Collective memory and the social web

The singular dna of the web is connections.

Call it community if you wish. Consider it a flash occurrence or an ongoing event. Define it as a gesture or a comment, a wall utterance or a full-blown blog community.

The one thing that the web does so powerfully is to engage others while we experience life ourselves. And to create a dynamic collective memory of a shared experience.

As powerful as this is, it is also quite new.

The comment string of my post on 9/11 was full of outbursts of ‘where I was’ and ‘do you remember’. It was clear that as recently as a decade ago, before the social web existed, we experienced this attack without broad community support, and it left many of us isolated in our thoughts and memories.

If this happened in the last five years, our memories would have been shared, our feelings commemorated in countless posts and photos. The sense of understanding greater, more widespread because of the community around it with the web as our platform.

Every day now, with Facebook, Twitter and blog communities, experience around most every public event, from the horrors of mass shootings to the media shares around Breaking Bad have their platform and a shared memorial to the event.

This is the status quo for all of us today.  We live in the dailies of our own life movies. This is nothing but positive, nothing if not a giant evolutionary step forward.

I’ve always believed the web’s greatest value was in the connections that it enables and the new memories it creates. I first started thinking about this around my mom’s birthday a few years ago. I wrote a post back then about how her generation had missed the great upside of connecting and making new friendships as age, mobility and ennui closed the door on the future for them

Memory is the encapsulation of conjoined events in time.

Individually they affirm our past actions to ourselves but they also isolate and freeze time rather than making it a step to something more.

Collectively, memories meld people together, build a base of shared reality to create ties for the future.

Community is, in many ways, that entity that keeps layering on intersections of instances in time, engendering trust and understanding and building steam for future connections as the group broadens and deepens.

I believe this will be a large part of the web’s legacy.

Collective memory as an idea is also a powerful filter for those of us building products or communications platforms, communities or networks.

What we realize about the social web especially, is that once we stop flagellating around like adolescents and start thinking about shared events or ideas as connectors, questions like why our customers or friends should care or share come into focus. We stop counting KPIs and start thinking about the why of connecting with people.

Once we internalize that community happens on the street witnessing an event, online around a discussion, or in a connection around a homeless pet for adoption, we are understanding that inclusiveness, even around the most divisive topics builds bonds, community and social memory.

We talk community. We lionize context as the pinnacle of design. We equate platforms to places and the ease of creating friendship to the new norm that the web somehow makes possible.

All are true.

Facebook works because it gives collective voice to being part of an event or an emotion, a decision or a memory. If it is about anything, it is about collective affirmation.

When I look at closed groups on the web, they are striving towards the same, dragging connections and re-forming them to collectively discuss or commemorate.

In many ways, network effects is just that, at an atomic level. Connecting, experiencing and memorializing. Repeat infinitely and you have not only a key cultural and behavioral truth behind network effect but of virality itself.

Tech pundits say that Twitter, Facebook and Linked In have sucked the social oxygen for innovation out of the web.  I’m thinking just the opposite. These platforms are the railroads before the roads, the express trains before there was a need for the local stop.

Our social memory on the web is just hardly a generation old. The things that billions of people do daily barely had names five years ago. We are at the most nascent stage of social evolution.

Today, for the most part, local and neighborhood are web empty. Extended intersecting communities that leapfrog off the big nets are just being defined. And marketplaces building on the transactionless nature of the big social nets are just starting to pop up everywhere.

Technology has been the core driver of change and innovation for the last two decades. No longer.

My sense is that evolving behaviors, shifting cultures, new ways of consuming, decentralized communities and flash events are the catalyst and the direction for what’s coming next.

The future may be just-in-time

A good chunk of the new economy is looking just-in-time, by design.

Friends refer to it as the Sharing Economy. Others think of it as peer-to-peer commerce. Neither phrase captures the broader shift in market culture. The  tipping point is tied to changing customer behavior, not the business model.

Examples are everywhere.

ZipCar–Just-in-time commerce with each of us is in a perpetual queue moving around, reserving a car with a click wherever we might be. Use and return.

Airbnb–just-in-time for a bed to sleep in. Book someone’s empty room with a click.

CitiBike–new kid on the just-in-time economy block. Playing musical bike docks. So behaviorally right on, it’s breaking with over use yet a few months old.

Sure, one is about cars owned by Avis, one about beds owned by individuals and one, short hop bikes. But the core connection is cultural. None of these would have been possible 20 years ago, technology aside.

A behavioral change in how the mass market consumes goods is in full tilt.  Matching more than shopping, bumping into what they want more than searching it out.

