Showing posts with label social intelligence. Show all posts
Showing posts with label social intelligence. Show all posts

Monday, June 11

Evolving Social Media: Social Business

With the advances in how social media is applied daily, the description of Social Media For Communication Strategy held at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV), has a hard time keeping up even if the class does not. For example, nowhere does it mention social networks specifically, let alone the advent of social business.

But then again, this was always by design. When the three-hour session was first offered at UNLV, it was apparent  that social media had a limited shelf life as it evolved. Everything changes. And only the definition seems to remain a constant.

Social media describes the technologies people use to share content, opinions, insights, experiences, and perspectives by interacting with each other in an environment. 

It's not all that much different from how people are trying to define social business today. A social business, if you are unfamiliar with the term, is much like the one above with an emphasis placed on creating and optimizing a collaborative ecosystem. It isn't different, but there's a reason to go with it.

Social media was always collaborative, but social business helps people think. 

Despite the cosmetic shift with semantics, calling some of the new technologies collaborative helps people move away from the thought that social media was meant to be a broadcast platform. It's not. Broadcast is simply one thing you can do online, and it's not even the most effective thing to be done.

The only downside is that defining social business in such away detracts from the real meaning of a social business. That definition was crafted by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Prof. Muhammad Yunus as one which also serves humanity's most pressing needs, e.g., hunger, poverty, etc. The person who stole it probably wasn't aware of the definition. They just wanted to move away from the term "media."

Regardless, where the concept of a collaborative (social) business wins is in the intent. Rather than merely promoting something a business might have, it brings everyone (anyone) together to improve the experience. Sure, it sounds remotely convoluted until it's applied so let's apply it to something.

A Sports League Broadcast Model. 

When I presented a social media session for the Nevada Recreation & Park Society, I researched several parks and recreation social media programs across the country and found exactly what you might suspect. Just like most businesses, the bulk of their social media is broadcast based with the same basic steps.

1. Write up the program you want to promote.
2. Post it on the designated blog with an enrollment link.
3. Share the blog post across various social networks.
4. Email/mail people who participated in similar programs before.

There is nothing wrong with the approach, except the interactivity and collaboration that might result is limited to comments, likes, and shares. The experience isn't really immersive. It's mostly promotion.

A Sports League Social Business Model. 

But what would happen if the social media program became more immersive? What if the content wasn't designed around promotion but on skills improvement for players instead? What if the coaches and players could share their various points of view about a game or interesting training tips? What if game highlights were shared on a video channel or all participants could rate their favorite parks?

What if mobile technology provided real-time score broadcasts or weather conditions? What if area businesses could pay to promote their game day specials via the network? What if spectators could text or message someone if they saw any problems, ranging from park damage to unruly teens or suspicious visitors?

What if players could check the scores of all games being played concurrently and track the standings of various teams? What if players were highlighted or featured for making the play of the day? What if outside contractors could be partnered with to provide solutions (such as seat cushions for hard benches)? The steps would be considerably different. Simplified to four steps, it might look like something else.

1. Focus the communication on what people value. 
2. Match this value across most logical technologies. 
3. Develop tools that make the experience participatory and collaborative.
4. Continually build upon the program, focusing on emerging needs and ideas. 

Promotion (and hoping people share the content) would no longer be the emphasis of the online communication. Instead, promotion would be the outcome of a well-defined collaboration. Likewise, the same holds true for applying similar techniques to business.

Almost any time we shift the thinking away from company objectives to customer objectives, participation increases exponentially and opportunities emerge where they never existed before, internally and externally. At least, that is the way I will present it during Social Media For Communication Strategy on June 16. Someone else can help people catch up on Pinterest.

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.

Wednesday, September 14

Imagining Social Networks: The Futures Company

According to Alex Steer, writing for The Futures Company, social networks might be losing their way. He has an excellent point.

"'s a shame that so much of the conversation around the future of social networking focuses on technology. In the last few years we've heard that real-time access, mobile apps, geolocation, near-field communication and other innovations would transform social networking. To some extent they have: many of the changes over the last decade have been technology driven. But what's often missing is the simple, human question: how do we want to interact online, and how is this changing?" — Steer

He's right. The emphasis on technology sometimes forgets the real driver of the social networks, the very people who participate in them. In fact, one could argue that the failings of social networks often leads to the content generated about them.

Consider Mitch Joel's Myth of Reciprocity post. Or Anastasiya Goers' Tips for Social Media Time Famine post. Or Ian Chang's Google+ Circles: Inverted Personal Privacy Dilemma post. All three of them have an unlikely common ground.

While they all read like they are about the failings of people (shortcomings and solutions), the real failure is found within the network. And more than that, they indicate how people are so used to bending to networks (and telling other people how to bend) that we've forgotten technology is meant to serve and not make us subservient.

Six Critical Decisions That Consumers Are Making, From The Futures Company. 

1. Scale. The benefits of a large network or the intimacy of a small network.

2. Privacy. The convenience of use and access or safeguards of private data.

3. Specificity. The investment of time on some networks or divided time on many.

4. Pervasiveness. The choice between being always on or to access when we need them.

5. Utility. The perception of seeing networks as places to play or as a professional tools.

6. World view. The choice between reinforcing our habits or challenging our preconceptions.

The Futures Company is largely right in placing the focus on these apparently contradictory pivot points. Their brief, called Status Update: The Six Decisions Shaping The Future Of Online Social Networking, is worth checking out. It may even help some people see social media differently.

In fact, it isn't even until page 34 that it loses me a little. Almost immediately considering all the pivot points, it slips a bit backward for marketing purposes, suggesting marketers learn to bend better. There is nothing wrong with that per se, except that maybe nobody has to bend anything except the tools.

Isn't that the real usefulness of six critical decisions that consumers make? People do not want to accept that choosing this means losing that. They want both at the same time and not necessarily one or the other, subject to change. And that leads to the real question on my mind.

How do we build a social network flexible enough to change with the whim of consumers? 

Nobody has done it yet, not really. If they had, social media evangelists wouldn't have the need to rush and build a huge network only to eventually declare they miss the intimacy of having a small one. No one would worry about social media time famine because activity wouldn't feel like a necessity, scored and rated. And privacy wouldn't be as much of a concern, even if the latest effort really aims at convincing us to give up more of it.

Because these aren't the failings of participants. They are the failings of the technological design created with an addictive allure meant to keep us captive as long as possible. And in many ways, it's the traditional media model all over again. There must be a better way.

It seems to me that an on-demand network could consist of intimate, interconnected spheres existing in a larger environment, allowing us to slide back and forth between smaller personal connections and large public gatherings. It would certainly give us an opportunity to go out and challenge our preconceptions while still having a place to feel secure among like-minded people.

And in that regard The Futures Company is right. By paying more attention to people and less attention to technology, we start to see a more fulfilling future for social media, with less bending.

