What’s Your Story. Here’s Mine

090206 - Coffee Mornings - 14A while back, Ian Kath and I got together for a chat. He is an interesting fellow and has a true curiosity for the people that he meets – which is just as well, as he produces the YourStoryPodcast series.

His website and iTunes catalogue now contains well over thirty podcasts and covers meetings with people from all over the world. In this podcast, Ian meets with the women behind the Hidden Europe magazine in a cafe in Berlin; while a little closer to home, Ian talks with Andrew Leavold about odd and eccentric DVDs and video recordings. One of my favourite interviews, however, was with Mel Poudroux who shares her personal story and discusses, along the way, tattoos, scarification and what it means to be normal in an abnormal world.

Most recently, Ian took time out from his Sydney trip to talk to me about social media, marketing, innovation and social judgement. Hope you enjoy it. I did.

Drawing a Line in the Brand

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.

Boo Hoo! - FGRIn 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?

42-16245198When 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?

So now you tell me this internet filter thing isn't going to work huh?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 shut down Leslie's Twitter account. Fake Stephen Conroy (twitter.com)
  • 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.

UPDATE: Stephen Collins turns the spotlight around and asks whether we all aren't partly responsible; and "SocioTeque" suggests that today, if any, is the day to join the conversation. Stilgherrian provides another angle over at New Matilda; and Mike Hickinbotham provides an update from the Telstra side of the scrum (apparently Leslie is NOT out of a job).

The Filter-Tipped Internet

Almost a generation ago we, the public, started to twig that there could be a downside to smoking. A whole swag of research followed – about the relative merits of additives, flavours (remember menthol?) and so on. In the end, it was settled – the best approach would be to add a tip to cigarettes so that the very worst elements of cigarette smoke would be filtered out for us.

Guess what happened. Well, you know the answer – cigarette smoke still kills us every year by the thousand.

You see, we never went to the “root cause” of the problem. We fluffed around the edges. We talked up the health impacts and bombarded consumers with “the facts” – and while there has been some successes, millions of young people around the world continue to take up smoking every year. Facts don’t change our behaviour – feelings do.

We are now facing similar confusion around Stephen Conroy’s internet filter. There are plenty of facts floating around:

  • That the filter will slow down our broadband by around 80%
  • That it will impact regional community far more than the city
  • That it can be easily by-passed via peer-to-peer file sharing
  • That it will massively increase the size of the internet site blacklist which is ALREADY in place

As Holly Doel-Mackaway, adviser with Save the Children Fund states in the Sydney Morning Herald, the filter scheme is “‘fundamentally flawed’ because it failed to tackle the problem at the source and would inadvertently block legitimate resources”.

But there is a root cause issue here – the facts point out the issues but don’t address our emotional response. It is NOT a filter we need. It’s EDUCATION. It’s empowerment. Why should we allow the federal government to WASTE $40 million of our hard-earned taxes when it could be so easily diverted into education – training for kids AND their parents. And it is important that we let the government know our thoughts.

With this internet filter, we are just papering over the problem. There will always be material available in our communities that we would rather not see. There are problems that we would rather not be exposed to. But our challenge, and our duty, is to stand-up to such issues – not avoid them. What price can we put on the empowering of our communities and our kids? As David Campbell might say, it’s “priceless”.

(BTW you can listen in to David’s podcast feed here).

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When Finance Brands Go Wild

companion-monster After MyFutureBank’s a well publicised “experiment” and withdrawal from social media and the surreal and poorly contextualised Truthpod (courtesy of Westpac), it would be easy to suggest that finance marketers had had their fill of the social media space. Or perhaps, had bitten off more than they could chew.

Yet it seems this is not the case.

Clearly, with Forrester research indicating that 75% of Australians participating in some form of social media, consumer brands have LITTLE CHOICE other than begin to engage with their customers in this way. After all, it is where we are CHOOSING to spend our time and precious attention.

But what happens when a finance brand escapes into the wild? What happens when a business truly asks for the input of its community? Companion Credit Union decided to find out. The Financial Brand blog has some great coverage of this rebranding campaign here.

With a new theme of “We’re Listening”, Companion put their brand on the line and asked their members to vote on a new logo. As the CEO, Ray O’Brien said, “The credit union is really owned by the members and therefore we decided we should invite them to actively participate in helping us decide”.

Over 1000 votes were received (from a member base of about 12,000) … and a new blog has been setup to help the credit union really “get back to it’s roots”. They are even supporting Movember. So what does a customer selected logo look like?


The real opportunities for brands and social media are for those looking to transform their relationships with their customers … so it is encouraging to see brands from a relatively conservative market capitalising on these opportunities. And in a tight market (well, really, in any market), a social media strategy can not only help you stand apart from your competitors, it can also drive value back to your community – which is a great fit for credit unions and other member-based businesses.

