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ZeroKlout2

Klout, Big Data and the Meaning of “Opt Out”

Is it possible to have a Klout Score of Zero (K = 0)?

Why, you might ask, would anybody want to have such a score in the gamified realm of influence measurement, where higher scores indicate a higher level of perceived online influence?

The answer may lie in the way that Klout profiles you, branding you a Specialist, an Observer, or a Broadcaster. The answer may also lie in how people relate to Big Data, vaguely defined ranking algorithms, and the increased tendency of offline organizations to make some big, and potentially misleading, assumptions about the role of online influence in an offline world.

“Klout calculates billions of data points across over 100 million influencers every day.” ~ Klout.com

Whatever the reason, there are people who simply want out.  But opting out, and driving your score to a meaningless Zero, is apparently a bit more difficult in the Klout dimension than one might imagine.

I PRESENT TO YOU MR. SAM FIORELLA

Mr. Fiorella was recently referenced in a Wired.com article (What your Klout Score really means) that delved into an experience he had a while back with a potential employer, who eliminated Sam (and possibly others) from the list of candidates based on his perceived “sub-par” Klout Score. As listed on the Klout.com website…

It’s not the first time something in the online world has impacted a decision in the offline world, and it definitely won’t be the last (see Jeremiah Owyang’s post “How ‘Social Profiling’ Will Work In The Real World“).

Sam ultimately did improve his Klout Score (into the 70’s) but was never happy with the idea of being ranked (or branded) by an algorithm for online OR offline purposes. So when Klout offered an “opt out” option at the beginning of November, 2011, he promptly did just that. He opted out and initiated the deletion of his Klout profile, per the language on the Klout site:

Klout Opt Out

As far as Sam was concerned, he was satisfied that after opting out nobody would be able to view his Klout Score moving forward and that only trace data would remain in the system (for 180 days, after which it would be removed).

He also understood that Klout would continue track his activities on the public broadcast social site Twitter. 

Note: I wouldn’t be surprised if Klout NEEDS to track Sam privately in order to accurately determine the Klout Scores of others within his Twitter social graph. In essence, influencers who are not tracked become dark matter, or invisible thought leaders. They mess with what we perceive by influencing behavior in unseen ways. 

But there was also a level of expectation that the information gathered on Twitter (and his resulting private Klout Score) would to be kept private and OFF the Klout.com site.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way.

I PRESENT TO YOU MR. SAM FIORELLA’S GHOST

In the name of full disclosure, I know Sam personally and I am a registered Klout user. I was also aware when he, and others, opted out of Klout last year. So when I read the Wired article, and the various other articles and posts that it spawned, the analyst in me was just a bit curious to see if Sam had in fact been removed from the site. So I search Klout.com and found no public profile or information on him.

But I did come across the profile of a friend of mine, and attached to that profile, in their Influencers list, was the smiling face of Sam Fiorella. On the site, exactly where it should not have been.

Apparently, the phrase “you will be removed from Klout.com within 24-48 hours” – as mentioned in the Klout opt out statement – may not mean what you think it means.

Sam opted out from Klout almost 6 months ago. Could this possibly be the “trace data” mentioned in the Klout “opt out” statement?  I don’t believe so, as his current Twitter avatar is on display along with an assumingly current Klout Score of 52 (which sounds plausible since Klout appears to be pulling his data only from Twitter, not the complete list of social sites that Sam previously had linked to his Klout account, and it increased to 53 last night).

But wait, there’s more (thank you Ron Popeil). While I did pass on the option to invite Sam back to Klout (he wouldn’t have accepted anyway), I couldn’t resist the chance to test the software and see if it would allow me to give him a +K in Blogging. It did:

I’m not sure the +K stuck (even though it does now show me a greyed out +K button for Sam and Blogging, it apparently didn’t decrement my +K counter).

But the mere fact that it allowed me to go through the action, give me a success notification and offer the option to Tweet the +K out, was more than just a bit interesting – it was a challenge to figure out what had gone wrong, how it might be corrected and to think strategically a bit about some of the larger (beyond Klout) implications it might have.

FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION

From a social perspective, you cannot deny that influence exists – marketing, advertising and sales people have been trying to identify and target influential consumers for years. Nor can we deny that our online and offline lives are colliding extremely fast, and influence in one medium can, and will, transcend to another.

From an online influence measurement perspective, there is a defined need to look for insights in online behavior (served by Klout and other firms such as PeerIndex, Twitalyzer, TweetLevel, etc.), and the people at Klout have been very honest and open with me, and others, about how and why they are undertaking this task. 

But there is a disconnect when a phrase like “removed” appears to mean “erased a bit” – not quite how I would interpret it.

CAN WE ACHIEVE ZERO?

When Sam opted out of Klout, he assumed that he would still have a Klout Score, but that his information would no longer be shared or visible to others – in essence giving him a public null Klout Score (K = 0) that he sought. While the data would still exist, and be interpreted by Klout, they would not share their interpretations with others.

So why is Sam Fiorella still appearing on Klout? Perhaps there is an issue that weaves around Klout’s interpretation of words, and the managing of expectations from a contractual Terms of Service (TOS) perspective. Or perhaps it has to do with the massive amounts of Big Data that we are crunching on an ongoing basis, with technology evolving at such a rapid pace that glitches and ghosts, while unacceptable, are going to occur. Either way, there is a flaw somewhere in the system, and Mr. Fiorella has become its poster child.

PRIVACY AND PERVASIVE COMMUNICATIONS

Sam’s issue with Klout is bigger than either Sam or Klout. Not to diminish what Sam is going through, neither Sam nor Klout are alone in facing issues regarding personal data, big data, privacy or changing technology. If anything, his dilemma is indicative of a much larger series of questions and issues that we face.

We live in an age of technology-enabled Pervasive Communications. Our ability to communicate with almost anyone, anywhere at any time, over a multitude of communications channels, is allowing us to unleash our DNA-driven need to create, share and consume content and information with others.

As we do this, our public actions are increasingly tracked, tagged, shared and mined by people and companies that we’ve never met. They’re sifting through piles of Big Data looking for patterns, for trends, for clues regarding what influences our decisions, and how our decisions influence – if at all – the decisions of others. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but when this activity lacks true transparency of both intent and use, the user is increasingly, and unknowingly, giving away far more than they are receiving in return.

“There is nothing in the dark that isn’t there when the lights are on.”

~ Rod Serling

The data is out there and it’s not going away. It may lose some of its relevance, but it will still be out there and is increasingly being linked with other data to create “new” data. The questions of who really owns our data (both pre and post-processing), how and when it can be shared and reused, and how much light (transparency) should be shined upon it, will likely be argued (and should be) for many years to come.