Monday, May 23

Moving Toward Social Media: Now What?

now whatAccording to a recap by Smart Company, Nielsen reports that three-quarters of Australian companies fully embrace social media with as much as 10 percent of their marketing budgets slated to social media. There is some discrepancy between large and medium businesses.

The Nielsen-Community Engine 2011 Social Media Business Benchmarking Study finds that 35 percent of large companies have a stronger presence than medium-sized companies. Although smaller businesses could benefit the most, many of them do not have the time or funding to outsource labor intensive work.

At the same time, companies that are engaging in social media are social network focused. More than 21 percent are advertising on Facebook, 15 percent have a company blog, and 16 percent are using paid monitoring services. The study also showed that 43 percent of companies see social media as a way to communicate to customers, 25 percent see it as an opportunity to respond to customers, and 23 percent see it as a tool for research and insight.

Nielsen helps tie social media to the tablet e-reader market.

Part of the most recent surge in social media is clearly in the tablet market. Mobile owners use their tablets and smart phones to browse for immediate topic points, during commercials, and to make social connections to the programming they watch (friends who are watching the programs somewhere else in the country). Some highlights from the study:

• 70 percent of tablet owners and 68 percent of smart phone owners use their devices while watching television.
• 57 percent of tablet owners and 51 percent of smart phone owners take their devices to bed.

Nielsen StudyWhen cross referenced with another study by Google's AdMob, a picture starts to develop. According to the survey, 84 percent of people use their tablets for gaming (which has become increasingly social), 78 percent use it for research (searching), 61 percent use it to read news online (portable news), and (from a different study) about 52 percent use it to check social network accounts.

The study that hasn't been done yet is more qualitative, but the anecdotal evidence exists — how are people prompted to take any number of actions that lead them to a destination. It's the one more businesses would certainly appreciate.

The anecdotal evidence exists in that people search for news on their tablets when specific topics are being discussed like a new item or a new release from a band. They might follow a link of a news story from a friend on their social network (the propensity increases with every friend mention too). Or, conversely, they might ask their friends what they think of a particular news item.

The challenge that many businesses face in social media.

Businesses that take the time to have a better understanding of social media will win, but not in ways that are always directly measurable (short of benchmarking). This explains some of the results pulled from a recent Forrester and GSI Commerce study that, on the surface, takes social media to task.

Specifically, the study concluded that social media has almost no influence on online purchasing behavior. Some people mistook this study as Forrester becoming a social media contrarian. But that is not exactly what people ought to have pulled from the study.

To fully understand what is happening with consumers, businesses have to start seeing everything from their point of view. Take a fictional (but based on real life) composite of a consumer watching television with their tablet in hand. The news program flashes that a major terrorist has been killed.

Almost immediately, discontent with the linear timeline of network news, they start searching other news streams for content. And, once they have enough, they might share or see what their friends are saying on the social network.

During all of this, your company is talking about its underwear sale. What do you think about your chances to make a sale now?

sale?Exactly right. To develop a successful social media program companies have to either know when to shut up, adjust to current events, or position themselves as part of the greater community they belong to.

Ergo, just because you represent a company with 10,000 employees doesn't mean much because your company is probably only one account. And just because it is the bigger underwear sale in the history of the company doesn't mean it's the biggest news of the day. It probably isn't. But even if it is, people are more likely to visit the store next week than immediately click and buy.

The point being that investing 10 percent of a marketing budget or more into social media is smart, especially if you want a presence where people are spending more and more time. But investing 10 percent in social media isn't so smart if the underlying strategy is because you think consumers are waiting to celebrate your brand. All they really want to do is connect.

Friday, June 18

Obsessing Over Influencers: Six Influencer Styles From Psychology

Foresight Research, a Rochester, Michigan, based market research firm specializing in automotive research, has released some findings from its study influence of the Internet and social media on automotive purchase decisions. What they found won't surprise anyone involved in social media.

In 2009, 86 percent of all new vehicle buyers used the Internet in their new vehicle purchase process. Of those who used the Internet, 90 percent compared vehicles and pricing while 83 percent checked for incentives. Thirteen percent would also share some form of social networking to share information about their purchase.

"What's interesting is that the information and advice given on social networking sites typically comes from automotive 'shouters,'" said Steve Bruyn, president of Foresight Research. "[They're a] thin slice of the population that is most acutely familiar with the latest vehicle models, offerings and options – these are the people that influence other folks' automotive purchases."

According to Bruyn, the most influential car buyers offer vehicle recommendations on social networking sites (29 percent) and use the Internet regularly (93 percent). At t a glance, the common conclusion is that if a firm or dealer can pinpoint, cater to, and influence influencers (or shouters as Bruyn calls them; trust agents as Chris Brogan calls them), it will lead to more sales.

But is that all that is going on? We don't think so. Not all influencers are the same. Not all influencers are created equal.

Six Influencer Behavior Styles And What They Might Mean.

In psychology, influence has always been among the more favored tracks of research. Here are just a few things that most people already know about influence within social media.

• Reciprocity. People tend to return favors. Those who share other people's ideas, opinions and work often have their ideas, opinions and work shared in return. Reciprocity is discussed often enough.

Commitment. When people commit to something, they are more likely to honor that commitment. In other words, if they become engaged on a blog or social network page like Facebook, then they are much more likely to share positive information. Social media always underscores commitment over campaigns.

Social Proof. People tend to follow groups. If a group of people join a social network, then other people are likely to follow. Just like nature, people are predisposed to follow order and conform. The illusion of popularity tends to pop up here as a topic from time to time.

• Authority. People generally follow authority figures, which tend to be established by rank, position, or mass of followers. Even if people are asked to do something unethical, they are likely to do so if they are ordered. Right now, people have a diminishing opportunity to build authority from nothing with social media.

Liking. People are much more easily persuaded by people they like. Popularity, personality, and niceness can go a long way in establishing a following. While outbursts and contrarians tend to get short-term attention, likable people tend to be believed more readily. Popularity or the perception of being popular tend to be a social media obsession.

Scarcity. When something is only available for a limited time, can only be provided from a limited source, or even when attention is granted by an influencer in high demand, then the product, information, or personal attention tends to have the perception of increased value. Increased value means increased demand. Exclusive content, with enough lift from followers, will help you gain exposure as an early adopter.

Sure, some people might think I just plucked some of the more popular social media advice off the net to make this list. I didn't. It's really the other way around.

The "Six Weapons of Influence" were never written with social media in mind. They were established by Robert B. Cialdini, who focused on real world influence, and relied on historic case studies within the field of psychology.

Whether these ideas were inserted into social media because some experts rediscovered them or stole them outright may likely never be known. They've become embedded in the foundation of social media. Still, the real takeaway is another layer deep.

