Opinions And Ramblings By Adam Kmiec On All Things Media

Tag Archives: Frank

Personal Branding Under The Microscope

Short Version
David Armano, widely considered to be a really smart guy has left Critical Mass to join a startup company called Dachis Corp. Some people are happy about the above and think this is great. Others are completely pissed.

Long Version
For the last 12 months there’s been a lot of discussion in the interactive space regarding “personal brands.” Not familiar with the concept of personal brands? Let me give you the down and dirty.

For years employees have been cogs in a company’s machine. Employess were expected to live, breathe, and die for the greater good of the organization. But, the rapid evolution of interactive marketing towards “social media” started to change that concept. People mattered. Yes, people mattered. Frank Eliason from Comcast, the man Business Week called “the most famous customer service manager in the U.S., possibly in the world” is perhaps the best example of this evolution.

The people that are pissed about Armano’s decision to leave Critical Mass believe the following:

  1. He was brilliant in getting Critical Mass to fund the trips for his speaking engagements.
  2. He was brilliant in getting Critical Mass to embrace his personal blog, tweeting, and column in Adweek.
  3. He became the outward face of Critical Mass.
  4. He established and built a reputation in the industry because of Critical Mass’ willingness to fund his “personal interests” and “ego.”
  5. He leveraged #1 and #2 to jump to a “better” more lucrative position – and in doing so has left Critical Mass in the lurch.

This comment from a reader of Brian Morrisey’s article on David’s departure captures the spirit and sentiment of those who are pissed at his decision to bail.

Critical Mistake

April 10, 2009
Armano is giving up the sweetest deal of all: Critical Mass paid him a salary to build his own brand at the expense of theirs. So today Armano is a social media rockstar and Critical Mass is still an unknown agency. He’s always feeding us some line about learning from people. Love for him to teach us how he managed to pull that one off.

It’s an interesting point and one I can understand. It’s similar to college basketball coaches that are given an opportunity by a school, paid well, and treated like rock stars – only to abandon that school for a more lucrative or better known school. The people in Memphis are saying this very thing about John Calipari’s decision to leave them for Kentucky.

Here’s the facts, as I see them:

  1. Critical Mass is a great shop
  2. David Armano was a smart guy before coming to Critical Mass
  3. Critical Mass enabled David Armano to become the well know welebrity (his word, not mine) that he is today
  4. David left for a great opportunity
  5. Critical Mass is weakened by his departure

To me it’s that simple. Companies cut employees all the time. Sometimes for good reasons. Sometimes for silly reasons. I’ve been there, I’ve seen it happen, and recently I was part of it.  Whenever we leave an organization we hopefully do it on our own terms and for good reasons.  I left Fallon in 2000 while I was working on BMW Films because the culture had changed too much.  Publicis’ acquisition of the agency really altered the company and made it a place I no longer wanted to be at.  I left Leo Burnett 3 years later for the same reason.  I’ve seen people leave for a title, 5K a year more, and because the company stopped offering free beer on Thursdays.  The point is, people leave a for a variety of reasons.

I’m happy for David. I wish him well. But, this situation definitely shows us the danger of companies investing in personal brands. David has clearly benefited from Critical Mass’ direct investment into his brand, and I’m sure on some level so has Critical Mass.  How much we’ll never know.  What we do know for sure is that Critical Mass invested a lot and now 2 years later they have a massive hole to fill.

Frank Being Frank

Yes, I know that the title for this post is a little lame.  That’s ok, I plan on making up for it with the content contained within.  Roughly 2.5 weeks ago I contacted Frank Eliason, the man behind Comcastcares, to see he’d be interested in doing an interview with me.  There was one catch.  I wanted to conduct the entire interview through twitter direct messages.  I was surprised at how quickly Frank responded with a yes.

Why surprised?  Well, I’ve often found that companies as large as Comcast have a number of bureaucratic layers to cut through and practice an “ask for permission, not forgiveness” model.  I quickly moved from surprised to ecstatic and began crafting questions to direct message.

For those of you who don’t know who Frank is, this article from Business Week will give you some fantastic detail.  If you don’t have time to read the article, here’s the high level story:

  • He’s the Director of Digital Care for Comcast
  • Considered a pioneer in customer service
  • One of the first people to use twitter for connecting customers with the “company”
  • A hell of a nice guy

I’ve been following Frank for some time on twitter and I’ve been overly impressed with how responsive and clearly dedicated he is to his craft.  The guy has over 25,000 tweets, with the majority being replies to other people.  When you consider that twitter is just one channel he participates in, it’s amazing how engaged he is.

Over a period of 3 days Frank and I exchanged several messages.  The questions and the answers have not been edited in any way.

