What’s Your Story. Here’s Mine

090206 - Coffee Mornings - 14A while back, Ian Kath and I got together for a chat. He is an interesting fellow and has a true curiosity for the people that he meets – which is just as well, as he produces the YourStoryPodcast series.

His website and iTunes catalogue now contains well over thirty podcasts and covers meetings with people from all over the world. In this podcast, Ian meets with the women behind the Hidden Europe magazine in a cafe in Berlin; while a little closer to home, Ian talks with Andrew Leavold about odd and eccentric DVDs and video recordings. One of my favourite interviews, however, was with Mel Poudroux who shares her personal story and discusses, along the way, tattoos, scarification and what it means to be normal in an abnormal world.

Most recently, Ian took time out from his Sydney trip to talk to me about social media, marketing, innovation and social judgement. Hope you enjoy it. I did.

Join Us in #BlogChat

Last week, Mack Collier (@MackCollier) asked a simple question on Twitter. But because he tagged it – using what is called a “hash tag”, a simple question was transformed into a conversation lasting over a couple of hours. Along the way, people joined the conversation from all over the world. The question that spawned this discussion was simple:

Hash tags are a great way to initiate and follow conversations in Twitter. They allow easy searching on a particular topic, and they also indicate to other participants that a conversation is underway. Often hash tags are used for conference proceedings or TV shows – and of course, anyone can use them.

After the success of last week’s blogchat, Mack has decided to be a little more coordinated. He will be kicking off another round of blogchat today – Sunday at 8pm CST in the US and Midday in Sydney, Australia. However, the idea is to extend the conversation around the globe and across timezones – with folks from Australia joining from 2pm Sydney time and then Stefano Maggi (@stefanomaggi) and more folks from Europe stepping in two hours later.

How to #BlogChat Effectively

  1. Try to follow people who are contributing to the conversation
  2. Make sure to tag your tweets with the hash tag (#blogchat)
  3. Use a tool such as TweetDeck to search the Twitter conversations for the #blogchat tag
  4. If you don’t have TweetDeck, check search.twitter.com for the #blogchat topic

Hope to see you there!

Micro-transactions and Why Twitter Will Transform Your Brand

Oui je sais je suis grave...Over the last three months or so, there has been an amazing upsurge in the use of Twitter. This micro-blogging platform that allows you to broadcast to your personal network (and to the world) in short, 140 character blasts — has been growing at a phenomenal rate over the last 12 months — and seems set to continue its upward climb. In August last year, Mashable reported that Twitter had experienced a 422 percent growth in visitor numbers over the previous year — with 2.3 million web visitors. This, however, does not take into account those who access the service through third party applications such as Twirl or TweetDeck.

Read more on my article on this topic over at iMedia Asia.

A Tribute to A Woman’s Investment

kiva When we look at the vast sea of problems in our world, it can be overwhelming to choose where to focus our efforts. There are calls on our home phones asking for donations, there are emails requesting assistance and there are campaigns, natural disasters and requests closer to home. Many people, confused and perhaps, overwhelmed with choice, do little – or only contribute to good causes when the call is resoundingly strong (as happened recently with the bushfires in the Australian state of Victoria).

But recently, sites like Kiva have emerged with innovative micro-financing models designed to bring entrepreneurs in developing countries together with “micro-investors” – like you and me. And from as little as $25, you can begin to build a portfolio of investments in small businesses that have significant local impacts in communities far from where you live.

Some time ago, I invested a small amount of money with Mrs Lê Thị Sách who needed to raise $825 to purchase pigs and stores for her shop in Vietnam. A number of other people loaned her small amounts of money until the total was reached:

On this second year with TYM, she is applying for a loan of 825 USD to buy breeding pigs and grocery stock to sell. Her 2 children are grown up. She hopes that with this loan, she will be able to increase her revenue so she would be able to help her grand children and repair her house.

This loan is now almost 70% repaid – and the balance is now available in my Kiva account – ready for me to withdraw or reinvest.

