Saturday, November 14, 2009

A Skype Only Home

Seven years ago when we bought and remodeled a home in the Berkeley hills we had to strip every wire connecting our structure to the world -- power, telephone, and cable. We had to pay the power company and the phone company to come by and do the disconnect, but not Comcast. When I asked the Comcast technician how much it would cost for the disconnect he said, "oh, disconnecting is free -- we soak you when you are ready to reconnect!" And with a smile he was off.

I smiled too at the time because we don't have or want television in our home and we were perfectly happy getting our Internet connection from the phone company. So I had no intention of every calling Comcast again. But a few weekends ago a truck coming up our street hit our telephone line and ripped it out of the house. After calling AT&T and finding out that it would be a few days before they could send a crew out to reconnect we decided to call Comcast and ask how fast they could come out. Both companies said they would send technicians in three days (the Comcast truck would come the day after AT&T came) so we decided to go ahead and have them both come out and connect.

And boy are we glad! AT&T still hasn't sent a crew to reconnect our house!! So for the past few weeks we have been using Comcast for our Internet connection and we've been using Skype for our phone. We just bought a WiFi Skype phone and it is terrific. This week we called AT&T and cancelled our account.

Yes we know about the 911 issue. But if AT&T can't (or won't) connect our house, what are we supposed to do? And anyway I think I'd rather have Skype getting our money than AT&T. It was quite eye opening to see how much cheaper it is once you also consider free voice mail, free caller ID, cheaper International calls... nope, we don't miss AT&T at all.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Geoffrey Moore on Innovation: Video

At the end of last month, on October 27th and 28th in London, TCG helped the Symbian Foundation host a conference on the future of mobile. Almost 3,000 people attended this dynamic event, held at the Earl's Court exhibition center. On the second day of the event Geoffrey Moore spoke to the audience about what Symbian should be doing and how Nokia and the other members should be participating in and benefiting from the Symbian Foundation. The slides and a video of his presentation are now available. Geoff makes an excellent set of observations useful for every company about the role of innovation in your business and what you need to be doing to compete:

Geoffrey Moore at Symbian Exchange and Exposition from Ted Shelton on Vimeo.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The Geek Shall Inherit the Earth

I was speaking with someone last night who was attending the Enterprise 2.0 conference in San Francisco who was complaining about how Microsoft has managed to achieve remarkable success with their SharePoint product despite being inferior to start ups like Jive. He then asked if I was attending E2 to which I blithely replied "no, I don't really care about the technology wars." Which is true but incomplete. The more complete answer would have been, "technology is merely the medium we move through in order to get the really interesting things done."

And technology is increasingly a ubiquitous and all encompassing medium.

If businesses were people, technology would be the air they breath. Communications, data collection, decision making systems, etc -- everything a company does is mediated by some kind of technology and this is only accelerating. As more and more information is collected the need for systems which help us use this information become ever more essential.

The most effective companies will be the ones that have the most effective information systems. So I am really not worried about Microsoft wasting people's money with SharePoint -- the companies that use that technology will suffer the consequences. And the businesses that understand the geek-centric reality of 21st century business will succeed. Over time companies like Google, Amazon, and Akamai will teach us to use really good technology to build our businesses. Even Microsoft is beginning to understand -- how do you think Bing works? On Linux servers run by Akamai of course.

So I won't bother with "enterprise 2.0" which has become a writhing pit of technology vendors trying to insult our intelligence with ridiculous claims about their products, and instead I will continue to focus on real business problems and their solutions, safe in knowing that ultimately the best technology will win out because it will create the most value for the smartest companies -- that is, the geek shall inherit the earth.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Will Your Tribe Change The World

Watch this TED talk video of David Logan on tribal leadership and then look around your own organization. What stage are you and your co-workers operating at? Stage 2 where you hate the world? Or "stabilizing at Stage four", like Zappos? Or are you at Stage 5 and changing the world? And what can you do to move your organization up this ladder?

Tribes are a critical organizational model that we naturally adopt, whether explicitly or implicitly, in our interactions with others. Understanding tribal behavior and working more directly on improving our tribes is key to developing high performance organizations. And if David Logan is right, it might also be the key to changing the world.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Ambient Awareness meets Business Intelligence

Clive Thompson in a 2008 NY Times Magazine article reported on how "ambient awareness" is enriching our social lives as we have instant access to more and more real time information about our friends and colleagues I'm so Digitally Close to You). The rapid increase in the number of information sources, the speed new information is being generated, and the quantity of information available is equally impacting business processes from product development to marketing to customer service. In my consulting work this is one of the key technology shifts that I see companies struggling with as they re-examine how data is gathered to support decision making. Redesigning business processes to incorporate business intelligence from ambient sources will be a key part of redesigning companies over the next decade.

(This blog post is an excerpt from a long white paper that I am currently writing which I will post in its entirety when complete)

The term ambient intelligence (or AmI) was, according to Wikipedia, first used by Brian Epstein of Palo Alto Ventures in 1998 in a workshop for Philips on the future of consumer electronics. The world they and others began to describe had a set of key technology trends that together created a fundamental shift in the way we interact with the physical world including miniaturization, wireless communications, software platforms for distributed systems, improved human-computer interfaces, the general robustness of autonomous systems and a continuing reduction in cost for the deployment and maintenance of such systems

These researchers envisioned a world that by 2020 thoroughly connected people with their environments as sensors, transmitters and other devices became increasingly inexpensive to deploy, easier to program, and more connected. Ambient information systems can be generalized as following this common pattern: (1) the translation of the inherent information in our environment, such as the speed of passing traffic, into digital information via a sensor; (2) the transmission of this data through a computer network; (3) use and presentation of this data by a human or machine process (for example, traffic statistics super-imposed over an online map). I'll use the term "lens" to denote any system which is aggregating, analyzing, and presenting this data.

A simple example of this can be seen in the automated toll systems now in use in many western countries. A small transmitter placed in an automobile uniquely identifies the vehicle to a toll sensor, allowing the driver to be automatically charged a use fee as he drives past some fixed point on the roadway. In this case the lens is a machine process designed to associate the location of a specific vehicle with a financial transaction to be processed against a specific driver's account.

Augmented reality systems currently in their first consumer deployments through mobile phones also offer a glimpse at the human side of this coming world of ubiquitous information-rich interactions. The combination of a set of sensors including a digital camera, GPS, and a compass into a portable device with Internet connectivity allows information about an individual's environment to be retrieved as he moves from one place to another. Here the lens is a visual human-computer interface made possible through the video display of the digital device.

In just the same way that the physical world can be instrumented, detected, and thus better understood we can also instrument the virtual environments in which we are now increasingly communicating and conducting business. As Thompson points out, the innovation of Facebook's "news feed" in 2006 was not in the creation of new information but in the way that information was surfaced to Facebook users.

Facebook had already created a system in which inherent information about people's activities ("Tim and Lisa broke up") was being captured through the human sensor network of its users. The news feed suddenly provided a lens through which one could consume all of this information easily, providing users with a tool for comprehending larger quantities of data and presumable making decisions (I guess I should call Tim or Lisa...) and, as Thompson reports, startling and upsetting people who hadn't thought through the implications of putting this information online.

In the same way the inherent information in our business environments is increasingly being collected and stored online. Past Amazon CTO Andreas Weigend enjoys pointing out to clients that "more information will be created and stored this year than in every prior year in human history." Businesses must implement the right sensors for collecting and transmitting and the right lenses for aggregating, analyzing, and presenting this information.

For example, for a B2B client we recently added online social profiles to the set of information that sales people have about prospects as they try to follow up on initial product inquiries. Having more information available about that particular individual measurably increases the likelihood that the sales person can reach a prospect and have a meaningful conversation. But almost as important is how this information is informing the process of deciding who to contact in the first place.

Sophisticated sales organizations have long implemented "scoring" mechanisms for trying to decide who their most interesting potential prospects are within a given list. A weakness in these systems is that much of the information used for such scores is self-reported by the prospects (size of company, title, industry group, etc). Thus the ambient intelligence about these prospects -- the data they are creating all of the time as the use various online services -- can be significantly more useful in assessing the relative value of one prospect versus another.

