. In the end, we’ll figure out how the brand can most effectively use social media to attain its goals; but more importantly we’ll position the brand so users understand that the brand wants to help them achieve their goals.

Social strategy is just one of three legs in a cohesive digital strategy; so we’ve entered the fun part. The team is aligned, and we’re working together in a concerted effort to crack content, social, and search strategy. I’ve convinced most of the team that a transmedia storytelling approach will likely prove to be the most effective way of reaching the right users, and building the sub-communities.


Learning a lot, and having lots of fun with this one. Wish me luck & I’ll make sure I write an update when we’re further along.

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The Underutilized Catalyst for Success

I keep getting asked “What do you need in order to start sketching out an experience?” in some form or another. This post is going to encapsulate my response, thus, I’ll be including a link to this post for anyone asking me this question in the near future.

The Approach

The first thing I need to explain is my approach to digital strategy. It’s a little different than many ‘seasoned’ strategists. Upfront, I make a clear distinction between strategy and content development; strategy provides the insights and guidelines – content development involves synthesizing those insights into expressive, provocative, usable brand content.


I don’t romanticize strategy. I don’t rely on opinions very often, and when I do, I try my best to get an objective perspective. I base the heart of every strategy on key data sources. Not every project is the same, so each project requires team alignment on what data sources will be used to craft the strategy. Typically, I start with stakeholder interviews and a competitive review; if internal analytics are available, I’d typically do an analysis of that data too. Based on the type of project, I might also conduct a user survey, collect and analyze 3rd party research, conduct an SEO audit, etc.


Step 1 involves getting team alignment on what sources we’ll be using to establish the preliminary strategic framework. This could be as simple as conducting stakeholder interviews, and diving into the metrics available in the Google Analytics account. It could be substantially more complicated, and involve deep ethnographic research, user surveys, focus groups, 3rd party research, etc.

Once all of the sources are defined, each individual source can be analyzed. Findings can either be presented to the team for alignment progressively, as they’re completed, or can be compiled into the framework and just referred to in an appendix.


Step 2 takes the analysis that was done during step 1 and distills the insights into the strategic framework. This typically involves examining all of the insights collectively, grouping similar insights, and extracting/extrapolating content guidelines. (See framework section for a more detailed breakdown.)

Once a strategic framework has been established, the real strategic work can begin. It’s important to define content strategy on a project-by-project basis. Typically content strategy will be broken into at least 3 separate strategic regions: content, social, and search. That said, there are typically multiple deliverables, or areas that will require thought. Occasionally, something specific like CRM will be extracted from content strategy and dealt with as it’s own stream.


In the example this diagram was created for, the client agreed on a certain number of tasks associated with developing a content strategy. It’s important to understand that these tasks don’t necessarily have to flow in the order they’re presented, or be completed by a specific time. It’s more of a roadmap indicating all the pieces that will eventually make up the content strategy.

Going through the process of defining a content strategy may take months of tweaking and measurement before landing in a place that feels right.


Stream segmentation is often useful to focus a team on tasks at hand. Often times, my clients feel overwhelmed by a comprehensive content strategy; so I often deal with social and search as separate strategies & simply utilize the strategic framework to unite the various strategies.

All strategic streams should be established early to help ensure no important components get forgotten; and ensure the team is all on the same page.

I typically get sign-off progressively as I analyze the various data points; all-the-while laying a foundation for the strategic framework.


The Strategic Framework

Everyone seems to call this something different, so let me explain what a strategic framework is.

The framework should be a synthesis of all the data inputs that were analyzed. There is a certain amount of brand identity that’s infused to the strategic framework, which is why (on certain types of projects) it’s good to work with either a creative director or a brand strategist.

It should provide all relevant insights and guidelines & should be categorized into high-level, memorable pillars. If a company wants to earn its customers trust, a pillar might be trustworthiness or transparency. Within each pillar would be guidelines or insights that will govern content creation, interaction design, information architecture, and much more depending on how digitally savvy the company is.

Is this all really necessary?

Of course not. Some strategists rely solely on a user survey, or stakeholder interviews. Some just rely on their own experience and personal biases to develop a strategy. Some utilize psychological frameworks like Junian archetype modelling.

It generally winds up being a balancing act. Generally, the more data inputs, the more thorough the analysis and, subsequently the more thorough the strategic framework will be. This isn’t always the case, research saturation occurs when new forms of research aren’t returning new insights (or not as valuable insights). If research saturation occurs, it can be concluded that it’s time to establish the strategic framework.

Rule of thumb: a properly managed strategic framework shouldn’t cost more than 5% of the total budget, or take more than 5% of the total allotted time. This would mean that about 5k should be set aside for every 100k of project budget; and 2 days should be set aside per month of the timeline.

Do all projects need a strategic framework to be created?

Strategic frameworks are generally created once, and just updated periodically. They typically govern all content being created; and are referenced by all projects. So if you’re considering creating a strategic framework, it’s important to understand that once its created, it may require substantial work to bring the company up to the standards spelled out in the framework.

Because a strategic framework is a living document, it’s possible to create an assumptive version based on less upfront research. It would be more work on the back-end in terms of measurement, multivariate testing, etc.

Do you know what data was used to establish your strategy? Do you know how it was analyzed? Do you believe the insights? Does your strategy provide helpful insights and guidelines the team actually uses, or is it full of stuff everyone-knows-and-no-one-uses?

Think a strategic framework might be the catalyst that elevates your internal team or vendors to a higher level? It’s proven to be extremely useful for many projects I’ve worked on. Want help weighing the pro’s and con’s? Contact me

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Unlocking User Research

Unlocking user research may be the most profitable thing you’ve ever done for your business. Many companies overlook user research due to compressed timelines or budgets, but often, user research can be scaled to fit any timeline or budget. Selecting the right type of user research, and performing the right type of analysis, is important to gaining the most salient insights about your users.

It’s essential to set objectives you want to achieve through user research. The more specific you can be, the more likely you’ll be to get the answers you’re looking for.

Success v. Luck

I’ve been working on the success/luck theory for a couple years. Essentially, I believe that there are two groups of successful individuals: those whose success is based on the pursuit of knowledge, and those whose success is based on luck. Although I don’t want to dive too deeply into all of the nuance yet, I believe one of the biggest indications of what type of individual (or by extension company) you are, is how much user research you invest in.

People, and companies, that don’t invest in user research have a lot riding on luck. Even when you invest in user research, if you don’t know what to do with it, you probably still have a lot riding on luck. That said, I don’t want to sound like I’m suggesting that user research guarantees anything. Life is a game of probability, user research just stacks the deck in your favour.

If you really want to mitigate the ‘luck’ factor, there needs to be a paradigm shift toward actively trying to develop a complete understanding of your customers. If you commit to learning everything you can about your users, integrating those insights as part of your workflow, and structure your organization to support this ongoing effort, you won’t have to rely as much on luck. (Note: I’m not suggesting being lucky isn’t a good thing. It’s just that luck is something that’s not within your control; if you rely on luck you risk the consequences of being unlucky.)


What I’m really talking about is infusing empathy throughout your organization and making empathy part of your organizational vision. I’ve been talking about how to do this for a while, and have been recently been receiving more questions on why empathy is important. It would seem that some people are confused about what empathy means; empathy is not just about vicariously sharing the emotions of an individual. For all of you who’ve seen an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation that features Counsellor Deanna Troi, you might have heard her describe her ‘empathic’ abilities as being able to get a sense of what a person is feeling simply by being in proximity to that person. Although understanding an individuals emotional state is part of what empathy is, it’s just one part.

In an effort to better explain what empathy is, I’ve created this diagram that shows the relationship between the three empathic sources: Emotion (feeling), Volition (doing), and Cognition (thinking). In order to implement a vision that includes the pursuit of knowledge, a foundational level of empathy should be developed within each empathic source. It’s beneficial to document learnings in a segmentation, user profile, or persona document that can evolve as you develop a better understanding of your users.

What You Need To Do

If it were simple everyone would be doing it; and very few people are doing this. I’m not saying it’s time-consuming, or necessarily expensive; but it does require someone who knows what he’s doing; otherwise it could wind up being very expensive, and very time-consuming – not to mention, it could wind up being un-insightful.

Each individual organization should come up with a plan that fits their needs, however there are some general guidelines that should be adhered to:

 1. Establish a Structure for Success

Does your organization have a structure that supports your vision? The pursuit of knowledge should be integrated into key positions with real, measurable, tasks. If the workflow associated with listening, learning and changing requires resources to be trained, restructured, or enabled with the appropriate tools; these things should be addressed prior to entering the optimization cycle. (i.e. during the definition cycle.)

 2. Get to Know the Real You

During the definition cycle, as you’re structuring your organization for success; it’s important to plan how you’re going to convey your identity/ values to your customers. This process may affect how your organization is structured, and vice-versa. During the planning process, prior to defining the ‘real you’, it’s important to establish who your users/ customers are. Typically, 3 types of research are required to get a foundational knowledge of your users.


Direct Research

I typically start by performing a user survey, if no direct research already exists. There are a bunch of online survey tools out there that are inexpensive, and provide robust data analysis. I’ve recently found Fluid Surveys, and like a bunch of their features. There are also a ton of inexpensive ways to recruit participants for a survey. It all depends on how much time and money you have to spend. Although surveys can be very insightful, there are certain objectives that lend themselves to surveying opposed to other forms of direct research like usability testing, card sorts, etc. Online surveys have proven to be the most efficient, and an effective use of money.

Data Analysis

I thought everyone had some sort of analytics platform integrated with their product or website; especially since GA is free, and very robust. That said, there are still places that don’t have historical data available for analysis. If the data isn’t available, it’s more important than ever to establish a measurement plan. If it does exist, it might not include all the triggers, goal tracking, campaign tracking, etc that could provide deep insights.

Assuming you have some sources of data, it’s important to avoid focusing on a single source. Data can be obtained from many sources, and often corollary analyses help shed light on users online activities and motivations.

 Competitive Research

Unless the organization has created a market for itself, you can always conduct a competitive analysis. The idea of really good competitive analyses is to review activity of your competitors over time and extract trends from their behaviours. This is often aided by which keeps an archive of select sites as they existed as snap-shots in time. For instance this is what the Ford website looked like in 2007:

In addition to historical competitive reviews, it’s possible to set up content alerts and social feeds to help establish what activities your competition is doing.


These types of research, in conjunction with your organizational structure, will help provide raw insights and data that can be synthesized into personas, a content strategy, and information architecture.

 3. Listen, Learn & Change

Once the definition phase is complete enough that you feel comfortable going through the design/development process, your research will be used by the team to help develop empathy for the various user profiles/ personas. The best researchers will remain available to answer questions and revise documentation as the project progresses.

During the design/ development phases, other forms of user research may be initiated. Research such as focus groups, usability testing, etc should be utilized to add fidelity to the user profiles/ personas. Any new data or insights should influence the user profiles/ personas that have been created. Over time, these will evolve, and may split into multiple personas/ profiles.

Post-launch, it’s critical to measure the established KPIs (key performance indicators) as well as actively listen to your customers. Some level of response governance guidelines should have been established along with the content strategy; these should be used to determine when to respond to customers, and through what channels to communicate.

If certain KPIs aren’t performing as expected, or customers are complaining about something, a multivariate test may be required. This allows you to test several solutions to a problem in a live environment to determine which performs best. For instance, a KPI might be how many email subscriptions you get through your website. If your email subscription form isn’t performing the way you expected, you might want to test some options. This is MVT, and, in this case, could determine where the pain-points in the subscription process are.

As these optimizations are determined, they should be implemented, and monitored. If you hear your users complaining about an update, or change, further action may be required to ensure loyalists aren’t alienated.


Defining a corporate vision that includes a focus on the pursuit of knowledge is the key to unlocking user research, but be warned: the type of knowledge you pursue will determine your success. A company that focuses on pursuing self-serving knowledge will inevitably impress internal stakeholders; while those that focus on developing a comprehensive understanding of their users will impress that group. As much as you might want to impress your boss, it’s your customers you really need to impress.

