Monday, February 14

Getting Attention: Is Online Popularity A Great Big Lie?

popularMore than anything else, exposure remains the number one measure for Internet success. Facebook page managers want more fans. Twitter account holders want more followers. YouTube producers want videos to go viral. Bloggers want more traffic. More, more, more.

But more is not always better.

If exposure is the measure, then the biggest losers are all winners. There are thousands of examples. Here are a few.

Nestle learned that fan pages could become a billboard of outrage on behalf of critics. Kenneth Cole exhibited no empathy for Egypt on Twitter. With 1.4 million views, Microsoft wins with this video gem. And Kathy Sierra would have never quit blogging.

Great marketers know that they don't have to convince everyone to love the Ford Taurus. They know that they only have to find people who like the features that the Ford Taurus offers. Likewise, Christina Aguilera wants to be known for her singing. Right now, people are more likely to know she blew the National Anthem at the Super Bowl and tripped at her Grammy performance.

More only works for vanilla.

VanillaWhen you give coffee-flavored ice cream to kids, they make funny faces (so do I). But that doesn't mean we always have to serve vanilla, the most popular ice cream flavor. We also don't always have to eat pepperoni and cheese pizzas, which account for 25 percent of all pizza sales. And we don't all drive white cars, which is the color 21 percent of car buyers prefer.

It seems only social media gives more value to popularity than personal choice or quality content. People watch videos that are watched, like Facebook pages that are liked, follow Twitter streams with followers, and leave comments on blogs where they "think" more people will see their comments.

Ironically, most of those leaders tend to offer exactly what you might expect. Vanilla, pepperoni, and white. In tracking about 250 blogs, daily, for almost a year, we found popularity to be the biggest lie of all in democratizing the Internet.

Of all the communication blogs we covered, those at the top of the Advertising Age 150 underperformed with three in the top ten failing to produce a single post that could be called a best fresh pick of the day (note: not all Ad Age participants were tracked). That doesn't mean they are necessarily bad blogs, but it does mean that they serve up more than their fair share of vanilla, pepperoni, and white. The placement of the top ten fresh picks show how far off that list can be.

Of those those that we picked with regularity, Valeria Maltoni is ranked 25th; Geoff Livingston is not ranked; Ike Pigott is ranked 607th; Lee Odden participates on Top Rank, which is ranked 10th; Jason Falls is ranked 15th; Adam Singer is 83rd; Ian Lurie is not ranked; Danny Brown is 23rd; Maria Reyes McDavis is not ranked; and Bob Conrad is not ranked.

pepperoniAdvertising Age isn't alone. The few communication-related blogs that make it into the Technorati top 100 rank underperformed too. PostRank, which relies on activity, didn't prove to be any better of a measure. And neither did SEO, which is one of several reasons Google is trying to fix its algorithm.

Specifically, SEO proves a site can lead people to it, but no indication that people will find something useful when they land. And, that other popular consideration — bounce rates — tends to mislead. People only look at one or two posts on blogs; those that pertain to their topic of interest, which is usually aligned with the topic du jour. Few people go back and read the same ones again.

There was only one measure that seemed solid. And most people overlook it.

People tend to savor of the quality that comes with being different.

Time on site. The most popular bloggers hold people's attention for about two minutes and those minutes are sometimes spread across as many as three or more pages (and that includes time for people to leave a comment). Higher quality posts tend to hold people for about four to five minutes (based on real time graphs, not averages that are also misleading).

Even among blogs that were picked for one or two posts during the year, we noted small surges in the time people spent on the fresh pick post compared to other posts read. This held true even for fresh pick posts that didn't draw very much traffic. Those posts were enjoyed by the traffic they drew. And that makes all the difference.

red carIt reminds me a little bit about the Twitter stunt shitmydadsays. Two million fans with long gaps between tweets and never a response. Did they ever read the book? It starts out as if it could be funny, but never delivers. And yet, it's triteness is offset only because it is vanilla. It's perfect for a television series on CBS, even though it lost 25 percent of its audience after the first show. It has a balanced following now, being saved by William Shatner.

That's how it goes sometimes. Did you ever consider that nobody boasts about eating vanilla, ordering a pepperoni pizza, or buying a white car? Not really.

They may mention it in the moment, but the memory of commonplace isn't all that memorable. And, when you think about it, if the content (not the personality) isn't memorable, then how could it ever be influential? Quality content makes people think.

This is the third lesson from the Fresh Content experiment, which tracked 250 blogs for almost a year. The experiment focused on the quality of the content and not the perceived popularity of the authors.