Another example, marketing organizations are increasingly aware of the vast number of customers talking about their companies and products. Communications teams are establishing "listening posts" (sensor networks) to aggregate this information. Too often this information stops at an evaluation of "influencers" who can then be targeted for media campaigns. We have helped organizations recognize that key product insights, support issues, and other business processes can be informed by the collection of this ambient intelligence from the marketplace.

These are a set of ideas which we are only just beginning to understand about how business will change over the coming decade. When researchers began to define ambient intelligence a decade ago, they envisioned "...a world in 2020 where user-friendly devices support ubiquitous information, communication and entertainment." We can now see that the same technology trends impacting consumer products will also radically transform business processes and decision making. The most advanced companies have already begun using sensors to collect relevant information from their environments and are developing lenses to use this information in their activities. The development of these systems will be critical to competitiveness in the 21st century.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Social Web's impact on Management Theory

An increasing number of people are talking about how social technologies -- social media, social networks, collaboration, reviews, crowd sourcing, etc -- are impacting our understanding of how organizations should be structured and how employees should be recruited, managed, and rewarded. On Wednesday of last week I presented an initial paper in London on this subject, based on my work with companies over the past decade or so: Open Management (opens PDF on Scribd website).

The last 10 years? Yes, in May of 2000 I joined Borland as its Chief Strategy Officer and had the pleasure of working with Doc Searls (one of the four authors of the Cluetrain Manifesto) who was working as a consultant to the company. Borland had decided to develop an open source development tools product, (Kylix for those of you who might wonder) and Doc had been retained to help the company understand the Linux "community" whatever that was!

As a technology firm working with software developers Borland already had a long history of using online forums to connect with customers. But I think it is fair to say that the experience of bringing a Linux product to market significantly increased our awareness of a new dynamic between companies and their markets. This has led me on a decade long exploration of social media, social networks, and a variety of other tools which I broadly group together under the name "social technologies." Social, not because it they are about fun but because they are about people doing things with other people. In other words, social as in sociology.

And organizations, especially corporations, are one of the most interesting places to study human social behavior. For generations now we have relied upon hierarchical structures to facilitate the coordination required for large numbers of people to act together. Now technology is offering an alternative to hierarchy, one which is proving to offer significant competitive advantages to early adopters, open source being one clear example.

In taking "open" as my label for this movement I seek to focus on the difference emerging from our twentieth century business constructs. All business is "social" -- but the 21st century will see an increasing number of open business models -- open management, open communications, open source, open support, open product development, open research... It is a great time to rethink assumptions and consider alternatives to everything we know in business!

Airline choice from SFO to LHR?

So you are a United Mileage Plus member -- maybe a premier exec or even a 1K flyer. You are trying to decide, who would be best for my next trip from San Francisco to London? United of course!? I'd like to explain how I came to the conclusion that Virgin Atlantic was a better choice, and I don't care how many miles you have on United Airlines (oh, OK maybe you are "global services" in which case... I don't know).

First - something about my survey methodology. I have been doing a project in London for the past 6 months that has required me to be in London twice a month (that is 12 trips, for those of you keeping track). I have been flying on United Airlines for a very long time. My Mileage Plus account was opened in 1990 and I currently have well over 1 million miles flown over those almost 20 years. This year alone, mostly from all those trips to London, I have flown well over 150,000 miles with the airline.

Like most frequent flyers I rely on miles to make my travel more pleasant. Once in awhile I spend those 10 hours in "economy" (or coach, or chose your euphemism - I like cattle class). But once you have flown a couple of times you start to have the option of "upgrading" -- space available. And as you climb in status your chances of being upgraded improve. So as a million mile, 1K traveller on United my chances should be pretty good. And I am happy to say that United has upgraded me on most of my flights over the past 6 months (thank you).

But a number of service issues with United Airlines recently made me ask, is there a better airline to fly to London on? And so I begin to investigate my alternatives. I just flew for the first time on Virgin Atlantic - more about the actual experience in a moment. But the real surprise was the economics!

Here are the numbers -- am pulling an arbitrary travel date in the future, more than one month ahead. Fly to London from San Francisco on Sunday November 15th and returning on Sunday November 22nd (that crucial Saturday stay over).

$3,006.20 is the lowest economy fare United is offering which will allow for an upgrade to business class using miles

$1,517.00 is the lowest PREMIUM ECONOMY seat that Virgin Atlantic is offering

Now what, you might ask, is the difference between Business on United and Premium Economy on Virgin? That was my question as well, so I decided to go ahead and book a Premium Economy seat and see for myself.


(1) The Virgin seats are closer together meaning offering less leg room and not reclining as much. But they are still quite comfortable and I was able to sleep for 6 hours of the flight.

(2) Virgin's 747 has 8 seats across in premium economy instead of United's 777 configuration with 7 business seats across meaning that the seats are a bit narrower - not a problem unless you are larger than average.

(3) Virgin's food service was good but one could argue that United's is better. My experience ordering a special meal was better on Virgin -- on United the flight attendants actually apologize for the special meals being disgusting.

(4) Virgin's flight attendants were great -- United has a mixed bag of some terrific people and a few rotten eggs. Even the other flight attendants on United know who those terrible ones are but say that United can't get rid of them because of the union

Result: Even if you were guaranteed an upgrade by United (which they definitely do not guarantee) you would have a comparable experience between premium economy on Virgin and a business seat on United -- for half the price!

And if there was a chance of being stuck in United Economy, there is no question -- fly Virgin Atlantic.

To me, all of this simply points to United Airlines being completely broken as a company. I am sure this same analysis could be done for many of their other routes. This will be a continuing spiral down into failure for UAL until they are able to entirely reinvent their company.

First suggestion:

Create a facility through which your passengers can log a complaint about a particular flight attendant. Negotiate with the union for some procedure by which after a certain number of complaints and warnings that you can terminate that flight attendant for cause.

United Mileage Plus members are ready to make more suggestions and pitch in but first you have to be willing to change. Can we all get behind a movement to fix United?

In the meantime I am going to keep flying Virgin Atlantic.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Ted Kennedy & Ted Shelton

Now I have another reason to be sad that an era has come to an end with the passing of Edward Kennedy. My mother writes:
Are you aware that you were named after Ted Kennedy?
She explains that my father wanted to name me Edward while she preferred the name Jeffrey. But she was convinced when he explained that his choice of Edward was not about him (although that was his middle name) but that my name would be after Edward Kennedy - called Ted... and she even gave me a middle name with the initial M since his name was Edward M. Kennedy. And that was how I became Edward M. Shelton but have, since birth, been called simply "Ted." And now back to your regularly scheduled programming.

Friday, July 31, 2009

What is RESPKT?

Some of you have asked me about the RESPKT widget on the right side of my blog page so I thought I'd write a short note introducing this experimental service...
"R E S P K T, Find out what it means to me..."
-Aretha Franklin
Some friends (Chick Markley and Doug March) and I have created RESPKT and the widget is a part of the service and a part of a broader idea for lightweight distributed trust and reputation systems.

The basic problem is this --> how can you decide whether a person you don't know is interesting, trustworthy, or expert in a given topic? Social networks (facebook, linkedin, twitter) give us one view into this -- connections, followers, and (in the case of LinkedIn) recommendations tell us at least who knows a given person. But this is an imperfect indicator since the reasons that a connection or a follow exist are quite varied and may not indicate interestingness, trustworthiness, or expertise. And LinkedIn's recommendations are limited in number and scope.

So RESPKT seeks to provide a solution (initially for Twitter only). The idea is to allow anyone to express explicit respect for anyone else and to track and distribute the results. By tracking who is getting respkt over time and who they are getting it from, we can do a much better job at helping you to make that decision about whether someone is interesting, trustworthy, or expert...

Monday, July 20, 2009

Five Ideas That Matter

While TCG partner Haydn Shaughnessy has kindly attributed co-author status to me, I can hardly say that I did more than a few edits and act as a sounding board for this terrific essay - "Five Ideas That Matter" (link opens the document on Scribd) in which he introduces the idea of metatrends. Here I have reproduced the introduction in the hopes that this may intrigue you and you'll follow the link to read the whole paper:

"As the first decade of the 21st century comes to a close it’s clear that there are profound changes underway in the systems that govern and condition our lives.