The sooner you learn the way to achieve this is by evangelizing empathy throughout your organization, the more effective the entire process will be. The additional beneficial side-effect of creating a culture of empathy throughout your organization is that empathetic people tend to work better together. The more we understand about each other, the easier it often is to work together.

I don’t necessarily want or need to know what brand of shoes you like, but understanding your key motivations, behaviours, hopes, and fears often makes collaboration much more effective. If you start looking, I bet you’ll find that a lot people have the same hopes and fears as you. Understanding these things won’t just bring you closer to your customers, or your colleagues; but will help bring you closer to yourself.


Investing in user research pays off in more ways than you might think; and the real ROI of empathy is unmeasurable.

Want to learn how much time and money to set aside to get started with including user research in your projects? Contact me today.

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It’s not UX you’re missing

For the past decade I’ve been jumping between full-time and freelance work. I love the relationships I can develop when working with a single group for a longer term, but also love the variety and insights I get from working with different groups. I’ve seen the UX world evolve, and the emerging field grow. Initially, it was a struggle to be consulted on projects at all. It took a while before clients started noticing the value of UX; or so I thought.

Over the past couple years, I’ve been spending a substantial amount of time working brand-side. (Opposed to agency-side) I’ve had the opportunity to learn how some of the biggest corporations in the world integrate UX throughout their product development process. I should note, prior to 2010 I was almost exclusively working with digital communications agencies; so the experience over the past few years has been eye-opening.



Firstly, let me quickly explain that there are a ton of different relationship models that can exist between brands and their various vendors. Even some of the smallest companies have dozens of different vendors. So sometimes, it doesn’t help when someone like me comes along; who you may want to work with, but represents another vendor that would need to be managed.

These are the typical relationship models I have with my clients:


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Nowadays, most agencies that create digital products understand the value of UX, and can demonstrate how it makes a project run more efficiently. This is, generally, all that agency-clients require in order to sign-off on including UX within the scope of a project. That said, many agency-clients are already insisting that UX be included on projects; and in fact, are exploring adding UX to their internal team. This’s all to say, no one really understands UX – it’s a meaningless term, with different definitions to almost every individual. There are tons of people who’ve tried to define what UX actually means, but the best I can come up with is that: UX refers to a group of competencies that contribute to striking a balance between business needs and user needs. These competencies include things like user research, information architecture, experience planning, content strategy, interaction design, experience design, etc. There are dozens of overlapping competencies that fall under the umbrella of UX.

So if UX is ambiguous, and I’m getting hired to lead the UX component of certain projects; what are my clients really hiring me to do?

It took a while, but I’ve figured out how I can be most helpful to my clients & a checklist you can use to ensure your UX team is setup for success.

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1. Articulate KPI’s – Contrary to popular belief, most of the time a business analysts aren’t required to define KPI’s. I’ve started including this as part of my scope-of-work; and it’s been making projects run super-smooth. I think there’s substantial value bringing a good experience strategist into breakout sessions with clients during the discovery phase of any project. Not only will this help establish a relationship between the the experience strategist and the stakeholders, but will allow him to uncover what the stakeholders really want the user to do.


2. Define User Motivations – I have a love/hate relationship with personas. If done well, they’re extremely valuable – but if they’re done wrong (and they’re almost always done wrong for online users) they’re useless, or worse, misinform. I’ve stopped referring to persona’s as persona’s; and started focusing on establishing a matrix of online behaviour and motivations based on user archetypes, I call these user profiles. This makes it clear that we don’t need to know where they live, what kind of car they drive, how much money they make or how many kids they have if it doesn’t affect user motivations or online behaviour.


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3. Perform Content Analysis – I frequently get asked to create a content inventory for websites or digital platforms that currently exist; but rarely got asked to translate that into a content strategy. Armed with clear KPI’s and user research, performing a real content analysis in order to create a coherent content strategy isn’t all that tough. Even huge sites take me less than a week to crack at this point. That said, I typically like to spend doing a card-sort to validate & refine the content strategy prior to defining information architecture.

This won’t just establish what content is superfluous, but what content is missing, and guidelines for governing the creation of new content. Additionally, I consider social/ communication strategy to be a subset of content strategy; therefore I include all channels as part of this process.  SEO & SEM is also a component of this analysis.


4. Define IA – This is pretty standard, but occasionally still forgotten. I’ve gotten called into ‘take-over’ for other UX consultants, just to find that they moved directly into wireframes or prototyping without having even created a site map or user flows. For most projects, it’s more valuable to spend time creating a few flows, or a site map; opposed to creating wireframes.

This is where the real experience design work begins. Most of the projects I’ve been pulled into understand the value of this portion of the project & generally allocate enough time and money towards it. I actually think the experience design portion of most projects over-allocate time and budget to the creation of wireframes, and under-cut the rest (i.e. discovery, user research, testing, etc).



It’s true, you don’t need UX, and shouldn’t be looking for someone to do it.

 Boilerplate Skills:

  1. IA
  2. IxD
  3. Usability
  4. Experience Design

Valuable Additions:

  1. Business Analyst
  2. User research
  3. Content Strategy
  4. Social Strategy
  5. Search Strategy


Ideally, you’ll be able to find all of these things in one person, but short of that, recruit multiple people. There’s a ton of freelancers, like me, who will be more than happy to jump in to help.

Like most freelancers, I love having the opportunity to work on complete projects (from beginning to end) consulting the entire way, through launch and testing. That said, I’m happy to jump in to offer specialist services like conducting user research, or establishing a content strategy. There seems to be a lot of brands and agencies who don’t have the capability of doing certain things (like research, testing, or content strategy) in-house and believe it’s really hard, time-consuming, and expensive to get it done. 8-out-of-10-times this isn’t true. For instance, I recently completed a content strategy for a large global investment firm, which resulted in several documents, stakeholder interviews, and user research, in 2 weeks for less than 15K.

Not only am I capable of personally injecting insights, and creating measurable experiences, I have a pool of industry authorities I rely on for advice and evaluations.


I’d love to hear what you think about my approach & any ideas you have regarding what works and what doesn’t.

Follow me on twitter for all the latest stuff I’m reading & writing. @thejordanrules

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User Stories for Visual Thinkers

I think there are many cases where running projects using an agile methodology are beneficial. Even if agile isn’t your cup of tea, deconstring features and functionality into digestable user stories tend to help the estimation, testing, and collaboration processes.

It starts to get interesting when you move creative design into a process intended for developing software. Many creatives are visual thinkers, able to understand spaces better than lists. On a recent financial project, I was approached by a project manager to help apply experience design thinking to the problem of creatives getting lost throughout an agile project.

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After spending a week interviewing various team members, I was able to propose a solution. The User Story Map. It’s a relatively self explanitory map, that is intended to be printed out and hung in the physical space scums happen, and ideally where the cross-funcional team sits.

This particualar version prints nicely on 28 sheets of 8.5×11 paper. I created it in Omnigraffle, so it’s extrememly easy to edit and update.

Download Here


If you have any improvements, I encourage you to edit the .graffle file and share them in the comments.

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Emotion is The Secret to Creating a Meme

Memes have existed long before the internet and will continue long after. The insights that reveal how memes have come into existence also reveal how someone could create a new meme. Memes rely on appealing to deep-seeded, primal emotions to drive their transmission; but before I get into that, let me start with the basics.

What is a meme?

Memes are contagious ideas that get spread from person to person. Traditionally, memes like fads involve a gradual spread of an idea. For instance, parachute pants were associated with breakdancing meme popularized in the early 80′s. These types of memes generally spread slowly, and can last for years; opposed to internet memes that spread quickly and tend to fade quicker.

Why do meme’s spread?

The simple explanation is that a meme spreads by creating an emotional response that motivates an individual to share it with another, like-minded, individual.

It’s obviously a little more complicated than that, so here’s the model most memes follow.

1. Initiator: Someone who finds an provocative idea & is motivated enough to share it.

2. Facilitator: Someone who hears about a provocative idea & becomes an evangelist for the idea.

3. Trigger: An authority who hears about a provocative idea & shares it with a highly engaged audience.

4. Recurrence: If the idea is able to continue to motivate users to share, it becomes a meme. There isn’t really a minimum amount of awareness that’s required for an idea to become a meme, there’s just a continuum of popularity. Unpopular memes are usually just called ideas.

What makes a meme popular?

There are lots of specific reasons memes become popular, but it generally comes down to whether the idea appeals to an emotion that’s powerful enough to motivate sharing. If an idea evokes the mentality of “Everyone needs to see this”, it’s likely to become a popular meme.

Lot’s of people think that meme’s emerge spontaneously, and can’t be predicted. Many people think there’s no ‘formula’ for creating a meme; but those people are wrong. There is a formula for creating a meme, although the formula is complicated, and easy to get wrong.

Here’s a worksheet I’ve been using to help me illustrate & plan how communications can turn into memes.

(Full Worksheet PDF)

I start off by selecting which primary emotion the meme is going to appeal to. I spent several months developing these emotional categories with some help from a group I was doing ethnographic research for. The majority of successful memes target one of these emotions. Emotions like love, or happiness are powerful emotions, but tend to be very personal and difficult to target with a meme. It’s proven to be easier to create a meme by targeting emotions on the outermost edges of the model; each subsequent emotion is more difficult to create a meme as you move closer to the middle of the diagram. It’s not impossible to create a meme by targeting the innermost emotions, but a more advanced communications plan will generally be required to successfully create a meme.

Marketing & Branding with Memes

Ok, so if it’s possible to plan, create, and manage a meme – can they be used for branding & marketing communications? The answer comes down to what you’re trying to achieve by creating a meme. If you legitimately want to hand over control of your brand or message to the community to edit, consume, and share on their terms I think it’s a great idea to create a meme – or at least create the conditions that are conducive for a meme to emerge. If you need to have control, and are worried about degradation of your message, it’s a dangerous idea to try to create a meme. Remember, in order to create a meme, you’re targeting influencers and using social media to spread a message. If the meme doesn’t have enough value or target a powerful-enough emotion, it’s likely not going to catch-on; that said, if you craft your message without understanding your user, you risk creating a fire-meme that will actually cause damage to your brand. (i.e. Motrin.)

Here’s a checklist that will help you determine if creating a meme will end up being a good investment:

1. Is your brand just interested in awareness?

2. Is your brand ok with the community owning & manipulating the message?

3. Are you targeting an effective emotion?

4. Do you have a plan to turn an idea into a meme?

5. Do you have a contingency plan if the meme turns negative?

If you answered ‘NO’ to any of the above questions, your brand isn’t ready to communicate to its audience using a meme. The risk of an idea turning into a negative meme is generally too great to try creating a meme – and just letting it die out if it doesn’t prove fruitful. Again, the best case scenario (if you’re not ready to create a meme, but you give it a shot anyway) is that your idea will not become a meme and will be a waste of time and money that might result in brand confusion from the users perspective. The worst case scenario is that your audience will be offended by the idea and will create a fire-meme that will actually damage the brand and could result in lost revenue.

In summary, meme’s are ideas that sit atop the public consciousness; which makes them potentially valuable marketing & branding tools. For a meme to be successful, the idea needs to be provocative and appeal to a primitive emotion. Appealing to an emotion so strongly, will likely illicit action from your audience; whether that action is positive or negative depends on how well you know your audience, who you target, where you converse, and how easy it is to share. All of this should be considered when crafting the parameters of the meme.

(Follow me: @thejordanrules)


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New Social Media Effect: The Dark Halo

The Halo Effect is a term used to describe a favourable cognitive bias towards an individuals character based on an encompassing perception of him. The term has since been adapted and used throughout many different industries to mean a favourable result based on the success of another entity. (i.e. In movies “The Halo Effect” can cause a film to perform better because of the success of a different film. In marketing, it can cause one brand (or product) to perform better because of the success of a related brand.)

This same line of thinking has been applied to social media, suggesting that a social media “The Halo Effect” can improve the results of communications based on related conversations. Which simply means, the more people talk about topics related to the topic of your communication; the better your communication is likely to perform. I’ve had the opportunity to analyze some large data sets from a series of different types of conversations, and the data supports the idea of a social media “Halo Effect” – but also suggests there’s a Dark Halo that can emerge as well.