While many individuals may argue that they want their data out there (in an effort to achieve a richer, more engaging online experience), I do believe that there are different times and places for private and public, and, as individuals, businesses and governments, we need to continually ask ourselves:

  • What should the ground-rules be for how Terms of Service and ownership of data are defined?
  • How will we let these definitions and rules evolve and adapt to technology and human behavior patterns that don’t yet exist or have yet to be defined?
  • How can we provide true transparency (in simple terms) to online users regarding their data and its linkages with other data (there’s a business out there if you can create that infograph, BTW)? And,
  • How we are going play together in an ever shrinking sandbox where transparency has become a buzz-word and personal privacy continues to become increasingly elusive?

I also believe that when an “opt out” option is offered, as it was with Klout, it should be just that – a way for you to take yourself, and your data, OUT of the system. If not for your actions, the data wouldn’t exist in the first place.

 Note: Images adapted from Klout.com

Disruption and (non) Innovation, Part II

Explosive Hits Disruption and InnovationThe words “Disruption” and “Innovation” have become lexicons of our current business vocabulary. But while they are closely linked, they are (as mentioned in my post Disruption and Innovation, Part I) two very different beasts.

Not surprisingly, I increasingly hear people speak of their organizations as being disruptive in a market, of having a disruptive strategy (that is often further described as being “innovative”).  

Granted, there are some strategies that are, in and of themselves, true innovations that lead to the disruption of existing markets and the creation of new markets. For example, Ron Popeil’s televised take on the “But wait, there’s more!” product marketing strategy was arguably an innovation that created new markets, created market value that previously didn’t exist, and was ultimately disruptive to others.

Disruption creates chaos. Chaos cannot be controlled.

By definition, a strategy is not the same as an innovation. But a strategy can be innovative, and it can also be disruptive, and there are no shortage of organizations out there today that love to talk about their disruptive strategies.

But is being disruptive in a market, or towards a competitor, a viable strategy? Is it sustainable? Or is it merely something that is best used in an opportunistic manner?

Chaos cannot be controlled, but it can be leveraged.

Personally, while I almost always caution clients against relying upon disrupting their competition, or a market, as a business strategy, there is a part of me that understands the value of leveraging an opportunity to disrupt the flow of a competitor.

THE SEVEN DISRUPTIVE SINS

How an organization attempts to disrupt its competition is often tempered by the depth of their pockets, the desperate nature of their situation or their willingness to push (or even outright cross) the lines of the law. But, putting aside graft and corruption, most organizations tend to gravitate to the same Seven Disruptive Sins when it comes to disrupting their competition.

I call them sins, for while they may have their virtues or desired effect, they may also come back to bite you. Hard

To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction.

~ Sir Isaac Newton

So let’s take a look at the most common strategies I see used, misused and abused by organizations to disrupt their competition…

1. Talent Acquisition: pulling key personnel away from a competitor, in an attempt to limit their competitiveness.

Pro: Acquiring great talent in any area of your business is always a good idea (top sales reps, developers, executives, support staff, etc.). And when pulled from your competitor, can limit, or at least disrupt their footing for a period of time.

Con: Pulling top staff from a competitor usually means offering a sweeter, more costly deal. It also opens the door for your competitor to potentially find a new, more creative or hungrier, replacement. Add in non-compete agreements (especially where customers or IP are concerned) and ultimately you may have just overpaid for talent AND given your competitor an opportunity to lower their own operating costs.

2. IP Acquisition: buying patents, or even entire companies, in an effort to keep (or take) the technology away from competitors. For example, during the dot-com boom, larger firms were buying up smaller firms left and right – not just because they needed the technology but to take it out of the market (a great example today would be the recent sell off of Nortel patents, or the likely interest a sell-off of RIM patents would generate).

Pro: By locking up a piece of technology that your competitor may rely upon or leverage in the future (a good example would be buying a smaller firm that resells product through a competitor), you can take away portions of their product/services portfolio.

Con: Buying anything costs money. And who isn’t to say that your competition will, as a result of your action, be forced to rethink their product/service strategy and develop a new one that isn’t more in touch with customer demand? More importantly, companies need to be nimble in today’s market. Technologies change fast, and you don’t want to be left holding outdated product.

3. Flooding the Market: selling products or services well below market price in an effort to take away customers and revenue from your competition (something we see often at the international trade level). Interestingly (thanks to Alan Berkson for this example), we see this all the time in the Cable TV and Mobile sectors, where vendors undercut their competition (through special contract pricing) to win customers that they know they will lose after their 12/24 month contract is up.

Pro: You can’t argue with the value of taking away market share from your competition.

Con: Every time you underprice your product, or give away an extra service, you are taking profit out of your pocket – something that few firms can afford to sustain for any period of time.

4. Supplier Acquisition: controlling the supply of parts, either through exclusive deals or acquisition, to restrict competitor’s access. If everybody in a market relies upon Company X for certain technology, bringing that supplier under your umbrella can force competitors to shift their own strategies (note: this is not the same as developing your own in-house alternatives to parts/components that are universally used within a market, such as Apple building their own chip fabrication facility).

Pro: Controlling the supply of commonly used products in a market can certainly be a competitive strength (imagine if Apple bought Intel…). It can provide (after the cost of acquisition is recouped) lower cost of goods sold.

Con: You buy it, you’re stuck with it. Take something away from somebody and they’ll find a way to engineer something better. Just as nature abhors a vacuum, so do markets. Pull a key component out of a market and somebody will find a way to replace it (with something faster, better, cheaper). Lesson: don’t force your competition to become innovative.

5. Distribution Acquisition: controlling the distribution channels for your product – a great example being the exclusivity agreements that restricted food chains from selling both Coke and Pepsi products.

Pro: If you can prevent your competitor’s product from ever appearing on the shelf, you’ve clearly got an advantage.

Con: Linking yourself to a particular distribution channel is great, until that distribution channel falls to deliver, or has competitive challenges of their own (think McDonalds/Burger King and Coke vs Pepsi).

6. Legislation/Regulation: pushing the enactment of laws and regulations that favor you, or restrict your competition is a practice as old a government and provides for a thriving lobby economy at the state and federal level. A similar example is the tactic that government contractors employ to “shape” government procurements in such a way that the specifications of the requirement can only be met by their product or service.

Pro: If you can control the playing field, you can control the game. By enacting legislation (or bid specifications) in such a way as to preclude your competition, you’ve given yourself home-field advantage.

