Anyone involved in marketing, in transformation or change management knows that there is a simple fact – change is hard. Getting someone to understand that their product, job or world has changed is an enormous challenge. It requires not just logic, but also an emotional response. We need to change our hearts as well as our minds – and it is easy for us to KNOW something but very difficult for us to ACT on that knowledge.
What we need to do is swallow the truth. We need to consume it, to bring it into the depths of our beings. We need to give “new truth” the chance to spread through every fibre, infect every synapse and tingle each fold of skin.
And you know what? Our “gut” tells us a great deal about the “truthiness” of truth. Items that are unsavoury are expelled quickly in an impulsive response. “Heavy” items are digested slowly and over time.
Seth Godin suggests that the future is just like the past, but shinier:
Your industry has been completely and permanently altered by the connections offered by the internet. Your non-profit, your political campaign, your service business. Not a little different, not just email enabled or website marketed, but overhauled.
But the future – or more precisely, the true future, is not just shiny. It is tasty. We are hungry for it and for the sustenance it brings. Ask yourself not just how you are forging a future for yourself, your business and your community – also ask exactly what it is that we should swallow. If it’s not the truth, it won’t stay down for long!
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!
As the line between our personal and professional lives continues to blur, we are increasingly seeing both brands and individuals struggle with responsibility, ownership and commitment. This is being exacerbated by the accelerated uptake of social networking tools such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter – where our personal and professional lives sometimes meet in unexpected ways.
In an attempt to help delineate the personal/professional or public/private debate, many have adopted the idea of personal branding. Dan Schawbel has built an enviable profile and is recognised as a leading proponent in the personal branding space, but others such as Beth Harte simply don’t believe in personal brands. As Geoff Livingston points out, there is a real difference between a personal brand and an individual’s reputation:
Reputation is built upon past experiences — good or bad, a real track record. Personal branding is often an ego-based image based on communications. A personal brand can demonstrate a person is there, but it’s often shallow and can be contrived. It’s just like a sport stripe on a car, nice but no engine, no guts, no substance.
But what happens when a fake personal brand emerges that has internal consistencies? What happens when the stories that emerge around this “identity” build and sustain momentum? What happens when this identity gains a following?
When Dan Lyons began writing as Fake Steve Jobs, the online world was intrigued. But the thing that impressed me was the capacity for FSJ to inventively take on the Steve Jobs persona, accentuate some of his characteristics and entertain a growing number of readers. I particularly loved his ability to incorporate news and current events into the commentary, such as this post – Enough is enough! I just fired that idiot Jerry Yang:
But you know what really put me over the top? It was this ridiculous letter to shareholders that Yahoo put out yesterday. Thirteen hundred words long and it felt like thirteen thousand words and in the end what did it say? Blah blah blah friggin blah. Me good, Icahn bad. Jesus, Jerry. That's what you were doing when you were supposed to be blogging? You were writing some lame-ass alibi trying to make up some excuses for your lousy performance? I'm sorry, but you're done. You suck. You're toast. Maybe the Yahoo board can't manage to assemble a pair of balls big enough to fire you, but you know what? I was born with balls that big. In fact I actually like firing people. I get off on it. It gives me wood. You get it? I'm rock hard right now. I'm lifting my desk off the floor. You're done, Jerry.
But did this do any harm to Apple? Did it harm Steve Jobs? The very fact that someone with talent invested the time and creative effort to bring FSJ so vividly to life says much about the passions that are aroused around Apple. And I would argue that the parallel world that was created added dynamism and energy to our perceptions of both Apple and Steve Jobs. In the end, Dan Lyons drew a line in the sand, stepped across it and became Real Dan Lyons.
But what happens when a fake personal brand is a little closer to home?
Over the past few months, many of the Australians who use Twitter have been treated to the hilarious and sometimes provocative conversations of (fake)Stephen Conroy. As Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy in the Australian Government, the real Stephen Conroy drew the ire of many participants in the online and related industries over the proposal for an internet filter/censorship regime, and FSC proved to be a wonderfully satirical take on the events and discussion as they unfolded around this controversial topic.
