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

5 Properties of Influence You Need to Understand

There has been a great deal of discussion of late regarding influence, most of it centered around who has it, how to measure it and how to leverage it. So when I sat down with my good friend and colleague Alan Berkson (@berkson0) of the Intelligist Group to discuss influence, we decided to push each other in a slightly different direction.

Rather that focus on how influence is quantified, we decided to take a look at what defines influence, and in particular, what are some of the universal characteristics of influence – not just in social media, but in the real world, across any/all markets and not limited to any specific time period.

At the end of our talk, several hours later, we had identified a number of unique characteristics of influence that were not limited to individuals, but also applied to events and trends. Here are five that we found particularly noteworthy – feel free to add your own to our list

1)    Influence can have a transitive reach across multiple industries or market sectors

Being influential in one market can often lead to being influential in another. In fact, the more influential a person or event is in a particular market can often be a good indicator of how far that influence can be extended, but there are limits.

Take for example, Bono, of U2. He has leveraged his influence in the music industry into the realm of humanitarian causes with great success, but I probably wouldn’t be swayed at all if he tried to sell me a Fiat. On the other hand, Lou Gerstner (who turned around IBM despite a non-tech background with RJR Nabisco and American Express) and Jack Welch (who drove General Electric to a dominant position during his tenure from 1981 – 2001) have enough influence, clout and experience to dominate just about any industry they touched (their influence in this case was both within their industry and within their companies, as motivators). But again, while I might be influenced by their actions in other unrelated business sectors, I probably wouldn’t be swayed by their attempt to sell men’s fragrances.

2)    Influence can have variable fade curves by time

Influence is not a steady thing, it ebbs and flows like the tide, but ultimately tends to fade over time. In some cases, the influence of a person is felt both in their present (look at how Johannes Gutenberg revolutionized the printing process in his own time) and the long term future (without Gutenberg’s invention, the age of knowledge would never have occurred).

For some, the curve is very steep and fades with extreme prejudice (ala 15 minutes, or even seconds, of fame – the same can be said, by the way, for trends or “fads”), while for others their personal and global influence continues to grow to span their entire life. For example, look at how the influence of Stephen Hawking continues to grow and drive advances in the world of physics (his curve continues to rise and will have a very slow fade, similar to Albert Einstein).

3)    Influence can be cyclic and/or recurring

Influence, of both trends and people, can be recurring. Steve Jobs is a great example here. While he was at Apple (the first time), his influence rocketed upward. But when he left, his influence (over both the company and the market) dropped to almost nothing. Interestingly, when he returned to Apple, his influential status picked back up exactly at the place where he left it, and it hasn’t stopped growing since.

In a different way, past figures can see a resurgence of their influence, often in unintended ways. Here are two really interesting examples:

  • Yul Brynner, the famous actor who passed in 1985, saw a resurgence in his influence through a series of anti-smoking commercials he recorded prior to his death to be released years after his death. Here, his influence not only was recurring, but transcended the industry in which he was known.
  • Charlton Heston, the great actor and long-time champion against gun control laws, while known for his acting is best remembered for his line “from my cold, dead hands” – a phrase uttered well after his fame as an actor had faded that has now, even today, remained a rallying cry for those who believe the 2nd Amendment guarantees their right to bear arms.

The list goes on. Look at how RunDMC jump-started Aerosmith’s fading career with their cover of “Walk This Way”, or how Tony Bennett, the singer famous in the mid-1900’s was able to stage a remarkable comeback with a younger generation, appearing along-side the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Flavor Flav, or Roy Orbison, whose career was revitalized through the collaborative efforts of people like Tom Petty and Elvis Costello, bring his then “old” music to a new generation of younger fans.

4)    Influence transcends positive & negative

The saying there is no such thing as bad press is as true as ever. Influence doesn’t respect the boundaries of good or bad, it simply is, and can often work in ways that would seem to be at odds with common sense. Need a good example? Take a look at Rupert Murdoch. Throughout his career, he has had his share of tremendous successes and dreadful controversies. Neither of these has, in the past, diminished or limited his ability to wield tremendous influence through his media empire. Even with his current scandal, involving the News of the World newspaper (and also the name of one of my favorite Queen albums), it is extremely uncertain what the long-term impact will be on his influence or his legacy.

5)    Influence transcends medium

Influence often works in subtle ways. For example, trusted and famous actors often lend their voice, not their image, to commercials across various industries. Most people don’t recognize the voice at first (if at all), but they do subconsciously associate the comfort they feel with that “voice” despite the fact that the medium doesn’t show the face of the actor or even mention the actor’s name. Great examples include the actor Sam Elliot, who despite a brilliant screen career, has probably had more true influence through his voice-over line “Beef, it’s what’s for dinner” than he has had in his acting career. Interesting, isn’t it.

