Media Influencer

helping people break out of pigeonholes since 2003

Learning to speak human

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A couple of weeks ago I gave a talk to an audience of communications professionals for a large corporate client of mine. Here is the presentation.

There are notes for most slides, visible and accessible in the dowloaded version. Don’t know how to make slideshare show them.

Quote not to remember

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From ITV plots future in which there is no escape from ads, Colin Macleod, research director at the World Advertising Research Centre:

Consumers are becoming a lot more clever in avoiding advertising, and now that they’ve got the technology to do it it’s become a big issue for advertisers. They need to be smarter.

How about forgetting about ‘consumers’ and taking a hint – don’t interrupt us with ads and don’t keep looking for new ways to do so. Engage as human beings or get out of our way.

Bonus link: Don’t Watch That, Watch This.

Quote to remember

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Organizations will work tirelessly to de-personalize every communication medium they encounter.
- Seth Godin in The first law of mass media

Disintermediation of minds?

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Commenting on the false rumour that Twitter is going off Rails, Tim Bray hits the nail on the head. Again.

If you want care about Twitter, follow @biz or @ev. If you care about Rails, follow DHH here or here or here. If you care about Sun, read what the people at Sun say. Same for IBM or Microsoft.

The internet is about disintermediation, and about zero distance:

The Net is a giant zero. It puts everybody zero distance from everybody and everything else.

One of the things that underpins what I do is getting across to individuals and companies that they don’t need the media. They can put their side of the story out there and do their best so that people follow them and hopefully trust them. The internet levels the playing field, power law notwithstanding.

One of few things that unites bloggers is linking to others and to their sources. So for any opinion, rumour, news or guess, there should be linkage supporting that view (only rants are excused from this requirement). Even most media commentators – after years of bashing from the blogosphere – are now linking to sources of their stories.

So given that we can follow the source(s), not just be at the mercy of the journalist or the commentator, why don’t we?

If you care about the Big New Thing that’s going to change your life, wait till it comes and touches your life. Then you’ll know what it’s really about, not what some overworked underslept Bay-Area meme-promoter thinks.

Perhaps now that the internet has disintermediated media, we need to disintermediate our minds. We rely on aggregators, top 100 rankings, meme generators and promoters. Sayz Tim:

The other problem with the aggregators is that there are a lot of smart, hungry, imaginative people working really hard to game them and get noticed. Sometimes it works.

Yes, we need to manage the flow of information that is growing by the day. We need some way of filtering the bits that we are interested in from the noise. But aggregation is not the same as filtering. Our way of handling information still dates back to the era where authority and approved sources made it easier, if not better in terms of quality of information and complexity. I have mainly media in mind here. We used a range of sources, not unlike a radar scanning a designated area, to see if anything new came up. The effort was considerable but limited by the scope and number of sources. Once that got out of hand, we started to lose the battle to contain the information – we either keep scanning faster or throw hands in the air saying that there is just too much information.


The internet is a network, so why not use its nature for information handling. Instead of a delineating a radar field, we can build a spiderweb of sources that will ’shake’ the web and alerts me when there is something of interest. Our feedreaders could be constructed that way – the nodes in the web, sources that filter for us and the points in between insider sources that we might be occasionally interested when something happens in their sphere.


There has been a proliferation of tools that help me aggregate but there are still very few tools that help me filter. Part of the reason may be that the human mind is the best filter of all but, surely, there is room for tools that can help me to it easier and better.

Note: I covered this more visually here (about 6 minutes into the video).

Why presentations are fowl

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I particularly liked the Q&A session at the end.

via Pharma gossip

Quote to remember

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For 100 years companies have been pushing what they think people are interested in out through one way communications channels. But now that people are redefining the rules of engagement, companies have to rediscover how to interact with people. It’s about unlearning a lot of behaviors and reacquiring the voice that businesses used in the days before mass advertising and promotion in the conversations that occurred between the village storekeepers and the people in the community. It’s hard to do, but by listening to people (remember the earhorn?) and not being afraid to get involved in the conversation, companies can slowly find that voice.
- Marc Monseau in Hanging with Mommy Bloggers

Creative destruction?