The characterisation of FSC veered from scheming politician to Internet Geek. Sometimes FSC would mock the participants in the “Twitter echo chamber”, while at other times he would turn his attention to politicians. He even gave an interview to the press earlier this year where, when asked, what activities he pursues after hours, he replied:
I used to be an avid kitten fisherman (purely recreational; catch-and-release), but there just aren't enough hours in the day anymore to find kittens, let alone stuff them into a sack and toss them into a river.
However, as with Fake Steve Jobs, a line has been drawn in the sand for FSC. Over the last few weeks, pressure has been mounting on the person/s behind the caricature to reveal themselves. And today, Telstra employee, Leslie Nassar removed the FSC mask and announced to the world “OK, so here it is; Fake Stephen Conroy = Leslie Nassar”. And this is where it gets interesting.
Telstra is Australia’s largest company and as such is always involved in many large scale projects with the federal government. So the revelation that it was a Telstra employee who had been satirising the government minister responsible for broadband was bound to send Telstra’s PR and corporate communications team into overdrive. Thus far, however, there has been no press release – just this blog post from Mike Hickinbotham which starts:
First off, let's review the facts.
Lesile is not going to lose his job as a result of announcing he is the Fake Stephen Conroy
Telstra did not out Leslie as the Fake Stephen Conroy
Telstra's policy is that only selected spokepeople deal with the media
However, Bronwen Clune questions whether this response really is as open and transparent as claimed.
This is certainly a thorny issue for Telstra, and one which many brands will be watching carefully. Particular attention will be paid not just to what Telstra SAYS but what it DOES. As Seth Godin wrote recently on the subject of authenticity:
If it acts like a duck (all the time), it's a duck. Doesn't matter if the duck thinks it's a dog, it's still a duck as far as the rest of us are concerned.
Authenticity, for me, is doing what you promise, not "being who you are".
That's because 'being' is too amorphous and we are notoriously bad at judging that. Internal vision is always blurry. Doing, on the other hand, is an act that can be seen by all.
It strikes me that while many brands seek to reach out and engage their customers in an authentic way, there is still a lot of talking and not enough doing. By Mike Hickinbotham’s own admission, Leslie “understands the whimsical nature of social media and in particular Twitter”. Leslie has been able to build a following and keep a suspicious and cynical audience in hand.
From a branding point of view, this seems to be a great opportunity for Telstra to take advantage of a mini-crisis. I can imagine whole campaigns built around Fake Stephen Conroy or perhaps a more anonymous “Minister for the Internets”. I can see the hundreds if not thousands of tweets, blog posts and articles proclaiming Leslie as Australia’s own @Scobleizer and Telstra the undisputed leader in Australian social media strategy (I’m sure there is the possibility for some post-facto rationalisation by a planner somewhere).
Or, of course, Leslie may find himself out of a job.
A line in the sand has been drawn. Now it is just a question of which way Telstra will jump.
Mark Pollard shares this excellent presentation given to the IgniteSydney crowd recently. In it, Mark talks about his experience of running a large, interesting, and influential website, Stealth Magazine … well, it started out as a magazine, but is really a meeting place – a community – for hip hop. Since 2002 there have been 128,000 posts, 11,000 topics and almost 2000 members. Clearly this is a vibrant (and viable) website – and in this presentation, he shares his Seven Things to be Learned from Hip Hop. You can read through the background notes here.
What was particularly interesting to me was Mark’s conception of community – and his point that “anonymity is the antithesis of community”. This,in turn, generated some debate with Julian Cole and Matt Moore driving alternative points of view. Of course, like any definition, “community” is also hard to pin down.
My interest in community is mostly around the way that communities move (and can be moved) in relation to human behaviour. Whether we know it or not, almost every interaction we have with another person leaves a trace of our identity. Think Gattaca on a physical level and think language/nuance on an emotional level. Think style in terms of our visual footprint. The thing is, we are pre-programmed to be social – so we betray ourselves even with our best attempts at subterfuge. And for all the chaos and noise of our daily lives, it is remarkably easy to find the holes in “fake identities” only because it is incredibly difficult to be consistently somebody else. And this was made abundantly clear to me recently when I was the subject of an experiment in chaos, courtesy of Marcus Brown.
