Telstra’s Three Aahhs

ColossusIt has been over ten years since the Cluetrain Manifesto was published – and in that time, social media has transformed the way in which people communicate with each other online. Sometimes these online conversations are about life or work or politics – and sometimes they are about brands, the things we buy and how we feel about them. But no matter whether this “social” media is used for business or pleasure, rant or rave, it is clear that we increasingly live our lives in public:

You see, in the same way that social media demonstrates that businesses no longer have control over their BRANDS – it also shows that WE no longer have control over our own representations.

So while WE struggle with what we loosely call “privacy” or “reputation”, corporations face similar challenges – having their identities prodded and poked and played with. The big difference, however, is that publishing tools and a raft of technologies have become easier to use allowing individuals to begin using them en masse. And in using them, we (individuals, consumers, employees) have colonised digital spaces well in advance of most corporations, creating whole languages, new jargon and rules of etiquette that would see the Emily Posts of the corporate world feeling rather faint. To thrive and survive in this social space requires corporations to speak like we do – to converse in tones that remind us of the coffee shop, the pub, the town market. The Cluetrain reminds us:

But learning to speak in a human voice is not some trick, nor will corporations convince us they are human with lip service about "listening to customers." They will only sound human when they empower real human beings to speak on their behalf.

It is against this context that corporations begin their process of rehumanising when it comes to social media. It is why they need not just guidelines, but training, re-education and advice. Today, Telstra, Australia’s largest telecommunications company, released its social media guidelines. It is a first step. And judging by the formalistic language used, there is a long and bumpy road ahead.

In my view, such policies should:

  • Be written with a non-legal reader in mind
  • Reflect the culture to which the social media team aspire to
  • Proactively suggests areas in which employees could use social media (eg write about your area of interest and expertise)
  • Remind readers of the basics – spell checkers and re-reading articles are a must
  • Reinforce the common sense approach in a common sense way – “try not to publish anything you wouldn’t want your mum or your kids to read”

On the plus side, Telstra have made the guidelines publicly available. Now, if only they had released them under a Creative Commons license.

Our Lives in Public

Silhouette WhoreThe most pervasive aspect of living in an online, socially connected world is not identity –- but the traces of our identity that we leave with every click of the mouse. For every time we visit a website, download a PDF, leave a comment, buy a song or write a blog post, we leave something of ourselves behind.

In the 1960s, Jacques Derrida described a trace as the “mark of the absence of a presence” – which is precisely what happens to our digital “selves”. We are socially connected, operate in a sense-and-respond mode, exercise social judgement and all the while, leave our presence in places where “we” no longer exist. For all intents and purposes, the social web is Deconstruction made manifest.

I touched on this idea in The Evanescence of Social Media, but it also permeates much of my thinking here around social media, branding and identity. For whether we realise it or not, we increasingly live our lives in public –- over-exposed, unwittingly open, unknowingly tagged, tracked and accounted for -– our fragmented digital identities playing out a larger, uncontrolled version of our selves in a digital Pythagorean twist. You see, in the same way that social media demonstrates that businesses no longer have control over their BRANDS – it also shows that WE no longer have control over our own representations.

Take for instance, the recent examples where people have lost their jobs, been disciplined or otherwise penalised for their actions on social networking sites. As Drew McLellan points out in Who Really Owns Your Social Media Persona?:

One of the uncomfortable truths that social media is hoisting upon us is that the clear separation between our personal and professional lives that most of our parents enjoyed during their careers is now nothing more than an illusion

The problem is not so much that WE inhabit these online networks, but that our traces can be interpreted out of context -– taking on newer realities, being reconstituted and recombined in ways that we did not anticipate. But this also has benefits, even if the risks may be random and powerful. For one thing, it allows for ambient intimacy (a term coined by Leisa Reichelt) – where the reader of a blog post, a Twitter message, Facebook update (or viewer of a Flickr photo or YouTube video) etc interprets this communication as a real-time, in the moment emotional connection. This fosters a sense of knowing and understanding in the reader -– creating the bonds of relationship:

Ambient intimacy is about being able to keep in touch with people with a level of regularity and intimacy that you wouldn’t usually have access to, because time and space conspire to make it impossible. Flickr lets me see what friends are eating for lunch, how they’ve redecorated their bedroom, their latest haircut. Twitter tells me when they’re hungry, what technology is currently frustrating them, who they’re having drinks with tonight.

