The Importance of Being Informal

For the last (almost 10 years), a group of marketing and social media enthusiasts have been meeting for coffee. We arrive around 8am each Friday at Sydney’s Single O cafe in Surry Hills for coffee and conversation. Some of us work in social or digital media as a profession. Some of us are involved as part of an interest. And a few are only in it for the coffee.

Over the years, we have seen regulars become friends. There have been weddings and children. There have been breakups and tragedies, visitors and ring-ins. And it has been the most brilliant way to spend a Friday morning ever conceived.

Last week, John Kerrison could not make it to Surry Hills but he beamed in via Facebook Live. Here’s what he had to say (and why he’ll be back more regularly).

Don’t Tweet at Me in that Tone of Voice

Setting tone of voice in social media is a challenge. How do you balance the assertiveness and authority with a sense of engagement and approachability? How do you strike a tone that delights your customers and attracts new prospects? And what is that “distinctive” personality that can only be expressed through text and how do you create it consistently?

Tone of voice is not just a problem for social media. In a business world where communication occurs largely through the written word – in email, messaging, enterprise social networks and so on, a misplaced word or misconstrued meaning can cause much drama.

Consider the hastily worded email that you sent after a bad meeting. Or the tweets you made in response to a troll. What about the situation where you really wanted to recall an email but realised that you could not?

IBM has been experimenting with language and semantics for some time. Their Watson platform specialises in natural language processing, and with the Tone Analyzer service, you may just catch an overly aggressive email in the nick of time.

How Tone Analyzer Works

We often rely on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to help us profile individuals. It is still widely in use despite being largely dismissed as a scientific method – but I have always found its indicators lacking. I much prefer Sam Gosling’s OCEAN framework. It measures:

  • Openness
  • Conscientiousness
  • Extroversion
  • Agreeableness
  • Neuroticism


This framework is used by IBM to assess your social tone of voice. Watson also gives you a score on writing tone and emotional tone. You simply cut and paste your text into the field on the demo page and have Watson analyse your words. It then returns a visual assessment. This is the assessment from the first half of my last blog post. You will see, the post was:

  • 80% analytical (good for this kind of article)
  • 96% confident (I do want you to believe me)
  • 87% agreeable (please, please like and hire me).

You can also integrate this platform into your enterprise tools using the API platform. That could make for a very different form of communication within and beyond the enterprise.

But here’s a question – would you dare to run your marketing copy through this system? What would you find?

Disrupting the Disruptors – Follow Me on Meerkat

I feel it. I’m sure you feel it too. Launch fatigue. It is what happens when you can’t bring yourself to click a link or open yet another email announcement about the app or website that is going to change your life. After all, our lives are pretty much the same as they were last year, right? AND the year before. And the year before that.

Actually, I can’t recall being truly, authentically excited about a new technology for sometime.

Until Meerkat arrived.


I frequently attend events of all shapes and sizes. Sometimes as a guest. Sometimes as a speaker. But always as a curious participant. If there is something interesting taking place, I will live tweet the speeches. I will take photos from the stage. It’s as much for my own benefit as it is for those who follow. I find this kind of live coverage a great way to capture value – to tell the story, to bring people closer. To explore. But with Twitter and even with Instagram pictures only take you so far. And for most events 15 seconds is just not long enough.

Enter the Meerkat

While Twitter recently announced its purchase of Periscope for live streaming – Meerkat has been able to build a substantial user base in a matter of weeks. And while new apps come and go, it feels like this cat may have some interesting and stripy surprises.

In my view, most social networks handle new product launches appallingly. It seems that once they achieve some level of scale, they lose their way, hire in “enterprise” types and follow the beaten path towards monetisation through advertising. Facebook are getting better at this. But Twitter is clearly lagging. Not only have they invested in an app with little or no public traction, their track record with new releases does not inspire confidence. And this leaves the door open for disruption.

Meerkat takes what has been happening in a much more clunky way and removes the friction. They’ve taken a leaf out of Apple’s playbook – observe an innovation and make it better. Pioneers of portable web streaming like JustinTV led the way, struggling with battery packs, bulky technology and low network connectivity. But for the individual it was all too much. Trouble. Bother.