Marketers hoping to tap into influencers are best served by understanding the backgrounds of the social media influencers they hope to attract and weigh it against cultivating their own. Did these influencers gain favor because they did favors for others? Seem always present online? Attract the attention of an established group? Enter the scene with a perceived authority? Are genuinely nice, fun, and helpful? Were privy to information that no one else had? Was it a combination of several?

If you want to know, take a look at the top five individuals from the locked down list at Ad Age Power 150: Seth Godin, Chris Brogan, Lee Odden, Brian Solis, and Andy Beal.

Do you know which paths each of them followed to establish the authority and/or the popularity they seem to have now? We do. Do you know which methods are most sustainable for you (as opposed to them)? What about those who quickly climbed the list or, in other cases, vanished? What about those who never bothered to be added (there are dozens)? Have you ever considered them?

These represent only a few of the questions marketers or public relations professionals need to ask before reaching out to influencers within specific spheres. After all, if you don't know how they became an influencer, there is little chance you'll be able to relate to them on their terms. And, in some cases, you might even find they don't really know anything about the spheres they talk about, leaving your company exposed to very random assessments. In other words, don't follow mere shouters.

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Friday, August 21

Spreading Messages: How They Stick

Most studies have already revealed the truth. The average purchasing decision takes only about 2.5 seconds.

Knowing this, traditional marketers might deduce if you only have 2.5 seconds to make an impact, you might make that impact big, loud, and memorable. Some might even say that it is the driving force behind some campaigns, including Burger King, which is quickly becoming the leading fast food franchise in withdrawing what some publics call offensive ads.

Changing how people are prepared to receive stimulus is just as important as the stimulus.

In 1991, a University of Virginia study conducted by psychologist Timothy Wilson has become a classic in understanding how people arrive at making decisions. And while there are many conclusions to draw from the study, the most apparent difference is the condition in which the students were asked to make their decisions.

Specifically, college students sampled five different brands of strawberry jam. In the study, students who analyzed why they felt the way they did tended to agree with the experts less than students who did not. However, when other students were given the criteria of what constituted "good" jam, they reversed the taste-test results and gave jams they liked less higher marks.

Jonah Lehrer, who revived interest in the study after including it his book, "How We Decide," used it to make the case that emotional decisions may be smarter than logical decisions. He concludes that the conscious brain is ignorant of its own underpinnings and blind to all that neural activity taking place outside the prefrontal cortex. Thus, he concludes: "It is feelings, after all, and not the prefrontal cortex, that capture the wisdom of experience. You are constantly benefiting from experience, even if you're not consciously aware of the benefits."

However, Lehrer neglects one important factor in his own logical leap. When exposed to the same experiences, people often draw different subconscious lessons. While emotion and wisdom certainly held true for the author, the wisdom of experience is sometimes flawed. It's also why it is important to consider the core conclusion of the original study.

If you can focus people's attention on some criteria, whether it is optimal or erroneous, it can shift their judgement.

Right. It works both ways.

If you can predispose people to a set of criteria before the decision-making process, they will be more likely to make choices based on that criteria. It works even better if they are already predisposed to a specific quality. For example, if a specific number of people like, let's say, chunky peanut butter, they will more likely to gravitate toward a "chunkier" product.

Conversely, a marketer of smooth peanut butter can still penetrate the chunky market if, let's say, they have an opportunity to establish "spreadability" as an important criteria. Thus, the decision the marketer has to make isn't always about "how to reach more people," but rather whether it is more cost effective to convert chunky peanut butter lovers with a criteria or carve out a niche among smooth peanut butter lovers based on some other criteria that sets it apart.

Make the right decisions in the strategic planning portion of the process and it will stick. Make the wrong decisions, and you'll call yourself "The Shack," based on all sorts of reasons that don't add up.

Tuesday, June 23

Going Green: Free Iran

While most people have heard that social media has played a role in the post-election results in Iran, the consequences of immediate communication and online conversation have an impact that is equally compelling to on-the-ground coverage.

While Valeria Maltoni sees the potential for crowdsourcing to surpass CNN news (it can), we also see it as an interesting division. Whereas traditional media has been tending to cover the sentiment of the elected, social media tends to reveal the sentiment of those who elect. And that is making the elected take notice.

Mass Influence Over Influencers

Even in the United States, President Obama has been compelled to step up his stance on Iran. Originally, he hoped to avoid commenting about the democratic process of Iran over concern for future diplomacy with a country known to be developing a nuclear program and backing militant organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah. However, his initial hands-off stance had been largely viewed as timid and unrepresentative.

Yesterday, that changed. President Obama, who now says he was moved by the protest images, has called for an end to the violence while advising those who govern that they ought to lead by consent over coercion.

It's equally likely he wasn't moved on his own. Overwhelmingly, Americans have helped make the Iranian elections two of the top ten stories on the Internet — the election itself and the State Department asking Twitter to hold off on scheduled maintenance in order to ensure real-time citizen reporting.

News that used to die in a day isn't so easily forgotten. People all over the world want resolution.

BloggersUnite Hosts Spontaneous Event, which is a nonprofit platform that encourages bloggers to do good and raise social awareness, has launched an initiative that asks bloggers and network participants to use their blogs and accounts to do exactly that. They are asking bloggers and network members to continue their efforts, drawing even more awareness to the Iranian election and related atrocities in Iran through June 29.

“When we host organized campaigns, they are usually 90 days in the making,” said Antony Berkman, president of and founder of “This time, the crisis is now, the need for action is now, the initiative is now.”

The event has already received praise by Amnesty International USA, which has its own action page condemning the violence and repression over the elections. Amnesty International says it is important for people to keep Iran in the public spotlight until it ends restrictions on freedom of expression and association, which includes the freedom to receive and impart information and ideas.

Bloggers and members of the media are asked to contribute to the Bloggers Unite for a Free Iran campaign by making it a dominant social media issue once again on June 29. Others are asked to participate by leaving supportive comments on participating blogs, sharing links to posts about this important effort, and/or by turning all avatars green in honor of the campaign. Bloggers who have already posted on the subject are asked to add their links to the event page and post again on June 29.

Friday, January 16

Polarizing Futures: Apple, Facebook, Everyone

When Amazon first launched Kindle, it seemed to me that no matter how anyone felt about the product, the technology behind it represented crossroads with potentially polarizing effects.

It represented an opportunity to educate everyone on the planet (once there was a price point drop), giving them access to the best books ever written. And, it also represented an opportunity to enslave humankind by filtering future content and killing the last refuge of reader privacy at the same time. Some responses were expected...

"Enslave humankind"? I can imagine a few scenarios, but what did you have in mind?

Facebook Sacrifices Burger King

Burger King posted a Facebook application in early January that promised users a free Whopper if they publicly sacrificed 10 friends. Facebook disabled the campaign after 233,906 friendships were sacrificed, claiming the application did not meet users' expectations and the campaign was singling out users for ridicule.

Crispin Porter & Bogusky has since move to its third attempt to force feed a viral campaign in the last couple months. You can now send someone an Angry-Gram.