Taking a lead from this speech by Heath Ledger as the Joker, flipped a coin and decided to unleash a little chaos. On me/my site. It appeared that he had learned of some flaw in Feedburner that opened a door … or so he claimed, and I was being singled out as “Mr Age of Conversation” – yet another . But he paused before moving ahead. He published a poll asking whether chaos should be directed at me, or at his own site. He gave us a choice. By coincidence, this all happened during a week when I was disconnected – on holiday and with very limited Internet access … so I did not really know what would happen and what the outcome would be.
I waited for the votes to come in. I checked my email each couple of days, but could not see much action. I visited Marcus’ site a couple of times but the voting looked pretty close. Eventually, the votes were counted. I had received an enormous number of votes – and I thank everyone who supported me. As Marcus explains:
People will do anything to save Gavin Heaton. What surprised me most was how devious they were about doing it. I know for a fact that most of the people (there were about 700 of them) came into vote off the back of an email. It was brilliant to watch because they were keeping so quiet. There were only a couple of tweets about it and the volume was very low. It was fascinating to watch.
What Marcus was watching via voting patterns combined with web analytics, was the activation of a community. But more interestingly, it was a swift and directed course of action set in train by a single request (as Marcus explains, most voting was triggered off the back of a single email – sent not by me). And this is where community comes into play. While the “network” could have been used – such as Twitter or a blog post – that sort of open dynamic can also invite additional chaos and randomness into the mix. That means, that for every positive response (on my behalf), there could well have been additional random responses which could go either way.
In my view, community is about belonging. It is about the actions and interactions over time which build a web of mutually reinforcing reputations. These repeated patterns of micro interactions allow us to create a “social judgement” about the people with whom we interact – even if we don’t know their names, we know them by the traces left in the consistency of their actions, in-actions and communications. I was “saved” from chaos by the orchestrated mobilising of a community to which I belonged – by the people in whom I had established a bond. And at the heart of this, at the very centre, was trust. As Valdis Krebs explains:
… people are loyal to what they are connected to and what provides them benefits. People stick with established ties they trust. Interacting with those we know and trust brings a sense of warmth and belonging to the virtual communities we visit via our computer screens.
By activating a community (rather than a network), response could be directed.
As I have said before, Marcus is one of the foremost practitioners of social media creation. He inhabits and creates a storyline like no one else I know, and activates it with an intensity that turns our gaze around on ourselves – making us ask the question – will he do it … or will I? That is, he forces us into a state where non-participation is also an act of engagement.
When I read the lead-up posts on Marcus’ blog, I was wondering who he was targeting. But by the end of the first post, I had an inkling that he was talking about me. There were clues scattered throughout that were pointing in my direction. And yet, even when he did announce that I was the target, it still sent a shiver down my spine. My intuition had read the signs, but I had not yet comprehended this – I was caught by the story, and had not yet brought it into my real world. But I was reading superficially. I was reading what was SAID, not what was MEANT. I was ignoring the mind reader’s toolkit.
What does this all mean?
Clearly “authenticity” is hard to fake – but we ARE easily swayed by a compelling story. It’s why headlines work so well – they set the parameters for the narrative that follows. For in the story – and in this case - a live unfolding of events, we are in-effect practising SOCIAL JUDGEMENT. And while, in real life, we are able to use a variety of cues to determine the trustworthiness of certain situations and/or individuals, in an online environment, we are still finding our way. As David Armano asks, do you know who you are talking to?
The thing to remember, however, is that trust trumps story.
On reflection, I realise that over the last few years I had followed, almost to the letter, each of Mark Pollard’s seven steps … but it was the last THREE steps (pass the mic, let the community self-regulate, get off the computer) that were the catalysts for action. And this is important – because my interest is in driving behaviour and creating the conditions for participation.
And as we move into the meat of 2009, and your marketing plans firm (or shrink), I want you to consider this. Think about how “social” your media plans will be. Think about the directions you want to move and how you want to get there. Determine the conditions through which you can create social judgement. And most importantly, ask yourself – who do you trust – and who trusts you?
