Archives for category: Marketing

I have a pitch for the reissue or follow up to “The Revenge of Analog” for Mr. Sax. He should call it “The Revenge of the Revenge of Analog.” If two years of a global pandemic have taught us nothing us, and I believe it has taught us a great deal, it is that the primary thesis of Mr. Sax’s excellent 2016 book is even more right than I think even he believed possible.

Real things matter.

Digital has transformed our world and for most people this is a good thing. Digital makes life easier and more productive. It allows easy access to information like never before and it allows for an ease of communication that is straight out of science fiction. The author’s point is not that digital is necessarily a bad thing, but that to live in a solely digital only world is a cold and sterile existence that can be lacking in creativity and positive unintended, consequences.

Using examples such as books, vinyl records, music production, movies, education, paper notebooks, the design process, and games, “The Revenge of Analog” makes the case that with digital it is all to easy to fit ideas to fit processes and so by extension limit those ideas.  There is also a drive, often by those who are older and want to be seen as innovative and “with it,” to focus on the technology and then try to apply it to problems rather than start with the problem and see what solutions might work- technological or otherwise. Indeed, one of the more intriguing facts in the book is that it is often those who have grown up with digital that are the ones that see the most value in analog records, books, and notebooks for example. There is value in inconveniences if the experience is more authentic.

 The wider point is that technology and digital media are just tools. Badly implemented tools, or tools that are adopted without first understanding the problem, are destined to fail. However, what is less well understood is that when tools are easy to use and do solve multiple issues, they can also reduce the value of an experience in the mind of the participant. To embrace analog items in our digital world is not a repudiation of that world – it is an acknowledgment of its shortcomings and a possible solution to them. Digital processes in the creative world can lead to homogeneity – there is nothing more creatively open than a blank piece of paper.

One of the realizations from the pandemic that almost everyone can agree on, was that meetings over zoom, for example, are not a good replacement for meetings in person. That while some people liked working from home, others found it isolating and lacking in comradery. The pandemic almost universally proved that remote education is fraught with difficulties for both students and teachers. A class being together with a teacher has value that far exceeds the delivery of knowledge.

If there was any doubt after reading Mr. Sax’s excellent book, the pandemic removed it all.

So Mr. Sax, The Revenge of the Revenge of Analog?

Just after finishing the first draft of this review, I saw that David Sax has a new book coming out – “The Future is Analog.” So much for “The Revenge of the Revenge of Analog.”

Does anyone care about reviews anymore?

Well – yes we should, however, even amongst those of us who care about reviews, we quite possibly care a bit less.

Why?

As the always insightful Mike Blumenthal says in this article about the fall in user and review growth on Yelp and this article on the fall in reviews on Google Local, things are not looking great for the review space. It cannot all be blamed on COVID-19. The trends of reduced new user numbers and a significant slowing in the rate of new reviews was well in place before the pandemic.

So, what is going on?

I believe what we are seeing is what I have dubbed “The Karen Effect.” The origins of the term “Karen,” meaning in rough terms a middle-aged white woman demanding to speak to the manager, being overly officious / unreasonable, or just being downright racist, is not exactly known. However, the term Karen exploded in usage during 2020 at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and the summer of the Black Lives Matter protests after the killing of George Floyd. Karen today could mean anyone, of any gender, losing their temper over or generally overreacting to a perceived wrong.  

This rise in petty unreasonableness and overly bad behavior, towards those working in service industries or retail, during the pandemic has in turn given rise to another phenomenon: the sharing of this behavior online. I wrote about my fears about clients trying to leverage live streams and social platforms in an aggressive manner in this 2016 post. While this weaponizing of the documenting of interactions with a business has been successfully attempted, it has also backfired.

The first time I became aware of the potential for this tide to turn was after seeing this 2014 viral video:

This is an all too familiar scene that could have happened yesterday rather than eight years ago. A customer, believing they have been wronged, exacting their revenge on social media and in doing so exposes their own failings and unreasonableness. It also highlights the extremes to which employees will go to try and address customer complaints and keep their cool while doing so.

