What Does Listening Sound Like?

Let me take you back for a moment … You are there at your bedroom door. You are what? Six? Seven? Eight years old?

The voices down the hall are muffled, barely audible. But they are familiar. Something stands out for you. Your name.

There is laughing.

Actually, there must be more people there than you imagined. Maybe it is a party. Didn’t they invite you?

Disappointment settles in. You do love a party!

And there it is again – your name. This time, no laughter. It’s quiet. Much quieter now – but the whispers wind their way down the hall.

You crack the door and feel the cool night air brush your face. The whispers rush past you, tickle the hairs in your nose like a torrent of pixies.

These conversations rush around you. They build. It sounds like excitement. It sounds like you are part of something. It’s strangely invigorating. You reach out – speak – say hello.

And then it happens. A pinch. A sting that reverberates across your nervous system. Why did they do that? What happened?

Social media isn’t child’s play

While social media has a playful aspect – it is anything but simple. It can be volatile, unpredictable and move with incredible speed. It is a space that has been colonised by consumers – and it is clearly the consumers who are in control of whatever conversation is taking place. Brands, in this analogy, are children – learning their way, soaking up experiences and making mistakes.

The unfamiliar familiars

The thing to remember with social media is that while you are AT the party, it’s not a party that is FOR you. Everything is familiar – but slightly displaced:

  • Your friends are not friends
  • Your followers are not necessarily interested in you or your brand
  • You are essentially eavesdropping which means you need to orchestrate a way in to the conversations taking place – don’t just arrive empty handed
  • People may be talking ABOUT you, not TO you

The temptation to launch into a conversation may be tantalising – but to do so without preparation, without some planning and without some goals or measurements in mind can be disastrous.

To help you get a sense of what goals and measurements you may want to consider, I have included Amber Naslund’s excellent presentation on listening, learning, social media and metrics.

Make sure you listen before you leap!

Digital Citizens – Rethink Privacy

When we first join social networking sites such as Facebook, we enthusiastically create our profile, pouring personal data into fields, checkboxes and personal pages. We join “networks”, add “applications”, play “quizzes” and upload photos. What we may not realise is that with every click, every upload and every game/quiz interaction, we are contributing to a rich underlying “social graph” that maps our profiles – our likes, interests, locations and preferences. The most amazing thing is that we do this voluntarily.

If a telemarketer was to call you and ask you for these details, would you so readily hand them over?

Facebook’s Open Graph

Over the last couple of weeks there has been plenty of discussion around Facebook and the changes that they have made to the privacy settings. To me it felt like Facebook was Pulling a Swifty. The new Open Graph API clearly changes the game – by exposing your underlying data to affiliated websites who can then use this information to provide targeted information, goods, services (read advertising) straight into your browser/mobile device.

Some have proposed an exodus from Facebook on May 31. Matt Milan and Joseph Dee’s Quit Facebook Day is a rallying point for those who are not only disgruntled with Facebook’s lack of concern about user data/privacy, but are willing to act on it. As they say:

For us it comes down to two things: fair choices and best intentions. In our view, Facebook doesn't do a good job in either department. Facebook gives you choices about how to manage your data, but they aren't fair choices, and while the onus is on the individual to manage these choices, Facebook makes it damn difficult for the average user to understand or manage this. We also don't think Facebook has much respect for you or your data, especially in the context of the future.

Being a Digital Citizen and Diaspora

For me, this is the important point. Whether we like it or not, we are now “digital citizens”. We are active, engaged participants online – but citizenry has rights and obligations. The vast majority of us are not comfortable working through the 17 steps to improving our Facebook privacy. It’s complicated. But just because it is complicated and/or confusing, doesn’t mean that we choose to opt-in.

Danah Boyd in Facebook and Radical Transparency eloquently sums up the challenge and the frustration:

The key to addressing this problem is not to say “public or private?” but to ask how we can make certain people are 1) informed; 2) have the right to chose; and 3) are consenting without being deceived …

What pisses me off the most are the numbers of people who feel trapped. Not because they don’t have another choice. (Technically, they do.) But because they feel like they don’t. They have invested time, energy, resources, into building Facebook what it is. They don’t trust the service, are concerned about it, and are just hoping the problems will go away. It pains me how many people are living like ostriches. If we don’t look, it doesn’t exist, right?? This isn’t good for society.

