carry oil for squeaky wheels.

Whenever there is an online backlash against a brand or product, one of the first things I hear (or usually read) is a reminder that those voicing concerns aren't a large part, and at times aren't even a significant part, of the overall audience / customer base.

The problem with that line of thinking is, given current technology, those who voice concerns are the groups with the most visibility, and are usually afforded the most credibility.  And that's ignoring the mainstream media's current fascination with anything related to Twitter.

If 4%, or even 0.4% of your customer base is whipping up a frenzy on a social network, it's visible enough to impact a much larger group of customers, or potential customers.

Angry people aren't quiet.  And anybody can be loud, today, if they manage to strike a chord with the right people.


content vs object - short version.

When digital information storage and transfer became the norm, businesses (really, almost all of us) made the same, erroneous assumption: that the content was the value, and the object was waste.

As in, music = product, CD = trash.  Or book = trash, story = product.  The problem with this, however, is that purchase is about the transfer of ownership.  People like to buy things they can gain ownership of.  It's hard to feel like you own a digital file, even as you enjoy the text or the music.

Most of us bought into the glorious lie of the internet age, the belief that production costs would plummet, that even at reduced prices income would skyrocket.  We forgot that the cost of a book included a durable, attractive copy on your shelf for as long as you like.

In the past, the only way to transfer information without physical form was a mixture of senses and memory.  The only way you could charge for this, was to charge for the time of the person re-telling.  Charging for performance, you will note, still works.

Digital information equates to augmented memory.  Charging for it is counter-intuitive, if you think about it.


the market for communication is flooded.

[This post is something of a placeholder, transcribing notes I put together for what will hopefully be a somewhat interesting presentation.]

The market for communication is flooded.

Mass is dead or dying, when it comes to building actual relationships. There is no such thing as 'too visible to fail' in an attention economy. There is, however, 'too omnipresent to identify with'.

You might want to consider people.

You are a person, dealing with people. Technology has made it possible (unavoidable) to do a lot of this, ignoring limitations imposed by time or distance. Technology has also added a layer of separation. Meaning and nuance are reduced in comparison to face to face human interaction.

You should take this as a reminder: put as little as possible between yourself, and people you would like to speak, as possible. Things in the way often include: policy, management, NDAs, PR people, fear of transparency, voicemail systems, etc etc etc.

A flooded market means we can be picky. Most of us pick talking to / with a person.

I think there is still a need for communications professionals. But I also think that a trained, informed employee or owner is the best point of contact, not someone who is involved solely as a point of contact. I think it's time to stop pretending that media savvy isn't teachable.

Communications people should be hired for strategy, or input, and for insight. (And then, for connections and THEN in pursuit of coverage.)

The current cycle doesn't reward hype, or launches, or short-term thinking. It rewards community, observation, reaction, and sustained value.

It's not just engagement. It's interaction.

It's communication strategy, more than marketing or PR. Which isn't a chart of impressions, or a clip file, or ROI (Not that these aren't important things). Communication strategy is knowing your community, industry, issues and organization. Knowing what may come. And everyone knowing how to deal with it.

Because (cough, #amazonfail, cough) communication is realtime.

You can't wait until monday morning to let the people who trust you know what's going on. You can't put people, time, or fear between you and your community. You need people on the ground, ready, willing and prepared to act in response to public perception. Which means you need an informed, trained, prepared and updated team. All the time.

A flooded market means that someone else will speak, if you do not.


look to the webcomics.

I've been reading webcomics for about a decade, now, and every year I get more convinced that no one has figured out the new economic reality better than webcomic creators.  And I'm not talking about the Penny Arcade level death-star goldmine webcomic creators.  I'm talking about the one-and-two person operations, and the 'collectives'.

I'm not arguing it's an endless goldmine.  I'm just saying that a notable number of hardworking, talented artists are making a living on their creativity.  I'm not an expert or an insider, but I am impressed.

