Will You Abandon Your Friends to Seek Real Relevance

November 2nd, 2011

(video production by my friends at Candidio. Fast, inexpensive video editing and production. Check em out!)

Excerpted from the video:

I was happy to interview Brian Solis, a futurist, new media raconteur, and principal at Altimeter Group. Brian recently published his 5th book, The End of Business As Usual
which I believe to be his finest work to-date.

Jay: Hey everybody. It’s Jay Baer from Convince & Convert. Hope you are having a fantastic day. I’m joined this afternoon by a man who needs no introduction, but I’ll provide one anyway. Futurist, big thinker, gadabout, raconteur, and author of “The End of Business as Usual”, Mr. Brian Solis. Also a champagne lover, as I recall.

Brian: This is true.

Jay: So that is a lot of things. Congratulations on the new book. We just can’t stop you from writing books!

Brian: There’s just a lot to say right now.

Jay: You won’t be held back. I appreciate that. It’s great. I really actually read it, on a long plane flight out to the west coast. In fact, I was in your town for about five minutes earlier this week, but didn’t get a chance to say hi to you or the folks at Altimeter, but really, really enjoyed it. And what I like about this book in particular is that it’s got a lot of chapter breaks in it, it’s really the kind of book that you could read for half an hour and then set aside and then come back and not feel like you’re all confused. It’s really well packaged in that regard.

Brian: Thanks for noticing that, actually. And for everybody watching this, I did not seed that question. I appreciate that, because this time I wanted to write a book that could be, I don’t want to say easy to read, but could be thoughtful in how the reader would sit down, considering all of the things that they have to do, and still provide value knowing that they’re busy. I also wanted to write at the executive level, because one thing I heard about The End of Business As Usual
was that Engage was more of a reference guide than a book. People would read certain chunks as needed . . .

Jay: And refer back.

Brian: . . . and refer back. This one, even though I’d like to think it’s also a reference guide, it tells a story.

Jay: Yeah, but it’s a story that I find you don’t necessarily have to read in sequence, which I think is really interesting. It reminds me a little bit of UnMarketing
, although obviously at a much more executive level and detail than that. You probably could read it in somewhat random chapter order and still get a lot out of it. I think that’s really commendable.

Brian: Thank you.

Jay: One of the things I loved about the book is you talked about how we’re all wired for distraction now. We’re always like, “Squirrel! Tweet!” And it’s so true. It’s so true. I really notice it now, how hard it is to pay attention for any length of time. I don’t think it’s probably a net positive as a people or as a society, but I’ve thought a lot about, “gee, is a book too much sandwich to ask people to eat?” Should we be publishing sequential chapters in eBook format or things of that nature? Obviously the publishing business is disintermediated, and we understand that. But is long form publishing counter-cyclical?

Brian: Wow. So much to think about here. The answer is you can’t stop creating the content in the way that people you’re trying to reach consume it. That was the most challenging part of writing this book. You’re an author. You know what I’m talking about. You’ve got to write a book. You have to keep up your blog. You have to keep up your Twitter stream. You have to keep up your Facebook. Now your Google+, your Foursquare. You have these seminated audience or groups of people that are connecting with you because they find value in those channels. But yeah, there’s a fantastic audience for books and the need to have information at their fingertips. But I did design this book a little bit differently, considering that we are wired for distraction. Every chapter has almost tweetable summaries of what the insights were in each chapter. So if you have to go back and just kind of remember what the value was, or just read those, you could still walk away with the value your way.

Jay: Absolutely. Great summaries. It was a fantastic illustration that you have in the book that shows your own personal media usage habits and the channels across the social Web that you used a few years ago versus the ones that you use now. I counted them up, and it was something like 47 different outposts that you were present in. Flickr, going back to FriendFeed and Plurk and things that we don’t necessarily use now. Then I counted the ones that you use today, or at least refer to in the book, and I think out of that 47, there’s only 10 that you still use. So I think to some degree, the industry is wiring itself for distraction, because we keep creating new stuff and new stuff and new stuff. You and I have the rare luxury of doing this for a living, but take an average marketing director or average CEO. They’ve got to be like, “What the hell is going on?”

Brian: Right. I was talking to John Battelle on the video show that I run, and he’s got a book called “What Hath We Wrought?” that’s coming out in a year or so. It really looks at how it’s not the technology that wired us for distraction. We embraced this technology and wired ourselves for distraction. There’s sort of a subliminal message in the first half of my book where, even though it’s written for executives and professionals to help them understand how to embrace this type of consumer, there is this underlying theme there where I hope that people pick up on it, that if you are that “connected consumer”, that you’re understanding that, number one, you’re not alone. But number two, part of the onus of improving your own online experience, your own digital experience, is becoming a very critical curator of those experiences through relationships, through information that you share and consume.