The Dark Halo Effect 

The Dark Halo Effect is caused by several factors, but manifests itself in one universal way: users are discouraged from sharing.

FACTOR 1: Tolerance of Faking-it

People don’t like fakers. When I see an article on Smashing Magazine or Mashable that’s focused on user experience, and see it’s been shared over 1000 times in the past day, I get very curious about who’s actually sharing the article and whats motivated them to share. I’ve gone as far as investigating the sharers by setting up an alert for a couple niche articles that have appeared on a few very popular blogs that use share buttons with counters.

Here’s what I found out:

1. Sites like Mashable and Techcrunch have very large social media profiles.

Tracking Tweets only, the majority of articles that appear on either network have a minimum of 300, and can reach well over 1000. On average, they have 554, based on a week of tracking.

2. On average, over 50% of the tweets about a Mashable or Techcrunch article are either by bots, or from an autoposter. Almost 80% simply tweet the exact title of the article with a link.

3. Smaller, niche blogs have a much smaller social media profile.

(On average 25 tweets per article.) That said, I ended up excluding blogs that are part of the Mashable and Smashing content networks because I noticed a statistically significant percentage of tweets from the same bots/fakers who are autoposting from those flagship blogs.

4. On average, less than 30% of tweets from smaller niche blogs are from fakers.


This obviously means that Mashable still has substantially more legitimate sharers than most niche blogs; but overall has developed a dark halo of fakers sharing out content that will likely not lead to substantial click-throughs.

FACTOR 2: Value of Unique Content

Those who really understand social media understand that social equity is built by sharing stories that add value to others within the network. Value is essentially reduced to 0 if a user shares a story that’s already been shared and read by most of the influential users within the network. Although this might not detour every user from sharing, seeing large, salient, counters associated with every article could detour many users from sharing. This is especially true if the user perceives that his network is likely to be saturated with a given article.

For instance, many influential users will avoid talking about Apple during one of their big announcements because EVERYONE is talking about them and they don’t want to add noise to a saturated conversation. This is even more apparent when content has counters that indicate how saturated a given network is.

I found out three important things:

1. The social graph of a single piece of content has two distinct peaks.

It shows lots of users sharing content while it’s still considered new, and after the number of shares reach critical mass. The data doesn’t suggest a specific threshold for ‘critical mass’. I should note, the data supports the idea of pockets of super-influential micro-networks where authorities essentially form a niche network of other subject matter experts. On Twitter, the list feature allows this to be accomplished easily. Also, networks like Twibes, and those formed by twitter chats can cause smaller peaks to form.

2. Users tend to avoid conversations that are too noisy. That is to say, that everyone has a different threshold for maximum noise. At some point it will be perceived as being too difficult to participate in a noisy conversation. The comments section should not be used to pull in tweets, nor should it be used for long threaded conversations. If conversations get too long and unwieldily, they should either be turned into content of its own (i.e. an interview) or should be taken into another medium (i.e. email). Obviously, the goal isn’t to shut loud people up, but to encourage quiet people to speak up. Loud people tend to reveal a lot more when given personal attention, and often have unique perspectives on content.

3. Over 80% of sharers don’t read or remember most of the content shared.

Based on a series of polls, 80% of participants were unable to recall key themes or headlines. Many participants couldn’t even match an article back to a source.


This means that each content detail page should have two phases. Phase 1 should have it acting as a host for real-time conversations, while phase 2 should have it acting as a digest of conversations with links to popular or current content detail pages. This will allow authorities and interested users to converse during the time the content has the biggest chance of gaining social media traction, while eliminating and curating those conversations to ensure users can still consume the content without feeling late-to-the-game.

FACTOR 3: Over-used share buttons

I think one of the biggest contributors to poor social UX are share buttons included on posts. There are a number of different types, some that show counts, some that don’t; some that are hidden, and some that send you offsite. Overall, there aren’t really any good mobile implementations of these share buttons, although many popular blogs/ news sites use them.

That data suggests two reasons these share buttons tend to lead to the dark-halo effect:

1. Perceived network saturation is the biggest contributor to the dark-halo.

The counter-balance to this is the fact that many Twitter users subscribe to dark social patterns; in particular auto-posting. Popular networks like Mashable have some prolific auto-posters who occasionally share a valuable nugget of insight. I tend to follow these type of people and try to sift out the garbage from the gold. The problem with doing this is that I might see 20 different articles from Mashable in my timeline from 20 different auto-posters (which would add up to 400 individual Tweets). This, in addition to seeing the large counters on each article, has led many people to think that an article has reached saturation when it hasn’t. No one likes sharing yesterday’s news, but the reality is that if 50% of those shares are auto-posts and 50% of sharers don’t share due to the dark-halo effect, it’s almost like no one read yesterdays news.

The point is: every now and then Mashable will publish something really valuable but has created so much noise, through their enormous social profile, many authorities of that content miss it. It’s only when someone who rarely mentions Mashable, will the message have the potential to break through the dark halo.

2. The goal for most content is to get people to understand the message that’s trying to be communicated. The over-use of these quick-share buttons creates an army of endorsers who are either skimmers, or auto-posters who’ve never actually read the content at all.


The most salient element of any content detail page should be the content itself. I generally recommend using social log-in’s to allow users to share articles by commenting on them; and eliminating share buttons altogether. That said, having low barrier share buttons should adhere to three guidelines: 1. Don’t include counters, they’re inaccurate and represent the leading contributor to the dark-halo effect. 2. Don’t include them on mobile optimized sites. Device native sharing is much more effective. 3. Include them at the bottom of the post. Don’t make them floating, don’t put them at the top of the post, and don’t make them animated. (Bonus: Keep it to 4 networks or less.)


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Resonance, Relationships & User Experience

I remember being 5 years old, sitting in front of the T.V. and listening to The Count on Sesame Street tell me that 1+2=3. It was the first time I remember thinking about the abstract concept of numbers. Prior to that moment, I always associated numbers with objects: one apple, plus two more apples, gives you three apples; but that day, I realized that numbers are inconsequential in comparison to operator.

What i was beginning to realize is that relationships define the elements of an equation. 

It took another couple decades to figure out the importance of this insight when I realized there’s a link between relationships and resonance. I started thinking about how I could score a relationship. This is the equation I developed.

The score is intended to be a rudimentary tool to find brand advocates; but it does a lot more. I’ll explain this in more detail in a future post; for now I’m going to discuss the importance of understanding the link between resonance and relationships.

Most brands have quarterly marketing pushes that are intended to establish or nurture a relationship through a specific medium. This schedule of activity is generally financially driven (i.e. driven by dividing up a yearly budget) rather than being market driven (i.e. driven by market forces like the release of a competitive product.) I think all campaigns should be driven by a market trigger. The reason this doesn’t happen very often is that it requires proactive research on the part of a brand.

That said, relationship mapping is a useful technique I use to visually establish long-term and short-term goals. This same technique can be used regardless of whether a brand has a strict communications schedule or no schedule at all. The point is to get alignment on a communications calendar and map it back to the relationship the brand would like to have with its users.



The relationship map is a simple concept that maps resonance over time. This should include a current time marker, so readers can easily see historical experiences v. planned experiences.

Consistency & Resonance

In order to get a brands relationship to resonate with a user, relevant communications need to be delivered to the user on a consistent basis. The longer the user receives consistent communications, the stronger the brand relationship will be.

Many brands have become schizophrenic recently; launching new campaigns, utilities and communications platforms without considering the past and future relationship spectrum. (Note: Considering the relationship spectrum doesn’t require CRM data but when paired with a CRM strategy, relationship planning can reveal the secrets to communicating effectively utilizing the various data points.)

Sometimes a brand will have such a poor relationship (or no relationship) with a group of users, it will need to rebrand in order to build a cognitive separation between the previous relationship and the potential for a new relationship. There are a few ways to create this separation, but rebranding is the most common way and requires that a lot of attention be given to the new relationship. Just like starting a new romantic relationship, a brand needs to devote a lot of time and effort to re-engage its users.

The let-down is one of the biggest pitfalls in relationship management. One of the most recent examples is Apple’s launch of the iPhone 4S. There was a lot of hype about it, but it turned out to be a minimal upgrade. If a particular experience (or message) doesn’t meet the users expectations, it’ll be some level of let-down. A brand will need to gauge audience reaction to factor in how the experience will affect the relationship continuum. If a brand doesn’t address the cause of the let-down, and continues with the communications calendar without any change; it risks relationship degradation.

Repetition & Relationship

There are two states of most relationships; active and passive. Active relationships are relationships that have been exercised recently. Although each individual will have a different threshold with regards to when they consider a relationship to be active v. passive, active relationships generally become passive after a certain amount of time has passed. Depending on how resonant past experiences have been to the user, passive relationships are generally easier to re-activate than establishing a new relationship.

It’s obviously better to avoid having a relationship slip into passivity, which is why relationship mapping is such a valuable technique. It won’t just get alignment on what the brand would like to achieve, but will also provide a visual of how engagement points affect the overall relationship. This will allow the brand to add or shift engagement points in order to ensure the majority of their users consider the brand relationship to be active.

In a future post, I’ll do a deep-dive into the relationship score. I’m still working through some potential problems. If you have any questions, or would like me to walk through the relationship map concept, feel free to reach out. I’d be happy to provide some instruction.

As you can see, the template for the relationship map is pretty simple. I use Omnigraffle and get the map printed in large format, so it can be pinned on a wall. It costs about $200 from Kinkos, but well worth it. – I’ve also used this technique on white boards, so it can definitely be used in low fidelity, especially if you plan on leaving it up for long periods of time and will be making changes to it over time.



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What is UX (condensed into 10 slides)

I took everything I know about UX and condenced it down to an easy-to-swallow slide share presentation.


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UX: The Key to Successful Social Media

When people ask me what I think ‘UX’ means, my response is generally pretty consistent: “UX is the synthesis of business requirements, content requirements, and users insights.”

In this post, I’ll explain why UX is the key to being successful in social media.

First, lets examine the 4 most common objectives of social media.

1. Get a user to buy something

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Although I really don’t think social commerce is going to catch on, I think social media is great for creating buzz around an offer. So, if you want someone to actually buy something, you should probably have a trackable offer. (i.e. a promo code, coupon, etc.)

2. Get a user to think something

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In order to think something, users need to be convinced to think that way. Generally, users don’t want to spend any time being convinced, however most social media campaigns try to convince users to think something. (i.e. We want users to think ProGlide blades last a long time.) In order to achieve this objective, brands need to create engaging content, geared toward their users and proactively seek out conversations with users about relevant content their posting.

3. Get a user to tell you something

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All you have to do is ask. Users like talking through social media channels. If you’d like to know something about them, just ask. There are a TON of really slick tools out there to help monitor what users are already saying about you – so really, all you have to do is listen, and probe when you need more clarification.

4. Get a user to share something

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There are three guidelines when trying to achieve this objective: 1. Create content users want to share 2. Remove barriers to sharing 3. Ensure users know exactly whats being shared. – There are a dozen other guidelines I generally work into a social governance document (i.e. ask users to share, don’t create unsharable content, utilize different channels for different content, share others content. ect) but those are the big 3.

Understanding that these common objectives are at the heart of at least 80% of social media campaigns will help me explain how UX is the key to achieving these goals through social media channels. Remember, UX is the synthesis of content requirements, business requirements, and user insights.

I’m not saying that a single UX professional will be able to single-handedly craft an ongoing social media strategy, but I do feel that the following elements fall under the umbrella of UX strategy:

1. Content Strategy: I personally love content strategy, but don’t get asked to participate in its definition very often. This is definitely something that a UX professional would need to be asked to participate in, as its generally a big job. A good content strategy will help define how many channels you’ll be using, how you’ll be communicating, what memes you’ll be using, how frequently you’ll be communicating, segmentation, internationalization, etc. I think a good content strategy should be the force that unites digital strategy, social strategy and search strategy.