This is the Karren Effect.

What does this have to do with reviews?

Videos of front-line employees being polite, following their business’s policies, and trying to help a customer are not great social capital. In fact, they are boring. Watching a customer “lose their sh*t” over a perceived wrong is great social capital and in turn adds a measure of retribution for someone being punished for bad behavior. This, of course, is not always the case. Some businesses screw up, act badly, and can be badly represented by employees. But since the rise of the Karen, and the flooding of social media showing just how bad things can be, would you trust a stranger’s opinions about a business? Particularly a negative opinion? The embrace of video on social media, and everyone having a high definition video camera in their pocket, or more likely in their hand, has meant that good content can be generated from bad behavior – although generally not for the person behaving badly.

Likewise, influencer marketing and the dubious reputation that it has in many circles has also not helped the review space. While many social media influencers go to great lengths to inform their followers as to when posts are a paid promotion and thereby stay on the right side of the law, others do not and also try to leverage their “influence” into free products and services.

Influencers who try to abuse their Influence has also fallen foul of “The Karen Effect.” Most social media users have little tolerance for influencers those who abuse their power – a power given to the influencer by those same social media users – and businesses despise them. This leads us back to reviews. If influencers, who by definition are known to their audience, are not be trusted with their opinions due to undisclosed commercial relationships, how can review platform users trust complete strangers – regardless of whether the review is good or bad?

The Karen Effect is the loss of trust in the opinions of strangers.

One can hope that the Karen Effect leads to a resurgence of the Better Business Bureau (BBB) or gives rise to another organization of a similar ilk. I have always bemoaned that most of the complaints about Yelp and Google Local were effectively dealt with by the BBB and that it was businesses, by not supporting them, that led to their diminished standing today and the rise of Yelp and Google Local.

It seems that people are looking for someone to trust online. They are finding other users online lacking. It will be interesting to see what fills the void.

What allows us to feel like we belong somewhere?

How do we harness belonging to create buy-in for our teams and how do outside influences affect our own sense of belonging in the world? What can damage that sense of belonging? How do we avoid destroying what we seek to create?

In Daniel Coyle’s book , The Culture Code – which I reviewed here, he puts forth the idea that the things that create great culture in groups and teams do so by triggering a sense of belonging. These are things such as uniforms, special phrases or codes, and a shared vision of purpose. By triggering these ‘belonging cues’ we feel safe and part of a collective. We have shared values and a shared identity. This feeling of belonging is even more strongly triggered when there is an outside enemy or outside set of circumstances.

The fear of the outsider being used as a rallying cry for uniting a people has a dark reputation in history, but also has its more positive outcomes as well. The dramatic drop in crime in New York city in the weeks following the 9/11 terrorist attacks being an obvious example.

My own personal sense of belonging was also triggered in the shadow of tragedy.

When the 10/1/17 mass shooting happened at the Route 91 Festival in my adoptive hometown of Las Vegas, which killed 58 people (60 at the time of this writing), there was obviously shock and horror from not just people in Las Vegas, but also around the country. People who live in Las Vegas have an odd relationship with its tourist nature, in as much as there is great respect for the people who visit and for the things that draw them to our town, but that does not necessarily mean that we want much do with those people or those parts of the town. However, to attack those things, and those people is very much seen as an attack on the entire city. A city based on welcoming strangers to our town, and hoping that they have a good time during their visit.

The reaction of the city, with people lining up around the block to donate blood, the general feeling of outrage that this could happen, and that someone could abuse our hospitality in such a hideous manner, created a greater sense of ownership of this odd place in the desert where I live than at any other time in previous five years of my residency.

But something else happened at the same time in Las Vegas.

The city got its first professional sports team in the Vegas Golden Knights (VGK).

To the hockey world and the sports pundits, this was less than a joke. A city which had no history of support for major league sports, that has shown little interest in hockey, and where it was 115 degrees in the summer. It seemed like a terrible idea from just about every corner. However, at its darkest hour – or what certainly felt like its darkest hour at the time, the Vegas Golden Knights showed that they wanted to be part of the community, which let’s face it – they were not.

