Thinking Blogging by a Thinking Blogger

I can remember how excited I was when I received my very first link to this blog. It was as if I had made a new friend on the other side of the planet. And I know that many others continue to feel this excitement — the joy of connection, a meeting of minds or a discussion in the offing.

So today I was excited to see a link from the very clever Mark Hancock (who has exceptional taste in guitars) nominating me as a "thinking blogger". He says some very kind words and makes me sound way smarter than I really am. But now, as a thinking blogger, I am now entitled to nominate five bloggers who drive me crazy with their powerful minds make me think.

The way it works apparently is as follows:

  1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think
  2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme
  3. Optional: Proudly display the ‘Thinking Blogger Award’ with a link to the post that you wrote


So, my nominations go to:

  • Leigh Himel — Must have a brain the size of the ecosystems that she writes about. Even a cursory glance can humble.
  • Robyn McMaster — Goes deep into the brain to explain how logic and emotion works works scientifically. Take a look at what she says about the colour of your blog!
  • Jen Stumbles — If you need a dose of insight then you can’t go past the Innovation Feeder.
  • Tim Longhurst — Because those good looks and long eyelashes dazzle you while his brain run rings around your ideas.
  • Darren Herman — Because he sent me a link to his blog today and I found this great post on the Expectation Economy — right when I wasn’t expecting it.

Web Trends in Beta

Iawebtrends Hot on the heels of Ross Dawson’s trend predictions for 2008 comes the IA Web Trends 2008 — in Beta (with thanks to Jen from Innovation Feeder). There are obvious design similarities here (I believe the IA folks from Tokyo were inspired by Ross’ efforts last year), but this map has a different focus. It is more to do with the brands behind the trends, with the trends variously appearing as place names or features.

And one thing I do like is that this is in Beta. That’s right, if you feel that something is missing, you can submit a site for inclusion. I can’t guarantee that your nomination will get in, but there are some big players and some emerging trend makers that seem to be missing. Is there someone or some site you feel deserves a spot?

South Park Yourself

Southpark This is a nice little bit of web fun to break up the marketing heaviness of the last couple of days … SP-Studio allows you to create your very own South Park-style avatar. You can choose a whole range of clothing, style and expression options so that your avatar looks just like you. See the resemblance here? OK this is more Servant of Chaos meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer … but at least I got the bags under my eyes right!

Via Shop Dog Diaries.

Forget Influentials, Embrace the Curious

Yesterday’s post on Influentials generated some great comments and got me thinking (yet again) … and this is where it is going …

Process Over Targeting
In building your marketing/digtial strategy and beginning to execute, the challenge is not in the targeting, but in establishing a transmissable message. It is about creating a flow between participants in the conversation about your brand. As David Reich says, "… if Watts is right about the randomness of who the influentials are, then it’s difficult to accurately target them". This means that focusing on process rather than targeting will allow you to capitalise on network/word of mouth effects as they occur. It makes your message RESILIENT.

Conversation Affects the Network
Mike Arauz raises an interesting point. What happens to the entire network as conversation takes hold? I have no data to back this up, but I have a feeling that by activating the network of weak links that the network itself becomes more susceptible to the trend. This is almost the reverse of a network of influence … it is bottom up. With her interest and expertise in network dynamics, I would love to know what Leigh makes of this idea.

The Curious Are the New Influentials
Again, no data on this, but contagion, or idea spreading (or as Seth Godin would say, "the ideavirus") seems to occur not with the influencers, but with the curious. That is, those individuals who are interested in "things", who seek out, who suspend judgement and criticism — it is "the curious" who are responsible for sparking trends and initiating their broad acceptance. Take a look at this great clip featuring Seth Godin — five minutes of insight thanks to Mark Hancock.

Where does curiosity come from? "Perhaps somewhere beyond my cleverness". I wish I wrote that!

Update: Seth Godin chimes in on Duncan Watts’ article.

The Dream of Influence and the Democracy of Action

Touchgraph Over the last couple of days there has been a rash of conversation, discussion and analysis around the concept of "influence" — driven by the publication of Duncan Watts and Peter Dodds article on Influentials, Networks, and Public Opinion Formation. David Reich points out that the Fast Company article, Is the Tipping Point Toast, offers a little more context on Duncan Watts and his area of research; and this great post by Noah Brier drills down into the concepts even further.