Friday, February 11

Cheapening Content: How Amateurs Feed Content Farms


"We need six to seven articles a day with 200 words each. $15 per story. ... Ten articles, 400 to 600 words each, three key word links, and level one and two "spun" versions. Less than $500. ... Ten articles, 300 words per article, $200. ... 100 short customer review submissions, $50. ... Ghost articles, 100 words, $3 per article for content farms submissions."

These are actual freelance writer solicitations, taken from several freelance markets online. Consider it a welcome to the world of digital content, where amateurs are writing for as a little as $10 per story or a few cents a blurb. Some of them make nothing at all. Many of them will never see a byline. And even for those that do receive a byline, their stories appear nowhere in particular.

Worse, the majority of offerings aren't about original writing anymore. Almost half of the proposed work is for "spinning content," which is the catch-all term for rearranging paragraphs and using a thesaurus to make the same articles sound like different articles. Right. Some publishers want to automate the process so they receive ten stories for the price of a fraction of one. They'll get plenty of takers too. The amateurs are desperate enough to outbid each other to oblivion.

Expertise is nonessential. Proficiency is in the eye of the beholder, sort of.

Content mills, or content farms as they are called, are not just about little companies or shady operators anymore. It's becoming a standard practice.

AOL asks its writers to produce as many as seven articles a day to drive its hit-and-run visits primarily from organic search engines and others try to eek out $15 for 100 words that make it past the black hole. Yet, AOL had $315 million laying around to buy the Huffington Post. Yahoo too. It recently bought a content mill, hoping to cash in on Google traffic.

At the same time, these rates can be considered generous. Plenty of e-zines and news sites convince writers to work for free, offering the favor of exposure, appeasement of their vanity, and the promise of future "influence." All of these terms are nothing more than the newest carrots in the marketplace of quick content, inflated opinion, and illusionary traffic.

No one is exempt from receiving these offers either. I recently had someone I thought was a friend ask if I wanted "to be considered" to volunteer time for their upcoming paid subscription e-zine. It wasn't the first time. It likely won't be the last.

I sent them a video of Harlan Ellison. The context might be different, but the sentiment is the same. If the publisher can make a living off what the writer writes, then the writer can make a living too.


What Ellison doesn't consider in the modern age is the effect on unsuspecting readers. People assume the content they are reading has some sort of vetting process, especially when it comes from big brands. A growing percentage of it has very little. The content is nothing more than people plunking on keyboards in a virtual sweat shop.

The cheap content has another side effect too. The goal is to generate an ever-increasing mountain of slush that can be spammed across social networks and capture search traffic. You can see it everywhere in the news today. Half of everything reported is speculative, designed to capture our attention long enough to click on a link that refutes its own headline.

Of course. In many cases, some amatuer-publisher arrangements make pay-per-post writing and Twitter perks look like gravy trains. And yet, the companies adopting content farm approaches are the same ones that question the ethics of pay-per-post schemes. Can you imagine? They paid a writer $3 to question the ethics of another writer who accepted $150.

What writers need to know before they jump into the profession.

There is a time and place to write cheap or free, but it's never based on the terms offered by the client or publisher. It's only based on your terms. (The same can be said of pitches from public relations professionals.)

No Experience. While there may come a time when no one asks for clips or samples, amateurs do have to start somewhere. They need about five clips and samples. There is nothing wrong with writing a few for the favor of a byline or, assuming the publisher is reputable, working on speculation for the right acceptance rate. Even so, no one is going to be impressed by poorly edited clips under 200 words. You'd be better off publishing a blog, assuming you have some talent.

Topic Passion. Sometimes you might want to cover a topic that is near and dear to your heart, perhaps even an article that helps generate exposure for a nonprofit. It's an admirable pursuit, even if whatever you are passionate about isn't related to charity. That might even be what you are hoping to achieve — a forum of sorts, now and again, without starting a blog.

Promotional Purposes. You own or work for a company or already have your own blog. Writing the occasional guest post or agreeing to a temporary cross-post endeavor sometimes serves as a nice introduction. But you have to make sure it makes sense for you and your company or your blog. All guest posts ought to be accompanied by a bio and direct link somewhere. Even then, choose carefully. Not every promotional opportunity is worth the time it takes to write something.

