• 21Feb

    A few months ago I cited a New Yorker article by Malcolm Gladwell entitled “Small Change” where he noted that Twitter and social media is really a “weak-tie” phenomenon and that it lacks the close connection required to promote a strong action or reaction. As Gladwell states it, “The instruments of social media are well suited to making the existing social order more efficient. They are not a natural enemy of the status quo.”

    Then we have a story last week from TechCrunch of a young Egyptian man who is so grateful for the role that social media played in January 25th revolution, he named his daughter Facebook.

    According to Al-Ahram (one of the most popular newspapers in Egypt) a twenty-something Egyptian man has named his first born daughter “Facebook” in tribute to the role the social media service played in organizing the protests in Tahrir Square and beyond.

    Helmed by now-famous Googler Wael Ghonim, the “We Are Khaled Said” Facebook page showed up within 5 days of Said’s death in June and served as a hub for dissidence against Egyptian police brutality as well as a way to disseminate logistical information about the escalating anti-government protests until Mubarak’s resignation. Other activist pages like one actually called “Tahrir Square” cropped up shortly afterward.

    Apparently the revolution will be Tweeted, but does that mean Gladwell may have been wrong about the ability of social media to effect revolutionary change?

    According to the TechCrunch story, there are five million Facebook users in Egypt and growing, and there are more than 32,000 Facebook groups and 14,000 pages created after January 25th. And Wael Ghonim even thanked Mark Zuckerberg on CNN. In fact, one of the reasons it took so long for the Hosni Mubarak government to understand the gravity of the uprising was because they missed the cues that led to this revolution’; they were ignoring the chatter on Facebook and elsewhere.

    Apparently, the new regime has learned from the mistakes of the old. Apparently the new military regime is using Facebook to reach Egyptian youth, and the Ministry of Interior has set up multiple pages to try to repair the image of the state police.

    The impact of social media did help galvanize the Egyptian protesters. It gave them a common location to air their views and share information. However, as one of the TechCrunch commenters who actually was in Tahrir Square noted, “social media exist largely as a means to manufacture consent.” When the government blocked access to the Internet, cut off cellular service, and silenced media coverage, the people took to the streets to find out what was happening. That’s when the revolution really took hold, because people were connecting in a personal way using “Streetbook,” face-to-face interaction. So should we think of the Egyptian revolution as a gigantic flash mob with Molotov cocktails?

    I tend to agree that social media is a place to forge consensus, whether it’s to protest a dictatorial government, or back a brand. People gravitate to things they are passionate about online, and they share that passion with their friends. That’s what makes social media so powerful.

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  • 13Feb

    prisonertheI always find inspiration from the TED conference presentations. One of the videos they highlighted this past week was Johanna Blakley, Deputy Director of the Norman Lear Center, talking about “Social media and the end of gender.” This is an interesting presentation for a number of reasons. First, I like the way she deconstructs demographics as a way to measure response. For too long, marketing professionals have been pigeon-holing their audience, their target market, by defining them by such stereotypes as age, gender, race, and income. One size does not fit all. (Whenever I think of the broad assumptions that marketers make about me I flash on Patrick McGoohan from the old series “The Prisoner” shouting, “I am not a number, I am a free man!”)

    Many of the points Blakley shares are poignant, but the thing I really like about this presentation is that is shows how social media can be truly harnessed as a tool to communicate with others of like interest. It’s not about how old you are or how much you earn, but where your passion lies that matters. Social media allows you to express that, and it allows you to connect with others (including companies) that share that passion. Social media offers a unique opportunity to talk to others who have similar interests or needs or concerns, and that is the real power of social media for marketers. It’s also the reason why you have to engage in conversation rather than shout about your wares.

    I also was intrigued by Blakley’s observation that women are more active on social media and may be easier to target. That’s no surprise, frankly. I observe how my wife has taken to Facebook as a means to share insights about kids, politics, local happenings, you name it. She strikes me as the typical Facebook user, and she uses it as an online back fence over which she can gossip with her friends, share her views, and catch up with old buddies. Us guys, who speak in monosyllabic grunts, aren’t driven by the same motivators.