A group of developers have seized on this opportunity to rethink community, personal data and ownership – and have announced their intention to create a privacy aware, personally controlled, distributed, open source social network. Called Diaspora, it promises much. Within days, the team have been able to use the Kickstarter website to raise over 1700% of their required project budget from more than 5000 individual sponsors.

Reclaim Your Privacy

But what EXACTLY is this data and what does it look like? Just check out the way Facebook handles “social advertising” – where YOUR photos and name can appear in advertisements targeting your friends. Have you adjusted the setting to say No one?

ReclaimPrivacy.org have created a neat button that will show you more precisely the data that you have open. Simply drag their Scan for Privacy button to the toolbar on your browser, login to Facebook and click the button.


As you can see, I have a few settings myself that I need to change. In fact, I am going a step further – removing a whole range of personal data, photos, information and so on.

I am considering establishing a new, isolated personal account with links to a dedicated email address. I would use this to manage the pages that I am responsible for – but little else.

A Flash in the Pan?

You may ask yourself – so what. You may feel that there is a fair exchange between you and Facebook – that you get value and give away little. If so, then you are clearly one of the digital citizens who are operating with a greater level of knowledge.

But is this a flash in the pan? Will this small pocket of resistance dissipate?

The volatile nature of social networks means that businesses – large and small – can no longer put their head in the sand. A small issue can be amplified by even a handful of activists. Sure, there may only be a few thousand people indicating that they will be deleting their Facebook account … but how many millions are these people connected to? What is the network of their social graph? What is the potential impact of a wave forming and breaking over the Facebook wall?

Clearly Facebook head of public policy, Tim Saparani, realises where this may go. This article in Wired, announcing that Facebook is to launch simplistic privacy choices soon, signals some level of awareness.

The proposed changes are unlikely to reverse the company’s December decision to make large portions of a user’s profile into “publicly available information” — which means even if you hide the fact you support a gun rights organization in your profile settings, that’s still findable online.

Will it stop the exodus? Has it impacted our sense of trust in Facebook? And what does it mean for brands who are edging ever deeper into Facebook as a social engagement platform? Is this strategy putting brand investment at risk?

At this point it comes down to personal preference and personal awareness. Which way will you be leaning?

The Long Scar of Australia’s Shame

I was watching a re-run of the amazing SBS series, The First Australians, over the weekend – and was again struck by the power of the story, the horror of the impact white Australians had on Aboriginal people and the unbearable sadness brought about by government policies and the willing complicity of the Australian public.

But I was also heartened by the remembrance of The Apology to Aboriginal people by Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd. I remember what it meant to hear and take part in. I thought it was a turning point.

But sadly, it seems that institutionalised racism continues to manifest in the thoughts and deeds of individuals and in the judgements of our courts.

Michael Brull writes of a case in the Northern Territory where “Top Blokes” Beat an Aboriginal Man to Death (via Derek Jenkins). The post details the exploits of five friends who drink, drive and terrorise multiple groups of Aboriginal people sleeping in the river bed of the Todd River. These events ultimately lead to the death of one man and leave yet another lasting scar on the heart of the Australian nation. In the case R v Doody in the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory, Chief Justice Martin, however, concluded that this “crime is toward the lower end of the scale of seriousness for crimes of manslaughter”.

Take a few minutes to read the details of this case and then consider this:

Justice Martin went out of his way to provide character references for every single defendant. Doody is ‘a person of positive good character’. Hird is a ‘solid, hard-working young man of good character’. Kloeden has an ‘underlying good character’. Spears is a ‘person of very good character’. Swain, like Kloeden, was a ‘person of underlying good character’.

On the face of it, this doesn’t seem to be “justice served”. And a judgement which COULD have been used to launch a scathing attack on the thoughtless culture and uncaring attitudes of “top blokes” everywhere, seems to have turned into little more than a slap on the wrists.

