Showing posts with label popularity. Show all posts
Showing posts with label popularity. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 22

Five Steps To Make An Influencer Instead Of Marketing To One

While marketers continue to reach out to social media influencers in the hopes of earning easy traction, it takes much more than a popular or pretty face to capture key performance indicators. Sure, there is plenty of evidence to support influencers have an edge over brand content. But so what?

It doesn't mean you always have to pony up dollars for celebrities and semi-public people to increase brand exposure. You could take an organic approach in attracting third-party voices around your brand and the process to do so will result in deeper, more meaningful relationships.

In the long term, it could also help inoculate your brand against the rising cost of social media stars as brands compete for the same talent and make influencer marketing akin to any other media buy. Of course, this doesn't mean anyone should bow out all together. Influencers have their place.

All it means is that marketers need to remember that a "nobody" can be just as influential as the current somebody. The right person with the right passion only needs a lift to gain real attention.

How to make a topic influencer in five steps.

• Engagement. Discover customers, advocates, and topic enthusiasts who have an authentic passion for your product or service. They may not be "popular" but their passion for your brand is infectious in ways that paid or perked influencers will never deliver. Give these fans some real attention by letting them know your organization noticed.

• Education. Every exchange is an opportunity to learn more about your clients while they learn more about your product or service. Successful professionals have always relied on the art of conversation to learn more about their clients and find new ways to provide real value. Take it a step further online and help people with an interest in your industry become experts.

• Exposure. Almost everyone appreciates a call out for something they say, write, or share online. When they say it about you, make sure you take it a step further than a thank you. Share and provide some context into why it is worthwhile to your organization's audience. If it happens to be about your product or service, even better. Third-party endorsements don't have to be from celebrities.

• Exclusivity. There is no better way to make someone an overnight influencer than giving them something in advance of everyone else. It doesn't always matter what that might be — it could be some news, a video clip, an invitation, or a working demo. The fact they have it first will move them to the head of the class — even if nobody saw them as an influencer before.

• Endorsement. Third-party endorsements don't happen in one direction. As several influencers are nurtured from the ground up, any organization can call them out as rising stars in the industry. Boosting their credibility as someone who knows your products or services as well as (or better than) your organization will lift them to be on par with almost anyone considered an influencer today.

Many of the influencers that organizations want to appease today got their start in much the same way. Nobody really noticed them until an organization or other so-called influencers gave them a lift with a call out, conversation, or mutually beneficial exposure. For many after that, a singular semi-exclusive offer (ranging from cameras to glasses and software to soda) catapulted them upward.

Even those who had the benefit of building a personal brand on the back of a big brand followed a similar path. The only real difference is that the organization accelerated the steps, with their employment or affiliation acting as an immediate endorsement. It doesn't take all that much.

So instead of only thinking in terms of influencer marketing — how to reach existing influencers — organizations need to start thinking in terms of influencer making too. Where aspiring influencers make a big difference is that their brand affinity and the strength of their relationship with a smaller pool of followers puts them in a prime position to quickly build an audience with a level of authenticity that few professional influencers retain over time — at least with the same semblance of passion.

Wednesday, April 25

Making Decisions: Are Consumers In Control?

I was sitting in a business meeting yesterday when someone posed an interesting point. Eighty percent of startups develop products they never intended, driven by the markets they never intended to enter as dictated by the consumer. Never mind that the figure — 80 percent — was anectodal and unattributed.

This thinking is all around us. Some people say that social media sparked a consumer revolution, one where executive edicts were traded up for crowd-sourced darlings. You know the story. Companies better listen to consumers or else. They know what they need and make everything better.

How does the public know what 'should be' when it doesn't know what 'could be?'

Sometimes the public is right. During the Bronze Age in Great Britain, which spanned 2100-750 BC, consumers had it right. The early metal work started by the Beaker culture continually improved over hundreds of years until the final phases when Britain and the rest of Europe produced classic leaf-shaped swords.

For all we know, consumers would have refined bronze work for several thousand years more (like some cultures around the world did) if it hadn't been for the inconvenient introduction of another metal that would eventually sweep across Europe between 800 BC and 400 AD (or so). Iron and steel changed everything, including the entire socio-economic system that made people comfortable.

But can you imagine the change if we were experiencing it today? Some corporations would have argued evolving from bronze to iron was idiotic. Not only is iron more difficult to smelt and more costly to shape, but consumers would also be complaining about higher prices for a stronger but more brittle metal.

That's all fine and good, I suppose, until those guys with the iron cut through your defenses.

So what if this so-called 80-20 rule is right? What do you want to do? 

Sometimes I think businesses hire too many people who guess at so-called guarantees. The reality in business, much like life, is that all models only work sometimes and all guarantees are guesses at best. And that makes the riddle of bronze vs. iron nothing more than a parlor trick.

What I mean by that is: most decisions are never as clear cut as "do we fulfill the public need for better bronze or go with the gut of the guy in the back room and build out our iron division." Instead, they are littered with intangibles. You know, the guy in the back room could just as feasibly be working on a ham sandwich, in which case refining bronze might be better than hurling lunch meat.

So, it really does depend on the team and our best guess, just as history teaches us. Right. Some people backed beta and others picked up VHS. Flash forward a few dozen years only to find out that both decisions were wrong because DVDs, er, Blu-Rays and digital files win for now.

All this leads to a different approach. It seems to me that business choices have nothing to do with sizing everything up into 'either' and 'or' columns. Companies are better off innovating products and services that consumers have never seen and then refining those innovations once they are released in the marketplace based on consumer input, while keeping a watchful eye any inspirations that occur within every marketplace with every launch. That, of course, and everything needs to be weighed against what's next — information and ideas and innovations that consumers know nothing about it.

Ergo, Facebook bought Instagram for $1 billion because the guy in the buyer's back room had just as much time but came up with a ham sandwich. They called it Timeline. Meanwhile, Instragram went niche.

Friday, February 24

Winning Or Spinning: The Fifth Estate

Author Geoff Livingston recently mentioned how average citizens are using social media to activate themselves online and demand change. He defines the phenomenon as the Fifth Estate, which is an extension of the media being considered the Fourth Estate.

Among his examples are the Syrian revolution and the Planned Parenthood/Susan B. Komen buzz up. Both are events that are being shaped and were shaped, in part, by online activists, citizen journalists, and social media. And then he ends by asking: What do you think about citizen journalists and the Fifth Estate?

I think public relations professionals ought to be afraid. 

Take any issue under social media and run with it. As Livingston pointed out, you will find a healthy dose of successes and failures. Popular opinion isn't always the right opinion and the masses make mistakes just as much as individuals. And sometimes, the mistakes they make are fraught with peril.

Take The Pink Back. There is no question that Susan B. Komen did everything wrong in terms of its initial executive decision and all public relations after the fact, but there is always that one largely unasked question looming in the background. Why was a private nonprofit organization with a $400 million operating budget compelled to donate to a government-subsidized nonprofit with a $1 billion operating budget? And why was there that much controversy over $680,000 as a result?

As much as the outcry seemed like a groundswell, much of it was coordinated through the lobby arm of the larger organization. And for Susan B. Komen, the penalty could forever pin it to one of the most controversial and emotionally charged issues in the country. Ironically, before Komen reversed its decision, both organizations received an uptick in donations that far exceeded the grant.