Apple Becomes Editor-In-Chief

Tom Krazit, a staff writer for CNET, recently outlined the details between the e-book author David Carnoy and Apple. Apparently, Apple rejected Carnoy's e-book for containing "objectionable content," which appeared to be a couple of uses of that four-letter word that starts with F.

Carnoy succumbed, saying the changes didn't impact the book. Apple has since approved the e-book now that the author removed the words that Apple considered objectionable.

Mack Collier Questions Listenership

Mack Collier, a social media purist for whom I have ample respect, questioned my interest in the 'Real-Time Communications Conference' because it was led by Pfizer Vice President Ray Kerins, someone who is virtually unknown in social media circles. Pfizer has been using social media internally.

Collier made the case that listening to people who were outside the circle might not be worth listening to. I'll be sharing some notes from the conference, which was broadcast live in real time, next week. There is ample content that is useful for businesses, students, and social media consultants alike.

Some of the discussion goes a long way in bridging the gap between business marketing and social media enthusiasts. Bringing very different ideas from different people, companies, and industries is a passion of mine.

Stanford University Was Right

While I might be an instructor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, I still have a passion for learning. And since I am geographically challenged in pursuing my education, I make ample use of multiple sources, including the content rich Stanford University section of iTunes.

I'll be writing more in-depth about these programs soon, but for now there is a thought that seems especially appropriate. As much as the Internet and social media have contributed to making more information and commentary from a greater number of sources available, it also allows participants to pick and choose their own content to such a degree that each participant can effectively select their own set of facts and create their own reality.

In other words, it might even be said we run the risk of self-isolating ourselves from knowledge that makes us feel uncomfortable. So I wonder, no matter if it is the smallest examples of gatekeeper censorship such as Facebook and Apple or even self-selected, what are people doing to ensure they continue to challenge themselves — even if it means listening to opposing viewpoints or taking the risk of being offended — in order to grow? What are your thoughts? I'd love to know.

Thursday, January 1

Measuring Popular: Social Media Meets Gilligan's Island

Long-time industry analyst Barbara French once wrote (link below) that "we've got some very bright people on both sides of the debate — those advocating that we equate influence with popularity/connectedness, those advising against it. Neither side is ready to blink." Well, for those advocating for it, I suggest they study the work of Sherwood Schwartz and blink.

That's right. You'll find all you need to know about how influence, authority, and popularity interact by watching Gilligan's Island.


Influence is the capacity or power of persons or things to be a compelling force on or produce effects on the actions, behavior, and opinions of others.

The Professor, AKA Roy Hinkley Jr., Ph.D., had individual influence, even though group think had more. (So did Eunice "Lovey" Wentworth Howell, mostly over her husband but occasionally the younger female castaways.)

In 1958, social psychologist Solomon Asch devised an experiment to examine the extent to which pressure from other people could affect one's perception. Almost 37 of the 50 subjects conformed to the majority at least once, even when the majority had chosen a clearly erroneous answer. (Hat tip for the reminder: HireCentrix).

It didn't require any sense of authority or popularity; only a simple majority. However, perceived authority or popularity can potentially compound the allure of conformity. And sometimes, in the wrong hands, the results can be disastrous.


Authority is the power to enforce laws, exact obedience, command, determine, judge, or influence by proven knowledge or experience in a field.

The Skipper, AKA Jonas Grumby, had authority. (So did Thurston Howell, III, but his authority did not translate into an admired quality given the situational parameters of the island.)

In 1963, Stanley Milgram gave the world a glimpse into obedience by publishing the results of his experiment, which proved the authority figure in the experiment could convince participants to deliver electric shocks past safety limits, even when the recipient of the shocks protested and expressed life-threatening danger.

It didn't require any popularity, only a blind belief that someone seemed in charge. A simple majority can compound the allure of obedience. And sometimes, when given to the wrong people, it can be disastrous.


Popularity is most simply defined as being commonly liked or approved of, but there's a bit more to it.

Ginger Grant was popular. (But among viewers, people liked Mary Ann more).

In 2008, behavioral geneticist S. Alexandra Burt at Michigan State University found that genes elicit not only specific behaviors but also the social consequences of those behaviors, which means your genes may drive your social experiences and predispose you to popularity in certain social settings. But there is more to it than that. In this study, the 200 male college students were in a unique campus environment where "rule-breaking behaviors" are generally admired. In another social setting, they may not be popular.

In 1993, the Administrative Science Quarterly published "Power, social influence, and sense making: effects of network centrality and proximity on employee perceptions," which explored the relative contributions of individual attributes, formal organizational positions, network centrality, and network proximity in explaining individual variation in perceptions of work-related conditions in an advertising firm. Simply stated, like many studies have found — social settings, structural centrality, perceived leadership, situational timing, and role satisfaction all play a part in making someone popular. And sometimes, when the wrong people become popular, it can be disastrous.

Ergo, exhibiting qualities considered admirable within a specific social network can help someone become popular.

It's also why Gilligan may have been the least popular person on the island, but he was easily the most popular comedic icon among viewers who found the comedy and sometimes accidental genius of the character to be admired qualities.

Influence, Authority, and Popularity Online

Michael Litman, who is equally fascinated by the concept of online authority, touched on part of the equation (and provided a sum up of definitions from people with perceived authority online) by simply stating that authority cannot be measured online. He's mostly right.

When you consider various social psychological studies and what we know about cognitive psychology, everyone started as equal as Litman suggests. But since human beings are human beings, we are generally predisposed to create systems of hierarchy and authority. So, it only stands to reason that people quickly went to work attempting to build such a structure in this new social setting.

Fortunately or unfortunately, much of this hierarchy has been built mostly around popularity measurements or largely "reach" as I mentioned on Tuesday, which is easily summed up by how many links, readers, followers, friends, etc. someone has earned. However, it's always important to consider that these measures might be gamed, blatantly, through mutually reciprocal agreements or, covertly, through sycophant behavior (hit tip for the perfect word: Chapel).

The reason reach has been incorporated into the equation is because it's borrowed from the advertising industry and mainstream media's obsession with eyeballs. But in the end, social media gravitation to reach doesn't mean anything because real influence requires offline measures such as changing behavior or tangible outcomes and real authority comes from something other than popularity (even though all three are sometimes interconnected).

“Popularity is the one insult I have never suffered.” — Oscar Wilde

For anyone who knows anything about Oscar Wilde, there is an irony in his comment that makes it all the more colorful. While he may have never penned a blog or joined a social network, he was one of the greatest celebrities of his day, frequently wearing his hair long and decorating his room with peacock feathers and lilies. And even though his situational timing was perfect (because that is what his world needed at the time), he always backed it up with his biting wit and the pledge not to beg forgiveness for what he thought. And what did he think?