But if silence can be taken as complicity, I for one, say NO. Not good enough. This needs to be looked at again – in the courts, in our schools and in our hearts. Is this an Australia you’re happy to live in?

Five Must-Read Posts from Last Week

With all the excitement of launching Age of Conversation 3 last week, I just ran out of time to bring you the five must-read posts. But this week, it’s back, with a more introspective feel! Hope you find these quietly inspiring!

  1. BJ Smith writes an open social media letter to some friends. He suggests that you don’t need to “join” the conversation – you are already part of it.
  2. franksting (Gavin Costello) shared his personal lamentations over Facebook and the privacy changes.
  3. Jye Smith profiles Jeremy J Somers. I love the way Jeremy explains work ethic – “do what needs to be done”.
  4. Craig Wilson talks convergence – and what happens when television meets the iPad (via Mumbrella). Revolution indeed.
  5. Katie Harris asks us to take a step back from the data that we so easily now accumulate and zero-in on the analysis. Have we gone too far in our love affair with numbers? What The Cornerstone of good research?

Why Social Media is More Popular than Sex

This is a guest post by Dennis Price. He does not profess to know much about social media but does, however, know quite a bit about how businesses get real results at the retail coalface.  He is the CEO of Ganador Management Solutions, and you can find his RetailSmart blog there too.

I watched a fascinating documentary (National Geographic) on Stress. Worth watching if you have an hour, but let me summarise:

Stress has a major physical impact on our bodies in ways we are only beginning to understand:

  • It ossifies your arteries, making it less likely to cope with (physical) pressure caused by expansion etc and this eventually leads to increased risk of heart of attacks.
  • It makes people fatter; in the worst possible place (around your belly) and with the worst kind of fat.
  • It actually leads to the fraying of the end caps on your chromosomes – the medical implications not being clear (to me).
  • It kills your brain cells, making you dumber. (And I am not exaggerating.)

Stress is truly a killer.

The documentary also drew from some interesting research to identify some of the more unexpected stressors (causal factors) in our lives. The research was impressive, with longitudinal studies on baboon tribes and humans spanning over 30 years.

The insight du jour was:

Your position in the hierarchy is a cause for stress.

The lower you are down the proverbial food chain, the more stressed you are. For humans the obvious hierarchy is our place of work.

Obviously we are part of many hierarchies in our lives and each of those structures is an opportunity to be more or less stressed. (Which is why volunteering to be the soccer coach is a great act of balancing your life; you get to be in charge of running a squad of 10-year olds, which makes a nice change from the cubicle farm.)

The reason your hierarchical position causes stress is because the lower you are down the food chain, the less control you have.

It seems that the old bumper sticker philosopher was right when he mused about the boss:

I don’t get stressed, I give stress.

And that is when I the apple fell on my head.

The popularity of social media platforms, which are usually asynchronous by nature, is a rare instance where relationships are less hierarchical. And where the participants are actually in control of the interaction.

Peter Steine saw it clearly in his (1993) cartoon – On the Internet Nobody Knows You’re a Dog.

Your browser may not support display of this image.Social ME-dia is ostensibly all about relationships.

If you have been around for awhile, you no doubt would have read posts or publications that guide you about the appropriate behaviour and manner in which to engage.

These guidelines seemingly govern the etiquette of these digital relationships and typically exhort participants to: Listen first. Ask many questions. Don’t make it about you. Give freely and good things will come to you.

And a host of other like platitudes. This advice is nothing but common courtesy reinvented for the web.

But this does not hold true for all relationships on the web. Relationships evolve and relationships may belong to different categories. In each instance there is a different context and a different set of rules that apply.

Your browser may not support display of this image. 1. Typically, when someone initially embraces the internet as a social medium, they will start off with a core group op their ‘real’ friends. [With this I mean physical relationships in the sense that it is person to person and not necessarily intimate. I use ‘real’ to describe these relationships simply because you know what I mean, and I don’t mean that digital relationships are not real.] Your first email was probably sent to someone you know. Your first friend on Facebook was probably your wife.