Personal Favor. In the same vein as promotional, writing an occasional guest post for another blogger because they don't want their blog to go dark while on vacation is a nice gesture. The relationship exchange rate usually works both ways. Mostly, it only makes sense when you have a commodity or service or blog in the first place. Sometimes you might even help someone start something, but never do it if you expect something in return. It's a favor, nothing more.

Community Passion. Maybe you belong to some community and want to contribute something. There is nothing wrong with it. Sharing between friends and people with similar interests is much like bringing a pot roast to a pot luck. Just keep in mind that every social network has its own rules of content ownership. Be very wary of any network or service that claims all rights, especially if they supersede your own rights.

no calorie contentWhile there might be a few other special cases, there aren't too many good reasons outside of these five. Expect some people to try and convince you otherwise.

Ninety-nine percent of all offers that promise "more work in the future" are lies. Unless it is in writing, no one will ever give you stock in a start-up company or publication (and even if they do write a contract, consider such offers with the skepticism of an investor). Accepting a reduced rate to help someone during a rough patch (or extending excessive credit) is money that you ought to consider lost revenue until proven otherwise.

It might sound cynical, but it's reality. The difference between a professional and an amateur is that the professional can produce something that people want and the amateur has to convince people that they can produce something people want. Having worked on both sides of the fence as the vendor and client, I learned most of it the hard way. Sometimes two or three times. You don't have to.

So what is a fair rate for freelance writers?

When I owned and published a limited subscription international trade publication, we paid $300 per 700-word article, which was 30-50 percent higher than publications with similar circulations at the time, regardless of where the writer lived. More recently, I asked two writers if they would volunteer to write for Liquid [Hip], but haven't given them assignments because it conflicts with my belief that writers deserved to be paid. I don't have a budget.

I ran into the same conflict a few years ago too. I passed on a lucrative offer to become an editor and co-publisher of what seemed to be a well-financed online publication. Negotiations broke down because I wanted to pay writers and they wanted to appeal to the willingness of amateurs to crank out free content. No hard feelings. We're still friends.

writersAt the same time, maybe amateurs need to know that professional freelance rates for copywriting range from $45 to $150 per hour, web content from $40 to $100 per hour, and technical writing from $50 to $100 per hour. Two hours per half-page is a fair estimate of time, with adjustments for research, interviews, and revisions built in to the estimate. Some writers do charge more, but anything less is amateur. Too much amateur work will only keep you there.

By the way, some material, like print ads and outdoor, take more time, regardless of how many words. Ergo, it often takes more time to write less. So expert magazines often pay less than those rates above, with the low approximately $150 for 600-750 words.

Anything less, regardless of praise, should convince you to look at what kind of revenue they generate, how nice their offices might be, and what kind of cars they drive. Why? Because you might be the person who affords them those luxuries.

Related articles on quality content and content farms.

• Content Farms And The Death of Remarkable Content by Lisa Barone.

Four Ways To Improve Content by Geoff Livingston.

Mahalo’s Calacanis: Time To End The Content Farm Arms Race by Danny Sullivan.

I Worked on the AOL Content Farm & It Changed My Life by Marshall Kirkpatrick.

Blekko Bans Content Farms Like Demand Media’s eHow From Its Search Results by Erick Schonfeld.

Wednesday, February 9

Eclipsing Brands: How A Good Commercial Still Fails For Chrysler

Eminem
According to Motor Trend, the average age of a Chrysler buyer is 62. The average age of an Eminem fan is about 24. The average age of an advertising executive is about 36. The average age of a journalist is about 42.

While Volkswagen easily won Super Bowl pre-buzz, it seems the Chrysler ad (more often called the Detroit ad, Motor City ad, or Eminem ad) by Portland-based Wieden + Kennedy is catching the most post-game buzz. More than 2,000 news organizations have mentioned it. More than 3.7 million people have viewed it on YouTube. Both Edmunds and Chrysler reported surges in searches for the brand.

But does the buzz-up alone make the measure of the ad, especially because much of the attention is marred with curiosity and confusion? Maybe. Maybe not. Watch the spot and then consider both sides of the same Motor City coin.


What worked for the Chrysler advertisement.

Production. By most measures, the production value is on target. It's a stylized mood piece that borrows some of its feel from Gotham City (even if Gotham is based on New York City with a Chicago toughness) and ample inspiration from past Nike commercials. The tight shots on some iconic symbols in Detroit work too; as does the slow reveal of Eminem.

The copy is honest, garbled, and unapologetic. And while some people have questioned whether Detroit can claim to be experiencing a resurgence, no one questions that Detroit natives have an underlying sense of pride. Some might even say that it was this same pride that convinced Eminem to accept the gig. I don't think he sold out.