The World Wide Web offers an opportunity to uncover where people's ideas and sentiments are headed and what they think about those changes. Never before have we had instant access to 8 billion pages worth of thoughts, ideas, or belief. The trouble is, as designer Matt Webb recently remarked, we have already passed the point where our attention can keep track of what is knowable and memorable. We need more shorthand.

This document is a deliberately brief guide to ideas on the web. In it we put forward a new research methodology and conceptual framework for dealing with the web’s data stream – the METATREND. Metatrends are, we hope, a shorthand for understanding change - as perceived by many millions of people.

A Metatrend is a trend that is parsed through the prism of web opinion and attitude. In place of a guru’s vision of we propose subjecting expert analysis and trend watching to social dialogue.

What we present is a first approach to seeing trends through the eyes of people who routinely blog, comment, tweet and search the web.

Why bother? Apart from the desirability of understanding large-scale opinion, in a parallel project The Conversation Group is witnessing increased interest in ideas such as creative destruction and system renewal, indications that people are seeking a new description for their experience and aspirations.

That search should be central to the business planning of any company or Government because it represents a changing mindset, and a new approach to production and marketing, of products, services and ideas.

Here we've had our first go at defining one element of that change. It's an ongoing project. Eventually we hope the project will help leaders, corporate and political, to create the messages, product and policies that respond to what people are seeking."

Continue reading "Five Ideas That Matter"

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Google Android in iPhone territory

TCG researchers took a close look at the launch of the first Android phone last year as a sample case of using social media as a market research tool. The results are now up as a white paper: "Surviving
Territory" (warning PDF direct download link).

Our team examined 93,228 relevant & unique posts referencing the first Android phone, the G1, on English language blogs. This sounds like a lot but it was vastly overshadowed by ongoing conversation about Apple's iPhone.

There are some important lessons here for what companies need to do when they participate in social media, especially when a competitor's brand is already dominant in the conversation. Despite the size of Google and their relative sophistication, this is not a story of social media success.

This is also a great example of the kind of work The Conversation Group does for its clients. When we do a report like this for a paying client, we can't share it publicly. This report was done specifically so that we could share an example of our work. Let me know what you think!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

One Really Big Idea

As many of you who have been following my social network status updates know, I have been spending a lot of time in London. As of the beginning of May I will be spending half my time there (and half my time in Foster City, CA) -- Lee Williams, executive director of the Symbian Foundation, has asked me to serve on his leadership team in an interim management role as head of marketing.

I have accepted because I believe in the very audacious big idea which Lee has posed as a challenge to the mobile industry and more broadly to humanity:
As information technologies become increasingly important to how we define ourselves as human beings in this time and place, to what extent should we be dependent upon a commercial entity for the definition of those technologies? The idea of the Symbian Foundation is that an independent, not-for-profit organization can serve as the hub of a community of individuals and organizations and lead this coalition to developing more innovative, more compelling, more useful products in an open, level playing field where all can compete as equals.
This hasn't been the way capitalism has addressed the problem inherent in these information technologies -- that in the implementations of systems certain control points can be inserted which, while of limited or zero usefulness to the customer, have enormous commercial implications for the creators.

The two ways in which we have addressed this problem over the past 50 years were (1) applying the idea of natural monopoly and (2) through the establishment of industry standards bodies. Both are flawed. More recently a new idea has been tried, that of open source -- Linux, Apache, Mozilla, Eclipse have all offered an open option against entrenched commercial products. These organization have often attracted competing companies as sponsors where those companies saw the open source option as a way of eroding the market share of the closed proprietary solution.

But to the best of my knowledge, Symbian is the first attempt at taking this idea to an entirely new level. Symbian already achieved the goal of the dominant closed proprietary solution in the mobile marketplace -- hundreds of million of phones 70 different handsets from a wide range of manufacturers and sold by almost every mobile network operator in the world.

And Symbian achieved this through a radical innovation for the technology industry, a commercial entity that was owned and governed by the various competing companies that it sought to serve.

But for a variety of reasons the Symbian model was showing signs that it was not fast moving enough to address new challenges in the marketplace that it had largely defined. The rise of Apple with its closed proprietary operating system and device and the introduction of Google's Android both suggested that there was a need for Symbian to change and adapt and become more fleet of foot in order to address the challenges of the next stage of evolution.

Thus the creation of Symbian Foundation -- an entirely independent and non-profit organization which is posed with two challenges -- (1) release the entire Symbian operating system as an open source project and attract tens of thousands of individuals and organizations to further develop this advanced mobile OS; (2) be the hub of a technology movement and through supporting, championing, and leading this community create a more effective and open engine for innovation than competing commercial efforts could ever produce.

We are on an exciting journey, and we have a lot to prove over the coming months and years. But I believe that our mission is a crucial one -- to prevent the kind of commercial lock-in that we have seen in the past around information technologies and insure a more open and egalitarian future, not only for the companies that chose to compete in producing these products, but for all of us that use them as well.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Distrusting Emergent Behavior

Yesterday my TCG partner Peter Hirshberg and I were talking about why it is that people are trustful of hierarchical organizational dynamics and distrustful of emergent organizational behavior. In the past week we had both independently encountered resistance at a client with a proposed course of action which would unleash a potential group dynamic.

I related to Peter the story in Gary Hamel's Future of Management about how the father of "modern" management techniques Frederick Winslow Taylor
in 1912... appeared in front of a congressional committee and argued that scientific management required nothing less than a mental revolution...
Hamel goes on to illustrate how different the world of the latter half of the twentieth century is from the world that Taylor was encountering as he introduced his revolutionary ideas:
Consider: in 1890 the average company in the United States had four employees, and few had more than a couple of hundred workers. Had you been alive at the time, it would have been hard to imagine that a company could ever grow to the scale of U.S. Steel...
Hamel invokes the language of Thomas Kuhn who, in his groundbreaking work on scientific method, developed the concept of "paradigm shifts" in science. Hamel sees similar mechanisms at work in management theory and practice, describing current management practitioners as "partisans of the old paradigm... members of the bureaucratic class."

While I believe this to be true, and believe that it is in part our familiarity with "the old paradigm" that makes it hard for us to accept the new, I had another thought as well this morning while listening to an insightful TED talk by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita called "Three predictions on the future of Iran, and the math to back it up." I have linked the video below and it is definitely worth watching. But the applicable insight is in the first few minutes when he talks about the complexity of human interactions.

The observation is a simple one but with some really interesting implications. Take a problem in which there are 5 decision makers. There are 120 possible interactions between those 5 people (five factorial). Any reasonably smart person can hold 120 connections in their head and can thus feel some comfort in understanding how the dynamics of five people will result in decision making.

But if you simply double the number of people to 10, you increase the number of connections to 3,628,800 (ten factorial). And 100 people? We are talking about really large numbers... There is no way for the human brain to compute the complexity of decision making within these groups, although, Bueno de Mesquita points out, this is a very good task for computers.

The implications for management methodology (and human sociology more generally) are quite interesting -- we develop hierarchical organizations in order to simplify decision making in groups, creating a sufficient efficiency for a given task or activity by limiting the number of inputs into the system or limiting the roles for inputs in order to reduce complexity.

And we grow up in our societies intensely internalizing this sense about the limits of complexity because everything we want to do requires either this notion of small groups or hierarchy which compartmentalizes the type or ability for individuals to contribute to those decisions.

But computers introduced into these systems fundamentally change what is possible in a way which is alien to our internalized understanding of how these systems work. Suddenly with the mediation of computers, significantly larger groups of peers can co-produce information, decisions, insights, etc than we have ever experienced in our non-computer-mediated past.

Understanding how the computer changes who we are as human beings and how its use changes what our societies are capable of will be an essential part of overcoming this reactionary distrust of the emergent properties of these systems.

Monday, April 13, 2009

OSU Researcher Discovers Dorks

UPDATE: Aryn Karpinski is a completely nice and very reasonable person. Shame on me for being so snarky. She actually tracked me down and phoned me (and emailed me) in order to tell her side of the story. She starts "I am a doctoral student, and I am definitely not used to this kind of exposure." And goes on to say that she is completely shocked at the attention she has received for what was a side interest and really is unrelated to the primary focus of her research. "Many things I said in the interview were twisted and manipulated to sound a certain way," she says, and goes on to write in her email
The main thing to remember is that this research is correlational, which the media does not seem to understand (no surprise). I am not saying that Facebook CAUSES poor academic performance. I am saying that the research shows that there is a RELATIONSHIP between Facebook use and academic performance. There are a host of third variables that need to be examined that are potentially influencing this relationship such as personality, work, extracurricular involvement, other distractions, etc. Also, I'm sure that if it wasn't Facebook it would be another distraction. See how they twisted my words? Fun fun...
I have included the full text of her email at the bottom of my original post which I leave as an embarrassment to myself -- I should have started out by trying to reach her.