Chink In The Armor. Anthony Federico, an ESPN editor, was fired after his unfortunate use of the phrase "chink in the armor" that created an avalanche of social media fervor claiming ESPN has racist intent. The expression, which means a weakness or narrow opening in something otherwise strong, has been used in sports for as long as anyone can remember. But people took exception when the term was used as a mobile headline over a player who happened to be Taiwanese.

Unlike the other case study, the outrage was clearly caused by groundswell. And it seemed to make no difference to anyone that Jeremy Lin accepted the apology of Federico, who didn't vet his own choice of words. Federico has said he only had the primary definition in mind and it was an honest mistake. Rather than give him the benefit of the doubt, ESPN fired him, which may prove to be the wrong executive "crisis communication by the numbers" decision yet. Now the phrase is being deemed unusable in any context.

LEGO. LEGO recently launched a new set of toys called "LEGO: Friends" which features pastels and pinks as well as figures that look a little more "Barbie" than construction characters. The critics of the new toys are claiming that the LEGO: Friends set is sexist, and little girls don't need to have a special set to be interested in building.

LEGO has invested $40 million to launch its LEGO: Friends campaign. In addition to being upset by the colors, critics are upset because the new toy includes leisure, homemaking, baking, and caring for animals. LEGO has responded to the criticism by reminding parents they can purchase whatever set their children are interested in. However, the group that has been using to get its message out has also won a meeting with the organization fueling the outrage to discuss their concerns. If they pull the line, it could be one of the worst decisions the company will ever make.

The Fifth Estate is a mess and the Fourth isn't much better. 

It doesn't matter where you stand on any of these issues. The issues are not the point. The point is that social media empowers the improbable for right or wrong, even if the ability to tell what is groundswell and what is motivated by social agenda is becoming impossibly blurred.

All of this was an inevitable outcome as the Fourth Estate began to shift away from objective journalism and toward affirmation media, which embraces and elevates public opinion. While some see that shift is as a positive trend, the reality is that public opinion changes like the wind and sometimes too late to rectify any wrongs that come to light with the benefit of hindsight. Don't be a lemming to it.

In the interim, the only remedy public relations professionals can apply is a temporal communication model not only after an organization makes a decision, but also before it makes decisions. It's not foolproof, especially because you can always find two differing opinions fanning the flames of their mutual disconnect, but you might sleep a little easier as even the most absurd "invented" crisis gets attention.

Monday, November 28

Scoring Social: The Rise And Fall Of Klout

You all know the story, because it's all very true — there are plenty of marketers who dream of the day that they can give us all scores. It would make their lives easy, terribly easy you see: if they could base who gets what for which price or what fee.

If we only had scores to sort out their big mess. Never mind names or merits or interests or lives, just a list of our scores and a button to click. That would be enough, it's painfully clear. One score to determine who gets what prizes and perks, what service and more.

The Crazy Story Of Blogs And Social Media.

Then one day it happened, some will remember, when Clout-Belly bloggers were sometimes called stars. Everyone else, those without content on thars, were called Plain-Belly people, their reach not so far.

Now, being an online blogger wasn't always so special. Compared to actors and inventors or directors and authors, it was really quite small. In fact, you would think such a thing wouldn't matter at all.

But it did. Because they were stars, all the Clout-Belly bloggers would brag, "We're the best of all people on social media beaches." And with their snoots in the air, some would sniff and they'd snort. "We'll have nothing to do with the Plain-Belly sort."

When Clout-Belly children went out to play ball, could Plain-Belly kids get in the game ... ? Not at all. You could only play if your parents stayed up and blogged through the night. And those Plain-Belly kids had parents without any online might.

So when the Clout-Belly bloggers received their frankfurter perks, or picnics or parties or free root beer floats, marketers never invited the Plain-Belly people. They left them out in the cold, behind the red ropes. They kept them away, dashing their hopes. And that's how things went, year after year.

And then one day, it seems ... while the Plain-Belly people were tweeting and talking, sharing and squawking, some of them daydreaming of the day they might start a blog to earn more clout, a stranger zipped up with this new thing called Klout.

The Brief And Sordid History Of Klout.

"My friends," he announced in a voice clear and keen,"My name is Joe Fernandez. And I've heard you're unhappy, but I can fix that. When my mouth was wired shut, I became the Fix-It-Up Chappie. And I've come here to help you, I have what you need. My price is quite low and I work with great speed. Better than that, my idea is one hundred percent guaranteed."

Then, very quickly, Fernandez did shout. He put up his algorithm and started to tout. "You want to be stars like the Clout-Belly bloggers ...? My friends, you can have them for a price pretty cheap. Just give me access to your data, feeds, and friends when you tweet."

"Just open your accounts and hop right aboad!' So they clamored inside and signed on the line. And the algorithm bonked. And it jerked. And it burped. And then it bopped them about. They didn't mind, because the thing really worked! When the Plain-Belly people popped out they had Klout scores. They actually did. They had Klout upon thars.

And then they yelled at the ones who had clout at the start. "We're exactly like you! You can't tell us apart. We're all just the same, now, you snooty old smarties. We don't even have to write a stitch, you crazy old coots. We just share and type nonsense, and we get all the perks, like new shoes or new boots!"

"Good grief!" said the ones who had worked right from the start. "We're still social medial gurus and they're still just the masses. But, now, how in the world do we know it? If this kind is what kind or that kind is this kind and this kind is what kind then I think we need glasses!"

Just then, up came Fernandez with a very sly wink and he said, "Things are not quite as bad as you think. So you don't know who's who? That is perfectly true. But come with me, friends. Do you know what I'll do? I'll make you, again, the best kinds of tweeps with real social media reach. All I have to do is change my secret formula."

"Clout-Belly bloggers are no longer in style," said Fernandez with a smile. "What you need is a trip through my Clout-to-Klout dumb-it-down kettle. This wondrous contraption will change clout to Klout, and we'll score you the same, but with a nod to your mettle."

And that's what he did, lickity-split. They signed up for Klout with the same conditions and poof. Their once Kloutless accounts suddenly earned scores through the roof!

"Ha ha," they declared, with yell of great triumph. "We know who is who now, and there will be no doubt. The best kind of online gurus are those with high Klout!"

Then, of course, those who had just gotten scores were frightfully mad. To have a lower score was now frightfully bad. But in like a flash, Fernandez was there. He invited them in for a transparency fair. He told them all they needed to know about scoring, or so he said. Keep busy online, today 'til you're dead.

"That's right. It's all very easy," he said with a grin. "I'll change the influence scoring here and there on a whim. You just keep typing and sharing and shouting. I've got the contracts to put you in marketing."

And then, from then on, as you can probably guess, things turned into a terrible mess. All the rest of the day and on through the night, the Fix-It-Up-Chappie played them like a kite. Tweet this, post that, plus this, and add that. And through the networks they charged, opening them all to get better scores. They kept tweeting perks, posting plugs, and adding plus ones; no time for friends or thinking or fun.

And soon, the whole thing was confusion, their heads spun up on a spool: which one was this one or was this one really that one. Or which one was what one ... and what one was who. But none of that mattered. Because all through the night and all through the day, Fernandez was raking it in on the backs of those people who stopped talking to friends. And he laughed and he laughed, from his perch of free perks, "you can teach them new tricks, but you can't teach them about worth."

Now, I would like to say that it all ended that day. That people became just a little bit smarter. But unfortunately for us, humans aren't like Sneetches who learned something new. That the size of your worth is based on the friendships you make, and not your score, status, or hue.

