Five Must-Read Posts from Last Week

Amber and GavinI was on-the-fly last week, jumping from city to city across America. I was lucky enough to catch up with a bunch of Age of Conversation authors in Des Moines (see Drew McLellan’s snaps) including my longtime-online friends Mike Sansone and Mike Wagner. I also got to have lunch with Amber Naslund, dinner with Beth Harte and Valeria Maltoni in Philadelphia, share ideas with Marilyn Pratt and Cory Coley-Christakos (who has a great article on sustainability on the SAP community), drink and talk with Angela Maiers, Sandy Renshaw and Jim Lindberg, and hang out with Jeff Cutler. Special thanks go to Drew McLellan and his family for sharing their home with me over the weekend.

In amongst all this travel (and work), there were also hours of jetlag-induced sleeplessness allowing me to do quite a bit of reading. The five posts that cut through the haze for me were:

  1. Katie Chatfield asks – if we look into the future, to 2050, what will we be nostalgic about. It makes you really think through the changes that are affecting us, and what we prioritise in our lives.
  2. Neil Perkin has a great post on Unproductivity. Take a look at the “cycle of doom” – you’ll nod your head because we have all been there!
  3. Saul Kaplan reminds us that stuff happens – and the best thing we can do is to ensure that we have built in resilience.
  4. Ellen Weber challenges us to inspire change in the uninspired. Easier said than done 😉
  5. And I loved the whimsy the balloon tank evokes over on Angus’ blog. It was a bright spot in a long, dark night in Washington DC (incidentally, it’s the same pic used in Katie’s post).

Blogging is Writing with a Thick Marker

Many blogs never make it past the first three months. The authors start with a flourish, then founder sometime between months two and three.

What happens? Is it to do with priorities? Effort? Lack of ideas?

My view is that it boils down to one thing – over thinking.

After a couple of months, a blog starts to develop an audience. The author starts to establish a rhythm and a consistency of voice. Comments start to come in and it becomes thrilling to engage with “your” audience.

But then there is a choking point. The authors lose their way – wanting to dramatically increase traffic, comments and subscriptions. There is an attempt to make each post better than the one before, and increasingly the “fun” of blogging begins to look more and more like WORK.

If this sounds familiar – then one technique to help you smash through the three month barrier is to remember that blogging is like writing with a thick marker. This is how Jason Fried from 37 Signals (see below) describes his idea sketching process. The aim is to NOT get buried in the details – and a thick marker is the tool designed for that very purpose.

Think of your blog as a thick marker – and each blog post a single idea designed to inspire, engage and stimulate. And then, sometime in the future, go back, write a whitepaper, create a presentation or write a book on the ideas that stick.

Performing Ourselves: Why Social Media is 25% Larger than Life

I have always been drawn to acoustic performance. I love the authentic, stripped back timbre of a singer’s voice. I like the fact that you can’t hide behind the volume or be disguised by the electronic mixing. Perhaps this is why I ended up studying theatre for years.

And my study of theatre took me to unexpected places. I went from the mainstream deep into the avante garde of the early 20th Century – spending time immersed in the dark, imaginative worlds of Frank Wedekind, Antonin Artaud and Heiner Muller. I emerged, later, in the powerfully vibrant theatres of Howard Barker, Penny Arcade and Robert Wilson – where words, identity and action burned the scripts, bounced off the walls and scarred or transformed not just the audiences, but the performers too.

I learned over the years the difference between intuition and imagination, between intelligence and understanding, and that was is written is not always what is performed. The gap between text and performance excited me. Why, for example, is one performer’s version better or worse than another’s? No matter the song, it can only be a matter of words, right?

But there is an intangible sense that comes with performance. It’s about purpose and intent, and the need to step beyond what we say. We need to inhabit the very limits of who we are – physically and emotionally. In the theatre, Etienne Decroux – a physical theatre practitioner – created a grammar for the bodily articulation of movement. He discovered that to appear REAL to an audience, performers had to appear 25 percent larger than they are. Yes, they needed to be larger than life.

In social media we see this everyday. A predominantly text based form, social media in various guises requires that we write ourselves into existence. It requires us to write as a performance. And those participants who appear REAL are larger than the words that they use, their ideas magnified through the lens of Twitter, Facebook or blogs. Look at any one of the individuals you are drawn to in social media and ask yourself how much of this person do you know? How much is real and how much is performance? Are they 25% larger than life?

In the social media world of micro-celebrity, there is much we can learn from “real” celebrities – from performers who have mastered the art of celebrity as performance.

Over the coming weeks I will be sharing my thoughts on various performers and what we can learn from them as social media participants – and what it means for brands and businesses wanting beginning or already engaged in their social media performance.

Not All Audiences are Created Equal

There are some great conversations happening at and around the ConnectNow conference. And something keeps plugging away in the back of my mind. It’s about conversations, audiences and transformation. What do we do when we are faced with a “no”. What happens with, say, social media, when you run up against a brick wall? But more – what if this same thing applies to other aspects of your business?

