At 8:43pm last night, ABC News posted a ridiculously framed tweet about the terrorist incident in Oregon:
Denizens of the Twittersphere went ballistic, in response to this apparent double standard in journalism (White American armed takeover of Federal sites is “peaceful militia action”, while *anything* involving Muslims is a “terrorist cell”.) You can find some of the responses in the growing number of blog posts, such as this one from Raw Story.
In the face of this indignation, ABC News was sadly silent, and the trolls jumped in. The news organization’s inability to understand social brand management left the door open for erstwhile fans and trolls to take over their online brand narrative. ABC News seemed to think that ignoring the matter would make it go away…#OldSchoolMarketing
If something more interesting happens in the next 12 hours, they might get lucky, and the hubbub may abate somewhat. The damage is done, however, to any sense that their news brand is anything worth considering as “above” the fray. ABC News is now fair game, simply because they could not be responsive in the first hours of their mess-up. All they had to do (simply as one possible option among many available) was post one follow-up Tweet at 10pm, just over an hour after the first “unfortunately phrased” post: “Many viewers hold strong opinions about the situation in Oregon. We want to hear/share all reasonable views. Chat on [Periscope/Facebook] in one hour.”
ABC News could have hosted an online chat for exactly 30 minutes, with all the fair and not-so-fair comments that would have ensued, and then summarized with a nicely woven acknowledgement of the fact that “sometimes ABC does not frame a breaking news situation as effectively as – in retrospect – we would have liked to, and it is with the help and feedback of viewers and fans that the news team is able to get a better sense of…blahblahblah”…Thank everyone for their thoughtful comments and assure them you’ll “continue to work hard to responsibly explore and report on the stories that affect our lives and communities….blah blah blah…”
In short: be seen as responsive, and manage the narrative enough so it doesn’t look like you are completely tone deaf and out-of-touch. News obviously never quite works when you let it go the way of fanfic, as CNN has discovered. However, BBC News has been doing quite a good job, of late, using social tools to bring their news stories closer to their viewers and listeners. ABC News could learn a thing or two from them.
Television today is very different from the medium of the 1970s and 1980s. Ecosystems burn and people gather in search of positive change. Yet news programs are more interested in, as writer George Monbiot recently observed, “the dress the Duchess of Cambridge wore to the James Bond premiere, Donald Trump’s idiocy du jour, and who got eliminated from the Halloween episode of Dancing with the Stars. The great debate of the week, dominating the news across much of the world? Sausages: are they really so bad for your health?”
As we move from one spectacle to another, be it fictionalized, serialized, or politicized, it behooves us to take 10 seconds or, in this case, just over 10 minutes to remind ourselves of what a force Television is, and what a unique enterprise each of our communities represents.
This weekend, millions of people will wander out in to their physical communities, roaming from home to home, as they meet one another briefly in the annual ritual of “Trick or Treat”. The origins of the ritual are all but forgotten, as children race from door to door to grab as much candy as possible, barely pausing to glance at the face and person that are attached to the arm that offers the treat. Parents idle distractedly on the pavement outside, worrying about the work week past, or the chores awaiting them in the next couple of days. The brief but wondrous opportunity for connection and community interaction is lost in our collective impatience and self-centeredness.
It used to be that media, whether televised or printed, served as a utilitarian resource for our individual and collective edification. We would reference several newspapers, as we developed an opinion about one issue or another. We would look to our television for the latest images and coverage, trusting in a relatively objective perspective, or balanced programming that ensured transparency whenever objectivity was not possible. I still own the letters my grandfather wrote to his sister in the 1930s and 40s, as he led the Allied Correspondents through Europe, covering the War. His distaste for Hitler was not hidden, but he always balanced his contempt for the man and his minions with insights in to how and why the German populace might have been convinced to follow such an unholy agenda. To listen to and socialize the opinions of others is not a weakness, but rather a manifestation of one’s own strong convictions. What are ideas worth, if they are not tested?
Today’s media, instead of serving our community of diversity, so often collaborates with our own prejudices, that it compound the memes within which we exist.