Original Post:

In brilliant news out of Ohio State University, a "doctoral student" in education at OSU has made the startling discovery that some undergraduates simply lack social skills, also known as being a "dork." In this press release issued by Ohio State (!) researcher Aryn Karpinski further observes that these dorks tend to have a very low participation in social network technologies such as Facebook.

The study found that 85 percent of undergraduates were Facebook users.
Tell me, anyone, why is that critical statistic left out of all of the media coverage of this idiotic study?

One level deeper - there were a total of ONLY 102 UNDERGRADUATES included in the survey. Thus, based on 87 kids with Facebook accounts, and 15 kids without Facebook accounts, and based on their own self-reported GPAs, we can now conclude that, in Aryn's words:
Facebook is a unique phenomenon. It is the equivalent of the difference between getting an A and a B.
Really? Maybe instead we should end with Aryn's own admission, courtesy of the Ohio State press release:
“For me, I think Facebook is a huge distraction,” she said.
As for the graduate students included in the survey I'll simply say Be Careful Not To Get Too Much Education :-)

Aryn's email to me, explaining her research
Mr. Shelton,

Yes! This coverage is a bit overwhelming. I am a doctoral student, and I am definitely not used to this kind of exposure.

Thanks for your interest in the research. As you can see, it has taken on a new life on the web, and I have to tell you that what was reported was sensationalized (The Sunday Times London, who breached the embargo on this research). Many things I said in the interview were twisted and manipulated to sound a certain way, as you guessed.

The main purpose of my study was to explore the demographic composition of a Facebook user at the college level. I also wanted to investigate academic achievement in relation to Facebook use. The major findings were that Facebook users were more likely younger, full-time, undergraduate, and STEM and Business majors (STEM = Statistics, Technology, Engineering, Math, and Medical). Also, Facebook users tended to spend less time in paid work per week, more hours per week in extracurricular activities, and more hours on the Internet daily (not in my poster). I did a MANOVA with Facebook and Student Status (i.e., Undergraduate vs. Graduate) as the factors, and GPA and Hours Spent Studying as the dependent variables. I found that there was not a significant interaction between FB use and student status. This was important to rule out as a confound. As you know, graduate GPAs are typically inflated meaning that it is rare to see a graduate GPA less than 3.5. It was found that there were significant differences between users and nonusers in that users had GPAs in the 3.0 - 3.5 range and also studied in the 1 to 5 hour range per week. Nonusers had GPAs in the 3.5 - 4.0 range and studied 11 to 15 hours per week. These differences were also significant in each individual population (i.e., in the separate undergraduate and graduate populations; p < .001 for both). Which, again, this is an interesting finding because graduate GPAs rarely are that low.

The main thing to remember is that this research is correlational, which the media does not seem to understand (no surprise). I am not saying that Facebook CAUSES poor academic performance. I am saying that the research shows that there is a RELATIONSHIP between Facebook use and academic performance. There are a host of third variables that need to be examined that are potentially influencing this relationship such as personality, work, extracurricular involvement, other distractions, etc. Also, I'm sure that if it wasn't Facebook it would be another distraction. See how they twisted my words? Fun fun... Also, it's not clear what it tells us even if you do find a correlation between Facebook use and grades. One could easily argue that the latter predicts the former not the other way around (i.e., those who tend to get worse grades end up spending more time on Facebook).

I am fully aware of the limitations of my study, and merely want people, personnel at universities, researchers, parents, and students to think about this intricate relationship.

A little background on the side, this is not even my dissertation topic! I decided to do this small survey study just to get impressions and explore this area. I quickly did a poster for the conference, along with reading as much literature as possible. This is not my specialization or expertise. I am really just interested in this for fun, and plan to work on this on the side. There are many more qualified professors and individuals than me to speak on this matter. I just wanted to acknowledge this and let you know that I am learning along with everyone else.

Anyways, I would love to hear your thoughts. I am presenting this at AERA on Thursday in San Diego. If I can help out with anything else, please let me know. Thank you and talk to you soon!


Aryn Karpinski
I advised her to be continue to be proactive and reach out to people on twitter and on blogs to tell her side of the story -- the same advice I would give to a client of The Conversation Group caught up in a similar media maelstrom. The best way to smack down idiots like me is to be gracious, entirely reasonable and authentic, as Aryn definitely was.

London Interview

The following is an edited transcription of an interview I gave to Hugh Mason in London back in January of this year. As we were talking in a bar over a few pints of beer, the transcript wasn't entirely clear -- from the background noise, not the beer! But the conversation ranges over a number of topics I have written about elsewhere about what brands need to be doing to adapt to the social marketing imperatives of our new mass connected media environment.

I have kept the back and forth format of the interview and in most cases simply deleted confusing sections rather than trying to correct them -- in a couple of cases this may seem like I am not answering Hugh's questions... and maybe I didn't :-)

Hugh Mason: OK, so it's the 4th of January. I am with Ted Shelton who is Chief Executive of The Conversation Group. Ted, people are interested in the concept of conversation. There are plenty of websites, there are plenty of blogs, there are plenty of podcasts out there talking about what conversational marketing is. Can you give us your kind of 30 second elevator pitch?

Ted Shelton: Conversation is a dynamic between members of a marketplace about the things that are important to that marketplace - so it could be two customers or it could be a customer and a member of the company, it could be a customer and an analyst, a customer and an investor, investor and... Any two participants in a marketplace can be having a conversation about something that's relevant to that market.

Hugh: So that sounds pretty conventional, so this concept of conversational marketing – why is that a new concept?

Ted: Well, actually, sorry, so I actually hate the phrase conversational marketing. The phrase conversational marketing was invented by Peter Hirshberg when we were trying to sell advertising on the Technorati website and - so the idea was, gee, we need to sell ads on this thing that aggregates conversation in a way that it's relevant to brand. The brand sponsors that aggregation and so we'll aggregate the conversation and call that conversational marketing because it creates a value for the community while drawing attention to the brand. It's not entirely a bankrupt concept but in the end, it's very stupid. In the end, it's not what brands need to do in order to be successful in engaging with their markets.

Hugh: That makes complete sense. If we can re-wind this several levels, something that I have heard you say goes back to the history of the way human beings talk to each other. That what some of the social media technologies we've suddenly become expert in the last few years is actually re-invention of something very ancient about the way the people talked to each other. Can you tell us about that?

Ted: I don't think it's a re-invention. It is a re-insertion of a persistent human pattern of behavior into the mainstream of a intention in transactions. So, if you look at transactions before the industrial world, the way in which people came to decision about a transaction they might enter into of virtually any kind was through a consultation with people who that person felt were peers or trusted. It could be that they were experts, it could be that they've had authority but those people were known to the person entering into the transaction.

It was really an interesting aberration of the 20th century that we enter into transactions based upon an intuitive sense of what our peers might want us to believe about a given product -- a sense being created by advertising. I think the way this probably can be understood best is to look back at the beginnings of advertising, for example here in England, the place where the industrial era took off. This was one of the first places where goods could be mass manufactured and sold in a region much larger than the producers had a personal reputation. The way in which a producer would reassure a customer about a product would be through say the endorsement of royalty, "this is the queen's butter." So the queen says this is good butter and even if I live miles and miles away from London, I can trust that it's good butter because the queen says it's good butter. So advertising sort of kicks off from there. You say, gee, what if I take a class of people and employ that class of people to help spread the idea that you will be sexy if you drink Budweiser or at least that you get to hang out with sexy girls. So that can create aspiration, a sense of association with a peer group that I want to participate in, and then maybe I'll buy the product.