Business models I've observed include donations, subscriptions, advertising, sponsored content, but mostly a mixture of some of the above with merchandise sales (books, tshirts, tote bags).

All of this comes down to three stages: Make something good. Give it away. Offer the people who care about it a way to support you, and to own a piece of something they have come to love.

This can be merchandise sales (the Topatoco army wins at this, in my opinion), or donations (which have supported Something Positive for a couple of years now, if I'm not mistaken), or most recently, beautiful handcrafted books, sold at a well-justified premium (a la Dresden Codak.)

The important thing is the understanding of the new model of business.  It works the same as a new relationship - you give something of value, because you want to.  Because you love it.  Not with an expectation of return.

If you give something that enough people value, then they will give back, not only to support you, but to own a piece of what you've created.  To pull a little more of something they love into their lives, whether as a status object, or as a reminder that this thing they love exists.

The best part? Commerce has another layer of separation from the art.  The art is created to be art, to build a following, and to show something of value.  When the art is created to build a connection, there's no need to water it down - you want something that people will be connected to, not just unoffended by.  Selling tshirts doesn't diminish the art of a cartoonist, web or otherwise.  It separates the art from the product.

[Seriously, read webcomics.  The quality, humour and consistency of these people is clearly the biggest element of the success they've had thus far.  You will not regret it.]


the worst biz model in the world.

I've been noticing the continued popularity of the worst business model in the world.  (No, this is not a joke-post about twitter.)

The worst business model in the world is conceptually very common, but rarely implemented.  It goes something like this: "A successful company (or industry) has a point of contact with our business, and we think they should have to pay us, because we are not successful, and, well, there is a point of contact."

The most recent example, of course, is newspapers and Google.  Ignoring the fact that Google, by pointing people to the source of information, is increasing traffic to newspapers, Google doesn't sell news as a products, and Google's major sources of revenue have more or less nothing to do with news.

The record industry has tried this, arguing that a chunk of ISP income should be given to them, or that internet connections should come with a levy.  Which would make sense, if the internet was only useful for downloading records.

Note my earlier description: "point of contact" doesn't mean "incorporate someone else's technology or IP of value and then sell it".  It means two businesses cross over slightly, but not in a profitable way, and the less successful one takes a good look at the success and sees dollar signs.

It's the worst business model in the world.  Worse than buying patents to sue companies that actually create things.  Those lawsuits at least have arguable merit on paper.


twitter for comments.

There's been a fair amount of talk regarding using Facebook Connect comments, since they launched in February.  I was somewhat excited at first, because it attached comments to a fairly persistent identity, which has the potential to curtail some of the negative (or anti-social) behaviours associated with online commenting

I'm starting to think that a comment box that used twitter accounts, and actually connected to the usual twitter feed, would be substantially more useful.  The reasoning is fairly simple; twitter is a conversation tool, where facebook was once about the social graph, and is currently confusing me as to it's focus.

If the point of attaching an identity to comments is to create accountability, facebook connect is undoubtedly the better choice.  Facebook can easily be a window into a personal social circle.  Tying comments to that social circle might reduce some of the more absurd aspects of online comments.

If the point of attaching an identity to comments is to create a dialogue (which can also create accountability) I would suggest the use of a service that is essentially a lightweight dialogue tool.

This came to mind when I was reading a blog post over the weekend, and before I thought to comment on the page, I had opened TweetDeck and started to type.  When I think online dialogue, I think twitter.  I'm probably not the only one.

[This could also be a potential means of monetization - if a customized twitter interface is embedded on every post, a small percentage of ad revenue shouldn't be completely out of the question, assuming twitter develops, maintains and supports the specifics of the service to an acceptable degree.]


i don't believe in a technological generation gap.

The assumption of a generation gap when it comes to using technology bothers me, because it almost always actually comes down to one issue: Is the user willing to play with it?

