Things as other things

Cookie monster bin

Image courtesy thingsthatlooklikeotherthings

Occasionally several dozen people have to stand and listen to me share some thoughts and answer some questions whilst they wait for free food and drink.

Surprisingly this is not a punishment. Or at least it’s not meant to be.

Neither is it a sales pitch, an attempt at mass conversion, a wedding reception, funeral oration or ‘free’ seminar.

At least it’s not meant to be.

During the most recent run of this delayed gratification Q&A session (or cruel and unusual experiment if you’ve read the Geneva Convention) I was asked to comment on the #Kony2012 phenomenon. (I’m going to assume from this point forward that you know what that is)

So when asked to write something for a company blog, I naturally thought I’d put together some words about how things start off as one thing and end up as another.

Even as Kony 2012 got into full swing – (when it had a mere 12m views as opposed to the 85m it currently has) – there was growing criticism.

(Warning – contains swearing, unsavory references, is unrelenting and merciless (full disclosure – I like Charlie Brooker and I don’t care…))

Since founder/director Jason Russell was arrested in San Diego after police received reports of a man running through the streets and traffic naked, vandalising cars and “masturbating” things have just got worse. (you can find the video yourself).

CEO of the charity behind the film, Ben Keesey issued a statement claiming Russell had been admitted to hospital suffering from exhaustion, dehydration and malnutrition but I’m pretty sure that most people will have ruled this out as an explanation and provided one of their own. And there is the problem.

Something that probably started with a load of good intentions has ended being something where the central message has been lost, credibility destroyed and a video of a psychotic man with problems has also “gone viral” (ok, well only 1.5m views so far).

A thing that ended up as another thing. Social media can be tricky like that.

One of the problems, as COO of Facebook Sheryl Sandberg put it, is that ““What it means to be social is if you want to talk to me, you have to listen to me as well.”

A lot of companies engage in social media trying to create a social brand instead of trying to become a social company. And then they don’t like what people are going to say. For the past 3 and a half years I was involved in a company that worked with many of the leading travel brands. Here’s how one of them opened a social dialogue with its customers (after grounding its entire fleet a few weeks before as part of an industrial relations wrangle – leaving about 80,000 of them stranded) and offered them some pajamas…

Step 1 – the “social media team” at Qantas, as part of an ongoing “social media campaign”, released details of a competition on Twitter:

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Step 2 – instead of a few tweets of nice stories to be used in a ‘crowd sourced’ campaign, they got a flood of sarcastic comments more about the ongoing labour relations battles with the unions and the grounding of the fleet than the quality of their service. The whole thing becomes a trend:


The entire episode took a further plunge when this rather well done parody of Downfall – a film depicting the last days of Adolf Hitler – was posted on YouTube, as seen below.

(Warning – also contains swearing, (full disclosure – I still don’t care…))

A thing ends up as another thing.

We’re quite busy making sure that a company where I now have the great pleasure to work: Mxit, is going to become a social company not a social brand (it’s already Africa’s largest mobile social network). This means a bunch of stuff such as internal connectedness, preparedness, and collaborative approach to customer and employee engagement.

It also means that when we want to talk, we have to listen as well.

So to any of the staff who might end up reading this and have been ‘talked to’, we, and especially me, are listening.

If that doesn’t work, as Hitler put it (meant to be Quantas CEO Alan Joyce in the clip above) –

“With any luck someone will post a new funny cat video”.

The Social Graph is neither…

Rdf hell

Put simply, my most shared/forwarded article of 2011 although coming late – Nov.

I’m a big user of pinboard and a fan.

Let’s just say it’s a must read.

It’s not a graph – “When you start talking about building a social graph that transcends any specific implementation, you quickly find yourself in the weeds. Is accepting someone’s invitation on LinkedIn the same kind of connection as mutually following them on Twitter? Can we define some generic connections like ‘fan of’ or ‘follower’ and re-use them for multiple sites? Does it matter that you can see who your followers are on site X but not on site Y? … This is supposed to be a canonical representation of human relationships. But it only takes five minutes of reading the existing standards to see that they’re completely inadequate”

Privacy is another sticking point which I think will be a massive portent of things to come

“There’s another fundamental problem in that a graph is a static thing, with no concept of time. Real life relationships are a shared history, but in the social graph they’re just a single connection.”

Declaring relationships explicitly is a social act: “Your best friend from high school surfaces and sends a friend request. Do you just click accept, or do you send a little message? Or do you ignore him because you don’t want to deal with the awkward situation? Declaring connections is about as much fun as trying to whittle people from a guest list, with the added stress that social networking is too new for us to have shared social conventions around it.”

Leaving aside the technical issues of how to implement, how does cutting ties actually work socially? Is there any way to be discreet, for example, or have connections naturally degrade over time? In real life, all relationships fade naturally if you don’t maintain them, but right now social networks preserve ties in amber until we explicitly break them.