What happened next is the stuff of fairy tales. An unprecedented run for the Stanley Cup, and a city adopting a sport and a team as their own – making Las Vegas one of the best places to experience a hockey game in the country. For the whole story of that first year, I cannot recommend enough the documentary “Valiant” the trailer for which you will find below.

 I should explain at this point explain that I have no time for sports. Apart from the odd summer evening watching baseball, more for the company and enjoying the summer evening in a crowd, than for anything happening on the field, sports was something that other people did.  So, the question becomes, how did I become the owner of three hockey jerseys? What happened that first year of the Vegas Golden Knights, and in successive years, to make mee feel like they were my team, but also to become proud and emotional about my adoptive hometown? How did I come to believe that I belonged as a Vegas Golden Knights fan and that by extension that I felt ownership of a city that is, by definition, a place to be visited?

The Route 91 tragedy was obviously a horrible event for all concerned, but it was also a serious blow to the city and to its self-image. Las Vegas – America’s playground to quote the movie Ocean’s Eleven – a safe place for people to go a little wild. To shatter that image in the eyes of the wider world, also damaged that image in the eyes of the people who live and work here. The Vegas Golden Knights were also a team with an image problem. The players were all cast offs from other teams, and they were expected to be the worst team in the league that year – and possibly for years to come. That alignment of adversity created shared purpose.

And then against all odds the Golden Knights started, and kept, winning. A city which needed something to cheer and be happy about – got it in spades. The Vegas Golden Knights belonged to Las Vegas and Las Vegas belonged to the Vegas Golden Knights.

But there was more than fate at work in this bonding. The Vegas Golden Knights created their own medieval pantomime as a branding exercise; however, they also adopted the symbols and sounds that have come to epitomize Las Vegas. The sounds of coins, the roll of a dice, a mascot named “Chance,” “Viva Las Vegas”, and just the very golden coloring of anything and everything in sight made the Golden Knights feel like Las Vegas, but also to feel that it was okay to embrace the visitor tropes of Las Vegas.

People like to take pride in things, and it was easy to take pride in the Vegas Golden Knights. The fan experience was considered the best in the league, they continued to play well, cleanly, and get involved in the community. It also brought pride to the city because the Golden Knights did not exist for visitors – although all are welcome. They existed for the residents of Las Vegas.

The symbols of Golden Knights became synonymous with the city of Las Vegas, and with #VegasStrong. The uniforms, symbols, the shared experience of adversity, and the games created a whole new culture. A culture that the people of Las Vegas could belong to.

For that first Vegas Golden Knights season in 2017 / 2018 I was not a fan or even really bought into the culture. I was aware of it building all around me; but being aware of how the triggering of belonging cues can feel like manipulation I tried to stay aloof. It was not until the beginning of the 2018 / 2019 season, and going to my first game, that I finally succumbed, and ultimately embraced the sport and the team.

Fast forward to the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The first game of the second round. The Vegas Golden Knights vs. the Colorado Avalanche. Colorado were considered the favorites, of not just the series, but of the entire playoffs. Game one is a disaster for the Golden Knights. A 7-1 loss. Not only do they look out classed on the ice, but they show their frustration by getting into fights and giving up penalties. This culminates in Vegas enforcer Ryan Reeves kneeing on the head of Colorado Avalanche defenseman Ryan Graves in apparent retaliation for an earlier hit by Graves on Vegas player Janmark. Reeves was tossed from the game and received a two-game suspension. The VGK receive an extraordinary nine-minute penalty, and arguably play their best hocky of the game for the first seven minutes of that penalty, until two Vegas players decide they would rather hit a Colorado player rather than defend, and Colorado scores yet again.

This game caused a great crisis of faith for me. In the game and in the team I had come to love. Vegas is known as a team that plays “heavy, but clean.” Reeves actions, seemed dangerous, petty, and revengeful. In addition, the entire team seemed petulant at the resounding loss. To add to the disappointment, Reeves had been an outspoken advocate for police reform in the light of the George Floyd murder, and yet here he was kneeling on the head of another player. A professional, using excessive force because he could.

