Google+ Scenario Planning for Customers and Brands


What: Google+ Scenario Planning for Customers and Brands
When: Thursday, August 18th, 10am PDT / 1pm EDT
Where: Via Google+ Hangout (http://l.ccarfi.com/18aug11)
Who: Anyone interested in actively participating
How: Just show up at the URL noted above with your strategy cap on
Host: +Christopher Carfi, VP Social Business Strategy, Ant's Eye View
Cost: Your engaged participation*

(If you're interested in participating, please leave a comment at http://l.ccarfi.com/18aug11)

Details:
Google+ is adding users at a remarkable rate. A recent estimate from Cnet pegged the Google+ population at over 25 million and growing at an estimated 1 million users a day. And where there are users, there will be brands that want to connect with them.

Some brands such as Mashable and Ford jumped on the service almost immediately, leading to a confusing period where Google asked brands not to participate yet, as it was "designed for people, not for brands." Google has now stated that they are working on offerings for brands, but neither an official launch date nor details of what these brand-friendly aspects of the service will be have been made public. (Some brands, such as +Ford Motor Company, now have "test accounts," however.)

This leaves both customers and brands in a quandary. Especially on the brand side, the reward for smart decision-making and first-mover advantage can be huge. But what to do? And when?

Strategic thinking in environments containing a high degree of uncertainty can be done; there are tools in the toolbox for exactly this type of situation. One particular tactic I've found useful when dealing with uncertainty of this sort is scenario planning. There are many different implementations of scenario planning; the one I use is a modified version of the one described here and originally pioneered by Peter Schwartz at GBN. Here's one that I did for the Vendor Relationship Management (VRM) space in 2006-07; it seems to be holding up pretty well:http://www.socialcustomer.com/2007/01/vrm_scenarios.html

On Thursday, August 18th, let's have a Google+ Hangout in order to do "Google+ Scenario Planning for Customers and Brands." 

So, I think the two big questions for this scenario are the following:

Q1: Will the tools that Google provides be more aligned with customers, or with brands?
Q2: Will Google be mainly trying to enable interactions with billion dollar brands or SMBs?

This gives us a landscape that looks like the framework below.

Gplus-scenario-image

What we'll do during the conversation is attempt to paint a picture of what the world would look like if we pulled the scenario out to each of the corners of this model, and create a template that can help to guide our decision-making.

It's important to note that we are explicitly NOT trying to "predict the future" using this technique. Instead, what we are trying to do is understand the forces that are at work in this scenario, and create a set of guidelines that can aid in our decision making if and when we see any one, or more, of these scenarios coming to fruition.

I hope you'll join me in this experiment. See you on Thursday right here.

UPDATE 8/24/11: Thanks to everyone who participated in this conversation! Summary video of the session is now live here: Google+ for Customers and Brands: Scenario Planning Summary  

My Google+ vs. Twitter Click-Through Experiment

I was fortunate enough to luck into a few Spotify invitations earlier today, so I decided to try a little experiment in checking out click-through rates on Google+ vs. Twitter. I put similar offers up on Twitter and Google+ at the same time (7:38am PDT on a Thursday), and checked to see what drove traffic over to the blog. (I turned off comments on the Google+ offer, so folks could only go to the blog and to not split the sample.)

Twitter Offer

Screen shot 2011-07-28 at 7.12.33 PM

 Google+ Offer

Screen shot 2011-07-28 at 7.14.41 PM
 
To give a little more context, here are the relative sizes of those two groups. Not exacty the same size, but close:

  • Twitter: 5,352 followers
  • Google+: 4,010 people have me in Circles

I then grabbed my referrer data to that post on the blog over the period of a few hours after these both went up.

Over that time, I had about 60 clicks recorded in the logs. I was surprised to find the raw number of click-throughs from Google+ was about 4x what it was from Twitter, even though the followship was a little smaller. (There's also a big group with "no referrer," that could have come from clients or other sources.)

Number of click throughs, by source

2011-07-28_1926
 
So, it's a small sample size, but it's still notable, I think. I'll be interested to see what kinds of experiences others have as they try similar experiments. Thoughts?

Update: Tac Anderson notes in the comments that "you can pretty much count 90% of those no referrer directly to Twitter clients." So, if that's the case, we're at about parity on the click-through rate between Twitter and Google+, with Twitter being slightly higher in aggregate between the traffic explictly attributed to Twitter and adding in the 'no referrer' traffic that likely came from Twitter clients.

Three Spotify Invites Available

Screen shot 2011-07-28 at 7.32.50 AM

I received three Spotify invites. If you'd like one, leave a comment with your email addy. First three get them.

Disclosure: I'm not being compensated or anything like that

Disclosure 2: I really do love the service; it's replaced the iPod feature on my iPhone home page.

 

 

Flexible ‘Paperphone’ Created – (cool, and perhaps overly complex) [video]

Jpeg

I love this…and I think we're going to get to "gesture fatigue" pretty quickly here. We all had to learn a whole bunch of new things when smartphones (and the iPhone in particular) came out … "pinch-to-zoom" and the like. And now OS X Lion is introducing a whole new set of gesture-based interface items. Now on the horizon are "bending" gestures and such.

Link: Thin-film flexible 'paperphone' created

Ok, it all looked cool in the movies when Tom Cruise did this kind of stuff the first time. And it does make new capabilities easily accessible, if you know all the gestures. So, what about you…does this Cambrian explosion of interface capabilities make things easier for you to interact with your devices, and the world? Or does it make things overly complex?

How the Enterprise Can Use Google+

For the past few days, I've been neck-deep in Google+. There's a lot of potential here for business. Some thoughts, by enterprise function.

