Creating Coincidence

In 2001, ten-year-old Laura Buxton released a helium balloon. On one side she wrote “please return to Laura Buxton”, and on the other she wrote her address. Where would this balloon land? A tree outside her village in Staffordshire, UK? A lake? A field?

It was found by a man in his hedge in Wiltshire, 140 miles away. He read the name on the balloon and took it to the little girl next door. Excitedly she wrote to Laura Buxton to let her know that she had the balloon. The catch? The girl was also named Laura Buxton, and she was also 10 years old.

Understanding how we perceive these coincidences and how they help create a story is vitally important in a world inundated with “messages”. Read more in my latest MarketingProfs post.

The Three Ages of Content Management Systems

I have been working with content management systems for longer than I care to admit. I have built my own, rudimentary systems using PHP and I have selected and implemented large scale systems that powered business and consumer sites. I have done evaluations on some of the largest (and most expensive) CMS vendors and also worked with open source CMS providers.

Over the years, I slowly shifted away from the proprietary packages and embraced the open source platforms. But it seems that we have really had three separate ages:

  • The Age of Waving
  • The Age of Shouting
  • The Age of Sharing

The Age of Waving

Way back in the mists of time, content management was a complicated, expensive business. It was the time of the dot com boom – and specialist content management platforms began to emerge. Overnight it seemed that companies like Interwoven and Vignette took centre stage – it was the age of waving and we were all vying for attention.

From a business point of view, we knew already that hand crafted websites would not scale. There were too many pages to manage, too many authors to deal with and it was too hard to search. We needed a better way. Websites were a measure of innovation – and in a time when many businesses struggled to provide their employees with an email address, the launch of a website seriously aligned your brand with “new thinking”. Of course, we still measured website traffic in “hits” so the thinking may have been new, but it wasn’t very deep.

Meanwhile, consumers were reading these sites like brochures. We were looking for information, doing our product research and searching for local stores. eCommerce was in its infancy and we were still not sure whether we could trust the internet with our valuable credit card numbers.

The Age of Waving was about saying – “here I am”. But the next level of development transformed not just the technology, but also our expectations.

The Age of Shouting

Once we realised the power of content management, everyone wanted a piece of the action. I remember developing complicated matrices that compared the feature sets of the main CMS vendors and cross matched it to open source variants. I published white papers in PDF and put them on the web. I felt like my own miniature Gartner-Group-of-One.

Meanwhile, the shift had begun within the business, with marketing taking control of the web as a “channel”. This often involved a bloody fight with the IT teams who had lovingly nurtured the site through its infancy. But it seemed like there was money to be made, messages to be pushed and advertising to be monetised, so a coup was arranged and the messaging volume was amped up. There was flash, music and even some rudimentary video. It all needed to be integrated and managed by the CMS. We also needed brand consistency, templates and contact forms. We needed workflow and approvals. We needed “legal to be involved”.

It was during this time that I had a kind of a love affair with the Scandinavian platform ezPublish – it was “social” before we even knew what “social networks” were – but was built with enterprise scale in mind. There were access control lists, user management functions, publishing functions and scheduling and a shopping/eCommerce system that could be turned on with the press of a button. At the same time, I also loved Lotus Quickplace – precisely because it was quick (and quite pretty), though not as powerful as ezPublish.

Consumers were now reading sites like newspapers. We were expecting content – and lots of it. We wanted research information and ease-of-use. We wanted searching capabilities and bookmarking. We wanted our own profiles on websites – we wanted personalisation. Or we thought we did.

I remember working with the Koz Community Publishing Platform, talking to publishers like the Trading Post and the Chicago Tribune. The ground was shifting but we didn’t know where it was going. It was all gut instinct. User generated content sounded like a good idea, but raised many problems (database scaling, traffic volumes, user management, ad serving, revenue splits etc). We didn’t yet have the business models in place to take advantage of the opportunities (and perhaps we still don’t).

We were measuring unique visitors and crying about the fact that it seemed so small compared with “hits”. Every vendor and his dog were now providing content management systems – and if you looked closely, you could see these strange beasts – blogging systems – starting to appear.