Con: Putting aside the issues of potential corruption, laws and regulations are usually enacted in a particular context to address a specific requirement. But laws and regulations rarely go off the books, and all too often they are applied in ways totally unintended. For a great example, check out Wickard v. Filburn and the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938 which was intended to stabilize US wheat prices but is now being used to restrict a variety of activities, including the personal growth of medicinal marijuana in states where such use is allowed.

7. Creative Marketing: taking a bit of poetic license when talking about a competitor’s product. In politics, we’d call this a smear campaign.

Pro: Highlighting weaknesses, or shortcomings – especially when documented by others – can be a great way to position your competitor’s product in a dim light.

Con: Nobody likes to be misled or fed partial information, and while spreading Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt is a mainstay part of both business and political culture, in the age of Pervasive Communications, fact checking is available 247. Even if your data about a competitor is true, ultimately, the continued use of this approach will be viewed as “dirty politics” and reflect poorly on you, not your competition.

SOME THOUGHTS

Disruption is a part of nature, and it is no surprise that we see it often in markets. But intentionally trying to create a disruptive strategy carries its share of risk and can take away from the value proposition of a company’s own product and services. In the end, if a company doesn’t focus on their own products and services first, disrupting a competitor won’t add any value as they won’t be in a position to leverage the (often temporary) disruption to their advantage.


Photo of EMI Album by Hans Thijs, Licensed under Creative Commons

brokenbulb2

Disruption and Innovation, Part I

Over the years, as an analyst, advisor and even as an entrepreneur, I’ve heard the phrase “Our strategy is to disrupt ” far too often. It’s a bit disheartening at times, because what I really want to hear is how your strategy is going to “innovate” rather than disrupt.

Why? I’ve always believed that the fastest way to success is to avoid trying to knock somebody off the ladder and, instead, build your own ladder. You control your future. You shape the market. You let the people on the other ladder pursue their evolutionary strategies while you quietly create a revolutionary strategy.

THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN DISRUPTION AND INNOVATION

To be clear, there is a definite relationship between “disruption” and “innovation” not to be confused with Clay Christensen’s “Disruptive Innovation”. Often, they feed off of each other – one leading to the other (or at least providing an opportunity for the other to take hold).

Innovations within a market can ultimately lead to the disruption (or devastation) of an existing or adjacent (but different) market (example: iPhone’s App store devastating video games, wrist watches, cameras). Note that true innovations don’t just offer better versions of existing products, but offer better alternatives to existing products – they ultimately replace them.

Similarly, disruptions within a market (or a vendor if they dominate that market) can often provide an enhanced opportunity for new and innovative vendors and products. The more disruptive a market has become, the greater the opportunity for innovation to create a new, better alternative market. But there are differences.

And far from being singular events, disruptions and innovations can often be associated with long-term evolutionary trends, rather than singular events (Pervasive Communications is a great example of two trends (technology and human behavior) leading to a disruption of both social structures, technologies and global markets (check out Alan Berkson’s framing of Pervasive Communications and a video chat with Brian Reich on the global implications of Pervasive Communications).

DISRUPTION

Disruption, like the stuff that hits the fans, often just happens. It can be caused by any number of different conditions. Disruptions to supply chains. Technological advances. Corporate mismanagement. Natural disasters. All can result in a market (and its vendors) being disrupted. In the extreme, the disruption devolves into a state of chaos – and chaos (while it may offer opportunity for those able to restore order) is usually not a characteristic of a market you want to enter.

To this last point, the notion of “disrupting” a market of a vendor to gain a competitive advantage is more often than not simply the wrong approach (a great example being the often asked question in the analytical/advisory space: “Why hasn’t anybody been able to disrupt Gartner’s business model”). To disrupt an entrenched vendor’s business model means to disrupt their market, which may be extremely difficult/impossible to achieve without disrupting your own chances of stepping in to take advantage of the opportunity (an issue we’ll discuss in Part II).

INNOVATION

Innovation, on the other hand, is more often the result of a “spark” or idea that transcends the products, services and strategies of an existing vendor or market. It creates something new: its own ladder. Rather than competing head to head against an existing market or vendor, it offers an alternative that, if done correctly, is often unnoticed by other vendors. It doesn’t (initially) compete for the same budget, nor does it require a “magic quadrant” or an “us vs them” comparison.

A true innovation stands alone – it is its own product and market replacing the need for existing products and markets. It obsoletes prior structures (an issue we’ll discuss in Part III) and represents – in both the short- and long-term – a new market opportunity.

While a new innovation may ultimately compete for overall corporate/consumer dollars, it is often differentiated enough that it can initially sit along-side existing products and simply blend into the landscape. In fact, the best innovations are the ones that existing market players don’t deem as viable – very different from a product evolution that may be considered cannibalistic if they were to implement it themselves.

Taking it deeper, a true innovation will ultimately replace the need for existing products, vendors and even markets. All though not common, the “existing products” *may* not actually exist (although the need for them may – the case of the impractical market), or if they do exist, they *may* under-perform or not currently meet market demand (something that may not be obvious or intuitive to either consumers or vendors).

Take, for example, the iPhone (introduced only five years ago in 2007). In and of itself, it wasn’t a true innovative product, but rather an evolutionary extension of existing multi-media phones (like the Blackberry). But the Apple App Store – when combined with the iPhone (in 2008) – was a true innovation. It created a new market, obsoleted others and forever changed the way that hundreds of different products (as applications) were brought to market.

MOVING FORWARD

In the next few posts we’ll discuss the different types of disruptions and innovations that commonly occur, and the risks and rewards that accompany each (here’s a thought to ponder: most disruptions – especially man-made – offer more risk than reward, while most innovations offer tremendous reward with very little risk).

Have a different perspective? Toss it out. There are plenty of opinions on this subject and I’m looking forward to the debate.

“Oops!” Broken Lightbulb photo courtesy of Kyle May licensed under Creative Commons

Note: Post updated to highlight and clarify distinction between “disruption and innovation” and “Disruptive Innovation”

Kony 2012

The unintended consequences of going #viral

Kony 2012When you craft a message, you generally have a target, or audience, in mind. You probably also have an agenda, or goal, that you wish to achieve, such as awareness, education or a call to action. And both the message and the agenda are typically driven by both your own ideas and those embraced by your target audience. Your message must match your audience, or it’s difficult for them to embrace it.

If all works well, your message is received by your audience and your agenda and goals met by their actions and response. But we live in the age of pervasive communications where your message has the ability to go viral, to spread like wildfire around the globe – not just through one medium, but through many. It may be shared on dozens of different “new media” social networking sites, it may be emailed around the world, it may even be featured (or the viral spread of it) in traditional media (broadcast, print) or their online hybrid counterparts (tra-digital media).