Nostalgia. Although most Super Bowl commercials passed on what's proven to be the most effective television commercials for the Super Bowl, Wieden + Kennedy stayed true to them, with an emphasis on nostalgia.

This is one of the underlying reasons for the appeal. The ad doesn't only resonate for what people want out of Detroit. It resonates for what people want out of America. People are weary and generally feel beaten down by constant a rehashing of the country's considerable challenges. They want someone tough enough to get the job done. The spot taps the need for better leadership and a pull yourself up attitude.

Eminem Appeal. Of all the songs ever cut by Eminem, Lose Yourself has universal appeal. People who don't generally like hip hop or rap genuinely like the song. The instrumental alone is enough to pique interest. On iTunes, it remains his number one (explicit) and seventh (clean) most purchased song.

It was made famous in part because of its inclusion in 8-Mile, the underdog movie about Eminem. Only the recent hit Not Afraid comes close to having as much crossover appeal. And his presence in the commercial almost convinces me that he might outsell the product placement in the Detroit spot.

What didn't work for the Chrysler advertisement.

Brand EclipseConfused Demographics. There is nothing wrong with an automotive company with an aging buyer trying to infuse some youth into its brand. Having worked on campaigns for Lincoln and Mercury in the past, I appreciate the challenge.

However, when the commercial aired during the Super Bowl, I noticed agency creatives and communication professionals were much more likely to rave about it than the non-industry people I follow on Twitter. That could be a concern. If the ad plays better to industry professionals than anyone else, Chrysler will be more than disappointed as the 200 is not an industry car.

Brand Eclipse. While the advertisement has earned considerable buzz, the headlines reveal something else. As mentioned earlier, the advertisement is just as likely to be called the Detroit spot or an Eminem ad or a combination of those two, sometimes pairing it with Chrysler.

Of the three brands, Chrysler is clearly the weakest. And I suspect that it doesn't help that it is owned by Fiat, an Italian company. Even worse, days before the $9 million spot aired, Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne had to apologize for describing the $12 billion U.S. bailout as a "shyster loan."

Curiosity Buzz. The commercial shows so little of the Chrysler 200 that people have no choice but to look it up. The curiosity will be short lived as people discover the truth. Reading Edmonds' review of a refreshed Sebring worthy of consideration doesn't hold the same excitement as the commercial. Wieden + Kennedy clearly over promised.

Over-promising in an advertisement raises awareness but it also drives up negative impressions. In fact, in reading a cross section of reviews, I was disappointed to discover the best feature is the price point. But even that promise seems silly. Few people will want to drive that much ugliness with a cost-saving four-cylinder automatic.

It begs the question. Who cares if you pique the interest of the mid-sized sedan buyer (average age 41) but fail to deliver what they really want? I can write a commercial that promises McDonald's will add steak to its menu and drive buzz. But it is patently irresponsible for an agency to do so without any concern for whether people will figure out the steak is still a Big Mac.

What the people who appreciated the commercial really want.

Sebring TransformationIt's painfully easy to appreciate what people want: The ability to break free from adversity, retain some semblance of attitude as they age, praise artists who are willing to stand up for their cities instead of gripe, and for Chrysler to succeed as a tough-as-nails innovative American car company so it can pay off those "shyster loans" and employ people.

That is the dream. And Wieden + Kennedy delivered it brilliantly.

The only problem is that they delivered a dream that their client cannot deliver. Haven't you noticed? People aren't talking about the Chrysler 200 (formerly Sebring) as much as they are talking about Eminem and Detroit.

And that's the real lesson of a mixed brand commercial. As an Eminem for Detroit commercial, most people are all in; as a Chrysler commercial, it only underscores that the most dangerous assessment in the advertising industry is "I like..."

"I like" has nothing to do with it. The phrase we're supposed to shoot for is "I buy."

Monday, February 7

Revolutionizing Social: Does Activity Equal Experience?

Social Media Revolution
A few days ago, Arik Hanson called it right. Anyone who looks up David Mullen will find less social activity than they might have found a few years ago.

Does that mean David Mullen no longer understands digital marketing?

Not at all. As Hanson points out, he has different responsibilities. And tracking about 250 blogs, daily, for almost a year, we found Mullen is more often the rule than the exception.