Marketing
Google-plus-icons-620x348 There's going to be plenty of punditry by the social media echo chamber over the coming days and weeks that will mirror the things we saw regarding Facebook ca. 2007-2009 or so. The summary: the same folks who are doing things to promote their schtick using Facebook will do the same thing on Google+. There will be brand pages and the like, someone will figure out how to do contests, there will be a host of activity metrics ("how many people have added your brand to their Circles?") and the like. While this area is going to get the most noise out of the gate, this is _not_ where the value is going to be found.

Demand Generation / Leadgen
Here things start to get interesting. Google Analytics already has brilliant tools for tracking things from "first interaction" all the way through the time someone engages in a transaction. That's the state of the art today. With tweaks in a couple of directions, G+ and Analytics start to get very compelling. First off, being able to track posts and their resulting activities in G+ and have those show up in Google Analytics is a no-brainer. Secondly, this starts to really be a graceful foray toward the enterprise side of Social CRM. Today, an organization's lead generation metrics might stop at "conversions," where a prospect turns into a customer. With an integration between G+ and Analytics, however, that historical funnel (which oftentimes ends at the transaction) can actually turn into a way to understand the long-term interactions with an individual, all the way from first contact (she +1'd a post or left a comment), through a host of conversations over days, weeks or months, through a transaction, and then *beyond* into ongoing conversations that take place _after_ the transaction. There's a lot of potential here.

HR
If you're an HR pro, especially on the recruiting side, the opportunity to set up Circles is a means to connect up with the individuals with whom you'd like to develop a closer relationship is a great opportunity. If you have a number of open positions, you could even set up a Circle for each one, and, as you identify potential candidates for each position, include those individuals in the appropriate Circles as a means by which to start to get to know them better.

Design and Innovation
This is a place where I think Sparks may come in to play, as well as Circles. If there are topics of interest that may spark (see what I did there?) expanded thinking in an area, setting up a Spark for that topic to get an evergreen feed of ideas and inspiration. More tactically, you can set up as wide or as targeted a group of counselors/advisors/folks-to-bounce-ideas-off-of as needed that contains folks from both within and outside the organization. Then, when you have a few candidate ideas to solve a design problem, share the options with that Circle to get feedback.

Sales
This one is a no-brainer. Set up a Circle with your customers and prospective customers and partners in it. Call it "Customers." Check it at least once a day to keep a true pulse of when the individuals who are most important to you are saying. Engage in conversations.

General internal collaboration
I think this is going to be a killer app for the organizations that have the foresight to use G+ in this way. Set up a Circle that just contains the members of your team, or (depending on organization size) perhaps your entire organization. Keep a Hangout open for that Circle for serendipity. Share items and links of _internal_ value that you've found externally with that Circle. 

Additionally, you can always choose to _only_ share a post with a single individual, as well as easily fire up a chat session. In this mode, G+ becomes a very viable means of setting up an IM session between members of the organization.

Bottom line
I think there's a lot here for the enterprise beyond social media marketing. So what did I miss? How else might enterprises use the G+ capabilities as they progress further along the social engagement journey?

UPDATE (7/5/11):

Two related posts:

GigaOm: Why Google+ Could Find A Home in the Workplace

Forbes: GooglePlus, Consumerization of IT, and Crossing The Chasm For Enterprise Social Business

 

Steve Jobs Sales Pitch to the City of Cupertino – brilliant [video]

This may be the best sales presentation you'll ever see. It's Steve Jobs pitching the City of Cupertino City Council on June 7, 2011 on a plan for a new Apple campus in Cupertino.

Vision, benefits and how they contrast with the current state? Check.

Simple, instantly understandable visuals? Check.

Connection with audience? Check.

Effective use of humor? Check.

Objection handling? Check.

Human stories? Check.

Absolutely masterful.

 

Hat tip: Steve Jurvetson

GiffGaff Social Customer Case Study from #LiNC

GiffGaff is a UK-based telecommunications company where the only thing you can do is buy a SIM card. The company only has 14 employees, yet has been able to stake out a significant share of the UK telecoms market by way of its impassioned customer community. Their business is 100% online – no stores, no physical presence, no call centers. Robbie Hearn (@robsticks) from GiffGaff says that "We are not a company with a community. We are a company that could not exist without its community."

Gg-robbie

(Robbie Hearn at Lithium's LiNC conference earlier today)

The community aspect of GiffGaff informed the creation and tone of the company from even before the company launched. (According to Hearn, the community actually launched before the company launched product.) It's in the DNA of the organization.

Gg-origin

Hearn shared a great story and a shot of the GiffGaff origin notebook. These are the notes that created a company. The key insights and drivers of what the company could be are:

  • Mutuality – Members help in recruitment, marketing and advice and this share in the rewards of the business
  • A great deal - A lower cost business model leads to lower charges for members
  • Member involvement – Members can generate and choose marketing materials and vote on some business decisions. Members help with other members problems
  • The collective good – Members can donate their "thank you" rebate to charity
  • Simple – SIM only. Converged Pre-Pay/Post-Pay. 1 universal price point
  • Online only – We only sell direct online. All top ups and customer service is online
  • Start-up mentality - Launched and run as a distinct, separate business from O2
  • Environmentally responsible – Carbon neutral, maximum sustainability

An example might be illustrative. Here's an ant's eye view of the journey of customer "Dantup," who started out hearing about GiffGaff in passing on Twitter, and wound up not just becoming a customer, but also an advocate for the brand.

Gg-danlup

Walking around that circle, it's possible to see the entire evolution of the relationship between Dantup and GiffGaff. The evolution went like this:

  • Hears about GiffGaff on Twitter
  • Goes to forum, gets answers at 10:30pm
  • Orders a SIM using member-get-member
  • Activates and stars helping on forum
  • Blogs about GiffGaff on his own blog
  • Blogs and forum posts again when he gets payback
  • Now, Dantup tweets regularly 

This customer engagement DNA isn't just in the "support" aspect of the organization, but engages the community in a number of other aspects as well.