    So what does this tell us as marketers. It tells us to micro-target. Think about unique areas of interest and not demographics. We can now target prospective clients and customers based on their areas of need and interest, which is much more relevant than anything gleaned from demographics. It’s time to engage.

     

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  • 01Jan

    Anyone who has worked in the technology has heard of Tim Berners-Lee, the father of the World Wide Web. He continues to be a force shaping the Internet, and he sees social media as a threat to the principles of the web, as he notes in an article in the December issue of the Scientific American, “Long Live the Web: A Call for Continued Open Standards and Neutrality.”

    According to Berners-Lee, what makes the Web work is the principal of universality, the ability to connect to anything and offer information in a common format that can be read by anyone. Whether the connection is wired or wireless, and the data is written, graphic, or spoken, it should be accessible from any device that can connect to the Internet. Along with universality, the Web calls for decentralization. As with the Internet itself, the Web has no central server or authority that monitors or approves content. In fact, the open nature of the Web has made it a truly democratic world medium. As a recent editorial on Technorati notes:

    The principles of an egalitarian society where all are equal immaterial of race, colour, class, wealth or nation is embodied in the web today. It has become the beacon of democracy and is more vital to free speech than any other medium, because it is perhaps the least censored most used and universally connected resource in the world.

    What Berners-Lee sees as a threat to the openness and democratization of the Web are the increasing numbers of walled off Internet content. We are talking about social media. Emerging business models that are attracting lots of users and inviting them to a private party where information is shared only among those who have been invited to join in. As Berners-Lee writes in his article in the Scientific American:

    Social-networking sites present a different kind of problem. Facebook, LinkedIn, Friendster and others typically provide value by capturing information as you enter it: your birthday, your e-mail address, your likes, and links indicating who is friends with whom and who is in which photograph. The sites assemble these bits of data into brilliant databases and reuse the information to provide value-added service—but only within their sites. Once you enter your data into one of these services, you cannot easily use them on another site. Each site is a silo, walled off from the others. Yes, your site’s pages are on the Web, but your data are not. You can access a Web page about a list of people you have created in one site, but you cannot send that list, or items from it, to another site.

    With the social media explosion, I believe that Web users are confusing social media and the Web. Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, ant Twitter are not open platforms. They are proprietary platforms that are operated as businesses, but that fact is becoming obscured by their popularity. Facebook is now the most popular destination on the Internet, even surpassing Google, but it’s still not an open platform. As Berners-Lee notes, the threat of monopoly limits innovation, and freedom.

    The social media and Web explosion has led to mega-monopolies like Google and Facebook. These entities have become so popular that they have developed their own juggernaut-like momentum, and yet they are still not open platforms but businesses. Democracy does not thrive in a business setting, since money is the fuel that drives the business. Granted, companies like Google say they will protect your privacy, and things like Gmail are protected by the company. Google even has the phrase “don’t be evil” as part of their code of conduct. But even a benevolent despot is still a despot.

    Then you have to consider entities like Facebook. If you haven’t seen the film “The Social Network” I recommend it, not only as a good film but to give you some insight into the ethics that went into forming the company. Facebook is in business to make money, billions of dollars in fact, and they do it by maintaining a closed infrastructure and gathering information about its users that they can use for profit. Facebook has had a number of privacy issues arise in the past, and they will sell your information for a profit This from InfoWorld commentator Bill Snyder on “Why Facebook is selling you out – and won’t stop”:

    The root of Facebook’s most recent transgression (allowing third-party apps to harvest user IDs) is greed — greed for the millions of dollars that app developers are pulling from the site. Facebook wants a piece of that action, and if privacy, freedom of speech, or any other trivial concern users may have get in the way, that’s just too bad.

    One of the other guiding principles of Berners-Lee’s vision of the Web is “no snooping.” Content in e-mail and even the TCP/IP data stream need to be considered private, and freedom of speech needs to be protected on the Web. Private entities like Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, and Twitter don’t have to adhere to those principles.

    So what are the implications of all this for marketers? You have to dance with those who bring you to the party, and as long as the party is happening at online locations like Facebook and Twitter, that’s the place you need to be. But be wary. Remember that places like Twitter and Facebook are still a private party and you are there by invitation only, and subject to the rules of your host. Conduct yourself accordingly.