For example, the Decker Blog is relatively light on content and two of the authors have a minimal following on Twitter (without custom backgrounds no less). Yet, Kelly and Ben Decker still managed to co-write a well-read post on the top ten best (and worst) communicators of 2010. Between October 2010 and January 2011, Bill Sledzik, associate professor in the School of Journalism & Mass Communication at Kent State University, took one of his frequent social media leaves of absence. Rob Reed doesn't post or engage with a byline very often, but that doesn't make him less than a founder of Max Gladwell.

It might make you wonder. Does taking time off, shifting priorities, or working behind the scenes as opposed to being a visible participant make a difference in social media? Perhaps in perception, but not in practice. If the Old Spice campaign taught us anything about social media, it was that an advertising agency might understand social media without an active presence.

In fact, it seems to be another rule and not an exception. Most major social media brand successes that social media experts talk about do not come from social media experts at all. They came from communicators and business owners who happened to include social media as part of their mix.

Old Spice is only one example. And while I had a much more tepid view of the campaign, most experts called it the best social media campaign despite the producers of it not measuring up to their own activity-based social media standards.

A revolutionary way to look at online activity, experience, and influence.

Social Media RevolutionDuring the American Revolution, many people played many different roles. Thousands of people rightfully earned the moniker, including more than 100 as signers of the Declaration of Independence and/or United States Constitution. However, we don't remember all of them. We remember a few, which is based more on the degree of their influence as opposed to their activity.

We picked four names to demonstrate the distinction. And while the specifics might vary, their historical status is remarkably different. But then again, the founding fathers didn't meddle with definitions. They had more important things to do.

Authoritative Influence. As commander in chief of the Continental Army, George Washington made decisions that largely influenced the course of the war. While he was also as statesman, his visibility as a statesman was secondary to the decisions he was given authority to make. Today, elected officials, judges, legislators, investors, and network owners can also set the course of a network or the entire online landscape regardless of authored participation.

Innovative Influence. Although he was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, one of the most influential documents produced during the American Revolution, Thomas Jefferson wasn't necessarily an active author or publisher like many of his colleagues. By today's measure, he tended to write less but when he did write, his words were profoundly influential in that they often included innovative ideas that still have an impact today.

Persuasive Influence. Much more consistent in his writings than Jefferson was Thomas Paine, author of the widely read pamphlet Common Sense, which consistently advocated for American independence. Later, he would also move to France and became deeply involved with the French Revolution. His writing often set the agenda for others to follow. Some have even gone so far as to suggest without Common Sense, Washington would have raised his sword in vain.

Activity Influence. Samuel Adams is often praised as someone who had been steering his fellow colonists toward independence long before the war, and was frequently in the midst of the political affairs in Boston. Like the majority of the founding fathers of this country, he is remembered less for his contributions despite leading many of the activities that led up to the Revolution, including the Boston Tea Party.

Boston TeaIn looking at activity, Samuel Adams, second cousin to John Adams, was an active participant throughout, perhaps even more so than the founding fathers most people know by name. However, Washington was still the more suitable person to lead the army and Jefferson better suited to write the Declaration.

What this might teach us is that activity does not substitute for formal experience or lasting influence, even if it sets the stage for events. It might make us reconsider activity as a social media measure all together.

The seven personas of the activity in social media.

The Fresh Content experiment captured varied online activity, beyond publishing content. It showed that the people who have the most experience are not always the people who are active, day in and day out.

On the contrary, sometimes it showed the participant lacked education, experience, and expertise. It also revealed a subtle set of motivations between those who are the most active. Without assigning labels in a confining sense, these are the seven types of personas we saw frequently.

Professors. While not all of them carry the title "professor," educators tend to be passionate about the subjects they teach. They tend to be active in various networks, sharing their education and experience with students and colleagues, often balancing out the bad advice of others or providing attribution when someone doesn't know their idea is less than original.

Publishers. Whether they serve as editor or reporter for a firm, dedicated online magazine, or a social network, content publishers and providers are paid to develop content for their company brand while establishing their own presence. In some cases, they may develop some keen insights. In others, they can be likened to a music critic who can't play an instrument.

Peace keepers. Online community managers become exceptionally skilled in keeping multiple windows open at the same time. Some of them expand a personal network while managing the online assets of a company, network, or publication. In other cases, their job descriptions better match an online customer service manager than a communication professional.

Promoters. While their experience and expertise varies, there are dozens of people in the communication field that either use social media as a primary promotional tool for their firms or for themselves because their primary products are book sales, affiliate commissions, or paid speaking opportunities.

