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.

Monday, January 10

Manifesting Creativity: Innovative Employees

Foot Prints
“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” — Steve Jobs.

Simply stated, in business, innovation is an idea that translates into a good or service that people value en masse. It does not have to be a new idea. In fact, the original Latin word meant to renew or change the values onto which a system is based.

Businessweek semi-understood the concept when it listed the 20 most important inventions for the next 10 years. It only semi-undersood the concept because many of the inventions exist, but most of them have yet to be innovations.

Innovation is the most sought after and neglected business asset.

When the McKinsey Global Survey asked corporate leaders how important innovation was to their businesses, 70 percent said that it was among their top three priorities for driving growth. However, most companies did not understand how to arrive at it; many of them even said they hinder it.

In the survey, an equal number of leaders felt their corporate culture inhibited innovation or that they didn't have the right people in place to innovate. But as far apart as those answers seem, they could be the same answer.

Whatever culture they have in place is neither attracting nor stimulating imagination and creativity in the workplace. And it is both of these individual traits that eventually lead to innovation.

“Innovation is not the product of logical thought, even though the final product is tied to a logical structure.” — Albert Einstein

Simply put, imagination is the ability to be able to conjure images and thoughts in the mind. Creativity is the ability to find effective ways to share the thought with others.

Where some companies fall short is most performance measures aren't concerned with either. And, for many measures of professional success, such as a comfortable lifestyle, imagination and creativity aren't critical either.

In fact, Joana Johnson once pointed out that only 10 percent of highly creative people are suburban-living, comfortably middle class. That is not to say however, as she does, that the middle class cannot be creative. Rather, the middle class has very little incentive to be creative.

The challenge may even be ingrained in the national psyche.

footprintsI had an interesting side discussion with Carl Sorvino about the human potential for creativity recently. He said he had three children, and could tell before their first birthday which would be and are more creative.

It seems to me that Sorvino's thinking is the essence of what hinders creativity today, twice over. Managers have a tendency to scale the creative assets of their employees, never realizing all of them have the potential under certain circumstances. And, employees tend to scale their own sense of creativity, with most under the delusion that they aren't very creative at all.

I tend to disagree that people are innately not creative, but mostly because I've had the benefit of facilitating several dozen core message sessions that often include a cross section of employees, ranging from receptionists to chief executive officers.

As long as those employees are encouraged to state their ideas, without fear of failure, almost all of them contribute something. In fact, some of the most imaginative answers are from people who often preface them, saying they aren't creative whatsoever. Also interesting is that, for little more than the promise of making their company better, every contribution propels the group to be more creative, even if the group might otherwise classify themselves as noncreative individuals.

Of course, this is only a short-term phenomenon. It takes time to create an innovative corporate culture, mostly because people lean toward complacency. They learn it early on as one of the easiest paths to comfortability.

Manifesting creativity and innovation in the workplace.

Meanwhile, companies that want to become innovative do everything they can to disrupt complacency by adopting different principles, Kaizen among them. If you are unfamiliar with the term, Kaizen means "change for the better" in Japanese.

It refers to the philosophy or practices that focus upon continuous improvement of processes. But the discipline hardly matters. It has been applied to manufacturing, engineering, and management. Simply stated, it is the true definition of innovation.

It is also the foundation of a weekly chat session hosted by Ellen St. George Godfrey. From the session and our own research, it seems that innovation needs to become a priority at every level of a company before it begins to take hold.

• Leadership generally sets the vision and mission of a company. They prioritize innovation.
• Management directly influences corporate culture. It's up to them to incentivize creativity.
• Supervisors are closest to the employees. It's up to them to identify talent and encourage ideas.
• Employees possess practical knowledge. It's up to them to discover new ways to excel.

In such an environment, where creativity is encouraged and time allocated to enhance it, anyone can be more creative in the workplace. No, that doesn't mean that every employee will necessarily become a creative genius within their section. But it would disrupt the belief that complacency leads to comfortability. Instead, it might lead toward the exit.

Sunday, January 9

Ending An Experiment: Best Fresh Content

Fresh ContentIn 2009, I became increasingly interested in the affect of popularity on the content people choose to read. Specifically, I began to wonder what would happen if popularity was removed from the equation.

The Fresh Content Project became a social media experiment to find out. Every day, staff and I selected one post every day, drawn from a field that grew to 250 blogs written by authors with varied degrees of experience, expertise, and popularity.