And while this can be seen as “too much information”, for others it can provide a real window into the lives of those that we care about. The big difference of course, is that this ambient relationship is completely opt-in –- it is information that is pulled, not pushed. If we choose to, we can “unsubscribe” from our friends’ updates with the click of a mouse.

So, does this mean that online friends aren’t really friends? This has been (at least) partly blurred by Facebook’s appropriation of the term Friend as a form of membership status – but in an effort to bring some consistency of thinking around this, Mike Arauz has developed the spectrum of online friendship. This spectrum feels quite linear but it does capture the essence of the progressive nature of online interactions and relationships.


However, the traces of our identities left behind by various cultural productions (whether writing, image or video based) add a level of complexity. What this means is that you may find someone moving from passive interest to active interest by reading and interacting with content that you produced two or three years ago. “You” may no longer BE the same person that you were in 2006 -– and yet, the immediacy of your cultural artefacts continue to tell the story of “your self” as though it was hermetically sealed and protected from the ravages of time.

The consequence of this could well be the impetus to constantly pro-create ourselves in the instant by updating our status, sharing our thoughts and ideas and advocating for our communities. So paradoxically, tools such as Twitter which were developed as a way of handling the speed of life, contribute to the sense of acceleration. It may well be that we are barrelling head-long into a future where the very nature (and rules) of friendship requires revision. We may well end up in a world that looks

It may well be that this life of delays, rewrites and echoes is closer to the dystopia shown in Josh Harris’ movie, We Live in Public. As Faris Yakob points out, while disconcerting, this vision of the future has become reality – at least for some parts of ourselves.

UPDATE: In an almost textbook illustration, John Johnston points out this post by Nicholas Carr from March 2007. I would have commented on it, but his blog no longer takes comments.

Social Media: It’s Not About You, It’s About Your Customers

_MG_2383The last couple of weeks has seen some volatile debate on social media, on clubs, inclusion and exclusion. Under the surface of this debate lies the question of ownership and expertise – who qualifies as an expert, who has a voice and where the rules of engagement. I have even been mentioned in the discussion.

I was going to respond with a post of my own, but found that Greg Verdino sums up my view perfectly (it’s worth reading the whole post):

If you pay attention to what the marketing blogosphere buzzes about, you have probably noticed that a number of people have been debating what qualifies someone to be a social media 'expert.' Is it personal experience or a long list of client case studies?  Is it the title on your business card or some vague blurb in your Twitter bio?  Does simply being "born digital" (whatever that means) make you an expert?  Or given that today's social tools are so new and the rate of change so fast, does it even make sense to call anyone a social media expert?

I've been following the debate and gritting my teeth, holding back on adding my two cents.  But, generally speaking, my question is "who cares?"


Who cares what defines social media expertise? And why are we even devoting digital ink to answering that question?

The only think I would really add to this, is to remember that social media is not about you. It’s about your clients and their customers. It’s about finding win-win outcomes for products and services and the people who use and consume them. All the rest is insignificant.

Learn About Twitter for Free

Ruin EverythingIf you have heard about Twitter and wondered what the fuss is about, then this may be the perfect night out for you. The very clever and entertaining Mark Pollard is offering free Twitter tuition to a group of 30 people here in Sydney on April 23.

What to expect:
A 40-minute overview of Twitter – for personal use.
I’ll break the content down into these sections:

1. Why so many of us think it’s good
2. How to get started
3. How to find momentum and rhythm
4. How it can impact your real life
5. Tools to enjoy it with

How to RSVP: there are 30 places available
Please send an email to events  @ (remove spaces either side of the @) with your name and Twitter username (if you have one).

Monetising Conversation

As I have mentioned elsewhere, Twitter’s growth over the last few months has been astounding. But a quick glance at the history of search references to Twitter demonstrates exactly what is going on – exponential growth and adoption that, for the moment, eclipses competitor sites.


And while this indicates good growth for Twitter, as Ronnie points out, Twitter has what Digg and other social sites don’t – a comprehensive real time search engine. At first, Twitter’s purchase of Summize appeared to be anti-competitive – after all, Summize were indexing and reporting on the Twitter-stream data better than Twitter could – so it made sense to purchase and close them down.