Related Reading From Around The Web. 

Why I Quit Klout by Schmutzie

Why I Quit Klout by Matt LaCasse

Why I quit Klout by David Kaufer

Why I Quit Klout by Ben Loeb

Why I Quit Klout by Botgirl Questi

How To Get Your Profile And Data Completely Disconnected From Klout by Danny Brown

Feel free to add a link to your own "Why I Quit Klout" post in the comments. We'll approve them. Special thanks to Dr. Seuss, whose original story "The Sneetches" inspired this satire about online influence. The Klout story is amazingly just like it, maybe exactly like it if people let the concept get carried away rather than focusing in on what's more important in life.

Then again, a few people won't have it. After quitting Klout, some have even suggested banning marketers who participate. If that ever happens, then Klout will learn about scoreless influence.

Friday, October 28

Rediscovering Influence: The Butterfly Effect

A few months ago, I was introduced to one of my favorite websites ever. It's a site loaded with ideas.

It represents the best of what the Internet can do. It brings people together — those with great ideas and those who want to see great ideas succeed. They are great ideas. Not all of them; enough of them.

In fact, I reviewed it on Liquid [Hip]. And while Kickstarter wasn't rated because we ran the review as a Good Will pick, I would have rated it a perfect 10. I've only ever done that one other time since we started.

It seems to me that Kickstarter represents the best of what the Internet can do. Almost every day, someone pitches an idea that influences and inspires others to share their story, dream, and project. The artists who submit their side projects are influential, even those who have no presence on the Internet (today).

So are the people who support them. In fact, the people who support these artists are more influential than they will ever know. The project they help fund today can launch a company, a career, a revolution.

The truth is we just don't know. A small change at one place in a nonlinear system can result in large differences at a later state. It's called the butterfly effect, and taken from a greater chaos theory.

The Quest For Tangible Online Influence. 

In much the same way, DonorsChoose is like Kickstarter. It brings people together too.

In this case, teachers submit requests based on the needs of their students. Supporters donate funds, which are then used to purchase the necessary supplies.

One recent example was a teacher who had an idea that he could do a better job teaching his students science and how to grow food if only they could test the soil for optimal growth. Once they had the soil test kits, they would have a better understanding of how to grow plants like tomatoes and squash.

The project was funded. And while there is no way to really know, any number of those students might translate what they learn from this project into lifelong skill sets, inspiring them to become teachers, scientists, agricultural engineers, or maybe something that we can't imagine today — professions that could make their communities, states, or even the world a better place to live.

The Distraction Of Online Vanity. 

The nemesis of both projects, it seems, strikes in the opposite direction. Rajesh Setty wrote a brilliant piece, called 7 Reasons For The Rise Of Mediocrity (hat tip: Valeria Maltoni). In it, he shares how many people obtain attention without any foundation of ability, accomplishment, or credibility.

It seems to me that he is right, even if I might temper my assessment because I believe insight can come from even the least likely of places. But where I agree with Setty is that I'm no longer convinced enough people are seeking insight. They are seeking mediocrity, wrapped in vanity, a distraction.

And if there is any service that delivers this distraction in an overdosed-sized serving, it has to be Klout. I am not going to dwell on Klout too long. Danny Brown has covered recent events already — from the recent embarrassment of people who believed the original scoring system was something more than make believe to one of the greatest abuses of privacy on the Internet.

I tend to take a broader brush approach to the topic, usually filed under perception or popularity. And while neither of those articles are directly about Klout, they may as well be. The entirety and enormity of the system proposed by that company aims to rob people of real influence by catering to their vanity.

As much as I would like to laugh about it, casting Joe Fernandez as Sylvester McMonkey McBean (and maybe I will again some other day), Klout is becoming dangerous. For every article that laughs at it, there are five more than suggest Klout for resumes (Adweek),  Klout for perks and power (Business Grow), and Klout for university grades (Wall Street Journal, about 3 minutes into the video). 

Yes, Scott Galloway, clinical professor of marketing at New York University, threatens students with public humiliation if their Klout scores falter. He says high Klout scores make students winners. In reality, it asks them to disconnect from people that it considers losers, making them the biggest losers of all and everything Andrew Keen said about the future of social media right on the money.

What We Need To Ask About Influence. 

In determining influence in terms of measurable action, we have to ask ourselves whether the action of inventing, investing, donating, creating, inspiring, or producing goes further than the action of liking, sharing, retweeting, and investing time in the primping of a vanity score for a hand full of hair gel.

And then we have to ask ourselves if pursuing those scores does anything beyond distracting us from activities that might do or might produce a tangible outcome — a small change that leads to large differences in a later state. Or, to use the classic theoretical example, we would have to know that a butterfly flapping its wings several weeks ago didn't in fact form a hurricane today, or not. Do something.

Friday, October 21

Dehumanizing People: How Social Connections Create Elitists

In one of the more interesting studies to come out this week, the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and the University of Chicago Booth School of Business hint at a downside to being an "influencer" online.

Although the study does not cite online connections specifically, but rather social connections in general, it does provide a cross section for human behavior that manifests online. In many cases, the behaviors tracked in relation to the study mirror the behaviors of people who eventually grow massive social connections online, as individuals or in tight-knit groups.

Specifically, the study suggests that socially connected people have an increased tendency to view others as less than human — and even treat them as such. In fact, the study links bullying in school, gang violence, and war detainees being tortured as the negative consequences of strong social connections.

How social connections can eventually lead to disconnection.

Although researchers point out that there are many studies that share the positive aspects of social connections (increased self-esteem, happiness, and even improved physical health), they go on to point out that connectivity satiates the motivation to connect with others and create the perceived distance between "us and them."

In extreme cases, the social connections do not necessarily lead to animosity, but eventually convince participants to believe that they are superior and people outside their circles are inferior. This includes believing that outsiders have diminished mental capacities, sometimes going as far as thinking them to be objects or animals or less than fully developed people.

Does online social connectivity eventually lead to dehumanization?

Unrelated to the study, some people think so. Nathania Johnson touched on it two years ago in telling the story how of George Smith Jr. dealt with a blogger who inappropriately attempted to blackmail Crocs. He warned her away, saying he was better connected.

"He called her a nobody (in his blog, not to her face) because he claims to be so connected that he knows who the big bloggers in his space are. (He later 'clarified that she was only a nobody as a blogger ..." — Nathania Johnson, When Bloggers Attack

Ike Pigott created a near-perfect analogy in his post The Internet Is A Kennel, which retold how social connections can elevate someone to become a "chosen one" with propped up minions who will defend their idols to the death, often without even understanding the disagreement or conflict.

"I was pilloried by several people for daring to question the value of the Almighty Robert Scoble. I was asked why I think I am better than he is, and I was questioned about why anyone would bother following me." — Ike Pigott, The Internet Is A Kennel

Geoff Livingston once wrote that he found the A-List to be a condition of society's general values. And that while he understands that may be inevitable, it is not for him. He tends to avoid the ladder toward "elite hood," even at his own "ranking" detriment.

"Some A Listers follow formulas, sharing and content mechanisms to achieve their best practices. The Karaoke Show is on all of them. And they are rewarded for it with popularity and, in some cases, financially." — Geoff Livingston, When Social Media Rewards The Mindless And The Elite

Professionals are not the only ones who are sharpening sticks online. For all the altercations that have occurred on the Web between two or more people attempting to "out follower" each other in power, kids are learning from the behavior of adults. Nearly three in four teenagers say they have been bullied online, usually under the same conditions that professionals allow to play out.