Like I said above, these are just five examples that we thought noteworthy. There are many more, and I think the real value of this list is how we leverage these characteristics in our daily personal and business lives feel free to add your own to our list

5 Trends Influencing Business Today

The world is presently in the midst of a wave of revolutions, spanning from massive changes in global politics to the ever-exploding presence of social media and online technology into our everyday lives. Through all of this, however, business must go on, but it isn’t business as usual. I recently wrote a short post on who might be influencing your next business deal.

After delving a bit deeper, and surviving some great brainstorm sessions (if you don’t have a group of trusted advisors, get one), I started to take a look at the bigger picture – not just “who” might be influencing business deals, but what are some of the major trends that are helping to redefine how we do business while the world around us transitions from the past of the 20th century to the new realities of the 21st.

Here are 5 trends that I think are worth watching:

1) The Importance of the Customer

The phrase “customer-centric” has never been more important than it is today. With the arrival of the “information age”, consumers world-wide know what is available, what everyone else is buying and how to find it online at the lowest cost. With this power has come the ability to shape markets, and define the products that they want. Manufacturers no longer have the power to define a market in their own closed space. The phrase “build it and they will come” no longer applies – you must know what the customer wants in advance if you want any chance of survival. And once you have delivered what the customer wants, your product and your customer support must both be perfect, because in this age, word-of-mouth doesn’t just reach family and friends, it reaches the world.

Place the customer first. Listen to them before you build your product and they’ll tell you what to make. Listen to them after they buy your product and they’ll tell you how to keep them as repeat customers (and brand advocates).

2) The Rise of Search

Search has changed everything. Anybody with a laptop, tablet or even a phone can find any piece of information they need. They can find just about everything regarding both a product and the company that makes it, including the opinions of others. But more importantly, search is becoming personal, and that is having a dramatic impact on both the consumption of information and the consumption of product and services. Search is no  longer “your father’s SEO”.

To drive revenue & growth, Google, Bing/Yahoo, etc. have always tried to present the most “relevant” search results (and advertisements) on your search page. Relevancy = dollars. But we’ve moved into a stage of technology, and “business to business” information sharing, where this refinement has evolved to where not just ads but content (search results) are now unique to individuals, based on their past search history, sites they frequent, their geographic regions, social/economic groups, etc. For example, Google uses 57 different “signals” to track who you are and what content is most appropriate specifically for you. Couple those 57 signals with information that they can obtain about you (either directly or through other “information partners”) and you have a powerful tool.

Businesses need to recognize the importance of personalized search, how it impacts their own online strategy and figure out the best way to leverage it to their advantage.

3) The Globalization of “Message”

There was a time when a brand’s “message” was local. Even corporations that had a global footprint (General Motors, SONY, Coke/Pepsi, etc.) still had customized messages that were appropriate (and targeted) at the local, or at least regional, level. And they stayed there.

Today, that world is gone. With the rise of the Internet and a population that increasingly views world travel as just another part of life, messages and brand images no longer stay where you put them. Instead, they go viral. They get picked up on YouTube. They’re seen by travelers. They’re found on the Internet (occasionally in a blog with a title like “the 10 worst marketing translations”). They are everywhere. Moving forward, the “message” that a corporation presents must be global in nature, or at the least, local and regional messages must be cultivated in such a way as to work on a global scale. From a business perspective, this isn’t a bad thing at all. In fact, get creative with your international message and perhaps you’ll get lucky and it will go viral.

4) The Power of “Same”

Not only can you buy the same thing anywhere, people have grown to expect the same thing everywhere! While we still pride ourselves in finding that unique place or product, the reality is that the world is becoming one giant franchise. The “bland effect” (the ability to eat at a McDonald’s or Burger King in just about every country in the world) has moved into most major industries, from automotive to online, and shows no signs of slowing.

Perhaps the greatest example is the global domination of major online firms (Google, Facebook, Amazon, eBay, etc.) who have created wildly successful brands that require little or no customization to reach into any country. And if a business can’t get there themselves, the clones will. Here’s a great column from Shane Farley at Business Insider on how Sina Weibo (a Chinese version of Twitter) is outpacing Twitter’s own growth curve. If you are bringing a major product or brand to market, you must expect and drive global demand.

5) The Fall of Nations

What is more important in the world today: nations or businesses? I’d argue businesses. Who has more influence today: nations or businesses? Again, I’d argue for businesses. The globalization of brands, and the ability of consumer demand to occur on a world-wide scale, are tipping the balance of power. Commerce and trade, and consumer demand, doesn’t respect political borders. In fact, it makes them less relevant as, in this information age, we become a globe of increasingly “similar” consumers. Nations, of course, will push back and continue to try to regulate international commerce and trade. But in the long run, power is increasingly in the hands of the consumer, and the businesses that meet their needs.