For months now there has been speculation around Twitter’s business model – but then a round of capital raising in February 2009 secured $35 million squashing the intense questioning. Clearly, venture capitalists would be party to business strategy discussions that you and I are not – but given current financial constraints on many companies, investing in so far unproven business models could be considered high risk.

Gary Vaynerchuck, however, takes the view that Twitter may, in fact, be following a highly successful business model – Google’s.

But how would you feel about this type of context-based advertising? Is this the first step towards a semantic web? And how would this work with the hundreds of applications that have flourished thanks to Twitter’s open API?

I certainly don’t have answers at the moment, but it is interesting to ponder. And while I never really thought that my words were worth millions – it seems that they are certainly valuable – to some like Google and Twitter more than others.

Me 2.0 – Dan Schawbel’s New Book on Personal Branding

I don’t tend to write a lot of book reviews, but do read a lot of books. Generally, I try to absorb the principles and ideas into my work practices and then reference the books within the context of actual marketing efforts. However, there are a number of excellent books that I have read recently and have yet to share – so over the next couple of weeks, I will attempt to put together some brief thoughts on their relevance for marketers.

One book that has recently come across my desk is Me 2.0 – Dan Schawbel’s new book on achieving career success via a personal brand. What I like about it, is that it is very neatly targeted at those leaving school or college – providing some simple, practical steps that can help those new to the workforce to begin building their profiles. There is obviously a large focus on Web 2.0 and social media – and Dan explains which sites can be used, when, and why.

And while there is plenty of advice of what you CAN do, Dan also provides some great suggestions about what NOT to do – my personal favourite is “get drunk at an event and spill your beer on the person you are trying to connect with”.


The meat of the book (for me) is in the four step process that Dan recommends for building a personal brand – discover, create, communicate and maintain. Again, there are practical tips and recommendations that will prove invaluable for anyone wanting to grow and improve their profile and reputation. Dan continuously reminds the reader to begin personal branding efforts immediately – after all, building a network or a community takes time – and you want it already in place if and when you need it.

But at the end of the day, Me 2.0 is a book about opportunity. It is about communicating your sense of self and using the power of online connections to reach beyond the small personal networks that most of us have. And Dan has provided a nice step-by-step process that will take most people a long way. Does it work? Just search for "Dan Schawbel" or "personal brand" into your favourite search engine and you will know the answer.

Social Media Hits the Fortune 1000

Blog CouncilSome time ago a group of Fortune 1000 companies got together to understand, discuss and evaluate the impact of social media on their businesses. The Blog Council, operated by Andy Sernovitz’s Gas Pedal, has 45 big business members – including my own employer, SAP. And although I have no input to the Blog Council, there are clearly benefits for large businesses to collaborate, share best practices and work through the opportunities and challenges that social media presents for large businesses.

In yet another indication that social media is mainstreaming, the Blog Council has announced that Bob Pearson, former VP of Communities and Conversations at Dell, is joining the Blog Council as President. Bob’s work at Dell is often discussed as a model for the kind of transformation that businesses dream of – moving from Dell Hell to Web Darling – indeed, I use this story as a case study whenever I speak about social media. As Bob explains:

Social media represents a disruptive set of technologies and techniques that will transform a company’s business practices, improve conversational capabilities with customers and empower employees to learn and share their knowledge in real time.

And while this sounds a little jargonistic, there are some serious objectives underlying this announcement. Not only does this signal a rapid maturing of social media in the enterprise space, it also goes beyond the marketing cauldron – with Bob clearly targeting cross-line of business capabilities. It will be fascinating to see how Andy Sernovitz – author of Word of Mouth Marketing and CEO of the Blog Council – will team up to accelerate the adoption of social media in the enterprise. As Andy explains:

Social media is no longer experimental. It is essential for every company. Bob's practical experience will help our members implement effective social media programs.

I look forward to seeing this happen on a global stage – but hope this announcement also provides encouragement for Australian businesses considering a move into the social media pond.

Web Trend Map 4

Web Trend Map 4 Final Beta
Originally uploaded by formforce

I am always keen to see how the Web Trend Map evolves over the previous year’s version. The big change this year is the inclusion of influential individuals as participants within the map’s ecosystem. The iA folks are clearly recognising that the web is no longer a purely applications space and that the “social” aspect of computing is gaining relevance not just in the consumer realm, but also in the domain of business – and the enterprise.