Online, this is everywhere. Different medium, same behavior. Want to hear a song, watch a movie or share a file? Streaming has replaced storage, rental replaced ownership.

I’ve vacillated over whether this idea is just a twist on ‘Always On’. But they are very different.  ‘Always On’ is platform think. Just-in-time is a consumer and market perspective.

Think about customers going through their day bumping into impulses. This is transforming how we sell and market.

Trending cultural change terms like authenticity, customer centric, social engagement are not useful when it comes to sitting down and figuring out how to intersect with your market.

As sellers of goods we’ve become pretty sophisticated at embedding transactions in objects. This is just-in-time selling through social objects distributed by the consumers themselves.

As marketers, much less so.

Brands for the most part are employing push marketing disguised as conversations. Sales disguised as customer support. And humbleness disguised as authenticity. The social web is employed as a prop.

It is a very tough problem.

Gazillions of customers milling around on Facebook, and your brand trying to leverage a soft sell connected to some social cause or some goodness that benefits the company by association.

Most brand efforts seem more like cosmetic repackaging, faux interest wrapped as a humane slide to a transaction. It’s just a hybridization of old-school marketing. Every brand wants to be Liked (and counts them) but invariably, their quotient for value and success is how being Liked drive sales.

Two directions, more than solutions,  seem to be surfacing.

For Sales

Network specific behaviors drive models naturally.

Facebook and Twitter are pure media platforms, push advertising vehicles with a social twist. To plan on commerce on either is a false start. As advertisiing channels, possibly. These platforms are the new broadcast networks without a late night Crazy Eddie sales underbelly.

Pinterest is a natural sales channel. It understands that we buy images as fashion object for most consumables. Instagram and Tumblr are more complex, but at their core, more focused brand marketing than sales.

Understanding each network’s unique dynamics and how your product plays there is always the place to start.

For Marketing

Brand marketing on the web is really in its infancy.

The more we consider markets as communities, the closer we get to a natural poise between company and customers. And the more we look to the skills of community managers, the more marketing on the social nets is finding its pulse.

We manage communities as they need it, at their own pace. Just-in-time to the dynamics of the situation. My community-smart friends may balk at the term but indeed this is the pacing.

Right now though, marketing on the social web is a mess. A pushmepullyou monstrosity of sorts. Noisy. Posey. Uncomfortable.

I’m over simplifying of course.

Selling is not all about the transaction, and marketing is not brand first with every breath. But what we have today ain’t working. All the misguided KPI to ROI charts in the world will not teach you how to talk to the people in front of you.

It’s a big start to acknowledge that what is happening just doesn’t work.

Remember the old saying that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Couldn’t be more true.

It’s time to rethink.

This concept of just-in-time as market metaphor for UX, as a handshake to the shopping cart and the sales funnel, with community as the model for marketing—is one way to get there.

It’s what our customers want.  It’s just smart to be there when they want us.


You can’t airlift community

Community lives where engagement happens. Specific to place and time.

We know this by just hanging out, bumping into serendipitous conversations or cruising for connections on whichever networks or blogs we frequent.

Earlier this week, my buddy Charlie Crystle and I jumped on a Facebook string about this very topic.  On my request, we airlifted the conversation to my current blog, and it simply wilted away. It was false and stilted out of context. We reengaged later on the original string, where the dynamic was real for that topic at that time.

This happens all the time.

We want to force connection to our URLs as the center of our world. We want to push conversations to Disqus where interaction is just more natural.

It just doesn’t work.

We know this intuitively, but our misguided sense of centralized platform order is simply at odds with the messy synergy (and power) of community and the social web itself.

Think across the networks you frequent: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest or Tumblr.

Each is completely different. Groups and communities exist within them all. Different audiences in each, and, more important, different dna for what we personally want from each of them. Different ways that we want to digest information.

When you dump info from Instagram to Facebook with hashtags embedded, you are just creating noise, spam actually, and polluting your stream.

When you dump info from Tumblr to Facebook, the same.

It’s somewhat irrelevant whether the same individuals are in different places. Not only do you want to take your message to your customers, you need to speak to them in the language of where they are.

How I communicate in Tumblr, surfacing the graphic icon of the idea, even if it is a post or a quote, is key. It’s a graphic scrolling vernacular. But a tweet on your Facebook stream—Oy! A Facebook personal photo on your Twitter stream—you get the message.