The thing about the Internet is that, by entirely disrupting the one-way communication model of mass media, you fracture the ability of a message broadcaster to control the definition of the aspiration and so suddenly, you have all these kids talking to each other and saying "this is really stupid that the beer company says that if you drink beer you can be with sexy girls because sexy girls think that beer is stupid." The beer company is trying to manipulate you and when this becomes apparent through peer discussion the advertising becomes ridiculous.

Hugh: So the Internet is allowing us to be more authentic, more real?

Ted: It's not that we are more authentic or more real. I would argue that the internet just allows us to express our authenticity in a public form. I think a really good example of this is the way in which customer service has gone from being a private act to a public act. So when you had a problem with your cell phone provider and you called up the cell phone company, you had a private interaction with the customer service department of a cell phone company on the phone. So you might have been very authentic and very real but it was a private act of authenticity instead of a public act. Today when you have a bad experience with a company, you write about it on your blog or you twitter or in many many other ways it becomes a public knowledge.

So if you think about the way in which knowledge is shared between individuals, if lots of people have the same experience but don't have any connection to each other, you have shared separate knowledge of the experience and it doesn't ever actually provoke any of those individuals to take further action but if then you make those private acts public and so, you have shared knowledge which is then mutual knowledge so that each participant in a transaction knows that every other participant is experiencing the same problem, then you actually engage people to take things to the next step to say, well, let's organize against this cell phone company.

There are already examples where individuals might say, you know what, I'm really mad at the government but if I know this only in isolation, then I might not do anything. But when it becomes mutual knowledge that I and all of my neighbors are all mad at the government, then we might as a group of people organize to do something. That's the incredible power of the Internet that it actually takes things which could be shared knowledge but is shared private knowledge and makes them mutual knowledge.

Hugh: You've given some examples of negative experience with customer services. Are there positive experiences too, other examples that you've come across where a community working together having a conversation that might have been private but is now public and shared, has created something new, has been a positive thing? Is this always a kind of combative dynamic?

Ted: Sure like Linux. I think it's easy to come up with the examples that are well recognized examples of collaborative or collective intelligence. When you look at Wikipedia for example. Yeah, Wikipedia. So certainly the broadest known example you can - even probably more than Linux. Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia tells a great story (TED talk - Jimmy Wales on the Birth of Wikipedia) about how at one point in the evolution of Wikipedia, a group of skin heads had decided that they were going to deface pages related to African-American History. But it's very hard to keep secrets online and so people within the Wikipedia community become aware that these bad actors were trying to organize and, according to their own accounts, 20,000 skinheads were going to all descend upon Wikipedia at the same moment to try to deface the site. Of course, as Jimmy Wales says, one of the things that is always true about fringe groups is that they always think that they have 20,000 people but really actually are a couple of hundred people. But what was fascinating was that the community having been alerted to this dynamic, when the attack actually came, there was a large number of people undoing the vandalism. So these people had done enormous amount of work, hours and hours of creating false entries to defame people like Martin Luther King. They came and they had uploaded these changes and within seconds, these changes were reverted and so what took this sort of attempted organized opposition to the mainstream collectively 100s of hours to create could be undone in seconds by the broader community working together. And so that's actually I think an example of how Wikipedia rises above the possibility of vandals or bad actors. There are certainly examples where things have been created or changed that persist for days or weeks or months but ultimately, Wikipedia and mostly well functioning social communities are self moderating and so not only do they get created through the good will but they are also protected.

Hugh: Can you give us a sense in terms of if I were a brand, how does all this dynamic work? I'm thinking of some kind of established consumer brand, how does this stuff affect me. Is it purely in terms of the way I do my marketing or is there broader impact?

Ted: Well, there is a thought provoking metaphor that Jeremy Bullmore wrote about a few years ago. He wrote an article about how brands are not about the head but about the heart, and hence what people feel about the brand won't change overnight. People's definition of brand builds over time -- he likened it to a bird building a nest - a bird will take a twig here and a piece of string from there and slowly build it up and the nest becomes a very stable object which is hard to change. In the 20th century, brands and marketers could assume that most of those twigs and pieces of string were somehow under the influence of the brand -- they could buy advertising, they can control experience in a store with a product, they can influence perception through communications and so most of the touch points for the consumer building that brand nest would be influenced, if not controlled, by the brand. What's happening today as we all become media -- as the experiences that each of us have with brands are instantaneously being transmitted to our networks -- is that those twigs and those strings are coming from many-many-many more places today and they're coming from our peers. So they are coming from very powerful sources of authority, people that we respect in and can connect with. And so we are building our nest out of materials that the brand has very little control or even influence over and so it really dramatically changes the world for the marketer. The marketer now has to say, gee, it's not about how I use media as a lens through which consumers will perceive my brand but rather how do I actually enable my organization, how do I become a facilitator for my organization to have a genuine and authentic interaction with that audience that creates more compelling engagement, a more compelling sort of, if you will, sticks and straws and strings. That's the world of marketing, entirely dramatically shifting.

Hugh: I'm really interested to explore that on two levels – one in terms of what the impact for an organization that has say brand or a message and I'm also interested to understand how this kind of change in terms of communication is affecting different sectors, different demographics, even different parts of the world. You live in California a very networked place. Here in the UK, there are parts of this country still fairly well at the end of piece of string in terms of broadband, so on. Can you give us a sense of - first of all in terms of the impact or the different sectors that have seen more activity driven in a new direction because of this phenomenon, are there different demographics, are there different phases through which this is going to impact the way that brands have to change and work?

Ted: So I think – in answering your question, the first thing that I would raise is a question back to you and to people that are considering this question -- would you consider Californians an outlier and their behaviors irrelevant to the rest of the world? Or instead, are they early indicators of a behavior that is sweeping through society. I think that what we're seeing happen in the most network active places is a ground zero and that what we're seeing happen in that market is in fact going to sweep through the markets in every industry, in every demographic, in every geography throughout the world as these trends become more widespread -- because I thing the trends are driven by human nature, because they are driven by this core sociology that's wiping out this aberration of the last 50 years of controlled media. So our evolutionary traits are going to win out over that sort of temporary technological state that existed in what we called mass media.

So, as we then look at what these trends are, we say, the trends will be toward more individual participation, more expression of likes, dislikes and more collaboration within communities around both intent to purchase and actual activity - search, aggregate buying or aggregate usage. I think what we'll see is that brands that are going to remain relevant are going to have to be participatory in ways that those communities form their opinions. In order to do so, they actually have to create quality and provide value and be transparent. It will no longer work to have a crappy product. You'll be found out. Crappy products will rapidly – the news of a crappy product rapidly spreads within a community and customers will trend toward quality.

Communities often will have better information than the companies themselves and be more informed about their options and all about the pros and cons of different products. One of the things that I think is really core to our practice is going to companies and saying to them, the most important asset that you have in your company is your own employees because if your employee is doubtful about what you are doing, you need to re-examine what you are doing. If your own employees don't believe in it, then your customers are certainly not going to and when you customers become the most important proactive voice in the marketplace, for or against your value proposition, then you fundamentally have to listen to the advice of the customer in a way that today we give a lip service to but have not ever fully committed to. So your employees become the test bed, if your employees believe in what you're doing, they can then not only validate but become the megaphone to the marketplace. They can be that string for convincing - explaining to a marketplace why the proposition that you offer makes sense, is relevant to particular communities. The role of the marketer then is to really support the customers becoming champions of the value proposition that the company offers.

Hugh: So there is a change due for organizations as well. Can you talk us through what the implications are, it's not a simple question of simply buying in a technology to do a blog, buying in the technology to have a bunch of people talking to customers online on behalf of your brand, but something much more profound here. Can you just talk us through the kind of cultural changes that you've seen organizations having to make?

Ted: Blogs are really interesting for communication, they are very valuable but yes, they are just one part of a much larger communications space that companies need to address. So if you think about the kind of communications human beings have evolved in the real world, we have different communications for different kinds of information. We have a verbal conversation, people chatting over coffee with very short period of value and requiring presence versus a book which can, in the case of Bible, be available and valuable for thousands of years. And everything in between, so you have a variety of forms of persistence. You have a variety of forms of immediacy of the interaction so in some cases, it's really important that people be present together in order for the interaction to occur, in other cases, that doesn't matter at all. And then you have changes in scope of the interaction, so you have conversations you want to have privately, conversations you want to have with a particular group, a larger group, the whole world

So what you need to do is think about the kinds of communications that a brand needs to engage in, according to all this different communications channels. Some channels are about persistent data that needs to exist in the marketplace and somebody from the company doesn't need to be present. Some do require an employee be present. In some cases there is a need to broadcast to the whole world and in some cases the message is just to customers, or just to a specific customer. So the different online technologies that companies use define sufficient space within that communications queue to be able to address set of problems that that particular brand has in explaining and supporting its products at marketplace.