Preachers. There is a segment of communicators that are simply passionate about social media. They see the space as some sort of revolution to unhinge traditional marketing. Some would even outlaw advertising all together if they could, but only because they see any sale is exclusively based on relationships and every transaction the result of a personal connection.

Provers. A majority of professionals who become increasingly active in social media are attempting to prove they know social media. Some of them are attempting to launch a new consulting practice while others are looking to land a job at a firm that that might be dazzled by large follower counts and clout scores. Some social media firms never break away from this category. Neither do those who have nothing to prove, except to themselves.

Pretenders. Compared to any other category, these people tend to have one of the highest network activity levels, with some even leveraging social network monitoring tools to do the dirty work. They are generally one of two types. The occasional A-lister who produces more content than humanly possible by raiding lesser known bloggers in order to look like they came up with the idea first; and the busy bee, eager to please, but without any formal experience to generate their own ideas. They are easy to spot.

DelawareNone of these descriptors are meant to disparage (except the last, perhaps). And many individuals fall within two or three categories at a time. The real intent here is to help professionals distinguish just who they are listening to: An inexperienced egomaniac, a parroter of other people, or a self-promotor paid handsomely to work once a month in between business card books.

Social network activity doesn't sort these people out. Likewise, social media measures don't distinguish from the general who ought to be running your campaign, the author who ought to write your white paper, the writer who might be best suited to add frequent content, or the wildly active independent who is important but never remembered enough for their contributions.

Sure, there is truth to the wisdom in thinking that someone who professes to be a social media expert might engage in social media. Then again, the overstatement of this fact is misleading, given you won't find many advertising agency commercials on television or a steady stream of press releases about about every public relations firm outshining their clients. It's all relative.

This is the second lesson from the Fresh Content experiment, which tracked 250 blogs for almost a year. The experiment focused on the quality of the content and not the perceived popularity of the authors.

Friday, February 4

Changing Communication: The World Is Round?

Earth
Most people have heard of Galileo (1564-1642) and some people have heard of Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543), but I'll provide a quick thumbnail refresher for anyone who might have forgotten. Galileo was an Italian physicist, mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher who played a major role in the Scientific Revolution. One of several reasons included his support of a theory proposed by Copernicus that the Earth not the center of the universe.

It must have seemed a silly notion at the time. It would be several decades before Isaac Newton would formulate the theory of gravity, which basically meant people would fall off this little blue marble we call home. But mostly, it monkeyed up Geocentrism.

Yet, against the tide of popularity, Copernicus must have looked like a simple idiot. Actually, he looked worse than that. He was censored as a heretic and was buried in an unmarked grave beneath the floor of a cathedral. Except, he wasn't a heretic. He was in need of a better telescope, like the one used by Galileo. Not that a telescope helped Galileo. He was persecuted too. What he really needed was a better communication model because most people, at the time, still believed the world to be flat (let alone the center of the universe).

The World Is Flat.

Flat WorldTo appreciate why Galileo needed a better communication model, we must consider what his world must have been like. My guess is that it would have looked grossly disproportionate to the facts.

Looking at a model, Galileo was a mere pebble. I even had to inflate his size so he would show up in a post.

1. Geocentricism loyalists. 2. Undecided and blind followers. 3. Copernicus detractors. 4. And then there is the whole of the greater world that does not care if we live on a disc, pillar, ball, or bouncy house. It's hard enough for them to remember to wash before supper.

Can you imagine how many votes Galileo would earn on Quora? How many people would read his blog? How many people might follow him on Twitter? I doubt anyone would find him on Facebook. People were stoned and barbecued for less. What a dope.

The World Is Objective.

Objective WorldNo matter, many people might say. Modern communication bears these things out nicely today. As mass communication took hold, people began to realize that there were three positions people with awareness could take.

In the 1920s, for example, Walter Lippmann understood that journalism's role served people best when it acted as a mediator or translator between the public and policy making elites. Suffice to say, Lippmann would have read the Geocentricism argument and then read the Galileo argument and objectively reported to the masses that the guy with a telescope had a point.

1. Geocentricism. 2. Undecided. 3. Copernicus. 4. Bouncy house.

For many years, this was the model that politics theorized about. The world is largely made up of people who are unaware. And within that unawareness is a smaller group of aware people with opinions. This made politics obvious, because if you shifted that middle by even a fraction of one percent, you changed everything. All you had to do is present the facts.

The World Is Polarized.

Polarized WorldIn more recent years, there has been a shift in the way politics is handled. During the last couple of decades some strategists concluded that battling over the middle was becoming a bit boorish. It was ever so difficult to get anything done and nobody appreciated the compromise anyway.