Over the last few days I have been interested to see the many and varied reactions to David Armano’s efforts at fundraising for his friend, Daniela. You can read the original post here (and Scott Drummond’s excellent coverage here).
While there are a number of supporters, there have also been a number of detractors. David, himself, has come out and admitted that this has turned out in a way that he had not predicted:
On that note, there are all kinds of attention being drawn to this including criticism. To say I knew what I was getting into would be inaccurate. My initial concerns were for the safety of my own family, not what the pundits have to say about this … I am not a fundraiser. I'm a dad, husband and full time employee—and an imperfect one at all three. Belinda and I decided not to sit this one out. It's really that simple.
Some of the questions that have been raised go directly to the heart of social media … what does it mean to be “connected”, where does responsibility overlap “connection” and what happens to our TRUST when money is involved?
David Armano simply activated his network to change a situation – he asked people to donate a small amount of money. In doing so, he put the trust of that network to the test. He put his credibility on the line. He opened his personal actions to the scrutiny of the world (or at least the several thousand connections he has created over the last few years). In doing so, he has raised over three times the amount that he had aimed for (which was $5000).
We have seen the power of social networks before. A similar approach raised over $16,000 for Variety via The Age of Conversation (and Age of Conversation 2 continues the tradition) … and I have been involved in a number of more personal projects that benefited particular individuals. And let’s face it, the job of a marketer is to encourage people to participate (in a relationship of some kind). However, this is not simply a matter of raising awareness, or even raising funds – once it takes hold, these SOCIAL projects become MOVEMENTS and grow quickly beyond our grasp.
As Spike Jones from Brains on Fire explains, a movement can begin with a single conversation:
If that conversation is filled with honesty, transparency, true interest and a LOT of listening, then the first seed is planted. The movement has begun in one mind and one heart. And that’s usually the beginning of something powerful, meaningful and full of potential that gets realized more every day.
And this is what David Armano has begun. It is what a great number of people have participated in. For many, it is their first time. Perhaps they found their participation thrilling, exciting. Perhaps, like Scott, they felt worried afterwards. But this is exactly what social media is about. It is going beyond the merely social. It is moving quickly from words to action. It is about risking your trust. It is not always strategic. It is not even always tactical. But it is ALWAYS personal (for someone) – which, again, is why businesses find it challenging to get started.
Take a look at this great post by Mack Collier and his discussion with Olivier Blanchard – “The point [of social media] is really to help people connect better”. It is through social media that we begin to not just “connect” but find the place where we BELONG.
So if you get involved in a social movement like this … remember, leave your shoes at the door. It’s not “safe” in the way that you would normally consider “safety”. It’s not controlled by an administrator. It’s not overseen by a government department. You might think, after the fact, that your participation could have been different, more tempered, focused.
But your participation marks your initiation into the tribe. You can never unlearn this experience.
The rules are different. And now, so are you.
UPDATE: Alan Wolk has a great post on this topic, and Scott Henderson follows-up yesterday's discussion after chatting with David Armano.
Each year, around this time, the buzz starts building. There are a couple of emails and then maybe a couple of messages via Twitter. Men across the country start twitching their noses and scratching their faces. Each of us wonder — “can I do it again”. But sure enough, come November 1, the signs are obvious.
Days later, even a casual walk down the street will yield telltale signs. Five o’clock shadow yields to three day growth. Rough, sprouts give way to more a more fecund appearance … and the men, united in this cause, knowingly nod acknowledgement to each other. For during this month every year, we are no longer disengaged, disconnected or disinterested. We are all citizens of the Republic of Movember.
During November, two charities push to raise awareness around men’s health – prostate cancer and depression. Men across the country are encouraged to cleanly shave their faces and grow a moustache for charity. You can raise funds individually or as part of a team, with the funds raised going to the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia and BeyondBlue.
I have now been involved in Movember for the past three years. Not only do I believe in supporting these causes, I am a great fan of the strategic approach that the Movember team take to participation – for during this month I am not just “another guy growing a mo” – I am a “mo bro” (I have joined Jye’s team here). That’s right, I become part of a community (a republic no less), I join or establish a team, and I make an individual contribution to worthy causes. And importantly, it brings a sense of play and enjoyment into the world (something that I think is essential for the future of brands).