2. Requirements Gathering: Is probably the most important first-step in achieving an effective social strategy. This will, not only help determine what the goals and KPI’s of the strategy are, but it will also help educate clients & correct any preconceived ideas.

3. User Research: I’m not sure why brands find comfort in buying research from other companies, but the best form of user research (in my experience) to inform a social strategy are focus groups and card-sorts. Focus groups will help determine what your users are really interested in, and card sorts (or something similar) will help you determine communications strategy.

And the real key is taking these elements of strategy & synthesizing them into an actionable design specification document that outlines user flows, ecosystem design, and rough layouts.

This might seem straightforward to most of you, but it really is surprising how infrequently UX strategists are asked to participate in social media campaign design. I’ve recently had the opportunity to work with a very well known PR company that positions itself as a social media strategy authority. Not only did they not conduct any user research, they didn’t spend any time on content strategy. Their approach was to ‘ride-the-wave’ of content that social channels create, and simply add more content when available. They created a half-assed social media governance document that was obviously mostly ripped off from another client (as there were places within the document where the find-and-replace missed another clients name). So, not only did they not care about overall UX & message fragmentation, across channels – they only examined social media from a community manager perspective. This means they’ve come up with a competent way of listening & posting updates to selected social networks, however they haven’t thought about what content is the most effective, what tools are available on each channel, and how to integrate messages across channels. The biggest miss was the lack of mobile-centric communications.

If you want to elevate your social strategy & tactics – Please consult a UX professional. He may not be able to answer all the question-marks, but he’ll be able to help you define which questions need to be answered, and should be able to help evaluate the answer. He’ll also be able to synthesize the content, requirements and insights into a succinct social media plan.


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Earned Trust

Trust can be a touchy subject. When you stop to think about it, trust is a catalyst that fuels life. Almost everything we do is based on trust; I trust that P&G didn’t accidentally poison my toothpaste. I trust that my condo installed an elevator that won’t crash to the ground floor. I trust that no one really wants to hurt Canadians. And because I trust these things, I don’t spend time worrying about them. They don’t prevent me from doing the things I want to do, or from learning the things I want to learn.


I’ve started to dislike the phrase “long-trusted”. It seems to be applied to organizations and institutions that JUST ARE trusted. Things like doctors, teachers, hospitals, presidents, universities are all “long-trusted”. People that subscribe to the “long-trusted” ideology don’t question officials or official organizations, but the bigger issue is that they’ve given rise to the dull.


Entities that have to earn trust tend to have the biggest breakthroughs. Those entities that don’t have to earn trust tend to become complacent, dull, and untrustworthy. Obviously this isn’t always the case, but it’s frequent. 


For instance, during the time Microsoft had the majority of market share with Windows, they began to stagnate from an innovation perspective. They made some huge mistakes, and lost a lot of trust before they figured out they needed to re-focus on their users. The more user-centric approach Microsoft is taking now has led to some of the biggest advances in its history. (i.e. Metro, SmartGlass, Sync, Surface, Kinect.)


So, regardless of whether you’re trusted or not, continue the pursuit of understanding your customers. The more you show that you care about them, the more they’ll trust you.

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What does ‘Engagement’ mean to UX

I might have a skewed view when it comes to the term ‘engagement’. When I hear people say ‘engagement’ when referring to a digital experience, a red-flag gets raised in my mind. Many marketers think of ‘engagement’ in the same way alcoholics think of alcohol: you can’t get enough. The fact is, engagement needs to be throttled to be effective.

When referring to a digital experience, engagement refers to how engaged your mind is while interacting with an experience. Analysts have been struggling to measure engagement for decades and have utilized metrics like time-on-site, click-path, and shares to help determine how engaging an experience is. I don’t necessarily see the benefit in trying to measure engagement. Firstly, I’m not convinced that those ‘engagement’ metrics actually indicate how engaged a user is with a digital experience; and secondly, I’m not convinced that engagement is worth tracking, even if we could track it.

I feel like engagement is relative, and unique to each individual. However, I think there are some pretty clear break-points associated with the continuum of engagement.

BumpersIn broadcast, bumpers are short 5s announcements that generally bookend commercial breaks. – A bumper experience is one that a user doesn’t have to think about at all. It’s clear, concise, and simple. The Weather app is a great example of a bumper experience.

CommercialsIn broadcast, commercials are the well known 30s communication spots that appear between programs. – A commercial experience is one that requires some level of cognitive or temporal commitment. A commercial experience could be very simple, but if it’s perceived as having cognitive or temporal strings attached, the user will need to see the benefit of engaging with the associated experience before he’ll make the required commitment. Most marketing experiences are commercial experiences.

ProgramsIn broadcast, programs are the meaty pieces of 30m -1h content that draw people to the medium. – A program experience is one that generally requires a higher level of cognitive processing, but have inherent, understood benefits. An ecom, or blog type experience would both fall under program experiences.

Films - In broadcast, films are the longer featured content that can last an hour or a whole night. – Film experiences aren’t common in the present state of the web; but are those ‘lean-back’ experiences that tend to only have interactivity at the beginning or end of the experience.

For me, engagement isn’t something that needs to be infused into every digital experience; and many experiences should throttle-back on how ‘engaging’ they are. For instance, I don’t want to spend 20 mins looking for Ikea products contextually in little vignettes; I just want to find their selection of chairs.

The thing I find really interesting is how varied clients perceptions of success are. I actually saw an analyst in a meeting suggest that having a 90s increase in average time spent on site indicated a huge success. Devoid of any other metrics, I could see how that might be seen as a success, but the fact was that the number of abandons substantially increased, and number of total views substantially decreased. So, the fact that users are spending an average of 90s longer on site, might only mean that they’re having a harder time finding what they’re looking for.

I think experience design needs to consider who the experience is intended for, and what their engagement tolerance is, in relation to the perceived benefit of engaging in the experience. I also think that experience design needs to be able to articulate why having a less engaging experience may equate to a more effective experience.

If you’re creating a film-experience when users only want a bumper-experience, you might be wasting time and money, and could be sacrificing a more effective experience for a more engaging one.

Remember to keep the goal in mind. Engagement shouldn’t be a goal. A goal should be something like, increase number of views, increase number of check-outs, increase number of shares. Although engagement can be planned for, it tends to be too esoteric to be accurately measured.

(Note: Feel free to utilize any of my diagrams or copy. I’ve recently used this to help explain engagement to a major software client that wound up with me being invited to conduct a workshop for their team of brand managers. Questions or comments, leave them below or ask me directly on Twitter.)


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Cognition & The Intrinsic User Experience

(I originally published this post on

Over the past few years there’s been a lot of discussion around whether an experience can be designed. But it seems like everyone’s just getting hung up on semantics; an experience can be designed, but the user will always have the opportunity to experience it in a unique way. The reason every experience has the potential to be unique to the user is, in part, because cognition is unique to each user.

Cognition is about knowledge and understanding, so there’s a ton of psychological principles that fall under the umbrella of cognition. I’ll focus on two principles that, once understood, will elevate a UX practitioner’s designs to a whole new level.

Cognitive Barriers vs Cognitive Load

Even when experiencing the same stimulus at the same time, many users will have completely unique experiences. That doesn’t mean an experience can’t be architected that utilizes knowledge about cognition to increase goal conversion. We create experiences to elicit a response from users; those users’ responses are either extrinsic (e.g., subscribing to a newsletter) or intrinsic (e.g., developing brand loyalty).

Some of the most important decisions UX designers make are those they don’t even think about. It’s generally understood that creating an intuitive interface is important, but few people are really good at articulating what makes an interface intuitive. This is where the concepts cognitive load and cognitive barriers play a huge role.

When dealing with web and software development, principles associated with cognition can be distilled into six distinct categories: three related to cognitive barriers, and three related to cognitive load.

Cognitive Barriers

A cognitive barrier is something that prevents a user from performing the action required to complete his goal. Most cognitive barriers are temporary in the sense that they can be overcome just through information processing. For example: John begins to fill out a credit card application online and is met with a series of open form fields asking for his name, address, phone number, etc. He’s able to quickly move from field to field using the Tab key on his keyboard. The last question on the form asks him to select his interests and provides him with an array of checkboxes. The momentary pause required to process that he needs to shift from keyboard input to mouse input is a cognitive barrier, but only requires that he understand what to do in order to resolve the barrier. That said, this still represents a potential abandonment point if John isn’t able to figure out what to do.

Barrier #1: Number of steps

Number of Steps

Everyone has known about this barrier since the beginning of the Internet, and long before then. Why take three clicks when we can get it done in two?

Despite being the most well known barrier, it’s probably also the most misinterpreted because many people don’t understand that all three major cognitive barriers to have to be balanced. User testing and ongoing multivariate testing are two very good options for striking the right balance between number, length, and difficulty of steps in a user journey.

The takeaway: Understand that it’s equally important to know when to add steps as it is when to remove them. Five easy, short steps often impose a lower cognitive barrier than one long, difficult step.

Barrier #2: Length of steps

Perceived length of step

Just like barrier #1, the length of each step needs to be appropriate for a given experience. We can’t adopt a blanket rule that shorter steps make better experiences. In some cases, a longer step upfront could provide a substantially better experience as a whole.

There are two major considerations when examining length-of-step barriers: users expectations, and cognitive load. A user might expect to spend ten minutes applying for a credit card online, but might only expect to spend one minute finding show times for a movie. Additionally, users will only interact with systems they understand. Understanding the principles of decision-makingcognitive recognition, andcognitive recall will ensure users are not overwhelmed, while providing affordances for a complete experience.

The takeaway: Design pragmatic step lengths based on how motivated the user is to achieve his goal. Users will spend longer with sites, tools, apps, and products they enjoy than they will with ones they’re simply required to interact with. Users tend to prefer short steps that only ask them to resolve the immediate issue they’re faced with. For example, when a user lands on the Wikipedia page for the first time, he’s faced with the issue of selecting a language. It’s better to get him to select his language as one step and then get him to enter his search term as a second step rather than requiring him to fill out a series of questions that could be used to personalize his experience.

Barrier #3: Difficulty of steps

Perceived Difficulty of Steps

The difficulty of a given step is subjective, and is a main concern of UX professionals. Generally, it’s better to have easy steps; however, there are a couple of downsides to making things easy. Users tend to develop a greater sense of loyalty toward experiences that they’ve invested time in. Conversely, users tend to be fickle about experiences they’ve not invested much time in.

It’s important to understand that users tend to make quick decisions based on previously experienced conventions. This means that when steps of a process are considered important (e.g., selecting a payee, making a purchase, entering a contest) they need to make use of special design patterns that cause users to slow down. This type of slowdown often involves making steps more difficult to process, but result in less user error.

The takeaway: Don’t create unnecessarily difficult steps, but don’t immediately discount adding difficulty to limit conversion and increase the quality of the converted. Remember, users will be more likely to complete difficult steps if they understand why the step needs to be so difficult.

Cognitive Load

Cognitive load is the amount of working memory required to achieve the user’s goal. This principle forms the basis for Steve Krug’s book Don’t Make Me Think. The less a user has to think about what he needs to do to achieve his goal, the more likely he’ll be to achieve it.

Attribute #1: Number of choices

Number of Choices

Choice/decision architecture is becoming one of the biggest and most important specialties within the UX field. Understanding natural decision pivot points and how to manipulate the saliency of decision-making elements is key to ensuring users are quickly able to make the right choice.

For example, the most effective e-commerce sites focus on getting users to the product they’re looking for as quickly as possible before hitting them with related products/up-sells. These sites make great use of natural decision pivot points. Once a user has found what he’s looking for, there will be a natural point at which he’ll be receptive to additional offers. If there are related products, up-sells, or related promotions, capitalizing on these pivot points is important.

The takeaway: Human working memory is limited. Users are more likely to move around a site with a simple structure than one with a very wide or very deep structure. George A. Miller published a paper in 1956 calledThe Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on our Capacity for Processing Information is the quintessential guide to avoiding choice paralysis. It essentially stipulates that the majority of people have the capacity to remember 5–9 things. So if you’re creating a taxonomy, it would be ideal if it were somewhere in that Goldilocks zone. That said, a more recent study suggests that working memory limits are likely lower, possibly as low as four things.