So what you saw in those two graphs, my point was that I shrunk it and that I found the channels that had the greatest value to me. Not just for me to promote what it is I’m working on, for me to learn. Also what’s really important is that I change who I follow in each of those networks as it pertains to what I find fascinating or interesting or where I think I can add value. So I’m constantly expanding and contracting these networks so that there’s value on both sides. That’s part of the theme of that first half of the book. If you are the people that you’re trying to reach, you have a responsibility to improve your own online experiences, which I call the egosystem.

Jay: Yeah. I’m glad you mentioned changing who you connect with in different outposts. As you know, there’s been somewhat of a micro trend recently of people just sort of saying, “You know what? I’m throwing up my hands. I’m going to, especially on Twitter, unfollow everybody and then start from ground zero.” I know Chris Brogan has done it and other people have done it. What do you make of that? Is that a sign of the times? Is that a sign that we did it wrong the first time? To me, that is a symptom of a bigger issue.

Brian: I’ve studied this actually, the idea of social network fatigue. And there’s parts of this in the book where we talk about the effects that this is having on society. I use examples of students who are feeling like, even though they’ve wired themselves for this, they can’t keep up with what it is that they’ve created. There’s this sense that not only are they always on, but there’s this psychological need to be always on. Otherwise they feel like they’re missing out, they’re disconnected, their relationships are going away from them. So part of this is self-created. But also, it’s perpetuated through the “social media experts”.

I can tell you that year after year, I would have to get in debates that would justify my friend to follow ratio on Twitter, for example. And that the idea of following somebody back is of reciprocal value to show as a thank you to someone who’s followed you.

Jay: An interesting stat that I saw in the book was that people on Facebook, I think it was, created 90 pieces of content a month. I think that was the stat that was in there, which is a lot, right? It’s three pieces of content a day. Do you think that can continue to grow? I think we take it as gospel that people’s usage of Facebook has no cap, but I can’t imagine that that’s true. Eventually, enough will be enough, but they seem to try and find other reasons for us to participate on that particular platform. Now with f-Commerce and other things that perhaps you used to have to leave Facebook to do, now they want you to do within their platform.

Brian: I really like that question. They call it Zuckerberg’s Law – that you will double the amount of content that you share every year. And to counter that law, this was a few years ago, I had come up with my own theory, and that theory was something that I called Social Graph Theory. That every year, you would double the size of your social graph, depending on what you were sharing.

Jay: Stands to reason.

Brian: In many ways, that’s proven true over the years. You probably read in the book that I switched. I didn’t want to perpetuate that theory anymore. I wanted to believe that we were going to follow what I call the Interest Graph Theory, and that was that we were going to shrink our networks and rebuild them based on value and interests. We see that with Chris Brogan, for example. We see that with other individuals really starting over again. But the content creation side continues to double, and that is because people find value. This is why I spend part of my time as an aspiring social scientist.

The need for people to share isn’t just because I want to push something out into my network. It’s because I enjoy the reactions that I get in sharing, and that fosters engagement. That fosters community. But I think what we have to be mindful of is we can’t just do it for the reaction. We actually have to do it for the value in that. I know that I’m saying the word value, but it’s true. I want to have more meaningful engagement with the people that I’m connected to, so I’m going to be more thoughtful about what it is that I curate and put into the stream.

Jay: Absolutely. There’s a lot of conversation these days about influence or outreach and Klout, with Klout’s new algorithm change recently. A lot of people wringing their hands and things like that. Whether you use Klout or any number of other software programs out there that can give you some sort of number, do you find that influence or outreach is scalable for brands, that it really has the ability to be a core part of your social program, your communication program?

Brian: This has been another area of study actually going back to the 90s before there were influence scores. I used to call it the IF, the influence factor, and its importance in business engagement. And I started a company in 1999 developed around simply influencer identification and engagement. By “influencer,” I meant people who had the capacity to cause effect, not a score. And by cause effect, that means that I recognize that you, Jay, are a master in the world of new business models and new engagement and media, and I have this particular solution or service or product. You’re going to be influential for me, but I can’t go to a service and find all of the people who have a score above 55 and expect them to take interest in what I do.

