Archive for January, 2011

The Socialization of Social Networks

January 20th

Perhaps its the movie The Social Network, perhaps something else that’s going on in the marketplace, but it’s not hard to to encounter a conversation about Facebook and Linked in and other networks these days.

Many adults (who don’t use Facebook much) are worried about the way that barriers between private lives and work lives are being broken down. Others are worried about the very real issues of privacy and Internet security. Some lament the way in which lives are being changed by electronic media (there is a temptation at this point to ask whether that’s not locking the barn door.)

But the undeniable conclusion of these conversations is that the social networks and social media are being socialized and its just a matter of time for this rear guard. Marketing campaigns, corporate communication campaigns, supplier relationship management, customer service, customer experience management – there are a very long list of commercial best practices in communications that are already being challenged by the existence of social media. “See us on Facebook and Twitter” is a common corporate marketing statement these days.

Last June at the Nielson media conference Sheryl Sandberg (of Facebook) talked about the “End of Email”.  Now it may be more faithful to her pitch to say that she was arguing that using Facebook where relationships are more “authentic” and far easier to reach was a more effective way of advertising than email.

So through one path or another I have been left to think about the future of social media and the role that these networks will play in strategic communications in the future.

And this inevitably raises the question of whether social media really will be authentic or at least whether communications will necessarily come from authentic people.  If a company is using social media to manage relationships (with employees, customers etc.) why stop there?  Can’t the network itself anticipate who should be in the conversation?  Why not have the platform monitor the nature of the content?  They do already.  Why not use this knowledge to shape the conversation?  The makings of a novel, for sure…

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The Voice of the People

January 12th

The shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the other 19 people was so horrific on so many levels that it became absolutely absorbing. The Safeway parking lot in Tucson where the shooting took place looked so familiar. This was a place that could be found in almost any suburb in America. This was an assassination attempt of the people’s representative on the town common.

Beginning with the media savvy local Police Chief through Sarah Palin’s 8 minute video posted at midnight Alaska time, the reporting has debated whether Arizona was somehow worse than other places. Assorted details of the shooting showed that it was in fact somewhat easier for the shooter to buy the weapon and the ammunition in Arizona than it would have been to have been in a comparable suburb in Montgomery County Maryland. But disturbed people can get guns everywhere.

On Thursday Rep. Giffords read the First Amendment on the House Floor. The post Tea Party election of 2010 encouraged the new Republican Congress to begin the new 112th Congress by reading the Constitution. Ironically, the event would likely have been a non-event were it not for a 3rd term moderate Democratic Congresswoman who read the First Amendment.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievance.

Of all of the members to have been given the privilege of reading that particular sentence in light of Saturday’s events, the video of her on the House floor talking about freedom of speech was startling.

That someone would seek to assassinate a Member of Congress standing in a shopping center talking to her constituents was an assault on the core of democratic society. American should be deeply offended by that alone. The question of whether partisan rhetoric may have contributed to the event seems secondary to the deep wound that the shooting may have inflicted.

Not unlike the way in which the necessary presence of the TSA at every airport has now changed the whole concept freedom in mobility, in the future. even an nine year old who goes to a shopping center to meet her Congresswoman will have the event moderated by an armed government representative.

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The Great Media Mashup

January 6th

The media critic of the New York Times, David Carr, offered his views on the future of big media on January 2nd in an article entitled The Great Media Mashup. He describes the surreal experience of watching the gradual decline of long time media institutions that have defined our society. There may have been a great deal of conversation about the transformation of the communications industries, but suddenly the speed is beginning to accelerate.

There is no news in seeing “two year old web sites are worth more than 50-year old magazines.” Nor is there news in seeing that social media have now stolen the spot light in center stage. But taken as a whole, David Carr’s list of changes shaping the media makes for compelling reading.

  • The End of the Verticals. The phenomenon that iPod owners and Apple TV owners will recognize where the distinction between TV, radio, Internet and books is less clear than it was a year ago. For Borders this is a grim reality. The world has not yet reached the point of understanding that the competitive playing field may be the screen of an iPad and in that framework the Apps look a lot alike.
  • Hybrids for the News Highway. Withdrawal of the advertising base that has supported the mainstream media (whether this is coming from marketing or from Google or Craig’s list) has eroded the business models and created a world in which the great institutions cooperate because they can’t afford to compete.
  • Televised Social Media. Carr imagines a “tent pole” in televised media that permits social annotation. Technically Apple TV could do this today, right? So the threshold of a new medium where the device makes it possible for Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin or Karl Rove or Oprah or the Center for American Progress or the Jersey Shore brings together an audience to watch and crack wise. Couldn’t American Idol do this now?
  • The Non-Linear Grid. With 21% of global shipments of televisions now a web enabled TV, the largest screen and most centrally located device can be added to iPads, mobile phones and other vehicles for connecting audiences. Carr imagines a world in which the “linear programming” of cable and broadcast television is history and appointment television is so 20th Century. Carr imagines a world in which elections and sports like professional football become critical to the future life of broadcasters.
  • Print Looks for a Payday. David Carr explains that the New York Times and others will soon invite their regular users to subscribe on line. But recognizing that it might have been a mistake to have decided to give away the content on line is coming a little late. He explained to me that online media revenue surpassed newspaper revenue for the first time in 2010.

Being invited in to think about these things I recognize that the impact of the eBook on Borders and Barnes and Noble is astonishing and the speed with which the wave has come is incredible. Watching the anchor store to Bethesda Avenue shift from Barnes and Noble to the Apple store is more than a little surprising.