Chuck Klosterman in his book “But What If We Are Wrong?,” which I reviewed here, talks about the fall in popularity of boxing, and the potential for the fall of professional football, due to mainstream occasional fans, as opposed to dedicated “my team can do no wrong” kind of fans, being turned off by the serious life threatening injuries than can occur in those sports.

At the end of that game against Colorado, I was ashamed to be a Golden Knights fan. I believed that they had betrayed what they stood for. Other fans had a problem with them losing in such spectacular form – I didn’t. My problem was with them seeming to being petty and vengeful.

Game two of the series, while still a loss for Vegas, began to restore my faith in the team as they acquitted themselves as professionals.

However, just nine games later again my faith would be shaken. Testing my commitment to this sport and to being a fan. This time due to the behavior of the fans themselves.

Round Three, Game four, was not a good game for Vegas. Ultimately a 4-1 loss for the VGK at home. However, seeing your team booed off the ice at the end of the second period and at the end of a power play but their own fans was more than a little disquieting. As was the failure of the two people next to me and the eight people in front of me not returning to their seats for the 3rd period. I did not want to belong to a fan base that only supported a team when they were winning. Near the end of the game, Montreal scored an empty net gold making the score 4-1. There has always been fans who leave near the end of a game when it is obvious that their team is going to lose. This, however, was not a few fans.

This was an exodos.

I estimated 2/3s to 3/4s of the auditorium.         

It was heartbreaking for the players I’m sure. Yes, they did not play well, or it would seem with much heart, but they did not deserve to be treated that way. Vegas has always seemed to have a hospitable fan base. Welcoming opposing fan bases into T-Mobile Arena, making sure they felt welcome in our barn and in our city. It has also forgiven its team for its losses and supported them as they once supported us. Its one of the things that I love about supporting the team – everyone was generally ways positive, friendly to all, and just wanting to have a good time. It the light of this game some fans expressed that the team deserved it as they had not shown up to play, and that far worse happened at other areas with other teams.

But that misses the point. Vegas was supposed to be different.

Cultures are made up of shared beliefs, shared values, and a shared sense of identity. This is reenforced by the sharing of uniforms, language, and customs. Damage to the sense of belonging by upending any of these threatens that fragile culture.

I myself have found myself feeling like an outsider in a culture I helped create in an online community, due to the shifting priorities of those in charge, a lack of inclusiveness, and a feeling that my sense of wanting to contribute was devalued and unappreciated. The feeling that I’m getting far less out than I’m putting in is often why people leave companies.

We mess with shared values and culture at our peril. These are fragile things. Belonging allows us to feel safe. It flips a switch in our cave-person brain and tells us “it’s ok,” “you are among friends,” “the saber tooth tigers are not going to get you today.”

But belonging goes further. Belonging allows us to feel. To connect. To bond. To Think.

All we do as humans is think, feel, and run around.

Cultures have to be fought for, to champion for, but they are not a bottomless well. When that sense of belonging is gone, it is gone for good.

I am still a Golden Knights fan, but there were some ugly moments for our team and the fan base during these playoffs.

Our teams that we lead and belong to, if we are lucky, have the same sense of belonging that fans feel for sports teams. But we can damage them just as easily as sports teams can by our actions and inactions.

Belonging is what we all want. But it can never be taken for granted.

Books that have a simple premise that sounds clever, often push that premise to breaking point and turn into a cluttered mess. Thankfully, The Content Fuel Framework is not one of them.

Its simple premise, that story ideas for marketing purposes can be generated by using a 10 x 10 matrix of focuses and formats, is the kind of thing that marketers tend to do by instinct. Where Ms. Deziel scores is in the simple and obvious idea of writing this all down in a matrix to see what unusual and interesting ideas, that would normally never get thought of, develop.   

By deconstructing the steps which most marketers take when creating story ideas, Ms. Deziel demystifies the whole process and allows it to become accessible for all. This is not a book about the nuts and bolts of marketing, but more about how to stress test your ideas to find out what are the best ways for them to be handled – particularly when working as part of a team.