Hugh: So we've got a whole range of thing and what is required. One thing I'm interested to explore is the ways -- OK, you hire a bunch of agencies to do this for you. But that still isn't the end of the story. It doesn't result in changing the culture within organizations, once you start having a conversation that's much more honest. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Ted: Well, so you started out by saying, OK, let's go hire a bunch of agencies who do the communications. I think that the most successful companies are going to be ones where the employees of the company recognize then important part of succeeding in doing their job function within the company is engaging directly with the market, so whether you're developing a product or you are marketing product or selling a product, supporting a product or recruiting employees or all that kinds of things that a company does -- that a part of your job is going to be about having a conversation and having a direct interaction. Agencies can be helpful in educating and supporting organizations but ultimately, organizations have to make this a part of their core mission. So I think it is a lot about the traditional marketer or communicator in an organization becoming the facilitator of the organization.

Nicholas Carr in his book The Big Switch, talks about the electrical grid as an analogy for information technology and he talks about the history of the evolution of electricity in American manufacturing environments as a model for thinking about how IT will actually evolve from corporate center IT departments to services that IT organizations will tap in to the way we might connect with electric grids. And so, one of the things he talks about is the activity gap when electricity was first being installed in manufacturing facilities that were multi-story buildings. They were built that way because that was an efficient way to centralize the distribution of power when power was distributed by belts and pulleys. When electricity came into those factories, they simply tore out the belt and pulleys and replaced it with electrical wires. This really did very little to change productivity within the factories because the source of productivity in the factory was not the type of power. It was the way in which the production was organized and the production was organized in a way that satisfied requirement of power distribution via belts and pulleys but once you were freed from that limitation of belts and pulleys and you could actually design a factory to be on a single level where your products could move in a linear fashion on a single level through that factory. So suddenly something was possible once you have electricity as a way of distributing power and when that was implemented you had an enormous increase in productivity.

I think the Nicholas Carr actually misses the really important story that he actually otherwise is drawing a good parallel to, which is that the means of and systems of production need to be transformed within companies in order to achieve a real productivity increase from this change in information technology. Once you say, IT is about this very distributed connectivity and computational capability, what you're also saying is – I don't have to limit production to being inside my company. I can actually take the production to the market. How can I distribute production – how can I take production and say, hey, you know what? There's a group of people who are actually really smart about this particular aspect of the problem, and they can solve that problem and contribute.

IT technology, like electricity, changes production, in this case, changing it from linear single level (inside a company) to social -- distributed social production that's extremely powerful.

Hugh: So finishing off this conversation and as a proposition, The Conversation Group is not just about implementing a bunch of strategies or advising people on what particular communication channels to implement or whatever, there's a more profound mission, there's a more profound service. That TCG is offering.

Ted: For the chief executive who is considering how his or her business is going to not only remain competitive but rise above the other companies in the fields, the challenge is to not think about what is the incremental improvement. David Cushman has a great example in high jumping. High jumping was a sport in which people ran toward the pole and leaped as far as they could straight up into the air and then kick, put one leg up and then the other over the pole. And then someone came along and backed up to the pole, actually ran up to the pole and turned his back to it and flopped over and was able to achieve a height much beyond any of the people doing. So I think similarly, companies today simply look at incremental improvements in productivity, "how do I get a little bit more a lift."

But they could look at these technologies and say, how do I really transform and create improvements in a non-linear fashion that can allow my company to rise above my competitors. And in every industry, there will be a company that chooses to follow that path and chooses to see these technologies as a way to unleash employee productivity improving morale, improving ingenuity that's coming from those employees and then in turn increasing employee engagement externally with a marketplace... So every CEO in the world needs to be thinking about how can they inspire their organization to seize the opportunity that social technology offers and that's I think the thing that TCG more than anything also is able to help an organization do. We're there to support change agents and providing the understanding, the insights, the best practices, case studies of other organizations and also the really hands-on strategic in which a particular organization can adapt themselves to these new market opportunities.

Hugh: One final question. If I'm a well established marketing agency, why would I consider working with TCG? What would be the attraction for becoming part of this movement and how could I do that?

Ted: As an established marketing organization, you suffer from success. The flaw of any organization, of any person is embedded in their strength. Marketing companies today have had great success with the techniques that made sense in the context of the last 50 years. And they are married to those - that methodology, that process that had been successful. It's very hard for them to un-think, to change the way that they do business. So the most important reason for you as a marketing organization to try, to become a part of the movement with TCG is to really see some daylight, to see what is at the other end of this tunnel.

And the opportunity is to see that the future of marketing is about being the inspirational enablers and leaders of a whole new generation of business people who are going to be deeply engaged with their markets and you can learn how to be that sort of enabler when you work with us.

Hugh: That sounds very inspiring. Ted, thanks for talking to me.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Word of mouth Micro-Case Study

Attention marketers -- the best way to understand how the new "connection" based marketing trumps the old "interrupt" models (as I have written about here in my anti-social marketing post) is to immerse yourself in these new environments and become a part of the new information flow. But here is a shortcut - documentation of a real example.

Step One - introduction to a new product
I follow a number of interesting people whose opinions I respect on Twitter. One of these people is Technorati board member and all around interesting guy Joi Ito (@joi on Twitter). Yesterday, while riding home on BART I was glancing through the latest Twitter updates when I saw an enigmatic post from Joi:
You'll either get this or you won't
So I of course clicked on the link. Joi had linked to a band page for I Fight Dragons on the new music discovery site The Sixty One.

Step Two: Becoming Engaged
The site is full of accolades for this fascinating band from Chicago. Having lived in Chicago for 10 years (and having discovered some great bands while living there) I was immediately intrigued and the more I read about them the more interested in their music I became. While Joi was the trigger for discovery, the fan generated comments and descriptions of the band and their music was what got me really interested in learning more. In addition to comments and links to YouTube videos, The Sixty One streams samples of the band's music while you are reading about them.

Step Three: Transaction
Making the step to being interested to buying music from the band was of course just one click away via Apple iTunes -- and my total financial exposure was $0.99 for a single song -- a low cost to try out the band's music as a part of my running mix.

So in the space of one ride on BART I was exposed to a new band and bought their music, all as the result of an introduction through my social network. Read Seth Godin's post "First, ten" for more on how a small number of fans is all you need to make your great product succeed. And if you don't have a great product? Go back to the drawing board until you do have one. And stop interrupting me, I am busy listening to I Fight Dragons.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Social Data Revolution Interview

Andreas Weigend interviews me for his video series on the "Social Data Revolution" following a class that he asked me to attend as a guest lecturer at the Berkeley Haas Graduate School of Business.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Defining Viral Marketing

I am so tired of hearing the word "viral" -- especially in the context of a sentence like this one: "We need a viral video - can you help us create one?" Or like this one "do you do viral marketing campaigns?"

Now I am sure that I know what people mean when they say these things. They mean, can I spend a little money to create some content with my brand name all over it, and then get that content viewed by millions of people for free? In other words, can I fundamentally change the attention/cost equation of reaching my market with my brand message?

In order to understand why this is fundamentally the wrong question, it is worthwhile to go back to the original idea of online "viral" marketing, understand what a virus is (and thus why this phrase was introduced), and then address what companies CAN do to achieve that objective -- fundamentally changing the attention/cost equation...

So lets turn the clock back to July of 1996 when an innovative web company was introduced and then really began to take off, showing the kind of exponential growth that Internet sites are now famous for achieving. The company was Hotmail. Tim Draper, one of the company's investors, attributed the success of HotMail to something he called "viral marketing," specifically referring to "...Hotmail's e-mail practice of appending advertising for itself in outgoing mail from their users."

This to me is a much more useful definition of viral marketing than the more general usage of individuals proactively passing a piece of advertising around amongst themselves -- it gets at the heart of why it works.

