I’ve told this story countless times but this event has played a significant part in my life. It’s what Oprah would deem, “my defining moment’… a time that changed the way I thought about marketing, dismissing what I’ve learned and beginning to embrace a new way of thinking. When this event happened to me, I became somewhat of a purist and it has brought me to where I am today. The original post was written almost 6 years ago and has been updated.
Social Networking is a phenonmena that has gained incredible strength and continues to flourish. I remember a previous boss assumed it would die because he argued,
Social Networks will never be able to effectively monetize themselves….
He said this when Facebook wielded its way surreptitiously, but switfly, among an online audience, whose mindshare was largely captured by the “then” powerful Big 3: Yahoo!, MSN and Google… at the time.
In the last 6 years, its rise has baffled advertisers as the next generation of marketing will learn how to tap into users in this space. A significant shift has resulted where marketers realize that traditional advertising on the web is slowly becoming obsolete and appealing to consumers means having to change the mediums, the means and the methods by which we communicate.
Where I came from….
My background is database marketing. I’ve worked at both agencies and banks, trying to understand the data triggers that influence people to purchase. When my family would ask what I did, I told them I was in the junk mail business… you remember: the direct mail you received in your mailbox that you, in large part, threw in the waste basket? That didn’t really matter to me because as a marketer, we didn’t need everyone to respond and purchase. We only needed 2% of you to actually raise your hand and say, “I want that”. Over the course of time, we could validate that 2% would provide a positive return on the marketing spend.
My introduction into Social….
I never really bought into community until a few years back. Ironically, I managed the launch of Yahoo! Answers in Canada, one of the few social search products in this market at the time. Its premise: Leverage community to provide valuable information based on experience – something algorithmic search could not provide at the time. Google, was still largely keyword-based.
Unlike other social search products, Answers did not rely on expert advice from pundits in their fields, but the common person, whose life experiences provided the source of answers to many questions.
When something deeply personal happens….
The turning point for me came when I was attending a Search Summit in the UK, working with other international product and marketing people who were also launching Yahoo! Answers in their respective regions.
I received an email from a friend who informed me that my former VP’s daughter had passed away from Leukemia, something she’d been battling for 6 years. She was only 10 years old. I had lost touch with my boss over the years but I did remember her daughter, Hannah. She was a happy child… all the time. While her mom tried to put on a brave face, Hannah was incredibly optimistic about her condition, always willing to talk about her condition in the most positive light. And, she was always willing to educate others about the advances in medicine that would make her better. Leukemia was not a hindrance to Hannah. It was a bump in the road.
I was saddened by the news and I wanted to immediately reach out to my friend and give her some comfort for her loss. I was reminded of a poem that my Mom had shown me sometime back. It was poignant and yet comforting – about a child that predeceases the parent. It spoke of God loaning the child to its parents for a time and then, at some point, calling the child back.
I emailed my Mom and asked her about it and, while she remembered the poem, she didn’t know where to find it. I asked the rest of my family if they knew about it. But the response was same. I don’t know why I was obsessed with finding it but I was. It was important that I give this to my friend. I searched for the poem online not really knowing the author or any of the words — just the context. I did this for some time with no luck.
Turning to social media for answers….
Someone from my team suggested I give Yahoo! Answers a try. At the time, Yahoo! Answers was very new. It had launched in the U.S. only a month earlier and its community was small, yet growing. I was hesitant. I didn’t think there was any way that this nascent community would give me what I was looking for.
With my avenues exhausted and I sent my question into the unknown abyss of the Answers Community, skeptical of what I would receive.
So I waited. The Answers team told me that the average response time was approximately 4-5 hours. Nothing yet. It took awhile. One day turned into two as I become more pessimistic about anyone ever providing me an answer. I was looking for a needle in a haystack. I started to question the the effectiveness of the platform.
The response that forever changed me….
The response came 9 days later. And it made me cry.
I didn’t realize that someone out there had the answer. I connected with Blade and she became my first connection across this ether. She gave to me something that was incredibly meaningful and important me at the time. She didn’t know me. But when we connected, she told me that when she saw my question, she immediately remembered a poem that had a similar context. It took her little time to find what I was forever looking for.
We always talk about the power of community and online relationships that develop without two people ever really meeting face to face. Since that moment, I’ve met countless colleagues and close friends this way. I’ve espoused the notion of community and its strength to influence mindsets and behaviour. It’s what I have experienced time and time again. It’s what I’ve come to know and fundamentally embrace.
Founder at ArCompany, and Director, International Council on Global Privacy and Security by Design Hessie is a seasoned digital strategist, and intelligence analyst having held senior positions for top ad agencies including Ogilvy, Rapp Collins, ONE and Isobar Digital. She also has extensive start-up experience in AI technologies, social tech, online publishing and artificial intelligence like Yahoo! Answers, Overlay.TV, Jugnoo and Cerebri AI. Hessie is the co-author of EVOLVE: Marketing (as we know it) is Doomed! She is also an active writer for Forbes, Cognitive World, Towards Data Science and Marketing Insider Group.