Attribute #2: Amount of thought

Amount of Thought Required

The most important part of understanding cognitive load is understanding how much a person needs to think about a decision prior to making it. Thought processing is somewhat of an abstract concept because is varies substantially from person to person and doesn’t directly relate to real-world time. This means that it’s possible to create a longer experience that has a lower cognitive load, and conversely, to create a shorter experience that has a higher cognitive load.

Each experience has to be evaluated individually to determine whether people would:

  1. understand that they need to take the time to make the desired decision, and
  2. are willing to spend the time required to make the decision.

These are two distinct considerations. Many people are used to making hasty decisions online because they rely on their own experience to interpret design patterns. If they are asked to take the time to make the optimal decision, even if it only requires one second longer than it would to make a satisfactory decision, users will need special design patterns to recognize they’re being asked to do this.

Take the current incarnation of, for example. The primary navigation has little downward-facing arrows next to each element. Here’s a great example of a design pattern intended to slow users down and make an optimal decision. These arrows indicate that users should not simply select a section, but should expect to see a mega-dropdown with sub-categories. sub-menu

Although this is a valuable design pattern, Fox has failed to use the appropriate interaction design pattern. They’ve decided to expand the mega-nav on click, which is fine, but rather than closing the mega-nav if the user clicks again (i.e., making each navigation element a toggle), Fox takes the user to that category landing page if the user clicks again.

The takeaway: Users rely on their own experience interacting with digital, and non-digital, products. Therefore, users will make decisions they understand first, and will only stop to consider their decision if they don’t understand what to do. If you use standard conventions, you’ll ensure users don’t have to think too hard to use your site, app, or product.

Don’t ask users to select between too many options. Again, the 7±2 rule is a great guideline to adhere to. Don’t have more than 5–9 calls-to-action, categories, or menu items displayed at any given time. This can be achieved by hiding additional options off-screen, or though a well-thought-out taxonomy. Hiding elements should be done using standard conventions, e.g., standard vertical scrolling, “Advanced” buttons, split buttons, collapsible areas, ”Show more” buttons, etc. Avoid hiding list items that need to be evaluated together.

Attribute #3: Confusion and choice

Confusino and Choice Graphic

How would you log into an investment account with your online bank if your bank has two options: “Online Banking” and “Credit Cards”? Most people would use process of elimination to select “Online Banking,” but some users may abandon their goal if the don’t understand the choice. It’s kind of like asking people if they want a fork or a knife to eat their soup.

Many UX professionals get caught in this pitfall by not allowing users to evaluate a complete set of options at a glance. Remember the 7±2 rule? Well, this is where it starts to get slippery. If you’re unable to reduce the breadth of a site to 5–9 top-level categories, it’s better to display all of them than to display a subset of them. For example: John is looking for a set of work gloves and visits the Canadian Tire website. There are eight top-level categories that appear in the primary navigation. John begins to look for which category he thinks might contain work gloves. He doesn’t see a category that makes sense but knows that Canadian Tire sells them. The issue is that the only displays a subset of the total number of departments within its primary nav. Along the left rail, there’s local navigation that includes all of the departments, one of which is apparel. Apparel does not appear in the primary nav. It’s okay to show a subset or summary of options upfront if it’s clear that it’s only a subset, and if there’s an option to show all options.

There should never, or rarely ever, be a need to hide a selection of navigational options. It’s fine to hide the navigation as long as there’s a clear way to access it again; but it’s important to show all of the options when the navigation control is displayed.

The takeaway: Users often mistake a selection of options for the complete set of options. It’s easier for a user to understand which option to select when he can see the alternatives. If only five options of a 20-option set are visible at a time, it will be more difficult for the user to decide which option to select.


UX has a lot to do with how users find and consume content. Understanding the cognitive processes and nuances people go through when finding and consuming content is important to architecting an ideal experience or, at least, to architecting a set of conventions that support a user having an ideal experience.

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A Framework for Keeping CPG’s Relevant Online

I’ve been working with CPG’s for years and have figured out why so many have trouble staying relevant online. These insights come from examining internal documentation, and conducting ethnographic studies, from four different global CPG’s and finding correlations. 

The synthesis of this work has cumulated into “The Ecosystem of Understanding”, a framework for keeping CPG’s (and everyone else) relevant online.



(View Full Size)



Although this framework was created specifically with CPG’s in mind, it applies to many other industries. 

I’ve been able to extract 5 insights common to every CPG I’ve worked with; even the most innovative.

1. We don’t know who we’re talking to, but we like to pretend like we do.

2. We don’t know why we’re talking to them, but we know we should be.

3. We suffer from Shiny Object Syndrome.

4. We’re inconsistent, but we’re learning.

5. We’re old, scared, and angry; but its only a matter of time before we’re phased out.





The Ecosystem of Understanding was produced out of necessity. It began approximately a year ago, when the biggest of the CPG’s I’ve been working with began asking some interesting questions. They asked things like: “Why are we spending so much time managing our vendors?”, “Why are we the last to hear about emerging digital trends?”, “What digital tools do we need to measure ROI more effectively?”, “Why aren’t our customers getting more excited about our products?”.

After expanding my consulting contract beyond simple user experience, to include all aspects of the customer experience, I began a the long process of identifying issues, insights and eventually solutions.

A version of this ecosystem has been blown-up and pasted on the wall of several global CPG’s brands walls. I was actually engaged by one to extract each element, and export each to allow them to print the ecosystem as a series of magnets.

For those of you who find the entire ecosystem overwhelming, here’s a breakdown of each element.





CPG’s are generally very accepting of performing user research, if there’s a good reason to do so. Many times, existing persona research is repurposed from print/ broadcast to be used to inform digital marketing/ communications. This tends to provide exactly the WRONG information digital strategists need.

Here’s the process I like to go through, and recommend to the clients I work with:

1. Begin a social-listening campaign: This campaign should be run like any other social campaign. A social monitoring tool should be utilized to help identify authorities within your industry, use those authorities as hubs to identify related topics of conversation. Map those topics back to your original audience pool and expand each topic-pool by identifying all users who frequently discuss both topics related to your industry and topics from the related industry. Mapping these using a modified binned analysis will clearly indicate which topics you should be including in your communications strategy.

2. Within the selected topics, identify sub-groups (or Cohorts) who have similar traits. Each cohort grouping should have a clear authority (or hub) individual.

3. Within each cohort, identify common online activities every user participates in. Also identify what motivates each user to perform each activity. (i.e. Entertainment, Necessity, Security, Convenience.)





Although this step can work on a departmental, or brand level; it works best when an entire organization has committed to the process of creating authorities. 

In it’s simplest terms, a corporation can create authorities or ‘centres of excellence’ who’ll be mandated to stay up-to-date on a particular channel, or topic. These authorities might work for a particular brand, but will operate like a consultant for all brands within the corporation. 

These authorities will need to be tapped into the collective wisdom of both internal teams, as well as all vendors. The easiest way I’ve been able to establish this type of collaboration, is through a micro-blog. In different circumstances, I’ve recommended both Tumblr, and Posterous to support collaboration.

Essentially, anyone from any department internally, and anyone from any vendors department can contribute to the micro-blog. The authority will curate what actually gets published, but will be notified anytime someone wants to contribute. 

Ideally, everyone from the authority team will subscribe to the micro-blog using an RSS reader, and will keep the RSS reader open in the background throughout the day. If a team member is often out of the office, a mobile RSS reader would work just as well. 





Micro-segment and automate social signal response assessment: At this point, I think everyone knows how to set up Google Alerts, Sysomos, or HootSuite to help with brand monitoring. These tools (combined with a governance document) can help determine when & how to respond to any given social signal. Many tools can take it one step further and establish a triggered workflow, alerting authorities based on pre-defined triggers. (i.e. If someone mentions the brand name with a negative sentiment AND mentions a competitor, that conversation can be automatically distributed to the most relevant set of authorities with a recommendation on how to respond.)

Create experience map to illustrate campaign, program, platform, and account user journeys: For any digital project, a large experience map (ideally printed on large format 3′x20′ paper) that utilizes swim lanes to organize multiple user journeys across all digital channels. (Ideally, these user journeys will include all mediums, digital and non-digital.)





Utilize collaboration principles established in step 2 to organize learnings and establish ongoing testing. Here’s one of the processes I’ve helped establish:

A. Each authority is responsible for managing their own test schedule, and test budget.

B. Each test (and the test parameters) will be posted within the respective category on the micro-blog and will automatically alert every other authority.

C. Each authority will have at least 2 business days to add comments to the post (test plan).

D. The test will be recorded and results will be shared in their raw format immediately upon receiving the results.

E. Each authority will have the option to analyze the results independently

F. The authority conducting the test will upload the results as an EDIT to the original post.

G. Anyone subscribing to the authorities collaboration RSS feed will be alerted to the final post.

H. 30 days after the publication of the test results, all users will be asked to rate the test & results and comment on how the information has been helpful or comment on how the information needs to be expanded upon.


Obviously, this framework doesn’t work for every industry, but it does apply to many different industries outside of CPG’s. I’d like to provide everyone with an editable PDF of the full ecosystem: this can be downloaded and edited in any vector editor like Adobe Illustrator. 

If you have any comments, questions, or thoughts about this; please leave a comment. I’m always looking for ways to improve, and expand. If you want a quick response, message me directly on Twitter. (@thejordanrules)


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How The Automotive Industry Can Lead Digital Innovation

Did anyone else else grow-up on stories about the old automotive pioneers? Stories about how every innovation pushed the industry forward. I’m not sure what happened, but let me outline a 5 point plan to re-energize the automotive industry.





Let’s assume the constantly connected car is already here. I think there can be 4G syncing for the short-term, and think wireless networking will become available globally within 5 years. 


If the possibly of having a connected car is already here, why isn’t every car connected and transmitting data? We should have bidirectional communication between the cloud and any vehicle. This communication & data can be built on, and monitored by developers. 


I think this should become standardized, and mandatory for all new vehicles. This could revolutionize traffic reporting, toll roads, parking, law enforcement, driving, emergency response; as well as the automotive aftermarket, and automotive retail.


Automotive manufacturers: Imagine having access to data from every vehicle you have on the road, and imagine offering that data in a smart system to every owner. Imagine those owners monitoring their data through your site & apps. You’ll have the attention of millions, and will have enough data & infrastructure to communicate real-time hyper-targeted notifications to anyone. From traffic alerts, to law enforcement alerts, and from marketing alerts to  alerts based on bio-sensor data; the potential of the CAR API is only limited by what we can imagine.






Understand the value of long-tail innovation. Essentially, there are lots of people who have lots of ideas. They don’t always have good ideas, but establishing a listening & curation team can help utilize the power of the crowd.


Try using the opposite of the long-tail graph to outline how much listening you need to do in order to get the most value from the long-tail.


Some of this is already appearing in social media governance and organizational structure for supporting social business practices. I think the science and art of LISTENING is still in its infancy. Everyone needs to understand that listening isn’t just a passive activity, but deserving of a department, and deserving of active analysis and testing.






I don’t want to get too abstract, but the original requirements for cars were, at one time, fulfilled by horses. The world was getting bigger, and people were living further away. The further we live from each other, the more we rely on vehicles. 


So, now that we live all over the place, and have roads connecting us; why would we want to move in any other way than by car?


This is actually a big issue. Why would any industry work towards its own demise? Because it’s them or us. Either we phase out petroleum reliant vehicles, or we won’t be able to curb climate change enough to continue our way of life. The automotive industry isn’t ignorant to this fact anymore. The overwhelming move to electric & hybrid technology is testament to the shift in thinking. 


Although electric vehicles is a great first-step; we can’t stop there. Clean efficient mass transit for short, medium, and long distances is ideal solution. I think the automotive industry needs to lead this transition, and I believe a CAR API may be a great first step. Complete automation & logistic management over fleets of clean vehicles would allow us to:


A. Reduce/ eliminate roads & associated costs: Creating roads took a long time, and costs a lot of money. Replacing them with anything will take a long time, and will cost a lot of money. If we believe its worth it, we should start immediately diverting funds associated with building new roads to building a new infrastructure of mag-lev rails or something. I’m not staying we have to move to rail transportation, but we can definitely come up with something with a smaller physical and economic footprint than roads.