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There is a backlash happening against Creative, a company that:

told programmer Daniel_K to stop writing his own drivers for their X-Fi sound cards. The cards still won’t work on Vista over a year after the OS was released, because Creative hasn’t released drivers for them—but by Mr. O’Shaughnessy’s account, Daniel_K is “stealing” from Creative by making the cards work.

Geeky? You bet. Important? See what people say, the intensity and their actions and watch the ‘consumer‘ breaking out of neat demographics and managed spin.

The interesting aspect of this is that the company didn’t do anything that wasn’t their right to do. Copyright, IP, products, support and yet, what they have done stinks to high heaven of arrogance, complacency and of doing something very stupid in the age of the demand side can supplying itself – trying to reclaim their position of old where they are the only ones able to supply what they sell…

As a commenter on the Creative forum thread about this puts it:

Daniel may very well have stepped on some copyright rules, and Creative had the lawful option of doing what they did. Score 100 on the law, score minus several millions for not doing the job themselves in the first place, and putting someone like Daniel in a position where he had to do what he did, just to get the customers of this company happy.

The distinction between supply and demand, especially in the technology/software industry, is fuzzy. You want a community of developers helping your product or market or industry? Watch the edges of your kingdom stretch and flex until there is a kingdom no more and your best chance is to become the first among equals. And understand that is Good Thing.

Obviously, with the likes of Microsoft and Apple we are certainly not there yet. So let me just point out that if your business behaviour gets so glaringly overwritten by common sense, you have a problem.

The communications aspect of this case is equally interesting if not new:

Rule of thumb for bad news in the mainstream media: release it Friday so it’s buried over the weekend. Rule of thumb for the web: don’t infuriate thousands of your customers right before you decide to tune out for 48 hours.

this is
now on the back of my business card as a useful reminder..

via dropsafe

Quote to remember

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Why does listening to your customers sound like a web 2.0 idea? It should be a business 1.0 necessity.
- Jeff Jarvis in Starbucks listens – at last

Bloomberg’s headline economy

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And I don’t mean economical headlines! Bloomberg uses a company name in a headline for an article that has nothing to do with the company. The company in question is large and with a recognisable brand – Johnson & Johnson.

We’ve questioned Bloomberg in the past about their indiscriminate use of the Johnson & Johnson name, and we’ve always been told that it is “Bloomberg style” to put company names in their headlines – and the bigger the company, the wider the readership.

So, here we have a professional news organisation being shameless about its audience-grabbing motives. And commercially ‘justified’ behaviour. How on earth is that more credible than a random blogger?!

These days I get rather impatient with people who complain that blogs are not authoritative because they are written by people. The point is that they do not pretend to be anything but opinions of individuals. Often those opinions are far more authoritative than journalists can muster and even when they are mistaken or misleading, it can be easily discovered and disputed. Bloggers’ credibility comes from the filters they provide to their readers. When I am criticising or praising something on my blog I’ll always link to the source of my opinions. You, dear reader, can make up your mind about them and over time get an idea of where I am coming from and whether I am credible. It is the same as with one’s favourite film or food critic. Reviews are based on the individuals opinions that are transparent and testable. So, here we have my equation coined a while ago, when I first realised this:

bias + transparency = credibility

Back to matters at hand. Thanks to JNJ BTW blog, the J&J people can point out Bloomberg’s dishonesty headline economy.

It’s ultimately a case of Market Value – not News Value – that factors heavily in Bloomberg’s editorial equation. Johnson & Johnson has a market capitalization of nearly $190 billion. Abbott Laboratories’ market capitalization is about $83 billion and Boston Scientific’s is about $20 billion. You can do the math.