So WHAT is a virus? A virus, as Wikipedia so helpfully tells us, is
a sub-microscopic infectious agent that is unable to grow or reproduce outside a host cell.
In the case of Hotmail, the host cell was an email message. The infectious agent was a tagline at the bottom of the message which said something like "get a Hotmail account for yourself" -- that is, a call to action to get this free web-based email service.

Why is this important? Because the thing which Hotmail was doing was NOT the virus, the virus was something users of the service passed along to each other unintentionally through using the service.

Which brings me back to how companies need to think about viral marketing -- the starting point is to determine what value the company can create for its target market. After determining what valuable contribution to this market the company can make, then the company can design a virus to be implanted within that host which does the work of spreading the company's message.

Please - stop with the "make me a viral video" - and start really creating value for your markets. You'll find that when you do you earn awareness, then attention, then respect. And you'll succeed in fundamentally changing the attention/cost equation of reaching your market with your brand message.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Temples to Brand

Peter Hirshberg follows the brilliant Steve Hayden (Vice-Chairman, Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide) through a Macintosh and a Mac Cosmetics store in New York city -- Hayden comments on why these two "temples to brands" work so well to convey their brand's promise to their markets...

MAC v. Mac v2 from peter hirshberg on Vimeo.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Replacing ANTI-Social Marketing (part 2 of 2)

(Part 2 on the replacement of anti-social marketing) In the developed world, and increasingly throughout the population of the emerging economies, we now have a mass-connected social information space. This is in contrast to the one-way broadcast information space which was the dominant model of the past century. That mass media model, of course, replaced local community information networks (word of mouth) as the primary way that we learn about our world. In doing so it allowed people to have a broader view of the world and be informed by a much more educated and diverse set of communicators. That is to say, there was a lot of good that mass media brought to communities and individuals by comparison to the local, parochial, and often xenophobic news gathering that we engaged in before mass media.

It is too early to say definitively that the technology which enables a mass-connected social information model has similarly improved upon mass media. I am not an adequate student of history to readily have examples of the critique that may have been made of mass media as it began to transform society. But there are certainly many critiques in our own time of the emerging "social media" from how our society will continue to have adequate watch dogs for various institutions (government, business, etc) to a general dismissal of the vast majority of "non-professional" content as being of low quality.

With respect to the first of these two complaints, the concerns are centered on the economic model which emerged over the past 100 years for supporting investigative reporting, namely advertising. A symbiotic relationship developed in which the high ideals of the fourth estate became dependent upon the corporation, or even the managers of the corporations (a sort of modern second estate). While this symbiotic relationship provided some illusion of independence for the individual journalist, the history of the media business has certainly been rife with examples of complicity between the owners of media and various elements of authority within society.

And so it may be that the coming change in the relationship between "advertiser" and "media" presents a similar opportunity for improvement over the old way. While such analysis will come year in the future, one thing we can be sure of today is that the change is upon us and that there are a set of new behaviors (as illustrated in this diagram) in which companies must elect to engage as a replacement for old marketing styles. Each of these deserves (and will get) a blog post of their own in the weeks ahead, so these descriptions are intended to simply introduce each of the three.

Just as the fundamental behavior of the old marketing was interruption, the fundamental behavior of the new one is connection. It is increasingly ineffective to purchase space in broadcast media in order to insert the interruption of a company's marketing message.

image from John Willshire's terrific slide presentation on the future of advertising
Instead companies, and more importantly, their employees need to connect in meaningful, interesting, and authentic ways with their markets. And companies need to facilitate connections between their employees, customers, and prospects. The new information space is governed by the connections that we chose to create. Companies have to earn the right from individuals and communities to be a participant in these networks of connections.

Earning that right requires that companies create a context for the connection which is relevant to the individual or community. Under the old interrupt model, it was quite easy for companies to focus only on their own objectives -- "call now, operators are standing by..." Instead companies need to begin to think about how they create value for the people they want to reach.

Collaboration can take a number of forms - companies can co-create content with their customers, encourage customers to create content, or foster other kinds of collaboration. Where entertainment was an attempt to add value to interruption, collaboration can be an activity which adds value to connection. Collaboration can engage companies with their markets around new product development, marketing a product, selling a product, or extending a product experience through some new activity related to the product. Starbucks, for example, asks people to work together and with the company to develop ideas that improve their stores. Cadbury created Jivebrow09 in order to invite fans of their chocolates to create new versions of their television advertisement. And Lego has supported a number of independent collaboration communities around its "toy" bricks, including BrickWiki which offers detailed information, all collaboratively created, on building elaborate projects with Legos.

As outlined in part one of this post, one of the key problems when a company seeks to "inform" the marketplace about its own products is the inherent conflict of interest. Why should I believe the company which clearly wants me to buy its products? Instead companies must learn to support customers in finding the information relevant to them about the company and its products. Third party sites such as Yelp, with service reviews or GetSatisfaction with customer service offer interesting examples to companies for how their customers can provide trusted information about them in venues where the companies themselves are also welcome to participate. Taken broadly, any activity a company engages in which supports their customers or prospects in obtaining relevant information is far superior to one in which the company itself tries to authoritatively be the source of that information.

What's next for media?
Throughout these two posts I have looked at the transition from anti-social to social marketing from the perspective of the companies engaging in these marketing activities. But there is of course a really important warning and opportunity for those media companies which have grown up symbiotically with companies. Media companies need to start thinking about how they can help to facilitate connection, collaboration, and support instead of seeing themselves as vehicles for companies interruptions.

A media experience that contains interruptions will be worth less than one that does not. And a media experience that connects its readers/viewers/listeners is one that will be worth more than one that does not.

The magic here is for the media to start thinking of themselves as being facilitators of community -- of being a part of the mass connections that are bringing us all together online. In doing so they could become enormously valuable intermediaries in the activities of companies to engage with their markets.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Replacing ANTI-Social Marketing

For most of the twentieth century and even through the first decade of the twenty-first, marketing has been anti-social. The three primary modalities of advertising have been Interruption, Entertainment, and Information. While these methods were effective in a one-way mass media world, they are failing in a mass-connected social world. It is time that marketers learn to replace these anti-social marketing methods with three new social modalities - connection, collaboration, and support.

Before I explain how the new approaches can replace the old, it may be useful to once again explain why the old approaches are failing and are anti-social, even in a dictionary definition way,
Antagonistic toward or disrespectful of others; rude.
Eric Clemons, Professor of Operations and Information Management at the Wharton School of UPenn offered this very interesting article on Techcrunch, "Why Advertising is Failing on the Internet" and Doc Searls followed up with "After the Advertising Bubble Bursts." A pleasant half hour can also be spent on John Willshire's "The Future of Advertising in One Afternoon" (available as an easy to skim slide deck).

What all of them are talking about is that the transition from a one-way broadcast media to a deeply interconnected two way communications medium is, to use Clemons' word, shattering advertising. Ultimately the goal of the three strategies of interruption, entertainment, and information is the same -- get attention for a company's brand, product, or service. The common theme here is that companies must now work to earn attention through the social communications medium as opposed to being able to simply buy attention from the control points in the old mass media model.


For awhile now the old ideas of interruption marketing have been receiving challenges. Seth Godin offers a great description of the underlying problem of interruption in his book Permission Marketing and nicely summarized in this short essay by Angelo Fernando entitled "So Interruption Marketing Isn't Working"
Let’s say you’ve gone to the airport early morning. Someone walks up to you, and asks you directions to a gate you’re not familiar with. Since you have time to spare, and don’t mind the interruption, you try to help the person out.

Now imagine it’s later in the day at the same airport. You’re late for your flight, and someone asks you the same question. Will you give him the same attention? Finally, a third scenario: You’re late for the flight, the airport is crowded, and this is the fourth person to ask you the same question. What are the chances you will pay any attention at all? You’re probably going to even develop a strategy for avoiding further interruptions –not making eye contact, brushing them off, refusing to help.
This is the simple case - information overload or "smog" - as a reason that interruptions are not working. So many interruptions are competing for our attention that we have developed strategies for avoiding them. But there is something else happening here as well, something deeply anti-social.