Gg-crowdsources

  • Customer service
  • Proposition development
  • Ideas on any aspect of company development
  • Marketing
  • Technology and testing

Even beyond the great results that GiffGaff has had so far from a business and community development perspective, there were two things that absolutely blew me away that have occurred as a result of this deeply organic model of engagement with their community.

The first was that GiffGaff allows (encourages?) fans to make their own GiffGaff sites to market the product. So, check that…all the sites in the image below are customer-created sites promoting the brand. Where many, perhaps most, brands would have shut sites like these down, GiffGaff encourages their creation.

Gg-sites

Secondly, when the new iPhone 4 came out, it used a micro SIM card, instead of the traditionally-sized SIM card. GiffGaff doesn't make micro SIM cards; they don't fit their business model, especially from a distribution and supply chain point of view. So, customers hacked a solution, literally. A set of enterprising individuals found that a regular SIM could be hacked into a micro SIM (using scissors!) and created organic distribution network.

Gg-microsims

Is the GiffGaff model scalable? Is it sustainable? Hearn thinks so. They're hitting their business goals out of the park.

  • Their "member-gets-member" (MGM) customer acquisition strategy results in 20% of all activations
  • Costs of paid channels are lower than GiffGaff's business plan
  • Average Retail Price per Unit (ARPU) is on target
  • The organization is on plan to hit all profitability targets
  • Current customer support engagement can support a far bigger base — right now, the community answers questions typically within 60 seconds, and provides 24 hour a day response.

Gg-growth

So, what do you think? Is this type of model sustainable? Or is GiffGaff in a unique position, having started without legacy baggage, that has enabled it to grow this community and business? Will it be able to continue its phenomenal growth as it attains greater scale? 

The USS Lincoln Embark: One Year Later

One year ago, I was given the experience of a lifetime to fly out to the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln with a number of friends and colleagues as a guest of the US Navy's Public Affairs Office. We spent 24 hours on board the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) as it was underway in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. 

My entire photo set from the embark is here, and below is a collected set of thoughts from the group, looking back on the embark from the vantage point of another year's experience.

Screen shot 2011-04-27 at 4.15.28 PM

The U.S. Navy sponsors a Distinguished Visitors Program to increase awareness of the Navy’s and Marine Corps’ sea and air missions and highlight the tremendous service of our American citizens serving at sea. 

This particular embark for the Distinguished Visitors Program was tailored for a group of sixteen social media experts who blog, podcast, use Twitter to tweet messages often with links, post YouTube videos, Facebook postings with links, Flickr, and other means to reach audiences globally.  

Because opportunities for civilian embarkations on or to-from Navy ships and submarines underway are extremely limited, for this Distinguished Visitor social media embark, the Public Affairs Officer for the Commander, Naval Air Forces, Pacific first reviewed nominations submitted by Andy Sernovitz, the Chief Executive Officer of the Social Media Business Council (socialmedia.org), and Dennis Hall, founder of Avere Group (averegroup.wordpress.com).

The Public Affairs Officer selected the participants  based on their ability to share their experience with the largest possible audience. Embarkations of journalists, community leaders or celebrities that gain mass media exposure greatly assist our recruiting and educational efforts by allowing thousands to share in the experience. These individuals, in turn, make positive contributions to the public understanding of the roles and missions of the Navy by having their experience promoted through various media outlets. 

(source: http://www.navy.mil/navydata/navy_legacy_hr.asp?id=165)

Whereas the Navy has implemented the Distinguished Visitor Program for several years, the emergence of social media during 2009 as a very popular force for reaching audiences created a new opportunity for the military.  During 2008, Dennis Hall nominated Guy Kawasaki for a Distinguished Visitors Embark.  The Navy selected him to embark out to-from the USS John C. Stennis aircraft carrier steaming in the Pacific Ocean.  Upon his return, Dennis Hall followed up with him and Guy Kawasaki replied via e-mail with the Subject line reading, ‘An idea’.  Dennis made an appointment to meet with Guy Kawasaki and Bill Reichert, both Managing Directors of Garage Technology Ventures in Palo Alto, CA on October 8, 2008.  At that meeting, Guy discussed his idea of sending ‘a whole planeload of bloggers’ inside a Navy C-2 Greyhound aircraft out to-from an aircraft carrier underway.  With the notes from the discussion, Dennis Hall wrote and submitted a proposal to then Lieutenant Commander Charlie Brown, who was then the Public Affairs Officer for the Commander, Naval Air Forces, Pacific based at Naval Air Station North Island on Coronado Island, near San Diego.  He prompted accepted the proposal for a Distinguished Visitors social media embark, or Bloggers’ Embark.  Guy was elated and he and Dennis Hall set about recommending social media types, including Andy Sernovitz.

Sixteen social media types embarked with Guy Kawasaki, Dennis Hall, Bill Reichert, and Andy Sernovitz to the USS Chester W. Nimitz aircraft carrier during May 2009.  The follow-on social media activity of all involved proved the concept is absolutely valid for reaching audiences globally.

The success of the embark to the USS Nimitz set the stage for follow-on social media embarks.

On April 25 – 26 2010, eleven business executives and social media influencer participated in the Distinguished Visitors program on-board the USS Abraham Lincoln which was preparing for a 10 month tour of duty in the pacific.  These are their reflections one year later.
USS Abraham Lincoln

Participants: 
Amanda Congdon – @amazingamanda
Christopher Carfi – Vice President, Ant’s Eye View (@ccarfi)
Jake McKee – Chief Innovation Officer, Ant’s Eye View (@jakemckee)
Kevin Thornton, Sr. Communications Officer, Walton Family Foundation – @kevinthornton
Len Devanna – Director of Social Engagement, EMC Corp – @LenDevanna
Mark Yolton – SVP of SAP Community Network – Mark Y. – @markyolton 
Phil Nieman – @nieman
Robert Coombs
Rob DeRobertis aka RobDe @robde
Scott Gulbransen – Director of Social Media & Digital Content for Applebee’s – @sdgully
Will Mayall, Alltop.com @mayall

Acknowledgements:
Thanks to Guy Kawasaki for editing these question and Dennis Hall for writing the forward to this document.