But bullying isn't the only anecdotal evidence of a dehumanizing effect caused by social connections online. With more and more regularity, people who consider themselves A List material are dropping "followers," cutting "friends," and ignoring commenters who do not meet a certain rank, score, or inclusion on a list. In fact, some scoring systems reward them for dismissing the "under class."

The Study: Social Connection Enables Dehumanization. 

Beyond the most extreme cases of violence and inhumane treatment, the research suggests that more varied and subtle consequences are commonplace. It may include harassment in the workplace to overly aggressive fans at a sporting events.

"Any factor that creates disconnection from others, such as power, socioeconomic status or anonymity, may therefore enable dehumanization by disengaging people from the minds of others," the researchers concluded. "The present research suggests that social connection is one such factor that can increase disengagement with the minds of those more distant others, leading to a failure to see people as they really are."

Of course, this is not to suggest everyone is susceptible to allowing their elite status to make them feel superior over their minions and masses of followers. Many A Listers do not adopt anti-social behaviors such as those mentioned above (dehumanization or disengagement) as they begin to believe in their own celebrity. And, there are some very smart people like Arik Hanson who caution professionals away from systems that aggravate the problem by dividing and ranking people.

The study included four experiments. Researchers found that participants who were thinking about a person close to him or her were more likely to dehumanize other people. In extreme cases, they justified treating others like animals. The study was published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

Monday, October 17

Guessing At Authenticity: 3 Tips For Better Reputations

After reading Jennifer Leggio's Forbes article "The Battle For Social Media Authenticity," one might wonder whether it is possible for brands (companies) to be authentic. It's a good question to ponder. They mostly can't.

This holds doubly true for the most dubious of brands — solo practitioners — people who spend all day developing a personal brand with surgical precision. From the clothes they wear to what they share, everything is orchestrated to create a persona that appeals to their tribe (a social media term meant to replace "audience" because it sounded so mass media). But the polish ought to be the tip off too.

How can you be authentic if everything is premeditated?

If authenticity is used to describe real people behind a content marketing program, then how can the program resolve its intent to drive sales and or engage people? That is, after all, the priority of most marketers online. In fact, according to the B2B Marketing Trends 2011 Survey, about 82 percent of marketers want to increase engagement* and 55 percent want to drive sales.

The irony is that if the primary objective is sales, searches, and shares, then the program is already one off authenticity. The objective alone tells the story. The intent isn't about the customer or prospect, it's about the company and the content strategist.

How To Flip The Content Funnel For More Sales And Engagement. 

There has been considerable pressure over the years for social media to prove its merit. In most cases, marketers and public relations practitioners have leaned toward visibility measurements to prove their mettle: number of followers, website hits, search rankings, etc. They also mistake engagement for shareability (or the number of times someone else shares content), which also lends to those scores.

All of those metrics can be useful. But focusing on these metrics does not bode well for anyone concerned with authenticity and reputation. Consider point 13 on 15 Ways To Avoid Bad Online Reviews for example. It suggests creating a nest of brand evangelists that "you can count on when a sticky situation arises."

Can you imagine how this might play out in a physical location like a restaurant? It would feel much more awkward than it does online: One customer complains that there is a fly in their soup so 15 other patrons pounce on them to say their soup is fine. Maybe some will even accuse the complainer that the flies came in with her or him.

There is a better way and none of it needs to be contrived. You don't have to develop a social media program that elevates shares and sales as primary objectives because shares and sales work better as outcomes. The better objective ought to be severing prospects and/or customers.

1. Rather than using tactics to drive traffic, develop content that benefits an audience.

Companies that develop content that benefits or is interesting to an audience generally perform better than those that use social media to sell products and services. They outperform by earning a smaller audience's trust over the long term, which indirectly increases real engagement and sales.

It's not much different than the products or services themselves. Companies that develop better, innovative products or services earn sales. Companies that cater to specific online audiences — beyond news about the company — attract a larger audience.

2. Rather than ask social media spokespeople to be actors, ask them to be themselves. 

There is nothing wrong with having a company account that shares content, specials, and company news. But there is more to managing a social network account than broadcasting the latest marketing message with a few jokes interspersed between the daily deals.

Authenticity is a trait exhibited by individuals, not companies. And in order to be authentic, employees need to have the freedom to be themselves more than a sales agent. After all, social networks are more akin to walking a convention room floor than a television channel. If your product or service doesn't meet the prospect's needs, let your employees tell them who might be the better fit.

3. Rather than play at reciprocity, consider your audience every step of the way.

Toss out all the rules and tips and tricks related to sharing. Sure, there are some surface benefits to sharing information at a rate of about 10 to 1 (ten links from others for every one link of yours) and people who tend to share (and follow) tend to share (and follow) back.

However, those surface tactics designed to make someone or something more popular don't further a well-defined strategy designed to benefit prospects and customers. Every shared link ought to benefit those who might be receiving the link rather than benefiting the account sharing the link.

How those three tips will improve your and your company's online reputation. 

All three of these tips can be summed up quite easily. Make it about them instead of you or your company's social media tactics.

While doing so won't make your company authentic, it will go a long way in helping it establish a better reputation. It will also help you too, assuming people know the names behind the brand. Authenticity is demonstrated, not stated. And over the long term, it will always win out over something that is shallow and contrived like Ragu did. Make it about them, not you.

Friday, July 29

Flipping Influence: Asking Earns Attention

After reading the two-part post on Sharing: It's Not Influence (Part 1, Part 2), a few people asked for alternatives. There are several, but one stands out among the rest.

Stop looking for influencers. Start making influencers.

Earlier this year, I wrote a post about how influencers tend to be the most influenced. Some mistook that post, Flipping The Scale: Influencers Are The Most Influenced, as influencer bashing. Maybe it was, but just a little bit. There was a bigger intent within the topic.

First, let's define "influencers" for what they really are to avoid any confusion. Online, the most common definition is "active people with big networks that seem reasonably engaged." That's it. There is nothing more to it. There doesn't even have to be any evidence to suggest that they have influenced anyone. It's about numbers.

With that understanding, the most common trait among these influencers is that they are always asking for advice, help, opinions, and ideas. Sure, sometimes it's a ruse. I recently read a thread from one who asked for advice on writing bios and then praised some pretty paltry advice that wasn't worth the bandwidth. I don't suspect the influencer had any intention of ever using any of it, but that's not the point.

Asking attracts more attention in less time than pitching egos.

I'm not suggesting that all "influencers" use the tactic for mass deception nor am I suggesting they be devalued. Some are sincere when they ask questions and then reflect crowd-sourced answers back at the people who provide them.

Other times, they listen to what people are asking elsewhere and then provide an answer, creating the impression of clairvoyance. (And yes, a few borrow what other people are saying and claim it as their own idea.) But despite the less desirable attributes, there are a few who are more authentic. It all depends on the person, not groups of people with the same moniker.

influencerThat said, the real work that needs to be done is to identify, ask, and engage people who are passionate about a topic. Those people, in turn, provide the answers. The "influencer" then has an opportunity to praise the network, collate the material, and maybe piggyback their message onto the whole mashup (sometimes with credit and sometimes without).

Everyone asked, especially those included in any answer, are now engaged, vested, and likely to promote the outcome.