“Social networks exist to sell you crap. The icky feeling you get when your friend starts to talk to you about Amway, or when you spot someone passing out business cards at a birthday party, is the entire driving force behind a site like Facebook.”

And my favourite : “The funny thing is, no one’s really hiding the secret of how to make awesome online communities. Give people something cool to do and a way to talk to each other, moderate a little bit, and your job is done.”

“My hope is that whatever replaces Facebook and Google+ will look equally inevitable, and that our kids will think we were complete rubes for ever having thrown a sheep or clicked a +1 button. It’s just a matter of waiting things out, and leaving ourselves enough freedom to find some interesting, organic, and human ways to bring our social lives online.”


Killing The Myth Of The Average Consumer

047 Symphony orchestra
(image from here)

Very interesting Fast Company article about discarding the idea of an ‘Average Customer’.

“It turns out the secret to unlocking demand for classical music–as for most products–is discarding the Myth of the Average Customer. Designing a product offer to appeal to one archetypal customer is always wasteful–one size fits few, not all. Instead, demand creators have to constantly focus on demand variation, asking how customers differ from one another and how those differences impact demand.”

With regard to orchestras, and following some rigorous research:

“It turns out the quality of the orchestra, magnificence of the hall, and virtuosity of the conductor were not particularly important attributes. What was? Drum roll!

The most powerful “driver of revisitation” was parking! As with other orchestras, veteran members of the core BSO audience had figured out where to park, but trialists identified it as a huge hassle–so they didn’t come back.

Another driver was the ability to exchange tickets; trialists found the “no refunds, no exchanges” policy a deal breaker.”

The process of ‘de-averaging’ offers big opportunities.

Rise of Social Commerce

Screen shot 2012 01 11 at 15 42 20

Specifically a Supply Chain Point of View on the new channel from the rather dodgily titled ‘supply chain shaman‘. (Oh dear. Add another one to the ‘first up against the wall when the real revolution comes’ along with the Advocates, Gurus, Jedi and Ninjas (blackbelt in stupid anyone?)

Notwithstanding, a good list of what comprises social commerce:

Mobile Applications.
2-D Bar Codes.
Virtual Currency.
Shopping with Friends.
Facebook as a Channel.

As well as a good list of why supply chain should care”:

Redefinition of customer service.
New ways to sell to loyal shoppers.
Channel proliferation.
A new need for new type of supply chain transparency.

In essence a plea for departments outside of Marketing to welcome the digital consumer.

Bang your drum shaman.

Notice me

CD noticeme1 front

image from here

A real diamond amongst the pile of shiny things that is Seth Godin. I couldn’t agree more.

Notice me

If the new web has a mantra, that’s it.

So much time and effort is now put into finding followers, accumulating comments and generating controversy… all so that people will notice you. People say and do things that don’t benefit them, just because they’re hooked on attention.

Attention is fine, as long as you have a goal that is reached in exchange for all this effort.

Far better than being noticed:

Engaged with
Purchased from
Teaching us

However what I would like discussed is whether the items on the list lead to being noticed… ?

Mobile swiftly moves to core of all brand communications


Image from

From Mobile Marketer

A little older (2010) but the headings are still true.

1. Applications fInally went multi-platform – check

2. Mobile strategies went multi-faceted – agree, only a combination of applications + mobile Web + SMS can help achieve scale across diverse target audiences.

3. Mobile commerce grew – yes, sort of inevitable with for example Android activating 200,000 devices a day. The question is, did it grow at the rate expected?

The predictions for 2011 are even more interesting:

1. Everything mobile will be social – check but again growth rate?

2. Mobile in retail goes mainstream – hmmmm don’t think so

3. Mobile local commerce gets ready to scale – if you mean Groupon but I don’t think so

4. The open standards mobile Web rises – hmmmm

Someone really should (ie not me) collect, collate and compare all of these interminable ‘What will happen in x during 20yy’ articles….

What is a Billion Dollars worth more than?


Goes on a bit to make a simple point but a good read from Paul Carr at TechCrunch.

A billion dollars make you go from

“Brilliant entrepreneurs who genuinely wanted to change the world built services that we all wanted to use. They became rich, and our lives became better connected. We were all in it together…”


“We users have kept our side of the bargain — dutifully tagging our friends in artificially-aged photos, and checking in at bars, and writing reviews of restaurants. We’ve canceled our newspaper subscriptions, and instead spend our days clicking on slideshows of “celebrities who look like their cats” or obsessively tracking trending topics on Twitter. We’ve stopped buying books published by professional houses and instead reward authors who write, edit and distribute their own electronic works through self-publishing platforms. We’ve even handed the keys to our cars and our homes to strangers.”


“…become so remote from reality and humanity that users … become (at best) PR problems to be solved and (at worst) irrelevant pieces of data; eyeballs or clicks or room nights to be monitized in the pursuit of an ever greater exit”

Oh and he has a nice pop at the Huffington Post as well… win.