Reaching an audience beyond your intended audience has consequences

In the end, your carefully crafted message goes well beyond your target market and reaches a much larger group of people that you never intended to be part of your audience. If you are trying to build/energize a community, you may find yourself with a mob, on a global scale.

#KONY2012

Take the case of the Kony 2012 campaign. It’s a documentary film about Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Liberation Army (if you haven’t seen it, you should). Starting in Northern Uganda, Kony (a man  indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court) has, over a period close to 30 years, maimed, killed and enslaved children (some put the estimate at 66,000) into military service to support his cause. His reign of terror has moved well beyond the Ugandan borders into the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, and the South Sudan.

The documentary was created by the Invisible Children organization with what appears to be all the right intent, including a humanitarian agenda, a desire to raise awareness of, and funding for, those who suffered at Kony’s hands, and to ensure (from the Kony 2012 website):

  • “That Joseph Kony is known as the World’s Worst War Criminal” and
  • “That U.S. and international efforts to stop Kony are bolstered with a more comprehensive strategy for disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR).”

The target audience of the documentary, as evidenced by both the narrative and the logo (featuring the U.S. Republican and Democrat symbols), are centered in the U.S. and the political arena. And within that target, it had its desired result. But it didn’t end there.

IT’S CALLED VIRAL FOR A REASON

This documentary, and the horrific crimes it highlighted, hit such a sensitive nerve with people (within its intended audience) that they leveraged pervasive communications to do what humans have always done since the beginning of time: THEY SHARED!

What started as a focused, but relatively unknown movement, went viral as the Kony 2012 documentary began to spread throughout the U.S. and the world. The Twitter hashtag #kony2012, for example, became a top trending item on Twitter at the peak of the viral distribution while Facebook showed an equally amazing number of shares and likes for the documentary (not to mention the publicity and momentum it gathered when national and international traditional media outlets began reporting on the viral spread of the documentary). In the process, it gained a level of global fame well beyond the producer’s original expectation as well as a global audience that didn’t fit the “target profile” of its original audience.

The result? A response that the producers were unprepared to handle (or at least well beyond what they expected to have to deal with). With increased awareness came both massive support (good) and increased scrutiny and negative pressure (bad). They also faced a global audience that was viewing a documentary film that wasn’t intended for them in the first place (including those in Northern Uganda). Yes, it was intended to help them, but culturally, it wasn’t intended for them to consume.

 WHEN MESSAGES MEET THE WRONG PEOPLE

The western-oriented message simply didn’t fit the various non-western cultures that had access to the Kony 2012 campaign through its viral spread. While it has done a tremendous job at raising both awareness and funds to help Kony/LRA victims, it also became, for many, the wrong message for the wrong people, leading to questions about intent, accuracy and a resulting impact that was very different from the original, anticipated goal.300px-Ugandan_districts_affected_by_Lords_Resistance_Army

What started as a unified U.S. base of positive support has also led (through increased scrutiny) to those (and it is their right) who claim it oversimplifies a very complex issue, and takes mind-share away from other, more pressing problems that Ugandans, and others in Africa, face today, such as the debilitating nodding disease that is striking an alarming number of children in Uganda and the ongoing slave trade in Mauritania.  

It has also had a direct, non-desirable, impact, and intrusion, into the personal lives of those involved in the creation of the documentary.

THE IMPACT OF PERVASIVE COMMUNICATIONS

This phenomenon will likely become increasingly common – especially when the primary means of distribution is social media – a content distribution & sharing medium that by its definition and role in pervasive communications knows no borders. None.

Content no longer knows or respects borders

If an idea, a documentary, or a story has the ability to generate a massive emotional response (either positive or negative), pervasive communications allows it to spread – to go viral -and there isn’t any way to stop it (again, this includes traditional mainstream media, digital/social media and tra-digital media). If the consequences of this viral spread are unanticipated, what begins as a proactive messaging activity can quickly become a reactive damage control operation.

What does this mean for cause-based content in the future? Ultimately, it places a much greater responsibility on choosing the “right” channel(s) within our pervasive communications network, as well as crafting messages that are either by their nature self-limiting or have universal appeal. The case could also be made for non-cause (i.e., commercial) content as well – pervasive communications doesn’t discriminate in its ability to impact a message, regardless of media.

Either way, what the Kony 2012 phenomenon has shown us is that the rules of content distribution that applied only a few short years ago no longer apply. It is a different world that we live in today, and we’re only just now beginning to understand the rules.

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Community

5 Elements of a True Community

CommunityEarlier this week, my good friend Margie Clayman wrote an excellent post titled “Myth: Community makes the world go round” – it’s well worth the read as she raises some interesting points regarding the real value of a business-built community, and its failures if it doesn’t lead to community members actually driving revenue for the business. There is a difference between a business “community” and a “loyal customer base”.

In her post, Margie asked a really good set of questions that got my interest:

What are your thoughts about community?

How do you define this word in regards to the online space?

I love the word community, although it gets tossed around almost as much as “engage” (a word that should only be used when discussing marriage, battle or a warp-drive command). But as I thought about Margie’s question, I realized that most people (there are some good exceptions) really can’t consider their online followers a community, rather they are mostly acquaintances with a few true friends tossed in for good measure.

More importantly…

I suspect that a relatively small % of a user’s follower base actually interact with each other

…something that I consider a core requirement for a community (interaction between the members).

Equally important, if most of the interaction in your online follower based is between YOU and your followers, what you have really created is an audience, not a community (not necessarily a bad thing, but definitely not a community).

The same is true for businesses – I don’t consider a group of loyal customers to be a community (no disrespect to people who create loyal consumers, but I use a Mac but don’t go out of my way to hang out with other Mac users or Apple employees – that said, there have been some phenomenal Jeep and Harley tribes that have formed on their own).

WHAT IS AN ONLINE COMMUNITY?

To me, an online community requires several key components:

  1. It needs to be generally self-forming and self-moderating,
  2. Its members must have a common interest(s) or cause(s) that ties them together (and be able to evolve as those interests and causes change over time),
  3. The overall community must have both a critical mass required to be effective yet not too many members that the size distracts from the operation or purpose of the community (which is one reason why you see solid communities often built as a collection of smaller tribes that interact),
  4. It has to be able to add/delete members as needed, and (most importantly)
  5. It has to generate something of perceived value to its members (which can also bring value to those outside of the community).

Within an online community, there are leaders and there are followers. There are those who are more influential than others, some in their ideas and leadership and some that provide the constant “spark of energy” to keep others engaged (both are equally important in a community).

ARE ONLINE AND OFFLINE COMMUNITIES REALLY THAT DIFFERENT?

Not surprisingly, this type of community isn’t unique and thrives in the offline world. Let me use my neighborhood as an example.