Ergo, the influencer isn't really influencing anyone. The influencer is making a network of passionately engaged influencers, people who hope to have an impact on the person, place, or project. That's all there is to it. Be the influencee, not the influencer (even if it is in perception and not reality).

Stop looking for influencers. Start making influencers.

Anybody can become an influencer, at least by the standards of the current obscure and erroneous definition, because anyone can be an influencee. It's not even a new idea. This has been occurring offline since the beginning of time — everyone is all ears for the person compiling the report that they contributed to.

It's also why most "influencers" fall in and out of favor over time. It's human nature to overreach and, sooner or later, most of them overreach. They stop asking and start talking, or even more inexplicably, start charging people to hold up the mirror.

To be clear, I don't mean to make it sound as dubious as it can be. There are authentic uses for this technique. As long as a company is willing to accept some ideas from a growing network, support passionate advocates, and make it easier for those with an interest to make contributions and be elevated as an "influencer," it's all good.

It takes a significant amount of time, energy, and empathy. But it's also a key component of every successful campaign I've ever worked on. I shared a partial case study a couple years back when I retired the deck Shaping Public Opinion. If you look at the deck, you won't find what I really hope you come away with.

I didn't influence 250,000 bloggers and 15,000 journalists to cover AIDS and reach 62.5 million readers (it was even bigger for human rights). They convinced themselves.

My job, along with my teammates on that campaign, was to make it easier for them to do it. So we never wasted time begging "influencers." We made it easier for passionate people to do what they wanted to do, making them influencers.

Wednesday, July 27

Sharing: It's Not Influence, Part 2

Dental InfluenceAs a continuation of Sharing: It's Not Influence, Part 1, it may be worthwhile to begin where we left off, with a parent of a child. Children are wild cards.

The relationship between a parent and child, in terms of how influence works, ebbs and flows over the course of a lifetime. It is not defined by any single action. It is not patently obvious when it occurs. It is not even necessarily predictable by any measure.

A parent, for example, might be able to order a child to brush their teeth one night, and some people might argue that is a form of influence. However, real influence takes shape over the long term and not by a single action. Real influence might manifest in a child becoming someone who has exceptional dental practices, assuming we could isolate the influences (which we cannot).

Even a persistent parent — one who insists on dental hygiene, one who provides proper role modeling, one who nurtures and educates — may not be the most influential in person in terms of dental hygiene. It could just as easily be the dentist, dental hygienist, grandparent, sibling, friend, associate, television program, personal experience, education, or more than likely — some collective of all these people and things, with each contributing some unknown percentage of influence.

On the other hand, a persistent parent — one who does everything mentioned above — is equally likely to produce a child who does not exhibit exceptional dental practices. In fact, they are just as likely to produce a child who hates dentists, seldom brushes their teeth, and consumes more than their healthy share of snacks, sweets, and soda pop. What's that about?

In this case, the parent may have no real influence, despite their proximity to the child. Or, conversely, everything that the parent contributed could have influenced the child after all, but in the opposite direction. Or, you never know, the parent may have had influence during a certain period of time, but then this influence lost out to other people or experiences.

decisionsConfused yet? You ought to be. Outside of providing a definition of influence, no one knows how influence works. Most of the time, people do not even fully understand what influences them — let alone other people as a temporal contributor to someone's decision-making process. Sure, we have some broad brush notions — reciprocity, commitment, social morals, preference, authority, scarcity — but none of those include mere persistence. The truth is we really know next to nothing about influence, which is why it makes life interesting.

Three factors that make influence infinitely complex.

1. Attention. Marketers invest most of their time on attention. There is some truth to the notion that you cannot form an opinion about something you don't know exists. This is where reach (eyeballs), frequency (impressions), and authority (perceived expertise) count somewhat.

The challenge, however, is to remind marketers that every impression doesn't count as 100 percent attention; most impressions capture a mere fraction of our attention, especially online. There are so many things competing for our attention, all of which are being filtered by arbitrary and random conditionals. And even then, this assumes we are online as our streams chug along.

2. Receptiveness. Marketers don't seem to care much about receptiveness. Most assume that everyone is interested in their product, service, or position. They assume their message is important. And they assume you care, doubly so if chance and circumstance have happened to bring you together for some reason.

They could not be more wrong. To be open to a message, people generally have to meet a select number of conditions that vary from person to person. They have to be interested, attentive, in a good mood, open to a new opinion, and in the market for whatever you're peddling. Most have a hard time comprehending that such periods of openness are subject to varied and limited amounts of time.

3. Collectiveness. Influence doesn't happen in a vacuum. Most marketers and measurement systems treat actions as if they happen in an isolated one-on-one setting, without ever considering that multiple messages, people, and experiences all contribute to our world view. Equally important, any one of them could support or detract from anything.

Consider the composite of almost any decision you make. Even when we don't consciously consider it, our brains have created a complex composite of stuff that we apply to any number of circumstances: subconscious memories, past experiences, personal values, personality types, current events, advice from authors, opinions from family, preferences of friends, insights from opinion leaders, etc., etc., etc. Depending on the person and their individual relationship to all of these people and things and perceptions, the whole of it will weigh on any decision. And chances are, we aren't even aware of it.

Claiming to understand influence is the biggest snake oil game ever.

This isn't an attack on marketing or measures. It's more of a testament to human social intelligence, for all its strengths and weaknesses. We cannot be read so easily, even in various groupings. This also doesn't necessarily preclude marketers from making educated guesses. We do that all the time.

But for anyone to say they understand influence so thoroughly that they can entice people to do anything online is a different kind of disposition. It also shows significant shortsightedness, because surely if you could read people down to the click predictability and purchase probabilities, the financial sector — specifically the stock market — would be a better match. At minimum, such talents would preclude asking for hourly rates or retainers. A mere fraction of a percent of the profits would be enough.

Monday, July 25

Sharing: It's Not Influence, Part 1

InfluenceThere isn't any question that the current trends in marketing, especially online marketing, are centered around "influence." And most marketing, advertising, and social media firms (and certainly online influence algorithms) are all looking at the same measure — that influence can somehow be tied to reach (the number of people exposed to a message), which is directly dependent upon how willing people are to share it.

A recent study by The New York Times paints a different picture. Sharing is not as tied to influence as marketers think. There are a gambit of reasons, and influence and/or persuasion is one of the least important. Maybe marketers have it wrong.

Highlights from The New York Times Study.

• 94 percent carefully consider if the information they share will be useful to the recipient.
• 84 percent share information any time it supports a cause or an issue they care about.
• 83 percent say reading other people's responses helps them understand and process better.
• 73 percent share information because it helps them connect to people with similar interests.
• 69 percent say they share because it helps them feel more connected to the world around them.
• 68 percent share because they want to give others a better sense of who they are.
• 49 percent say that sharing allows them to potentially change opinions and encourage action.

While 49 percent is still significant, promoting action (which marketers have defined as a key component of influence) is a low priority in terms of what people choose to share. It makes sense. Nobody is trying to influence the world by sharing cat videos and bacon jokes. And those who share such things are generally not working to become "influential."

More than likely, they like cats or bacon or the humor often associated with pics and videos about those subjects. Sometimes, people share for other reasons too. It could be something even simpler; they want to associate with or get the attention of the person sharing the content.