"All that I desire to point out is the general principle that life imitates art far more than art imitates life." - Oscar Wilde

For all the mentions of people drinking the Kool-Aid in regard to social media (backed up by studies from Milgram and Asch), we ought to know by now that Wilde was as right today as he was one hundred years ago. If you're not careful, social media has a greater chance to change individuals than individuals ever do to change social media. And if there is any wisdom to be taken away, perhaps it is that participants would be better off searching for truth rather than the cult of personality.

Why? Read some of the work by Walter Lippman, who believed distorted information is inherent in the human mind and only by seeing through stereotypes can we find partial truths. Or ...

Simply recognize that for all the importance placed on influence, authority, and popularity on Gilligan's Island, they never got off the island (er, special episodes aside).

In other words, even if you could measure all the nuances of influence, authority, and popularity, why would you want to? It seems to me, throughout history, we've proven that chasing after the shadow of perception often leads us away from reality.

Related posts pertaining to influence, authority, and popularity online:

Does Influence Equal Online Popularity by Barbara French
Measuring Influence vs. Popularity by Shel Israel
Influence and Popularity in Social Media by Servant of Chaos
Ego Trap: Influencer Lists by Peter Kim
Twitter Popularity Does Not Equal Business Acumen by Jennifer Leggio

Tuesday, December 30

Dispelling Myths: Online Authority

In between some satire, there always seems to be some seriousness in conversations about online authority. Some social media participants want to measure this stuff, even if it for the sole purpose of vanity or perhaps selling snake oil.

There is enough of it that Jennifer Leggio lent a near perfect expose entitled "Twitter popularity does not equal business acumen" on ZDNet. The article mentions several reasons that online popularity doesn't equal much of anything. Her hope was to dissuade executives from considering popularity as a measure.

"My point that [the number of followers] should be a very, very small consideration for enterprises still stands," she concluded.

She's right. Equating online popularity to influence or so-called authority is much like equating real-life popularity to influence or authority. Online, some participants seem to forget that Jerry Seinfeld might make a fun spokesperson for Microsoft, but Bill Gates didn't place him in charge of R&D.

Eric Peterson, a web analytics expert, also poked some fun at the topic, pointing to Twinfluence, which measures velocity, social capital, and centralization. But then asks if “influence” is the best measure of success in social media. Or should people pay closer attention to something like the Twitter Ratio as a measure?

The answer is neither. Social media measures generally consider reach. And reach is, well, reach.

Influence cannot really be measured online because it suggests something that online measures do not account for — changes in behavior or actions that produce outcomes (sometimes offline). Simply having a large number of readers or friends or followers doesn't mean you have influence over them. And even if you did, that influence may be limited in scope.

There are other challenges too. As Shel Israel once pointed out: if someone has three followers, then who those followers are might make all the difference. Or, turning to one example I like to use, there are several social network owners who have less friends than other participants.

This simple fact touches on why authority cannot really be measured online either. Most professionals have friends who are experts in their field that have yet to be concerned with developing an online presence. And, if they were participants in one of a thousand social networks, they may or may not ever be popular. Yet, there is no denying their authority.

What can be measured online is reach. But sometimes, having ample reach isn't all it's cracked up to be. The wrong message communicated to tens of thousands of people instead of a few hundred is still the wrong message.

Monday, December 22

Toiling Over Titles: Everybody Online

Reflecting on last week's post, Chris Brogan noted that some people questioned his journalistic integrity even though he is not a journalist. But what struck me about his post, and the comments that followed, is a lesson learned 12 years ago.

What's In A Title?

Absolutely nothing.

For Chris, maybe he learned it last week (maybe sooner, I don't know). For me, it was while overseeing a statewide literacy benefit. As the event chair, I had an opportunity to meet both outgoing Gov. Bob Miller and incoming Gov. Kenny Guinn. One introduction seemed smooth; the other, not so much.

Afterward, a colleague and mentor of mine asked me which introduction went better. So I told him, along with my rationale.

Copywrite, Ink. was founded as a sole proprietorship in 1991. In 1996, we became a C corporation. For the team and me, the incorporation was a pretty big deal. Personally, it also meant I didn't "grant" myself the title "president." In the short course of five years, I earned the title as well as the address inside the Bank of America building in downtown Las Vegas (we've moved several times since).

When I spoke with Gov. Miller, I presented myself in exactly that way — as president of a fast-growing corporation. But when I spoke with then Gov.-Elect Guinn, we spoke mostly about my early work as a freelancer and as a sole proprietor. From my perspective, one conversation was delivered with confidence; the other with uncertainty.

"I have news for you," said my colleague. "They both went well and they were the same. They didn't see the president of Copywrite, Ink. or a freelance writer (as I was then, with support staff). They only saw Rich Becker."

While there are a great many people who will disagree with it, the lesson was well-learned. People are neither titles nor are people what they do (eg. visit a Four Seasons and you'll see a hotel manager is equally likely to flip a cushion).

How Titles Apply.

Without going into too much detail (some things are best left for other projects), appreciating that titles don't mean anything at all has served me pretty well. It's helped me connect on a human level with some of the world's wealthiest men during interviews (you'd be surprised how many journalists are intimidated by their subjects), and hopefully kept me human and approachable (I have half dozen or so titles on any given day).

For me, if it wasn't for search terms, I wouldn't mention any of them. In fact, the next time we print business cards, I'm leaving the labels, er, titles off entirely. They matter to me about as much the number of people someone employs, awards they've won, or, for the online crowd, the number of followers they have. Sure, we have those numbers if people care to have them, but they don't mean much beyond a context.

Playing With Labelers.

It's also why, even though some people disagreed with my take on Chris Brogan or even Forrester for that matter, I tried to be balanced among several perspectives. In one case, I only saw the situation (with Brogan just happening to be at the center of it). In the other, I only saw a study with missing components (that were later added in via a blog post). In both cases, it could have been anyone.

It also helps me decide who I read online. After a few months or more, you can get a sense of who feels entitled by their labels, er, titles, or whatever other buzz words mean something to them. They also tend to be the same people who call other people names or demand credentials anytime their ideas are challenged.

"Who are you?" "What study will back you up?" or "Why I haven't I heard of you before?" they demand from others while resorting to name-calling and judgments with an impecuniousness of character (sometimes puffing up their own credits in the process).

Yeah, I know that trick too. When the ideas can't stand on their own, toss some weight behind them with a long list of "fill in the blank." You know what? As an online participant, never feel obliged to answer these charges because the question reveals less about you and more about them. Of course, I sometimes make exceptions for sport.

"Which titles, accounts, relationships, and awards interest you?" I ask them. After all, at that point, it's all about them anyway.

For everyone else, I'm just me. My name is Rich. Nice to meet you too.

Friday, December 19

Thinking Internal: Watson Wyatt Study

Never mind external communication for a minute, think internal too. According to Watson Wyatt, more than one in five companies (23 percent) plan to make layoffs in the next 12 months, with almost two in five (39 percent) reporting that they have already done so. But layoffs aren't the only concern employees have.