I hesitate to write down the 10 focuses and formats here in a review, as without the context that the book provides, I suspect that using the matrix will initially problematic. However, the context that is provided in The Content Fuel Framework allows the reader to not only see these ideas applied in the real world, but also to recognize from the marketing that we consume every day, the same applied concepts.

A short book, The Content Fuel Framework is a book that has made me do something that no other marketing book has done before; and this is to copy the 10 Focuses and 10 Formats and pin them to my wall as a reminder. Ultimately, that has to be the main indication of where a book as merit or not – does it make the reader think, or does it change something about the readers behavior?

By solidifying into a formal structure, the internal processes that a lot of marketers go through; The Content Fuel Network gives both validation and new life into marketing storytelling.

It should be on every marketer’s bookshelf.

…or pinned to the wall.   

Scott Stratten, and latterly with his wife Alison, have written five other books on the intersection of customer service, social media, and marketing. I have reviewed most of them, which you can find here, routinely listen to their podcast, The Unpodcast, and I have a framed and signed “Don’t try to win over the haters. You are not the Jackass Whisperer” poster in my office. I am an unashamed fan boy.

Their books have swung from deep dives into marketing theory, to jokey and fairly superficial explorations of the absurdities that the marketing, and wider business world, is full of  – always with humor sprinkled throughout.  Although by no means an expert, I am certainly familiar with their work and their thinking on a variety of subjects.

Their latest book, would seem to an addition to their collection of books with a “gimmick.” A 125 question and answer book to see whether when presented with an example of “jackassery” one responds with a “Jackass Reaction” or a “Whisperer Reaction.”

But…

That is not what if going on here at all.

By coming at the subject from an indirect angle, the Stratten’s have laid bare our worst instinctual reactions to other people’s worst behavior. It shows that, in many instances we are just as much the problem rather than the innocent victim that we too often paint ourselves as. The implicit message is that the only way to deal with bad behavior is not to react to it out of outrage, but out of understanding and an attempt to solve the real underlying issue. To be the better person.

Of course, the book, and by assumption the authors, are not suggesting that all behavior is acceptable, but that “pick you battles” is really mantra we should all live by. That we have a responsibility to make the world a better place, and that starts with our interactions with each other. I find this particularly interesting as there was an element of “shame culture” in the earlier Unpodcast episodes. Jon Roson’s excellent “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed,” which I reviewed here, goes much deeper into the culture of naming and shaming online; and the Jackass Whisperer seems to be a repudiation of that shame culture.

The Jackass Whisper is over the top, although most of the inciting incidents seem to be based on real occurrences (we really are doomed as a species), the reactions, both as a Jackass or as a Whisperer, are so over the top that it becomes useful to use them as a gauge for how you, the reader, would deal with such a thing. If one is being honest it is easy to see where your reaction is really not helpful, although perhaps satisfying at the time in terms of revenge.

It is, or course, easy to read this book superficially – as I did initially if I’m honest. But it subtly asks questions of us that are not easily answered. Is this the person I want to be? Do I really have to react like this to perceived provocations?

I’ll leave you to guess in the comments on my Jackass scale, but really that is not what is important about the Jackass Whisperer. It is the thought, and potential internal discussion, on the nature of reaction that a thoughtful reading of the book provokes, that makes it well worth your time and the purchase price.

age of infuence
I’ve been following Neal, as a voice on marketing and social media, for easily 10 years.

When he announced the opportunity to buy his new book in advance, receive a signed copy, and be mentioned in the acknowledgments for to helping to support the book’s creation; I took him up on his offer – LinkedIn paying off once again.

You can find me mentioned, and neatly bisected, between page ix and x.

Fame at last.

I delve into this minutia because Neal’s book deals with, and makes the case for, influence and influencers. In how to both leverage and engage influencers in a successful business relationship, but also on how to be a successful influencer in the first place.