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  • 08Dec

    In my last blog post, I posed the question, “Would Sarah Palin be your dream public relations client?” Based on another blog post by freelance writer Carol Tice, I noted that Palin has a lot of the qualities you would want in a PR client: she loves the publicity, isn’t afraid to speak her mind, she stays on message, and she makes an impression. I posed the same question to some of my PR peers on LinkedIn and got a divergent set of responses. Putting politics aside, I think the vehemence of some of the responses and the wide range of observations and their tone is a testament to the power of the Palin brand. As a number of my fellow PR pros pointed out, “She’s famous for being famous,” but does that mean she would make a good PR client?

    There were some interesting observations that I want to share here. The real issue for me is trying to ascertain what goes into a good client? I have a few of my own criteria:

    – I always want to work with senior executives; the decision-makers. I find that working with marketing managers, communications directors, and middle managers who have to clear strategy and messaging with the C-level suite makes it really hard to do your job. After all, the news business moves quickly, and if you have to run an interview opportunity or quote through a committee to get approval you’ll never get in the story. It also makes PR counsel more valuable because you can work with C-staff to determine what their market objectives are and how you can help them realize those objectives.

    – I also like working with senior executives who believe in what they are selling. My late father was a consummate salesman with very high integrity, and what he taught me was you can’t sell a product you don’t believe in. You can’t fake passion. And if an executive is passionate about his company and his product or services, that comes through in an interview every time.

    – I like clients with an ego (or at least a personality). Long ago I adopted an approach that a previous agency employer called “executive as brand.” Let’s face it; companies are boring but people are interesting. So it’s usually up to the CEO to carry the corporate brand. After all, where would Virgin be without Richard Branson, or Apple without Steve Jobs, or Google without Sergey Brin and Larry Page?

    – And I like working with clients who have a good story to tell that addresses a real need. After working in high-tech for many years, I have run across a number of “Field of Dreams” clients who believe, “If you build it, they will come.” If you can tell a story about something that solves a real-world problem that people identify with, then you have a winner.

    So why would Sarah Palin be your worst nightmare as a PR client? The LinkedIn crew has spoken. Here are some of their observations:

    “The job of the PR person would be bag-carrier/firefighter not consultant or advisor.”

    “No, just cause I’d be constantly having to put out her PR fires.”

    “Why would anyone want a client who just wants to famous? Do you really believe she has any political inclinations? She’s no Kennedy. No social conscious, whatsoever. Besides, how can you take anyone serious who decides to push family onto reality programs? Not worth the effort!”

    “Sarah Palin does not appear to be a team player . . . and PR is definitely a team sport. At the end of the day, and despite hard work and strategy, I believe that for the PR professional there would be that lurking dark cloud. You know . . . the one that threatens to force "the team" right back where they started. The thought of it makes me shutter.”

    “I think Palin gets media attention, at least 9 times out of 10, for the wrong reasons. It’s almost always a gaffe, followed by back-pedaling and retractions. Not an ideal client at all.”

    It would be a fun ride, and a smart PR person would keep very good notes on the entire ordeal and have the book deal – "I Chased Sarah’s Mouth" as the exit strategy. Better than an IRA for retirement.”

    What do you think? What characteristics do you want in your ideal client?

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  • 30Nov

    imageI love seeing what my fellow professionals are writing about. I turn up lots of interesting tidbits and ideas from my fellow writers and marketeers, and I like to follow a number of bloggers who manage to serve up with fresh content on a regular basis. One of my favorite bloggers is Carol Tice, an accomplished freelance writer who is not only good at her craft, but good at promoting herself.

    I now want to take a moment to share my admiration for successful freelance writers. The first freelancer I ever met was my Uncle Ed, who was very prolific and successful. In the age before the Internet, he would hear a new joke and mail it to Playboy or come up with a new story idea to sell to the New Yorker or Field and Stream. Uncle Ed was creative and a good marketer, able to sell a story idea to a wide range of magazines. Early in my career, when I was working as a magazine editor in Idaho, one of my good freelancer friends, Hank Nuwer, taught me about the discipline of freelance writing. Hank would rise early in the morning, around 3:00, and spend the next eight hours writing, whether the words would flow or not (which left the afternoon free for trout fishing). It’s that kind of focus and discipline that makes a successful freelancer.