Hiring freezes also jumped from 30 percent in October to 47 percent this month. Eighteen percent are planning a hiring freeze in the next 12 months. Salary freezes jumped from 4 percent in October to 13 percent. And 61 percent are revising merit budgets. Other changes include any combination of the following: travel restrictions, benefit reductions, restructuring, reduced training, health premium increases, and salary reductions.

“All indications are that 2009 will be a difficult year for both companies and ultimately employees,” said Laura Sejen, global director of strategic rewards consulting at Watson Wyatt. “It will be up to employers to find an effective way to manage this challenge by balancing their financial situations with the likely impact on employee engagement.”

Watson Wyatt's report encourages employers to help mitigate the effect of any decision by considering employee morale, including: choosing the greatest cost savings while doing the least damage to the company's employment brand; communicating extensively and frequently; differentiating bonuses and pay increases; and heightening employee recognition programs. Here are some additional tips from employee communication programs we have developed with several companies over the years:

• Educate supervisors about any upcoming changes first. Not only are employees likely to go to them with questions first, such meetings also provide a forum to prepare for any unforeseen questions.

• Allow supervisors to communicate the basics. Studies consistently conclude that employees trust face-to-face communication the most, and look to their immediate supervisors as the most credible source of information.

• Demonstrate consistency in communication. Depending on the changes being made, employ the company's standard communication model (face to face, video conference, etc.) as a means to connect employees to top executives.

• Provide employees with written material. The outline should include why changes are occurring, what changes are being made, the rationale behind those changes (it will save jobs), and a defined timeline for communication updates.

• Establish clear lines of two-way communication. When employees have questions their supervisors cannot answer, scale for appropriate contacts, such as designated human resources personnel and/or high level management. Collect feedback and address concerns in follow-up communication.

• Communicate straight. Provide employees with clear expectations of what the changes mean, what management expects to happen, what management expects to do if it does not happen, and the frequency of updates to come.

• Notify all external stakeholders as appropriate. Provide a consistent message, including to the media if appropriate, with similar commitments to keep communication candid, open, and honest. In every case, communication should flow from the inside of the company, out.

• Follow up the communication frequently. Communication from supervisors should be reinforced by other established communication channels (eg. bill inserts, newsletters, bulletins, etc.), demonstrating the progress of the plan. (Avoid e-mail notifications as electronic communication elicits stronger emotions and has a higher risk of being forwarded.)

• Increase management visibility. Change represents an opportunity for management to establish trust with employees. It is especially worthwhile for upper management to visit departments to recognize top performers and teams.

While one Gallup poll pinpointed that employees are hoping to be reassured that they have "stability, trust, hope, and compassion," the word to remember is empathy. Understanding a person's experience by sharing that experience, especially in regard to layoffs or temporary cutbacks, can help communicators and management avoid breakdowns that leave management appearing unconcerned and untrustworthy.

Keep in mind, like all communication, communicating change is not a cookie cutter operation. It is a process that guides communicators through a series of steps, allowing them to make situational adjustments. Almost every company culture is slightly different.

More importantly, internal communication remains top of mind because no amount of external communication can reverse employee morale once it is damaged. In some cases, the effects of improper communication won't be felt until an economic turnaround, when disengaged employees will quickly leave. Where will they go? Somewhere that has created a climate of trust.

Wednesday, December 17

Inspiring Approaches: Gauguin To Da Vinci

While there is little doubt that businesses need to approach social media differently than individuals, sometimes the conversational nature of medium distracts from the much more fluid nature of inspiration and pushes a myopic impression of the space that denies the situational reality of communication, innovation, and invention. Great ideas don't just happen from one point of a bell curve; they can spring forth from any point.

Paul Gauguin. After growing frustrated from the lack of recognition at home, Gauguin gave up everything, including his family, to escape European civilization and "everything that is artificial and conventional." There, he slowly turned inward on himself and drew inspiration from the primitive nature of man and the focus on self.

Andy Warhol. Warhol was the greatest American figure in the pop art movement. Elevated up by the masses and widely diverse social circles that included bohemian street people, intellectuals, celebrities, and aristocrats alike, he epitomized the more personal aspect of the social media movement that has reinvented his concept of "15 minutes of fame" into reaching "1,500+ friends or followers."

Leonardo da Vinci. Leonardo is often described as the archetype of the Renaissance man as he constantly looked deeper than anyone else thought possible in every discipline. As a scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, painter, sculptor, architect, botanist, musician, and writer, da Vinci was seemingly inspired by a greater power and frequently surrendered himself to it.

Although I've positioned Andy Warhol at the top of the mass movements, even he recognized that greatness doesn't just follow on the heels of popularity. It was his celebration of individual voices, which make up conversations and draw attention to unique perspectives, that set him apart. It didn't matter to him whether those voices expressed enthusiasm or dissent as long as individual thought and expression overcame blind devotion and promotion. It's also why some of my best friends are my most outspoken critics, myself included. All individual perspectives are welcome.

"If everyone's not a beauty, then nobody is." — Andy Warhol

Thursday, October 30

Avoiding Echoes: Beware The Bubble

"My idea is fabulous!"

"Your idea is fabulous!"

"He said her idea is fabulous!"

"She said he said her idea is fabulous!"

"See ... they all said my idea is fabulous!"

Yes, yes, but what if it's not? What if the idea isn't so fabulous as is often the case in politics, public relations, public perception, and social media?

After all, echo chambers sometimes promote the silliest of notions, especially when it starts from its central most people, without much thought to what is said or where those messages might go or how they might be interpreted. It's not just social media. It's everywhere.

The messages, both good and bad, bounce around from one "influencer" to another with no real consideration for the customer, client, intended audience, or outcome. However, some of them are heavily promoted with that sometimes unspoken/spoken rule to "always elevate our peers," as if the world really works according to Warren Buffett.

While sometimes it is easy to miss in the world of social media, we all know it exists. Anyone who has served on a professional or non-profit board can tell you that the world works differently when echo chambers take hold. It goes something like this:

The lead influencer proposes that the organization's luncheon (or whatever) be changed to breakfast, based on a successful case study conducted by another organization about 400 miles away. Once proposed, two or three enablers will quickly support the idea simply because of who proposed it.

Sometimes, there might be one lone dissenter; someone who suggests there is no evidence to support a breakfast will be better attended. The criticism is then quickly slapped down by another influencer, who suddenly and casually proclaims they will be the first to reserve a seat after the meeting, which prompts the remaining six board members to look up from their phones and hypnotically nod in agreement. Meeting adjourned.

Two weeks later, just days before the actual event, the organization learns the horrible truth. Only three people reserved seats: the speaker, the initial influencer, and the dissenter.

