Media out of balance

Successful media (let’s define ‘successful’ as media that can make a difference, make a connection and possibly make a living) has four elements:



Trust and


Too often, particularly online, people just worry about the first one.

It’s a race to go viral, to go low, to make a bunch of noise. The quick hit, the shortcut, the inflammation.

But attention is insufficient.

Enrollment means that your audience wants to go where you’re going.

Trust earns you the benefit of the doubt.

And permission means you don’t have to begin from scratch every time. You’ve earned some attention. The privilege of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages over time.

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The hard work of understanding

Sometimes, we’re so eager to have an opinion that we skip the step of working to understand. Why is it the way it is? Why do they believe what they believe?

We skip reading the whole thing, because it’s easier to jump to what we assume the writer meant.

We skip engaging with customers and stakeholders because it’s quicker to assert we know what they want.

We skip doing the math, examining the footnotes, recreating the experiment, because it might not turn out the way we need it to.

We better hurry, because the firstest, loudest, angriest opinion might sway the crowd.

And of course, it’s so much easier now, because we all own our own media companies.

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What kind of media counts?

The Department of Justice has decided, apparently, not to prosecute Wikileaks for leaking information because the prosecutors would have a “New York Times problem.” In other words, because Wikileaks worked with a media entity that counts, they have to be treated seriously.

Amazon soon will have more new self-published books for sale than books that went through the old process. Do these self-published books matter? Are the reviews from readers ‘real’ or should they be ignored?

Many actors would rather do a low-rated cable show that doesn’t pay well than appear on a YouTube video that is seen by millions. Because the former counts.

Columnists for famous newspapers look down at bloggers, even bloggers with more readers and impact than they have.

In live theatre, a revue out of town that gets a well-deserved standing ovation nightly doesn’t count as much as a Broadway show, even one that’s frankly pretty bad.

Of course, television didn’t used to count, not if you were a radio star. And cable didn’t count, not if you were a network sitcom star…

Sure there are fake reviews, fake followers and fake views. Sure, there’s a huge amount of unreadable, unwatchable, unshareable stuff being published in the curationless media of our time. But eventually, the truth will out, quality will be shared (or at least interesting will be shared) and our definition of what counts will change.

The question for you is which line to get on… the line waiting to get picked or the line to start now?

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Noise-tolerant media

Twitter is the noisiest medium in history. Do you actually believe that Taylor Swift has 33,000,000 million (and counting) people eagerly waiting for her next tweet, ready to click on whatever she links to?

In fact, less than one in a thousand people who ‘get’ one of her tweets will click. Most of the 33 million won’t even read it, making the word ‘get’ worthy of quotation marks.

And yet Twitter works just fine at this level. That’s because it immerses the user in waves of media, a stream of ignorable content that people can dip into at will. More noise makes it better, not worse. 

Email was wrecked by many marketers for many people, because email isn’t structured for noise. Noise is the enemy. Instant messages, because there is no easy accessible API, isn’t overwhelmed, but it too is noise-intolerant. Texts you don’t want to get are a huge hassle.

The simple rule is that the easier it is to use a medium, the faster it will become noisy, and the noisier it is, the less responsive it is.

You can play at Facebook and Twitter, and make them work. But they will only work if you treat them like a cocktail party, as an opportunity to eavesdrop and layer general connection and value and insight. No, it’s not an ideal direct marketing medium. It’s a metropolis.

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Evoking online trust

Interactions rarely happen with people we don’t trust.

How is it that someone sees your website or your social media presence or your email and decides to interact? The decision to interact happens before someone actually listens to what you have to say. Here’s a way to think about the factors that kick in before the browser even hears what you have to offer them today:

  • Word of mouth
  • Direct interaction
  • Graphics
  • Tone of voice
  • Offer
  • Size of leap
  • Fear
  • Social ranking/metric
  • Tribal affiliation
  • Perception of transparency
  • Longevity
  • Mass acceptance

Word of mouth: The most effective, by far. If I’ve heard good things about you from people I know, the entire relationship changes. You get the benefit of the doubt.

Direct interaction: Have you previously touched me or interacted with me in some way beyond the passive? The way I feel about that ping will alter our interaction. If this is the first time you’re reaching out, you can bet a piece of spam is read differently than something that comes via mutual introduction.

Graphics: What do you look like? What does it remind me of? With so few clues online, we read an enormous amount into every pixel, every typeface…

Tone of voice: A variation of graphics, it has to do with your copy, with your video, with the urgency of your offer. Urgency rarely leads to trust.

Scarcity: Is there a perception that early birds gain? This also hooks in with metrics, like the progress your Kickstarter has made so far, or the number of social links you display.

Offer: What’s in it for me to listen to what you have to say? Do I gain more if I listen with a sympathetic ear?