In recent weeks, we have seen a number of Australian brands begin seriously investigating social media (with mixed success). Causes such as Movember can be excellent vehicles for “humanising” your brands … and all you need to do is participate. How might this work?
Let’s take one of the country’s most notable moustached business leaders … Sol Trujillo. What sort of momentum and interest would Sol’s participation drive in Movember? How many Telstra employees would also register for the internal team? How much positive PR and buzz would this create? And how would this transform the way that YOU and the customers of Telstra think about Australia’s largest telco?
For brands wanting to engage with social media, the first step is to listen. The second is to participate. Is anyone listening? Is that a hand I see raised? I would love to think so.
When I was a child I was always warned to be careful of strangers … and I remember how confusing this was. Who was a stranger? What did a stranger look like? In this research, released by Universal McCann in September 2008, we now know – strangers look incredibly like us. And the tipping point? When it comes to opinion and recommendation, we trust them more than we ever have.
The research polled 17,000 Internet users in 29 countries to discover that there is a new landscape of influence driven by:
The rise of social media
The proliferation of influence channels
For brands, this is transforming the marketing landscape – with a vast majority of digital, social interaction revolving around “experience”, conversations about YOUR brands are already taking place. And more importantly, we now trust the opinions of strangers almost as much as we trust people we know well. This is the stranger danger for brands. It is also why not engaging in the debate about your brand carries a high risk. Take a read and think about your leading brand:
How are you participating in the online conversation
What are your strategies for interacting with influencers
Are you organisationally prepared for the transparency required to move from conversation to action?
How are you “listening” and measuring key brand indicators in various digital channels?
We used to say that “the only thing worse than being talked about is NOT being talked about.” But things have changed. You see, when the advertising challenge was to “cut through.” repetition was its own virtue; while in this Age of Conversation, the factors which determine marketing success are more closely related to the intangible factors of trust, reputation and social currency.
This is the first part of my latest post over at MarketingProfs. Check out the rest here
This week there has been much debate around the notion of digital identity. After all, just because someone owns a “username” or email address, it doesn’t mean that their identity can be assured.
Stephen Fry, a self-confessed gadget lover, is well known as a blogger, but his sudden appearance on Twitter saw a gold rush of a kind – with the digital network humming as word spread of his bonafide participation in the digital conversation. I am sure that I am not alone in thinking of printing and framing the confirmation email announcing my new connection to a very real celebrity. The important aspect of this, was not only how quickly it spread (after only days he is following around 5,500 people and has an almost equal number of followers), but that in the act of spreading there was an implicit validation – Stephen’s identity was confirmed by the community who propagated his participation. This has since been followed up by clever tweets that intertwine his personal, professional and geographic narrative.
Contrast this with the misguided attempt by National Australia Bank employees to generate conversation about their fledgling uBankMyFutureBank.org online service. This probably would never have garnered much attention if NAB had not already weathered one social media storm. However, in an environment where social currency is dependent upon reputation and trust vests not in the brand but in the community you serve – a second opaque excursion into the blogosphere was always going to prompt a response. Both Stephen Collins and Laurel Papworth responded, “sniffing out” the fake identity and wondering where, exactly, NAB sources its social media strategy expertise. Clearly NAB did not anticipate or even understand the viral and contagious nature of online conversation … and the way in which TRUST permeates and underwrites all our interactions.
UPDATE: Charis Palmer over at the Better Banking blog confirms that MyFutureBank.org has been PULLED and brings another viewpoint to the table. I have left a comment, but would love to hear your view as well.
So it was with some trepidation and mis-trust that the Twittersphere greeted the arrival of Malcolm Turnbull, Leader of the Federal Opposition (Twitter ID: @turnbullmalcolm). It was doubly confusing because we were also suddenly confronted with @malcolmturnbull (whose Twitter bio states “i is teh leaderz”).