Influencer Marketing has received rather a bad wrap outside of the marketing world – particularly by the business community. This is mainly due to news stories of millennials traveling the world, and expecting hundreds of dollars in free goods and services in return for a good word on social media of dubious value. It is also not helped by stories of influencers using their networks to “take revenge” on businesses they feel slighted by; or who have spurned their advances.

“The Age of Influence” makes the case for influencer marketing to actually be an extension of normal social media engagement, taken to its next logical level. Those of us that have our own brands, and brands that we work for, on social know that our own personal posts are treated much more favorably by algorithm gods than brand business posts. It’s a “pay to play” world.

Influencer marketing leverages the personal voice for business purposes. Where “The Age of Influence” really succeeds is in showing the reader that influencer marketing should really be about the relationship between the brand, the influencer, and their larger social following. That the pinnacle of influencer marketing is not a paid Instagram post by someone famous. The pinnacle is rather the partnership, on a long-term basis, between a fan of a product or service, who also has their own fans who trusts the message because of the messenger. Trust is based on authenticity.

There is, of course, a tendency for brands to want to control their message, voice, and overall look. This is normal. As marketing professionals, we spend a lot of money, time, and energy into creating a look and personality for a brand that we are happy with. However, to do this with influencers is to stifle their natural creativity and voice that made them influencers in the first place. Likewise, influencers are not content creation adjuncts to the marketing department. Working with influencers, whose followings come in all shapes and sizes, is a partnership that could be allowing them to interview staff, get a sneak peek at a product or service, or giving discount codes, or products, to followers. The more successful the influencer, the more like working with a traditional media company the relationship becomes. But at its core, when influencer marketing is successful it is about a relationship where both parties are happy and getting what they want out of the collaboration.

There are significant legal issues with paid collaborations between influencers and brands. And while “The Age of Influence” does not deal with this in depth, it does warn of the pitfalls and make it clear that these are issues to address with any campaign that must be taken seriously.

“The Age of Influence” is much more than a “how to” manual of influencer marketing; it is a treatise on how influence is actually about boosting engagement and having a more dynamic relationship between customer and brand. How in its earliest of stages, influencer marketing is indistinguishable for just good social media engagement. As Neal states in the book, don’t get too focused on the tools; but the tools to get started are all in “The Age of Influence.”

If you feel that influencer marketing is not for you; “The Age of Influence” begs to differ, and if your interest is already there then it is the all-important bible.

IMG_4552 small

hitmakers

Why do some ideas become wildly popular while others languish in obscurity?

Derek Thompson’s riveting, and impeccably researched, book; “Hit Makers,” postulates that there is a formula to making ideas popular. It argues that knowing how manipulate ideas to create successful products has major implications, but that it is also just as important is to understand when successful products are the result of manipulation.

At its core, Hit Makers asked two questions:

  1. What is the secret to making products that people like, whether they are music, movies, TV shows, or Apps in the vast cultural landscape of today?
  2. Why do some products fail, while similar ideas catch on and become massive hits?

Mr. Thompson tells us that people are both neophiliac, a love of the new, while also being neophobic, a fear of the new. People who are hit makers marry old and new ideas. They create familiar surprises. People tend to gravitate to the familiar – the most popular movies in recent times have all be sequels or reimagining of existing properties. People want new things, but they want those new things to seem familiar.

The most popular theory of modern content creation is that if you make great content, it will be recognized, shared, and go viral. However, Mr. Thompson states; “Content might be king, but distribution is the kingdom.” Catchy tunes that do not get air play on the radio will remain unknown. New tunes get on the radio by being new, but being familiar enough to listeners that they do not turn off.

Repetition, repeated exposure which creates familiarity, can actually be used to engineer popularity in groups of people. Politicians have known this for years. Consider this speech by Barack Obama:

“For when we have faced down impossible odds, when we’ve been told we’re not ready or that we shouldn’t try or that we can’t, generations of Americans have responded with a simple creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes, we can. Yes, we can. Yes, we can.
It was a creed written into the founding documents that declared the destiny of a nation: Yes, we can.
It was whispered by slaves and abolitionists as they blazed a trail towards freedom through the darkest of nights: Yes, we can.
It was sung by immigrants as they struck out from distant shores and pioneers who pushed westward against an unforgiving wilderness: Yes, we can.
It was the call of workers who organized, women who reached for the ballot, a president who chose the moon as our new frontier, and a king who took us to the mountaintop and pointed the way to the promised land: Yes, we can, to justice and equality.
Yes, we can, to opportunity and prosperity. Yes, we can heal this nation. Yes, we can repair this world. Yes, we can.”