Every single piece of software I can use in a valuable manner, I have learned to use by playing with it until it did what I wanted it to do.  Playing can involve rules, obviously, and in these cases my rule books are manuals, tutorials, blog posts and conversations with others who are comfortable with the tool in question.  But when it comes to learning how to use tools on a computer, the first step, for me, has always been play.

The only real generation gap that I've seen, is a worry that play is either unproductive, or potentially damaging to the tools.  Because comfort is built over time, people who are older, are often less comfortable with some of these tools.  Hence, fear of play.

But calling this generational bothers me.  There are plenty of people twice my age with a greater willingness to play with computers and softwear than I will ever develop.  Some of them, like me, keep their play mostly relegated to the user interface.  Many of them continue to play with modifications, with source code, with plug-ins and widgets.

It's not based on generation.  It's comfort and willingness to play.  Do these traits cluster a certain way demographically?  Of course.  But the assumption that these tools are for the young is dangerous.


we are not all the same.

We no longer live in a world where it's okay to ignore the extremes and the outliers.  If you can't provide information in a suitable format, with a suitable level of detail, to the right people, you can't connect with anyone.

My mother is an educator, currently working with children who face difficulties learning.  Last night, we went out to dinner, and had a truly great conversation, dealing with one of the core problems with education; the impossibility of creating a learning situation that isn't too slow for some people, and too fast for others.

This hits close to home, as I was in an accelerated program in grade school and high school, and generally felt that education came in two speeds: so slow it was boring, or completely self directed, as many teachers seemed to assume that kids in an accelerated program didn't require any guidance.

As a result of this, and (I'm sure) an innate tendency, I was a lazy student until I reached the mid-point of high school.  I reflect on these issues regularly, especially when I'm dealing with information delivery, or preparing materials for public consumption.

We're at a point where not only do you need to produce content at every key level of complexity and detail, but also tailored and distributed to the audience and community that is going to interact with it.

This doesn't mean giving the good information to newspapers, and less detailed stuff to new media producers.  It means tailoring the kind of information, and the presentation, to the audience at hand.  You will find people of more or less equal intelligence in any network.  What you won't find is a blurb of text that is equally dynamic on a facebook fan page, as it is coming across in 140 character blasts on twitter.

Tailoring isn't just for direct outreach.  It's for your presence in distinct communities, and distinct modes of communication.  Speaking to people with an understanding their idiom, at their speed, is the only way you can truly connect with them.

Thanks, Mom.


social media consultants are people too.

A short word in defence of social media consultants:

When the record companies ignored the way filesharing technology had changed the relationship between music and consumers, we mocked them.  We continued mocking them as sales waned, as they got more aggressive with legal tactics, and as we mocked them as their business model collapsed around them.

We're still mocking them now.

Meanwhile, social media is changing the way everyone does business.  And our immediate reaction is to mock those who are trying to help companies in nearly every industry ride out the transition better than the music industry did.

Not every social media specialist is a "guru" with 12,000 Twitter friends, and spam on the brain.  A lot of people are professional communicators who understand this new space, and would like to help companies understand it.  Don't insist that every attempt to introduce business to the new realities of communication is inherently crooked.

[completely inspired by this post at itellstories.org, which is always a good source of inspiration and mood improvements.]

[edited due to truly embarrassing typo]


secrecy is not your friend.

No one can tell their friends about the amazing, completely secret thing that you’re working on.

Even if it doesn’t materialize, an ambitious and transparent failure is better than continued, unremarkable anonymity.

(All advice is given on the assumption that you aren’t actually full of shit. Infinium Labs, transparency will not save you.)


copyright will kill disney, or disney will kill copyright.

Disney is the greatest company in the world, when it comes to turning creative content in to money. You can argue, but I’ve only got to say: Miley Cyrus, Beauty and the Beast, High School Musical, and you more or less have to admit that creating massively influential cultural touchstones / money factories is what Disney does best.