And that’s where Meerkat’s elegance wins out. With your smartphone and a good 4G signal (or 3G while standing on one leg), you can now livestream anything. Everyday events. Activities just t. Special occasions.

With Meerkat, social media is not about telling people what you are having for breakfast. It’s not even about how good your breakfast looks in photos. Now people can watch you eat. Live. With sound.

We’re all breakfast TV hosts now

Effectively, our conversations can actually be turned into conversations. We become both interviewer and subject.

But already this new medium is challenging the old form. Twitter excels for those who find social settings too in-your-face. On Twitter you can know all the answers, but Meerkat’s critical eye demands high energy. Conversation. Viewpoints. Meerkat is the medium of the incessantly curious the verbally dextrous.

Is it all too much?

It’s very early days – but Meerkat is setting a new direction that we didn’t know we needed. But one thing is for certain. Those who win on networks like Meerkat will be very different from those who win on text based channels like Twitter. And when the disruptors are disrupted, things get interesting.

To Be Talked About Online, Be Hyper-real

About a million years ago, when I studied theatre and movement, I was fascinated by what appeared “real” on stage and what looked like it was a person slouching across an open space. There was a real difference between an actor who was able to inhabit and own the stage and someone who seemed to shrink within its open space. For some actors, this ability comes naturally but many have to work on it. And it is these techniques that interested me the most.

For a while I studied with Leisa Shelton, a brilliant and patient teacher. We would spend hours in quiet, but intense, routines, learning to stretch our bodies, extend our arms from the shoulder to the fingertip, create difficult but beautiful arcs across our shoulders, and walking with fluidity. One of the core “figures” we’d work on was drinking a glass of water – amazingly technical and challenging to master.

Leisa had, herself, studied for years in Paris, working with Ecole de Mime Corporel Dramatique de Paris-technique Etienne Decroux (1983-89) and was a member of the Meryl Tankard Co (1990-93). As a result, she generously shared not just her abilities and experiences but her stories which brought her theory and theatre practice to life for us all.

But there was one particular story that has stayed with me. It was about the physical proportions of Rodin’s The Thinker. Taking into account the position of the viewer, Rodin had created his famous sculpture larger than “real life” in order for it to appear in-proportion from the audience’s point of view. Parts of the sculpture – especially across the shoulders and back, were significantly larger than they would be in real life. And the lesson for us in this, was to appear “real” on stage, we had to work to extend the appearance of our bodies on stage, not just to be seen, or for aesthetics, but to appear real.

The same principles apply in the digital world. In fact, we are seeing a greater blurring of the distinctions between the on and offline world – they are merging into what we call “life”. This is made ever easier by the five forces impacting the future of business – social media, mobility, big data, unified communications and cloud computing. As consumers we are ever more connected and connectable – and enterprises continue to struggle to keep pace with consumer expectation and business demand.

However, we DON’T need to be in all places at all times. We need to take a lesson from Leisa Shelton and Rodin. We need to be larger than life in the spaces that we do operate. We need to be hyper-real – 10-20% bigger than we are in real life. And now, more than ever, we need to be PRESENT. That means we must be hyper-real and IN LOCATION.

Take a look at this great video promoting the upcoming release of the movie Carrie. It’s 6 million+ views come not just from a great idea, but from brilliant execution. They captured a real world impact and amplified it into our digital lives. They put a physical experience into our consciousness through digital storytelling.

In a world where our experiences dominate our perceptions, businesses, governments and not-for-profits can no longer be satisfied with a DIGITAL ONLY presence. To be talked about online, you have to be remarkable in the real world. You must act with purpose. And serve with intention.

It’s time for leaders to step up and own the space.

The french mime Jyjou*Creative Commons License jyjou via Compfight

There Are No More Boundaries

The 1950s were a wonderful time. It was a time of nuclear, loving families, safe neighbourhoods and white picket fences. In our local communities we knew the butcher, baker and grocer. The mayor would tip his hat as he passed you in the street and the boy next door delivered the newspaper each day on his rounds. It was a time when professional and domestic spaces were separate – as much by who participated in them as by the clock.