    And as I have been following Carol Tice’s blog, I can see she has the same creativity and commitment to her craft as a freelance writer. Her latest blog post about Sarah Palin inspired me, because the lessons she offers to freelance writers to help them promote themselves can be just as easily applied to any public relations endeavor. Her basic point is that Palin has figured out how to get attention, and keep getting attention. Whether you agree with her views or her politics doesn’t matter, she’s a good self-promoter. I have not seen her new reality television show, “Sarah Palin’s Alaska,” but it has been getting a lot of attention and a fan following. My wife mentioned the show to me over dinner this evening, and even though she is not a fan of Palin’s politics, she said her views of Palin have changed since she saw a couple of episodes of the show. Palin has the promoter’s gene, like Buffalo Bill and P.T. Barnum – she knows how to pack ‘em in and remember why they came.

    And I wish some of my clients could learn from their example. I have been preaching social media to my clients for some time, and the problem most of them have is they are not interesting in being social. They don’t want to invest the energy in promoting their personal brand as an extension of their corporate brand. They lack that promoter gene.

    So here is a quick recap from some of Carol Tice’s tips for freelancers, and why freelance writers or anyone seeking publicity can learn from the Sarah Palin promotional example:

    1. Palin is fearless. She makes a mistake or gets called on some error she makes in a speech and it doesn’t phase her. She just keeps rolling on. I think many PR programs fail largely because of fear of failure. You have to be willing to get out there and take a risk.
    2. Palin loves the limelight. Clearly, she is a believer in the adage that all publicity is good publicity, and she is willing to get other there and mingle to be known.
    3. Palin is not easily embarrassed. She ignores the elephant in the room, like her daughter having a child of out wedlock while she’s running as vice president, and just sticks to her message. None of my clients would be able to show that kind of tenacity in a tough interview.
    4. Palin has a game plan. She is not interested in abandoning the plan just because it didn’t work the first time. She’s refining her strategy and is determined to get elected to higher office.
    5. Palin is clearly different. She is not like most politicians and clearly stands out in a crowd, which makes her easier to promote. And, of course….
    6. Palin is memorable! She makes outrageous comments, challenges her critics head on, and leaves a lasting impression. If I could get more of my clients to use memorable quotes, anecdotes, and sayings that would make them memorable, they would be quoted more often. Too bad we can’t see Russia from Silicon Valley.

    Love her or hate her, you have to admire Sarah Palin’s ability to effectively promote her own brand. She knows how to get the attention she wants and how to stay on message. I wonder who is brave enough to do her media training?

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  • 17Oct

    image I read a fascinating article in The New Yorker a few weeks ago by columnist Malcolm Gladwell that provides some real insight about the way social media works, and how we all should think about it. What Gladwell observes in his article, “Small Change,” is that social media promotes a “weak tie phenomenon” that has its benefits, but it doesn’t have the strength to drive a revolution:

    “The world, we are told, is in the midst of a revolution. The new tools of social media have reinvented social activism. With Facebook and Twitter and the like, the traditional relationship between political authority and popular will has been upended, making it easier for the powerless to collaborate, coordinate, and give voice to their concerns. When ten thousand protesters took to the streets in Moldova in the spring of 2009 to protest against their country’s Communist government, the action was dubbed the Twitter Revolution, because of the means by which the demonstrators had been brought together. A few months after that, when student protests rocked Tehran, the State Department took the unusual step of asking Twitter to suspend scheduled maintenance of its Web site, because the Administration didn’t want such a critical organizing tool out of service at the height of the demonstrations.”

    But what Gladwell points out is that is there are few Twitter accounts in Moldova, and that Twitters in English to organize protests will have little impact in Iran where the populace speaks Farsi. Social media is a great communications tool, but it lacks the galvanizing power that many social media evangelists would have us believe Facebook and Twitter have: “Where activists were once defined by their causes, they are now defined by their tools. Facebook warriors go online to push for change.”