These five posts are the final five chosen as part of the experiment. You can find every post listed on Fresh Content Facebook. Next week, we'll list everyone chosen in the fourth quarter, ranked by the frequency their posts were picked. In the weeks that follow, we'll share all the data we discovered along the way.

Best Fresh Content In Review, Week of December 27

The Magic Words.
While most people equate the magic words as the power of please, Ike Pigott offers up that they might mean the power of "no." At least that is what he says as it relates to social shopping, against the grain of those who have propelled the notion forward. For Pigott, that does not mean social shopping won't work eventually, only that he sees several other rungs in the ladder are needed before the idea can really take off, at least until there is clear WIIFM. Of course, the company that can make it happen early (or some facsimile) may profit, the reality is that not every small business needs to be ahead of the curve.

Five Social Media Tips for the Hospitality Industry in 2011.
Although Didi Lutz includes some of the basic tenets of communication in her top five tips for hospitality, the refresher proves worthwhile enough. She suggests that employees know the key messages, are involved in the process, are guided by a professional, evaluate for outcomes, and moderate the conversations. The concepts aren't revolutionary to social media, but they might seem fresh for people in the hospitality industry who were relatively late to adopt social media. They are entering the space now, and most of them are falling short.

The Retail Social Media Model.
Mark Smiciklas offers up a reminder that retail operations might be fundamentally different than B2C companies. In his list of developing a better retail model, Smiciklas places a heavy emphasis on integration. This includes appreciating that national brands might have a very different feel at various locations. It might be worthwhile to consider while developing any program. More than that, what really resonates within the post is the idea that the physical location and the social media program need to be on the same page.

Lessons from 2010 and Finding Focus for 2011.
Danny Brown ended the year (and began the new one) with some personal and professional anecdotes. His lessons from 2010 include removing the myth of invincibility, why letting go of bitterness is healthy, and how friendships can build business. For 2011, he intends to focus on strengths while outsourcing weaknesses, living life more fearlessly, and breaking up redundancies. Meant more for the small business person rather than business executives, several of these tips can be applied anywhere.

Madison Avenue Strikes Back.
Geoff Livingston points out the obvious after reading someone's prediction that Silicon Valley may one day replace Madison Avenue with some day happening this year. His primary argument is that for all the buzz about underdogs unseating the establishment, it hasn't happened yet. One example: individual bloggers that once graced the top of some ranking lists have been replaced by the same media they were supposed to replace. Likewise, advertising agencies will likely buy out or adapt to keep pace with social media or other communication services.

Friday, January 7

Exposing Yourself: Three Applications For Mirror Neurons

can creativity catchYou might have learned it in high school. If you want to be smarter, sit in the front of the class. If you want to have more fun, sit in the back.

Proximity might have only been part of the equation. The other part of the equation might have more to do with who sat around you. Or, more specifically, how you perceived the people you sat next to and interacted with, much like you do today.

The reason has to do with mirror neurons in our brains, which fire both when animals act and when animals observe similar actions performed by another. Humans too. Many neuroscientists believe it's how we learn language, empathy, and inference. It may even be tied to creativity and collaboration, as suggested in Brain Leaders and Learners by Dr. Ellen Weber, who inspired some thinking on this subject. She also sources this PBS short for anyone interested in mirror neurons.

Applying Mirror Principles In Three Everyday Life Scenarios.

1. Creativity. When you look back at history, there are dozens of moments when cultural and artistic expression seemed to leap in unexpected directions, including the Downtown 500 and Harlem Renaissance. Or if you prefer, consider the collective impact of artists like Gauguin, Van Gogh, Picasso, and Matisse or maybe the postwar Beat Generation.

Marketing, advertising, and even public relations might take some lessons from these movements, which might have been inspired in part by mirror neurons — groups of individuals propelling each other forward much like creatives did during the Golden Age of advertising. It pays to expose yourself to creative pursuits, creative people, and creative explorations.

2. Consumer Advocates. Of course, advertising need not be conflated or confused with art. The best of it, which is only a sliver of it, tends to be tempered by the people it hopes to reach.

After all, many advertisements fail when the work becomes an extension or expression of how smugly clever the copywriter, art director, or creative director is in executing the work. Ergo, advertising that merely celebrates itself doesn't reflect something that consumers can identify with on any level. Mirror neurons can be put to work here too.