Thanks to Dennis Hall and Andy Sernovitz for making this trip possible

And thanks to the Navy for their support of this program and day to day service of our country.

Q: What are the most lasting memories and impressions from the trip?

Robert C: What struck me is the sheer number of people living and working at sea on each of these ships. The duties required to keep one of these ships underway number in the thousands, and most of them are being done by young men and women aged 18-24. That’s a group that, in other areas of society, is seen as not terribly productive, and not trustworthy in serious matters. I think the Navy proves these perceptions wrong 24-7-365

Mark Yolton (Mark Y): The dedication and professionalism of the sailors, pilots, and other crew.  These men and women spend months at sea, away from their families, working essentially 24×7.  If they’re not “working,” they are training; if not training, then studying for their next level promotion or an adjacent job.  They are almost always working on something, and so their depth of knowledge and the muscle memory they’ve developed through repetition and practice to perform under duress is extraordinary.  Even when they’re relaxing, they need to be alert and on edge for superior officers, drills, and much else.  They can’t get away for a weekend. They are clustered together with co-workers without an ounce of privacy.  They give up what we’d consider a normal life. 

Kevin Thornton (Kevin T):  The smell of jet fuel, the incredible noise, and the other things that set my senses on full alert. But more than that, I will remember the people I met and the work I saw them do.  Like Mark said, their professionalism is extraordinary.  Everyone I spoke with beamed with pride about their work and being in the U.S. Navy.  They were determined, focused, and all knew they were a part of something bigger than themselves.  They are away from their families months on end and can never can truly “get away” while on the ship.  The most impressive thing is that they do this voluntarily!   Also, this was a very personal trip for me.  My family has a rich Navy history, including three uncles that served on the same ship at the same time in Korea (USS Frank Knox) and a great-uncle that was on the USS Lexington (CV-2) when it sank in the Battle of the Coral Sea.  Being able to take part in this trip gave me a sense of what they experienced.  I consider myself extremely lucky to have been able to do something very few Americans will get the chance to do.

Rob De: @ Kevin:  I agree with you that we were extremely lucky to have been able to do this.  This was a unique experience and something that will stick with me for the rest of my life.

Will M: I agree with the others. The easy things to remember were the cool planes flying in and out, the massive ship, and other mechanical stuff but it was certainly the people that left the strongest impression. At first glance, it seemed to be chaos, with people constantly in motion in a crazy dangerous environment. But in fact, it was well trained and supervised professionals performing a complex dance on the most powerful ship on earth. I still cannot believe how young most of the sailors were with responsibilities that entailed life and death decisions.

Scott G: I can honestly say as we approach a year from when we went on this adventure, there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about or talk about the experience. Besides all the “cool” factor associated with the flight operations and really big ship stuff, I honestly remember being blown away by the sailors. All of them. From the youngest enlisted sailor to the Admiral; they all were beyond impressive. It really helped reassure me about our future generation. The young people on board were impressive and I could see we did have a great pool of young leaders to lead this nation in the future. As always, it’s always about the people. I sleep much better at night having met these remarkable young men and women.

Len D: Echoing the sentiment from my friends above, it was the level of maturity, professionalism and patriotism from the young men and women that by far left the most long lasting impression with me. We must have met with at least hundred of these folks over the course of twenty-four hours. Regardless if their role was piloting a multi-million dollar aircraft, ensuring the ships personnel stayed well nourished, or keeping the anchors for the ship in tip top shape – each told us of their unique role within this massive machine with unbridled enthusiasm. 
All in all – I left with a renewed sense of pride and patriotism. One simply couldn’t help it given the contagious nature from the folks we met. If you’re a parent with a son or daughter in the military – you have a right to glow with pride. These young men and women are in a class of their own.

Christopher C: There were two aspects to the memories: the physical experience itself, and the connections between the individuals involved. The physical experience itself  was astounding: the preparation, the flight out to the deck, the landing, the touring of the ship itself. It really put into perspective the challenging nature of the job. Just as lasting, however, were the connections between both the participants and the individuals who hosted us on the ship. Conversations that started one year ago are still continuing today. 

Jake M: In today’s society, we’re all taught that getting close to the action is strictly forbidden. We’re supposed to stay back behind the roped off, guarded, and clearly marked danger line. We’re treated, in so many situations, as untrustworthy children who need extra guidance to avoid danger. To this day, I still marvel at exactly how close we were to danger, real, tangible danger, and how much trust was placed in us during that experience. And this danger was kept at bay by a crew whose average age was, I believe, 19 year old. With structure and discipline, it’s amazing what can be taught. 

Phil N: For me, seeing how the Navy manages so many young, stressed people struck me the most. I had the opportunity to sit with the lead Judge Advocate General (JAG) officer, they call him the “Judge” at dinner, and I heard astounding stories about what it takes to keep all these young people in order. If you think about it, anytime that you have 5,000 people in one place there will be some trouble. It could be potentially explosive when mixing in the effects of extremely stressful jobs, lack of sleep, and kids from very diverse background. Along the same line, I found the Chaplain corps on board to be very impressive. They are not only providing religious services to the entire ship, but also the primary counseling services as well. Many of the young people come from very troubled backgrounds, of which they don’t have the capcitity to deal with on their own. 

Q: Did the trip change your views of the military?

Kevin T:  I had always held the military in high regard, but what changed for me was the way I looked at their sacrifice.  Their work involves them giving up so many things that most of us enjoy and take for granted.  Seeing this firsthand made me appreciate them even more.