So some strategists developed a system to strengthen the conviction of loyalists, discredit the detractors, and shrink the greater pool of the unaware. Applied to Galileo, the two factions would have debated bitterly and nothing would get done, ever.

1. Geocentricism. 2. Undecided. 3. Copernicus. 4. Bouncy house.

Sure, I know what some people are thinking. What about the media? Aren't they supposed to balance this stuff out?

They would have, but the media decided, for several reasons, that balance no longer means being objective. It really just meant giving polarized views attention, and then letting people sort it out for themselves, even if those people had trouble remembering to wash their hands before supper. It didn't take long for this view to change up too, as the middle slowly lost more and more of its buying power.

The World Is Social.

Social WorldWhen nothing gets done, people grow discontent. And sometimes, much like they did more than 200 years ago in this country, they start taking matters into their own hands. About 200 years ago, the tool was the printing press. Today, technology gave us social media.

Unfortunately, the new model is a bit more complicated than a printing press. It makes much more apparent that each layer consists of not one sphere, but several overlapping spheres built on the connectivity of relationships that have nothing to do with the validity of the topic. Oh well, it still looks prettier.

1. Believe in bouncy house theory, but meet a Geocentrist at a bar. 2. Loosely related to a Geocentrist. 3. Geocentricism. 4. Benefit from Geocentricism. 5. Undecided but owe a Geocentrist a favor. 6. Undecided. 7. Undecided but owe a Copernicus a favor. 8. Benefit from Copernicus. 9. Copernicus. 10. Loosely related to a Copernicus. 11. Believe in bouncy house theory, but meet a Copernicus at a bar. 12. Bouncy house.

The advent of social media created an entirely new system based on this model. And as it developed, it wasn't long before some people realized that as their loyalist pools shrank, it was advantageous to connect with more people at a bar. They didn't have to know what you were talking about; they only had to know you. In some cases, it was probably better if they didn't know what you were talking about.

The benefit of this model in Galileo's time would have been making decisions quickly and decisively. He would have gathered up everyone he met a bar, bathhouse, and local pond where the women did wash and then perform a head count, maybe even drawing a cow as an illustration to appease a crowd-sourced holdout. The Geocentricists would have done the same.

And what do you know, simple math suggests that the outcome would have been the same as it was more than 400 years ago.

The World Is Round.

Flat WorldHow could that happen? It might be tricky to figure out, but only because the new model looks so much prettier.

The model being employed by social today is the same model that was employed in the flat world. Except instead of an oppressive authority over mindless followers, we have popular authority over mindless followers.

There is only a small benefit between the two. Galileo wouldn't be censored; he would be ridiculed instead. And while some might argue that he would just have to work a little harder to develop a bigger network of bar buddies, it seems like a pretty daunting task to chase down an idea that had a 1,000-year head start.

I am sure Galileo might have given it a go. But nowadays, some experts are preaching the better solution would be to listen to the masses. He should have said we live on a bouncy house, they tell me.

The only tiny little problem with that notion? The world really is round, in case you didn't know.

Related articles on influence.

• What Are Influencers Good For?

Measuring Influence: 4 Learnings.

Influencing Nothing: Social Media Influencers.

Wednesday, February 2

Sizing Us And Them: A Lesson In Transparency

Trust
In 1972, prolific British dramatist David Campton wrote a seemingly simple one act play called Us And Them. If you've never heard of Campton, think of him as a playwright much like Arthur Miller, except leaning more toward the absurd.

His play, Us And Them, begins innocently enough with two groups of wanderers looking for a place to settle. And once they each find a plot of land stage left and stage right, both groups agree to mark a line between their two territories. Over time, the line becomes a fence and a fence becomes a wall and the wall grows in size until neither side knows what the other is doing.

Eventually, both sides begin to wonder what the other side might be doing. They wonder long enough that their thoughts turn to suspicion and suspicion to mistrust and mistrust to fear, with each side believing that the other is plotting against them. As fear takes hold, both sides unknowingly make preparations for ensuing conflict until eventually it explodes. In the end, two survivors, looking at the waste they have inflicted on one other, come to the conclusion that the wall was to blame.

The lesson about walls was never about walls.

Edleman TrustThe irony about the play is that the lesson left by Campton was never about walls despite the interpretation of some high school theater teachers. The lack of transparency did nothing; only people and their obsession with the wall and fear of the unknown were to blame for mutual paranoid destruction.