  • We all have a (mostly) common goal — living together, raising our families in a safe place, enjoying the company of others outside on a summer day — and we produce value for both ourselves and our children.
  • We “politely” speak to neighbors who step out of line now and then, and when a family moves away, we welcome in another. Over time, as our kids age, our interactions and goals will change/adapt as well.
  • Interestingly, as you move from our street down several blocks, the sense of community is a bit diminished (but only from our perspective) and there are certainly “tribes” within the community (that are sometimes location-based or friendship-based) but have significant areas of overlap and reinforce the feeling of community I have with neighbors who live several blocks away.
  • We have members within our community that help oversee our homeowners association, exerting one form of influence, and we have those that are always ready to help organize a neighborhood or community event, exerting a different aspect of influence.

In both the online and offline worlds, communities can exist within larger organizations, just as tribes can exist within larger communities. In business, communities can also exist within groups of loyal customers (think Apple). But it is very difficult in the business world to build a true community – that sense of purpose and self-determination typically can’t be created. Inspired? Yes. But created? No.

QUESTIONS FOR YOU

Do you think my definition of a community is valid? Or are there areas that you think I’ve missed or included that don’t really need to be there?

Do you think that the definition of community changes by industry or market sector?

What are some examples of successes AND failures that you’ve seen in businesses and the creation of communities?

Dealing with Corporate Chaos – The value of the right strategy

I like structure, order and consistency. I also like chaos. One provides stability, the other a challenge. In the corporate business world, we often see both: longer periods of relative stability and continuity with brief interjections of chaotic episodes that help make the business world a bit more of a challenge, a bit more fun, especially from a communications perspective.

Businesses need to communicate, and there are no shortage of groups within most organizations that can be leveraged, including Public Relations, Analyst Relations, Marketing, Sales, etc. I typically view corporate communications as falling into one of three categories:

  • Corporate-Focused messaging, where the company is focused on corporate stability, overall market direction (and domination) and the ability to be a long-term, reliable brand,
  • Product/Service-Focused messaging, designed to promote the merits and/or value of a particular product or service, and
  • Feel-good messaging, where the company is trying to promote the overall business, or the “brand” – often through a hybrid combination of Corporate and Product/Service messaging, and typically through cause-based efforts (“we’re so committed to this cause, that we’ll donate $$$ for every product you buy…”).

In a period of stability and order, this system works fairly well. In fact, many companies just assume that things will always be quiet and calm and plan their “market influence” strategies accordingly. But things never stay calm, do they.

Chaos has its own unique way of being an extremely efficient disruptor of corporate communications, and can strike from any source. A rogue employee (even in the C-suite). A dysfunctional Board of Directors. A product that didn’t perform quite the way it was designed to, or even a product that has been tampered with or sabotaged.

The list of possible sources of chaos is essentially limitless, as is the type and list of companies that it strikes. Want some good examples? Tylenol, which faced a product tampering crisis, Netflix, and their botched announcement of Qwikster (and its subsequent disappearance), HP, and their ongoing Board of Director’s turf battle, and Bank of America, trying to put a positive spin on a $5/month debit card fee, then backing off, then clarifying (almost like a politician).

When evaluating the strength of an organization or company, I like to look at how they react to these periods of chaos. It shows me several key elements:

  • Have they anticipated probable or likely disruptive events?
  • Do they have contingency plans in place to make sure the right message gets out, to the right audience through the right vehicle?
  • Are they monitoring what their customers are saying about them (in all of the various mediums) and are they tailoring their message accordingly?
  • Do they have the ability to bounce back from a chaotic episode without scars and a damaged reputation?

More importantly, I look for how quickly they can adapt to the crisis at hand, and make sure that the right type of communications (Corporate, Product, Feel-good), or combination thereof, is being used in the right manner that helps diffuse the crisis as quickly as possible.

So the next time you are looking at a company, and trying to determine their real strength in a market, don’t just evaluate their ability to operate in a stable, predictable manner, but look at how they react, and counter, disruptive chaotic events. That’s where the real corporate culture comes out.

Photo of sign at Newton-Lee Elementary School in Ashburn, Virginia by Fred McClimans.

Mentoring, Networking and Innovation – Revisited

History is filled with examples of linkages between networking, mentoring and innovation, but over the centuries the knowledge acquisition ecosystem has changed considerably. There was a time when this process was slow and rooted in tacit knowledge, but as the needs and wants of society progressed and evolved, the process became more refined—moving faster— and rooted in the exchange of explicit knowledge.

tacit-knowledge

TACIT KNOWLEDGE – SHOW ME!

Regrettably, as society and technology continue to explode at a pace that stretches Moore’s law, it translates to the current knowledge acquisition ecosystem being broken; in fact, we may be at risk of losing a generational exchange of knowledge and innovation.

Following is a fast-paced tour through related history, plus a prescription for 21st century mentoring, networking and innovation.

IN DAYS OF YORE

Centuries ago, the path to gainful employment often required apprenticeships. If you wanted to learn a trade, you had no other option: you needed to find somebody who was already doing it.

Through practice and much coaching—especially if it involved tacit knowledge—you could eventually master a particular craft or art. This was a one-to-one relationship that benefited both the master and the student. Students learned a trade that would serve them for life, and masters acquired young, cheap talent to keep their businesses alive. If you wanted to learn a trade, you had to find a person who was willing to teach you how to do it. And, if you were lucky, the master provided you with paid employment at the end of your apprenticeship.

In this type of direct one-on-one learning process, a master could only have a limited number of apprentices at any one time. This not only limited the ability of the master to educate the masses in their skill, but it also limited the ability of the young student to ask questions or bring new ideas to a wide audience.

While the collaborative sharing of knowledge occurred, the resulting by-product—innovation—was a slow process measured in decades, not years or months.

THE AGE OF MASS

EXPLICIT KNOWLEDGE RULES

During this period, the master/student apprenticeship process evolved into—particularly at the management level—a mentorship process. The master/student relationship remained intact, but it became less about passing along tacit knowledge and fundamental skills and more about the refinement and guiding of the student’s careerpath.

Throughout this revolutionary period, the one constant in the apprenticeship and mentorship processes was that both the master and the student benefited from the relationship. It was a two-way street that helped advance both experienceand new ideas.

In essence, it helped foster innovation.

THE NEXT “NEXT”

In the 21st century, we’ve shifted into a post-industrial, information-based economy that once again has resulted in a requirement for both educational change and a shift in the type of workforce required. Unfortunately, some things have changed (not necessarily for the better) along the way; namely:

  • the master/student mentorship process quickly is becoming a casualty of the global availability of information; and
  • there is a shift in the way society learns and how we reinforce our decisions.