Whether our media is servant to our citizens, vice versa or, worse still, whether both become servants to a culture devoid of useful information or humanity, is still a matter of choice. For now.
Your presence in the Universe is infinitesimally small, bordering on non-existent. How that strikes you, and what you choose to do with your relatively sub-atomic situation, is the marker of your true and lasting worth. Will you fall prey to the vicissitudes of modern mankind, and limit yourself to the pursuit of personal financial wealth, and perhaps a pompous executive title or two? Does the illusion of power suffice to appease your sense of self-worth? Do you want your life to amount to nothing more than what you alone can sense of it? Do you desire something else from this one-way trip, the destination of which we are all too well aware?
Artists, scientists, inventors, a very few politicians, and their ilk pursue that “something else”. They have – often unconsciously – discovered that acquisition is a reductive enterprise, while contribution is the most sustainable expression of power within our grasp. How much we give to our communities, large and small, determines our place in the Universe, and its longevity. You possess an uncommonly awesome ability to replicate and enhance your presence: through your creations, contributions, influence, and inspiration. The composition of a lovely poem will prove more lasting than most lucrative IPOs. The hours spent preemptively undermining that competitor business would have been much better spent exploring ways to merge your mutual capabilities, in service to even more exciting innovations. Of course someone will exploit your good will for their own selfish ends. They only get to do so once, though. You don’t have to be an idiot to fulfill your greatest potential, but it helps to have a bit of the fool within you. The longer we promote distrust, avarice, self-absorption, and fear; the deeper we dig ourselves into a darkened pit of history that will all too soon be forgotten amidst the vast expanse of space and time that renders all of us to the dust from whence we came.
Who made the mistake of telling you that you were the main character in your narrative? Who told you there was a statute of limitations on dreaming big for others? Who gave you permission to give up on the wonderful plans you had for a better world?
The results of this quirky experiment that is your life will be determined by your willingness to catalyze the elements around you. The greatest leaders are not the most powerful, but the most empowering. The greatest innovations are not the most profitable, but the most fulfilling. Your accomplishments will, in the long term, never be tallied in dollars and cents, but rather in the actions and aspirations of the generations that instinctively perpetuate you, whose all-too-short span of life could prove directly responsible for the more rewarding manifestation of theirs.
The Facebook brand risks suffering from the multiple personality disorder that plagues companies that make too many acquisitions and market launches, without clarifying the nature of the independent parts, and how the aggregate merits augmented consideration. With the launch of Alphabet, the company formerly known as Google has clarified that its strategic brand is much akin to the old Idealabs: a parent holding entity that creates and nurtures businesses that are each destined to form their own ecosystems of sustainable operation. The aggregate value is early on, when the nascent entities may benefit from the mentorship of Alphabet corporate resource providers, and the collaboration of other companies in the family.
Facebook, meanwhile, keeps adding arms to its body, without clarifying anything. When their Messaging app launched, they took pains to give it its own functional space, thereby keeping the core Facebook clean (or relatively so, considering we’re talking about engineers here, who love to tinker, patch, repatch, and otherwise refine Frankenstein’s monster as an iterative process, rather than design and create Michelangelo’s David as a fluid act of final artistry). When they updated their Photos section, it wasn’t so dramatic that people began to seriously consider leaving 500px. However, Facebook’s latest iterative improvement is big enough to begin to strain against the bonds of the core Facebook brand proposition. The embedded Video update caused consternation, but the integrated Notes update is causing confusion.
Facebook Notes has long been “just another OK feature” amidst a wealth of tab features available to users seeking to enrich their personal brand value, whilst also engaging with their communities, both online and off. Facebook was a “connectivity facilitator”: not so much a platform, as a conduit. As users began to discover their voices, they might gravitate their expression to another brand that represented a richer immersion in to a particular form: 500px for the photographers, Medium or Tumblr for the essayists, YouTube for the video diarists. They continued to rely on Facebook for social community, whilst delving in to the new realms as channels of more specialized expression and exploration.
