In Facebook All Business Is Personal

11 03 2009

mb-headshot32Last week our agency received a visit from Lisa Hickey, a self-described “Slightly insane creative thinker and writer. Designer and strategist. Global conversationalist.” She worked at almost every local Boston area advertising agency (with the exception of Mullen) and when she was laid off last year, she re-branded herself as a social media consultant.

Her compelling tale of personal growth via use of Twitter, Facebook, etc. was stirring for all attendees. Given the tragicomic state of the economy today with layoffs everywhere, we can expect other marketers to follow her lead from the unemployment line into social media, and a proliferation of “social media gurus.” By the way, social media guru is a term that I personally loathe because in this day and age we should all be digitally literate, rather than relying on some sort of digital elite (See: Chinese Ch’an master Lin-chi I-hsüan and “Killing the Buddha”). 

Anyway, one thing she said really stuck with me: “Today, people are becoming brands, and brands are becoming people.” It’s true for Lisa, and it’s true for a lot of companies today. Consider how Facebook pages for companies have proliferated, and the very same week of Lisa’s visit Facebook changed those pages to resemble individual profiles. Check out this fantastic whitepaper from The Advance Guard on how those changes can be optimized.

Now, what Facebook doesn’t tell you is that if you wanted to get a customized URL for your company’s fan page that will start at around $100K and involves a media buy. Not a lot of individuals will be in a position to brand their own personal profile at that high price tag.  So, I guess companies are becoming more like individuals, but still get corporate pricing courtesy of Facebook. (Nice. But it’s probably better than spending the money on redecorating a bank’s bathroom.)

So what’s my point? I guess I’m left feeling like Randall Stross, who in his Digital Domain column on Sunday really opened up the can of worms that individuals becoming like companies, and companies becoming like individuals entails. His belief is that it’s ruining our sense of privacy: “When the distinction blurs between one’s few close friends and the many who are not, it seems pointless to distinguish between private and public.” It will be interesting to watch companies open up in the social world and see just how much they’re willing to share. What do you think? Are we over-branding ourselves and destroying what little is left of our private identities in the process?     



What Old Mainstream Media Taught Me about New Media

10 12 2008

mb-headshot32Reading the Sunday New York Times each week is something that I hold sacred. Even though I am completely hooked into all digital media formats, nothing quite replaces the physical newsprint with its smudging ink and messy sections that lay around the house for days. I’m not likely to listen to a podcast while wearing slippers and munching on a bagel with cream cheese, but that is precisely what I want to do while reading my weekend morning paper.

So it’s something of a wakeup call, and a bit stronger than my cup of morning Joe, to read the Times these days. They are writing a lot about the changing landscape of media, as blogs, videos and other digital forms continue to body slam analog forms of communication. Chief among these writers is Virginia Heffernan, whose The Medium column (and blog) is really tapping into the general zeitgeist right now. Consider this from her most recent article:

People who work in traditional media and entertainment ought either to concentrate on the antiquarian quality of their work, cultivating the exclusive audience of TV viewers or magazine readers that might pay for craftsmanship. Or they should imagine that they are 19 again: spending a day on Twitter or following a recipe from a Mark Bittman video played on a refrigerator that automatically senses what ingredients are missing and texts an order to the grocery store (it will soon exist!). Then they should think about what content suits these new modes of distribution and could evolve in tandem with them. For old-media types, mental flexibility could be the No. 1 happiness secret we have been missing.

As someone who has worked with old media for years, I couldn’t put it any better myself. We do need to stretch our minds to wrap our heads around all the changes taking place. The week before she wrote this, the Times had an entire magazine devoted to the proliferation of screens everywhere and how this is upending our traditional textual modes of communication. Kevin Kelly wrote in the Idea Lab about Becoming Screen Literate.

As I’ve written before in this blog, the advent of digital video is forever altering how we communicate. Kelly’s article really lays out a vision for the visual future that’s actually becoming reality right now.