Size of leap: What are you asking me to do? It’s significantly easier to earn the trust that is required to follow you on social media than it is to get me to give you my credit card. When you hook your new idea to an old idea I already trust, you benefit.

Fear: This is related to the leap. Big leaps are scarier, requiring more trust, and thus more skepticism.

Social ranking/metric: Results on the first page of Google are more trusted. People with a lot of Twitter followers as well, which is one reason both metrics are aggressively coveted and sometimes gamed.

Tribal affiliation: Are you one of us?

Perception of transparency: When I can see the metrics, or understand your intention, or when the message carries with it the hooks to those ideas, I’m more inclined to trust you. (This is a cultural, not a universal, bias).

Longevity: How long have you been showing up?

Mass acceptance: When I sort of hear of you from my friends, when I recognize you from a hashtag or the logo on a shirt or from a TV show, you come out ahead. TV celebrities walk in to the room with a lot of trust.

You will be judged, best to plan on being judged in the best possible light.

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Look Beyond Your “Social Media Presence”

A lot of companies congratulate themselves on having a “social media presence” — by which they mean a Twitter following and Facebook likes and a marketing plan that uses social networks. But some 70% of the extra profit to be made through social technologies has nothing to do with marketing. It’s in areas of the company such as knowledge management, innovation, communication, and better integration with the supply chain.

Examples of enterprise social-technology use are cropping up all the time: TD bank relies on a social network for employee communication, and at Unisys, social communities provide specialized expertise to resolve technical problems.

The Dutch telecommunications company KPN implemented social media to strengthen employees’ connections to others, but the technologies have taken on a life of their own, creating unexpected benefits in surprising places. One example: A team that was testing a new modem put out a call for help and got 170 volunteers to test the product and give the designers feedback. Another: During high-level internal discussions about worker salaries and pensions, the company’s HR director, rather than put out the type of opaque statements that are typical in most companies, blogged about developments as they occurred, generating much positive sentiment among employees.

KPN shows how social technologies within the enterprise can create significant value by shifting communication away from one-to-one channels and toward one-to-many or many-to-many platforms. Because e-mails are private, the knowledge inside them stays under wraps, but when interactions happen on social-media platforms, work-related communications are visible to everyone. The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that this change alone can improve employee productivity by up to 25%.

But the vast majority of companies have failed so far to tap into these sources of extra profit, and even those that are using the technologies have generated only a small fraction of the potential value.

To get the most out of social technologies, known collectively as Enterprise 2.0, companies need to focus on two critical factors: integration and scale.

Integration. Too many companies have kept social platforms separate from their essential businesses. McKinsey estimates that only 6% of companies have truly integrated Enterprise 2.0 into the core. Even some tech-savvy companies have lagged on this. Consider Microsoft’s Channel 9software-community platform, where developers can watch videos and comment on them. This platform, which aims not only to provide information to developers who are Microsoft’s customers but also to provide a forum where Microsoft can crowdsource innovative ideas, was built separately from Microsoft’s core developer sites and at first wasn’t integrated with them. But that separation from the core meant that Channel 9 was cut off from important resources, and as a consequence the site had poor stability and agility; without strong connections to teams running Microsoft’s many other sites, the Channel 9 team struggled to scale up. It wasn’t until the site was rebuilt using a Microsoft cloud platform that the site was finally able to cope with its increased traffic. The cloud platform allowed the site to be fully integrated into the core, and Channel 9 is now one of the web’s most active software-development communities.

In some cases, companies keep social media separate from the core in order to prevent the technology from getting bogged down in corporate policies and procedures. That’s a legitimate concern, but don’t let a skunkworks social-media project get so far outside the mainstream that it can’t make effective use of common platforms and other resources. In other cases, companies worry that social media will threaten the core. And yes, it’s true that social technologies typically require companies to redesign core processes. But that’s a good thing. For example, if you make crowdsourced innovation a core capability, you have to integrate it with marketing functions that take care of customers.

Scale. A company can generate significant value from social technologies only if they’re used at scale. McKinsey has found that the typical ROI of any social technology becomes positive when 15% to 25% of employees are using it extensively. But companies shouldn’t assume that “If we build it, they will come.” Our surveys have shown that more than 50% of companies fail to achieve this level of penetration. Daily usage must be continuously stimulated and reinforced. That means high-level executives must use social technologies too and give them enthusiastic support. Companies must offer valuable incentives, and in my experience, the best incentives for social-media use are intrinsic, as opposed to financial. Help employees master the technology and encourage them to find their own sense of purpose in it. Like YouTube uploaders, they’ll soon see the intrinsic value in contributing.

By integrating social platforms into the core and achieving scale, companies can fulfill the potential of social technologies. The result will be improvements in the “informal” aspects of the organization — the person-to-person connections through which work actually gets done. The improvements in collaboration, communication, and connection will contribute to helping the organization meet its goals.

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