Or this speech by Winston Churchill;

“We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

Mr. Thompson makes a convincing case, although not guaranteed, that popularity can, and has been for centuries, been manufactured and manipulated, but that it can also occur spontaneously by specific sets of circumstances.

Hit Makers is a starting point for understanding how and why things become popular and how we can get our ideas to find their audience, and what we can do to create that audience in the first place. It postulates that we misunderstand terms such as “viral” and “influencer” therefore ideas are not spread in the ways that we hope.

Hit Makers is a phenomenal book for anyone who sees to understand ideas and popularity. It draws from history and the present day. It should, for better or worse, change the way you share ideas and see how ideas change the world.

anti social cover

Warning: This book may alter your perceptions on how the world currently works and your part in democracy’s downfall.

Anti-Social Media is actually misnamed.

This book is an indictment of Facebook and to a lessor extent the other social media sites that seek to emulate its success. What initially seems to be the book’s raison d’être; an examination of the overreach, and dubious business practices, that led to the Cambridge Analytica scandal, is actually far more wide spread, nuanced, and ultimately damning. With possibly its most revealing allegation being that Cambridge Analytica were never anything more than Snake Oil Salesmen; while Facebook’s own employees worked directly for political campaigns in multiple countries with almost universal damage to democracy and the pollical process in the countries in which they worked.

Mr. Vaidhyanthan’s case is that Facebook is on its way to becoming, or indeed has already become, the operating system of our lives. While it has been beneficial in general terms for individuals; improving communication with friends and relatives, and even people who we would never have hoped to keep in touch with before its arrival, Facebook has done significant damage to society as a whole.

Facebook’s success, Mr. Vaidhyantha argues, is based on two elements. The first being that Facebook is deliberately engineered to be addictive; rewarding interactions likes, and shares, in similar ways to how casinos keep their guests playing. The second element of Facebook’s success being that it has become “one of the most effective advertising machines in history.” Facebook knows so much about us, and offers advertisers such levels of targeting that were never before dreamed of, that it is unparalleled as a sales tool.

If Facebook was just an engine for kitten & puppy pictures, along with family updates, and the odd attempt to sell us things, it could quite possibly be the force for good it sincerely believes that it is. However, Facebook has become a major factor in the political world. Facebook encourages weak ties between people, and is great for declaration and reaction. It undoubtedly helps political activists, activism, hyperbole, and alarm. Facebook; however, is useless for political discourse and deliberation. Posts which do not create strong reactions one way of the other fall foul of Facebook’s algorithm and are just not delivered in news feeds.

Although the tone of Anti-Social Media, is one of alarm, and it makes a strong case for the damage that Facebook and its ilk do to the world; the author does have some interesting suggestions as to possible ways to close the pandora’s box that Mark Zuckerberg has opened. If fact, Mr. Vaidhyanthan’s historical comparison of Facebook with the East India Company, and their “shared zeal for making the world a better place,” should give us all pause for thought. Facebook’s users are currently its product – Facebook sells highly targeted, and therefore highly effective advertising. Facebook could be forced to treat its users like clients; much like lawyers or financial consultants. If Facebook was to become an informational fiduciary, the argument goes, an only use data in ways that do not harm us, it may finally understand the difference between advertising that tries to sell us products, and political propaganda.

The Anti-Social Media is more than an inditement of the social medial filter bubble and Facebook creating more divides while its intentions are to bring us together. The book asks us to look at the changes in society, and in ourselves, as we have been using Facebook as an operating system. It asks us if the kitten and puppy pictures are worth it? Interestingly it does not ask us to give up on Facebook or Social Media; but to understand its societal dangers and the recognize our responsibilities in doing something about it.

