Communication as a Service

Who owns the relationship between you and your friends on Facebook? Who owns the relationship between you and your followers on Twitter? Who owns the connections you have with people on LinkedIn? The answer, unfortunately, is the same for all three questions. Not you.

Justifying Napster back in the day was fun and fairly easy from a consumer point of view. I share my music with my friends all the time by making mix tapes and CDs. Napster allows me to share my music with many more people. Scale should have nothing to do with the simple logic that sharing music is OK. Of course, those who gave this argument didn’t understand the law. We never bought the music. We bought the rights to listen to the music one play at a time. We never had the rights to make a copy for others. The music was never ours.

The relationships we build on social networks don’t belong to us. We think they do but they don’t. They are owned by the platform we use to make those relationships. Facebook gives us the rights to connect with our friends through their site and approved third party sites. If we want to take our friends elsewhere to a different network, we can’t, because those relationships aren’t ours to take.

Communication with our friends, family, and the outside world through all these social platforms has become a service. It’s something we buy (usually with our eyeballs on ads). We, in essence, don’t own the rights to communicate in what has become a ubiquitous form of communication. We are paying for the rights to communicate.

This doesn’t bother most people as long as the communication isn’t hindered. Pressure is mounting, however, on these communication services to further monetize their platforms. Facebook requires brands to pay to reach the entire audience for their Facebook Page that they helped build. Twitter has Sponsored Tweets and cut off 3rd party developers so Twitter can own the relationship directly with the consumer (so to maximize monetization). Our communication is quickly being obstructed by those who own the relationships.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. No one here is evil. It’s just business. There should be, however, a concern amongst those who see what is happening that this is a problem. I wouldn’t pay for a Facebook or Twitter service. I would, however, pay for relationship management and ownership. I want to own my relationships and take them wherever I want. It may be too late for any company to do this (oAuth tried to do this with usernames and passwords and Facebook and Google Connect took over the opportunity there).

We need someone to step up, whether it’s government, industry alliances, or a brave company to liberate our relationships and set the record that the future of all digital relationships must be portable and fully owned by the user. I’m not optimistic.

It’s All About Results

ImageThe following post is about BookofWin, the advertising agency platform currently in beta. To see some of the great work on BookofWin feel free to check out the preview page at BookofWin.com/Wins

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Few will disagree that there is a lack of transparency in the marketing and advertising industry in regard to the agency search. Finding the right agency is difficult and the few sites that provide a list of agencies rarely include the agency work. The ones that do typically focus on visual execution and not results.

If you’ve worked long enough in the ad industry you understand why many campaigns don’t go as planned. Agency folk are generally creative people. That’s why they want to work for an agency. They like to be challenged and want to make beautiful work. Clients want results. They want to meet objectives, KPIs, etc. These two objectives don’t always come together at the end. Often the work is beautiful and the results aren’t there. The client moves on to another agency while the agency touts their beautiful work as a stunning example of how creative they are. Potential new clients have little to no transparency into how successful a campaign actually was, regardless of aesthetics, even though results is really all that matters.

BookofWin was created to be a platform for agencies to promote their results, their Wins. We also provide a mechanism for anyone to give “Kudos” to each Win so that the community can vote up the most impressive work. We hope we can join/lead the movement towards greater transparency in the agency search process and help clients find the right agency for their needs.

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Blog Branding

I’m speaking today on a panel at the Kosher Food Bloggers Conference about branding. I always find the topic of branding interesting because it used to be something only high level business folk spoke about. Nowadays everyone talks about branding-the strength of the Apple brand, your personal brand, how to grow your brand, etc.

I’m going to be speaking to a lot of bloggers today and in my experience bloggers tend to fall prey to the mistake of putting the cart before the horse. They focus on blog design, LinkedIn connections, business cards, etc., rather than focusing on the value they and their brand brings to the world. In the blogosphere it’s about content. The ugliest site with the worst marketing can build a brand if it has amazing content. LOTS of amazing content that comes in consistently. Blog brand building is a problem to solve once you gain traction with an audience, not a todo before you start writing.

We All Need Role Models

When I was young I had posters of superheroes on my bedroom wall. As I grew older Spiderman and Batman were replaced with Shaquille O’Neil and John Starks. My approach to role models was always the same. I idolized those who seem to have supernatural powers because when I was young, I wanted to be super. We all did.

When I think about role models now my approach has completely shifted. There is some point in life when you realize that no one is super and while many people have strengths in certain fields, almost anyone can achieve almost anything with the right effort. I’m excluding some physical requirements for sports but even with the right requirements physically, most don’t achieve great success.

My current role models are people who have not only achieved greatness in their field but also have shown an ability to communicate that greatness to better the world around them. My current role models are not people whom I always agree with nor are they excellent examples of the best of humanity (they’re not risking their lives for freedom like our military nor are they handing out food to starving children in Africa). They are, however, using their skill set to make this world a better place.