Mark Y: Yes, I have a much higher regard for the military than in the past. My family is fairly distant from military service, so I don’t know a lot of soldiers or sailors.  I admit, I had the impression beforehand that the military was a last-choice option for someone who couldn’t find a traditional job, and so therefore the military tended to attract the lowest performers without much education or potential.  That changed when I saw, met, and talked with extremely bright and capable people of the U.S. Navy — many of whom would put me and my so-called big-time colleagues to shame.  

Scott G: I have always held our military in high regard. What changed on this trip was it made it very personal for me. I have extended family members in the military currently and of course that makes it personal. But seeing the young men and women aboard the Lincoln gave me a new sense for the sacrifice they make day in, day out. 

Will M: Yes and no. The amount we spend for our "defense" seems out of whack given the problems we face as a nation. But I understand more clearly that the people doing their jobs in the military should not be blamed for an imbalance in our priorities.

Len D: Sure did. I looked at the military at large as being an offensive or defensive tool for times of conflict. Come to find out that’s a rather narrow point of view. While our troops are absolutely at the ready to defend our freedom regardless of which branch of the military they’re in, I was naive to the amount of involvement they have within disaster relief efforts, as example. During our visit, we learned of the USS Lincoln’s ability to purify mass amounts of water and supply to ravaged areas post natural disaster. We learned of their ability to move tons of food from ship to land at the drop of a dime. We also learned how the very ‘presence’ of a ship such as the USS Lincoln can help boost the morale of other countries by simply visiting their ports.Wwdewwfefrgr

Jake M: Growing up down the road from a Navy base (the one we flew out of) and a Marine base, I knew plenty of people in the Navy and Marines. I have always greatly respected those who serve, and this visit expanded that respect as I learned more about the details of the sacrifice (have you seen those bunks??). And while it’s impressive to me the capabilities for humanitarian aid a fleet brings and often delivers, I couldn’t help but wonder if there were non-military ways to over that same level of structure and discipline to these young kids who are looking for help and training. Our country tends to chafe the idea of formalized social programs to train/employ our young people, but in effect that’s exactly what was happening on the Lincoln. 

Phil N: Coming from a military family, I’ve always had a fairly positive view of the military, including my Sister and Brother-in-law whom both had long careers in the Air Force/ Illinois Air National Guard. However, the trip certainly gave me a deeper and more rounded view of the military. The operation and the care put into everything done on the ship was particularly impressive. These people have a very tough job and I’m very appreciative of the hard work they do. 

Q: Since the trip were you in contact with sailors whom you met on this trip?

Rob D: The most surprising connection I made was with family members of the crew aboard the Lincoln.  A couple saw the images I posted on my website and sent notes of appreciation.  It was great to connect and learn about their sons, daughters, and husbands. For them, getting a glimpse of their loved ones was so important. For me, it hammered home the sacrifice made by so many to protect our country.

Robert C: I’ve stayed in contact with the PIO and some of his crew. I have also contacted other PIO’s and feel like I have a bond with people in that role because they are an analog to what I do in the civilian world.

Kevin T: I’ve stayed in contact with the PAO and interacted with some of the public affairs staff on Facebook.

Mark Y: I’ve stayed connected with the PAO, “Wild Bill,” through facebook.  I’ve connected loosely with other crew members and their families by commenting on USS Abraham Lincoln Facebook posts.  It’s amazing the connection I feel, and the pride in that association, even though I only spent 24-hours on-board the ship… it’s still “my” ship and I follow its journeys, its missions, and its people very closely. (I’ve also stayed in touch with many of the other people who I embarked with; via social media, but also had one local person to my birthday party and have met-up with others at meetings and events — in fact, am off to see one tonight.) 

Scott G: I have stayed in contact with various folks we met. Some have been singular interactions while others have been more in-depth and personal. Obviously, Wild Bill is the one person I have stayed in constant contact with. But even those that I haven’t been in contact with are always in my thoughts. I call the USS Lincoln “My Navy Family.”

Len D: Not as much as I’d like to. That trip was a whirlwind, and I wasn’t sure what to expect walking in. In hindsight, I wish I’d done a better job of capturing the names of all of the wonderful people we met with.  I have stayed in touch with our ‘host’, “Wild Bill”, and some of the folks on his team. Come to think about it, we’re still not sure why they call you ‘Wilid Bill’, sir???? But, like others, I do follow the USS Lincoln on Facebook . I remain very impressed with the Navy’s use of Social Media to not only communicate within the Navy itself – but also well beyond the confines of the service itself. While there’s obvious risk in opening up access to emerging social channels, the reward of transparency and connectivity to the families of those who are serving are priceless.

Jake M: As others have said, just Wild Bill. Our trip introduced us to a lot of people, but I didn’t ever get a chance to talk to anyone at length or in a way that made it seem like it would be OK to contact them afterward. That’s not a criticism, just a reality. We had a lot to do!

Phil N: I’ve kept in contact with the PAO and I’ve had some contact with the Chaplain and JAG officer on board.

Q: What was the coolest thing you saw on the ship?

Rob D.: Being on the deck with the aircraft and crew during flight operations was the most thrilling thing I saw.

Robert C: Flight operations are, of course, one of the most amazing things for civilians to see up close. It gives you a whole new respect for the raw force that’s deployed throughout the world.

Kevin T: Flight operations!  The planes flying around are cool enough themselves, but to see the precision in which everything was orchestrated was amazing.  Everyone knew their part and played it like a well-rehearsed script, all while working in a very, very dangerous place.