THE “HYPER-CONNECTED” GENERATION

Technology, pervasive communication and the global availability of “any information everywhere” have had a negative impact on the state of mentorships.

Photo of sign at Newton-Lee Elementary School in Ashburn, Virginia by Fred McClimans.

Twenty years ago we had a culture where peers still relied upon personal face-to-face (or voice-to-voice) real-time communications. As we “graduated up” from high-school to university or college, we were introduced to a new level of peers and potential teachers/mentors. As we left our institutions of higher education and moved into the work-force, each new job opportunity brought with it a “new” level of contacts.

This change in contacts and peers wasn’t necessarily by choice. It was a by-product of the way we communicated and the limitations that geography placed upon our network of “on-demand” peers.

Today’s generation (some may call it Gen Y or Millennials—we’ll use the phrase “hyper-connected” here) faces an interesting conundrum:

As they move from high-school into the work-force, the hyper-connected still encounter the same “new contact” opportunities as their predecessors. The complication is they also bring with them a collection of trusted peers, with whom they remain connected through pervasive communications.

As a “trusted” group, and taking into account peer pressure, it is no surprise they rely heavily on this group of peers when it comes to making lifestyle or career decisions. Rather than seek out the advice of those with experience in their new-found field of employment, the hyper-connected often are likely to seek the counsel of their long-term friends.

This may fill the need the hyper-connected have to gain confirmation or acceptance of their plans, but it diverts their attention from the value that an outside advisor or mentor can bring to the equation.

THE NEED TO MENTOR

Why do we mentor others? Like parenting, it’s motivated by both selfish and selfless aspirations.

We want to:

  1. Bestow on others our own knowledge;
  2. Give them the opportunity both to work with us and for us; and
  3. Pass along our collective experience to those who we trust to continue our legacy.

At the same time, we recognize they may become our peers or even our competition—something that both forces us toraise our game to the next level and challenges us to find innovative solutions to win the game.

Where does this innovation come from? The innovation comes from the exchange of ideas with those we mentor.

WHY NETWORKING IS KEY TO LEVERAGING MENTORING

It’s often been said that it is not what you know but who you know. Today, more than ever, people recognize the value of diversity of opinion. We also recognize that a person need not have just one mentor and that mentorship needs—and mentors—may change over time; ultimately, helping to form a group of trusted advisors.

How do you accommodate this?

Mentoring is part of a larger ecosystem of networking. It requires you to reach out of your comfort zone to find those who are “where you want to be.” Unfortunately, too many people are afraid to—or don’t feel the need to—truly network and reach out to establish these long-term beneficial relations.

Simply reaching out online to ask an experienced person a question, or asking for a limited piece of advice, isn’t true networking. It often results in answers that lack context.

What many of today’s younger generation fail to realize is that networking isn’t about:

  • following people;
  • commenting on a blog; or
  • asking a question from a person with whom you haven’t built a relationship of trust.

While the old axiom “you may find that the most successful people make the most effective mentors” still applies, it has taken on a new meaning in the digital era. It isn’t about how many people you follow or how many people follow you, buthow many personal relationships you cultivate through your online community.

TOMORROW’S WORKFORCE

As we migrate from a world driven by process to one focused on innovation and problem-solving, we see the benefits of both data-driven components and experiential/tacit knowledge—something that is ideally suited to the:

Internship > Mentorship > Employment Model

As we create new professions (community managers didn’t exist a decade ago), we find that traditional education falls short in preparing candidates with the requisite skills and mindset to be successful.

Today’s questions are now:

  1. “How do we bridge that gap?”
  2. “How do we cross that functional/educational divide?”

The answers are that we—collectively—need to reach out proactively to schools and to students in the early stages of their careers. We need the hyper-connected to:

  • Think analytically; and
  • Evaluate events and circumstances and make the most effective and positive decisions they can.

And we need to:

  • Push them towards internship programs that foster and grow this critical skill set; and
  • Ultimately, lead them to mentorship programs that offer opportunities and provide for the mutual exchange of knowledge and ideas that lead to innovation.

THINGS THAT MAKE YOU GO “Hmmm…”

We invite you to ponder this mental checklist:

  1. Are you reaching out to your local college or university community (or your summer student base) and offering internships that make a difference?
  2. Are you willing to both educate and learn from your interns?
  3. Do you realize the value (both for your organization and children) of helping the next generation of leaders benefit from your experience (careful – this requires a time commitment…)?
  4. Are you willing to openly give to those that you mentor, allowing them the opportunity to learn from you, work for you and perhaps even compete against you?

If the answer to any of the above is yes, you are one step ahead of your competition.

This post, co-authored by Alan Berkson with Fred McClimans, originally appeared on October 2, 2011 in  PR Conversations. It has been reprinted and updated here.

Alan Berkson is a principal at the Intelligist Group in New York, USA, where he focuses on helping businesses move past blockages, leverage unidentified or underused assets, and identify opportunities for growth. He provides provocative commentary and theories on a variety of business strategy topics on his blog, The Intelligent Catalyst. Connect with him on TwitterGoogle+ and LinkedIn.

Fred McClimans is the managing director of the McClimans Group in Washington, DC, USA, where he focuses on helping businesses improve their strategic business influence and find creative ways to drive their market from a proactive perspective. Read his blog at fredmcclimans.com. Connect with him on TwitterGoogle+ and LinkedIn.

Together, Alan and Fred are working on 2020F, a global community being built to identity, track and trend disruptive events that have the potential to influence long-term change in both related and tangential markets, including developing actionable solutions to both minimize the risk and maximize the opportunity of current and future disruptive events.

12 CEO Icons & their classic character traits

Every company has a CEO and every CEO has their own particular style. Some are self-made, while others have leveraged a bit of family clout to get their start. Some promote themselves, some promote their companies, while others (both intentionally and unintentionally) promote both. But what if that CEO, or their style, eclipses that of their company? What if the CEO becomes or IS the company? Does it change the way both are viewed in eye of the general public? Does it change the way corporations have to manage their operations AND their CEO’s?

Here are 12 icons of business who have shaped their companies and careers above and beyond the competition. I’ve paired them together, with the excellent help of Alan Berkson (@berkson0) of the Intelligist Group to highlight both common traits and areas where they may differ. For your consideration…

Martha Stewart and Ross Perot: Both iconoclasts whose brand is their name. Both were willing to push themselves into the spotlight, creating businesses through the sheer force of their own personal will.

Both were also never willing to say “quit” – despite the uphill battles they fought. Ultimately, however, this trait – and their larger than life egos – became part of their undoing. Both became victims of their own success and the benefits/curses it brought in limiting their future activities.

