Monday, April 26, 2010

Caren Explains Tree Cenergy, Copyrights and Being a Blacklisted Blogger

Today I received notification that someone is out to get me. I cannot tell you who, exactly, but they are already on the attack.

It started when I got a very longwinded, vague email from Blogger that said I have apparently infringed on the copyrights of someone involved in a blog post I wrote nearly six months ago. The post proclaimed the awesomeness of a hip band from Philadelphia whose name rhymes with "Tree Cenergy." [This band is growing very popular, by the way].

The blog post in question refers readers to two mp3 downloads that were made "legally" available on other sites. I wasn't hosting the files myself, and I made sure -- before posting the links -- to read up on the referring sites' download agreements. In doing so, I was assured that the referring sites (SPIN and Stereogum) had permission to post the mp3s. I even listed a disclaimer that said something to the effect of, "These sites have proof that these downloads are allowed."

Blogger advises that I remove the offending content and repost. But to be honest, I have no idea what I did wrong. Knowing this detail would be helpful to "prevent future violations." Instead, I'm going to be blacklisted on the DMCA clearinghouse. Super.

So let me stand on my soapbox for a second and make two different but tangental arguments.

First, I applaud you copyright holders for fighting for your rights. No one values content anymore and that needs to be remedied. The proliferation of mp3 blogs and aggregators has only perpetuated the notion that content should be free. Consumers feel entitled to get it. And if you take a stand and say it isn't allowed to be free, there are still plenty of places to stream it (Grooveshark, for one). If you treat the symptom, you don't ever cure the disease. So maybe I deserved a slap on the wrist.

But, if a musician values his copyrights he should make sure his business team is on the same page. When I was at Paste, I used to get tons of emails from publicists and labels encouraging us to post mp3s for our readers to download. These businessmen were treating mp3s as loss leaders for other revenue streams, like touring dollars and commercial licensing fees. Not that artists are always okay with that strategy.... In 2007 Band of Horses pulled out of a Wal-Mart commercial after going back and forth about the implications for its image.

That there is no industry agreement on mp3 sharing on music blogs has only further muddled the perceived value of content. If the majors say "No!" but the indies say "Yes!" what happens to when an indie band is upstreamed to a major label? My guess is the major suddenly go looking through archives to yank down files that the artist published as an indie; heck, the indie might even look through the archives once a band gets somewhat popular... it is certainly suspicious that this notice was issued six months after the blog publication...

Perhaps I trusted too much in SPIN and Stereogum's policies; or perhaps it isn't the mp3s that are the problem, but a picture I posted instead? I guess only The Man knows for sure.

You can bite the hand that feeds you, Music Industry, but at least give an explanation after you sink your teeth in.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Caren Explains Zeppelin, Springsteen and Strategic Marketing

Four years ago, I mistook John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin for a mandolin-totin' nobody... at best, I thought him a member of Widespread Panic.

It all happened when I was sitting in a tent backstage at Bonnaroo, sneezing incessantly and waiting for my allergy medicine to kick-in. It was hot and I was miserable. That's when Jones walked in. He politely and unassumingly introduced himself as "John" while I tried not to sneeze in his face. Then he walked into the other part of the tent to play the mandolin for a camera crew from CNN.

A handful of people rushed in to see this legend play his instrument, while others (like me) went about business as usual.


I recognized neither Jones' star power or musical prowess, despite the presence of CNN. I guess I just wasn't looking (or listening) hard enough.

I thought of this encounter during our last HBS session of Strategic Marketing in Creative Industries, when Professor Elberse challenged me and my classmates to predict whether people can identify true talent without marketing cues or signals. As an example, she referenced an experiment that took place in 2007:

What happens when world-renowned violinist, Joshua Bells, plays six difficult pieces on his $3m violin... at a DC Metro station during rush hour?

Some classmates guessed that there would be a mob (as did The Washington Post initially expected), whereas others said he would go unnoticed.

Here's what happened...

Talk about a humbling experience. Bell made $32.17 that day, whereas he normally earns $1,000 per minute for a performance.

The Jones and Bell examples hint at a question underlying the entertainment industry: Can people recognize quality without cues?

The contextual factors are certainly important, like time, day, location and competition. My classmate, Luis (a chart-topping musician in South America) also brought up accessibility. Pop songs are, not surprisingly, more recognizable than those crafted for the violin (or mandolin). When you have only a few seconds to catch someone's attention, this is especially critical.