In fact, in considering mirror neurons, it might even explain why (with the exception of those creating their own bubbles) social media has an impact. Instead of immersing themselves in the ivory towers of ego that are sometimes erected by communication professionals, social media offers up an opportunity for people to become immersed within the daily lives of everyday people, who do things like buy the products that marketers peddle.

neurons3. Leadership. Appreciating neuroscience isn't necessarily confined to the creative process. It works well within the greater scope of leadership too. If you want to produce a team of visionary people, you have to expose those teams to creative and innovative environments. And, if you want to improve your own leadership skill sets, it might be worthwhile to connect with visionary and empathic leaders as opposed to those who focus only on transactions.

Consider last year's most admired companies, according to Forbes. Apple, Google, Berkshire Hathaway, Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble, and Coca-Cola all share some common denominators in their leadership and, even more importantly, their approach to nurturing leadership within their companies. The culture they create is as important to their success as the products they produce or the marketing that introduces it.

There Are Some Limitations To Mirror Neuron Concepts.

Naturally, placing yourself within environments where you can subconsciously mimic or be influenced by others is not the answer to everything. Mirror neurons have limitations, especially in how we interpret the information we process.

Case in point: two children growing up in the same household may develop extremely diverse and distinct personalities that defy any argument that they merely mirror parental behaviors. For example, one child might learn to become assertive and another reclusive despite being raised by assertive (or conversely, reclusive) parents.

Likewise, merely hanging out with creative people or successful leaders isn't a surefire way to become one yourself as much as it can enhance any innate talents or leadership qualities that already exist. (My point being that simply hanging out with a modern day Gauguin doesn't necessarily make you as prolific or artistic as Gauguin.) Still, it doesn't hurt either.

At minimum, it could help you from stumbling about this year or help your career by avoiding things you've convinced yourself you can't do. You know, much like high school, when some kids shuffled themselves toward the back of the room, predisposed in their thinking that they couldn't learn anything anyway.

Wednesday, January 5

Rethinking Mobile: The Future Of Advertising Is Portable

There isn't any doubt that mobile will play a big role in the future. And if there was any doubt years ago, there is none now.

Last October, 234 million Americans ages 13 and older used mobile devices; 60.7 million people in the U.S. owned smart phones. After the holidays, you can expect most of these numbers soared even higher, and that doesn't consider the tablet market like the Amazon Kindle or Apple iPad. Communication is everywhere — on the desktop, on the laptop, in the living room, and within the palm of your hand.

Mobile Doesn't Mean Mobile As Much As It Means Portable.

Three years ago, I quoted Rishad Tobaccowala, CEO of Denuo Group, a Publicis Groupe, to underscore the point. He said "the reality of it is that the future does not fit into the containers of the past.”

But when you look at the way the Web has developed since then, it's becoming much more clear that mobile isn't the answer to the future as much as portability. You see, while there might be an emphasis on mobile phones and tablets, plenty of people still sit in front a desktop or plug content into their television sets to consume everything from entertainment to education and from current events to vintage history.

Sometimes they even use two or three devices simultaneously — Tweeting a comment about the show they are watching on television in real time or throwing out ideas related to an article or post they are working on without ever pulling up a new browser. No, not all of it is obvious. Most of it works in layers.

So what is the reality of communication? The reality isn't that the future does not fit into the containers of the past, it's that the future needs to fit in every container of the future. So if you don't consider portability, your marketing is missing out.

Applying Portability To A :30 Television Commercial.

For simplicity of the conceptual model, consider a :30 television commercial.

vintage avTen years ago, most commercials were relatively niche. Thirty seconds aired in between bits of news and entertainment being viewed by people with relatively specific demographics. On a good day, people might even talk about it around the water cooler at work or perhaps a child might recite some jingle to justify the toy making their Christmas list.

Today, as mediums converge, that same 30 seconds can have a much longer shelf life and reach dozens of different audiences and communities. The most obvious placement might be YouTube. But with some adjustments and a willingness to adapt the content to fit any number of segments, the possibilities are as endless as the strategy allows.

People might see the commercial and comment about it on Facebook (using their phones). Or they might see it embedded in a blog post. Or they might see it on a website, while browsing with a tablet. And then they might see it reinforced in front of the television.

If the creative is sustainable enough, they might even share it with their friends, people who may not fit the demographics of the most likely buyer (but might pass it on to people who do). This only scratches the surface when you include email marketing or hundreds of other social networks or (thinking from the public relations perspective) the thousands of people who write about and review products or production.