Basically, Watts and Dodds are challenging the notion that influentials ("a minority of individuals who influence an exceptional number of their peers") are important to the formation of public opinion. This flies in the face of accepted marketing theory and the popularity of The Tipping Point. It also challenges the notion that marketers have of influence — and the way in which this notion of influence makes our lives easier. After all, it helps us target our messaging, our communication and our schmoozing efforts. This is why we dream of influence — it is aspirational. As marketers we like to feel that we have a finger on the pulse of society … but what happens when that pulse flatlines — or simply proves to be a phantom?

Late last year I wrote about the strength of weak ties. This fascinates me. The findings of Mark Granovetter’s research into social networks demonstrated that it is the WEAK ties that lead to action. If this is the case, then influence may only play an important role in the very early stages of branding efforts — to facilitate AWARENESS. But as consumers begin to engage with the brand messaging and various forms of communication, it appears that the power of the social network lies not in the level of influence of any select group but in the susceptibility of the audience to contagion.

Why is this relevant? Because on some level, our role as marketers, strategists or activists is not simply to raise awareness. Our job is to change the way that people think, or act — we want to prompt a change in perception or in behaviour. As marketers then, perhaps our best efforts — and probably our strongest DIGITAL STRATEGY lies in activating the weak links and leaving influence to the mass/traditional media (or to those bloggers who have mass audiences).

It is the democracy of action that drives much of my interest in social media … take a look at what is hot on YouTube or on Technorati. Think about BSP and the way in which a number of people "suddenly" begin writing on a similar topic. It is not the "influentials" who are going to instigate a new trend … they are merely documenting its early rise out of a network of weak links. So while my heart tells me that influencers are important, my head is telling me to go for the gold — and that seems to be quite a turnaround. Now … if only I could model it! 

Brands — Are Bloggers in Your Sights?

Minilarson03 From the outside, the "blogosphere" is a weird, anarchic and slightly self-obsessed world. With over 70 million blogs and countless thousands starting up each day, it is little wonder that most brand managers, marketing directors and CEOs have no idea where to start.

But have you thought about it? Who are these people who write blogs? And how would you respond if a "blogger" contacted you? Do you have a strategy? A policy? Any idea?

Here is how one leading brand responded to an inquiry about their latest ad campaign:

“Unfortunately we are unable to respond to your inquiry because [we do not] … participate with nontraditional media outlets. This practice is in place to allow us to focus on publications that reach our core guest".

Can you guess which brand this is? Have you heard about it already?

To my surprise, this was the response that was sent by Target to Amy Jussel, Executive Director of Shaping Youth. Amy had written to Target protesting about the depiction on their latest billboard — they are, after all, a family brand and one which should have an affinity with organisations such as Shaping Youth. Indeed, Target’s "values" include the following statement:

From national partnerships to local initiatives to our own programs, Target is committed to making our communities better places to live.

This story has now been picked up by the New York Times … and has spread like wildfire. And while the focus of discussion by NYT has been around whether brands should treat bloggers the same as traditional media outlets, there are other things to consider. Amy is not your average blogger — she runs a professional and high profile not-for-profit organisation. She is a parent and she is a regular patron of Target. Before this episode, there was clear a affinity between Amy, Shaping Youth and the Target brand. But the actions (or non-actions) of one of Target’s employees (or PR team) has had an amplified reaction. What could have been done better. Let’s take a look:

  • Keep it real: Clearly Target has a digital/social media strategy of some sort. They have done some high profile work with Facebook and have amassed over 20,000 members to their group — so clearly the response was not completely honest.
  • Quick research: In the time it takes to send a form response to an inquiry, you can easily do a search on the domain, the blog or the profile of the person writing in. In Amy’s case, Shaping Youth clearly appears at the top of a Google search with the following description — "Shaping Youth is a consortium of media and marketing professionals concerned about harmful media messages to children". A moment’s research can help guide your response.
  • Blog it for free: Time and time again, companies ask whether they should blog or not. Clearly a consumer brand could actively use a blog to engage, converse and discuss a range of topics. A blog would have provided a space for this discussion and would have allowed them to enter this conversation in a more natural and harmonious way.