Now, however, Facebook has made it clear that they want all those voices to remain in their castle, and I fear this may prove counterproductive in the long run. Had the Facebook Video platform been launched as a standalone adjunct to the core Facebook brand (as was Messaging), I might have seen some potential in the move, so long as the UI and UX were consistently and intuitively improved. But Facebook wants it all to stay in the room…a room that becomes more and more crowded every day. We all know what happened to the Tower of Babel.
The latest update is to Facebook Notes, and makes the tab a direct competitor to Medium, but without giving itself room to breathe and spread its wings. Admittedly, the improvement is attractive, on its own merits. Maybe what we are witnessing are the latest growing pains of Facebook, experiencing a form of metamorphosis: once complete, the new entity will be more beautiful, more functional, more elegantly obvious than ever before. For now, it becomes more unwieldy and cumbersome, and risks losing its shape and functional value.
A single body, made up of increasingly disparate parts, has historically proven to make for a great story, and a range of mediocre film adaptations. It has rarely functioned as a cohesive unit. However, if the organically solid parts are allowed to find relevant combinatorial sums that best express the identity of each individual Facebook user…
If Facebook builds out their tab improvements as standalone entities, a la “Messaging”, but with a design and structure sensibility that gives users the ability to connect the pieces together to better express their individual brand identities. Now, that might be an exciting proposition. If Facebook controls the clutter (so it doesn’t become another MySpace V1), but allows each user’s Facebook presence to become their de facto website, tailored toward their unique preferred mode of expression, that would be a truly revolutionary manifestation of the Web.
I love productivity and efficiency. I preach it, I evangelize on its behalf. I campaign for its adoption across every enterprise and initiative that seeks my advice and counsel. There is a line between Utility and Assistance, however, which cannot yet be crossed – no matter how many startups try valiantly to ignore the prevailing reality. Utility is a largely passive operation, which must be activated and managed by the user to fulfill its potential. It’s a useful tool such as Prompt.ly, OneNote, or Wunderlist. Assistance is an active function that manifests itself independently, and must anticipate and manage multifarious unqualified scenarios to be truly effective.
The list of Virtual Assistant startups grows daily. It’s the present fad. For every variation that promises to reinvent the VA space yet flames out (Zirtual), another two replace it with air-dancing artificial plums (e.g.: Genee, x.ai). The new holy grail of tech startups is AI virtual assistant apps. For the next 6 months or so, all the early adopters will fall over each other, just to be able to claim they had “Amy”, “Genee”, “Cortana”, “Siri 2.0”, et al, before everyone else. What you won’t hear much about is the fact that all these AI solutions fall far short of useful. Virtual assistants have existed for years, and work with varying degrees of success. Productivity apps have been around for a long time as well, exhibiting capricious achievement in their own right (yet but few pretentions to actually *replace* staff). Zirtual did not fail to provide the services they promised to clients. The company failed because, like so many startups today, it was encouraged to grow too fast, in an unsustainable quest for lightning ROI. The likely result was an inability to meet financial covenants, founders and investors working at cross-purposes, and lack of transparency between stakeholders seeking markedly different objectives. Whoever takes over the operations, such as they are after this negative brand impact, will assuredly restructure for more realistic growth metrics, if any future is to be realized for the employees and their clients.
I have no doubt that after various highly overvalued iterations churn through talented developers, employees, and investors, the chasm between AI VA concept and reality will begin to narrow, such that solutions that provide useful value finally establish themselves on semi-solid footing, and scale sustainably. Until then, you will have to contend with one offering that has access to your calendar, but not the other party’s calendar; another unable to process plain language text or speech; and probably none that take “drive time”, “weather”, or “distance” in to consideration when booking meetings back-to-back, not to mention the probability of client A being notoriously late, or client B correspondingly early, by habit. In short, none will be able to do what a proficient human assistant can do.