2. Depending on the purpose and the personality of the individual, new digital relationships are formed. Digits link across the ether and new relationships are formed. These ‘digital relationships’ then can (a) remain digital, or (b) evolve into ‘real’ relationships.

3. Digital friends that become real depends on a host of things, not the least being geography. (This may explain the popularity of apps/games like Foursquare – which I may add, was my pick in Jan 2010 as the next big thing. Time will tell.) It is for THIS category of relationship that old those grandfatherly rules apply that bloggers so kindly dish up.

People want to convert these relationships, because that would be only human. Once you find people with a common interest you would consequently want to create/ belong to that tribe.


4. The fourth category of relationship is the own that really interests me. The digital friends that remain so.

What percentage of digital friends become ‘real’ friends? I would suspect, given the constraints and given the numbers, it would be a fraction – certainly less than 1%. (There is a question for you Mr Solis.) It would probably be slightly different for your personal Facebook page, and maybe less so for LinkedIn. But for sites like Foursquare, Twitter, Blogs etc, I would be surprised if many of those relationships become ‘real’.

On Facebook, with the exception of a few early mistakes, I know almost everybody. And then I know about 2 or 3 times that number in the real world (clients, acquaintances) whom are not necessarily friends.

But the numbers on Twitter (600) and the Blog (thousands), for instance, are not much more than avatar.

If my assumption is true, then none of those pesky rules that the bloggers dish out apply.

And more importantly, the latter type types of relationships are the type where I AM IN CONTROL.

You are in control because you:

  • Listen to what you want. Ignore what you want.
  • Friend. Unfriend. Follow. Unfollow.
  • Profile 1. Profile 2.

And that means we have a relationship – human interaction – without any of the associated stress.

Does this go some way towards explaining why social media (ambient intimacy) has exploded as it has – apparently overtaking porn as the number one use of the internet?

Our desire to have relationships without the stress (caused by the hierarchy) is bigger than sex, and it makes evolutionary sense too. Stress was originally a mechanism for survival, which is stronger than the urge to procreate.

If something is more important than sex, then it has to be pretty big – no pun intended.

Age of Conversation 3: From Social Media Theory to Social Media Practice

We have seen an incredible shift in the role of social media over the past three years. It has moved from an outlier in the marketing mix to one of the strategic pillars of any corporate marketing or branding exercise: 
— Drew McLellan.


Three years ago, I began a conversation with Drew McLellan on the topic of social media and crowdsourcing. Thousands of book sales and downloads, two editions and hundreds of collaborators later, we are pleased to announce that the Age of Conversation 3 is now available.

It all started when Drew blogged about a similar collaborative book effort and I suggested we get a few fellow bloggers to produce a marketing book in the same vain. Three emails later, and we had named the book and set what we thought would be an impossible goal: 100 bloggers. Within seven days we had commitments from 103 authors from over a dozen countries.

Back then, the marketing industry was abuzz about how citizen marketers were changing the landscape, whereas the second two editions have revolved primarily around the growing field of social media and how its methodologies have affected marketing as a whole. What all three books have in common is that they each capture a uniquely global vantage point.

The first Age of Conversation raised nearly $15,000 for Variety, the international children's charity, and the Age of Conversation 2 raised a further $10,000 for Variety. This year’s proceeds will be donated to an international children’s charity of the authors’ choosing.

It’s available in a sexy hardcover, softcover and even a Kindle version.

As the many authors of this new book explain, the focus may be on conversation, but you can’t participate in a conversation from the sidelines. It’s all about participation. And this book provides you with 171 lessons in this new art.

Get the inside running on how you turn social media theory into practice with the Age of Conversation 3 – it’s essential reading.

A Cup of Chaos #33: Digilegs

Ever wanted to walk like a fantasy creature from the movies? Here’s your chance – with Weta legs. Just slip them on and drop into the office for “casual friday” and watch the faces of your colleagues.


Pulling a Facebook Swifty

The folks who designed the language around Facebook have been very clever. When you think of Facebook, you think “like”. You think “friend”. It’s warm and fuzzy. It is comforting. You trust them (the faceless, but trustworthy them).

