Creative Sydney – A Singular Origin

Gav@Single Origin
Originally uploaded by servantofchaos

It began with a handful of marketing/planning bloggers getting out from behind their desks and meeting in a cafe in North Sydney. Organised by Emily Reed, we thought it was such an amazing and fun thing to do that we decided to do it again … a week later.

Two and a half years later, the Sydney Coffee Mornings have turned into a vital and energetic event. Each Friday an ever growing group of people meet at the Single Origin Cafe on Reservoir Street in Sydney’s Surry Hills. There is debate and discussion, fantastic food, brilliant coffee and more smart people than you can hit with a stick.

All this is made possible by the gracious Gav, who makes us welcome each week, and the long suffering Single Origin team who make sure we are well caffeinated and, at times, entertained.

Next week, on June 10, I will be talking about our coffee mornings as part of Creative Sydney – Come Together – The New Creative Networks (please note, you need to book tickets – eventhough they are free). I am pulling together some pictures that capture some of the ambience – and thinking back through some of the stories I have heard or been part of. But tell me – what’s yours? Have you been to coffee morning? Why? What did you love about it? Do you have a favourite picture you can share? This one of Gav is one of mine.

Making Influence Valuable

ChemistryI have written previously about the strength of social media’s weak ties, but I would like to also broaden this discussion into a conversation about the particulars of personal influence, about social judgement and about the way in which the nature of influence and trust is transforming the way that we interact and engage with brands and the people behind them.

Clearly we are all comfortable working with convenient fictions – we regularly invent stories and work within “roles” to allow us to behave as if the world we live in is anything other than chaos. Think about the roles that we take on as parents, lovers, soccer players, good girls, bad boys (and thousands of others). Think about the way these overlap and how we switch between them on-demand. But we are not made up of these roles – they do not define us.

Now, think for a moment about our roles as marketers. We:

  • Superimpose definitions on the “audience”
  • Harangue these audience “members” with questions about their intentions, preferences or past choices
  • Interrogate the resulting sea of half-mumbled data for insight
  • Transform this insight into something resembling strategy

SecretsThe problem is, that the further we get away from the initial impulse – that is, to understand the complex way that we humans behave – the weaker the signal becomes. We subject this weak signal to repeated bouts of interpretation and analysis. We box it and strain it through frameworks and end up, somewhere down the line with a profile which we are comfortable to work with.

Now, before you fire up the Bunsen burner, I must hold up my hand to these very same crimes. But there is a deeper, more fundamental error that lies at the heart of this problem – and that is that we have convinced ourselves that we need to think big. We need to think on a mass scale. And we need a BIG idea to match.

My view is that this is also a convenient fiction, for all we need is to understand the nature of influence and tailor our marketing efforts accordingly. How does this work?

Seth Godin suggests that marketers are either scientists or artists, and that we change hats according to the situation. It is this shifting that we must become comfortable with – we need to analytically identify those people whose behaviours match the profile of our products or services and then creatively engage these folks with a range of communications and experiences that generate the type of behaviour that, for us, constitutes success.

Notice the words “range of communications and experiences”.

As Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield and Andrew Shimberg explain in the MITsloan article How to Have Influence:

If you want to confront persistent problem behavior, you need to combine multiple influences into an overwhelming strategy. In management and in their personal lives, influencers succeed where others fail because they “overdetermine” success.1 Instead of looking for the minimum it will take to accomplish a change, they combine a critical mass of different kinds of influence strategies.

Our challenge is to influence the influencers. This is where the FOOTPRINT part of your digital strategy comes into play. After all, we are not always on the same online networks at the same time. And we don’t all listen to, or interact with, the same people, sites or networks. Furthermore, we also play different roles in different spaces. One person might have a substantial network on LinkedIn, yet have only a small number of followers on Twitter. Another may have thousands of blog subscribers but only half a dozen Facebook friends.

It is only by understanding the granularity of influence in this way that you can craft the different kinds of influence strategies that will deliver your outcomes. And this means throwing out the convenient fictions and embracing complexity and chaos. But it also means focusing in on real people. Find a way to make their influence valuable and you will create the type of win-win situations that social media has always promised.