Mark Y: Flight operations were amazing – from the deck and the (?balcony? vulture’s perch?). The power of those jets, the professionalism of the crew – breathtaking.  But I also cherish standing on the bridge with the captain and his core leadership team while 18-year-olds steered this massive aircraft carrier.  I enjoyed the honor of talking with the Commander in his “office” on the bridge. Eating fancy meals in the captain’s dining room with the folks who run the nuclear reactors on board.  Going to the weapons area to see (disarmed) tomahawk cruise missiles, bunker-busters, and many others.  Seeing the enormous anchor and learning that just handling that piece of equipment is an entire specialization.  Landing and climbing out of the C2 COD onto the deck; and then taking off 24-hours later via catapult.  Trying to sleep in the loud bunks while jets took off and landed overhead… 

Scott G: Like everyone else has said, flight operations were amazing. But for me, besides the cool fighters, it was watching the young people on the deck. They have the most dangerous job in the world and at 19 years old are doing amazing amounts of work that includes some heavy duty responsibility. At 19 years old I would have had those puppies flying into the ocean. Those sailors just amazed me.

Len D: Sitting on the bridge talking about the ‘big picture’ at twilight with the ships commander as jets came and went was among the most surreal experiences of my life. The heat on my face from the jets of an F-18 fighter taking off about 30 feet away won’t soon leave my memory.. And catapulting from zero to ~ 165 in two seconds when we took off from the ship to head back home may just have been the coolest thing ever 

Christopher C: The precision and execution of the flight ops. Every person knew his or her role, every bit of equipment was in place, every bit of infrastructure was color-coded. Highly, highly impressive.

Jake M: I’d be remiss without saying clearly: the sound and sights of the jets as they were launched and had the noise and vibration wash over us. The first second or two of the launch was fairly quiet, but when the afterburn glow came into view and the vibrations of the engines caught up to us, man oh man that was amazing. Second, was the comfort and competence that was displayed on the flight deck. There was lots of talk about “the chaos of the flight deck”, but I never say chaos. Everyone seemed to be extremely well trained, and extremely tuned in to what they were doing. 

Phil N: It’s hard not to love the flight ops, especially the night time flight operations. You cannot beat the surreal experience of speaking with the Admiral while watching nighttime flight ops in the background.

Q: What was the least cool thing about the ship?

Will M: The noise. It was incredible. We spent the night and even though I wore ear plugs, I remember waking in the middle of the night to an alarm for a fire drill in the engine room. It’s really impressive that the sailors and aviators can work so professionally in such a loud environment.

Rob D: I managed to smash my finger going down the stairs at one point and still feel the pain in that finger one year later.  It is a dangerous place to live.

Kevin T: I have to agree with Will.  The noise was incredible and was a big factor in messing with my senses.  In particular, I remember being in the air traffic control center.  I think it was located one deck below flight operations.  Every time a jet would land, the whole place shook with what sounded like a plane crash. It was, of course, just a normal landing. The alarms, the jet engines, the calling out of orders and statuses over the loud speakers, all made for a very loud environment throughout the entire ship – day and night.

Mark Y: It’s pretty claustrophobic – with random ladders and dead-ends; I never knew which of the many floors I was on, whether fore or aft, and would have been helplessly lost if left alone for a moment.  But to get a sense of direction, you need to go on deck, which is always cold (outside), loud, smells of jet fuel, and still doesn’t allow for a moment of quiet, private, alone time. 

Scott G: It really sucked to have to wake up in the middle of the night and find the bathroom. Especially when you’re in the top bunk! (Thanks Jake!)

Len D:  The noise piece has already been covered… It WAS loud! Given the crew was in pre-mission training, there was no shortage of interesting things taking place around us.  We managed to witness a ship wide fire drill. And while it was fascinating for me personally to watch the crew rally with the precision of a fine Swiss watch, I felt for them all as they ran up and down small corridors and ladder systems in massive fire retardant suits carrying hoses, fire extinguishers, and all sorts of gear. Wasn’t so bad for us civilians, but I felt for the crew and hope they only get exposed to that sort of excitement via drills and practices!

Jake M: When you see a carrier on TV or in pictures, or when you hear someone talk about them, they always do so in terms of how big they are. In reality, the ship felt relatively small. Sure it was a huge ship, but not as huge as you think. And with so many small rooms, low ceilings, and uncomfortable walkways, it’s hard to imagine living there day to day. I mean, hey, when you have plan your bathroom breaks because there’s very few locations on the ship, well, that’s small. 

Phil N: It had to end! I would have loved to have more time on board and to have more time to speak with people around the ship. 

Q: Were the sailors and aviators open?

Will M.: From Commander John Alexander down to the enlisted sailors, the people were incredibly open and honest. At one point, I asked Admiral Mark Guadagnini about the role of the aircraft carrier in a world without other dangerous super powers. I expected a packaged answer. Instead, I got a thoughtful response that, of course, included how we need to project strength to the world but also expressed doubts that it was a tool of warfare needed for the future.

Kevin T:  Yes, every sailor I encountered was willing to strike up a conversation.  I was actually impressed that they handled themselves so well.  I kept thinking they must think it’s weird to have civilians on the ship.  But, they carried on like it was normal for us to be around them taking pictures, asking questions, and generally getting in their way.

Mark Y: Amazingly so.  I found it incredible that the captain, commander, key officers, and others were so willing to meet and talk with us.  We met mid-level folks working their way up the chain; and both younger and older sailors.  I was also satisfied to get a few strong negative comments from low-level sailors about their stint on the ship and in the Navy; it satisfied my skepticism that not everyone can be over-the-moon happy, and we were getting the straight scoop from people who were not “positioning” for us as outside visitors. 

Scott G: I never thought any of the sailors were anything but open. They live in a “chain of command” culture. To that end, for being in a system like that, they didn’t pull punches. I appreciated their honesty and think it added a special something to the visit.

Len D: Absolutely! I was stunned at the level of transparency. Walking in, I had assumed we’d be exposed to the ‘top echelon’ to ensure a positive vibe. Not the case. The policy – talk to everyone – talk to anyone. No holds barred. Some of my best discussions were when I just grabbed a seat at a table of sailors for lunch and let them do their thing. Each as happy to tell you their story as the next. 