If the recent publishing of the annual Edelman Trust Barometer is any indication of direction, the tone of U.S. politics with its incessant finger pointing at itself and other institutions has become a wall for the modern era. In fact, the U.S. was the only country in which trust in all institutions has declined.

As trust has declined overall, with growing frequency, the public has demanded more transparency. They demand it from businesses and business owners, politicians and government, executives and corporations, reporters and the media, themselves and each other. Tear down the walls, they exclaim with increased regularity.

It isn't only about institutions either. As Valeria Maltoni pointed out, trust in our own peers seems to have fallen in comparison to teachers, analysts, individual executives, and certain experts, where it has risen. While there are many theories as to why, it seems clear enough. Those capturing increased trust are perceived to have less power and cause for agenda or, in the case of individual executives, have already been forced to exhibit more transparency.

Forced transparency is a function of mistrust.

There is a reason the writers of the Constitution built in checks, balances, and transparency. Looking back in history, the founding fathers could find no evidence of a trustworthy government. Right. They mistrusted government or, more exactly, the agenda of men who might abuse its power.

"There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty." — John Adams.

wallsEven James Madison warned that any nation which reposed too much on the pillow of political confidence would sooner or later see the end of its existence. Plainly speaking, we weren't supposed to trust our government or, more exactly, any men who might abuse its power. Even Patrick Henry pointed out that the Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government. And Adams himself later lamented some moments where he overreached as President.

But what about each other? For the age, the founding fathers placed more trust in citizens to self-govern. Their only fear was that the public might fall prey to believing in promises of "necessity," aptly described as the plea for every infringement of human freedom. But other than that, they placed their trust in individuals and upheld the individual's right to be considered innocent (trustworthy) until evidence proved that they were not.

My primary point is that Americans are supposed to be suspicious not of government or hammers, but of those who are entrusted to manage its power. Our suspicions of everything else, with exception to those who have broken trust, are often made up. In other words, we obsess too much about the other side of the wall.

Authenticity is the measure by which we all benefit.

Although Maltoni cautioned me against using the term authenticity, favoring honesty, I still prefer it. Authenticity means being trustworthy, honest, and genuine. Contrary, transparency is a remedy of mistrust.

To help appreciate the difference, consider the micro view. A spouse who trusts their partner may never need ask any details if the partner has to meet someone for dinner. The trust is based on the authenticity their partner, specifically their resolve to never have an affair. It is only when the partner breaks that trust by having an affair that a trusting spouse might require transparency.

Please don't misunderstand me. Transparency can be considered an admirable quality, given that when we choose to share our thoughts, beliefs, lives, and stories, it can be considered a gift. But like all gifts, when it is demanded, it loses value.

Of course, someone offering up too much transparency (especially if they demand it of others), can also confound. The magician, for example, makes it a point to prove there is nothing up his or her sleeve before performing magic. The criminal might be the first to ask everyone to empty their pockets (especially if they passed the stolen item or hid it away). The agenda-driven professional may promise transparency but then never deliver after the contract is secure.

Most walls are only illusions and made by people.

In the play Us And Them, the wall was never to blame. Whether the wall was there or not wasn't even relevant. Most mistrust is created from within our imaginations.

securityJust as we've seen in plenty of other stories and in history itself, if we lived without any walls (truly transparent, with cameras in our homes), the level of mistrust would increase exponentially as someone would be charged with deciphering our every motivation. Or, equally correct, one could say there is no trust in a world where people aren't given the freedom to exhibit it.

It seems the solution is not attempting to bind individuals to greater degrees of public scrutiny as some people propose by policy or regulation or declaration, but rather binding people to cooperate in environments built on mutual trust, based on nothing more than "what is" as opposed to "what might be." That is what gave us the strength throughout history to accomplish micro tasks like rock climbing or macro tasks like landing on the moon.

When you think about it, this direction even holds in the earlier micro example that explores jealous spouses. The are four common breakdowns of trust in marriages, with one being functional and three being dysfunctional. Maybe more.

Functional mistrust is an outcome of evidence, which is the only one that warrants transparency as a foothold for restoration. Dysfunctional mistrust, on the other hand, is caused by our own insecurities, misinterpretations, and/or misapplying past experiences with people who don't deserve it. In those instances, we might take a harder look at ourselves more than others.

Three related articles about trust and power.

Distrust in leaders: dimensions, patterns, and emotional intensity.

Poverty is more likely cause of mistrust than race, says study.

Messaging trust and the decline of peers.
 

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