B. Reduce/ eliminate vehicular crashes: If we’re building new infrastructure anyway, lets build it with automation controls to avoid people from having the ability to get into accidents, or drink and drive, or purposely run someone down.


C. Improve planet health: Obviously reducing emissions associated with vehicles will help curb climate change, it can’t be the only effort. 


D. Improve human health: Again, it’s obvious that making people walk a little bit, and bike a little bit, will make people a little bit more healthy. A side effect of shifting people away from cars, and building facilities to accommodate more bikes & people on-foot, is that more people will feel safe and encouraged to take healthier alternatives. I mean, I’d bike if I didn’t see at least one bike accident each day. There are also psychological benefits associated with being more social and spending time around others.






By now, I’m sure everyone’s seen Transcendent Man, and understands the idea behind the Singularity premise. For those who don’t know: Transcendent Man is about a guy who thinks technology will merge with biology enough to allow us to live forever and connect in a way never thought possible. No one’s really sure what it’ll look like, but I’m thinking it’ll start like the game Deus Ex: Human Revolution; with technological enhancements. 


Anyway, roads were always meant to be a way to connect people. They helped make the world smaller and more accessible. I think the internet represents the foundation for new roads. If vehicle automation is going to work, we need to have a network that can support that kind of traffic without losing connection. Essentially, we’ll need to have access to the network from anywhere. There are several technologies that could provide us with global coverage. 


Once we have access to the network from anywhere, we’ll need to improve bandwidth – or data compression. We’ll need to prepare the network for improved interfaces. Now, when you think about it, our current interfaces rely on human physiology to interface with machines. (i.e. we have gestural interfaces because we have fingers, we have vocal interfaces because we can speak.)


So, once we have an omnipresent network that can transfer huge amounts of data, we can take advantage of biological & cognitive interfaces. We’ll essentially be able to move from an age of sharing knowledge to an age of sharing understanding.







I think, at this point, everyone knows that corn is the most pervasive ingredient in the North American food industry. Corn starch, corn glutton, corn syrup, and a host of other corn byproducts make it directly into our foods and corn feed is often given to farm animals. 


Cars have become the corn of the modern world. Cars gave way to roads, roads shaped cities, and cities shape the world. I think the oil industry got a bad rap – I think the oil industry scaled up to meet the demands the automotive industry put on it.


What kind of world to we want to live in? Why don’t we work backwards from there? Let’s say we want to live in the world of 1000 years ago, with all of the conveniences of today. What would it take to get that done? 


1. Landscape


Ideal: Remove all the roads.

Problem: How will we be able to connect with one another?

Solutions: Either live closer together or find a way to travel long distances without roads.


2. Unite & Understand


Ideal: Reduce Population.

Problem: No one likes regulations, especially not on life.

Solution: International support of community planning initiatives. At one point in time, the automotive industry united communities. We need that sense of community again, this time on a global level. Individuals tend to do what’s best for their community when community planning works.


3. Connect


Ideal: Wireless Innovation

Problem: Infrastructure 

Solution: WIthout diving too deeply into the technology, I believe wireless networking technology can encompass the world. This would essentially provide connectivity to anyone anywhere on the planet. I also, believe this same solution can be applied to power distribution. Allowing devices to access power anywhere.


4. Move Forward


Ideal: Learn from the Past

Problem: Mediocrity & Survival. People don’t all like things the way they are, but are all used to them. It’s hard enough to survive in the world we live in. Many people just want to get by.

Solution: Revolutionize the education system. Stop focusing on teaching every child the same stuff, in the same way. Start bringing psychology and anthropology into teaching by observing and listening to children in the early grades. Use empathy and sociological experimentation to determine what each student likes to do. Allow their interests to guide their educational experience. 

OK, so I’m not saying all of my ideas warrant exploration; but if you’re reading this, I’m sure you have your own ideas that are worth exploring. Don’t wait for the automotive industry, start exploring your ideas on your own. Explore them, and find a way to share them. 

I don’t know about you, but I’m alright with things changing if they change for the better. I’m even ok with things changing for the worse, if we’re striving for a long-term improvement. 

All I’m saying is, if we know we need to change the automotive industry – can someone please figure out how; and how we’re going to get there? 


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Why Every Project Should be User-Centric

Introduction: How digital ecosystems have evolved.

Over the past two decades, the world watched as brand-ecosystems evolved online. Where once, brands merely wanted to establish an online presence; now, they want to engage their customers through transmedia ecosystems.


This shows an evolutionary leap forward in terms of digital thinking. Many marketers and agencies have been slow (VERY SLOW) to react to the nature of this paradigm shift. It’s hard to say who’s catering to whom, but it’s distructive. I believe education is the only way to move the industry forward, which is why I’m still committed to giving away my knowledge, templates, diagrams, and any other assets necessary to help encourage user-centric projects.


The two biggest problems & opportunities: design-centric projects & technology-centric projects. First, let me be clear about what I mean when I say design-centric or technology-centric. I simply mean, the driving-force behind the project is design or technology focused. (i.e. Starting with a CMS and designing templates that fit, or starting with photoshop and presenting a sleek set of mock-ups.) If you don’t begin a project by engaging a UX strategist (or some similarly titled person) you risk running a project that isn’t user-centric. I’m more convinced now than ever, that ALL digital projects should engage a UX strategist at some level.


A simple exercise I call Prioritization Scaling allows a project team and client to align quickly on what’s most important.

(Download PDF Copy)

The scale is divided into two sections, top & bottom. The top section is intended to define what type of project we’re working on. Is it: experiential, informational or usable. Obviously, these aren’t mutually exclusive, but should be prioritized. The above example is for a usability-driven project, where content consumption is the biggest goal, and design takes a back-seat.

The bottom section is intended to determine the implementation priorities. What elements are most important: Accessibility/ Responsiveness, Visual Appeal, Utility/ Content, or Navigation. Again, this is just trying to strike the right balance.


Once the two sections have been arranged, they should be compared against each other. If there are inconsistencies, they should be discussed and the sections should be reordered if necessary.



Process: Standard project management methodologies lend themselves to user-centricity


There’s a standard project framework that I refer to anytime I’m engaged to work on a project. Whether it be run in an agile or waterfall methodology. 

Essentially there are 4 phases, that are sometimes combined, or split-up. There’s some level of research done, whether we actually conduct the research or it’s given to us for analysis. We’re looking for key user insights. When we’ve found them we need to synthesize a project roadmap that outlines how we plan on using the insights. This could be a BRD, brief, user stories, or sketches. The goal is to put some boundaries on the scope of the project. The end of the planning phase should produce a set of detailed wireframes or a prototype; ideally with a working design specification document (DSD). 


Baselining a set of wireframes or a prototype will allow the creative team to begin brainstorming on how to interpret them. Personally, I like to be involved with this process to help the team understand the underlying principles and intention of flows etc. By the end of the creative phase we should have a baselined design specification document. This can often serve as the online style guide.


The DSD and wireframes/prototype will be used concurrently by the development team to build the final deliverable. By the time the build phase is finished, we should begin to get data back so that we can begin to determine new user insights.


Now, the reason I don’t think this process works as well with a design-centric project is that they tend to begin with creative and ‘post-rationalize’ planning and research. It might not sound like this is a big deal, but starting with creative doesn’t always take users needs into account. This could lead to usability, business, or conversion issues down the road.

90% of the creative directors that I’ve worked with understand that this isn’t the most ideal way to work and participate in the research and planning phases to understand and help guide certain key decisions. 



Benefits: How it benefits the WHOLE team


Understanding the user and what they need is a key aspect of any strategy department. A user-centric project gives the strategy department the time they need to do a proper discovery with users and the client.

Having key user insights and a framework for best practices with regards to IA & UX allows the creative department the freedom to focus on being really creative and innovative. The biggest hurdle I’ve experienced is the unwillingness to deviate from the wireframes. Including your experience strategist in brainstorming will allow you to blue-sky the interpretation while using the wireframes to stay grounded in reality.

Since users are the people who’ll actually be using the end product, developers like user-centric projects because they take the time to figure out how everything will work. 

Project managers tend to like user-centric projects because they follow an easy-to-understand process. They also don’t require that people take responsibility for aspects of the project that are outside of their expertise. (i.e. developers figuring out how creative should function)

It’s easy to sell user experience and user-centric projects. It’s been my experience that user-centric projects make clients happier, and keep them coming back, longer than design-centric projects.



Long-Term Revenue Model: Why user centric projects will keep the lights on.

I’m a strong believer in iterative improvement, even on a campaign-basis. This means you do something, measure it, analyze the findings, and improve it. The more you improve it, the better the experience will be for the user, the better the ROI will be for the client, and the more the client will want to invest with you.





Why wouldn’t you want to have a user-centric project? The only reason I could think of: We don’t have a seasoned UX professional to guide us. I actually think this might be a more pervasive reason that you might think. Many agencies make their name on their creative, and think they should lead projects because they’ve had success in the past. This kind of thinking is great for agencies who want one big campaign to sweep the awards shows, and make a big name for themselves – but one ‘hot-spot’ for a client doesn’t mean as much as consistently delivering quality. So, it’s not only that you might not have a UX person to guide you; it might be that you don’t even know you need one. UX people only help the creative process when they’re used properly. If you’re not sure how to integrate UX into your practice, let me know, I can give you some tips in 15 mins.


Note: Next article will focus on user-centric pitches

Follow me on Twitter @thejordanrules

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Comprehensive Guide To Digital & Social Media Strategy

Over the past three years I’ve invested a lot of time and energy figuring out how digital channels, specifically social media, can be used to achieve business objectives. I’ve received a number of requests to summarize what I’ve learned. This post represents a compendium of my work on social media and digital strategy.


This post will cover the following note: I tried making these anchor links, but it didn’t work:

Determining If You Should Be Using Social Media

Part 1: The pervasive reach of social media

Part 2: Information distillation through social media

Part 3: Propagation of News through Social Media

Part 4: Corporate Adoption of Social Media

Part 5: Process of participatory marketing

Part 7: Maximizing revenue through social media


How You Should Be Using Social Media

Part 1: Which social media channels should You be using

Part 2: How you should be using social media

Part 3: Framework for branding through social media

Part 4: Social Media Lifecycle Framework

Part 5: Why PR is ruining social media

Part 6: Collective Storytelling

Part 7: Social Customer Service


Advanced Social Media Planning

Part 1: Iterative Brand Equity

Part 2: Radical Social Design

Part 3: Models for Social Media Integration

Part 4: Cohesively Tie Marketing Tactics Across Multiple Social Media Channels

Part 5: Permeable Community Strategies & Sympathetic Social Systems

Part 6: Social Media Achilles Heel – Content Generation





I think everyone should be using some form of social media; especially in business.

Many businesses have started making use of social media in some way; however many still aren’t participating in any form of social media. Of those, the most common reason for non-participation is that they genuinely believe that their customers aren’t using social media; therefore they shouldn’t.

In fact, I’ve recently heard that some businesses don’t even think their customers are online.

I’ve compiled the following, to address why even businesses without online customers should participate in social media.

If you think your customers aren’t online at all, here are reasons to participate in social media:

Reason 1:
 Even if your customer isn’t online, those people he trusts and looks to for advice might be.
Reason 2: Your business can collect valuable research on your competition, industry trends, upcoming technology, etc. Using social media as a business intelligence gathering tool is a valuable reason to participate.

Reason 3:
 If your customer isn’t online; there might be an opportunity to market to those who aren’t buying from you. You can endear your brand with a new audience without alienating your current audience, or you could create a brand extension that would appeal to a new market.

Reason 4:
 Influential publications often pick up stories that make use of social media in new or unique ways. Start a social media campaign; and get in front of your customer via traditional media covering your campaign.