Lee Iacocca and Louis Gerstner: Two “hired guns” brought in to fix a business because they had celebrity status. Lee had earned his stripes helping to create iconic cars at Ford (both the Mustang and, ironically, the Pinto) – literally creating the then-modern day powerhouse Ford brand.

Gerstner, on the other hand had a proven track record at American Express, McKinsey & Company and RJR Nabisco before being brought in to right IBM’s sinking ship. Both were willing to put their names on the line in the public light to take a broken business and turn it into something of value. The difference was that Lee rebuilt a better version of Chrysler while Gerstner built a new version of IBM.

Oprah Winfrey and Larry Flynt: Yes, they actually pair well in several ways. Both have a “you either love them or hate them” persona and both have been driven by humanitarian/freedom issues. For Oprah, her history of giving is unique, as is her  humanitarian mission through the “O” network, which has become more important to her than its entertainment value. Larry, on the other hand (despite a somewhat sleezy demeanor) has a passion for free-speech, and a willingness to push the buttons that drive others to action. Is porn his passion? No – it’s freedom of speech and the press for all of us. You may love him, or hate him, but it’s unlikely you haven’t benefited from his controversy in some way.

Donald Trump and Richard Branson: Two men who clearly live larger than life. They live for both themselves and the celebrity that they create for themselves and their brands (both of which will survive long after their departure). People often underestimate the extent of the Trump empire, but it is vast, well managed and the man knows how to delegate.

Branson is similar – the ultimate man of both business and delegation whose world-renowned exploits only enhance his Virgin brand (Virgin, by the way, became the name of his first record label because he and his partners felt they were “business virgins” – a brand he has built through Virgin Records, Virgin Atlantic Airways, Virgin Mobile, Virgin Trains, Virgin Express, Virgin Nigeria, Virgin America, Virgin Cola, Virgin Vodka, Virgin Galactic, Virgin Fuels and Virgin Media).

Larry Ellison and Steve Jobs: Both are their company and their company is them. But while Larry also lives outside of his company, Steve has become one with his company. In contrast to Steve, Larry lacks the universal, almost cultish, appeal that Steve has attained.

Could Oracle be where they are today without Larry? No. Could they survive without him? Probably better than Apple due to his strong promotion of others within the Oracle empire. His delegation is public and accepted – Steve’s is not – his fans, and Apple fans want him – Steve is Apple. Want proof? When Steve checked out of Apple, the company checked out. Apple has seen what life without Jobs can be like, and it wasn’t pretty. Unfortunately, this is a issue that they may well face in the not to distant future.

Warren Buffet and Jack Welch: Two men driven by principle and discipline. For Warren (the ultimate Boy Scout?) there is a “Buffet Way”. For Jack, there is the “GE way”. Both ways have a common trait  – We’re either #1 or we’re out.

Both grew their empires through investing in other businesses with very strict criteria – neither take risks and they both tend to view the world from a “risk does not equal reward” perspective.

So how does your CEO fit into this mold, or are you a CEO that see’s yourself in one of these individuals? Either way, it makes for an interesting time around the board-room table.

Influence Direct and Indirect

5 Questions: The Value of Direct vs Indirect Influence

Influence Direct and Indirect

Almost every action, choice or decision we make is the result of “influence” in some particular way. Even our personal preferences are shaped by influence, perhaps through the actions of others (“hey, you should really try this out”) or perhaps through our own past experiences (“I don’t care what you say, I’ve tried the bagels at that deli and they just don’t cut it for me”). Peer-pressure, marketing, advertising or even a desire to try something different based on past experiences are all forms of influence that shape our lives.

DIRECT vs INDIRECT INFLUENCE

Nowhere is the impact and value of influence more evident than in the world of business, as businesses are continuously trying to influence their target audience (customers) and partners to their benefit. When it comes to business, there are two different ways that a business or an organization can reach or influence its target audience – direct and indirect. Direct influence is when a business specifically targets or touches their target audience – it is a direct “us to you” type of interaction and gives the business the most control over their message (it’s a one-step connection).

The difference between direct vs indirect influence is like the campfire game – what you tell one person may not be what they tell the next…

Indirect influence, on the other hand, is a bit more of a challenge as it involves a third-party (and intermediary influencer of sorts) that the business needs to influence in the hopes that the third-party will in turn influence their target audience.

UNDERSTANDING WHO INFLUENCES, AND HOW

If we take a look at the different organizations within a typical corporation, we can see how they influence the organization’s customer base.

Direct Influence Groups

  • Sales directly touches the customer through personal 1:1 interaction. This is the front line, where the influence of a sales strategy & pitch (or even an individual sales rep) can be the most directly measured.
  • Marketing touches the customer base en masse (although sub-segmentation usually occurs to a great extent). Their goal is to directly convey a corporate or product image, create demand and literally influence a customer to think about their product or service. Measuring the success, or influence, of a marketing campaign is possible, but not quite as easily as the direct 1:1 interaction of a sales rep.
  • Business Development touches organizational partners. When it comes to building partnerships and team-oriented strategies, business development is the functional equivalent of sales – it is almost always a 1:1 pitch and its effect can be immediately measured.
  • Customer Service touches existing customers. When the customer has a problem, customer service can not only help resolve issues and answer questions, but can, on a 1:1 basis, help influence how a customer uses a product/service, how they perceive the company in general and, potentially, influence future sales.

Indirect Influence Groups

  • Analyst Relations (AR) involves the process of interacting with, and influencing, industry analysts, who in turn have the ability to influence their clients and followers (your target audience). Measurement of this influence can be difficult.
  • Public Relations (PR) targets the press and media (print, online, bloggers, etc.) with the goal of influencing these groups and individuals to share information with, and thus influence, their readers (your target audience). The influence of PR campaigns is often measured by the number of “mentions” a firm has, or by a post-campaign outreach to measure public (potential customer) awareness, or (if the PR campaign is designed to improve the value of a tarnished brand) consumer sentiment.
  • Investor Relations (IR) has a similar role to AR, in this case dealing with financial analysts and investment firms with the hopes of shaping a positive image and value proposition about your firm, which they hopefully will share with their clients, resulting in a healthy stock price. Measurement of IR value often (and somewhat unfairly) is measured by stock price or analyst recommendations alone, and not by increases in consumer sentiment or sales (while the financial analysts and investment firms may not directly interact with your target audience, it is hard not to connect the dots between a poor/falling stock price and the reluctance of consumers to purchase your product – nobody today wants to buy from a business that is viewed as financially at risk).