I sent a DM to a friend whose Twitter stream I really like, to let her know that it was polluted with ‘X posted a photo to her Facebook page” over and over again on her stream as an auto push from Facebook. Her response was that it’s too time intensive to work these nets one at a time.

My response was that I unfollowed her. Really enjoy her thoughts, just don’t want bot-generated flotsam (or is it Jetsam?) on my feed.

This is just community common sense.

A huge Aha for me a few years back was looking at Kickstarter and realizing that there was no community there at all.

Regardless of their adding ‘Follow’, they were a service to the broader world, handed off from individual to individual within different communities, across the web. A link in the shape of a baton, across every possible network. The idea that community needed to be onsite was irrelevant. The goal was to spread the word of things that touched you wherever you had conversations.  Contiguous network connections mattered not. This was more akin to pebbles dropped in the pond than a spider web of attachments.

This relates back to my experience with Charlie above, and some thinking about Disqus.

Disqus imagines a world where community exists between communities as well as within them. Intra-community glue in the form of their platform. Where having a central sign-on, the ability to ring tone others to join conversations and to follow commenters across conversations intimates that community exists within the connecting threads itself.

I’m starting to question this as a concept.

Questioning it because there will obviously never be just one platform. And because time and place trump platform protocol every time. As much as I want one language, one ramp, it’s not the natural state of the web.

What Kickstarter showed is that the only thing that matters is what is shared. It will find conversation in every possible corner of the web. Therein lies its power.

When a project touches me, I bring it to a network that would be interested, or I blog on it and share it that way. It’s the core idea, the call to action that transports and crosses the network chasm.

Or maybe the network chasm is simply a mental fabrication. Some silly “Like” within Facebook stays there because it doesn’t matter anywhere else. Some Tumblr photo of the Statue of Liberty at first light easily pushes to Twitter, and inevitably ends up in other spots in different formats as well.

We all get lazy and dump content. We think that community and connections are part of the platforms themselves.  We do this because the web is just there and it’s easy.

It’s always a bad idea.

Bad because stuff thrown against the wall is disrespectful to those you are communicating with. And bad, because community is specific—and unique– to where it lives and when you touch it. Random and spattered broadcasting is a function of TV, not of community and conversation.

Some food for thought…

Bridging the advisory action gap

When a friend, a startup CEO, asked me what exactly I do in my consulting work, I knew this post was long overdue.

It’s simple–I bring my perspective on building communities and markets, products and brands to your business as a partner.

Beyond that, of course, nothing is simple, least of all running and building a company.

Consulting as a model honestly has always seemed broken to me. Buying advice ad hoc in bits and pieces doesn’t really help anyone. Advice thrown over the transom in Hallmark-styled headlines may be momentarily inspiring, but fades away quickly. True value happens over time, tied to execution and iteration of the product, the brand, the market itself.

I’m four years into working with companies as an advisor now.

I care less about the definitions of consultant, advisor or mentor. I care about bridging the ‘advisory action gap’. About becoming a partner in fleshing out decisions, applying my background and my thinking to the somewhat messy and always slightly nervous job of making business decisions.  About bringing my informal approach to a focused and ongoing relationship with my clients.

To the question—what do I do?

My work breaks into four malleable chunks:

1. Ongoing advisory board member

Companies naturally build a network of experts and supporters as they grow. Market development, market perception, product, channels, team building and fundraising are what I do. Long term is my preference, flexible is my style, and committed is my nature,

2. Office Hours

A lighter touch, ongoing advisory service, with focused, consistent meetings scheduled over time. The stronger the team or exec, the better this works. I don’t manage processes or individuals, I mentor people and teams, help design solutions and share expertise. More details here.

3. Deep dive

With an opportunity on the horizon.  A team in place. A whiteboard and a couple of days blocked out.

Diving in (and deep) with an outside point of view is exactly what is sometimes needed to insure you are giving the opportunity your best shot.  To shake up common thinking. To challenge too much navel gazing. To rejigger the data and challenge whether you have the right data at all. To insure that you are not seeing the world strictly from need and counting on the results before they happen.

I seriously love doing this!

4. Projects

Sometime, timing is the biggest determinant.  Often bringing in a stand in CMO, sales or BD lead to get one crucial piece moving. Hiring a team. Making certain that the holiday selling season is prepped from manufacturing to commerce to customer service to filling the funnel. To integrate an acquisition or figure out if one is needed at all.  Invariably, these projects demand that someone is hired to be me on completion.

Being an advisor naturally just works for me, my informal (and intense) style, my skill sets. It’s the perfect playing field to bridge strategic thinking and operational actions with always new sets of issues and opportunities.