In communication circles, the latter is especially true. Many communicators operating in social media are keen on praising and thanking each other for sharing each other's content. It sometimes goes beyond reciprocity and more toward reward. But even more importantly than that, they might share a post, even unread, to create an association with a keynote speaker and therefore have a chance to connect with other people within that stream. (Conversely, sometimes they share a link to poke someone.)

In The New York Times study, they miss the point of their own research by tying sharing to influence (specifically, how to influence sharing) despite discovering the varied reasons for sharing in the first place. And it seems to me that attempting to turn sharing into a tactical game really misses the point.

Specifically, the study suggests appealing to audience motivations, keeping it simple, appealing to humor, earning trust, and making it urgent all increas the likelihood of shared content. However, at the same time, we have to wonder if consumers are misapplying their trust in marketers attempting to piggyback their message on what people really do care about. Maybe. But more importantly, is a masquerade true influence?

Influence is especially complicated; much more than marketers think.

One recent image that caught some attention was the new Google brand shoes. Their colorful, creative, shoe image generated a significant amount of interest. In looking at the people who shared the same visual, however, it became clear why the shoe pic was being shared.

• Some people thought they were cool.
• Some people thought they were ugly.
• Some people like or have an interest in Nike.
• Some people like or have an interest in Google.
• Some people liked the last person to share them.
• Some people have an interest in fashion stories.
• Some people just like shoes; they could have had any logo.
• Some people wanted to capitalize on the fact Google+ was trending.
• Some people have an expressed interest in search, social media, and technology.

Google ShoesThe list goes on. There are more than two dozens other reasons for the shoe pic being shared, which begs the question: how does any of it tie to influence?

And even if it did tie to influence, is that influence related to the shoe? Google? Nike? High-tops in general? Or maybe the person who shared it, without any consideration of why they shared it? What about other factors? Does it matter what kind of mood they are in when they first saw the image? What they had for breakfast? How their love life is working out? What kind of personality they have? Because they set some quota about sharing X number of a things at noon, every day? And to what end does any of this even matter?

Sometimes if you want to move forward you have to look back. Since the adoption of social media, generally, and social networks, specifically, people started sharing much more than they ever had before. And as the study revealed, they share more because their audience has expanded from the five people who used to gather around the water cooler.

And yet, it's the water cooler that marketers need to think about about when it comes to sharing, because none of what was shared around that watering hole ever made anyone appear influential. Not really; maybe sometimes.

The simple truth of the matter is that real influence doesn't take place at the sharing stage. It happens on a much deeper level, much like real advertising happens at a much deeper level. Anyone can create an advertisement that entices people to notice it, but not everyone can create an advertisement that resonates with people.

Likewise, you can share anything you want and convince people to share it. But actually having them adopt your view, lock step with no questions asked, is real influence. And when you consider everything that has to be just right to make that happen, it becomes pretty clear that even true influence is subject to hundreds of different things beyond the control of the influencer.

So maybe, just maybe, there is only one question you need to ask any marketer or social media expert who claims to be able to influence the masses online. Ask them about parenting. If they struggle with getting their children to watch an hour less of television, to eat their spinach, to get straight As, to brush their teeth between meals, etc. — then they know as much about influence as you do — almost nothing. Much like The New York Times study, which has some interesting findings but equally silly conclusions.

Friday, June 17

Clicking For Leadership: Illusionary Democracies

social mediaAs influence ranks and scoring systems continue to creep into social networks, there is an interesting shift in how people are defining online leadership. In some cases, the same people who sought to tear down authoritarian styles are erecting a similar model based on varied sets of algorithms.

While I've often considered the definition more complex than the organizational leadership model developed by psychologist Kurt Lewin in the 1930s, his model works well enough to illustrate the shift. In order to better explain management, Lewin broke out leadership styles into three primary categories: authoritarian, democratic, and laissez-faire.

What early social media entrants aimed to do with blogs and social networks.

Initially, the early adopters who wanted to create a more social net, frequently pointed to and even took aim at what they considered an authoritarian role of various fields. Specifically, many saw big companies, widely-read journalists, and educators as disconnected from the masses they served (or lorded over, as some suggested).

In the Lewin models, he saw autocratic leaders set clear expectations for what needed to be done. These leaders would make decisions with very little input and expected their sphere of influence to follow their lead. From the perspective of early social media entrants, they were controlling and even abusive.

Since the authoritative types were among the last to enter social media (and some still have no desire to do so), it was relatively easy for entrants to call for a revolution. Specifically, they wanted to develop a social model more accustomed to how they viewed government (at least in the United States) — participative like a democratic society.

In a democratic model, new leaders could offer guidance to their group members with each individual member deciding how much they wanted to support their "thought leadership." Ideally, this allowed for new voices to be elevated for their perceived contributions to other early entrants. It worked too, for awhile.

Many even advise adopting this model for businesses today. The general concept is to create environments where customers feel engaged in the process and are more motived, sometimes even promoting the group or organization for the relationship.

What early social media entrants aimed to do with blogs and social networks.

A few years ago, as social networks helped move social media into the mainstream, scalability forced the early social media entrants toward a delegation style of leadership, which Lewin called laissez-faire leadership. The new entrants en masse didn't know what to do.

So they tended to latch onto perceived leaders and were satisfied promoting them without making other contributions (much like a tribe) or perhaps building networks of their own. This was an immediate boon for some of the early entrants because as teachers, they were able to position one-person consultancies as the leaders of online environments.

Perhaps ironically however, laissez-faire leadership isn't as productive and eventually the followers learn on their own. In some cases, longtime leaders in one space were either being left behind or continually threatened for two reasons. First, democratic models do not always ensure you will remain at the top. And second, laissez-faire leadership may be loved by novices but begins to look more authoritative over time.

How algorithms create the illusion of democracies, with a new authoritative construct.

social empireMost algorithms that measure authority or perceived influence on the Web are based on a combination of three components: activity, popularity, and perceived authority (as a byproduct of the first two). In lieu of education, experience, or expertise, it's based on network size and mention frequency.

Some companies (and social network consultants) won't even respond to people who do not have a specific score, thereby creating a new authoritative anomaly that's largely invented. In one experiment, for example, I created a separate social network account and drove its "influence" score beyond my personal account in the matter of a week. High volume alone spiked the score, but once it hit a certain rank then people blindly followed the account.

While that can become an issue, it seems to me the greater challenge is two-fold. Publics, online or off, have a tendency to erect authoritative structures. And second, those who achieve such status are inclined to protect it, even if they were the ones who were outspoken about the last authoritative structure. It's a cycle of sorts, and frequently occurs even within the most valued democracies.

Wednesday, June 8

Branding: Personal Brand Meets Lifestyle Brand

PirateFor the failures of the personal brand concept, there are enough people who believe that marketers want to help them out. The new CMO buzz word being bandied about with increased frequency is lifestyle branding.

Specifically, that means brands give up on any functional attributes and focus their marketing on lifestyle choices. You might even consider it business marketing in reverse — marketers trying to make their products a badge identifier for certain lifestyles as opposed to developing products to meet the needs of an existing lifestyle.

Why is lifestyle branding becoming popular?

One of the most brilliant marketing strategists (even though by all accounts, including his own, he was a bastard) was Charles Revson, who started a nail polish company after the cosmetics company he worked for passed him over for promotion. Of course, his tenacity alone didn't take his tiny company, Revlon Cosmetics, to the top. It was his marketing.