The Wild-Cards

  • The C-Suite, who has the ability to make or break a deal, to influence their entire customer base or investor community with a single sentence (think of the power and influence that Steve Jobs has by merely showing up at an event!).
  • The Customer – perhaps the most influential group of all, even if they are outside the core corporate structure (a perspective, by the way, that I think is slightly off-base: the customer should *always* be considered part of the complete business organization). Their ability to drive your business should be both welcomed and never underestimated.

ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL…

As George Orwell said, “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.” Perhaps the same can be said for influence as well. You could put forth a very interesting argument that certain forms of corporate influence are more important than others, perhaps even more effective than others, and certainly more cost-effective (in terms of bringing new customers to the table, and retaining them over the long term, converting them from customers to clients).

All influencers are equal but some influencers are more equal than others…

So let me pose a few questions – knowing full well that the answers will vary between industries, markets and economic business cycles…

  1. Are all business groups equal when it comes to the value of their influence?
  2. Are certain types of corporate influence more effective in *gaining* new customers?
  3. Are certain types of corporate influence more effective in *retaining* existing customers?
  4. With a limited budget, where would you focus your resources in building a strong corporate influence strategy?
  5. Is it possible for all of the different business groups to effectively work together to form a culture of “fluid corporate influence” that operates as a continuous feedback loop, or are there just too many barriers and silos for this to take place (Bonus points if you can give me an example of a firm that does this today!)?

So there you have it. Five simple questions about influence. I’m curious to know how YOU view the value and role of influence in your organization, and how you think it might change as your business changes and evolves over time (hint: the value of influence varies in both time and place).

ManOnBenchbyTravisNepSmith

Are We Ready to Add Cause to Social Check-Ins?

There was a time when the phrase “check-in” was associated with things like the front desk of a hotel, the ticket counter at an airport or the main entrance to a conference center (“gotta go check-in and pickup up my badge to show that I’m a speaker and didn’t actually have to pay to get in like everyone else…”).

But with the advent of social media and location-aware applications, the phrase “check-in” took on a totally new, and much simpler meaning: “I’m here”. And now, I believe, it’s meaning might be about to change yet again, from “I’m here” to “here’s why”.

The evolution of the social check-in

The social check-in has been around since before the days of the pony express – we used the available media to tell our friends and loved ones that we had arrived at a particular destination. We were not only there, but we wanted them to know we were safe. It was a basic, and necessary, part of life as the world expanded around us. But with the arrival of social media, businesses began to realize that the check-in could be something more – it could be entertaining, it could be fun, it could be competitive and it could drive business.

Companies like Foursquare, Shopkick and Facebook gamified it, made it competitive and engaging, turning it into something that they hoped would drive their business, or the business of others (check out my post on Gamification and the Gaming of Foursquare for some background on that topic). And to an extent, they were right. Checking-in was Fun! You could check-in to your favorite coffee shop, broadcast it to the world and even get points, perhaps a discount on a cup of coffee or become the Mayor of Anywhere.

But what really is the value of being the Mayor of some local hangout? Not much, except perhaps the bragging rights within your own social graph (example: I have a couple of friends who are on a mission to see who can check-in to the most Starbucks).

I’m not sure people care about social check-in points or likes as much as they used to.

Most of the people I know check-in to engage with their friends, or to simply let them know what they are doing or where they can be found. Businesses assume that a check-in to their location is an endorsement, that they’ve captured another “potential customer” (a concept that my friend Alan Berkson, @berkson0 of the Intelligist Group, would argue is “so last century”).

In fact, I’ve seen more than a few people check-in with comments like “worst service ever” – so perhaps that endorsement isn’t quite as real as many people think (ironically, with Foursquare you can check-in, add a negative comment and still get your points – an interesting way of making YOUR point, especially if you rebroadcast that check-in through other, much larger, social media networks).

And it is here, where people are starting to use the social check-in as a statement, as a way to question what they see around them, that I think we are approaching the point where the check-in can become so much more than it is today.

The 4 components of the new social check-in

The emerging social check-in has four basic components (let’s toss aside points, likes, mayorships, etc. for a moment). They are:

  1. The personal check-in itself (somebody deciding that they want to check-in to a particular place/event/etc. and share it with their friends),
  2. The place/event/etc. where the check-in occurs (which could be a fixed location or a time-sensitive event),
  3. The people within (or in some cases peripheral to) the social graph of the person who will see the check-in, and (most importantly)
  4. The statement or comment that the check-in conveys to those who see it (the *influence factor* of the check-in).

With those four points in mind, let’s consider two different check-ins:

“It’s about me”

The all-too-common “Hanging with my friends at the Corner Bistro” – simple, to the point and letting people know not only who you are with but where you can be found. It’s an invitation (and yes, I made this one up).

“It’s about the world”

Now let’s consider another, this one via Twitter/Foursquare (that was an actual Foursquare check-in by a friend): “He’s here everyday not begging, just …dying? What do to? (@ Old Guy In bench)” – this isn’t a here I am, come find me check-in, it’s an observation, i t’s a social comment, it’s non-judgmental and it has both a purpose and meaning far deeper than Foursquare ever envisioned. This is what I consider a social check-in “with cause.”

Let’s check-in to social causes

A couple of months ago, I had the opportunity to chat with a few people inside the social check-in space. It was an informal chat that got me thinking about the value of being able to check-in to “social events”, not just businesses. When I came across the “Old Guy” Foursquare check-in, it sparked an interesting thought – we have the opportunity put real meaning behind check-ins. Consider the following:

  • Checking into “certified” Social Events would be a good thing. With most check-in tools, you can create your own locations, so setting up a location for a charity event is possible, but it isn’t necessarily time sensitive and doesn’t necessarily mean that the event is an actual charity (social good) event. I think we can improve on this.
  • Checking into a Social Event *remotely* (to show support for the cause) would be an even better thing. Call it a “like” or a “support” – but letting people express their backing for an event – while it is taking place – is something I consider worthwhile.
  • Checking into a Social Event (either on site or remotely) and being able to *donate via PayPal* would be a great thing. You’ve got my attention, you’ve got my support, why not give me the opportunity to contribute?

The ramifications of such a strategy could be a great boost for both charitable causes/events as well as business sponsors, looking to both give back to the social community and improve their image/position within their consumer community. In this light, the check-in could become a powerful tool of influence.

Can this be done? I believe so. But I’m just one voice. What do you think?

Would you as a business representative support or find value in supporting or sponsoring such a program? Would you as a consumer or individual be willing to check-in to show your support or give a donation to a cause or an event?

I know I would.

For an out-of-the-box insight on the whole notion of generational check-ins and the impact of pervasive social connectivity, check out Alan Berkson’s excellent post Turn On, Check In, Hang Out!

Photo courtesy of Travis Nep Smith