Joomla and Drupal came along and shook the world again. These serious, enterprise grade content management systems came with all the bells and whistles, deep functionality and support from a great community of developers. There were plenty of plugins and extensions that could help you deliver the perfect web solution for your business or your customers. There were shops, templates, banner ad management, forums and all sorts of features. But it wasn’t a new beginning – it was the end of an era.

The Age of Sharing

Then, the web world became social.

The content management system has shifted from being a channel or vehicle for awareness and then broadcast, to being a platform for sharing and engagement. Where once the most important aspect of content management was on the “business” of managing content – it has now shifted to the business of managing conversations and conversation flows. Sure we want people to know about and find our content, and we want them to engage with it – but we also want them to share it, distribute it through their own personal publishing networks. We want them to recommend our products and services.  And we want them to engage with us beyond the web.

On the CMS front, vendors increasingly bolt-on new functionality. There are blogs and forums, there are plugins to manage users through Facebook Connect, and support for user generated content. Similarly, blogging platforms have continued to evolve, but being social at their heart, they have an intrinsic advantage. And now, with WordPress 3.0, it seems that the functionality, flexibility and scale offered by large scale CMS vendors is now available through this open source platform.

And interestingly, consumers are in charge. Even within the workplace. In many instances, we are seeing ourselves in more than one light – we’re no longer the 1990s worker, firewalled and locked-down. We’re empowered and demanding – wanting to push for results and ready to achieve them with enterprise, cloud or web based apps where ever they may be. Yes, this may be the IT groups greatest nightmare, but it indicates that “being social” no longer ends at the sliding glass doors of the workplace – and nor does it begin with the technology that we choose for our businesses. It’s all about attitude – and that is ageless.

Five Must-Read Posts from Last Week

Have you ever noticed the ebb and flow of blogging – how some weeks there are hundreds of new posts flooding the social media streams, while at other times they dwindle? There was a slow start last week, but it picked up as we hit Wednesday. Or perhaps it was me. Anyway, here are five great posts from last week. Enjoy!

  1. In the great rush to push content out, we often forget to double check our trust index. Just watch how quickly social media oriented market research results spread. But how often do you double check the sample size, the reputation of the research group or even look at the focus and structure of the questions? Ron Shevlin suggests that you can’t always trust trust research, I tend to agree.
  2. On the subject of asking the right questions, Umair Haque suggests that the role of governments and markets have been confused. Rather than looking at the whether governments should accept the dictates and direction of markets, perhaps we should look to something like ‘betterment’ – and we need new economic tools to help us. He suggests four new economic benchmarks.
  3. Edward Boches provides a little context around Bud Caddell’s crowdfunding project – The Bucket Brigade. In this day and age, as Edward explains, you don’t need a gigantic network to create, experiment and succeed. You just need a committed and active network.
  4. Patti Huntington reminds us that beauty is timeless with a post on Charlotte Rampling making the cover of Crush. Great to see some diversity of representation.
  5. Jasmin Tragas shares a series of videos on cool things you can do with iPads and music.

Marketing Briefs and Designing for Collective Action

Often, when it comes to advertising and broader marketing, social media is bolted onto the side of existing programs. There’ll be a request for a “Facebook”, expectations of a Twitter account and maybe even a blog. But if you are serious about creating a successful BUSINESS program, then integration is the way to go.

“Integrated marketing” has been one of the great promises for years – but is notoriously difficult to achieve. There are different silos (and often different agencies) responsible – and budgets are often spread thinly across the campaign architecture. Unfortunately, one agency’s view of the client’s business objective is often different to another’s – and even where there is alignment, the specialty of each silo or agency will dictate a preference for approach, channel and budget.

Creating a collective view of the problem – and a shared commitment to solving it is the end game. That’s partly why I love this great presentation by Mike Arauz. On the one hand, you can read it as-is – a great investigation into the mechanisms behind collective action. So as you are going about the business of building your strategies, think about how you design for the outcome you want to achieve, and consider how the network will play a role in that.

On the other hand, think about collective action from your business or agency management point of view. How do you create the change you need to support your program? What can be designed and orchestrated to transform behaviour? And how do you use the collective intelligence genome (see slides below) to drive this all forward?

Social Media People on the Move (Australia)

As you probably know, I run the Social Media Jobs Australia website so that people looking to fill social media roles can easily find those who are already active social media participants. It is free to list jobs and free to apply. It’s just free service to the community.