I have never been a fan of trying to change the mind of a naysayer. It’s hard to convert a fanatic. I have always been more interested in dealing with people who are impatient, the ones who want change and want it enough to make it happen. And I think this was instilled in me a long time ago – when I read the British playwright Howard Barker:

"Because you cannot address everybody, you may as well address the impatient" (49 Asides for a Tragic Theatre).

Essentially I am always getting started with social media. And I would say this to you – remember that we don’t make decisions on our own. We do so in a social ecosystem. You don’t need to deal with the naysayers – step aside and work with those who influence the naysayers at an arm’s length remove. Go further into the network. Let those networks work for you.

And because not all audiences are created equal, they will lead you in directions that you are not expecting. Go on. Give it a try.

Lead Generation, Community and Other Games of Chance

I have had a brilliant day presenting at the ConnectNow conference here in Sydney. Living here in Australia means that there is rarely a chance to see the likes of Tara Hunt, Brian Solis, Debs Shultz, Gary Vaynerchuck without travelling across the world – and similarly, it’s rare to be able to spend time with those who are closer to home such as Darren Rowse, Katie Chatfield, Jim Stewart, Simon Young, Laurel Papworth and Stephen Johnson.

I was asked to set the scene for the three days of presentations, panels and workshops focusing on the convergence of social media, emerging technologies and enterprise.

In my talk I used a ball of string, passing it through the audience to kick start our thinking around what it means to be connected. It was also a metaphor for communications, marketing and social media that helps us think through what we say and how we say it – and what it means to actually participate in the creation of value with and through an audience.

My slides are available on slideshare – and as you can see, are a crystallisation of many of the concepts that I have been writing about here for the last three or four years.

Connect Now Lead Gen+Community

View more presentations from Gavin Heaton.

If you aren’t able to make it to the conference for the remaining days, you can follow along via Twitter using the #cnow hashtag, and join in the discussion over at the ConnectNow group posterous site.

And if you ARE at the conference, be sure to say hi during one of the breaks – or better yet, come to coffee morning on Friday. Details are here.

The iPad Welcomes the None Percenters

For the last couple of years marketers have been chasing a dream. The great promise, the Holy Grail of social media, is user generated content – the marketing that is produced by the advocates of your brand. In a utopian world, this user generated marketing “goes viral” – registering millions of impressions/plays/hits on sites like YouTube or Facebook. But I am here to tell you this – we’ve been chasing our tails. We’ve been focusing on the wrong thing – and the iPad is going to prove it.

In social media, we struggle with the immutable 90-9-1 rule. Basically, we have found that when it comes to user participation, only 1% of our social group will CREATE content. Jakob Nielsen calls this participation inequality. Ben O’Connell and Jackie Huba evangelised these one percenters – the citizen marketer and changed the way that we thought about our audience. But even Wikipedia – the great user generated content success story of the Social Web – butts up against the 1% participation rate.

And yet, we constantly search for ways to overcome this barrier – to drive up participation. If we could double our productive audience, then imagine the power and the crowdsourced creativity! We could unleash Clay Shirky’s cognitive surplus. We could transform the world. Now, there are undoubtedly ways to improve participation (you can get significantly higher participation in internal enterprise transformation projects for example), but the real revolution is not in the creation of user generated content, but in its consumption.

One of the things that I have been interested in recently is the principle that EASE OF USE drives CONSUMPTION. I discussed some of my work in this area with Christina Kerley for a B2B case study (subscription required, but hey, it’s MarketingProfs and totally worth it). By removing the barriers to use – of your website, your product or service etc, you are actually able to quickly and demonstrably drive its use. Not only that, by changing the pattern of usage you are also changing the buyer behaviours associated with your brands and products, and this in turn changes the way that your brand or product is perceived.

And this is where the iPad comes in.

With almost zero functionality for content creators, Apple is turning its back on the the one percenters: the creative classes who have evangelised their products for years. The focus now is on CREATIVE CONSUMPTION, making the mass of user generated and branded content more easily accessible, more relevant and useful and bringing it to an audience who – in my opinion – have yet to openly adopt web technologies and the promise of the Social Web.

cadillac_ch_ipad-600x498 This will challenge agencies and brands alike. Some are responding already – like the work that BBH are doing with Cool Hunter and Cadillac. But this is just the beginning. The iPad app store is bound to explode in the same way that the iPhone app store did. Importantly, I expect this to open NEW markets – with non-computer users such as my parents and grandparents to finally begin participating in online markets.

But this is a whole new market. The focus is no longer on the early adopters – the one percenters – but on those who have NO INTEREST in content creation. Our ongoing focus will need to be on the NONE PERCENTERS – those new audiences attracted by the ease of use and social cachet attached to the iPad. Perhaps, for the first time, marketing attention will fall on the zeros – those who sit outside our 90-9-1 demographics – and I have a feeling they will prove far more valuable than the 100% who have dominated our lives more recently.

Are you and your brand ready to deal with the zeros?