In the first day, iMalcolm gathered a great deal of followers as the interest and contagion set in. He was, however, beyond frugal in the number of people he would, in turn, follow (day 1 score iMalcolm 443 vs the population 0). But around mid-afternoon today a change occurred, and iMalcolm began following those who had followed him. This reciprocation hit like a shockwave across the Australian Twittersphere. In response to a direct question (“can you please confirm …”) from John Johnston, the reply came: “@jjprojects it is me myself and as you can see I am still learning how it works. Cheers, Malcolm.”
While politicians in the US have welcomed the opportunities to reach, engage and activate the constituencies, it has been slow going here in Australia. In fact, the innovative approach that the Obama campaign have developed, I would argue, outstrips any efforts that have come thus far from brands or corporations. Perhaps iMalcolm has seen this potential. He has already taken on the lessons freely offered by the Twittersphere, and has a substantial web presence as you would expect. Interestingly, this extends to include a quirky (and humanising) dog blog. While iMalcolm has clearly arrived, I have a feeling we will be hearing a whole lot more from him – and don’t expect him to be disappearing any time soon. (Unlike some online bank.)
And this, just in, from Julian Cole who has already found iMalcolm hitting the Twitter back channel during question time.
*iMalcolm – a real person tweeting in the name of another. From time to time, these identities will actually coincide with reality. Not guaranteed.
I remember when Telstra’s Now We Are Talking blog launched. It made a bit of a ripple, but did not really dint my consciousness, which is surprising because I am always on the lookout for brands (especially big brands) who are digging into social media. But what I do recall was a brief visit to the site and a feeling that this “blog” was going to be just what the name suggested – a whole lot of talking and not a lot of listening.
Last week, Mike Hickinbotham (from said blog), tagged me to give my two cents on whether nowwearetaking is hitting the mark. It was a nice tactic as the previous week we had a short Twitter conversation on the topic of Gartner’s hype cycle (and yes, I am still working on a post about that) … so Twitter was used effectively to reach out and break the ice, and then the blog activated to extend and deepen the engagement and conversation. “The old one-two”, as Maxwell Smart might have said.
But for me, the old one-two in social media is about the exchange of value. It is about the easy fostering of conversation and the swift conversion of that dialogue into action. In many ways, it’s more about doing than talking, after all, actions speak louder than words. And now, at least thanks to Mike, I was curious – and wanted to see just how Australia’s largest corporate blogger was dipping into the big pond.
When I visited the site, I thought I might comment on Mike’s post. Then I noticed that before being ABLE to comment I needed to register. But this is no simple registration process … I needed to also provide my postcode as a form of identification along with some demographic data. Within seconds, I have TWO barriers in place before I can even begin to have a conversation.
Recommendation: Open up comments. Make sure that a valid email address is provided, but registration is an inhibitor to conversation (which is supposedly one of your aims).
As I stepped through the registration process, I was greeted by a link to the Terms and Conditions. And while I knew what awaited me, I just couldn’t help looking for it:
By submitting material to a Forum, you:
grant us a perpetual, royalty-free, non-exclusive, irrevocable worldwide licence to use, copy, publish, publicly perform, communicate and adapt that material, and to sublicense those rights through the operation of the this site; and
agree to its public disclosure.
So not only do I have to register my details, I also have to sign over the rights to any insight I share as part of a discussion!
OK, to be honest, this does not really bother me. It is, however, an indication of the lack of “transparency” despite what seems to be good intentions on the part of the bloggers.
Recommendation: Go crazy and republish your blogs under a creative commons license. This will not only demonstrate that you GET social media and its economy of mutual attribution and participative value co-creation, it will also build you enormous and instant goodwill.
Now, I am no stranger to corporate bureaucracies, to legal reviews or brand guidelines; so I have to tip my hat to Telstra’s social media team for making it this far. But, to be honest, as Cameron Reillysuggested, there is a long way to go.
There are a growing band of active Australian bloggers who also provide consulting services, strategic advice and insight as to how you can plan for, build and execute an integrated strategy with social media, trust and transparency at its heart. I am sure they would help accelerate your successes in this space (especially now that you are throwing Twitter into the mix). It’s time to slay some (corporate) sacred cows and really get the message out. Telstra has made a great start but is also faced with an almost unmatched opportunity. I’d like to see them take it.