Over the past 12 months or so there have been plenty of jobs posted – many more than the same time the previous year. This took me a little by surprise – given the tightness in the advertising and media industries. But then, we are also seeing quite a few new roles on the client side – which perhaps is now stimulating demand on the agency side.

While it is great to see so many new roles, I often don’t hear about how those roles were filled – or by whom. So I thought I’d take a leaf out of Jeremiah Owyang’s book and start a “social people on the move” category to highlight those starting new social media related roles.

Here’s a list of the folks I can remember from the beginning of 2010 to now. Please leave a comment below if you know more:

Name From To Feed
Julian Cole The Population Head of Digital, TCO feed-icon32x32
Jye Smith Switched On Media Digital Strategist, Weber Shandwick feed-icon32x32
Rachel Beaney Project Australia Social Media Planner, Amnesia feed-icon32x32
Kate Carruthers Creation Nation Strategy Consultant, Hyro  
Zoe Condon Stevie English Hair Community Handler, Vodafone Hutchison Australia  
Natalie Swainston Ogilvy Public Relations Marketing Manager, Inspire Foundation  
Scott Drummond Sports Hydrant Online Community Manager, Optus  
Karalee Evans Headspace Social Strategy Manager, Amnesia feed-icon32x32
Matthew Gain Weber Shandwick Head of Digital Communications, Edelman feed-icon32x32
Janina Geraghty Paul Wakeling Motor Group Marketing and Communications Manager, Inchcape Automotive Retail feed-icon32x32
Tiphereth Gloria Amnesia Social Media Strategy and Management, George Patterson Y&R feed-icon32x32
Tim Longhurst GetUp Director of Strategy, Amnesia  
Zac Martin   Social Media Manager, George Patterson Y&R  
Cathie McGinn Geekdom Marketing and Communications Director, Reading Room Australia feed-icon32x32
David Olsen Search Strategies Web Editor, Loyalty Media feed-icon32x32
Joel Pearson Amnesia Online Account Manager, PHD Media feed-icon32x32
Andrew Richardson Amnesia Creative Director, Reading Room Australia  
Heather Snodgrass Klick Communications Strategy Director, We Are Social Australia  
Tom Voirol Amnesia Director, Reading Room Australia  

Advice from Fathers to Daughters

100_4653I often find great websites and content by clicking on a random link on Twitter. I then tend to leave the tab open, letting what I read soak into my mind while pursuing other work.

Some could call this multi-tasking – but it’s much less conscious, much less directed. Perhaps it could be considered “creative”.

The other day as I scanned TweetDeck, the tool that I use to manage the vast chattering hoard that is Twitter, I noticed a link to a letter from F Scott Fitzgerald to his daughter. The eleven year old was away at camp, and her eloquent father had written to her to help her navigate where best she placed her energies. This list of things to worry about, things to not worry about, and things to think about I plan to share with my own girls.

Things to worry about:

Worry about courage
Worry about cleanliness
Worry about efficiency
Worry about horsemanship…

Things not to worry about:
Don't worry about popular opinion
Don't worry about dolls
Don't worry about the past
Don't worry about the future
Don't worry about growing up
Don't worry about anybody getting ahead of you
Don't worry about triumph
Don't worry about failure unless it comes through your own fault
Don't worry about mosquitoes
Don't worry about flies
Don't worry about insects in general
Don't worry about parents
Don't worry about boys
Don't worry about disappointments
Don't worry about pleasures
Don't worry about satisfactions

Things to think about:
What am I really aiming at?
How good am I really in comparison to my contemporaries in regard to:
(a) Scholarship
(b) Do I really understand about people and am I able to get along with them?
(c) Am I trying to make my body a useful instrument or am I neglecting it?

I really love the last bit. It’s about purpose. It’s about our place in the world. And that’s something to seriously think about.

Storytelling for a Cause: Blurb for Good

One of the most powerful ways of engaging people, creating change and yes, transforming the world in which we live, is to tell stories. From Homer to Perez Hilton, from the Bible to the Simpsons, stories continue to shape our lives. And at the heart of the story has always been the desire to connect – between the author and the reader, the storyteller and the audience. This strange, sometimes antagonistic bond is as much part of the storytelling tradition as words themselves.