Does Social Media Bring Us Too Close to the Past?

From time to time I get a Facebook request from someone that I have not seen in a while. I don’t know if you are like me, but it always seems like a shot out of the blue. But is it?

I actually think that this has more to do with a type of delayed ambient intimacy. After all, just because we don’t see or speak with people doesn’t mean that they AREN’T in our thoughts – and because they ARE in OUR thoughts we have a personal perception of proximity.

So what happens when an old friend reacquaints themselves with your present? What happens if you DON’T want to connect with these people? Are some relationships better off forgotten? Jeremy Fuksa explains how you can avoid your past on Facebook. Watch it. It’ll make you laugh and gasp along the way!

My Social Graph Is Getting Weird from Jeremy Fuksa:Creative Generalist on Vimeo.

Slow Blogging

I wonder, in our push to get something new out, something exciting into the digital stream, do we miss out on some aspect of the creative process? For example, what would happen if we hand wrote a blog post? How would it change the quality of our thinking? Would it feel more precise or more earthy?

I am going to give it a try – just to see what happens. What about you? Willing to join me?

For the remainder of the week I will be writing my blog posts by hand.

And by the end of the week I want you to tell me whether you notice a difference. Are the posts more considered? Do they affect you more deeply? Is this something I should continue with?

It should be an interesting experiment, if nothing else!

The Landscape of Influence

Earlier this week I attended a lunchtime seminar hosted by the Insight Exchange. There were some fantastic presentations on the nature of influence from:

Ross Dawson has a great summary of the presentations and the following conversations that freely jumped between audience and panel. Ross also shared his Influence Landscape framework which seeks to visually represent and connect the way that people think, behave and spend. It is a handy visual tool that disassociates the simple causal link between “social media” and “influence” – showing that there is much more at play.


And reinforcing this complexity, Beth Harte has written an excellent post on influence, reminding us that it is not the strong links between people that create movements, but the weak links. This strength of weak ties actually goes a long way to explaining why “viral” marketing is hard to predict. However, it is the work of Duncan Watts and Peter Dodds that shows why marketers may, in fact, be looking in the wrong direction. As I have written previously:

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 why we should forget the influential and embrace the curious. And maybe, just maybe, we use Ross’ map to help us surface them.

Walk Like a Man, Talk Like a Man

When the Cluetrain Manifesto exhorted corporations to begin communicating as people – to people, many marketers scratched their heads. Ten years on, many businesses continue to struggle with the language that they use to communicate with people – with “consumers”, “suppliers” and “partners”.

So it is hardly surprising that social media presents a challenge for many marketers – for unlike almost any other form of business communication, authenticity and believability in social media REQUIRES thinking, speaking and communicating in ways that are fundamentally “human”. But what does this mean? How can we break it down?

Christina (CK) Kerley has a great post on exactly this. Hi, I’m Here to Help You Be More Human outlines some of the key transitions that traditional marketers need to consider as they begin to experiment and grow with social media:

  • Ivory towers keep marketers locked safely away
  • Losing control is chaotic
  • Moving from ‘The’ to ‘Me’ is tough stuff (at first)
  • People don’t speak in buzzwords, but marketers sure do
  • Marketers are used to campaigns that start and end. Not conversations that keep going… and going
  • The path to Web 2.0 cuts straight through the department labeled “Legal!”

Take a good read through CK’s post and then think about the challenges that your brands face. Think about how YOU can make a difference to the way your products and services are perceived in the marketplace. And then identify two or three areas where you can make an immediate impact. Go on. You know you want to!

Sorting the Social Media Wheat from the Chaff

Purple Cow Family Restaurant and CASINO!For those who are new to social media, it can be a confusing place. There are dozens of new platforms, services, websites, applications and widgets appearing every week. It is hard to know whether you should be Twittering with your Dopplr or giving your Facebook the Flickr. And really, what do you do – and how best should you respond – when someone throws a cow at you (especially if it happens to be purple)?

Many organisations, when faced with this challenge decide it is all too confusing and more than a little chaotic (and uncontrollable), and turn to the relative safety of traditional marketing strategies and channels. Some businesses, however, turn to social media consultants. And while this may be a great first step, I could find over 1300 in my personal LinkedIn network – so finding the RIGHT social media expert could also be a challenge.