Reason 5:
 “Bacterial Growth” – What I call “Bacterial Growth” is like viral content; but when something goes ‘viral’ it generally means that it spreads until market saturation is reached, then effectively dies. “Bacterial Growth” refers to a multi-channel infection that experiences a heightened growth period and a long sustained brand equity. Where the ‘bacteria’ doesn’t die; it just changes. I suggest that a well-thought campaign that includes offline components can go viral online and offline. (e.g. iCoke, Foursquare)

[ Complete Article ]




It’s generally accepted that we have access to more information than we could ever process in a lifetime.

Social and online media are especially great because they are inherently more manageable than offline media.

I suggest that users get information from 3 main categories online:

  1. The Micro-Blog: Includes Twitter, Friend Feed, Facebook; and any other site that makes use of micro-interactions.
  2. The Blog: This would include blogs; but would also include any site that’s article-based.
  3. The Email: Includes newsletters, promotional emails, and any other media sent to someone’s inbox.

With those assumptions; here’s the model:


There are inherent information management problems with each channel.

The Email

In this model, this will represent a message:

Email generally contains unidirectional messages, that come to one place (the user’s e-mail address). In this model, our subject would have subscribed to several interesting entities that send periodic information via email. These emails might contain multiple messages, but will generally have unique content.

Primary Problem: Information quality – Receiving email means you’re at the mercy of the publisher. You receive the information they deem to be relevant & often don’t get to clarify any ambiguous content.

Solution: Sophisticated Email Client – many e-mail clients offer auto-storing; where you can have e-mails filtered and sorted into folders for your review. You can also use search tools to quickly locate the most relevant information.

[ Complete Article ]



(click here for full image)

I’ve been thinking about news lately. What it is, how its transmitted, and how it changes things.

News is undoubtedly important; it’s how we learn what happening around us. Other than experiencing it for ourselves, it’s the only way we know what’s going on in the world.

News takes many different shapes, from formal investigative reporting, to anecdotal storytelling. All news are stories; but not all stories make the mainstream news. Here enters social media and the independent reporter.

We no longer have to accept the sensationalized definition of news. Mainstream media, in my opinion, creates news that the largest percentage of the population in a given area will find interesting. This averaging of news often ends up including reports some people don’t care about; and not including reports other people really care about. Through social media we can now choose what we consider news – and here’s how news propagates through the social media universe.


Often, news starts out as rumor and speculation. One person hears something from a source, and it gets spread to another and another. The more interesting the information, the quicker it will spread.


Once a legitimate news source picks up the story (you can decide for yourself what a “legitimate news source” is) they’ll start the reporting cycle: Research, lead checking, analysis etc. Until they produce a finished news product. This could be a written story, tweet, photo, video, etc.


When a finished news product is released, it’ll spread throughout the social media sphere based on how relevant it is, how trust-worthy the source is, and how engaging the story is. It’ll eventually reach maximum interest and start becoming ‘yesterdays news’.

[ Complete Article ]



Getting a corporation with established marketing rules and complicated communications departments to adopt a new way to communicating to its audience can be difficult. With the rise of social media, corporations are beginning to listen; but still require a process to get everyone onboard. The following is a framework that reviews an ideal process a corporation will follow when adopting social media as a new communications tool.


Define Initial Parameters

Define how many resources you can devote to social media

Define which sites you want to monitor

Define which tools you’d like to test

Define sampling size benchmarks


Begin Listening


Once you’ve finished defining everything; you can begin listening. Many corporations successfully do this in ‘stealth mode’ – meaning the brand name or corporation name isn’t publicly available to the networks being listened to.

While listening, you should also be recording what you hear. There are several easy ways to monitor your brand & turn the streams of activity into an RSS feed and store the RSS posts for future reference.

[ Complete Article ]



I’m not saying that this model is the best way to run social media projects; but if we start listening to customers and use those insights to drive business needs we’re already starting on better footing. Keeping the user engaged throughout the process will help ensure the campaign is really targeted to the right crow

[ Complete Article ]



We all know there are essentially 2 ways to increase ROI.

Here’s a quick review:

1. Get new customers to buy your product
2. Get existing customers to buy more product

The way to do this; combination of increased message reach and increased message frequency.

Assume, for every 10 people I reach with a message, I get 1 conversion. (1 person buys from me).

Reach: If I reach 20 people with a message, I’ll get 2 conversions.
Frequency: If I hit the 10 people with 2 messages, I’ll get 2 conversions.
Pretty straightforward. Everyone understands that.

ROI is different in the social media universe. Why? Because reach and frequency are, in majority, controlled by the community.




PART 7: Maximizing Revenue Through Social Media

Building legitimate social equity requires slowly shifting the perceptions of others. Building social equity, and understanding how to use it, is fundamental to maximizing revenue through social media.

Three phases to maximizing revenue through social media

These are not steps. When you’ve spent enough time focusing on awareness, your social equity will reach a level that will allow you to create engagement-type campaigns that will be successful. If you try launching engagement-type campaigns without building your social equity to a sufficient level, your campaigns will not be successful – and should be an indicator that you need to focus on awareness & build your social equity.

It’s also important to note that having enough social equity to successfully move to the next phase doesn’t mean that attention should be completely removed from the previous phase. (i.e. If you move from awareness to engagement; you should still continue awareness efforts. If you stop your awareness effort you risk decreasing your social equity.)


Awareness (Social Equity Required: Low)


The first phase of maximizing revenue using social media is establishing a presence and earning a reputation. Before you get started you’ll need to define some goals, and define what groups of people you want to build a relationship with.

Once you’ve defined those things; you can decide what social media channels you’d like to participate in. Depending on your goals and your audience, you might end up choosing several channels. These posts can help you make your decision for companies or forindividuals.

Many larger brands want to bypass this phase and jump into engagement; the reason usually is that they’ve built up substantial lists of users via other media. Often these brands blanket-invite anyone who’s interacted with them in the past to join them in their new campaign. The biggest problem with doing this is that you’re not qualifying your audience. Ideally, you’d target users who already participate in some social media channels & are informed about how to participate on the channels you’re inviting them to. These active users have the best chance of becoming advocates for you. (Adversely, if you invite users who aren’t interested in participating – you could end up with a bunch of ‘dead’ accounts following you. This can have negative repercussions for you and your community for several reasons. I’ll cover this in more detail in an upcoming post called “Social Media Deadfall, Dangers of The Unfocused.”)

So once you have goals & defined the channels you want to create a presence on; you can begin establishing your presence and earning the reputation you want. There are two reasons people join communities – for value or for fun. (Usually some combination of the two; but it’s proven helpful if you plot where you’d like to be on the spectrum between value &fun.)

[ Complete Article ]






I’ve categorized and compared 7 social media channels that are currently being used by both B2B and B2C brands. I’ve suggested which type of brand works best in each channel.


(click here to view full size)



Generally, blogs work better for B2B brands because they require a certain level of prior knowledge and interest. The effort required to follow blogs generally means that the audience already has an interest in the industry. That is why there are so many industry-based blogs.

B2C brands can still take advantage of 3rd party blogs; but generally don’t get the ROI required to justify maintaining their own blog


For a similar reason, B2C brand’s likely won’t find the value in maintaining a micro-blog. However there are exceptions, and this particular channel is evolving.

B2C brands are starting to exploit micro-blogging for customer service. Additionally, some B2C brands are figuring out ways to integrate the real-time functionality of micro-blogging platforms into their marketing efforts.

I maintain, that at the present time, this channel is still better suited to B2B brands; but I can recognize that it has value for B2C brands.

Social Networks:

 There are many types of social networks; many niche social networks are specifically designed for B2B brands, and, therefore, are better suited for them. (e.g. LinkedIn)

Excluding those social networks that were designed for a niche market; I suggest that social networks are better suited for B2C brands. The reason is that brands can take advantage of being introduced to their potential customers through their friends.

People have the ability to ‘discover’ brands their friends like. Additionally, many social networks offer in-network multimedia communication options. Example: Facebook allows you to create a dialog with your audience through images, video, text, and interactive applications; while Twitter allows you to create a dialog using text & links only.

B2B brands definitely should take advantage of social networks; but many social networks are better suited for B2C brands.

[ Complete Article ]




[ Complete Article ]



I suggest there are 5 primary models a brand can use to communicate with its audience via social media. (These models can be applied to other media as well, but some work much better, and are much easier to execute using social media.)

  1. Direct Communication
  2. Communications Catalyst
  3. Cooperative Communication
  4. Participatory Definition
  5. Brand Embodiment

Direct Communication: Occurs when a brand communicates it’s message directly to the audience.

Timeline: Instant

Participation: Minimal

Example: Youtube Video (Dove Evolution)

Communications Catalyst:
 Refers to a brand that encourages or provides the means of communication between two or more customers.

Timeline: Short

Participation: Minimal

Example: Crowd Sourcing (Best Buy IdeaX)

Cooperative Communication: Is a type of participatory marketing, where the brand proactively participates with its audience.

Timeline: Intermediate

Participation: Results proportional to participation

Example: Dynamic Facebook Page (Dew Labs)

Participatory Definition: The opening of a brand to influence, or re-design by its audience.

Timeline: Intermediate to Long

Participation: Minimal, but ongoing for better results

Example: Customer-Generated Branding (Doritos Undefined Flavour)


Brand Embodiment: Happens when an individual, or group of individuals, develop such a strong affinity for the brand that they will recommend it without being prompted. (Of course this also means, that if prompted they’ll recommend the brand, and also means that it’s their brand of choice.)

Timeline: Long

Participation: Substantial, and ongoing

Example: Apple* (Check out the # of related videos & comments)

*Note: Apple isn’t the best example, because they didn’t strictly use social media to follow this model. A better example might be Best Buy.


[ Complete Article ]




Many of the clients I’ve been consulting for have interesting notions about social media. One common idea is that social media is an ongoing effort and doesn’t conform to normal lifecycle rules.

The Social Media Lifecycle Framework

I would agree that social media initiatives are different than many other campaign models, but I do think most initiatives deliver a higher ROI when the following lifecycle framework is considered & followed.


Conversion Funnel 

Monologue: A broadcast form of communication that works well for creating initial awareness. Before broadcasting your message, be sure to craft your message by listening to what people are already saying about you.

Conversion A: Converts users who have simply heard of you, to users who want to have a conversation with you.

Conversation: A participatory form of communication that works well after you’ve created a community. Not everyone in you’re community will feel comfortable engaging in conversations, which means your community needs to be large enough to support multiple levels of participation.

Conversion B: Converts users who are participating in conversations, to those who will take your message & use it to influence others. 

Influence: An extended form of conversation that works well when influential community members believe your message. Influential communication is effective at achieving perfect conversion.


[ Complete Article ]




I remember when social networking was about sharing personal content with family, friends, and colleagues. Lately, I’ve noticed a lot of inauthentic brand communications littering my streams with noise.

The Conflict

I do ‘like’ certain brands, and want my friends to know which brands I have a particular affinity for. However, I don’t want to get spammed with creepy questions, or comments from a brand spokesperson. (or Brand Ambassadors)

Branding and PR are intrinsically linked

I subscribe to the idea that it’s possible to create and maintain a brand through social media. I don’t believe PR is the most effective way of doing that.


[ Complete Article ]




The ability to tell stories has always been one of the most powerful ways to connect with other people.

Social media has given us a unique way to to tell stories as a collective. Here’s a road map for collective storytelling.

Stop #1 – Define Your Story

The process of discovering what you want to tell a story about is always different, but the most important step in storytelling. You need to be an expert on what your story is about.

Starting a story without knowing what it’s about will likely cause confusion. If the collective is confused by a story, it’s unlikely that they’ll participate in telling it.


The collective will look to that person who started the story for reinforcement and reassurance that the story is still on track. Ensure you monitor your story and continue to participate in telling it, or risk the story ending.


Stop #2 – Spark a Conversation

In collective storytelling, stories are made up of wide-reaching conversations. Those conversations begin with a ‘conversation spark’.




Customer service has always been that business competency that either makes or breaks the customer experience. Over the past decade, many large organizations recognized this fact and have heavily invested in ensuring extraordinary customer service. In recent years, social customer service has become a necessity.