“Creative without strategy is called 'art.' Creative with strategy is called 'advertising.” — Jef I. Richards

The connector (with) is where advertisers and other communicators need to set their sights. Creative directors and marketing strategists will do more for their clients by considering multiple platforms and devices, not just one. After all, a television commercial isn't only a television commercial anymore much like a 'blog' doesn't always have to be a blog.

Ahead of the pack, it seems to me that Amazon is getting it partly right. Apple is too. It's only some content publishers (especially newspapers) that are still struggling with the concept.

brainWhat makes them different? Apple and Amazon aren't thinking in terms of delivery devices anymore. They are thinking in terms of sensory reception or deeper. And if they are not, they ought to be. Sensory reception is about the person, not the medium.

The two sensory receptors that can be touched online are primarily audio and visual, even if audio is confined to the alliteration of the written word. Everything else — especially the point of delivery — is simply a matter of strategically aligning the content to fit the space, which is why the future is a little less mobile and a lot more portable. Any device, anywhere, anytime.

Sunday, January 2

Running Companies: Best Fresh Content

Fresh Content ProjectThere are five kinds of companies you can run: innovative, protective, flash-in-the-pan, subservient, or a failure. The choice is yours. The world is riddled with them.

While the innovators take risks, the protectionists attempt to preserve those moments when they had one great idea that gave them a foundation that could be sustained longer than a one hit wonder. Almost all of the rest fail, with the exception of subservient companies — businesses that make their money filling some need that innovators and protectionists have.

These five fresh picks (actually four since one was scrapped) help paint a picture of the protectionists, companies that are trying to hold on to something they have while the world closes in on them. Almost all of them act like dying empires that will eventually become failures unless they are lucky enough to find a leader willing to lead them out of the muck.

Best Fresh Content In Review, Week of December 20

Failure To Innovate: Yahoo Loss Someone’s Gain.
Yahoo has had a long tradition of struggling with acquisitions that retain the original brand. MyBlogLog, Delicious, and a host of other social media related sites will be sold or scraped in the weeks ahead. The topics have been covered to death, but Heather Rast pulled something else out of the discussion. The problem wasn't simply treating these services as step-children, but rather a deeper problem tied to innovation. I might go a step further. There seems to be a culture of protectionism.

How Social Media Boutiques Are Winning Deals Over Traditional Digital Agencies.
Some people will have mixed feelings about Jeremiah Owyang's assessment, but how one feels is separate from the battle between large agencies and social media boutiques. I don't agree with the assessment that immature brands rely on traditional agencies, but I do agree that large agencies need to understand where social media fits or they will allow yet another beach head to establish on the shores of their clients. The last time, agencies eventually won, buying up many of the best web designers or, at least, made them servants.

Net Semi-Neutrality: New Rules from the FCC
Sometimes compromise is a good thing. Sometime it's not. Gini Dietrich shares her take on the FCC's decision to adopt “net semi-neutrality,” which is a hybrid of the worst kind in that it pretends to preserve some freedoms by giving up a few of them. Yes. It can be likened to offering up 25 percent (or more) of your neighborhood in order to preserve the majority. On the other hand, it does temporarily sooth the savage beast that really built the Internet, companies that laid the wires and the cell lines only to it cut deeply into their primary revenue streams.

Yuletide Crisis Containment.
Peter Himler covers a just under the radar crisis communication story that was passed over by many, even after it was covered by The Wall Street Journal. The crisis includes a civil suit against Ernst & Young, which has adopted a position of silence. While it is generally acceptable to not comment during a lawsuit (and sometimes prudent), Ernst & Young didn't stop at simply offering one of the few acceptable times to avoid comment. It claims the case has no factual or legal basis, but then refuses to back up the statement. It's hard to say where this might go in the year ahead, but there is no denying they've taken a risky route.

An Open Letter to PR Professionals.
Doug Davidoff begins by saying "There are three gaps that PR and social media professionals must bridge if they want a seat at the table and to be treated with the seriousness they deserve." Those three gaps include: better processes, better prioritization, and better alignment with the goals of the business. It makes sense. All too often the profession finds itself developing industry best practices when the only best practices that ought to matter are those that directly benefit the business and the publics that the business hope to reach. The same can said about social media. All the buzz is nice, but how does it support the mission?

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