    Much of the article makes parallels to the civil rights movement and acts of social consciousness and change that have had a real impact. He tells the story of four black college students who stage a protest at an all-white Greensboro lunch counter in 1960. When they are refused service, the ripples extended to promote sit-ins throughout the Carolinas and ultimately as far away as Texas, without the benefit of e-mail, Twitter, or Facebook. What do these protesters have in common? Strong ties of association because they all have relatives or know someone directly affected by segregation. The four students who started the protest were close school friends, and their protest was fueled by mutual support – a strong-tie phenomenon. Consider how many of your Facebook friends or acquaintances are willing to stage a boycott or March on Washington?

    “The evangelists of social media don’t understand this distinction; they seem to believe that a Facebook friend is the same as a real friend and that signing up for a donor registry in Silicon Valley today is activism in the same sense as sitting at a segregated lunch counter in Greensboro in 1960. “Social networks are particularly effective at increasing motivation,” Aaker and Smith write. But that’s not true. Social networks are effective at increasing participation—by lessening the level of motivation that participation requires. The Facebook page of the Save Darfur Coalition has 1,282,339 members, who have donated an average of nine cents apiece. The next biggest Darfur charity on Facebook has 22,073 members, who have donated an average of thirty-five cents. Help Save Darfur has 2,797 members, who have given, on average, fifteen cents. A spokesperson for the Save Darfur Coalition told Newsweek, “We wouldn’t necessarily gauge someone’s value to the advocacy movement based on what they’ve given. This is a powerful mechanism to engage this critical population. They inform their community, attend events, volunteer. It’s not something you can measure by looking at a ledger.” In other words, Facebook activism succeeds not by motivating people to make a real sacrifice but by motivating them to do the things that people do when they are not motivated enough to make a real sacrifice. We are a long way from the lunch counters of Greensboro.

    So when approaching social media for marketing purposes, you need to be conscious of the fact that Twitter and Facebook friends are weak-tie connections, and there is a big distinction between request to connect and call to action. Since this is an election year, it has been interesting to watch the role of social media as a campaign tool. You can sign up to support candidates or propositions on the ballot by signing petitions on Facebook, but how far will such activism go toward garnering votes or campaign contributions? Is it more effective than direct mail or robocalls?

    As Gladwell writes,”The instruments of social media are well suited to making the existing social order more efficient. They are not a natural enemy of the status quo.” So if you are looking to social media to revolutionize your next marketing campaign, you might want to reconsider your expectations.

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  • 30Sep

    The Web has been bending our understanding of traditional journalism for some time. The United States is one of the only countries in the world that guarantees freedom of the press as a constitutional right. Part of the basis of that freedom is the implicit understanding that advertising does not affect editorial. To maintain journalistic integrity, your editorial opinion cannot be bought by advertising dollars. Those of us who have worked as journalists refer to the separation of advertising and editorial as the metaphorical separation of church and state.

    Forbes just broke that model with the acquisition of True/Slant. According to the profile story this week in Advertising Age, with the acquisition, editor Lewis Dvorkin returns to Forbes with a new editorial model where staff writers, contributors, and even paid advertisers are given a Forbes-branded blog forum; a model that Dvorkin has labeled a “much more scalable content-creation model.” To quote from AdAge:

    This isn’t the “sponsored post” of yore; rather, it is giving advocacy groups or corporations such as Ford or Pfizer the same voice and same distribution tools as Forbes staffers, not to mention the Forbes brand…

    “In this case the marketer or advertiser is part of the Forbes environment, the news environment,” Mr. DVorkin said in an interview at an empty restaurant across Fifth Avenue from the historic headquarters of the 93-year-old magazine.

    The product itself is called AdVoice, and the notion is that in a world of social media, corporations have to become participants and, in a sense, their own media companies. Corporations these days also have to face the practical problem of fewer business reporters left to pitch. “There’s fewer ways to get your message out, because there are fewer reporters, and that’s a fact,” he said.

    Granted, in the world of social media content is king, but to give paid advertisers equal access seems to be going a bit far. It wasn’t that long ago that the influence of bloggers granted them access to the press room. Although we PR pros are continually reminded that “bloggers are different” and “read their content and approach them gently,” the blogtocracy have been granted the same privileges as card-carrying journalists, even though they aren’t constrained by the same rules of ethics. In the blogosphere, opinion rules and facts, well they are sometimes nice to have as well.