@comcastcares Q1: Why twitter? Why didn’t you simply visit every blog, site, etc. that had something negative to say and engage there?
9:50 PM Feb 16th

@adamkmiec Actually we started & still visit blogs through out the internet. Twitter is one of many spaces we participate in. Twitter is cool because it is the right now
9:54 PM Feb 16th

@adamkmiec The blogosphere is great because it is the Customer story in their own words
9:55 PM Feb 16th

@comcastcares Q2: You have a personal blog. How do you manage your work “hat” and your personal “hat.” Do you let the two intersect on your blog?
9:54 PM Feb 16th

@adamkmiec I have a post on that called the lines are blurry. Work and personal drift together sometimes in social spaces http://www.eliasonfamily.info/blog/?p=215
9:58 PM Feb 16th

@comcastcares Q3: How does Comcast measure your impact? If you will, how do you know they are seeing value in your contributions?
9:58 PM Feb 16th

@adamkmiec I think there is a variety of impact from social meeting. First is the value of listening and implementing feedback. We have done well
9:59 PM Feb 16th

@comcastcares Follow up – Are there specific measures you/comcast uses? EG X number of people helped?
10:05 PM Feb 16th

@adamkmiec You can use that, but to me that is likely measure a call center agent on handle time. It is not very effective at ensuring the Customer is cared for. I concentrate on one Customer at a time and way we can improve the organization with the feedback
10:08 PM Feb 16th

@comcastcares Q4: Are there specific tools/software packages (eg Radian 6) you use to monitor the chatter and help figure out who/where to help?
10:06 PM Feb 16th

@adamkmiec We do use Radian 6. We also are looking at PeopleBrowsr for Twitter. But we many times also use simple tools like Twitter Search and Google Blogsearch. There are many options, including free ones, for businesses to do it right
10:09 PM Feb 16th

@comcastcares Q5: On some level you’ve become a “welebrity.” Eg you’re in demand for panels. Has the new notoriety changed you? Has it been well received?
8:32 AM Feb 17th

@adamkmiec I am still the same person I have always been. My main concern is the Customer not must else. The panels are a fun way to get my message to other businesses
10:34 AM Feb 17th

@comcastcares Q6: How would you compare the connections you’ve made with customers in need of help virtually as opposed to the ones who called in?
8:36 AM Feb 17th

@adamkmiec No difference. To me social media is just another way a Customer chooses to communicate.
10:35 AM Feb 17th

@comcastcares Q7: Marketers have always craved 1 to 1 relationships with customers. Is there a philosophic approach you try to bring to each interaction?
8:44 AM Feb 17th

@adamkmiec I just try to be myself
14 minutes ago

@comcastcares Q7 <—[typo]: To use a taboo word, you’re very transparent in what you say and to whom. There’s no hidden agenda. Has this approach ever backfired?
8:46 AM Feb 17th

@adamkmiec No. It has never backfired. I think if you just be yourself people will connect
10:36 AM Feb 17th

@comcastcares Q8: You always seem to be connected & plugged in. I don’t imagine you being in front of a computer at the office all day. How do you do it?
8:49 AM Feb 17th

@adamkmiec As you seen there were delays in these responses. Some times I am in meetings that may not be as easy to respond. But I do have a Blackberry and an iPhone so I am very mobile and if someone needs help, and I can assist, I will.
10:38 AM Feb 17th

@comcastcares Q9: There’s now a few more comcast team members on twitter. What advice did you offer them?
about 10 hours ago

@adamkmiec Be yourself
about 10 hours ago

@comcastcares Q10: Many people consider you to be a great example of how a company should engage. What advice do you have for other companies?
about 10 hours ago

@adamkmiec Be cautious of concentrating on sales or message and instead concentrate on learning from your Customers and helping them when you can. Be natural.
about 10 hours ago

@comcastcares Q11: What have you learned about customers/consumers since you started getting involved in twitter?
about 10 hours ago

@adamkmiec We have learned so much from our Customers. They like to tell us what we are doing right and where we are failing. We have made many improvements and implements systems due to feedback in the blogosphere. Every interaction is a learning experience.
about 10 hours ago

@comcastcares Q12: New “things” pop up all the time making it challenging to stay on top of the “next.” How do you view the future of customer service?
about 10 hours ago

@adamkmiec Future of Customer service will be like today (phone, email, chat) with a variety of new options such as social media, video chat, instant messages, and text messages
about 10 hours ago

@comcastcares Q13: I appreciate your time & candor. I’ve asked a lot of questions. It’s only fair I give you the chance to ask questions of me. Have any?
about 9 hours ago

Frank didn’t have any questions for me and that’s ok.  It’s more fun to be the one asking the questions than the one having to answer them :)  I enjoyed trading direct messages with Frank.  Look at the time stamps; WOW!  I was amazed at how quickly he responded to the questions.

I learned a few things during this interview:

  1. I had no idea how involved Frank and the team were.  Clearly I knew about his interaction on twitter, but I didn’t realize all the other channels they covered.
  2. The autonomy he has is impressive.  He’s literally being empowered to make a difference.
  3. Frank and Comcast really value listening and learning.  It’s not just about answering people.  Answering and being responsive is just one part of the equation.

Comcast is so far ahead of the curve and the competition (direct and indirect). While there are hundreds of brands on twitter (eg Starbucks, Jet Blue, Virgin, Ford), none are taking advantage of the platform as well as Frank’s team.

But, it’s not about comparing company A to company B. To simply view them as a measuring stick would be short sited. Instead of focusing on how your company stacks up to Comcast, focus on learning what they are doing well and how you can apply that knowledge to your situation.