And while Kiva is a great way to feel like you can make a difference in a tangible way, other people, like Jasmin Tragas go direct. Some time ago, Jasmin started raising funds for an Opportunity International project in The Philippines. This was an effort she took upon herself and continues to follow through in various ways. She has created eBooks, invited people to purchase beautiful photographs and also begun using ChipIn to raise funds for the project on her blog.

The entrepreneurial poor in the Philippines are an incredible bunch of individuals who are rising up out of poverty and circumstances to develop their small businesses. The small banks and organisations like Opportunity International Australia who provide them with the loans, training and programs are equally doing a wonderful thing by creating opportunities to end the poverty cycle and impact whole communities.

At the moment, and only for a few more days, Australian bloggers can help Jasmin raise $1000 for A Woman’s Investment by writing a tribute blog post like this. Each post written will generate a $100 donation from Incentive House – up to a maximum of $1000. Please help by writing, twittering and even donating via ChippedIn (see Jasmin’s site for inspiration). It’s a great investment that will be repaid many times over.

A Manifesto of Social Media Blame

stay offMike Arauz is one of the most considered bloggers that I read regularly … but he has a bee in his bonnet about the term “social media”. It’s not that he doesn’t love it, it’s that he feels it’s being destroyed or desaturated of meaning. His Passionate Rant About Social Media reads, to me, like a manifesto of social media blame – and there is plenty to share:

I blame everyone who claims to be a social media expert when no one can even begin to imagine what social media is going to become.

I blame everyone who says social media when they really just mean Facebook.

I blame everyone who asks for a social media marketing strategy when they really want a mass-media strategy without having to pay for it.

I blame everyone who treats social media like a game to be won by getting more followers.

I blame the mass media journalists who write and produce story after story about the latest buzzwords without ever bothering to even attempt to understand what the hell they're even talking about.

Take the time to read through the whole post. And then, think about WHY you or your brand is considering social media and then reframe your approach. Consider HOW you might begin to walk a shared desire path with your customers – and then, maybe, you will avoid the blame game altogether.

Reframe, Think Big and Transform – A Lesson From Zeus Jones

I have written before about the great approach to strategy taken by the folks at Zeus Jones (learning to fail – and learning from failure – while often flippantly discussed is much more difficult in practice). But strategy is one thing – what happens when you want to actually transform a situation? What happens if the brief is to change behaviours for the long term? And how do you apply disciplined thinking, creativity and social technologies to large-scale problems – like sustainability?

This presentation by Zeus Jones won the PhizzPop final at the recent SXSW conference. The brief was simple: “Help the citizens of Austin live more sustainably using currently-available technologies.” (I won’t go into details around their response to the brief – you can read about the approach taken here.)

There are some great lessons for planners and creatives alike here:

  • Reframe: rather than offer-up a me-too solution around the issue of sustainability, the fundamental human issues were reconsidered and addressed. This insight-focused approach helped the team to re-think and reframe their approach not around consuming less, but consuming more wisely
  • Think big, not big idea: aim to build or exploit the weak ties between social groups but don’t hammer communities with “the message”. The solution suggested that local, community and city resources could be meshed together to create change that would transform the functions and role of all involved.
  • Transform: Aim your efforts towards transforming BEHAVIOURS so that your messaging, your activation and applications focus on a tangible human action that can (or needs to be) changed for the better.

Zeus Jones Phizzpop SXSW Finale from Zeus Jones on Vimeo.

But perhaps the most exciting thing about this, is that the Zeus Jones folks are thinking about actually APPLYING this approach in their own community. Now, that is awesome.

Mortgage Lenders in Freefall?

As interest rates continue to drop here in Australia, many of us struggle to understand how a decrease in official interest rates are not passed on to borrowers in full. And while there are, no doubt, solid, economic reasons and explanations for this state of affairs, consumers tend to disregard such information, relying instead on emotions and “gut reactions”.

Don't PanicThis places financial services brands in an unenviable situation – not passing on rate cuts risks the ire of their customers – while passing on the reductions would further erode margins and shareholder returns. But as with any crisis, there are also opportunities.

