Act Like You Care

I’ve always been interested in people. At university I would spend hours in the coffee shop watching people. I would notice the small gestures. I would see the forced smile of an unhappy coincidence. Or the joyous embrace of a true surprise. And as I watched – and drank coffee – I realised that our bodies betray us before the words ever do. Indeed, our actions speak louder than words – with some suggesting that over 90% of our communication is non-verbal.

But if this is the case, how do we go about establishing credibility and trust online?

This is where social networks are coming to play an important role. While we may not know or trust a brand or a company (or the brand manager working there), we may well know others who do. And the level of trust and respect that we hold for that other person will impact our actions – whether to research, engage and purchase – or not.

Why is this distinction important?

Most business people drink their own kool aid (which is, perhaps, as it should be). But your customers (in general) don’t work for you. They don’t spend hours of every day thinking about your business. They are thinking about their lives – the problems, the joys, the relationships. They are wondering about interest rates, mortgages and what to cook for dinner. You are probably the same – as Robyn McMaster explains, we perform many different roles each day depending on our responsibilities.

Despite this (and of course, we know this deep down), many corporate blogs, websites and social media outposts are designed and populated with content which aims to influence customers.

As I have said before, it’s not about influence, it’s about trust. If you really want to transform the relationship you have with your customers, it’s time to stop thinking short term sale. It’s time to stop dating and get real about commitment. And in a way, that means sharing the needs, interests and concerns of your customers.

It’s time to watch HOW you say something rather than WHAT you say. Julia Hanna over at the HBS Working Knowledge blog suggests that “People often are more influenced by how they feel about you than by what you're saying. It's not about the content of the message, but how you're communicating it.” And online, that’s determined by your actions within the network.

It’s time to act like you care – or find someone who does.

Real Life Social Networks

Here is a great presentation on social networks by Paul Adams (with thanks to Rachel Beaney). Complete with slides and speaker notes, the presentation steps through the marked differences in our behaviours online and off.

It’s the perfect primer for those who are just coming to grips with the world of social media – and a nice reminder for those who are more conversant with topics such as:

As you go through the presentation, think about your clients and think about your customers. Think about the topics from their point of view – and then also think through your own behaviours. Think about how you use social media/networks at work and at play – is there a difference? Should there be? Will you change what you do based on what the presentation reveals?

I will be interested to know!

Resonance Agents

I am working on a project at the moment which has influence at the very centre of its strategy. But as soon as we mention the word “influence” it brings a whole hierarchy of associations along for the ride. For example, I’m sure that you, reading this, have already leaped ahead 10 steps – and that is the challenge. Many of you will have read Gladwell’s Tipping Point and will, no doubt, be thinking about the way that a small number of influencers can create the kind of network effect that drives consumer behaviour. But as I have written previously, when it comes to social or digital strategy (in particular), we can’t just focus on reaching the tipping point. We need to go well beyond this – to impact behaviour, create lasting and beneficial change and deliver against business and organisational objectives.

Yet, in doing so, we have no choice but to work with “influencers” – after all, we are working with people, not numbers. I was reminded of this great post, Curating Resonant Agents, by Katie Chatfield on the work of Duncan Watts, and the presentation that came along with it. Take a read, it provides a context for the type of thinking you will need to undertake to be able to apply the concept of influence to your business or brand.

iCitizen 2008: Duncan Watts

View more presentations from Resource Interactive.


So, where does this leave us? I like Katie’s focus on resonance. When Stanford’s Eric Sun conducted research into Facebook “dispersion chains” – the length of connections through which a message/story would travel across a cluster of connections – he found that resonance and resonance agents are important. More important than sheer numbers. Influence, it seems, does not accrue to a particular person or even a particular group of people – certainly not, at least, when you are focusing on changing behaviour. Influence accrues to those resonance agents willing, able and (perhaps) predisposed towards sharing that message/story.

Where do you find them? Clearly they are not the people with the loudest voices. They are those individuals who facilitate the “weak links” between clusters. They are the connectors. And they sit in the cubicle next to you. They are often, as non-descript as a face in the crowd. How do you find them? You just have to listen.

Do YOUR Products Live Up To The Type?

“Advertising is the price you pay for having an unremarkable product or service.” – Jeff Bezos (via Ruth Mortimer)

I was reminded of this quote by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos whilst reading Alan Wolk’s excellent rant on VW’s decision to fire Crispin Porter Bogusky:

You see the problem with VW isn’t the advertising, it’s the cars themselves. At a time when most people’s first stop in the car buying process is Google (or Bing) it’s clear that what VW needs is not better advertising, but better cars.

AnciennesAlan then goes on to list various problems identified by a quick search on various car forums and blogs. But the same is likely to be found for any other car brand – you can find my own rant about Tim Jackson’s ill-fated Saturn here. Simply do a search on the name of your next (or current) car and add the word “problem” or “lemon” and you will see page after page of owner gripes, rants and issues.

This is something that advertising is simply not going to fix. It’s actually not possible. You see, it no longer takes a big budget and a sexy image to reach an audience. Anyone can start a blog for free and begin corralling opinion. And you know what? It is all captured by Google. Every word, every rant, every unsubstantiated comment (and every truth) is indexed by Google, assessed for inbound links, page rank and a number of other elements and then presented as fact to the unwary web surfer.