Jacqueline Wechsler also points out this zoomable version which makes navigating and inspecting the map much more palatable.

There is certainly plenty to take in. I particularly like the inclusion of aspects of both the Chinese and German web – which is mostly discounted in any global analysis of the online landscape. This just shows how myopic many of us tend to be – but as realtime translation matures, I have a feeling that the trends that are visible for us now will become vastly more fascinating and unpredictable as we are able to consciously embrace and be affected by the web cultures of non-English speaking cultures.

Now THAT is something to look forward to!

100 Insights, One Book – Connect! By The Project 100

Sometime ago, Jeff Caswell invited me to participate in a collaborative writing project. Inspired by The Age of Conversation (1 and 2), the books that Drew McLellan and I spearheaded in 2007 and 2008, The Project 100 brings together 100 authors to discuss marketing in the social media era. Interestingly, the book includes written chapters as well as Twitter messages. I am particularly excited to be part of this project (especially because all I had to do was write a chapter!).

The book, Connect! is now available for purchase for $19.95. All funds raised go to Susan G Komen for the Cure – and we are aiming to raise $5000 all up.

For a taste of what the book contains, Alan Wolk raises some serious questions about the validity of advertising in a connected world:

The amazing thing about social media is that it’s totally destroyed the power of ads to sell things to people. Because seriously, why would I bother listening to an ad when I can listen to the reviews and opinions of hundreds of my fellow consumers. Most of whom are interested in providing me with the real deal on whatever product or service they’re reviewing. Not in feeding me a clever pun or wacky visual.

My own chapter, “The New 30 Second Spot” suggests that we need to look anew at the “forgotten consumer, steadily tapping away on a keyboard, miming in front of a webcam and winning a motza in Texas Hold ’em poker.”

You can find out more about this great book, at the Project 100 website. And in the meantime, be sure to order a copy of this excellent, thought provoking book – and know that in doing so, you are supporting the fight against cancer.

Who Loves Your Blog?

When I first started blogging I was obsessed with inbound links. I checked Technorati religiously – hoping someone, anyone, would link here. I waited for comments, emails, suggestions; and I checked Google Analytics for the smallest spike in traffic.

Now, those who don’t understand the rush that comes with receiving a comment (or writing one on someone else’s blog) may consider this slightly compulsive. But it is also fundamental human nature – we become the people we are simply due to those who show us or deny us, love. Of course, encouragement is a great motivator – and those who link to our blogs or write about us are more likely to draw our own attention. I am no different.

In addition to the dozens (or hundreds, really) of feeds that I read on a daily basis, I still regularly check the blogs that link here. I have a BackType profile which alerts me to mentions of my name or website address and I have a similar range of Google alerts established – and I try to respond either to the post that links to my writing, or at least to another article that tickles my curiosity. You see, if someone has taken the time to read my writing and think about it and then write/respond, then I feel an obligation to understand their perspective too.

B ca L ifornia o33 G

And over the last couple of years, I have been exposed to some fantastic blogs after being included in some list or other. This list of Planners, for example, has been maintained by Iqbal Mohammed for sometime – and is a great way of learning from (and linking to) some of the smartest minds in marketing/planning/advertising.

  1. russell davies
  2. Talent Imitates, Genius Steals
  3. adliterate
  4. Servant of Chaos
  5. Only Dead Fish
  6. Noah Brier
  7. Influxinsights
  8. The Hidden Persuader
  9. CrapHammer
  10. brand new
  11. Fallon Planning
  12. [ paul isakson ]
  13. nick burcher
  14. Get Shouty
  15. Herd – the hidden truth about who we are
  16. Adspace Pioneers
  17. Life Moves Pretty Fast
  18. Make Marketing History
  19. Social Hallucinations
  20. Interactive Marketing Trends

And while it is great to be included in lists such as the Marketing or Content Marketing lists on, it feels much more important to be included in lists like Blaiq’s or Julian Cole’s compilation of Australian marketing blogs – for these require the care and attention of an individual and are not simply automated like some others. And in a world where attention is scarce, perhaps making a list is the blogging equivalent of love.