We latched onto these distinct notions with fervour. Deep in our psyches we ingrained the borders between work and home, public and private, and professional and personal as though they held “the truth”. In a post-war world, these distinctions helped us find our place – in the world at large and the smaller, mirror-worlds known as “work”, “community” and “home”. It was our need to BELONG and our desire to PARTICIPATE that drew us to these distinctions and turned a “role” into a way of being. The very act of performing these roles then served to strengthen and solidify them.

Soon we began to identify ourselves with these roles. We left our names behind and adopted these roles in their stead. Rather than “Gavin Heaton”, I would be a “marketing professional”, or even more specifically, a “director of social media”. This meant that the answer to the question of “what do you do?” became even more critical. The society’s shift of emphasis away from community value (I am a father, coach of a soccer team, husband and intellectual journeyman) to personal, professional value (I work at Acme Co) further served to reinforce the distinctions, ascribing a value to the professional/public life over the personal/community/private life.

Even the term “work/life balance” contains this dichotomy. It presumes that there is work – and then there is the whole of the rest of your life hived off in some other (smaller) compartment.

And yet while these barriers have remained in our thinking, they have been undermined by our behaviours. The widespread corporate retrenchments that shook the 1980s marked a fundamental shift in the way that we behaved – even it if had not yet affected the way that we thought. We went from a “job for life” behavioural commitment to a “career for me” action. The sense of security in the workplace was replaced by suspicion (on both sides of the management fence), and the individualism of era was given the face of Gordon Gecko.

Interestingly, these changes were forced upon us. We did not choose them, nor were we coerced or cajoled. As Mark Earls points out, achieving a change in behaviour is difficult.

In the decades that followed, our sense of belonging and participation fragmented, becoming narrower and narrower. We were able to effectively create and manage our fragmented personalities because they were disjointed, unconnected and unconnectable. This personal determinism set in place a regulated paradigm of thinking. Operating within small enclave our behaviours and actions reinforced this mindset.

But the connected (or social) web changed all that.

Our actions and behaviours in one sphere would be surfaced in our dealings with another (I like to think there is a level of subversion taking place here – along the lines of what Mike Arauz calls desire paths). The way we act and behave in business ripples across these connections and impacts the network of Facebook friends, website readers and Twitter followers. Our carefully crafted reputation no longer holds water – living instead in the active recommendations, connections, suggestions and star-ratings of our social networks. Just like the brands that we work for, we have become hub-and-spoke manifestations of our personalities.

But it’s not just digital.

Sure, social networks have surfaced the connections that we spent decades separating. But it is in the real work – the real connections – that value of the network is realised. It’s in the phone calls and coffees. It’s in the collaborative projects and workshops that result. It’s in the conversion of a recommendation to a sale. And underlying all this is reputation.

Whether you like it or not, your reputation is bursting out. It is racing ahead of you – out of reach and far beyond your control. This what I mean when I say “there are no more boundaries”. It goes beyond what we own – to the heart of who we are. It’s about purpose.

It’s The Social Way.

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.

Activating Your Social Brand

It is no simple matter activating a brand in a social space. I don’t mean setting up a Twitter account or a Facebook fan page – I mean bringing the brand to life by tapping into the subtle (and not so subtle) brand values that lend themselves to expression. On the “social web”, however, we aren’t just looking for (or expecting) your mission statement, your campaign aims or your branded entertainment. In the words of the Cluetrain Manifesto:

If you want us to talk to you, tell us something. Make it something interesting for a change.

Russell Davies and crowdsourced teams from around the world took this notion of “interestingness” to a new level with the Interesting conferences. (I was involved with the first two here in Australia – and they were fascinating!) But it is one thing to be interesting and quite another to push that interestingness to something that seems to live and breathe – and take on a life of its own. It draws on the art of storytelling – but goes a step further – there – into the unknown space where we might just get to learn a little about each other.

I have written about Marcus Brown before – his characters, storylines, commitment and energy. But there is plenty to learn in the way that he imagines, designs, inhabits and performs the characters that he creates. And this presentation is his own personal homage to the creative process – representing four years of “after work work”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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