In our factory, we make lipstick. In our advertising, we sell hope. — Charles Revson

But that isn't lifestyle branding, not really. Lifestyle branding is more akin to what came next. Lifestyle branding doesn't sell help as much as it creates the illusion that you, as a consumer, actually arrive at some destination. The Prius is a great example.

While there are a percentage of people who buy the Prius as eco-freindly consumers, the majority of Prius buyers today only want to buy the illusion that they are intelligent and practical enough to purchase the vehicle. In other words, it has less to do with the consumer's demographics and more to do with proving that they belong to those demographics, whether they do or not. As Rob Lyons once put it, it's part ego-trip.

The Prius isn't alone among brands that became adopted by posers. There have been dozens to win and lose in their attempts to make a statement. Before Coors became a national brewer, it represented an elite in-ness. So did Perrier water for a spell. And you can easily add Starbucks to the list. It has always sold the Seattle culturally-savvy image more than it sold coffee.

To be fair, not all lifestyle brands are intentional. Toyota didn't necessarily set out to create a lifestyle brand with the Prius as much as a second wave of consumers did. Perrier water, on the other hand, did. And until a benzene mishap, it once captured 80 percent of the bottled water industry in North America.

Creating a lifestyle brand is a marketing crapshoot.

The point to consider here is that there are two paths toward a lifestyle brand. One is less intentional because consumers create it on their own. That isn't a gamble as much as it is recognizing that the real strength of a brand lies in the relationship between the consumer and the product.

Intentionally attempting to create a lifestyle brand is much more of a gamble, like Puma is reportedly trying to do now. It's dumping the longstanding battle with Nike and Adidas and trying to embrace the "after hours" athlete crowd market. And Alex Chernev, who wrote the article mentioned above, did a fine job pointing out that Nike and Adidas will be the real winners.

Where Puma might win, according to Chernev, is if they can appeal to the consumers' need for self-expression and convince them that this brand is representative of their arrival. However, short of Puma redesigning their shoes (which they are), the whole thing is nothing more than a brand attempting to out-pose the posers.

Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. One of my favorite case studies revolves around the ad campaign launched by Miller to cut into the coolness market of microbreweries. Nobody who identified with the microbewery scene believed the campaign. But to make matters worse for Miller, the blue-collar customer did believe it, didn't identify with it, and swapped out Miller for Bud.

In a sense, creating a lifestyle brand out of a marketing campaign is nothing more than a sleight-of-hand trick. The best a brand can hope for is that posers "think" it represents the lifestyle they want to mimic (authentic consumers are almost never fooled).

Minimizing the gamble for a lifestyle brand.

The only way to minimize the gamble is to recognize that the consumer has an equal stake in product positioning (unless you're a start-up developing a product for a specific group). The point being that if you are lucky enough to get a core group of consumers who identify with a specific lifestyle for a certain reason, you can adjust your marketing to reinforce it.

This approach was one of the ways we helped a car dealer become a regional leader despite facing off against a 20-year established incumbent competitor. While the incumbent attempted to bring in a broad "sales" driven consumer into their dealership, we developed a campaign around the market segment that already identified with the national brand. There was more to it than that, but that is a simplified explanation for the success.

On the other hand, if I was a marketing director for Puma, for example, I might even be a bit concerned with the new campaign because it's attempting to target a non-existent lifestyle by combining too many lifestyles that don't identify with each other. Of course, Puma might already feel confident in attracting a certain segment and their campaign just doesn't prove it. Time will tell.

What is especially interesting to me is the allure of lifestyle brands anyway. They seem most suited to the poser crowd, which tend to be the same ones who embrace personal branding. The general concept for personal branding is that, somehow, how you present yourself is what you are (or, more specifically, what you buy). Many people believe it too.

But doesn't that really make the entire exercise feel like some brands are starting to pretend to be something they are not, in the hopes that consumers buy it so they can pretend they are something they're not? Huh. Maybe they're made for each other.

Wednesday, May 25

Testing For Confusion: Crowdsource

crowdsourcingA few months ago, Danny Brown asked a very good question. Is social media crowdsourcing making us lazy? While he was writing from an individual perspective — suggesting we search, research, and seek relevant resources on our own — some businesses might be getting flabby in how they quantify, qualify, and analyze research.

It was one of the points I alluded to while presenting an adapted version of Thomas Sowell's concept by applying it to social media intellectuals. Some people took exception to the post, claiming it was divisive without solutions for certain prattle. (Think about it.)

The lesson doesn't come from social media. It comes from marketing and community relations.

Years ago, I worked on the front end of Clark County Regional Flood Control District for an agency client. The project included one of the first flood control detention basin projects in the greater Las Vegas area. Specifically, we developed one of the community relations prototypes for neighborhoods that might be impacted (temporarily and permanently) by the necessary construction.

People who live in the area might know the name of the project. Mission Hills Detention Basin Dam is on a tributary of the Las Vegas Wash located in the City of Henderson. Its function is to redirect flood waters to prevent houses from being washed away.

Even when the initial design was being considered, it was important for the city, county, agency, architect, and construction company to receive residents' input throughout the project — ranging from which streets would provide the safest routes for construction trucks to what the 26-foot high berm might look like upon completion (since many residents would lose valued views).

What was very interesting about this prototype community relations plan was it involved several methods of gathering data from area residents so the team would benefit from a better perspective of research. One stream of input was not enough.

low pricesFrom the communication perspective, we developed numerous ways to gather input: one-on-one interviews, private suggestions ballots, selective focus groups, open forums, and surveys. Why? Because the method and the medium can sometimes turn uninformed opinion into undesirable outcomes. And I mean undesirable for anyone.

Of course, I don't suspect too many people can relate to the finer points of flood control detention basin communication. So, I've transposed some of the notes into a more consumer-friendly model.

Transforming Marketing Surveys Into Market Testing.

• Individual Trial Response. Ask preselected customers to try a product for free or at a reduced cost and then solicit their input. Often, the intent is to find issues from the consumer's perspective. Don't direct them to find problems (because they'll make some up if so directed). And never videotape the response (because people tend to provide affirmative responses on camera).

• Focus Groups. Present the product to a select group of consumers or qualified experts to try the product and discuss it. Two cautions. Watch to make sure that one or two or three people don't eventually lead the group in a specific direction. And, always host more than one session, especially if one group fixates on a specific issue. (This is also why we had private suggestion ballots; some people clam up in public.)

• Open Forums. While similar to focus groups, open forums go beyond gathering input and create an opportunity for dialogue between stakeholders and consumers. For example, if the focus group on its own concludes the product would look best in blue, then designers and manufacturers can offer that the color might have consequences — like adding $10 in price.

• Controlled Tests. One classic marketing test model is taking advantage of stores that will carry some new products for a price. While the product will generally not benefit from any advertising assistance, it could provide its first test against competitors. One caution. Controlled tests aren't really product tests on the front end. They are more likely to be considered packaging tests.

• Test Markets. Clearly, test markets are always the most beneficial but sometimes cost-prohibitive tests, which is why large companies try while medium and small companies sometimes do not. Online, it's the essence of alpha and beta testing to some degree. You do what you want to do, just on a limited scale. Then check for results.

Then, of course, there are all the rest... surveys, interviews, etc. I know most people know these methods, but the rehash sets up the point.

The more methods in play, the greater your chance is to refine the product and move it away from what's become the biggest source of confusion caused by online crowdsourcing — conversations turned over to the crowd while letting the chips fall where they may with all sorts of influences you cannot begin to guess at. It's worse than the exhibition of being a flabby business. It very likely can put your company on the wrong path.