There we have it. Corporate comms guys who have had yeeears of experience dealing with the journos and have been journalists themselves, can talk about it on their own blog.

Anyway, next time you see Johnson & Johnson or other companies referenced in a Bloomberg headline, be mindful that there may be other “market” factors at work in the editing.

Rock on! as they say…

Disclosure: Yes, yes, I have had my fingers in the blog. :)

KM endangered species

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Patrick Lambe of Green Chameleon has some serious concerns about KM profession.

…I’m starting to get disheartened about knowledge management’s ability to mature and even survive as a profession. We’re just not serious enough about learning for learning’s sake, to improve the practice in organisations, to advance the cause. The people who seem most disposed to learn and share are consultants, who float between contexts but rarely have sustained impact in one context. And sustained impact is essential for collective learning in knowledge management, because the feedback loop is a long one, it can take years of sustained effort for an intervention to show results. We’re in a vicious cycle of stop-start interventions conducted in silos, where nobody stays long enough to learn what really works and doesn’t work in the long run, where nobody is willing to propagate that learning as it happens. It seems to me (exceptional individuals notwithstanding) we are not bold enough, not brave enough, not generous enough, to survive as a profession. Tell me I’m wrong.

Strong (and necessary) words. I recognise the symptoms so I would just add that the same applies to a few other professions and industries…

Dell made up with bloggers

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Jeff Jarvis on the end of Dell Hell.

They reached out to bloggers; they blogged; they found ways to listen to and follow the advice of their customers. They joined the conversation. That’s all we asked.

Absolutely. I particularly like this:

…note Dell’s compliance with the manifesto’s first three theses:

1. Markets are conversations.
2. Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors.
3. Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.

Had I not have my blog(s) to say this, I have gone hoarse from repeating this over the last 4 years. And this is just one of the many benefits of listening:

Dell realized that engaging in the conversation wasn’t just a way to stop blogging customers like me from harming the brand. We, the customers, bring them great value besides our money: We alert them to problem. We will tell them what products we want. We share our knowledge about their products. We help fellow customers solve problems. We will sell their products. But this happens only if you have a decent product and service and only if you listen to us.

I also agree with Stuart Henshall’s interpretation:

If you want a conversation to really take hold in a company you have to teach the CEO how to listen. Today it’s never been easier to innovate in this area. From my perspective every VP Marketing should be enabling a social media listening program.

Businesses are such a top down organisations that even if you manage to start conversations inside the company, there comes a point where those people run into a wall. The organisation reacts to new ways and there is a clash of cultures, if not more. And without a clear understanding and support from the CEO, it is unlikely to be resolved. Sun Microsystem’s Jonathan Schwartz had to line up the lawyers and the comms people and tell them in no uncertain terms that blogging is going to happen within and outside Sun. I am told that without such a push, the company would have never grown such a powerful and dynamic blogging community.

So it is foolish to assume that one blog makes a conversation, just like one swallow does not makes a summer. But it just may inform people about a change of season…

You let the enemy in…

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There is a storm in one of the blogosphere’s corners – the pharma one. It makes a change from the ‘upheavals’ of the usual social media or the political digerati. It is also interesting to see that similar issues are affecting them all – transparency, credibility, reputation and monetisation. Once communities and networks get some traction and visibility the onslaught of marketers or advertisers begins.

Sermo, the two-year-old online forum where 30,000 docs love to dish, has inked a deal to collaborate with Pfizer, which can now freely access the site and post, post, post.

This is what doctors in the Sermo community have to say about it.

“I am not a fan of PhRMA…and I am especially not thrilled at the idea that they will now have one more way to ‘get at’ physicians via Sermo.”

“Any influence from Pfizer has to be absolutely marked and labeled loud and clear! I am sick and tired of industry people sneaking in their subtle, hard-to-detect influences into everything and every media corner money can buy.”

“No Pfizer docs acting like reps in here!”