For brands, sticking your head in the sand is no longer an option. Consumers are increasingly turning to online opinion, blogs, social media, ratings and reviews as a way of framing their own purchase decisions – and if your voice is not part of the mix, then you are leaving your brand entirely in the hands of others. Is this a bad thing? It can be. It can also astoundingly positive.

The challenge now is not JUST good products and services – these are the new cost of entry into the market. What you need now is love, sweet love. You need the love of your fans. You need products that live up to the TYPE – to the words and stories of your consumers. For without that, no amount of advertising will permanently buy you the front page of Google.

Planning in the Tenth Dimension

One of the challenges of planning is enforcing a linear overlay on your ideas. It is as if your campaign commences and then a whole bunch of magic occurs around some stimulus and then your campaign ends (with whoops and cheers hopefully). In this scenario, we focus on individuals or “personas” and attempt to create a change in their behaviour – we want them to give consideration to our product, purchase our service or subscribe to our newsletter etc.

Mark Hancock suggests, however, that we need to move away from this approach – to begin looking at emergent behaviour:

I believe that we will stop thinking about trying to change behavior at the individual level and more about how to influence positive emotional responses through the creation of shared interactions.

This correlates nicely with a conversation I had with Katie Chatfield recently. What we need to do is to plan for a multiplicity of outcomes and design our interactions around enabling these to occur in simultaneous streams – like a waterfall. After all, we never really know which idea will catch fire in a community – and I would argue that it doesn’t matter which idea DOES. The important thing is to make sure you are ready to fan the flames. 

It’s Not About Influence – It’s About Trust

If you are involved in creating digital strategy or working with social media from a professional point of view, you are bound to hear the word “influence” bandied about. Maybe you have been asked to work up an influencer outreach program for a new product. Perhaps you are thinking about commissioning an influencer engagement strategy to help you tap into the pot of gold that the social graph represents. Whatever your reasons, consider this first

What if "Influencers" don’t even exist?

Instead, what if we have confused celebrities in this WoM induced hysteria around Influencers?

In F*ck Influencers (or Influencing Conversations), Sean Howard teases out some interesting questions in relation to influencers and their perceived role in spreading a message or story. It starts with a focus around blogs and outreach, but quickly moves beyond that. Take a few minutes to read his post if you have not seen it yet. He rounds it out with a number of questions:

Why do people share links or retweet on platforms like Twitter?
What types of things do people share and for what benefit?
How does how people see their networks affect their decisions on what to share?

To me, some of the questions pointed towards the Auchterlonie Effect, but on second thought, I realised that what needs to be understood is not the effect (or transmission) of story but the underlying behaviour which triggers its contagion across a network.

It is not necessarily about connecting to the most people, but connecting to the most people who can derive benefit by interacting with you. You see, it is not about YOU creating value for people (by creating content, linking etc), but people FINDING value in what you do create …

Every time we forward on a link, retweet a message read on Twitter or any other type of social network interaction, we are CHOOSING to act. We are not just using our network of connections to FILTER the noise, we are using it to SHAPE our experience. It is a choice. And understanding this distinction places us in a context where STORYTELLING emerges as vitally important?

Fundamentally, my view is that ideas don’t spread through networks but through people. And, anyway, it seems we are just substituting the word “publisher” with the word “influencer” – without clearly understanding the fundamental changes that have already taken place in the socially networked world. The challenge for marketers is to find those who are open to sharing the message, the idea or story that they receive from someone that they are connected to. This is where the Auchterlonie Effect does have a role.

Of course, this would all make more sense if there was hard data available!

Mark Earls comes to the rescue by highlighting this lecture by Stanford’s Eric Sun, whose new research on influence is investigated with particular reference to Facebook. Far from confirming the idea of the importance of single point influencers in the instigation of “viral” or contagious content (as per Gladwell’s Tipping Point), the data indicates instead that these effects occur much more closely in line with the theories of Duncan Watts.

The research was structured around “dispersion chains” – the length of connections through which a message, story etc would travel across a cluster of connections. Sun’s research started with a number of expectations regarding the length of dispersion. It was expected that the following would produce longer dispersion chains:

  • Those with more experience using Facebook
  • Those with more activity on Facebook
  • Those with more Friends on Facebook

Interestingly when we think of “influencers” within a social networking context, we do think in terms of sheer numbers. We think of activity and engagement. And we think of those with “rankings” which generally indicate longevity, not necessarily velocity. Sun’s research indicated that “the user’s number of friends is not really meaningful”.

When Sun’s data was clustered by activity it was shown that almost 75% of Fans of a particular Fan page sit within an initial grouping – that they are already connected. Importantly, the instigators account for about 15% of this cluster. That is, contagion starts not with one, but with multiple points of connection – indicating again that “influence” is more closely related to action – with “doing” or “participation” than “telling” and dispersion. It’s more about  behaviour – and for behaviour to become contagious, it has to operate within a trusted environment.