I have a report coming out on this very soon with Altimeter. That is the difference between social capital and influence, because they’re very different. To answer your question specifically, yes, an influencer engagement program will help businesses cut through the clutter instead of doing this en mass, one to many broadcast technique that they’re very used to doing. I’m focusing on the very select group of people who are incredibly connected within these sites – incredibly influential. I call it the one to one to many approach. Yes, there is value in that, whether it’s through an advocacy, through an influencer program or an engagement program, all of the above, an expert program, an advisory program. All of those things should run simultaneously.

But I do not know that I could find value in social capital relations, finding people who are influential. That said, we are seeing examples of sales, loyalty, and service aspects of the organization embracing all forms of people with social capital, because then they’re excited to share their experiences, and that’s a different value. I guess what I’m saying is it comes down to intent and the ability to know what it is that you want out of those relationships and then design the programs and find the right people that will help you execute, at least according to plan.

Jay: My favorite is the one to one campaign that is actually a broadcast campaign, where you send out 5,000 press releases to theoretical influencers at the click of a button. I’m like, ”
Wow, the irony of this is unbelievable.”

Brian: I have an inbox full of them.

Brian: Yeah. This is an important part of the book. It’s probably also, I wouldn’t say the easiest, but it’s the one where you can have the most impact. Really what the book is talking about in that section is change management, and this is the quickest part to getting on a new road to change. I talk about earlier in the book the idea that your brand is sort of this collection of shared experiences, and I show examples. If you search a particular brand on Twitter or Facebook and you feed that into a word cloud, all of these words are the words that people feel about your brand. There’s nothing you can do or say about that. You just recognize it. This is where a lot of business say, “This is exactly why we don’t want to be in new media, because we lose control.”

Jay: But you actually never had control, but that’s another point.

Brian: That’s right. You never had control, because those are the experiences, real experiences of people right now. You actually now have an opportunity to take control, because you can steer those experiences. There’s a lot of stories and formulas and frameworks that I’ve shared on how you can steer experiences. What’s your vision? What’s your mission? You’re talking about aligning with people, and what people are saying, especially in social media, is they want to be able to align with your values.

Jay: You have to know what those values are.

Brian: Yeah. What are those values? What is our vision? So a lot of companies that I work with today, we reexamine those. It’s quite a political conversation, as you can imagine, but when they see what the output can do, where people can align with it. And then more importantly, that it drives your online and your digital strategy and management programs, because you’re operating around a new vision that people can stand behind. Actually, it takes on meaning, and it’s not just a temporary thing, it’s actually a mantra.

Jay: Absolutely. I’m glad you documented the pieces of change management and the processes you go through, and you actually talk about identifying the “change team” within the organization – having people tasked with making this work. What sort of attributes do you look for in somebody who would be a good member of a change team?

Brian: I’ve got to make the point here that in “Engage” I talk about building a new media task force, where you bring cross-functional representatives together around the table so that each one of those stakeholders, quite honestly, getting their hands dirty and have stake in how social media is going to transform their particular function in the organization overall. But with a change management team, what we’re looking at is sort of taking that idea of a task force, decision makers across the organization who recognize that it’s much bigger than social media, that the business has to mean something to a different customer.

And quite honestly, it’s a healthy exercise to go through, but what we’re looking at is people who can speak on behalf of the employees. For example, HR becomes a big role in this. Legal becomes a big role in this. Leaders of lines of business, leaders of the executive team. In fact, it does talk about having an executive sponsor who can oversee this and has reports that bring it back to the top level. It also shows that the size and shape of that change management team is going to depend on sort of this internal audit that you do that talks to leaders and change agents within the organization to recognize the gaps, so that becomes your mission on how to bridge those. But it really is a powerful team to bring together, because really at the heart of what it is that their tasked to do is change the organization to matter for a new era of business.

Jay: I always find it to be the great paradox of modern business that everything in communications happens so much faster now. It’s Twitter in real-time and all these things. But yet, the type of change that you are recommending in “The End of Business as Usual” is absolutely slow. This is not “we’re going to make this happen in two weeks.” So here we are in this real-time world, but we are predicting change that happens over a period of years?

Brian: Yeah, absolutely. Many companies that I’ve worked with on these particular tasks, the stories I tell have been underway for two, three, four years already, and we’re still a long way to go. But understanding that it’s slow is why you have to begin sooner than later.

Jay: It’s a great book. I really, really enjoyed it. Thanks so much for being here, Brian. It’s The End of Business As Usual (affiliate)

Brian: Thank you, Jay.

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