To support Luis' point about accessibility, here is a video of Bruce Springsteen performing on a street in Copenhagen some twenty-odd years ago. While The Boss didn't cause near riots, he certainly drew more of a crowd than Bell did...

I think we would all prefer pure talent over manufactured fads -- the show without the business. But if Springsteen can't make it on the streets, who of us can?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Comcast Redemption: a case study about social networks and customer service

As you may have read last week, I was pretty frustrated with my Comcast customer service experience (or lack there of). After all, Comcast's mission statement promises:
We will deliver a superior experience to our customers every day. Our products will be the best and we will offer the most customer-friendly and reliable service in the market.
Yeah, you keep working on that....

But! as I suspected, Comcast's social media team was quick to sweep in and respond to my concerns. @ComcastBonnie found me on Twitter, Mark visited my blog and Boston's corporate center called me to solve the problem... all within 30 minutes.

No wonder Forbes gave Comcast a high-five for its "artful customer service" via Twitter.

My exchange with Comcast illustrates the importance of social networks for businesses of all shapes and sizes. Social media marketing requires that companies be social. If you are going to invade your customers' social networks, you have to be ready to engage with them. That means listening to them, responding to them, acknowledging them and rewarding them. Use the many search engines and aggregation tools out there to find your customers and save the day! Give your brand a personality and show that there are real people behind it!

At Paste one of the most successful marketing tactics I employed was having our hard-working marketing interns respond to each and every friend request on MySpace. They started leaving each friend/fan a personal comment, like "Great song choice for your page -- Thom Yorke is a genius." This took longer than clicking "Accept All Friend Requests" (and I'm sure my interns hated how tedious it was) but it gave Paste a truly viral presence: the comments were seen by other MySpace users, who then realized that Paste had a MySpace page and, in turn, sent their own friend requests. It also inspired public conversations with fans -- a trend that has continued now on Twitter, Facebook and Paste's own website.

A company that posts a Facebook page and measures its success based on the number of fans the page attract are missing the point. Use social networks as a way to bring your brand to life.

Thanks, Comcast, for coming through today. Now if we could only work on your 1-800 phone system...

Monday, April 12, 2010

Caren and Brad Explain Bieber's Five Forces

Over the past few days we haven't had a lot of case studies at HBS, so Brad and I decided to take a break from paper-writing to turn our attention to a business mystery: How did Justin Bieber happen?

Here's what we know about Justin "J-Biebz" Bieber:

- He is from Canada
- He is sixteen
- He was "discovered" on YouTube
- He likes to tweet (and 1.8million people like his tweets)

But is his fame sustainable? To explore this question, Brad and I offer you a Bieber's Five Forces analysis.

Let's crowd source this one -- go ahead and add your analysis + any suggestions to the Google Doc and we'll see if we can crack the case.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Management Lessons from Jeffery Tambor, i.e. George Bluth

Of all the management lessons I learned during my HBS career, I certainly didn't expect any to come from actor Jeffrey Tambor, probably because I associate him with one of his famous characters: George Bluth, CEO of the Bluth Company, who is always on the run from the SEC. Does this look like the kind of character you want to take business lessons from?

But let's divorce Tambor from Bluth, since one is real and the other is not....

Tambor led an acting workshop at SXSW that I was lucky to attend. During the workshop he had an actor and actress on stage to help him illustrate some lessons. The most interesting parts of the workshop -- for me at least -- were not acting lessons, though, but managerial ones.

The first thing I noticed about Tambor was that he was a coach who wasn't afraid to give out some tough love. In one instance he reminded the actor, 'It's a love scene, Romeo -- [don't play] some Camus existential motherf*cker.' But he also made a point to compliment the actors' strengths and push him to go further with his talents. It was almost like Tambor was a therapist up there and you could see the two actors really reacting to what he was saying (in a few moments they were moved to tears).

Tambor also made a point to tell the directors in the crowd not to critique their actors on-set. Instead he advised walking your actor over to the craft service table and having an honest conversation there, away from the set and the key grips, cameramen, best boys, etc, who were uninvolved. As a general manager, this makes sense, too. Why embarrass someone that needs coaching by criticizing them in front of peers or coworkers? Have important conversations in settings that allow you to be honest and helpful, not hurtful.