But over the last couple of weeks there have been some big changes at Facebook. Most of these changes won’t really be noticed by folks like you and I – the surface pretty much remaining the surface. The one visible change you may notice is the appearance of a Like button on your favourite sites. But deeper down is where it gets interesting and these changes will radically change the experience that we we once thought of as being our own.

The Graph API – a programming interface that allows computer applications and other computer systems to access the underlying business logic and data held within Facebook now turns our likes, relationships, status updates and interests into readily identifiable (and marketable) information.

This is great news for publishers (anyone with a website that wants to harvest/take advantage of the targeting, behavioural and segmentation data), bad news for Facebook’s competitors (and yes, I mean Twitter and Google) – and worse news for us – the chump users. Take a good read through this article by Alex Iskold at Read Write Web on the Facebook Open Graph – then see what this means in reality by reading the account of Kim Krause Berg:

Your personal profile is now a list of links. They link your content at their own discretion. So for example, I have the phrase “I am very proud of her”, referring to my daughter, in my profile. Facebook decided to link that to this Facebook page they created, without my permission.

Then – if you dare – use this tool to find out what Facebook knows (and shares) about you. You might be surprised. You might be horrified. You might be rubbing your hands together with glee.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a great article that tracks Facebook’s eroding privacy policy over time. They sum up as follows:

Viewed together, the successive policies tell a clear story. Facebook originally earned its core base of users by offering them simple and powerful controls over their personal information. As Facebook grew larger and became more important, it could have chosen to maintain or improve those controls. Instead, it’s slowly but surely helped itself — and its advertising and business partners — to more and more of its users’ information, while limiting the users’ options to control their own information.

Clearly this is a long process. There has not been the outcry that accompanied Facebook’s last change in their terms of service. Maybe they learned their lesson and made the mechanisms far less visible on purpose. But whatever their motive, I’m reviewing my settings. There really are some things I want to share only with my friends.

COP16: 16 Journeys from 16 Countries in 16 Weeks – Can I Count You In?

Last year, as Christmas came around, there was a powerful groundswell around climate change, culminating in the COP15 conference in Copenhagen (COP15 stands for the 15th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change). You may remember I was quite excited about “Hopenhagen” and the crowd sourced ambassador program put together by the Huffington Post. But it all felt too rushed. There was not enough time to build momentum outside the web world – we needed businesses on our side, governments to commit and we needed a grass roots, community activation plan that no one could ignore.

Despite the noise generated by Copenhagen, it was clear that the agreements not to agree, had been hammered out well beforehand. The groundswell arrived too late. It was all noise but no movement.

So I want to start early this year. COP16, to be held in Mexico in December, is the next global rallying point. But to make this successful, we need to do a lot more preparation in the lead up. And that means STARTING NOW.

What I am proposing is this …

COP16 – 16 Journeys from 16 Countries in 16 Weeks

I am looking for teams of participants in 16 countries. These teams will travel from their country of origin to Mexico, but they will do so over 16 weeks. They will travel where possible using sustainable technologies – electric or diesel cars, trains, boats, gliders – whatever comes to hand. The teams may hand off to others relay-style or stay the course from beginning to end.

Their task is not just to ARRIVE, but to EDUCATE, HARNESS and MOTIVATE people along the way. The aim is to create awareness and build a movement, town by town, truck stop by truck stop.

But this is not just about people. It’s also about business. We’ll be asking those sustainable businesses around the world how they can help. Who can provide the cars, the support, the transport, the logistics and the planning? Who can help us bridge the world’s oceans? Who can demonstrate their business innovation and global leadership by helping us achieve these aims?

And, of course, this is about stories. About the real stories of people touched already by climate change. It’s about the future stories of generations – that these teams can begin to also tell.

But this is also about YOU. These are only beginning ideas. I need you to rally around. Share your thoughts and best ideas. I need you to think about your NETWORKS – about who you know and how they can help. Share this idea – build on it – and let’s make sure that COP16 is not a cop-out.

Just don’t be silent!