Christopher C: Very much so. One of the conversations that was an unbelievable highlight was the time we had talking with Admiral Guadagnini on the bridge. Visualize this…we’re underway at sea on an aircraft carrier, night flight ops are happening on the deck, and the bridge is lit up only with dim, red lights, like an old-school photographic darkroom. We talked at length with Admiral Guadagnini, who shared his thoughts on the Navy and how it had changed during his years in the service, as well as the challenges he faces as an executive in charge of many thousands of servicemen and servicewomen. One of the biggest problems he said he faced? “Finding good people”…just like many other businesses.

Jake M: Back on land, society has taught us that “only the professionals do the talking”. I fully expected that the sailors and officers would see our PAO lead and clam up. The exact opposite was true: every member of the crew we met was kind, empathetic, and happy to talk to us. Literally everyone we talked to was beaming about their role on the ship, and wanted to show off by telling us about that role.

Phil N: To echo the comments of the others, I found everyone to be very open. I would have loved the opportunity to speak with more of the enlisted sailors, but I understand they all had busy jobs to do. 

Q: Would you support the decision of someone to join the Navy?

Rob D: Yes.  I even sent a slide show to a friend whose son was thinking of going to the Naval Academy.  It ends up that he had completed his pre-med studies and indeed joined the Naval academy in MD.

Kevin T:  Absolutely. I do think it would take someone who is willing to make certain sacrifices, though.  Knowing that, I see opportunity for someone to do just about anything they want to do in the Navy – from a mechanic to a nuclear scientist. Just like any career path, I think a person could work hard, do good and make a good life in the Navy.  

Mark Y: Yes, as long as they went in with eyes wide open to both the opportunities and the drudgery, repetitiveness, hierarchy, level of commitment.  As with any job, there are pros and cons – and some of the Navy’s cons are extreme: work under harsh conditions, while away from family for long periods, beginning with boring and repetitive tasks… and, oh, by the way, the chance you might be killed.  But the up-side is also extreme.  I can only imagine the sense of pride, of camaraderie, the sense of brotherhood, or belonging, of common purpose, of responding to the call of duty, of sacrificing for the benefit of others…  If I had experienced, in my youth, what I experienced on the USS Abraham Lincoln a year ago, I don’t think I could have gotten the desire for that adventure out of my blood.  

Scott G: Without question. National service can sometimes be over romanticized but its a noble calling and I would support my family (even my kids) if they wanted to join. I’d just want them to understand the sacrifice and life they would lead. 

Will M: Yes, but it is a decision that should not be made lightly. The visit reinforced my belief that national service should be mandatory, although not restricted to military service. Watching the young sailors perform complex, dangerous jobs showed how effective young adults can be given proper training and supervision. Mandatory national service for a year would focus the energy of youth to benefit our nation and give a structured start to their adult lives.

Len D: I would… But would want to ensure the person was doing it for the right reasons. Make no mistake – these folks worked extremely hard. As Mark suggests above, there are no weekends, no trips to the movies – and no opportunity to just ‘unplug’ when you need to. It seems that if you want in, you’re going to be all in. Having said that, I left with a bit of emptiness that I’d not experienced that when I was younger. These folks bubble with pride and enthusiasm. They made me *prouder* to be an American than I already was. They humbled me with their professionalism and dedication. So yes – this experience left me with a very positive point of view on serving our country.

Jake M: Absolutely, but with the caveats that have been given above. “Top Gun” gave viewers a pretty realistic sense of the drama, but it certainly doesn’t explain the drudgery and discomfort. But yes, military service, especially in the Navy can be a great thing for a young kid. As I said above, however, I wish that there were other non-military options that could provide the same value to our country and to our kids.

Phil N: I’m a very big believer in public service and would be very supportive of someone joining the Navy. Of course, it’s important that people enter service with a very realistic viewpoint of how hard the life will be and what will be expected of them. 

Q: Was the embark an effective way for the Navy to get its message out?

Rob D.: Absolutely.  The openness and hospitality was surprisingly refreshing.

Kevin:  Yes.  I believe openness and transparency are key to getting out your message.  When you can show someone what you do, instead of just telling them what you do, your message will resonate more effectively.  I tell anyone that will listen about my trip to the carrier.

Mark Y: Without a doubt.  I talk about my experience on the “Abe” at the drop of a hat; give me an excuse and I’ll pull out photos, videos, and tell passionate stories of the men and women on that ship, the flight crew, obscure details… That word-of-mouth from communicators, influential opinion-leaders, and others is priceless.  

Scott G: In today’s world where communications and networking are so open, it’s the best way the Navy can bring to life what it does and how great its people are. The program is a great success and when I tell people about it, they all would love to take part. By showing people what happens aboard a carrier, or other naval vessel, every day, you get a better understanding of the entire system. 

Christopher C: Very much so. Heck, we’re still talking about it a year later.

Jake M: No question about it. In a society that is putting more and more blocks between the people and the reality, it’s wonderful to see the Navy opening up. In an information void, people tend to assume the worst. Opening the kimono (thanks, Guy!) is a great way for the Navy to be clear about the good it’s doing for our country, our kids, and the world. 

Phil N: Absolutely. I speak with people about the trip all the time. Having been out once, I’d love another chance knowing what to expect. I think it’s very important to tell the stories of the men and women protecting us. 

Q: Was there anything you were unable to do while aboard that you wish you could have done?

Will M: Given that it is a huge ship and we were only there 24 hours, we saw an incredible amount. I would have liked to see a bit more of the more mundane parts of the ship as well as the engine room — although I understand that access to nuclear reactors is probably not a great idea.

Mark Y: I was a blank slate; I went without preconceptions and was very happy to be led around like a kid in a candy store with gold AmEx card.  My jaw was slack and my eyes were saucers from start to finish.  The experience more than met my expectations because I didn’t have any – and yet it was the experience of a lifetime that I will always appreciate.