Sometimes it happens just like that. In fact, for all we know, echoes might have led Edelman to select 25 bloggers to debut Pepsi’s new can design. It makes sense because Edleman, like many social media experts, tends to overstate the role of influencers (probably because they are one). Yet, for all the limited buzz about the Pepsi identity change, it just doesn't strike me like the real thing.

Conversations have outcomes, but outcomes are not conversations.

Greg Ippolito recently wrote an article for Adweek about something similar. He called it "the psychology of sameness" among creative professionals who start to convince themselves to be part of the herd. The end result is a whole lot of non-thinking that he illustrated with this quick two quote story:

"OK," I started, "explain to me why our customers should go to their dealerships for service. Why would that be good for them?"

The AE stared at me with a deer-in-headlights look. "Bee-cause ... " she searched her brain for an answer, "our clients are looking to increase their parts and service revenue?"

Ho hum.

Look, I'm not saying that there is anything wrong with peer participation (assuming you save time for client industry-specific associations), but it never pays to operate exclusively in any industry bubble or you might get stuck in the rut.

And then, before you even know it, your desire to become a "thought leader" leads you to become a "cheer leader" for someone else who is only guessing at echoes too. That would be too bad. The best innovations occur outside the bubbles.


Wednesday, October 1

Answering Questions: Are Teachers Too Old To Know?

Q: What does a digital native, born close to 1990, need to learn from a digital immigrant who graduated before the IBM PC was launched in the UK, and who wrote magazine articles back in the 1980s about how businesses were adopting a new communications device, the fax machine. — Valrossie

A:The capacity for a person to learn, dream, and achieve is not defined or limited by his or her history but rather enhanced by it, provided he or she does not have the propensity to limit themselves by history, regardless of age, birthright, or any other measure.

That understood, the digital immigrant has become experienced by living with rapidly increasing changes in their environment, and is hopefully wiser in understanding which tenets of something like strategic communication might survive under such remarkable pressures. Whereas the digital native may never have the benefit of knowing those tenets nor are they assured to demonstrate their own wherewithal to continuously adopt to the numerous changes ahead of them.

I was part of a strategic communication think tank a few years back. The discussion revolved around the need to address communication issues related to the Blackberry. The solution, some said, was to devise an entire working study around Blackberry text messaging. Net, net, I said, by the time you are finished with your study, the entire world will have changed and the Blackberry as we know it today will be on the verge of extinction under the weight of another emerging technology.

I didn't know it then, but that would be the iPhone.

Better to devise a study on adapting to rapid technological advancements in communication, I offered.

By the way, I know you weren't talking about me specifically in the question left on the previous post, but I would like to point something out anyway. I'm not so old ... just old enough to remember gumballs. ;)


Tuesday, September 16

Blaming Sexes: Bad Research Habits

Researchers at the University of Toronto recently compared the stress levels and physical health problems of men and women working in one of three situations: for a lone male supervisor, a lone female supervisor, or for both a male and female supervisor. The report concluded:

• Women working for female bosses reported more psychological distress and physical symptoms than women working for a male boss.
• Women reporting to a mixed-gender pair reported more symptoms than their peers who worked for a single male boss.
• Men who worked for a single supervisor, regardless of the supervisor's gender, had similar levels of distress.
• Men who worked for a mixed-gender pair had fewer symptoms than those working for a lone male supervisor.

My speculation differs. It seems to me that psychological distress and physical symptoms are more likely caused by poor coping skills; ineffective management and leadership skills; or choice of research.

Thursday, December 20

Branding America: The Year Of Living Stupid?

It has been four long months since Miss South Carolina, Lauren Caitlin Upton, stumbled on the Miss Teen USA question that stated “one-fifth of Americans cannot find the United States on a map.“ Old news? Maybe.

"I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because some people out there in our nation don't have maps and I believe that our education like such as in South Africa and Iraq and everywhere like such as and I believe that they should our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S. or should help South Africa and should help Iraq and the Asian countries so we will be able to build up our future for us."

While the fervor it created in the United States has mostly died down, it hasn’t slowed elsewhere in the world. On the contrary, old and new media continues to amass “evidence” that Americans aren’t so bright and the international community enjoys a good laugh about it.

So does Fred Shapiro, editor of the Yale Book of Quotations, which placed Upton’s answer as the second most memorable quote of 2007. Her confused answer was bested only by “Don’t tase me, bro,” which was uttered by a Florida college student about to be removed from a Senator John Kerry appearance.

One frequently cited post from Aby The Liberal, a non-profit socio-political information Website, compiled scores of data to ask the question “Are Americans stupid?”

In June, it cited data from the book IQ and Global Equity that claims the USA scores the lowest national average IQ among developed countries. It then goes on to point out that we’re also low in science and math, and includes an old New York Times interview with Jon D. Miller, which includes “Fewer than a third can identify DNA as a key to heredity. Only about 10 percent know what radiation is. One adult American in five thinks the sun revolves around the Earth, an idea science had abandoned by the 17th century.”

In reviewing some of the methodology used in various surveys and polls, they seem questionable, which makes me wonder if the challenge is purely educational or mostly perceptual. But even so, it might point to a change in how we present ourselves.

It used to be that Americans tuned in to see intelligent people compete on Jeopardy. Now Americans are more likely to tune in “Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader” to watch people look not so intelligent.

Singer Kelli Pickler’s appearance on the show, which makes Upton’s answer seem brilliant, has been watched more than 2.8 million times, several million more if you count all the variations.

"I thought Europe was a country. Budapest? I've never heard of that. Like, I know they speak French there, don't they? I wanna say, is France a country?"

Beating out Pickler on YouTube, almost 10 million watched this gem, which seems to underscore why some people say 2007 will best be remembered as the year of being stupid in the States.

Do our entertainment choices — canceling smart shows like Journeyman and producing guessing games like Deal Or No Deal? give us a hint or is entertainment just more fun with no thought whatsoever?

Is it real? Or perception? And even if it is perception, are there long-term consequences to fueling such social cues at a time when globalization is imminent?


Wednesday, November 14

Smoking Strategies: David Maister

Beginning straightaway with the title of David Maister’s new book, Strategy And The Fat Smoker, he shares the pointed observation that most professionals, especially managers, already know what to do for long-term success (and why to do it), but are too easily swayed by bad habits, short-term temptations, and misaligned measurements.

It’s a classic definition of the difference between intelligence and wisdom: smart enough to know, but not wise enough to do.

We already know that our business goals are best served by developing long-term relations with our clients and customers, but we’re too easily distracted by chasing any and all new business because the short-term transaction is so very, very tempting. In advertising, it translates into runaway creative without the benefit of communication purpose. For social media, it might mean link love and buzz vs. the pursuit of tangible business outcomes. In our personal lives, it might be super sized fries for lunch, every day, because packing a sack is too darn inconvenient.

We already know what we could be doing but until a crisis occurs, we’re forever stuck on the short-term treadmills that take us nowhere. Well, most of us.