What are the trends that YOU are seeing?

These 5 trends are a few of the trends that I see shaping and influencing the world of business today. What trends are shaping your business, and how are you adapting?

influence-whisper

Who is influencing your next deal?

Every business deal is a negotiation, and every negotiation has its players and its influencers. Figuring out who the players are is relatively simple – they’re the ones sitting across the table from you. But figuring out who their influential advisors are is a totally different issue, and it’s an important one to understand.

If you don’t know who, or where, your target is looking to for advice, you may not know the best way to focus your pitch, position your product or direct your negotiation strategy. You may also miss an opportunity to influence their influencers, potentially passing up a great chance to drive a deal through indirect, not direct, interaction (imagine if their influencer understood and was actually an advocate of your business, product or services).

In the world of business and negotiations, every edge is an advantage

Influencers, however, come in all different shapes and sizes, and are not necessarily consistent from deal to deal. Sure, there are a few that are always important, such as the person who controls the funding, or the COO who will ultimately be responsible for making sure that their business continues to operate in a smooth fashion. But the sheer number of influencers that you might encounter on a deal is much broader than you might think, and the weight of each can vary considerably. So just who might be influencing your next deal?

Here’s a quick list of suspects you might consider:

  1. Analysts: the trusted industry guru who shares their advice with all who will listen,
  2. Advisors: a bit closer to your prospect (mostly invisible, in fact), and somebody that is usually asked quietly to vet a new idea or project,
  3. Consultants: the person/group brought in specifically for this particular project who knows that their reputation is linked directly to how well this particular deal works out,
  4. Peer Groups: that group of industry peers (every industry has one) that talks about just what products or services they’ve used, what worked and what didn’t (and by the way, they often tend to flock together when it comes to technology best practices),
  5. Customers: not the person you are dealing with, but their customer, who may have a preference or a particular bit of sway based upon their size and purchasing habits with your potential customer (and don’t forget that a customer can be both a “best advocate” and a tremendous influencer),
  6. Press: who are always evaluating and publishing stories, articles, case studies about your products, your industry, etc. (sure, the “press” isn’t as popular as they once were, but their ability to influence is still as strong as ever as their writers have shifted into dual “reporter/blogger” roles, ),
  7. Bloggers: both individuals who have sway in their own particular sector as well as those in the emerging “tra-digital” hybrid model where the traditional press (with online publications) and individual bloggers have merged to form a slightly new breed of news/commentary that is becoming an increasingly valued source of information (Huffington Post early on was a great example), and
  8. Special Interest Groups: depending upon your industry, special interest groups (which are a bit different from industry peer groups in that they often have an agenda and can even be formal lobbying groups) can be a formidable force that can influence not just a particular business entity but an entire industry (and the politics that go with it).
  9. Marketing: I’m breaking out Marketing (either in-house or via agencies) from Competition (see below) due to the fact that Marketing usually involves a bit of “spin” that may not accurately represent your competitor in their true light. With that said, it is important to see how your competitor’s products are being marketed – who are they targeting? what buzz-words are they using? how are they gaining their traction? are they comparing their company/product (either directly or indirectly) to you, and if so, how?
  10. Your Competition: if you think you don’t have any competition, you are probably selling into a market that doesn’t exist. Looking at your competition is a great way to understand both market and customer dynamics. And let’s face it, very few (if any) of your potential partners or customers will ever sign a deal without doing a bit of window shopping, and what they see in the window will definitely have an influence on how they perceive the relative value between you and your competition. And don’t just stop at their products/services, but look at the entire firm. Are they product/service-focused or are they customer-centric? How are their various departments (sales, marketing, customer support, development, etc.) woven together. The more you know, they better you can compete, and answer those tough questions that your potential partner or client is likely to ask (like “Why you, and not them?”).

So if you can figure out just who your prospective client or business partner is listening to (which requires that you do your fair share of listening), you may just find an edge, and in the world of business and negotiation, every edge is an advantage.

So who are your target’s influential advisors, and how will you turn that knowledge into an advantage?


[UPDATE: This post was originally written as an introduction to the June 28th edition of #InfluenceChat, a weekly Twitter chat on business influence that takes place every Tuesday at 12pm ET (check out the GnosisArts wiki for a list of all Twitter Chats. This post has been edited for clarification and to update content, including the addition of the “Special Interest Groups” at the suggestion of Rika Ng @rikang and the suggestion of Marketing Agencies and Competitors from Margie Clayman @MargieClayman]

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