“There is no way Pfizer is interested in anything but marketing in this ‘partnership.’ ”

“I’ll add this to my list at”

“Daniel, you let the enemy in. Shame on you.”

It is never possible to please everyone, so picking the negative voices is not fair, one might say. But let’s see what they are saying, not just put a minus or plus sign next to them. They all react against the intrusion – for different reasons.

The first comment is about Pfizer getting to a space that docs see as their own. It is about their autonomy, in this case, the ability to control and manage who and how is ‘getting’ at you, if you are a doctor. The second comment is about transparency. It show just how delusional the industry methods of ‘influencing’ are. People don’t fall for it, only the agencies and their clients who seem to believe their own BS. The third and fourth comments are about business practices – companies’ main objectives is to sell, sell, sell. It is a sad truth that some people wouldn’t see anything wrong with that. But it is. A doctor also wants to make money but if you believed that his only motivation for treating you is to earn more money, you’d be a) a fool and b) couldn’t trust him as far as you could throw him. Yes, some doctors can be motivated by money but that is what often makes a bad doctor is, not a good one. The same goes for companies. If people believe that the only motivation for a company’s existence and activities is to make more money, there is no trust, just transaction. And a pushback every time the company crosses a certain line or people find new ways to push back its intrusive manners. Hence the label ‘enemy’.

And this is what Craigslist people understand:

In what turned out to be a culture clash of near-epic proportions, Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster spoke to the investment community this morning at the UBS global media conference in New York. UBS analyst Ben Schachter asked Buckmaster a standard financial world question: How does the site plan to maximize revenue? The CEO of the online classifieds site answered as follows: “That definitely is not part of the equation. It’s not part of the goal.” “I think a lot of people are catching their breath right now,” responded Schachter, as the crowd absorbed Buckmaster’s remarks.

The difference between the doctor and a company is the one between an individual and an institution. When you meet a doctor you can decide whether you trust him or not. It is much harder with a company, there is no-one to meet or talk to. No-one to deal with directly. No-one who could give you a real clue as to the motivations and goings on within the company. Marketing and advertising campaigns can’t do that and even the successful ones rarely survive the passage of time.

Commerce these days is focused on transactions and transactions only. Sell, sell, sell. But the best salesmen tell you that it is about the relationship. And a relationship begins with a conversation, where both parties have independence and freedom to start or end it at will.

Lesson number one – don’t build or take over communities for marketing purposes. This is because monetisation of a community will never work if you do something that the community doesn’t like. In case of Sermo it’s letting Pfizer in. In case of others, it’s advertising or some other disturbance. There are plenty of bad examples but I can think of only one good one. Yes, Craigslist again…

Buckmaster acknowledged that Craigslist had been approached about placing text ads on the site. “We’ve had the numbers crunched for us,” he said. “The numbers are quite staggering.” But, no, the site wasn’t interested. “No users have been requesting that we run text ads, so for us, that’s the end of the story,” he said to the befuddlement of the crowd. “If users start calling out for text ads, we’ll listen.”

Lesson number two – communication is a one-to-one affair, not one-to-many. (The net has enabled many-to-many as a way of network scaling). If you are a large company, don’t behave like one. Your brand is worth very little if you cannot communicate with people. And you can do that only as people. So fracture the brand, let people talk to people, your employees to each other and to those outside the company. Instead of fearing your employees expression, be grateful for their ability and willingness to lend the company their voices. Treat them with respect and they’ll reciprocate. After all, if you can’t trust your own employees, why do you expect your customers to trust you?

Lesson number three – transparency starts at home. Decide what you are about and why you are in business. Don’t bother with missions and strategic visions, they are not fooling anyone, so they shouldn’t fool you. Once you find what it is that gets you to work every day, get on with it and communicate that on your own terms. Then watch and listen to what others think and say and then communicate some more. It can be a beginning of a beautiful friendship.


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