When advertising was presented as part of the one-way stream of information arriving on our porches, radios, or televisions we accepted that advertising as a part of the total experience of the medium. But once the medium for information becomes two-way, interruption advertising becomes disrespectful or even rude. Imagine yourself in a conversation with another person:
You: How did you like that episode of Heroes?

Friend: It was great I really liked the special effects

--interruption-- Buy Heroes T-Shirts NOW --interruption--

You: Anyway, as I was saying...
This conversational example is an anecdotal way to illustrate what happens when the directed engaged communicating online user is interrupted with advertising - even when it is "contextual." To expand on this illustration, consider two shifts at work here that contribute to the downfall of interruption --

(1) Freedom of Choice -- more and more information sources are emerging which have the relevant information that we may want. Sources which are free of interruption and easy to navigate will be preferred over sources which are choked with interruptions. In addition, we have an increasing array of strategies to eliminate the interruptions from the information we consume - Tivo, pop-up blockers, etc. This expansion of choice also leads to the second shift...

(2) Seek vs. Browse -- when we received a bundle of information which happened to include advertising, we would browse through all of it and select that which was most interesting (sometimes even advertising). Now an increasing amount of our media diet is search-originated and it is much more difficult (and unfriendly) to interrupt someone when they are pursuing information in a directed mode. Even how we browse is shifting with more of it happening in social spaces in which we are browsing what our friends are doing, thinking, watching, reading. Learning about something interesting to read from a friend is a much more difficult (and unfriendly) mode of behavior to insert interruptions.

Interruption, the corner stone of the advertising industry, is "shattering."


When is an interruption not an interruption? When it makes us laugh? When it is art? Although not everyone can agree on what is funny, or what is art, or (more broadly) what is entertaining, a stand-by of the advertising industry to rise above simple annoyance has been to create advertisements which in some way entertain.

And sure, the "bud - weis - er" frogs were amusing. The first time. Which is why the company has had to run thousands of different "funny" advertisements over the past few years -- once a particular punch line has been laughed at, it's time to move on to the next one. Very few "entertaining" advertisements are as entertaining the second, third, or fourth time we see them.

And this may not be the biggest problem with entertainment as a method of advertising. The biggest problem is more likely to be -- does it even work? Do people watching an entertaining advertisement actually remember what brand was associated? And if they do remember, is the association positive or (as in the recent case of the Superbowl ad) can you actually do damage to your brand?

The core problem is that the "entertainment" is probably not core to the brand value. So while a scantily clad woman may get attention, it doesn't actually communicate anything related to running say, an Internet service (as in the case of

Obviously entertainment products can be a lot more successful using entertainment as a building block for an interrupting advertisement. A snippet of a song, for a singer. The movie trailer. Any excerpted material from an entertainment product can itself be entertaining as well as remaining core to the brand value -- sometimes the trailer IS the core value and is better than them movie itself!

But leaving aside entertainment products, why should a beer company, an auto manufacturer, or an accounting firm use entertainment as the content of a strategy for getting people's attention? Because it is less irritating than an interruption that doesn't entertain?


Finally, the last of the core modalities of twentieth century advertising - provide people with information. What a great idea. People need information and companies can be the source. Want to buy a new Ford Taurus? Get all the facts at or should you? Why would you trust the company that wants to sell you the car to give you honest information about the car? According to Edelman's "10th Annual Trust Barometer"
Trust in corporate communications like press releases, reports and emails fell to 26% from 38%; a company's own Web site to 24% from 31%; and corporate or product advertising to 13% from 20% among informed publics ages 35 to 64 in 18 countries. (emphasis added)
Just 13% of people "trust" advertising. And you can expect that this 13% is the most trusting of any communications from anyone -- not the best audience on which to build your business strategy.

Of course the other problem with information based advertising is getting it to the right person at the right time. While I may be interested in price information on a new car when I am making a purchase decision, I am definitely not interested in such information a month after my purchase. Search engine marketing is the one place where an advertiser has a high likelihood of success in placing information in front of a potential customer at the moment of interest, and for this reason it is, so far, an enormously successful advertising medium.

But given a choice between information from a peer and information from a company, there is no doubt (as Edelman's survey shows) that people will chose to heed information from a peer when making a purchase decision.

Even advertising as information fails when social communications reaches critical mass and exceeds one-way broadcast as the way in which we gather knowledge and entertainment.

Next post -- How the new will replace the old - connection, collaboration, and support.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Facebook Missed the Whale (and it's OK)

UK blogger (and deep thinker) Chris Thorpe writes on his blog jaggeree "Why Facebook Shouldn't be Twitter" opening with a tweet from Tim O'Reilly
FB redesign also shows the danger of paying too much attention to competition, instead of thinking more deeply what you are about. It's hard
As Chris writes, "...he’s nailed it again" and I'd have to agree. Chris goes on to provide some good thoughts on why the "activity stream" that Facebook had served a quite different purpose from the "status stream" of Twitter. In particular he highlights the difference between these two different "communities" of people which helpfully points out why the two different design patterns work well for the way in which those separate communities work. All of which sort of explains my sense of loss every time I look at the new Facebook page and don't see my activity stream.

Expect a lot more of that over the coming days and weeks - and expect the activity stream to return in some form. Facebook is looking over its shoulder and worrying that they are missing out on new ideas like Twitter - and perhaps they are irritated that puny little Twitter turned down their acquisition offer. But most importantly they are looking at an engagement model that may become more compelling than their own for constant connected repeat usage.

Which gives me an excellent opportunity to revisit one of my favorite topics over the last 10 years - how we are slowly building up a set of online communications tools to support all of the different modalities of communications we have in the physical world. Its also a good follow up to my April 2007 post in which I first attempted to explain Twitter.

Looking at the graph to the right, you can see my attempt to more visually explain the idea from that past article of "Presence, Scope, and Permanence" as defining the three axis of a communications cube that we operate within. From that earlier article, here is a more complete description of these axis:
Is it necessary for the participants in the communication to be present at the time the communication is created? For example if you are taking a class, you need to be present in the classroom to get value from the lecture. But you can read a book thousands of years after it was written. The recipient must be present to receive the lecture but is usually not present when a book is written. Similarly, a phone call is a synchronous form of communications -- both speaker and listener must be present. Voice mail is asynchronous -- the listener need not be present at the time the recording is made and the speaker need not be present at the time of listening.

Classrooms engage a defined group of people in a conversation, newspapers engage an undefined group, a phone call typically involves just two people. Scope is about the number of people involved, the relationship between those people, and the privacy of the communication.

Information has a shelf life (or even a half life). Some information is valuable for thousands of years, other information is valuable for only a moment.
Each of these two different communications tools - Twitter and Facebook - fit into different (albeit adjacent) section of the cube. But they are NOT the same -- and the successful design pattern for each will be quite different. In fact, the only axis in which the two clearly share an edge is Permanence -- and even here, Twitter is now being used in ways which might actually move at least a part of their database toward more permanence, whereas Facebook (or at least the old activity streams) are very much about ephemera. Not that Twitter isn't mostly also ephemera (or what Chris calls "nowish" linking to this great visualization on Flickr by moleitau). But there are aspects of how Twitter is being used which can usefully be searched meaning that they have retrospective value.

But along the other two axis - Scope and Presence - the Facebook activity streams and Twitter status updates clearly play(ed) different roles. The reciprocal nature of Facebook meant that you were really only talking to your friends, whereas on Twitter you might be talking to friends, stalkers, the Federal Justice Department -- of course you could control access, but the design pattern didn't make that an attractive usage. And on Presence, Twitter existed as a stream with most tweets being relevant if you were near-immediately present, whereas a Facebook activity update remained a prominent part of a user's profile for as long as that user left it there.

In considering this analysis that I have presented, please do not rely solely on the user experience offered by the two companies, but consider instead the larger user experience created by the communities. In the case of Twitter in particular, look at the 100+ products that have been built around this "message bus" for how people are really using the service.

All of this is why in the end there really are two different businesses here and Facebook will migrate back toward activity streams and someone else will have to challenge Twitter for the status update business. The strategy that Facebook has been following of trying to absorb every part of the communications cube is flawed - the strong anchor for them is SCOPE - this is about reciprocal relationships. For Twitter it is PERMANENCE - this is about ephemera and occasionally about how that ephemera is transmuted into something more permanent because in aggregate it teaches us something new.