    So with this new shift in Forbes editorial direction, the rules haven’t just changed, but the entire rule book has been thrown out the window. Granted, there are fewer traditional news vehicles than ever before, and we are moving into a brave new world of online journalism. But that doesn’t mean we should abandon the lessons of the past. Early on in this blog, I commented on the important role of pamphleteers and citizen journalists. What differentiates the citizen journalist from the Dvorkin model is avarice – pimping the Forbes brand to give advertisers space in the blogosphere seems to be a violation of the rules to me.

    One of the first rules of social media is disclosure – tell them where you are coming from and which side of the ax you are grinding. Disclosure does not excuse bad reporting or bad behavior, but at least the reader is forewarned. This new model that Forbes is experimenting with seems just plain wrong. It not only blurs the lines of legitimate journalism, it erases them completely. As the article states:

    Consumer marketers such as P&G and Johnson & Johnson have years of experience creating branded entertainment, and many have arms dedicated to creating entertainment properties. But the motivations have broadened in an age of social media. There’s an ongoing conversation about corporations — not always nice, as BP or Toyota could tell you — and corporations feel they must participate.

    The changes at Forbes since it bought True/Slant and brought Mr. DVorkin back have gone beyond strategy. They’ve also included an exodus of top-level editors, two of whom declined to comment for this story.

    So where does online entertainment end and dispassionate reporting begin, or vice versa? In a world where everyone becomes a news source, all sources become suspect. As so-called “legitimate” news vehicles struggle to survive in a world where information is available at the click of a mouse, other news groups like Forbes decide to turn the old journalistic values on their heads for the sake of profit cloaked as participation in the online conversation. It’s becoming increasingly clear that we need a journalistic touchstone to tell the real news sources from the emerging online imposters.

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  • 16Sep

    I just love the TED web site. They post some of the most interesting discussions by some of the most controversial thinkers of the 21st century. I recently saw this animated video of a talk by Jeremy Rifkin given before the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) on Empathetic Civilization, and it made me start thinking about human empathy and its impact on social media. If Rifkin is right and we are soft-wired for empathy, then it explains a lot about the success of social media.

    If you have read this blog in the past, you know that I have posted about the tribal nature of social media, and even about the impact of brain chemistry on our inherent need to connect with others. Rifkin calls mankind homo empathicus, because our need to empathize and connect with other creatures is soft-wired into our brains.

    As Rifkin explains it, as individuals mature they develop greater empathy for their fellow creatures. Babies cry because they hear other babies crying. Children develop a sense of individuality or self around age 2, which is when their empathetic development really begins and they can start to understand how they relate as individuals to other individuals. Around age 8, children come to grips with the concept of mortality, life and death, and they start to understand that all creatures on earth are following the same mortal path, which broadens their sense of empathy even further to encompass other creatures, not just other people.

    According to Rifkin, an empathetic civilization is not utopian but rather is powered by suffering and a solidarity from understanding of our own mortality. And the tribalism of this empathy civilization expands with man’s experience. Early man could only carry empathy to his immediate circle – the blood ties of those within shouting distance. As man’s world expanded, the concept of blood ties expanded as well, promoting a sense of tribal empathy because of your religion, your country, etc. With today’s technology, we can experience a sense of worldwide connectedness or the global tribe.

    Which brings me to social media. Rifkin’s premise is that man’s empathetic nature is not only soft-wired, but basically benevolent. Rather than being driven by self-interest and greed, man’s inherent sense of empathy makes him want to aid his fellow creatures. This is what fuels the sense of tribalism that makes social media so successful. Social media is promoting an online empathetic civilization of sorts, where people are connecting on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social media looking for like-minded people to become part of a shared experience. That same soft-wired empathy also offers an explanation of why those who violate the trust of the tribe are doomed to fail. If you pervert the social media trust by aggressively selling your next webinar or your newest product, the tribe will eventually shun you because you violated the unwritten rules. How many of you have “de-friended” or “un-followed” those who do nothing more than cry”buy my stuff!”?

    So it seems homo empathicus is predisposed to gravitate toward social media, since we are all looking to connect to a larger world and expand our own sense of tribal connection.

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  • 10Aug

    Here’s a really interesting tidbit from Fast Company. The July issue featured a profile by Adam Penenberg of Professor Paul J. Zak of Claremont Graduate University, a.k.a. Dr. Love, who is pioneering a new field, neuroeconomics, the study of brain chemicals and their impact on consumerism.