You really don’t have to endure a crisis to actualize a better business strategy. As Maister, a recognized authority on the management of professional service firms and former faculty member of Harvard Business School, notes: all businesses talk about outstanding client service, teamwork, healthy work environments, and investing in the future. But so few really do, largely because their statement of objectives does not match the outcome they want to measure — increased revenue and profit margins.

We know it’s true, despite the fact that very few companies tell the truth, plainly stating that they are most interested in chasing cash and, nowadays, Web traffic. And, most that don’t talk about it are usually delusional or just plain liars. No wonder there is a disconnect between businesses and their customers.

Where Maister will likely strike a chord with some is in pointing out that applied wisdom leads to sustainable success. He presents a case for how individuals, managers, and organizations can put what they know how to do into action. However, we can only hope that someone inside every fat company can use the various tools, techniques, and thought processes to convince the executive team that a diet is warranted.

While some will find the shifts between individual and organizational strategy, as well as some personal experience tossed in, a bit jarring at times (along with frequent references to his other books), it’s not enough to detract from the value that can be gained. Maister expertly paints an accurate, if not frightening, picture of business as usual today.

“It is not uncommon for me to be told even by the most senor people that their firm’s impressive financial results have been accomplished by a management team which has consistently created an environment of fear and insecurity,” writes Maister. “The simplest explanation for the prevalence of this ‘abusive behavior’ is the simple fact that, in the right situation, it works!”

However, he distinguishes that such short-term work-under-fire tactics are exactly that — tactics that will eventually lose their effectiveness and eventually elicit resentment. In contrast, proactive, passionate, and positive management teams energize and excite people about what they do, which in turn becomes tangible in the way the workforce interacts with clients. Long term, applied wisdom will lead to better financial results.

He’s right. As I’ve often advised agency owners, especially those who have an account executive background, negative reinforcement can teach mice to press a bar for cheese, but it never did anything for creativity. And even with mice, too much negative reinforcement will eventually immobilize them.

My net assessment of Strategy And The Fat Smoker is that it provides some much needed advice for the increasingly fast-paced world of random transactions, especially those that occur online. Business, especially communication, is poised for a shift toward relationships that mean something, whether that means people to people or product to consumer.

Strategy And The Fat Smoker is an important first step for managers and leaders to look in the mirror and take action before the crisis. And based on the Watson Wyatt study highlighted in October, I suspect Maister’s book will be on the shelf none too soon.

In the interim, I highly recommend his blog, one of the few I frequently read without ever becoming irritated by the content. But then again, as a strategist in principle if not always practice, I prefer it over the noise that sometimes overshadows good work elsewhere.

It’s good enough that I’ll refer to and reference his book often. It's just another observation: with social media, almost no review is limited to a single post, but instead becomes infused in the principles of the writer. With Maister's principles so close to my own, it's easy.


Monday, October 22

Serving Up Stress: U.S. Employers

Watson Wyatt, an international association of human resource professionals, released a study today that may send shivers down the spines of management: a large majority of companies in the United States and around the world are struggling to attract and retain top-performing and critical-skill workers.

The study, which included 946 companies and a complementary survey of 13,000 employees, found that the United States has the highest median voluntary turnover rate, at 11 percent, while Latin America has the lowest, at 5 percent. In addition, more than half of the companies report difficulty retaining top-performing (52 percent) and critical-skill (56 percent) workers. But that is not the most significant finding.

What is most interesting to me is the apparent disconnect between employers and employees on pinpointing the problem. Fifty-two percent of the employers say the number one reason they struggle to retain employees is base pay whereas 37 percent of employees cite stress levels (base pay came in second, followed by promotion opportunities, career development opportunities, and work/life balance).

The study found that when employees are satisfied with stress levels and work/life balance, 86 percent are more inclined to stay with their company (versus 64 percent when dissatisfied) and 88 percent are more likely to recommend it as a place to work (versus 55 percent when dissatisfied).

“Worldwide, the frenetic pace of modern business is taking its toll on employees,” said Adam Sorensen, global total rewards practice leader at World at Work. “There’s no question that employees are more likely to leave or speak badly of their workplace if they feel overburdened. Companies that take steps to ensure that stress levels are not onerous will save money in the long run by reducing attrition.”

The concept that employees are feeling overburdened in the workplace is not new. There was an article by Douglas Ready and Jay Conger about this subject in the Harvard Business Review in June. The authors had conducted a study in 2005 that revealed virtually all companies indicated that they had an insufficient pipeline of high-potential employees to fill strategic management roles.

In the article, they pinpointed that passion must start at the top and infuse corporate culture; otherwise, talent management processes can deteriorate into bureaucratic routines. In other words, when you tally up the studies, companies are throwing money at employees but money does not make people feel passionate about their jobs, probably because the stress levels aren’t worth it.

Much like we see in social networks, it’s too much management and not enough leadership. And, obviously, there is a breakdown in communication because employers think that throwing money at employees reduces stress.

If there was better communication, companies would already know that it’s not the money, it’s the environment. Case in point: one-half of the companies said that their managers do a good job at performance management, but U.S. companies received the lowest management ratings (Asia-Pacific companies received the highest). Do you think there might be a correlation to management, non-communication, employee stress, and retention? Naw, couldn’t be. Could it?

What seems to be happening is that companies are attempting to bribe their way out of developing positive corporate cultures by increasing incentive programs while raising financial targets to earn those incentives. The reason they think it works is because the people most likely to be promoted and support these models are those who chased after financial lures in the first place.

But for the rest of the stressed-out workforce, they seem to be escaping through Facebook and other online social networks where they hook up with recruiters and potential employers who promise that the grass just might be greener someplace else.

Time out. That's not measurable, some might say.

“Unlike processes, which can be copied by competitors, passion is very difficult to duplicate. Nevertheless, there are companies that can build it into their cultures” — Harvard Business Review

The beginning of a solution is right in front of management’s nose (literally so if you are reading this post). More than anything else, companies that want to succeed tomorrow must invest in better two-way communication streams between themselves and their employees (never mind consumers for a minute). Because the simple truth is that if this communication existed, then there would be no disconnect between why employees leave and why employers think they leave.

So if you ask me, employers need to train management to be strategic and passionate leaders who motivate not just with Jolly Ranchers (like they try to do to my son when he is in school) but with open communication that instills a sense of passion and trust with the company. Training managers to communicate goals rather than enforce corporate policy is one solution. Closed social networks or even internal blogs for employees might be another (recognizing many social networks struggle with the concept of community).

“Employers that are best at building and maintaining the right workforce are often the best at aligning workers’ rewards with the company’s goals. Their performance management programs clearly communicate what workers need to do to get ahead and to improve company performance. This builds a sense of teamwork that makes it easier to retain employees, as well as attract high-potential newcomers.” — Watson Wyatt


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