The speed of the growth of ebooks may be astonishing but the fact that Netflix accounts for 20% of peak Internet traffic and threatens the Infrastructure of the Internet is equally surprising. Welcome to the world of the non-linear grid.

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The High Water Mark, Again

January 5th

On her morning CNBC show Suvannah Guthrie reported that a California court has now revisited the questions of privacy and personal communications. In the reported California case the judge took a radically different approach from the Ohio case that was decided in December. In California the court decided that the police did have the right to information on the cell phone of an arrested man.

Perhaps the Ohio case was too convoluted in the first place (the plaintiff had the expectation of privacy but the evidence that had been illegally attained was not needed for conviction.) But now there are two cases that would seem to disagree with one another. There will no doubt be a Supreme Court case someday soon that will explore the question of the individual’s right to privacy for emails and other electronic communications and it will be a highly charged one.

The idea that electronic communications would be less private than written ones or even phone calls is a huge precedent. A letter is protected by a whole apparatus of postal rules, regulations and inspectors. A court order is needed to open the mail. Yet in the electronic world, in California at least, if someone were arrested (suspicion of some crime such as illegal substances or DUI) and if their phone were taken from them, the information pathway that would be opened (email, phone calls, applications) could be enormous.

The comparison with the Postal Service is a sharp one. I remember at a dinner in 2000 hearing Scott McNealy, the Chairman of Sun Microsystems, make fun of a “letter” as a secure transmission. After all a letter is made of flimsy paper and sealed with spit and handed to a government employee, he noted. The capacity of electronic communications to provide a secure channel far exceeded anything that the Post Office could do, he argued. Certainly he is right.

But what if, in spite of the technological capacity of the medium to protect a communication, the law chooses not to do so?

The high water mark of Internet Communications lasted 2 weeks.

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Sit At The Table

January 4th

One of the things about the daily Internet conversation that is among it’s greatest contributions is the way that it can increase the number of “ahaa” hits per day.  (Before I am accused of indulgence there should be a spoiler alert: it gets worse.  I admit here that I take time off to read the Just Means news on Corporate Social Responsibility Trends, an admission that may someday cause Sarah Palin to revoke my John Lindsay for Mayor Republican credentials.  There’s absolutely no one chanting, “drill baby drill” at Just Means.)

So it is in the context of an honest diversion to read Just Means on Climate Change that I was introduced to Sheryl Sandberg.  I know, I confess that I am one of the last people on the planet to know that Sheryl Sandberg is the COO of Facebook.  That some people (like Fortune) think she’s one of the most powerful women in the world and that she was the head of on-line sales for Google when Facebook hired her (in her 30’s) to be the adult.  So, now that I have the embarrassing admissions out of the way.  Her TED lecture linked above on the dearth of women leaders is one of the most compelling videos that I have seen.

As I write this, I see that the video is only now being blogged by the Wall Street Journal this afternoon so perhaps I am just watching something that is about to go viral.  But it should.  My personal favorite comment is her statement that if you want to be a leader you need to take as seat at the table.

Yet it’s not as though I haven’t had my own opportunity to learn this lesson.  In 1994, when I was recruited to start e-businesses for the USPS, I found to my surprise that I could be the Post Office’s representative to Al Gore’s National Performance Review just by saying I would go to the White House.

(I should have recognized that this was a clue that, in the end, the USPS was not going to back the play to start electronic businesses even if the culture would help Marvin Runyon hire me.)

No one went to the White House because it was far easier to run an effective network if you stayed out of politics.  Going to the White House only meant becoming a cash cow to the Administration in power and the savvy leaders at the Post Office knew that there was a lot of that already.

Without competition for the invitation I went over to the White House to hear Al Gore talk about the meaning of telecom reform to representatives from places spread across the government.   When I arrived at the Indian Treaty Room in the Executive Office Building I made the mistake of asking the young aide standing in the doorway whether there was assigned seating.  She asked, “Where are you from?” and when told her, she asked that I sit in the seats along the wall because “the table is for the important agencies.”  I thought of myself as representing the largest civilian employer in the world and I was so offended that I walked around to the other side of the room and sat down at the table.

I was feeling pretty feisty until I introduced myself to the person on my right and found that the Librarian of Congress was already there with a seat at the table.

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Facebook and What its Worth

January 3rd

There has been a tremendous amount of interest in one financial event that opened the first Monday of the new year. Goldman Sachs and a Russian investor, Digital Sky, invested $500 million in Facebook. This is interesting on so many levels that it’s hard to pick the most important implication.

  • There is the question that the market led with – is this $50 billion valuation justified?
  • There is the question of “secondary markets” and whether the $1.5 billion that Goldman states that it is going to raise next is anything other than the thing that the SEC says is the focus of its “inquiry.”
  • There is Goldman’s reasoning in taking on this particular issue at this time.

All of this is interesting. But the comment to which I keep returning was the one from Erin Burnett on CNBC’s Morning Joe. Erin pointed out that if Facebook is valued at $50 billion then its being valued at more than Boeing.

This comment led to a discussion with Joe Scarborough about companies that “make things” and companies, like Facebook, that make “nothing.”

The part of this that I find so interesting is the question of valuation in the digital age. I can imagine a number of reasons that Goldman might have granted Facebook a valuation of astonishing magnitude. At least half of the reasons would make you nervous that the regulators or the culture could keep up with the new “bubble.” But putting these issues aside, the even more interesting question to me is to imagine the value of Web 2.0. Where is Facebook going and what will be possible for companies like this? Sitting in front of a computer screen as we all do every day, the possibilities for the future of an institution that can make connections among people who have not (literally) seen one another for 40 years is astonishing.

The future is more about watching the “crowd” find its voice.

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