For brands, the question might be "are bloggers in your sights"? The reverse is certainly true — brands are in the sights of bloggers. And while one blogger acting alone may have limited impact, en-masse, it is a very different ball game. Perhaps Target could benefit from the social media insight and skills of Mack Collier, Drew McLellan or Christina Kerley.

What do you think? Is TargetGate a parallel to Dell Hell?

The Carnival of Content

When I first started blogging I remember reading about blog carnivals — those group writing projects based on a set topic. Carnivals are hosted by an organiser, with contributors from all over the world submitting an overview and a URL to their post. They are a great way of discovering new blogs, interesting topics and writers who share your same passions. In many ways, The Age of Conversation book was a type of carnival.

Because carnivals are focused around a topic, they draw writers across a range of categories. This allows participating writers to be introduced to a readership that is outside of their normal stomping ground. This is important as it allows you to be influenced by ideas outside of your own sphere of influence but also opens the door for you to grow your readership.

For example, when I participated in a carnival a long time ago, I met Julia Dorofeeva who writes a dating blog. At first I couldn’t see the connection, but Julia’s thoughtful comments and analysis soon changed that.

So, how do you get started with carnivals? Sue Bride has a great post listing all the blog carnivals that you can participate in. If you are new to blogging, or want to immerse yourself in a whole new world of content, check out Sue’s list and get writing.

How Do They Do It?

Trophy Cupcake Holiday Cupcake
Originally uploaded by cakespy

There are some bloggers that continuously amaze me with their content, thinking and energy. Just when I think that I cannot write anything more or spend any more time writing (most of my blogging is done late at night), I will find some piece of inspiration that gets my brain ticking over and my fingers tap, tap tapping.

Inspired by this post by Kris Hoet, my nominations are:

Meg Tsiamis — not only does she run her own blog and the Top 100 List of Australian Blogs, Meg also runs her own business, looks after her family and is one of the driving forces behind the Aussie Bloggers Forum.

TempAdventure — Jen’s blog is an explosion of ideas and analysis. If you are in need of a tasty snack, the Innovation Feeder is your perfect destination.

The Kaiser — if you have not visited Marcus’ site, then you are missing out on one of the most creative voices in the blogosphere. Through his personas, Marcus takes us on a whirlwind journey of the digital landscape, showing us its humour, bleakness and possibility. Never afraid of an argument, this is strategy+execution at its best.

Mack Collier — another who never stops delivering the spark of imagination, "Mr Community" keeps many of us on the straight and narrow. Want a balanced view of your blog? Want some insight into the social media impact of a campaign? Mack always seems to be able to articulate what many of us think, but can’t quite express in words. Oh, and he created and maintains the benchmark by which all other marketing blog ranking lists measure themselves.

Who’s Next?
Feel free to join in this meme or leave a comment. Who are YOU amazed by? I always love finding a new blog or two!

My Media Week

Originally uploaded by printzerostudios

Neil Perkin tagged my on this interesting meme — which asks us to look at our media consumption over the past week. So, let’s take a look at what I ate, drank and osmosed over the last week:

I have been snack-reading a number of books for the last month or so. I am previewing Michael Port’s new book which is good so far (but I am yet to get into the meat). I have John Grant’s Brand Innovation Manifesto by my desk and I am now searching around for a new novel to read (though I am on a Ned Kelly kick at the moment so I may go back and re-read Peter Carey’s brilliant story.

Like Asi I have been digesting a lot of excellent blogging via a feed reader yet feeling like I am missing out on the main meal. There is nothing like context to make you feel more satisfied.

Last night I saw Stardust which I loved — especially de Niro’s astonishingly flamboyant pirate captain. And if you are in the mood for some great Australian drama with a twist, check out Clubland. Top stuff from a great cast.

On TV, I am watching Jam & Jerusalem and The Bill and anxiously awaiting the end of the summer go-slow.

I am loving Missy Higgins’ new album and Miss Connie ‘s awesome vocals for the Sneaky Sound System. You can check out my other musical tastes and interests here.

Next Up
Next up on this meme, I tag the Hostess with the Mostest, CK, Stan (though I don’t know if he participates in memes), Jayne, Sharon, Diana and Jen. Looking forward to it!