Here are some other things I took away from the session:

"We know that in the fifth act Oedipus is going to pluck out his eyes, but let's get there first." I thought about this in relation to our case studies... when we know the ending, it is easy to try and rush to it and work backwards... but there is a lot to learn in the stepping stones and chapters in between.

'Do not teach acting on the set. Take care of business.' This made me think about start-ups and why they are hesitant to hire people who can't work autonomously. You don't want to be teaching people how to do their job when it's time to perform. On this point, I also thought of what one case protagonist said at HBS: "If someone I hire fails at their job because they weren't ready for it, it's my fault -- not theirs." Teach during the read-thrus, not when the tape is rolling.

"You have to shatter the work to get it right. 'Is this good?' is wrong. You can always repair it. F*ck it up first."

"Be a pencil with an eraser at the end."

And my favorite...

"Losing the love is what is hard about being a human being. But we get to use it as art. It isn't about a scene; it is about our lives."

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Are You There, Comcast? It's Me, Caren.

Dear Comcast,

I've encountered a lot of bad customer service operations in the past... but yours is by far the worst. As the former manager of a customer service team, I take this stuff pretty seriously -- so much so that I volunteered to leave you customer feedback before I realized how terrible at it you were. I'm not surprised that you forgot to patch me through to the survey at the end of my call...

Your customerCentral website is fatally flawed and your phone system isn't much better.
Why am I posting a blog about this? Because it's the only way I can get through to you. If your social media team is any better than your customer service team, you'll find this letter with no problem (and actually try to help me).

Let's run through what happened to me earlier this week, shall we?

1) I turn on TV and see that my cable is not working. I log-in to your site to see what's going on and learn that you have my account on hold. Hmm... three months ago I set-up ongoing payments with you, and in fact my account reflects this... it even says my "account is already set-up for recurring payments"... yet you aren't deducting those payments? The credit card is valid, the checking account is established... yet you've made me look like a delinquent, probably ruined my credit and cut me off from LOST this week. #fail.

2) I go to pay my bill online (since you forgot to do it for me these past months), but your site won't process my payment.

3) I try to pay with another card. Your site reported a "System Error" and asks that I not try to resubmit, in case I'm overcharged (unlikely, given your track record).

4) I pick up the phone and do the old fashion thing: I call your 1-800 number. And, yes, I have an Atlanta area code on my phone... but shouldn't your CRM solution be smart enough to recognize that my cable box is in Boston? That I'm calling from Boston? That you're feeding me content in Boston? That maybe I don't want to be patched through to Atlanta's customer service teams, only to be told I can't be helped?

5) Atlanta Rep #1 forwards my call to Boston... to a doctor's office answering machine. (The only good to come of this is that it reminded me that I'm overdue for a doctor's check-up).

6) I call your 1-800 number again and my call is once more forwarded to Atlanta. I am given a new Boston number to call... when I do so, you hang up on me, citing a "technical error" with the call.

7) Call #3 to Atlanta means I have to go through this all again. At the end of the menu options and customer service chat, I'm told the Boston office is open at 7am and I have to find a landline to call from, or else my calls will continue to go to Atlanta -- even if I dial the Boston office directly.

8) I resort to your online chat option through CustomerCentral. I wait in an imaginary queue to chat with a representative. I am #9 in the queue and my session times-out before your "representative" can get to me. #superfail

I spent over 45 minutes trying to pay you -- that's right, 45 minutes trying to give you money --with no success. But you know the worst part? Being told "Thank you for choosing Comcast" every time I interact with you... I didn't choose Comcast; you were the only provider in this zip code!

Next time I'm choosing Hulu, and iTunes instead.


A Disgruntled Customer

Caren Explains 1997 and 1998 Mix Tapes

When I lived in Atlanta, my car was broken into twice. I didn't care so much about that; what REALLY bothered me is that the thieves took everything except my amazing collection of cassette tapes!

Really? You didn't want any of those? Not even Tiffany or NKOTB? REALLY?!?

When I was cleaning out this eleven-year-old car the other day I rediscovered a few of these cassettes, including some mix tapes I made in 1997 and 1998. Listening to them was like opening a time capsule, and I got a bit nostalgic for my tweenage years at Robert Frost Middle School and Wootton High School. Back then I spent at least an hour a night listening to 99.1 WHFS, trying to tape its nightly countdown onto cassette tapes. I would then edit them into mixes using my two-tape boom box. Yup... I was a dorky music geek even then.

Here are the songs on two of those mix tapes. Hope they take you on a trip down memory lane.