Media Influencer

helping people break out of pigeonholes since 2003

Social Media is dead

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Let me count the ways.

First of all, social media these days is whatever most people do online. To someone like me, it was about blogging and social bookmarking, with upstarts like Facebook and Twitter playing a secondary role. To most people these are social media with an assortment of web apps that involve interactions and scale to high heaven. Where is the line between the web and social media for most people? Once they are on Facebook and/or Twitter, it blurs beyond definition.

Secondly, social media, whatever it means to different people, at its most fundamental level is the combination of the internet architecture (i.e. a distributed network) with technology that enables individuals to publish and distribute online without the need to code and without a prior permission from an institutional authority. This, in the long run, will be as impactful as the printing press. (That said, with the rise of the super-platforms, individuals online are herded into silos, their autonomy and privacy taking a beating. But that is a different rant.)

All this has little to do with media, advertising, marketing and PR. Other than undermining them. Watching people from these industries discuss and pontificate on how to ‘do’ – read use, abuse, benefit from, exploit etc – social media is like listening to producers of leather harness for horses, carriage drivers and stable owners talk about cars and how they are going to use them blasted machines. After all, it’s all about transport. Right?!

So once more, with feeling. Social Media is dead as a driver for change. It was killed by the very people it meant to change. Ironically, just like the barbarians at the gates of Rome, they didn’t mean to kill it, they just wanted to have a part of it. But without changing themselves.

The good news is that those people (and their business models) will, eventually, be extinct. It just won’t be Social Media that does it.

Nothing to see here, move along…

Note: This rant was ‘inspired’ by one too many social media event, namely Social Media Reality Check at LSE, organised by POLIS and PRNewswire. Yep, dear reader, PRNewswire. Should have been a sufficient warning!

Social media eBay auction

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For those who follow my escapades, I am auctioning two hours of my time next Wednesday 13 May on eBay, together with Chris Heuer, founder of AdHocnium.

This is a one time only opportunity (for this moment in time ;) This is a low cost way for a smart company to take our minds for a test drive, to see if what we know, and to improve what you are doing with social media, marketing and web strategies to make your organization more succesfull in these efforts.

Enabling vs Providing

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Talking to Doc earlier this week, I tried to explain my unease with various interpretations of VRM that come thick and fast as the concepts gain traction by identifying the fundamental problem.*

It is the assumption that “the individual needs to be provided for” that I see everywhere other than on the social (or live) web where the demand side can, and often does, supply itself, where users can and often do become creators, where the audiences have become distributors, and intermediaries of all kinds are melting away from decentralised networks and direct connections. Alas, even on the web, it’s not all P2P roses – my online existence is scattered across many platforms, Google, WordPress, Flickr, Dopplr, Twitter, and many more.

Most VRM approaches or implementations I have seen involve a third party as a provider. I believe we first need to focus on changing the relationships between individuals and companies or institutions. First comes redressing the balance – manually, as it were – by helping individuals relate to companies in ways that change companies’ behaviour.

Most of all, I want to avoid using technology to address a non-technology problem, using automation or aggregation for the aspects of relationships which should be processed by a human mind. I want to avoid jumping straight into ‘industrial’ processing of data treasures found on the customer side. We need a more balanced relationships with vendors and institutions, with different tools and possibly rules of interaction. Then we can look at ways to rationalise the technology and processes that help us create and maintain those relationships.

The most common solutions for providing individuals with online services are based around centralised databases or platforms. They are suspect on security and privacy grounds even though they may be created by a trustworthy party. So, any framework or structure provided by a third party that is meant to provide a place for individuals to create, gather, manage and share data as well as allowing a degree of aggregation, connectivity, will have to have in-built checks and balances as it may ultimately expose individuals to potential data-mining (whether the more private among us like it or not!). The challenge is to separate the data storage provider and a services/application provider. If I let someone store or back up my data – reluctantly admitting it may still be necessary for now – I would want them to store my data only, and not push or even provide any other apps based on that data. I should then be able to choose and apply whatever application I want, to my data, at my convenience.

Jason Scott of ASCII has a juicy way of putting this:

This is about your data. This is about your work. This is about you using your time so that you make things and work on things and you trust a location to do “the rest” and guess what, here is what we have learned:

  • If you lose your shit, the technogeeks will not help you. They will giggle at you and make fun of your not understanding the fundamental principles and engineering of client-server models. This is kind of like firemen sitting around giggling at you because you weren’t aware of the inherent lightning-strike danger of improperly bonded CSST.
  • Since the dawn of time, companies have hired people whose entire job is to tell you everything is all right and you can completely trust them and the company is as stable as a rock, and to do so until they, themselves are fired because the company is out of business.
  • You are going to have to sit down and ask yourself some very tough questions because the time where you could get away without asking very tough questions with regard to your online presence and data are gone.

And his advice further into the wonderful rant is even juicier:

  • Insult, berate and make fun of any company that offers you something like a “sharing” site that makes you push stuff in that you can’t make copies out of or which you can’t export stuff out of. They will burble about technology issues. They are fucking lying. They might go off further about business models. They are fucking stupid. Make fun of these people, and their shitty little Cloud Cities running on low-grade cooking fat and dreams. They will die and they will take your stuff into the hole. Don’t let them.

…but is no less sound for it!

Please, let’s have more of enabling and less of mere providing.

* as described in the paper A VRM journey.

cross-posted from VRM Hub

Quote to remember

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Cloud computing becomes fog when it goes down.
- Todd Spraggins on Twitter regarding Ma.gnolia data failure

Brand as identity and branding as behaviour

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I have been thinking, again, about branding and its role in business strategy. I have been known to wear my attitude towards branding on my, er, chest.