This blog is not read by many so few will actually see this but I wanted to share with my readers a few people who continue to inspire me to always achieve more in life. Of course I have personal role models (family members, friends, etc) whom I admire more than anything and continue to inspire me as well. This list, however, is of people who are in the public eye who I’m sure not only inspire me but others as well. I encourage you all to look into them more.

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Neil deGrasse Tyson
Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space and a research associate in the department of astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History

I am not extremely interested in astrophysics. I don’t necessarily want to read Tyson’s books on space (even though I bet they are very interesting). What I love about Tyson is his excitement about science and his incredible way of making the pursuit of truth through science the greatest human endeavor. If you watch some of his interviews you will see he consistently and convincingly makes the case for human discovery. He makes the case for global collaboration in this pursuit. He makes me think about what we as humans can achieve if we pursued discovery instead of power. I want to live in a world where we all share Tyson’s passion.

Jason Calacanis
Internet entrepreneur and CEO of Mahalo and ThisWeekIn

Jason has helped me in my career more than he’ll ever know. He is a very successful entrepreneur who is very vocal about his opinions on the industry and entrepreneurial life. I am about to launch my own startup which will disrupt my industry and I have Jason to thank for being an inspiration on that front.

There are, however, lots of great entrepreneurs. There are plenty of people to learn from. What makes Jason different is his podcast “This Week in Startups” (TWIST). In this podcast Jason interviews entrepreneurs and industry experts on what it’s like to be an entrepreneur and the challenges they face. He reminds me of Howard Stern. He’s always blunt and always asks the questions that you want answered and not the softball nonsense questions that most interviewers ask. He doesn’t dumb things down for his audience and he doesn’t back away from a fight.

I don’t know what Jason is like personally and I disagree with many of his opinions and business decisions (but then again he is the millionaire and I’m the one launching my first startup so who cares about my opinion). I admire him for giving his knowledge back to the community that needs it. I’m a part of that community and I don’t think it gives enough credit to people like Jason who opens up their knowledge to the world week in and out. TWIST is part of my weekly listens on the way to work and I hope that one day I can thank him in person (possibly when he’s interviewing me on TWIST about my wildly successful business).

Jon Stewart
Host of The Daily Show

Almost everyone I know loves Jon Stewart. How could you not? He puts on one of the funniest shows on TV almost every day. The reason I consider him above other comics is that he’s used his position to facilitate actual change. A good example is his show on a bill to help 9/11 first responders not getting coverage on major networks. Stewart uses his show to make fun of politicians and the media. He also uses it to push rational thought through comedy. He fights for rationality and many times succeeds. That is something to admire.

Paul Krugman
Nobel Prize winning economist, Professor of Economics, and New York Times op-ed columnist

This choice is more about my opinion. Krugman just seems to make sense to me. I find economics fascinating and while I am nowhere near an expert, I learn more every time I read Krugman’s work. Krugman has been right about so many trends we’ve seen over the past decade in regards to the ups and down in the economy and I think he’s just brilliant. He seems to be one of the few economists willing to go out on a limb on many subjects and of the ones who do, he seems to be the only one that makes sense.

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When I look back at this list (there are more I could add but this is a good start) I think I see a trend. I admire people who push rationality. I admire people who push their opinion forward in the best way they know how. They do this to help the world get a tiny bit better every day. I want my kids to have that desire as well. Whatever field my kids pursue professionally, I want them to know that anyone can do great things as long as they use your skill set to better the world in their own way. I hope the people on this list don’t stop and if they ever read this they should know they are appreciated for what they continue to do.

The App.net Experiment Will Eventually Fail

App.net, the ad-free Twitter clone that you must pay for, will not succeed. It’s a shame, really. It seems to have very smart people behind it along with a very idealistic approach to content ownership. The problem is that users don’t need 99% of the services they use on the web. Most users don’t need LinkedIn. Most users don’t need Facebook. Most users don’t need Twitter. We use them because they’re free and we enjoy these services. If users had to pay for them, however, most would flee.

App.net forgets the cardinal rule when building a social network. The value to users is based on the value of the network. People will not pay to be a part of a network that they don’t see as valuable and the value here is based on those who pay to get in. It’s a classic chicken and egg problem that in this scenario I don’t see working out for app.net. Some people will like it. A few will love it. Ultimately, there won’t be enough paying users to justify investment or growth.

I think we’ll see this one die a moderately quick death. 18 months is my guess. Hopefully the founders can shift their business model (possibly to some sort of freemium model) that keeps quality high but lets in some people for free to generate the much needed network effect to build a proper social network.

Death of a Sales Department

In the marketing and advertising industry, agencies live and die by their ability to get on pitch lists. More pitch lists = more clients = more money. In the past, the key to getting on more pitch lists was a top-notch sales department. The best salesmen were never in the office and found ways to elbow and network their way into meetings with potential clients across the country. That is how clients used to learn about and choose the select agencies that got on pitch lists. The agencies chosen were never the best for the client’s needs. The agencies chosen were the ones pushy enough or with enough connections to get a meeting with the client. The salesmen were the kings of the agency world and their value was worth its weight in gold.