A couple months ago I opened the magazine and read “Facebook in a Crowd by Hal Niedzviecki. That article really floored me because it articulated what turns off some marketers to social networking – the illusion that what happens online automatically translates into something real offline. His article demonstrates that those you’re calling “friends” in Facebook don’t really hold the same weight as your friends in the real world, and that this brave new world has a whole new set of rules. (It’s a hilarious article and well worth reading.)

If you’re already incredibly immersed in all things social, then this is old news to you. But with constantly evolving means of communication, the idea that any one person can know everything about our changing online world is simply laughable. But, I just hope that while I cling to my Sunday morning old media tradition, my mind remains flexible and open to the ever-expanding online media universe. That, and a good bagel and coffee, are my number 1 happiness secret.


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A New BeginNING

8 10 2008

The very first post I made to this blog was about my old friend Tom Anderson, co-founder of MySpace. We were in a band together in college and I really admire all that he’s been able to accomplish with his social network. He’s taking it into new territory and putting music at the forefront, which is his true passion as a veritable walking encyclopedia of arcane musical trivia (Ringo – throw me a banana!). Don’t ask.


So that’s why I’m concerned about MySpace and Facebook. Are they losing their cache? In a recent PC World article on the “10 Most Overrated Products” Facebook loses to and reporter Darren Gladstone quips that Facebook has “free applications of dubious value, plus scores of plug-ins and games that draw you deeper into the Facebook rabbit hole until you’re spending hours a day befriending complete strangers with whom you have nothing in common beyond a shared love of Raisin Bran.”


And Mediaweek recently rated the Digital Hot List 2008, and MySpace wasn’t even listed. What’s going on? Is social media tanking? I don’t think so. What I think is happening is that more people are trying sites like to build their own social media sites where they can grow their own communities on the Internet.


Haven’t heard of Ning? I read a brilliant article on Ning in Fast Company earlier this year and I began using the site. Basically, it enables anyone with minimal knowledge of website design to create an online social network. That network can be open to everyone or closed and open to members by invitation only. The level of customization is awesome. Post videos and still images, blog, chat in real time, or create forums – most of what you can do with Facebook or MySpace is available, but you are essentially creating your own Facebook or MySpace with Ning serving as the backbone.


Marketers who have tried and failed to leverage social networking sites should pay attention to Ning because it provides the tools (at free or very low cost) to create a community with shared interests online. And it’s very cool. If Tom can create an empire like MySpace, you can create YourSpace with Ning. Let me know if you’ve played around with Ning and how it’s working for you.

The Dawn of Mainstream Awareness

7 09 2008

I have been told by many PR professionals that if it a story makes the New York Times then it has reached critical mass.  With that said, today’s story is that of “The Age of Awareness.”

If you haven’t read it yet, the New York Times has it on their website (free registration required) or the author’s website has posted it as well.  Clive Thompson is a regular contributor to both the New York Times and Wired magazine and is well known within the technology and science sectors.

To summarize the article as briefly as possible: Social Networking makes us more peripherally aware of all our contacts (close or otherwise) without having to exert as much mental effort.  Mr. Thompson calls this “ambient awareness.”

As he notes in the article, when Facebook first came out, it still required users to visit each one of their friend’s pages individually until the Newsfeed came along and aggregated all the changes in their network on one page, thus reducing the effort to stay observationally connected to friends.  Twitter is no different, while each tweet may be meaningless, one person’s stream gives a peak into what is going on with them, what the pattern of their life is.

It is a great piece and I encourage the audience here to read it and if not participating on Facebook or Twitter, thinking about joining.  It’s always intimidating at first, but it gets better (and addictive).  And who knows, it may help you better pitch that writer you’ve been after for your client!

Social Media Wars

29 05 2008

Following up on my past post, I saw this video and thought it really captured the essence of how social media is affecting our personal brand identities and experience of reality. It also features a cameo by my friend (and yours) Tom Anderson. Enjoy!