Monday, November 29, 2010

We have to get over fame before we learn to connect

If you aren't a regular follower of Marketing Week (the UK mag for the Marketing industry) you may have missed my latest leader - published at the end of last week.
I wouldn't want to miss out on the opportunity of making connections - which are frankly more likely here than on the fame-hunting pages of MW so, the column is repeated below...

Does social media satisfy an urge for fame left as a hangover of the broadcast age? An urge we must get over before we achieve connection?

The use of the term social media has done many marketers a dis-service. Actually, it's led them up a garden path to a place where the trees don't quite bear the fruit they may have hoped for.

There are two reasons.
First: including the word 'media' made us believe this was all about communication. It is. But only as a means to an end.
The second: the hangover of our mass communication era concepts of fame.

The latter assumes people are broadcasting in social networks (etc). Those who believe that will point to the idea that when we use (eg) Twitter we are shouting out into the ether in order to acquire an audience.

And that would be the case if this was a broadcast model - an example of one to many.

But it isn't.

It's many to many. When we tweet (or express metadata - stuff about ourselves, our lives, our issues and concerns) we are not seeking an audience, we are seeking connections.

It's an important distinction.

I'm not saying that there aren't plenty of people seeking their little bit of fame through the use of the tools of social media. There are.

What I am saying is that they misunderstand the true value of a network over a broadcast model - that a network brings you connections.
And it's time we all got over that fame thing.

Unless we do, marketers will continue to make the mistake of seeking to gather audience when what they actually want - and need - is connection.

A recent example? I received an email from someone in the industry begging me to 'like' one of his clients facebook pages. If it acquired a certain (big) number of likes then the client would give a (big) cheque to Children In Need. Each like (should the target be reached) would have cost the client £2.50. That's a reasonable cost per acquisition I suppose - If you think audience has value.

The reality is if I 'like' your page only because I want to help a third party (in this case Children In Need) or for any other reason than genuine shared purpose/belief, then my eyes and ears are closed to you.

£2.50 down the drain.

A community without connection is just an audience with its eyes and ears shut.

Connection discovers and brings together people who care about the same things and gives the opportunity to do something about them together.

Connection means we join together to make things - products, services, co-created campaigns.

Social Media is more about connection and less about communication than is too often assumed. Letting go of our old world concepts of fame and audience reveals the real ROI of the web: A place for making with others - not taking from or broadcasting through.

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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Why I love Twitter's 'People Similar To You' feature

I've only just noticed a Twitter feature which I think is a very healthy development: People Similar To You.
Click through to your twitter profile page and you'll find a small collection of people Twitter has run an algorithm against and decided are people 'similar to you'.
On further investigastion I find it's been trialled quietly since the summer - but only with limited numbers of users. Please check and let me know if you are seeing it on your profile?
If I had to stab a wild guess I'd say it was using similar matching technology as found in @MrTweet - which always had a pretty good hit rate for me.
I have to say the first four 'People Similar to You' delivered to me (and it was just four on the evening of November 25, 2010) were all people I'm comfortable with being described as 'similar to'.

Whether or not the others are we shall see. I'll tweet them all to ask for thoughts shortly...

In the meantime - I really like this development. I like it because it suggests Twitter is taking much more seriously our interest in people very similar to us (not just who, for example, use the term social media marketing from time to time - clogging up the twitter arteries with 'internet marketer' spam).

I've never thought much of Twitter trends. They reveal only the lowest common denominator and smack of a broadcast approach being layered on to a seriously adhoc network play.

Which is why I shouted out for Trends Among Friends - revealing what is important among my friends seems more valuable to me.

People Similar To Me seems like exactly the kind of building block that can make Trends Among Friends work.

While I'm really not too fussed about how appalling Gillian McKeith has been on this evening's I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here (ITV 1 in the UK) I am concerned about the metadata being expressed by Tamara, Tony, Neil and Mark.

It could prove to be another wonderful way in which twitter enables us to discover people who care about the same things we do, right now.

And if they are wise they will use this not to message us, but to bring us together to help add value to the thing we care about through intelligent and scalable co-creation.

I have my fingers crossed for it. Though I will note, because I expect others so to do, Twitter will be wise to throw in a little serendipity. The role of the publisher is often to introduce us to things we didn't know we needed to know. The risk of a sealed silo of similarity  is clear and one I'd expect any org with the clear understanding of group forming network theory that twitter appears to have to be very careful to avoid.

I mean, it doesn't want to be Facebook, now does it?

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Revolution requires Government thinking that understands the web

I'm not sure Martha Lane Fox's latest report is calling for anything like a 'revolution' - as the headlines are screaming.

The Government's 'digital champion' is calling on the Government to sharpen up its online processing of our needs. In other words to do better channel management.

That's no revolution. That's what those in Government have been trying to achieve for some long time. They know it costs less to deal with an individual online than it does by phone or - God forbid! - face to face.

It's all about reducing the cost of transacting with the public. In other words, applying old principles of service delivery (one to many; from the centre to the edge) to the network tool set that is the web. Sure. Do it better. But incremental improvement does not a revolution make.

The real revolution would be for the Government to understand the value it can derive by connecting people to make what they need together - like our example for turning digital dole queues into a breeding ground for new businesses.

It's time we adjusted our thinking away from driving people online to deliver services more cheaply and instead use the advantages of online to develop new models in keeping with the network. Ones that make better services with less waste and deliver new services with those who need them. And everyone can join in that revolution.

And with my work hat on; here's my response to Sir Tim Berners-Lee's discussion of the way uber silos are threatening the web and our ability to create value with it: A wake up call for Open business
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Tuesday, November 09, 2010

The end of the age of significance - how we'll create our own cultures

The Mona Lisa (or La Joconde, La Gioconda).Image via WikipediaI was just listening to a quite marvellous piece of music by Brian Eno. I won't tell you what - it's likely not relevant.