As a business model there are challenges of scale with consulting. Challenges of how to price services over time. And the flux of working with a number of startups and mid size companies at once. Business is definitely never all black or white. We do what we are great at and love– and innovate the model to make it work.

For a long while, I built and led teams, taking to market a wide variety of products and services. I truly loved it.

As an advisor, I get to add value to your company as you take the leadership role in building your team, you business and the market.

When the partnership is right, this is as good as work gets.


For more details on my Consulting Services and Office Hours solution.


Back to marketing basics

The web is like junk food to a generation of marketers.

They chew on it because it’s there. It’s like muscle memory doing the same thing over and over because it looks good in the mirror.

It’s often exercise without form or results.  And worse—we do it simply because we can.

I seriously love the web.  How it has changed our world. How it has reconfigured how we build brands and sell products. How it has turned upside down how we interact how with our customers.

It’s dark side is that while it has made the impossible plausible, and  everyone a marketer and a brand, it has created a generation of posturers, along with an echo chamber of deafening noise.

And I’m personally not exempt from the lure of vanity cruising. The behaviorally insane truth that I care if someone likes a picture of Sam, my cat (as wonderful as he certainly is!). Of mistaking activity with work.

Social porn is fun to play with—it’s just not marketing.

BACK TO MARKETING BASICS is a message in all caps I have on my computer screen this week. It is not retro in the least, nor a call to a better, simpler past. Not at all!  It is all about core behavioral values and market truths.

The opposite of social grinning is not advertising. Not email. Not SEO. Not any channeled tactic over one or the other.

I believe that marketing starts with belief and intent. Period.

My biggest lament about most marketing I see, is that is all exclamation points. It’s all trolling to discover themselves in the eyes of the customer. It’s like politicians taking polls to discover what to talk about.  Kind of insincere and invariably unsuccessful. Heartless and substanceless.

Define marketing basics?


1. Internalizing the core value of who you are and what you sell

If you don’t know who you or your company is, get to work and figure it out.

You may not be right forever but you need to know in your gut that this is what you are about right now.

2. Acknowledging the difference between core value and market fit

This is my favorite one. Market fit is not a reflection (usually) of what you believe in. It is a mashup of belief, the economics of your value, how you deliver it and to whom. Ninety percent of what people call ‘minor pivots’ are not about core value at all. They are about iterating market fit.

Iterating beliefs is strictly for amateurs, not the serious or inspired.

3. Talking to customers in their own language

Marketing is about what you don’t say and how what you do say is heard. Iconization of customer needs is the art; choosing language is the craft. If you are dumping Instagram photos and Tweets to Facebook, Tumblr posts to Twitter without thought, you are doing more harm than good. It’s just exercise in a vacuum.

4. Sell value  by understanding customer behavior

If you believe in your value, don’t gently nudge it forward but smartly and passionately sell it. In almost all cases we aren’t selling a better barbecue, we are selling a different approach to eating. Find the language and the passion, giving the customer the way to opt in to the discussion, then sell away. Here’s a post on selling value.

Understanding why a customer would respond defines the language and context of how you sell. If you can’t understand, on the social web, why a customer should care enough to share, why are you bothering? Here’ a post on just that.

5. Respecting the market’s attention span

Attention is the currency of the market. Customers opt in, give you their time, out of respect.  This is a gift to the lucky.  Take this opportunity seriously. This doesn’t mean you are all serious–or even perfect.  Honest intent will trump form every single time.

I disdained survey marketing when it was the vogue. I disdain the easiness of ‘what do you think’ or ‘discuss’ as leading the customer to a conversation. It invariably is a bright light on the Exit sign and a quick slide unsubscribe and unfollow link. Teaching is not leading necessarily and the market is not your classroom.

Don’t waste anyone’s time is as true a goal as you can have.

 Thinking before you act is not overrated

I try and consider these five core basics before I act each and every time.

These are building blocks of strategy. They often determine organically how you determine the channels  you should target, the language you should use, the offers you should make and the messages you want remembered.

Some stuff just works on email. Some segments just rock on Instagram and hit the floor with a thud on Twitter. Markets and messages are channel specific.

I’m all about understanding craft. I’m very much a believer that each channel for communications has its rules-of-thumb that we need to become masters of, from know when to post and understanding the value and limitations of the analytics you can gather.

But–I would choose a crisp message about a core value infused with passion with absolutely no budget and no tools except drums and smoke signals, over instant and free access to the web and just nothing useful or inspiring to say.