    In a series of studies spanning nine years, Zak has changed our understanding of human beings as economic animals. Oxytocin is the key (and please, do not confuse the cuddle drug with the painkiller oxycontin). Known for years as the hormone forging the unshakable bond between mothers and their babies, oxytocin is now, thanks largely to Zak, recognized as the human stimulant of empathy, generosity, trust, and more. It is, Zak says, the “social glue” that adheres families, communities, and societies, and as such, acts as an “economic lubricant” that enables us to engage in all sorts of transactions. Zak is a walking advertisement for oxytocin; his vanity license plate reads oxytosn, and he hugs virtually everyone he meets. (“I’ll hug you, too,” he warns.) It’s this passion for the hormone that led to his Claremont campus nickname, Dr. Love.

    What Zak discovered is that oxytocin, the cuddle chemical, not only engenders generosity and trust, it also promotes social networking. Apparently, hanging out on Twitter or Facebook stimulates the release of oxytocin in our brains.

    “Your brain interpreted tweeting as if you were directly interacting with people you cared about or had empathy for,” Zak says. “E-connection is processed in the brain like an in-person connection.

    Consider what this really means. According the the article, when 200 University of Maryland students were asked to give up social networking for a day, many of them actually had withdrawal symptoms. The implications for business are huge. If companies start trading in trust, they can reap greater profits:

    The idea is that if businesses wish to thrive in our interconnected world, where consumers’ opinions spread at the speed of light, they must act as a trusted friend: create quality products, market them honestly, emphasize customer care.

    So the reasoning goes something like this. Companies that engender trust in their customers will gain customer loyalty and even customer evangelists. If you have a positive experience with a vendor then you Tweet or post to Facebook about it – it’s the entire business premise for Yelp! The actual act of sharing information online promotes trust, not only because of our sense of online connectedness, the tribal nature of social media, but because our brains are wired to release oxytocin while networking, which promotes trust and a sense of connected well-being. Ergo, companies that engage in building trust online have a leg up on the competition, not only because they build a closer relationship with their customers, but because people’s internal hormonal chemistry makes them more disposed to trust their online connections.

    Not long ago, when sitting in a marketing meeting with a client, the Vice President of Sales repeated a worn marketing axiom, “People are motivated by fear and greed.” If Dr. Love’s research is any indicator, people are also highly motivated by trust, and it’s time that companies started realizing that they will go farther by building a loyal customer following than striving to scare of con them into buying a better mousetrap.

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  • 03Jun


    Following my last blog post, I have been thinking about online tribes and how the tribal nature of social media, and wondering if online tribes really have that much power. One of my clients refers to the navel gazing on Twitter, and I know that my own social media efforts tend to keep me in a circle of like-minded tribe members, which doesn’t necessarily engender fresh thinking, or fresh contacts that can build your brand.

    Then I saw this video by cultural thinker Seth Godin on TED about the power of the tribes we lead. Godin’s argument is that all of us have a mission, whether we acknowledge it or not, to change the world around us. He also argues that we are on the cusp of changing the way ideas are exchanged. All of us are in positions of leadership, and the power of the Web and social networking plays a huge role here.

    Godin’s argument is that you change the world through connections. We all belong to different tribes, and you can seek out like-minded tribe members, and when the tribe becomes big enough, you suddenly have a movement. The Obama election campaign is a prime example. This may have been the first presidential election won via the web because it became a tribal movement. The trick is to find the true believers who will carry your message to the next set of believers, and suddenly it goes viral.

    So once again, it’s about expressing your passion and finding a way to express that passion to your tribe, so they can carry the word. Suddenly, my insular world of like-minded network connections takes on a greater importance. If you can find a way to lead them, you can effect change.

    As a PR professional, I was particularly interested in Godin’s diagram of what drives change. It starts with telling a story. The story lets you connect with the tribe, from which you can lead a movement and effect change. But it all starts with a story, which is something that PR professionals traditionally do well.

    So the power of social media is in the potential to build a tribe. The question is if you are up to the challenge to become a tribal leader.

    Check out the video and post comments on what you think.

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