This is the book that did not make me give up Facebook.

It did make me delete Facebook off my phone.

And renew a year’s subscription to a highly reputable news organization.

It’s that good.

conspiracy

 

Conspiracy is a book that the reader picks up believing it to be one thing, changes into something else while reading, and then turns into something unexpectedly different at its conclusion.
Subtitled; Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue, Conspiracy tells the story of the gossip and snark site Gawker’s outing of Silicon Valley venture capitalist Peter Thiel as gay. This sets in motion a conspiracy with Theil using his vast resources to try and find a way take Gawker down. Or at least clip the site’s wings.

The vehicle that the conspirators ultimately settle on is Gawker’s publication of parts of a sex tape of wrestling star Hulk Hogan that was made without Hogan’s consent. With Thiel footing the bill, Hogan can undertake a long and protracted campaign, encompassing multiple lawsuits in multiple jurisdictions.

Thiel’s motivations are at the heart of the book. Is he out for revenge? Does he feel that a site such as Gawker should be allowed to get away with pushing freedom of speech deep into the territory of invasion of privacy? The book explores these issues in depth, and the nature of conspiracies. This is not, however, a thesis on conspiracy theories. It is rather an exploration of what it takes to construct, and maintain, a conspiracy. It is also a behind the scenes look at how the rich and powerful (all the characters in this tale are rich and powerful by conventional standards) go to war with each other.

Where Conspiracy sets itself apart is its examination of the aftermath of the Hogan vs. Gawker lawsuit and its effect on both the conspirators and the media. Mr. Holiday also uses the case, and Thiel’s motivations, to explore the culture wars and society’s relationship with the media.

Conspiracy is an entertaining and intelligent book. The constant focus on the nature of conspiracy can get tiresome, but this a tale that is rarely told and it reveals a lot about us as a society and the use, and the potential use, of power in the business world. It is a tale that has implications far beyond its Silicon Valley and Hollywood roots.

moments

Any book by Chip and Dan Heath is worth reading and their latest, The Power of Moments, is no exception. For those who do not know the work of the brothers Heath you can check out my review of their first book “Made to Stick” here, and what I consider one of the best business books ever: “Switch” here.

Interestingly, The Power of Moments is very similar, and treads a lot of the same ground, as Scott Strattan does in his books Unmarketing and Unselling; they even use some of the same examples. What makes the Power of Moments seem new and fresh is that level to which it delves to understand moments, why they work, and how they work; as opposed to just focusing on how to create new moments of your own.

An early example of the Power of Moments is to focus on the lack of attention that companies pay to an employee’s first day. What the Heath Brothers point out is companies have a golden opportunity to create a truly memorable first day for new employees; but that more often than not new employees are treated as an impediment to the day’s business. They rightly point out what would a first date be like if we treated it the same way we treat an employee’s first day? Suffice to say we probably would not get a second.

Creating memorable moments is not about delivering the best of anything, or better value than your competitors. Moments are about when clients have expectations and we do something to exceed them. To create moments, we need to give employees license to break the script. To do something for our clients that is unexpected and that creates a memory for them.

The power of moments, however, is not just about business to clients. Moments also have value when motivating ourselves and our own internal dialogs and bargains when it comes to setting goals. What the Heath Brothers suggest is that rather than using the traditional SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely), or worse no real goal at all, that we borrow from the gaming world. In computer games, players advance from level to level, and in good games those levels are moments. For example, take the vague goal of wanting to learn play the violin. Even a SMART goal may just be to attend a lesson every week. However, with a level system, things look a little different:

Level 1: commit to one lesson a week
Level 2: Learn to read sheet music.
Level 3: Learn to play a particular song.
… Level 7 / Boss level: Play in a pub in Ireland.

By having an outsized end game, and then having manageable steps to achieving those level with rewards built in creates a sense of purpose. Purpose isn’t discovered, it is cultivated, and purpose trumps passion.

The Power of Moments is not a book about good businesses becoming great, but how to make any business extraordinary. Much like the book.

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