Sometime in the future, our human administrators may well be replaced by competent digital, or even robotic, facsimiles. However, the truest measure of a great assistant is their ability to adapt to and accommodate the unexpected scenarios, and no algorithm can proactively absorb this aspect of the job, yet. Artificial Intelligence learns, and improves with use, but most companies and executives who require assistants cannot afford to patiently wade through failure, in an iterative quest for efficiency and reliability. If the day comes that Artificial Intelligence Apps crowdsource their refinements, machine learning will accelerate exponentially, and I’m frankly not sure how comfortable I’d be with an employee who mathematically assures me they know what’s best for me, simply because they know more than me.
For the past 7 years I have been aggressively promoting the notion of sustainable business development, and campaigning against the fad of Venture Capital infused vaporware growth. Valuations based on nothing but ideas and Powerpoint (or Prezi) presentations might lead to a successful lightning IPO or other lucrative short term result, but the Piper must be paid, else the music stops. Those left holding the bag at the end of the short dance are left with little but debt and shattered dreams. This is not the way to build and sustain long-term innovation pipelines, or quality workforces, let alone support the dreams and aspirations of sincere emerging entrepreneurs. The terms “serial entrepreneur” and “unicorn venture” just piss me off.
So many businesses have been encouraged to scale super fast, disregarding the absence of solid structural, brand, and product foundations. Their Towers of Babel have been raised with alarming speed, designed to look impressive, and promising extraordinary views and world-class functionality, yet delivering very little of substance. Investors have repeatedly relied upon the advice of brokers whose only interest has been swift maximization of returns, and nobody seems to have spent much time worrying about employees, product sustainability, solution viability, brand audits, or anything else that would underpin a business proposition designed to last beyond year 3.
This is why I decided 7 years ago, to stop working with clients seeking aggressive short term returns, instead of measurable and sustainable growth milestones. This is why I no longer invest in flashy business propositions, but instead in people. This is why I only mentor businesses willing to invest in their long term narrative, as opposed to the short term climactic scenes to which so many startups and larger organizations seem to still be aspiring.
When the State of Oregon recruited me last year to set up a business ecosystem supporting Digital Storytelling startups, some members of my new Board wanted to replicated “conventional” VC incubator and accelerator models. I resisted, and was thrilled that enough members of the Board accepted my vision, as well as my alternative business plan. As a result, we were able to help launch and build twice as many companies as had been required by the government, and nearly all of them continue to exist and grow today. The growth is at a rate that permits adaptation and management of both expected and unexpected challenges and opportunities, whilst protecting the people and assets around which the businesses operate. It saddens me when I hear of talented people or great ideas imploding under the weight of the overly ambitious aspirations of impatient investors. We cannot build sustainable new industries this way. I’m convinced that my model works. My proof is logic based, and has examples. I sincerely hope that the example set by companies such as Zirtual, Goodmail, Secret, Springpad, Outbox, Wahooly, and the hundreds of thousands of other companies that fail due to high churn, overly aggressive growth, and other errors in judgment, will soon set enough of a precedent that market practices will correct themselves, and more than a few of us will see the merits of more responsible investment, mentoring, and sustainable business development.
LinkedIn is not where we go to share family pics, Vine videos, or snopes-worthy rumors (unless someone has a Vine of Marissa Mayer replacing the whole Yahoo! senior executive team with members of her family, and definitive proof that nothing was doctored in post). LinkedIn is a business network, where we go to further our professional aspirations and relations. With this in mind, our actions on LinkedIn will inescapably reflect directly upon our brand proposition, both professional and personal.
So what’s with all the sales spam I keep getting from so many LinkedIn members? Do the senders not realize the damage they are doing to their brand value, not to mention that time they are wasting at my end?
I am not a fan of unsolicited emails from previously unknown parties. I admit to sending out one email missive at the end of each year to all my clients and business contacts, wishing them the best of the season, and good fortune in the year to come, and that’s about as far as I am prepared to go down the twisted path of Spamdom. My reasoning is not founded in knowledge borne of complex market studies, but rather the result of the icky feeling I get whenever I receive spam, and my own desire never to have my own brand associated with such negative feeling.
