Status anxiety


I imagine I was not the only person struck by the media collision around the coverage of the death of Jade Goody. The last few weeks of her life were marked by a quite depressing co-dependency with a media at once uncomfortable with their proximity to the unfolding real-life anguish, and delighted by it. For everything else she was, Goody was a media phenomenon; a byproduct of an culture of instant fame and circular celebrity. Without media attention she ceased to exist and so her death, as her life, became dependent upon the publicity that made it – at times – distasteful. Like Schrödinger’s cat, the fact of her observation was thoroughly part of her entire being.

Equally, her death brought a simultaneous low point and high point for the role of things like twitter in the news media. The BBC’s official report, takes much of its content directly from Stephen Fry’s twitter feed, that many of us will have seen (as followers) many hours before. Perhaps the BBC cleared the comments for reuse. Perhaps he intended them for this very purpose, or perhaps they were idle ramblings as he tromps around the globe, but we have certainly moved away from the point where journalists would refuse to publish content which had appeared before. With over 300,000 followers, Fry practically is another media outlet in his own right.

Is Twitter itself a sea change in media?

Certainly its recent growth has been surprising. The influx of users is reminiscent of the period 18 months ago when everyone and their aunt joined up to Facebook.

It’s worth considering why it is really more than a glorified status.

First and foremost, Twitter takes more from blogging than it does from social network thinking. It is much more public. It is much more permanent (and it can be indexed by search engines). And it is being used to convey a much wider range of information. Each 140 character entry may be whimsical and often vacuous but it has the potential of being remembered and useful long after its posting.

Like blogging, Twitter is asymmetrical. Not all Twitterers are created equal. 12,000 people are following Hugh McLeod, as compared to the list he is following of just over a thousand. He may have two brains, but you have to wonder how Robert Scobble can possibly understand the stream of consciousness that comes from over 50,000 people he is following. And his audience is just as big. At this scale, Scobble’s twitter feed has at least as much influence as my local paper. And that’s just the first order influence. Twinfluence ( looks at extended reach (1st and 2nd generation connections) to estimate that twitterers such as Apple evangelist and entrepreneur Guy Kawasaki can reach up to 18m people.

No wonder then that it was seized as a tool by the Obama campaign. And no wonder that so many brands are attempting to hitch themselves to the bandwagon. For both marketers and politicians the question is oddly simple: not ‘what message should I broadcast to the network?’ but ‘how can I get the network to follow me?’ – what can brands and individuals do to interest, entertain or provide utility in such a setting. For a cause like the American primary contest, this was simple (if not easy) – tapping into a huge latent demand. For manufacturers of mid-size family sedans, it will prove a little more difficult. Twitter is just another example of marketers needing to learn about the power and significance of networks. And we can certainly expect many of the same missteps. Brands will need to be prepared to listen and well as speak.

But the real question about brands in Twitter is one of personal identity formation. As Clay Shirky has noted, attention amongst (traditional) bloggers is anything but evenly spread. Rather there is a ‘power law’ distribution, with a small number of top bloggers receiving the vast majority of attention.

As a Twitter elite establishes itself, the site will continue to operate and grow dramatically on two distinct levels – as an efficient if limited social utility, and as the blogging platform of choice for fast ideas. Such thoughts may be half-cooked but they are much more accessible than multi-page blog entries (it is no coincidence that they are the right length for a single thought or link).  And we now know from experience than users will at times radically reconsider their use of technology if they find it interesting or useful enough.

Would Goody approve? I think she would.

No longer just your wife


The new Red Brick Road site contains a neat little spoof site about overblown promises and ‘strategies’ from agencies (“The Yellow Brick Road”). Particularly good is this fictitious company’s philosophy statement:

‘In today’s networked world, we understand that the customer is no longer just your wife, she’s the boss. That’s why we believe customers shouldn’t just consume our advertising but create it as well, something we call Brand Consumation(TM). Rather than just research customers, we get them to literally write and approve all our briefs, and to create all of work too. That way control is firmly in their hands before the process has even begun.’

Sound familiar?

In my day


A good day, yesterday for things fitting together and falling into place (to mix up the metaphors a little). The day started reading Amelia’s amazing piece in the Spectator. However much you’re in to new media there’s no denying how cool it is to read people you know in august titles like that, especially when Amelia’s piece is longer, and more prominent than – for examples – Roy Hattersley’s.

The article itself was about the generational gap emerging in technology adoption and it’s well… us. Younger people (under 20s)  find technology to be simply a fact of life* and the older groups (55+) are not cynical about it and have the time and money to explore and adopt.

Slightly ironically, the slow adopters are the group that Coupland named as “Generation X” (today’s 30-somethings) who have the healthy cynicism that comes from having seen the bubble burst once already but without the older generation’s (or indeed Mr C’s) resources to explore and experiment.

A very convincing argument, although one which I suspect is still slightly class-bound, it reinforces many of the points I heard later in the day in a fantastic presentation about social media which Antony gave at Conchango (where I work).

There were hundreds of interesting ideas in that presentation but if I had to pick just three, they would be:

  1. What is happening in the way we communicate really is nothing less than a revolution. As Antony put it, that name may seem overblown as it’s been used too much and too randomly but we must standby it. As with other revolutions in the past, the full effects may take years to become apparent, but Web 1.0, Web 2.0… whatever is as big as the printing press, as big as the enlightenment. As Cluetrain would have it: “deal with it”
  2. When we give people the tools, whether they’re 5 or 55, they take to them. Why? Because we are hard wired to communicate. It’s not clever graphics or gimmickry, it is the need for sociality and it isn’t going anywhere.
  3. Advertising agencies act like they’re getting the message, as they jump on every bandwagon through web-two-point-zero-ville but they are wearing the clothes of the revolutionary without sharing their beliefs. Driven by fear and the desire to return to the well-trodden paths of old, clients and agencies are missing the huge opportunities they could have to actually deliver the basics of marketing through network thinking.

There was a huge amount more of course, plus a look at how Spannerworks is helping clients get to grips with what can be achieved with a positive approach to the new realities.

Finally, I was able listen to Forrester’s take on what web 2.0 means within enterprises. This is a huge topic in its own right, obviously, and one that’s moving very quickly and being driven by a bizarre mix of tiny software companies like Six Apart and the huge vendors like Microsoft and Oracle.

Two points from that resonated, both of which have been talked about in a number of places before but which were really crystallized today.

  1. Getting to grips with scale. No matter how big your company is. It’s absolutely tiny in the domain of the internet (Antony also made this point). Again, this is a “get used to it” sort of a moment for the large corporates.
  2. Back to demographics. Who’s likely to be making the decision about corporate take up of “web 2.0” styles of knowledge management? It’s the IT and operations directors who are unlikely to consume social media and even less likely to contribute to it. Who’s are the next generation of recruits coming into our companies? A group who see these tools as part of day to day life! So expect some very quickly changing attitudes as the new recruits gain their voice.

* Antony recounted a story of a focus group where 11-14 year olds were asked what they would do without the internet. The questioner was met by a series of completely blank looks, as the group found the prospect unimaginable.

Movie stars

Modest Mouse remix

Apple and Epic staged a contest for fans of Modest Mouse to make the video for the second single from their new album, “Missed the boat”. Entrants were provided with high quality source video of the group and allowed to use as much or as little as they liked.

 The results are amazing and varied. From weird robot sci-fi love story, to high production values stylised treatments, and various pastiches in between. The amazing thing is the overall standard – all created on final cut pro on home computers, many of the submissions are as good as or better than their professional equivalents.