I’ve recently become convinced that Disney’s reliance on strong copyright is going to be it’s downfall.

Until recently, things worked pretty simply. You would create content, and then exchange it for money. We can get more specific and discuss distribution, advertising, investment, but mostly, it came down to that singular exchange: a piece of culture would be created, and then sold, to individuals and groups, again and again. As a bonus, you could also create additional related products, to be exchanged for money. If we’re talking about music, it would be posters, concerts, tshirts, limited edition packaging, stickers, etc. If we’re talking about movies, it would be toys, clothing, games, special edition books and dvds, etc.

Many of these things were just clever or attractive repackaging of the content itself. But that packaging was still important.

Things have changed, because the concept of distribution has changed. Access is simple, no one is comfortable with operating on your schedule, and, crucially, piracy has made content free. Not packaging, not experience, not perfectly, but free. It’s easier to download an album than listen to the band on the radio, and it’s easier to download an album than buy it online, if you use certain legal download services (looking at you, PureTracks).

The new map of this experience? Content is released, in hopes to build interest. You can charge for it, sure, but this isn’t where the real money comes from. When interests develops, if you are lucky it can bring loyalty, or a sense of debt. That interest means that people will buy your products, whether they are packaged content, or merchandise, or an experience.

The reality of creativity as business is that ROI has moved further downstream. It’s not money for album, or money for movie anymore. It’s non-rival (digital) content for consideration, and then an exchange of money for a rival good, something tactile, something to be displayed and appreciated.

Strong copyright is now a tool for alienating your audience, and complicating the task of building that key interest. Your core creative products are best considered advertising for the things that really make money. The physical products that can’t be duplicated perfectly, that can’t be supplanted by ‘good enough’ copies.

This isn’t to disparage the importance of the creative arts that companies like Disney create. It makes them more important. Movies, television and music will have to be so good that they inspire consumers to associate themselves with the content in real life. My nephew went to sleep last night in Lightning McQueen pyjamas, and woke up to put on a Lightning McQueen tshirt. This wouldn’t have happened if Cars wasn’t so impressive for him that the only toys he wants are inspired by the movie. The film itself may have earned, total $100 from my family, even counting DVD sales and individual movie tickets. The merchandise has earned thousands, without exaggeration.

Disney has the reach, the intellectual properties, and the tools necessary to restructure a business that is based on the new content/profit map. They can clearly influence culture – look at how successful the company has been when people had to pay for the content. Make it free now, and profit. Copyright used to work. Now it’s only standing between you, and the collective wallet of your audience.


wikipedia is your new agenda.

If you, your business, or a client is plagued by inaccuracies on wikipedia, the issue isn’t that wikipedia is petty, or inaccurate, or uncontrolled. The issue is that your image is a wreck, because wikipedia is, without fail, a better representation of the public understanding of you, your company, or client, than your own self-image is.

Wikipedia is the first place people will go, after your own website, to decide whether or not they trust you, and what they should trust you about. If an entry is biased, inaccurate, or adversarial, you need to act in response. And you have two things to act on.

1) A Hit List – Every major point on a wikipedia entry that makes you cringe is a point where you need to revisit your messaging and branding, and see how you can address those issues. Again, inaccuracy is less important than influence, and wikipedia is more influential than you. So look at what you can do, or say, differently, to make it clear that you are not being represented fairly. Every issue in the entry is a new point on the agenda for your next conversation.

2) The Truth – If you’re this angry about your image being misrepresented, I’m assuming it’s not an accurate representation. If the truth is on your side, prove it as best you can. Outside information, linking to evidence, transparency. Do it calmly, do it clearly, but make damn sure you aren’t hiding anything that will make you look worse. Don't accuse the community, or wikipedia, of being out to get you - there is almost no chance you are important enough to warrant that type of conspiracy.

You can’t control how you are interpreted or represented. But you can learn from it, and act with it in mind.