In today’s overabundance of media updated and ranked every second, salesmen are being replaced by the case study. Agencies are becoming well known for their work being shared virally around the world across consumer and media outlets. Salesmen don’t have to sell the agency anymore. The agency sells itself by doing work that is worth sharing. The future of sales in the agency world is the ability to for an agency to create great work that everyone wants to talk about.  RIP Willy Loman.

What I Like to Think I Do

People ask me what I do all the time (especially people who don’t work in advertising or marketing). I have trouble answering them. I use to think I work in the “Social Media” industry. I don’t think I do anymore. Social Media has been relegated to a bunch of overused best practices on popular social networks. The tactics might change per channel but the overall strategy hasn’t. Taking advantage of emerging new technologies and networks to connect brands and consumers in a two-way engagement is now the norm amongst major brands. How that is implemented is the current state of social media. That’s what takes up my day-to-day.

What I like to think I do is look beyond Social Media. I look at what is upcoming and how companies/clients can take advantage of that. I’m not a trend setter but I’m a trend spotter or even better, a trend futurist. Social Media is a term that will eventually merge at the higher level into Digital Media. Companies won’t have a Director of Social Media but rather a Director of Digital Media, DIrector of Communications, or Director of Innovations. There will always be a social media team of people managing social channels and integrating social media best practices into all other advertising and marketing. At a higher level, though, social media is too narrow and not forward-thinking enough. It’s not ahead of the curve. It’s the curve. I like to think I’m better than that. Maybe I’m not there yet but I’m looking ahead, not down.

State vs. Federal Government

Obama’s health care plan created an intense debate in this country about the government’s role in the healthcare industry. Further complicating the issue was that Obama’s plan was based on Romney’s plan that seemed to succeed in Massachusetts.

When I asked friends about their thoughts the opinions encompassed all political positions from left to right. The one I found most interesting was the argument made by many friends who were lawyers.  Their argument had little to do with the plan itself but rather it was not the role of the federal government to get involved in this issue. States, however, had the right to impose this type of plan, but not the federal government. I find this intriguing because it essentially avoids the debate entirely. It’s almost like a cop out of discussing hard issues at a federal level. Even with this in mind, they may be right. The Supreme Court found a way to make Obama’s plan legal but it was a divided court.

I propose that for future initiatives we first decide if something is a good idea and then decide if it’s a federal or state issue. Imagine if 80% of the country supported the healthcare plan but only 30% supported it fixed on a national level. The federal government can propose it’s suggestions to states and they can do as they wish. That way it’s not a partisan issue as to whether the plan is good but rather a partisan issue whether the states implement it or the federal government does. That definitely changes the way we would approach solving problems in this country and both parties may be happier with the end result.

Transparency

I’m increasingly becoming convinced that transparency is the solution to efficient relationships. Most people already know this relates to personal relationships (why all married couples don’t have shared bank accounts is beyond me). This also relates to B2C relationships.

Best practice for:

  • PR disaster: Own up to it and communicate quickly on how you’re fixing the problem
  • Sales: Be honest about services and expectations
  • Marketing: Focus on the differentiating aspect of your product so that you can be honest about how it’s better than competitors
  • Social Media: The more open you are about your company, the more consumers will connect and purchase/repurchase

It all comes down to transparency. I think we’ve only hit the tip of the transparency iceberg. The evolution of business, politics, and social interaction will be pushed forward by a belief that more transparency is better for everyone. 

We’re only at the beginning of this trend. 

How Klout Will Make Their Billions

I’ve mentioned before that I think Klout will be a billion dollar company (or has the potential to be). Most people think that their influencer score is the key to their future success. To some degree they’re right. Klout seems to be experimenting with brands on marketing to influencers with high Klout scores and influence in a particular topic. Solid revenue with that will get your valuation into the tens or even low hundreds of millions. But billions? I think not. So why am I so bullish on Klout’s potential? Here is why: Advanced Contextual Targeting.

Klout is one of the few companies in the tech world right now where users are comfortable giving the usernames to all their social networks. This is VERY significant because most of these networks contain public information and once you know that this Twitter account and this Facebook account is the same person, you can get a complete profile picture of this person with knowledge of only one network.

So how does Klout make money from all of this? If Klout utilizes the same technology that enterprise listening tools are using (e.g. Sysomos, Radian6) and analyzes a person’s entire public profile to fully understand who they are, what they are interested in and what their true influence is, Klout can have a better understanding of a particular person than any other company on the web.

Here is where the money comes in. Media companies are spending billions of dollars a year marketing to you via banner and text ads around the web. Major ad management companies (e.g. Doubleclick) have cookies on every site and are tracking you across the web. They already know where you visit and what you click on but they don’t know anything about what you’re interested in and who you interact with. See where I’m going?

Klout can add a layer of social data (no personal info such as name and contact info but more like interests and influential reach) that can help better target costumers across the web. CTRs (click-through-rates) will soar based on this Advanced Contextual Targeting. Advertisers will be happier. Consumers will get more targeted ads. Klout will be worth billions.

 

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