Social customer service can increase revenue in five ways:

Increased Awareness: Addressing customers issues via social media provides interesting content. The more you help, the better the chances customers will find you. 

Increased Customer Satisfaction: The great thing about social customer service is that other customers, who are satisfied with you get the opportunity to observe & participate with other customers. This has the potential of increasing their satisfaction through education. I’ve seen a discussion board with customer service interactions between a software company and its customers; many of the posts indicated that the customers reading the posts discovered additional functionality they’d never have known about. Of course, simply solving a customers problem increases their satisfaction.

Public Customer Reviews: Each time provide customer service via social media is another opportunity to have a public customer review. It shows the issues customers have, and shows how your company deals with those issues. In public forums, an unsatisfied customer doesn’t necessarily mean a bad review. If the company does everything it can, but the customer is unreasonable; the public will often express it’s admiration of the company, and dismiss the customer as unreasonable.


[ Complete Article ]







Iterative Brand Equity changes. It doesn’t dispose of what existed before; it will update, hand-off, or reconfigure itself to become something new.

(pretty simple, but click here for a larger view)


Set expectations - It’s hard to set expectations when you’re uncertain how the next iteration of a campaign will unfold. That being said, it’s important to keep your users informed with what you know. If you’re uncertain what the next iteration will look like, it’s perfectly fine to tell that to your users, and ask them for input. 

Extract key campaign elements - In every campaign, there are key themes, memes, and technology that can be carried forward in each iteration. For instance, if you ask your users to upload photo’s during a campaign, the next iteration could involve writing captions for the images; or turning the images into comic strips. 

Provide a feedback mechanism - The biggest mistake any campaign can suffer from is not allowing customers to provide feedback. If you have a channel that allows customers to provide feedback, you’ll end up gaining some valuable insights. If you don’t have that channel available, the feedback will often be presented to the public via social media. Feedback should always be incorporated into the next iteration of a campaign.

Recap - Just like the beginning of a TV show, an iterative campaign requires a recap. This can take many forms; the best are integrated into drivers to the transformed campaign site. For example, if you have a media buy making people aware of your new campaign, you can include information about how the campaign started, and how its transformed.

Recognize loyalty - Users who stick with you from campaign to campaign should be recognized and rewarded. They don’t necessarily need a monetary reward, but they can be rewarded by offering pre-registration, or access to exclusive tools. The better you treat your loyal customers, the more likely it is they’ll continue being loyal.

[ Complete Article ]



The days of social media marketing campaigns are numbered. The future lies in radical social design; the ability to socially-enable the things we do everyday. I’m not suggesting we share EVERYTHING we do, but share valuable things we don’t even realize are valuable yet.


Establish A Presence

Even @chrisbrogan once had no followers. As hard as it is to believe, even the most well-connected users were once disconnected. They had to invest in building a brand & building an ecosystem they wanted to participate in. Not sure how to get started? Start by identifying users who you aspire to, and investigate how they achieved their goals.

Build Social Capital

The more you contribute, the more social capital you’ll earn. Earning social capital can be thought as earning a share-of-time from your audience. With a maximum number of sources for information, every user needs to prioritize where to gather his information. The likelihood of being chosen as a source for information increases with the level of social equity you’ve earned.


Those users who actively participate in social networks leave a trail of personal information behind them. Some smarter marketers are figuring out how to collect & analyze that data. Tools like Facebook Connect, Open Graph, Open ID, Friend Connect, etc. are making it easy to share personal information with marketers you choose to connect with. This type of data can be useful in personalizing a users experience & serving up the most relevant content. Eventually websites will know me so well, I won’t need to search for information because it’ll already be served up to me.


Until recently many marketers didn’t have the resources to effectively monitor brand conversations. Many leading brands are using radical social designs to encourage users to participate in brand conversations; using these conversations as a sound-board to do serious market research.





I’ve recently been talking to some of my friends & clients about the value of integration of social media efforts with online marketing efforts.


The big underlying question: How should my website integrate content from my social media properties?


1. Bi-directional hub & spoke model

Benefits: 2 way syndication and a well thought tagging taxonomy allows much of your social media content to be syndicated in relevant places on your website (and vice-versa) without much work.

Draw Backs: Some content, out of context, can be misinterpreted; especially network specific memes. Syndication can add a barrier to sharability & the organic viral nature of certain social media channels.

2. Multidirectional hub & spoke model

Benefits: All the benefits of #1 plus allows conversations to exist across social media properties regardless of which property a given user belongs to. (Note: certain channels like Twitter & Facebook are easier to integrate in this way than others.)

Draw Backs: A unified tracking system that ties conversations back to specific users is much harder to set up. (Also all the drawbacks of #1)

3. Clustered honeycomb model

Benefits: Allows for additional segmentation of content. This is a huge benefit in an age of information overload. Having multiple streams of content, dedicated to specific user-groups allows users to get the content they want, and avoid the content they don’t. This type of segmentation will help identify potential brand advocates.

Draw Backs: More upfront content strategy planning will be required. A valuable amount of content will need to be created for each segment. Additional effort will be required by community managers to ensure easy cross-channel communications between segments.



 [ Complete Article ]




Let’s first decide which tactic will work best.


Here’s the Social Media Tactic Refinement Framework I use:
(Click here to download as a PDF)

Here’s how it works:

Part A: Consider business goals, and distill them into a coherent strategy.

Part B: Take the strategy and derive campaign objectives. Distill your objectives into the primary message you want to deliver.

Part C:


Plot whether your message is targeted to businesses or consumers. Refine the message as necessary. 
Then, plot whether the campaign will be providing more value, or more entertainment to the community. Again, refine the message as necessary. 
Then, decide the type tactic you’ll use. 4 basic social media tactics are:

Content: Where original content is created, or content is reused.
Contest: Where a submission is entered, and winner announced.
Game: Where one or more users play a game. Prizes are not required.
Incentive: Where the company will give you something, if you participate, or do something for them.



[ Complete Article ]





Create permeable community strategies & sympathetic social systems.

Mastering the permeable community strategy

A permeable community strategy is special because it allows marketing & other communication messages to pass through without altering the fundamental social constructs of the community. (i.e. if I join the Nike Facebook fan base because they were supporting the Tour De France. I’ll eventually become a disenfranchised fan because they’ll eventually move to a new discussion. In fact, I might find all the other non-Tour-De-France updates annoying. If Nike created a community called “Enjoy the Ride” and encouraged people to share bike-riding related information, and provided curated content year-round, it could easily support the Tour De France sponsorship campaign.)

There are 3 steps to create a permeable community strategy.

1. Identify your customer: This isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Identifying your customer involves a market analysis that should tell you who your highest-value customers are, and what they think about you. It should also tell you where your customer tends to spend his time online.

2. Identify topics your customers find interesting: Once you know who you need to observe, begin observing them. This step can also take some time, but it shouldn’t prevent you from doing a preliminary topical analysis & begin to create a broad-topic community; it can be focused over time. Observing your high-value customers will help you identify topics they’re interested in.

3. Create topic-based communities: Once you’ve identified topics your high-value customers are interested in, you can craft a creative platform that can support the community.


[ Complete Article ]


One of the most pervasive social media tactics involves generating content. It’s very easy to do, but very easy to get wrong.

When you think about it, almost anyone can write status updates, add comments, create tweets, or upload photos. The fact that creating content can be done so easily, allows for it to be rushed into.

Here are my guidelines for creating content.

Figure out who you know best 

Know Yourself: Create content you know about. Be genuine & interesting. People will be responsive to your content, as long as it’s authentic.

Achilles Heel: Lack of focus. In the end, the content you create helps define how people perceive you; this is the essence of branding. If you don’t define how you’d like people to perceive you; you risk misperception. 
So, treat yourself, and the content you create, as a brand would. Develop a voice, and focus your content toward achieving the perception you want from your audience. 

Know your audience: Create content your audience finds interesting. If you’re able to figure out what you’re audience is interested in; you can find spokespeople to contribute content on your brands behalf. (e.g. If you find out that Toyota Prius owners like gardening, you could get a professional gardener to create a series of blog posts for the Toyota Prius blog.)

Achilles Heel: Creating phony content. The biggest offenders are people who engage in fake conversations. This often happens with brands that outsource social media management to those who aren’t familiar enough with the brand. (E.g. The person in charge of the Nike Plus Twitter account compliments someone on a great tennis win, but doesn’t actually know anything about tennis. If a follower reads the post and tries to engage in a conversation on the subject Nike Plus will have been exposed as not knowing anything about tennis, and might alienate some followers.)


Learn the social media channel you’re using 

Know the medium – Content can take many forms, video, audio, images, presentations, motion graphics, or copy. Know what media work best to communicate your message to your audience.


[ Complete Article ]


I hope this compendium of my work on social media will be helpful for you, your organization, and your clients. The more everyone understands, the easier it will be to create effective communications, content, and experience strategies. 


Questions or comments, please let me know below or @thejordanrules



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Why a Portfolio of Websites Needs to Have Flexible UI Standards

As more-and-more brands increase their online presence, they’ll be faced with a dilemma: create strict UI standards, or flexible UI guidelines.

There are pros and cons associated with either choice but, with the chancing face of the internet, flexible guidelines seem to be the best option.

Firstly, let me explain what I mean by UI standards or guidelines. Anytime a online style guide is created, there should be a section for UI and UX guidelines. Creating this type of document is often lead by the creative team. When creating this section, you’ll be faced with the decision to create strict or flexible guidelines. Note: Not all online style guides govern an entire portfolio of sites or the entire brands online presence, but a more succinct user experience will be achieved if the style guide takes everything into consideration.

I recommend having the following sections, relaying the following information, within this section:

(Click here for a larger image)

Considerations when defining a guideline

Cross-Domain Frequency

Description: How often your users move between the different web properties your brand owns or has an established presence. If each site caters to a different audience, there might only need to be branding similarities – rather than UI consistency.

Question to ask: How often do users interact with your multiple online properties each session?



Importance and Impact to User Experience

 Description: The reasoning behing applying this guideline to all sites. For instance, if a consistent link style across all platforms increases usability for 4% of users it might be worth implementing, but if it didn’t increase usability for anyone it would be better to allow different link styles on each site. This can be easily measured through remote usability testing.

Question to ask: How does this guideline contribute to an improved user experience? Answer in the form:  This guideline will provide consistency when creating __________ , which is important to the user experience because _____________.



Description: Some conventions will work for all situations, but some require that additional conventions be established. A good example are tool-tips: Some forms can open a tool tip when a user interacts with the form field, but some forms (like radio buttons and drop down lists) will require an icon or label to trigger the tool tip.

Another great example are the search fields associated with google and youtube. There are consistent elements, but diveate when it benefits the user.

Question to Ask: Will this guideline work for all defined use cases?



Description: Some conventions work when in context with specific content, visual design, or other conventions; and don’t work outside of that context. A good example is the left navigation established on – This navigation works very well for the amount of content on the site, but wouldn’t work as well for a microsite, or the sears card site.

Another great example is any site that has a registration process and checkout, but the primary site is more of a brochure site. You might want to create a guideline that suggests that the header/ footer be omnipresent, but it’s often better to remove all distractions during registration and check-out.

Question to Ask: Does this guideline enable the optimum user experience when examined in different contexts?


As an experience strategist, the only thing I dislike more than a poor user experience is being forced to create a poor user experience due to a lack of understanding of how strict guidelines and rules interfere with experience architecture. Although this often comes from either creative directors, or clients who are misinformed; it can happen at any level when online brand/ style guildelines are created.

In the end here’s my advice to anyone relying on established guidelines to inform the UX of a site build or redesign: If the guildeline doesn’t support a good user experience, it needs to be re-examined. Strict, detailed guidelines tend to get outdated quickly, and broad guidlines tend to last for years (if not, forever).

If you’re a marketer and you’re agency creates guidelines for a portfolio of sites that suggest unreasonably strict UX/ UI, question them on it. Fight for guidelines that focus on great user experience over unnessessary consistency.

Share your thoughts below, or let me know what you think on Twitter.



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