Scott G: The only thing we were unable to observe: the live firing exercise.

Jake M: Just more. More of everything. The trip was designed wonderfully, but I was thirsty for more parts of the ship, more time on the flight deck, and more people to talk to and learn from.

Phil N: I agree with the others, I would have loved to see more and had more time. In particular I would have liked more time with regular enlisted folks to talk about their jobs, feelings, etc. 

Q: Did you post to your social media blogs, podcasts, etc. about the trip? Please provide links if you did. 

Rob D: I made 6 postings, you can see them here: http://blog.robde.com/categories/Navy.aspx

Kevin T: I posted on my blog (http://thorntonkevin.blogspot.com/2010_04_01_archive.html andhttp://thorntonkevin.blogspot.com/2010/08/to-carrier.html) and on my Twitter feed(http://twitter.com/kevinthornton) and my Facebook page (http://facebook.com/kevinthornton). My videos from the trip are on YouTube at http://youtube.com/thorntonkevin 

Mark Y: I posted a couple of blogs that related the experience to work topics(http://www.sdn.sap.com/irj/scn/weblogs?blog=/pub/wlg/19360 and http://www.sdn.sap.com/irj/scn/weblogs?blog=/pub/wlg/18949), I posted photos in Flickr(http://www.flickr.com/photos/markyolton/sets/72157623946757880/) and Facebook, I posted links and comments in LinkedIn and on Twitter (http://twitter.com/#!/markyolton),  and I posted video on YouTube(http://www.youtube.com/markyolton) that has been downloaded by all sorts of people including someone building a compilation video of the C2 transport.

Scott G: A ton…here’s my links:

  1. http://scottgulbransen.com/2010/04/26/featured-articles/thanks-uss-lincoln-crew/
  2. http://scottgulbransen.com/tag/uss-lincoln-embark-2010/
  3. http://www.everyotherthursday.com/2010/04/learned-dads-sea-aboard-uss-lincoln/
  4. http://www.everyotherthursday.com/2010/05/dads-sea/
  5. http://www.shamable.com/2010/04/28/the-uss-lincoln-aircraft-carrier-social-media-hotbed/
  6. http://www.shamable.com/2010/04/23/its-go-time-for-shamable-com-and-the-uss-abraham-lincoln/

Len D: Not as much as I need to. Initial post here with more to follow!

Christopher C: Yes, here and my photos are here.

Q: Did you participate in any traditional media reporting on your embark?

Robert C: I have referenced the experience many times in newspaper interviews and radio shows. Because a significant amount of my work has dealt with military personnel issues, this has been something has is also a part of my conversations with members of congress, state policymakers and service members in other branches.

Q: Would you be willing with guidance and consultation to lead a social media embark?

Rob D.: Yes.  It would be an honor.

Robert C: Of course.

Mark Y: Absolutely. It would be an honor – and it would be a privilege to ‘give back’ in some small way, to the men and women who serve in our military.

Kevin T: Yes!

Scott G: Without question.

Len D: At the drop of a dime.

Christopher C: Absolutely.

Jake M: I’ve already booked a ticket. Anyone want to tell me where I should be going?? 

Phil N: In a heartbeat. 

Q: Since your trip what has happened to you in your life/career i.e. where are you now?

Rob D: Over the year I continued my photographic quest posting new images on www.robde.com.  I started a marketing blog www.fivethingsinmarketing.com aka www.5tim.com where I provide some thoughts on business to business marketing.  I also changed companies and am now the Global Marketing and Communications director for a New England High Tech company.

Robert C: I took a new position representing members of all three branches of state government. Every Governor, state legislator, Attorney General and Chief Justice is one of our members. My job is to provide political and communications strategy and crisis communications response particularly in the area of criminal justice.

Kevin T:  I left Walmart and became the senior communications officer for the Walton Family Foundation. 

Mark Y: I’m in the same job: senior vice president of the SAP Community Network – which is the social network for 2.4 million SAP professionals in 200 countries and territories worldwide.  My life hasn’t changed dramatically.  Although, I have a much expanded world view as it pertains to our military, and much higher degree of respect and appreciation for the sacrifice, dedication, and professionalism of our men and women in uniform. 

Scott G: I accepted a new position to lead the social media and digital strategy for the world’s largest casual dining chain: Applebee’s. That includes leading the online effort by which Applebee’s honors both veterans and active duty military on Veteran’s Day. On that day, we serve over 1.5 Million military folks with a free meal to simply say “thank you.” The job meant a move from San Diego to Kansas City. Being truly land-locked for the first time in over 30 years has taken some getting used to. We’re also expecting our fifth child (fourth boy!) in September. I also lead

Len D: Same job for me – Driving social evolution at EMC. However, this trip did give me added insight into creative uses of Social Media and organizational transparency that have since helped me in my job. Kudos to the Navy for their forward thinking in leveraging emerging media!

Christopher C: I’ve since joined Ant’s Eye View and am now working side-by-side with Jake McKee. Additionally, I “see” many of the individuals from the embark online on a regular basis, as well as cross paths with them in the course of our engagements.

Jake M: I’m still at the company I co-founded, Ant’s Eye View. My role has morphed a bit, where I’m now focusing on innovation and product development. I have the pleasure of working with Chris Carfi, and still keep in touch with many of the group. Scott and I have spent many hours debating politics and life and I truly value his friendship. I also decided after I got home and looked at my photos that I was going to up my photography game. So many missed opportunities for great shots, or shots that didn’t turn out like I wanted convinced me that I wasn’t going to let another amazing destination have the same photographic result. It’s coming along!

Phil N: This trip was a major inspiration to changing my career direction. There are so many amazing stories in the world that never get told to the general public. The USS Lincoln trip is a good example as Americans are spending huge amounts of tax dollars on something that is foreign to almost all of them. This has led me to accept a full-tuition scholarship to attend Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism for a Masters.