I have looked on with dismay as one bank after another clumsily executes a so-called social media strategy. It has been disappointing because social media is, arguably, the most effective way for financial institutions to combat falling levels of consumer trust – if it is done well, that is. By aligning with its customers’ desire paths, banking brands can begin to experience the benefits that come with social judgement. Thus far, financial institutions have shown little understanding of these social processes – but the latest online campaign from the folks at Amnesia are helping Aussie Home Loans take a STEP in the right direction.

Building on the Aussie Guarantee TV campaign where a mortgage broker jumps from a plane in search of a home owner who needs a better deal, the FreeFall Challenge replaces the TV commercial actor with a real, authentic mortgage broker, Duane Brown. So, come April 6, Duane will be strapping on a parachute and a tandem skydiver and taking to the skies. Where will he land? Well, the answer to that question could win you $3000. In a digital form of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, you have the chance to mark Duane’s landing site on a Google Map.

Knowing Iain MacDonald’s and Heather Snodgrass' fondness for social objects theory, a digital campaign from Amnesia would not be complete without an in-built object. In this case, you can use codes that have been distributed by social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and blogs to improve your chances of winning the $3000 prize (try using ib2lW2). You can also check out Duane’s YouTube channel.

There is much to like in this campaign, but as Tim Burrowes points out in the comments to this article, this is still deploying social media from a channel point of view – with the entry codes acting as a social object designed to bring cohesion to the whole. However, it is, as Joel Pearson suggests, nice to see some experimentation happening – especially in an industry not known for it. Next time it would be great to see the digital and social media folks involved at a strategic level so that there is a greater level of integration.

It’s Not About the Eyeballs, It’s About the Glasses

The changes that we are experiencing in the global economy are clearly challenging the way that we go about the business of branding. Funding is drying up, consumers are driving a range of new approaches to the content we produce and the manner in which we consume it, and agencies struggle to clearly plan and execute engagement strategies that generate tangible returns to their clients.

adtechpanel Even the social networks such as Facebook, MySpace and Bebo and so on continue to frame their conversations around eyeballs, traffic and reach. This myopia seems to have come out of the publishing industry – where social networks have taken and tweaked a publishing business model – but not taken the time to reinvent a market from the ground up.

At the Ad:Tech Sydney social media panel discussion featuring representatives from Friendster, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and Bebo, I asked whether the social networks will continue to aim to be all things to all people, or begin to build their own niches. And while there was no clear answer here – my view is that the challenge for the platforms is to act as a FRAME of reference for their audiences.

I suggested in It’s Not a Filter, It’s a Choice, we are increasingly turning to the people in our social graphs to help us determine the relevance of all types of data circulating around us. In support of this self-segmenting approach, we are also seeking out tools that can augment and extend our social networks in meaningful ways – see Twitter + TweetDeck as one example.

Unfortunately, the real value in these social networks seems to be unrealised by those who own and operate the platforms. As time goes on they all seem destined to  morph into Web 2.0 enabled publishers aiming to sell eyeballs to advertisers without a whiff of deeper engagement. But really, what WE need is not another platform being thrown at a broken business model – we need a platform that will help us FRAME and re-frame the vast sea of knowledge / ideas / innovation and dross that inundates our social graph every day. We need help dealing with the friends, acquaintances, contacts, connections and colleagues who are now intimately aware of our thoughts, activities, actions and reactions. We need help with the complex world of interactions that social networks have created.As Jeff Dachis, founder of Razorfish said at a discussion hosted by David Armano at SXSW:

"I know who my friends are. What's confusing us is how the Web is strengthening our loose ties"

Providing cross-platform identity management, however, means relinquishing the prized user and trend data that the social networks hope will turn into a new river of gold. In my opinion, the time of a classified-driven river of gold has now passed – and will never be again. The new river of riches lies buried there in the conversations, just waiting for the right platform to sieve it the right way.

It’s not the eyeballs, perhaps it’s not even the glasses – but social media is challenging us all to look at this world in a new way. And that can’t be a bad thing.