(Just because you place a little trust in my musings about social (etc) doesn't mean you trust my musical judgement - and unless we are connected on a music sharing service, why should you?)

Whatever the case, most commentators on popular music would acknowledge Brian Eno has contributed works 'of significance'.

In a similar though perhaps clearer way, Leonardo's Mona Lisa is - whether you like or loathe it - acknowledged as a work of significance.

There is something uplifting and unifying in the idea that a piece of music, art, work of literature or person is of such significance that it is afforded near universal value by the majority of humanity.

But this is challenged by this networked age of ours - an age equipped with the tools to surface and scale relevance.

To understand the shifting sands of 'Significance' we must take a step back and explore how Significance has been acquired.

The Mona Lisa has been surfaced as significant by the machines of mass media and production.
Centrally contrived notions of what makes good art, who is a fine artist etc have been codified in the universities and art colleges. Those agreed notions are broadcast through traditional channels – the books from which the next generations of art professionals are taught, the filtering and selection of our iconography sorted to suit the lowest common denominator.

Who and what does Hollywood make movies about. Who and what are most often granted significance by other mass broadcast platforms?

“It’s important because we say it is” is a mantra once (still?) heard in newspaper offices. The centre selects what is of import, what is of significance – repeats and echoes that. The selection is based not on what is validated as important more on what is assumed to match lowest common denominator descriptions of what is important.

The same is true of how we come to select the significant icons of our culture – our shared broadcast, of the many culture.

Which all sounds quite negative. But didn’t it give us a Ghandi for every Cheryl Cole, a Mona Lisa for every ‘Dogs playing poker’?

Yes. But who am I to say thank you for that? I am but one person who happens, on this occasion, to concur with the lowest common denominator view that Ghandi is a wise selection as a person of significance and the Mona Lisa deserves her place in La Louvre.

As we see time and time again, as the long tail extends – as we learn to make use of the tools to scale relevance – the lowest common denominator shrinks until it is no longer the majority. It may retain its place as the single largest group – but it will not dominate.

Indeed the notion of a shared one-size-fits-all culture – particularly confined by and within geographic locations, is challenged by the network – by our ability to scale relevance.

There may be one salvation – a way in which this journey is a not a one-way ticket to nothing of truly iconic significance emerging in our future niche-dominated world; our human nature.

My good friend Mark Earls (author of Herd) would remind us that our inherent desire to be like the monkeys alongside us makes us more willing to accept as majority view. But even that will require us to be exposed to that majority view.

Right now, we are. Twitter trends reveals the single largest groups and we take a peek.
But in a world in which twitter ‘trends among friends’ are the only ones exposed to us, our iconography – our culture and its people, art, music and ideas of significance may come from within small self-forming adhoc groups.

Society, culture, call it what you will seems, to me at least, to be headed on a path away from homogenity – at least as measured within geographic boundaries.
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Friday, November 05, 2010

Social Media as philosophy and other developments in social software...

Lisa Devaney's post on TheWall 'Stop Dumping Social Media On Your PR' seems to have earned me a rash of new Twitter followers (thanks to her very generous inclusion of some of my thoughts).
I'll quote a hefty chunk below - since it's so flattering.

As social media has grown over these last five years, I’ve watched several people really embrace the emergent sector and turn it into a profession. Some of these folks I know are getting the tossed around label of social media “gurus” which makes you wary that what they are offering is a new kind of mysterious snake oil. However, it is time to get to know these experts and take the knowledge they have developed seriously.
David Cushman (@davidcushman) is one of the big thinkers in the social media space, who, following nearly two decades of experience working with emap, set out on his own with passion and enthusiasm, and a spark of genius to devote himself to social media. He is now a managing director at the 90:10 Group, offering the kind of deep thinking counsel client’s need to approach social media. I asked David about his approach to social media and for some tips and tricks that might help PRs and clients get their head around it all.
“Our approach is to think consultancy – to get out of the way as much as possible. We use the tools and techniques of social media to solve business problems – creating new efficiencies by working with the crowd (hence the 90:10 name – 90% of the effort coming from outside the org, 10% inside),” he told me.
“Ultimately this social stuff is, like the web, for making things with people who care about the outcomes – rather than broadcasting messages through.”
David offers this advice in approaching social media:
  • Social media is not a set of tools or channels – it’s a philosophical approach.
  • It is not an innovation in and of itself.
  • The innovation and the true value derives from the application of its tools and techniques to support people in solving problems that matter to them
Five years ago, there wasn’t the kind of choices of experts and agencies available, but now, the social media sector is booming and it is time to call on leaders like Maz or David to take a smart approach to what is proving to be the most important channel of influence between a brand and its public. Reputations are being made and destroyed, sometimes in a matter of days in social media, and to just dump such a crucial responsibility onto overworked account executives is a recipe for disaster."
So thanks very much for that Lisa. And if Lisa thinks I understand the space and have a few reasonably wise things to say about it, then all I can say is, it takes one to know one.
While I'm on big-up-me Friday, I also received a copy of a book today which includes a chapter from myself - based on the presentation I gave at BlogTalk in Cork in 2008. I have John Breslin to thank for my involvement in this project.
The book is titled: Recent Trends and Developments in Social Software.
My chapter is: "Reed's Law and How Multiple Identities Make the Long Tail Just That Little Bit Longer."
It's available on Amazon (Prime and Kindle) but the price is on the scary side (and nothing to do with me - honest). At £40-plus those with a clear academic interest in the area - and a good grasp of the tech - are likeliest to get best value from it.
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The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?