Joe Cothrel suggests that you just need to use the six words that make social media consultants disappear:

"Show me five things you've done."

If your expert is still there, feel free to explain what you mean.   You can explain that you'd like to see examples of social media efforts they have completed for five different companies.   You can explain that the companies sponsoring these efforts don't need to be in your industry, but they should be comparable to yours or better in terms of size and brand recognition.  You can explain that these efforts should not be in development, or coming soon: they should be ongoing or completed.   You can explain that these efforts must be successful by at least one measure — they engaged thousands or hundreds of thousands or (preferably) millions of users.

For the busy executive, Gino Cosme suggests reading this BusinessWeek special report on social media. This report talks about Twitter, keeping momentum with your social media efforts, leveraging existing social networks and features Jeff Jarvis, Jakob Nielsen and BusinessWeek Executive Editor, John A Byrne.

Of course, you could always start by dipping your own, personal, toe in the water and start your own blog or open a personal Twitter account. But then translating personal experience into business outcomes is easier said than done.

Interestingly, the upcoming Sydney Social Media Club event will be asking whether you need an agency to run effective social media campaigns. Come armed with your six words and you’ll be completely safe.

Strategy Drives Decisions

It is easy to think that once you have set your strategy, that a button is flicked and that the focus switches to execution/implementation. But this is rarely the case. Think about it – if you work in an agency, it is unlikely that your original pitch idea will be completely aligned with the work that is actually released for a client. And if you are client side, chances are that your expectations will transform (and be transformed) as the project is sold-in to your business sponsors and stakeholders. The are always, always, competing priorities – and what may appear to be strategically necessary one day will be out of favour the next. This is frustrating, time consuming and expensive for all involved.

The opportunity, however, is to focus on a flexible approach to strategy – and this means using strategy not as a way of aligning messaging or building a campaign or a brand. It means using strategy to drive decisions.

How does this work?

As you build your continuous digital strategy, it is important to establish a “strategic guiding principle”. This should be a clearly articulated strategic direction that can be applied to any business challenge at any step in the process. It should encapsulate what you do and why and it should be “big picture” enough to apply to apply to the decisions of your executives and granular enough to provide guidance for the rest of your organisation. By way of example, the strategic guiding principle for General Electric was, for years “be number one or number two in any industry, or get out”. Such a principle provides a practical, outcome oriented, but simple framework for strategic decision making that can be used at all levels, from executives determining whether an acquisition should be completed to team leaders planning the skills development of their teams.

Share the Message, Own the Destination

When it comes to digital and social media, I have taken a leaf out of the GE’s book. I often apply a repeatable guiding principle that can be shared with my project sponsors, development and creative teams – share the message, own the destination. This strategic guiding principle is used to help guide the answers to the many questions that arise during a project’s lifecycle. By simply asking whether the choices being made contribute to (or detract from) this strategic principle, we are all able to work autonomously yet achieve a level of coherence throughout the project. It also means we are able to accelerate the process of refining the strategy as we cycle through the components.

And one of the best parts of this approach is that it allows all participants to feel a sense of ownership in the strategy. And by bringing that very human sense of responsibility to your project, you lay the foundations for success.

Where I Will Be – Creative Sydney

cs_promoimg_3-web Over the next few months I will be speaking at and attending a number of events. Some of these are formal, some informal. It promises to be a very busy, but exciting time! I will be putting up a full list soon (and of course, you can always find me at the Sydney Coffee Morning).

But one event I am particularly excited about is Creative Sydney:

Creative Sydney is a festival celebrating the wealth and diversity of the city’s creative talents from May 27- June 12. In its inaugural year, Creative Sydney will feature a provocative talks program and event series at the Museum of Contemporary Art and The Roxy, Paramatta, as well as the launch ofCreative Catalysts – a list of Sydney’s creative pioneers.

Joining me on the panel for Come Together: the New Creative Networks on Wednesday 10 June, 6pm will be:

Tickets are FREE but we are limited to 250 seats, so please make sure you book your seat early.

Image: Amelia Tovey, Shoot The Player (Photography by Cara Stricker)