An unfortunately unsurprising number of LinkedIn accounts are fake accounts, created to front spam sales services that suffocate bona fide business members’ inboxes with a glut of irritating sales pitches, repeated ad nauseam by a rotating gallery of stock photo “bot babes”. The fact that these accounts almost always pretend to be attractive 20-something women is already insulting enough to the many enormously talented women on LinkedIn. I sincerely hope someone more qualified than I takes the time to examine and comment on why certain elements of our society still believe that predominantly young, seemingly vacuous, albeit attractive, women are the perfect sales tool. For my part, I’d like to restrict myself (for now) to the simple request that LinkedIn administrators take more proactive measures to pre-qualify the “real person” credentials of new registering members.
Fake accounts represent, however, only one side of the counterfeit currency that is Spam InMails. There remain a robust number of InMails that are sent by living breathing account reps who should know better.
I receive about 20 seemingly Spam InMails per day. Communications from existing contacts are addressed first, followed by correspondence from recognized or respected indirect contacts (2nd or 3rd degree contacts via individuals who I consider valid pre-qualifiers by dint of their own selective personality. I have a few contacts who accept LinkedIn connection requests from any and all accounts, in their ongoing quest to hit the mythical jackpot of “most LinkedIn contacts ever”. Their contacts and others with whom I’m not previously acquainted fall in to the “potential spammer” bucket.) Any InMail that begins with “I represent…” invariably ends up trashed without further thought, which leaves about 4 -6 daily InMails that may or may not have value to me. These I have to read, evaluate, and act upon – which means that as much as 10 minutes of my work day is spent managing LinkedIn Spam. That may not seem like much, but that represents more than an hour per week of repetitive clutter. I dutifully mark Spam InMails as spam, in the hope that LinkedIn staff are processing this feedback conscientiously. However, the health of communications within the LinkedIn community depends most on its members’ willingness to agree upon the nature of the community itself. If the majority of us see it as a virtual flea market where we can hawk our wares aggressively to as many members as possible, the value of this community will decline precipitously. We are all eager to make beneficial connections that will provide lasting professional value. I’ve yet to meet a LinkedIn member who joined in the hope that they would be sold “web development, expertise in Obj C (iPhone Apps), HTML/CSS, Ruby on Rails, PHP, Java, NodeJS, and Database development, all at affordable prices!”. Every individual or brand that thinks such solicitations are providing valuable ROI to their brand is doing themselves and our community a disservice.
I am eager to learn from and share knowledge with other professionals, and I have benefited greatly from LinkedIn in the past. The benefits are becoming obfuscated by the burdens, and there may come a point where the mathematical equation tips irreversibly from benefit to cost.
As more and more sales spam inundates our inboxes, the responsible parties will be stocking the flames of a Pyrrhic victory. I and other members of the LinkedIn community will likely discontinue our memberships, and seek other platforms and channels on which to conduct our professional business. LinkedIn will have lost revenue, and unsubscribing members will have lost a previously valuable business ecosystem. More importantly, the spammers will have lost their targets. Nobody will have won.
Dear Spammers: If you are trying to secure new customers on LinkedIn, do so by demonstrating your value through knowledge sharing, not unsolicited sales pitches. Write a post about the relative merits of various database development toolsets; join a group and share your insights on the challenges faced by mobile application developers; give a little of your time and expertise. The returns may not be as immediate as the few bucks you might secure from the one in 10,000,000 who is willing to respond to your spam InMail, but they will be far longer lasting and exponentially lucrative.
LinkedIn is a community garden, and the output will be directly correlative to the seeds we sow, and how we care for the ground upon which we work.
Voltaire’s’ famous phrase “il faut cultiver notre jardin” does not translate into a justification for selfish greed, but rather recommends a life of horticultural quietism. I personally don’t subscribe to the “calm acceptance of things as they are without attempts to resist or change them”, but we would do well to focus less on exploiting situations to our personal advantage, consequences be damned. There exists a middle ground, where we may actively influence our collective good fortunes, and I still believe platforms such as LinkedIn offer such an opportunity. It falls to the combined efforts of LinkedIn feature developers, designers, and members to protect and enrich that opportunity. Failing that, the selfish opportunists will destroy both their own, and this platform’s value.