Interestingly, the production and distribution of stories also seems to have come full circle. We started with the bards who would memorise, distribute and share Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey for a few sheckels. One has to ask, “was the fall of Troy really a military victory or a massively successful word of mouth campaign?” It took Heinrich Schliemann centuries to uncover the truth.

Realising that knowledge and power were close bed fellows, the church accumulated vast stores of manuscripts. Cloistered away in abbeys across Europe, monks copied and created, philosophised and imagined – all the while contributing to a precious body of knowledge protected by the fortress-like walls of places like the Vatican Library.

Centuries of work would be swept away with the invention of the printing press, beginning a process which would not just share knowledge but transform our very notion of intelligence. Matching the newly literate population’s thirst for knowledge, whole industries sprang up – schools, printing houses, publishers – and of course, the mass media. Each of these cordoned off a market of their own in an attempt to capitalise on the changes coursing their way through society’s veins. Walls sprang up, money exchanged hands. The knowledge drug had us all hooked.

A century or two on, these walls are also crumbling. In minutes we can create our own blogs and websites, write our own stories and share them with the world. And with sites like, we can take these stories and share in the great literary and social phenomenon of authoring a book.

Last year, Mark Pollard and I, concerned at the mental health and substance abuse issues confronting young men, we reached out to colleagues, friends and family, asking for their stories and their experiences. We pulled it together into a powerful collection of short stories entitled The Perfect Gift for a Man. We published is using the self-publishing platform, donating the money raised to the Inspire Foundation’s Reach Out program.

Projects like this are now much easier for qualifying not-for-profit organisations. Blurb for Good enables citizen philanthropists to create, market and sell books – with a special page in the Blurb bookstore, and access to the BookShow widget (see below).

But how easy is it? I used the Blurb BookSmart software to create a family holiday picture book in about three hours. I had the photos and an idea and I got it done. You can too.

The Perfect Gift for a Man by Gavin Heaton and Mark Pollard | Make Your Own Book


But the best thing about this, for me, is that NFP authors can apply to Blurb to receive an additional contribution from Blurb for every book sold. So, not only do you keep 100% of the profits from the sale of the book, you get access to a secure online shopfront, tools to help you market your book and a little extra cash to help change the world. Sound good? Check out Blurb for Good. Happy book making!

Vibewire – FastBreak Events

On the last Friday of every month, Vibewire hosts a morning of inspirational young entrepreneurs and innovators sharing their stories. It’s five rapid-fire speakers with five minutes to fire your imagination. It starts at 7:45am and finishes up before 9:00am – so that you can get to the office in time.

What’s it like?

Take a look at the video below (featuring Mark Pollard).

The next event with the theme “What Now” is to be held on Friday June 25, at 7:45am at the Powerhouse Museum. There is a fantastic line-up, including:

Tickets are limited (but only cost $8). Get in early and savour the delicious pastries from Black Star Pastry.

Five Must-Read Posts from Last Week

A little late this week due to the long weekend, but here are some of the flecks of gold gleaned from the great alluvial stream of the web. Enjoy!

  1. Getting people to step outside of their comfort zone is difficult. It is doubly so when you are dealing with executives who are measured and rewarded on short term results. Ross Dawson shares five keys to helping executive teams think about the future. Try it yourself!
  2. The term “innovation” gets bandied about in almost every meeting. In fact, it has become a drinking game trigger. But when everyone innovates it’s hard to see the good wood from the plantation forest. Saul Kaplan suggests that we are confusing invention with innovation, and that it’s time to put our customers back in the centre of the experience.
  3. When I was in my 20s, all my managers thought that I was going to take over the world. That my generation would sweep away the knowledge and value that had been accrued over the previous 50 years. It happened. But it’s a layering of experience over time, not a revolution. Gen X should read Rosetta Thurman’s Three Myths about Generation Y – the more things change, the more things stay the same (via Mandi Bateson)
  4. When you are sweating over a concept – where it eeks its way into your imagination and won’t let go – what do you do? Neil Perkin encourages us to let our best ideas go.
  5. Sometimes an explanation is best made by analogy. Is social media like golf? Craig Wilson thinks so. Makes me glad that web cams aren’t mandatory!