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However, the word ‘brand’ is being used to describe something that matters to me and needs to be understood. That something is very different from what the term brand currently means. Rather than banish the word entirely, I’ll treat it as a sort of category error and work my way to an alternative meaning of brand.

A person can have various represenations, a photograph or a portrait, which give others an idea of what he or she looks like. It is an image, a projection of likeness. Everyone knows it is not the real person and that often such representations may look rather different or even mislead.

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Branding is the art of creating an image of a company. Like a photograph that is carefully staged and edited. As technology progresses, branding gets clever and innovative. Still, the best it can do is a ‘hologram’. Rich media, marketing campaigns, reputation management, PR, advertising and now online and social media ‘engagement’. A vast range of projections enabled by media and technology. And just like with holograms, the more realistic they look, the more shocking it is to discover you can’t talk to them or shake their hands, any ’social’ gestures go right through it. This is because it is a projected image, there is no person made of flesh and blood.

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Most branding is about image and its projections. When using the term branding, I prefer to think about it as identity and behaviour. Because identity of a company and its behaviour existed long before branding was invented as part of business. That kind of branding comes from the other side of the reality fence. It is driven by behaviour rather than projection.

John Dodds who writes interestingly on such matters has this to say:

It refers to nothing more and nothing less than reputation, reputation you earn by your behaviour or, more realistically, reputation which other people (customers or not) confer on you because of that. It’s not something you impose on others.

The reason for image branding was the nature of distribution of the brand projections. There were channels, mass media, who mediated what companies wanted to communicate. So identity became an image and behaviour and communication messages.

The web has created, unwittingly for most part, an alternative to building what in industry circles counts for a ‘brand’. It resurrected the ‘old ways’, warts and all, of creating reputation by behaviour. There is one major difference between the old times and the web times – before my identity was determined by others and my behaviour was often judged out of context or in a context that was hostile to the individual.

The brand as identity perspective has two major implications. One has to do with the relationship of company with its employees. The other with business strategy.

First is the Who – the balance (or lack of it) between the corporation as legal entity, its management and employees, its structure and culture. These pulls and pushes within the company will determine its identity and its behaviour. Explicit knowledge of this can help companies understand who they are and why.

Then it is the What – the actions, behaviours, based on the raison d’etre of the business. A common mistake is to talk of strategy when meaning tactics. Strategy is the question of what to do and whether to do it in the first place. Tactics is about how to get to where strategy points.

This is all very well but what is a humble communications or marketing person to do? They can’t start reviewing or changing the company’s strategy. But they can start thinking less about projections and messaging and more about identity and behaviours. A hint: One-way communication is messaging, two-way communication is behaviour.

To sum up, the bad news for the branding folks is that messages and projections are not what they used to be. The good news is that a company can define its identity and behave according to who they want to be. That sounds like a good trade-off to me.

Quote to remember

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Oscar Wilde would have loved the Internets – ‘It is a very sad thing that nowadays there is so little useless information’.
- Andy Coughlan via Twitter

Driving your car

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See here:

Now consider the new world of social networks. Facebook, unwittingly or on purpose, has been teaching people to manage their own data about themselves. Facebook’s launch of the Beacon service — which informs Facebook of members’ activities (i.e., purchases) on other sites — was a PR fiasco. But it still familiarized millions of users with the notion that they can control information about themselves online — and determine to whom it is visible.

And here:

Networking on Facebook, MySpace and other silos is like taking driving lessons. There is no recognisable direction. It seems kind of pointless unless you know that it is just learning and practising. Facebook and MySpace seems a lot like that to me. But once people work out how to drive, how to operate the machine and how to get from point A to point B, they will be able to decide what the B is and get around on their own. And that’s when the real fun starts.

And then here:

So the Mine! is an attempt to give people their own car, getting them to decide where they go with it, how fast and who they take along as passangers. They will have to look after it a bit and perhaps learn to maintain it but that will be easier with time too. It is an alternative for networked and social existence on the web for those ready and willing to break out of silos.

Nuff said.

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 to remember

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Social media, it turns out, isn’t about aggregating audiences so you can yell at them about the junk you want to sell. Social media, in fact, is a basic human need, revealed digitally online. We want to be connected, to make a difference, to matter, to be missed.
- Seth Godin, The rapid growth (and destruction) and growth of marketing

Tuttle club hosts VRM roundtable

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I am a fan and supporter of the Tuttle Club and what Lloyd has done for the social media scene in London can be seen from the popularity of the gatherings every Friday morning from 10am till about 1pm. I have two pieces of news to share regarding the Tuttle Club/Social Media Cafe.

First, the Friday morning meetings are moving from Coach & Horses to the ICA club (as part of what Lloyd calls Phase II). The weekly sign up wiki is here.

Secondly, on 10th October the Social media cafe meeting will be morph into a VRM roundtable at around 12.30pm. The idea is to bring VRM to the attention of the social web network in London and as a forerunner to the VRM Hub conference in November.

For more information feel free to email me at adriana dot lukas at gmail dot com.

Look forward to seeing you there!

cross-posted from VRM Hub

Social media enforcement agency

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VRM Hub conference in London 2008

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I am organising a half-day conference in London on 3rd November this year, reaching out to those interested in redressing the balance of power between customers and vendors, people and businesses.

The event is called Unlocking the see-saw (link to the full programme with registration).

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