This is what really fascinates me. If influence does not influence, then the focus for marketers must necessarily shift. We need to be thinking networks of trust – and this is not something we can “break into” or “interrupt”. We need to be invited in. And that is a whole new ball game – that we may not yet be ready for.

For more thinking on this, take a look at Andreas Weigend’s open wiki on data mining and ecommerce – especially the section on Facebook and trust.

The Secret to Marketing

SP099018I read the Cluetrain Manifesto when I was in my first official marketing role. I had been “doing” marketing for years before this – building marketing plans according to the rules, following branding guidelines, keeping and enforcing the exclusion space around the logo to a consistent 36 points.

But the Cluetrain was astounding not because of the challenge it presented to existing marketing – it was astounding because there was no CONTEXT in which it could brought within business practices. The conversations that we were having between the MD and the marketing department – and between the Board and the marketing department – went something like this:

Me: “we need to re-do this website”
Everyone else: “what’s a website?”

But soon, this conversation changed. It changed because the website project I was heading delivered results. We got something done and it changed the way that our employees thought about the company and it changed the way that our customers thought of our employees. And perhaps, more importantly, we measured what we did and we focused our continuous digital strategy around the outcomes that we set up-front, and refined along the way. We did this not because it was expected, but because we wanted to know what worked and what didn’t (hey, no one even really thought a website was important, so measurement was not on the agenda). But this conversation seems to be re-occurring – just replace the word “website” with the word “blog” and add water.

These days, the Cluetrain IS the context through which we conceptualise marketing innovation.

A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter—and getting smarter faster than most companies.

These markets are conversations. Their members communicate in language that is natural, open, honest, direct, funny and often shocking. Whether explaining or complaining, joking or serious, the human voice is unmistakably genuine. It can't be faked.

So, if we take this at face value, we would think that company or corporate blogs would be on the must-have list of every marketing director across the country (or across the world for that matter). But this is hardly the case. Why? (Check CK's blog for some ideas.) While a number of companies may use a blog to publish news, they are not really “blogging”. In fact, Mike Hickinbotham on one of the Telstra blogs has a theory:

My working theory (based on anecdotal stories) is that generally the greatest push to explore the use of social media comes from the middle versus the top end of most Australian corporations/organisations.

This, I think, is one of the secrets of marketing – and that is getting things done. You see, for years those who wanted to DO things – to make a difference in the way that we talk or engage with customers or partners or employees – knew that words and actions go together. And “getting things done” takes some effort in a large organisation. It takes a level of seniority – but you can’t be too senior. It is the role of the Business Designer that I wrote about here:

The Business Designer does not sit in a creative studio. Rather, she operates across business units — touching marketing, customer service and new product design. The BD has a finger on the pulse of finance and lives cheek-by-jowl with the legal team. There is the touch of the management consultant in the way that the BD navigates the org chart — but also the fervour of the evangelist. She may be T-shaped. She may be a green egg. But above all, she is an experienced business professional. That's right — she knows how to get things done.

But “getting things done” is not the only secret to marketing. There is one other. You have to “get emotional”. You have to tap into the emotions of the people around you – whether they are customers, bosses or the dreaded legal team. Mike says you need to “seek like-minded people out” – and he is right, because they will be on that same emotional wavelength as you – but you also need to go beyond that. You need to find the secret of the secret – the trigger that opens the flood gates.

As Clay Shirky explained about his own emotional involvement with the mini-crisis that was tagged as #AmazonFail:

When a lifetime of intellectual labor and study came up against a moment of emotional engagement, emotion won, in a rout.

And that’s the secret in action. Emotion wins everytime. Hands-down. A best-kept secret is just that – and it will do no one any favours. Isn’t it time you pulled a rabbit out of your hat?

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.

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.

An Optimistic Project

Glass half full, half empty?If you read the news, watch the TV or listen to the radio, there are boundless experts offering their advice on the state of the world. Clearly we are in the grip of a global economic crisis inflicted on the many by the greed of a few. Yes, we should be concerned about potential pandemics such as pig flu. And no doubt, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq – not to mention the instability across central Africa, Israel, Fiji and a score of other nations – all make us feel a little less safe.

Yet despite the realities facing us all, there are individuals, small groups and even communities all working in their own way to transform situations. I am constantly astounded by the willingness, energy and commitment of people to do good things, to donate their skills, their abilities and their time for those that they love or who simply need help. And while our institutions continue to lag behind this progressive consensus, they too, are peopled by others “like us” – and will, at some point, have no choice but begin their own transformation. The question is just of timing.

Against this backdrop, I was invited by Ian Fitzpatrick to contribute to the Optimist Conspectus which is “a compendium of contemporary optimism, one perspective at a time”. You can read my view here, but there are many other brilliant perspectives, including Dirk Singer (read his blog too), Matt Moore (read his blog as well) and a host of others.

And I loved the grain of optimism in this from Nishad Ramachandran:

Coming from a nation that has more young people than old, more illiterates than literates, more needy than greedy you just got to believe that tomorrow will be better and that hope will ultimately triumph over gloom.

You can even add your perspective here. Or maybe that is being too