Tag Archives: #influencechat

starlings murmuration

Crowds, Individuals and Conformity

I’ve always been fascinated by crowds — how they form, why they form, what influences them, and what, in turn, they have the ability to influence. I’ve also always tried to differentiate between crowds and communities, the latter being a more “refined” version of a crowd. Communities have purpose, and common bonds that bind the individuals together. So when I came across a couple of choice documentaries recently, that explored the nature, and science, of crowd/community behavior (and what it means as an individual within a crowd or community) the questions started flying. Fast.

STARLINGS and MURMURATIONS

I came across a brilliant documentary by Marcus du Sautoy, part of the BBC’s “The Code” series, in which he mathematically explains the amazing”Black Sun” murmurations that starlings form every year on their annual migration. Watching tens of thousands, perhaps a hundred thousand or more, fly in seemingly random, yet fluid, ever-changing pattern was both amazing to watch, but it also begged the question “how”? It turns out, as Marcus, explains, that you can mathematically recreate a murmuration of starlings with three basic rules: all birds should fly at approximately the same speed, they should stay close to their neighbors, and they should avoid predators (danger).


If you follow these three simple rules, it turns out that each starling need only keep track of (be influenced by) their seven closest neighbors. And those seven neighbors are constantly changing as the murmuration morphs in flight.

Might not the same basic rules apply to human behavior and individuals within a community or crowd?

INDIVIDUALS and CONFORMITY

After watching the BBC documentary, I stumbled across a great show on the Discovery Channel – Head Games. In this particular episode, they were delving into the nature of human conformity – could they make people conform to a belief or behavior that they inherently knew was wrong or incorrect?

During their experiments, they were able to convince a group of individuals that a snake was sitting high up in a tree — so much so that these individuals went on to convince others that there was indeed a snake in the tree. They described its shape, its color, its movements. But there was no snake.

During a second test, they were able to get a group of people to follow a red line through a museum — even though the red line took them away from the main exhibits (at one point having them actually walk in a circle around a pole).

After digging a bit deeper, I came across a study referenced in Science Daily that demonstrated an innate predisposition in humans to need to conform, as well as a predisposition in certain people (based on the size of certain regions of the brain) to have a higher-than-normal tendency to need to conform. To belong. To be safe. In other words, to not stand out or put themselves at risk.

THE QUESTIONS

After viewing the videos, digging deeper into the “conformity predisposition” and tossing the ideas about, a series of questions began to take shape…

  • At what point, if ever, does a group of individuals become a crowd (with collective influence and behavior)?
  • Can a group influence you in the same way that an individual does? (Can they be one of your “7”)?
  • At what point does conformity override our individual opinions and actions?
  • At what point does a crowd attain the characteristics, and influence, of an individual (if ever)?
  • Does conformity result in a faster shift in our opinions? Or do we still focus on our closest friends to define our behavior?

If you have any answers, I’d love to hear them. Let’s compare some notes. I’m far from done with this subject.

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

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?

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

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]