Companion is certainly one financial service brand to watch – and as their ongoing marketing and social media strategy evolves, I expect there will be some real insight and proof points around the way that brands can grow and extend their reach and engagement via the micro-interactions that we take for granted. And this is one of the core values of social media for brands – that the difference between what your customers INTEND and the way they BEHAVE disappears – and you are left with a sentiment that contributes to (or detracts from) your brand promise. More power to the community!

UPDATE: Companion Credit Union and Community CPS Australia have now become Beyond Bank – you can find their new site here. Let’s hope they continue the innovation!

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The Arrival of iMalcolm*

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 uBank MyFutureBank.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.

iMalcolm 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.

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Calling All Marketers — Inspiraton, Anyone?

InspirationAnyone Following up from the Microsoft teaser, the full-length video is now available.

With the first instalment in this series entitled The Breakup, the intention was to raise debate. Microsoft boldly tackled the issue around the shifting nature of the consumer-advertiser relationship, and invited marketers into the conversation. It certainly was not the type of communication or advertising I expected from Microsoft — and it did capture a lot of attention at the time of launch.

But with this sequel there is a wholly different challenge. Geert Desager and Kris Hoet are clearly taking another step — to facilitate the establishment of a marketing community (moving from conversation to action?). In the process, they are taking a sweep at brands, agencies and all the folks who inhabit them. There are some great lines, including “I tried to look up that Web 2.0 thing you told be about, I just couldn’t find the exact URL”. Let’s face it both agencies and marketers are easy targets (and we provide so much fodder) … so you are bound to raise a chuckle or two.

However, if you do want to move beyond the banter, the site Get Inspired Here is the place you can go. Over the coming weeks (and in the wake of Cannes), there is bound to be plenty of discussion, taunting and maybe even a little creativity. Get your full feed here. Hopefully there are more surprises in store!

Oh Those Russians!

Boney M
Originally uploaded by architekt2

Are you up for a bit of web fun?

The effervescent Marcus Brown has thrown down the gauntlet to the Northern Planner, pitting Boney M against The Smiths in a do-or-die three round voting extravaganza.

"There is NO contest I hear you say!"

I agree … surely spangly disco is going to win out over dark, poetic narcissism? (oh, wait, this is the ADVERSTISING industry isn’t it?)

But to win, we will need help. You help. There will be voting and there will be research required. There are three rounds:
Round 1: Best Album artwork: (Sunday 9th – Thursday 13th)
Round 2: Best Music: (Sunday 16th – Thursday 20th)
Round 3: Culture influence beyond the band: (Sunday 23rd – Thursday 27th)
We need to find the best examples, the most innovative choices and we obviously need your votes and your help. If you want to be involved in this global campaign, drop me a note or leave a comment.

The Storm and Holiday Passes

I wish I had taken this photo!

For those of you watching the worldwide weather reports, you will know that the East Coast of Australia has been experiencing some fairly heavy storms over the last week (and more to come this week). This time last week I was a little concerned as I have some friends living in low lying farm lands in the Hunter Valley, and we knew they had to evacuate. Here in Sydney, while the weather was bad, it was not as dangerous as that. The only issue I had was lack of Internet access.

But in the scheme of things, there were no dramas.

I had planned to take a few days off and visit the Blue Mountains outside of Sydney, and had been squirrelling away some blog posts with the aim of using Typepad’s cute "publish on" feature. I had used it before and it sort of works (though I am still to figure out whether the "time" is based on MY timezone or the server’s). BUT by the time I left for my brief holiday, my Internet connection was simply not working.

So now, over this weekend, I will edit and re-post some of the posts that I had saved up for you all. Unfortunately I missed the BrandingWire launch … but since it is done, I will still post it. And if you have not done so, check out the group’s efforts here. Simply excellent!

Oh, if you are wondering, I had a GREAT time away PLUS my friend who was evacuated was able to return to her home intact. Thanks for all the email in the meantime.

Story of the Week

customer of the nick
Originally uploaded by markpasc.

I love it when Paul does this. You see, I love a good story, and probably more than that, I love a good storyteller. And one of the most nourishing aspects of blogging, for me, has been the resurgence of storytelling online.

Paul has a great way of weaving a story together. He is able to bring a balance of ideas and words together around a theme and then punch it a little — push the narrative in one direction, coax out the nuances with some humour and a little insight — and pepper it all with a gentle self-reflection.

Interestingly, when I began reading his post, I thought it was heading in one direction (music), only to find over here that it has gone in a different direction (go read it, it is great). This is one of the strengths and joys of this style of storytelling … the author takes the reader on an adventure of ideas. We are just lucky to have such a great guide on this one.

BTW … I am still black-balled by Typepad, so sorry for the lack of commentary out there — I am reading but simply doing so with duct tape over my mouth.