Consider several market testing methods instead and look for similar outcomes. It's the easiest way to begin transforming intellectual thinking into tangible experience. But even then, always be cautious anyway.

Sometimes doing it right works, as it did with the Regional Flood Control District, teaching the developers that the most vocal in the community were a minority. And sometimes doing it right doesn't work, which is why there was an Arch Deluxe.

Related Posts From Around The Web.

Memo to Crowdsourcing: Grow Up by Geoff Livingston
Five Ways Social Media Will Change Journalism by Ike Pigott
Could Crowdsourcing Help Pass The Turning Test? by Brendan Cooper

Monday, January 24

Incentivizing Behavior: How Algorithms Kill Good Ideas

The newest bright and shiny object at the center of social network news is undoubtedly Quora, which is a question and answer network that reached 164,00 unique visitors in December (and likely doubled in January). But all that might be for naught.

According to TechCrunch, Quora wants to develop an algorithm to measure online rank and user quality. Good luck with that. It's a mistake.

While algorithms can be useful, they also diminish the overall quality and value of any network where they are applied. Google understands this about human interaction. It's one of the reasons the popular search engine recently announced a harder look at search engine spam, beyond the changes that took place last May.

Much like photons and electrons in quantum mechanics, people behave differently when they are measured.

If you are familiar with quantum mechanics or wave-particle duality or the uncertainty principle, you already know they behave differently when they are observed and/or measured. People behave differently when they are observed and/or measured too.

And, the more people know about how they are measured, the more likely they will be influenced by the measurement. Even one of the first scoring systems widely adopted by marketers influenced their behavior as participants. As soon as Todd And's Power 150 was adopted, participants focused on improving the measures. Back then, it included things like Google Page Rank, Bloglines, and Technorati.

Since the so-called Power 150 move over to Advertising Age in 2007, it has undergone several overhauls, some good and some not so good. The new measures now include PostRank, Yahoo InLinks, Alexa Points, and Collective Intellect.

hamsterThroughout all those changes, an interesting phenomenon occurred with every addition and deletion: The usual list leaders would tumble down, sometimes as many as 30 places, before rising back up to their relative places. It's no secret why this occurred. It demonstrates a tactical shift in which measurements the list leaders concentrated tactical efforts.

The same phenomenon is occurring on Twitter. As Klout is adopted, participants adjust to accommodate the new measure of incentivized frequency because more tweets equal more Klout.

It also equals more spam, more auto messaging systems, more paid and fake followers, more conformity to popular opinion, and more time on the platform. Mike Judge already predicted the outcome of this path.

Why adding algorithms to networks changes the nature of the networks.

Quora originally started as a network where people ask and answer questions. The primary objective was to create a database of information. As such, the participants mostly attempted to provide the best possible answer to the specific questions being asked.

QuoraAs Quora adopts a ranking system, the objective will fundamentally change. Instead of answering a few questions by providing the best possible answers, many will be predisposed to answer more questions with whatever information is likely to generate the highest number of up votes. These lead to a fundamentally different answer.

As David Armano, senior vice president at Edelman Digital, pointed out after I questioned his post that placed even more qualitative merit on up votes: Quora isn't a database of information. He defines Quora as a marketplace of opinions.

Coincidentally, the supply of opinions outpaced the demand for the action some years ago. Mostly because, as a commodity, opinions are the only limitless product in a world searching for something increasingly rare. One good idea that works.

Wednesday, January 12

Flipping The Scale: Influencers Are The Most Influenced

PerksYou've all read about all the gimmicks. Heard all the pitches. And taken in the all the analysis.

Almost everyone points to the same conclusion. If you want to succeed in social media, you need to find influencers. Right?


Most experts, agencies, and scoring systems aren't leading companies to influencers. They are leading companies to people who are among the most influenced. Sure, this might not be true in every case, but it does apply to a growing collective.

How commoditizing influence turns influencers into influencees.

Influenced by cash. Many influencers will spread a message for cash. The rates varies, ranging from a blogger who might drop in a link for $25 per insertion to celebrities asking almost $3,000 per tweet.

• Influenced by perks. If you can convince someone to write something positive about your product or service for nothing more than perks, it speaks volumes about how easily they are prone to be influenced. In some cases, a mere coupon for a cup of java could do it.

Influenced by information. Those pursuing some semblance of a thought leader moniker need the inside scoop to create an illusion of thought leadership without original thoughts. Designating them as the first string of PR-friendly reviewers with every product launch will lift them up.

Influenced by attention. Since social media places a premium on affiliation, the simple process of sharing their opinions, insights, and flatteries could influence future coverage. Reciprocating with even a few mentions and re-tweets pays dividends.

Influenced by comments. While some of the top influencers don't respond to every comment, many respond as quickly as possible because comments are still considered important. So who yields influence: the commenter with a two-second quip or the author dropping everything to pander to the commenter?

Influenced by scores. it seems almost sad that some individuals are so influenced by algorithms, they will change their behavior to accommodate. Even one of these companies recently expressed the danger in overemphasizing such scoring systems.

Influenced by influencers. As social media developed a hierarchy of influence, it also developed bubbles, which Umair Haque recently called relationship inflation. Like soap bubbles, niche influencers tend to gravitate toward each other, stick together, and prop each other up (regardless of merit) by trading influence.

Influenced by criticism. Much like brands, influencers tend to be hypersensitive to criticism. Some so much so that no one even knows where the criticism originated before it is responded to with the force of countless minions.

Companies aren't chasing influencers. They are chasing influencees.

When you take the time to think about it, companies don't seem as interested in influencers as much as the potential to influence. And the agencies, experts, and analytic tool specialists point toward influencers as the answer to everything, they seem to be advocating the exploitation of people who are temporarily popular. This tactic is a descent into propaganda.

influence?If you really want to distinguish true influencers from the rest, they are generally people who are unencumbered by the banner of influence currently embraced by social media. They tend to focus on something else in entirety, such as imagination, creativity, innovation, and truth.

You can't buy their love. You can't ingratiate them with praise. You can't inflate their egos. They don't care what you think.

True influencers are innovators, often (but not always) without mass followings of people until the innovation is proven. You know their names. They include people like Steve Jobs, Kurt Cobain, Paul Gauguin, Martin Luther King Jr., Leonardo da Vinci. Alfred Hitchcock, Galileo Galilei, Confucius, etc.

There are thousands of them. But even so, they share some similarities. Generally, while influenced by other individuals (some obscure and some well known) and experiences, the greater weight of influence in their lives came from the ideas that preceded them, eventually leading them to ideas and innovations that transcended their existence.

Innovation alone leads to tangible influence.

Sure, there is something to be said for popularity, persuasiveness, and punditry. Those mechanisms can help a good idea or innovation spread faster than those that never make it to a drafting table. But social media would be remiss to continually place more emphasis on the mechanism of attention — employing propaganda to persuade people that unoriginal, biased, bought, stolen, or otherwise fictional and inflated ideas — than the innovations themselves.

Bad ideas, after all, can be spread just as fast as good ones. We've known this since the dawn of time. And for every advent in communication, there is always an equally powerful mechanism for information manipulation that follows.

The growing evidence seems to suggest that the "influencers model" is a mechanism for information manipulation that follows the merit of social media. Special thanks to Geoff Livingston, Olivier Blanchard, and a few other punks for the conversation.

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