Are we ready to enter the Age of Onlinetenment?

Heading towards an Age of Onlinetenment

Last week Jinal Shah, a Digital Strategist at JWT, shared an essay with her friends titled, 2012: A Year of Digital Behavioral Shifts. It’s a great piece and Jinal puts together a strong case for changing the way we operate online, with a renewed focus on thinking, rather than just sharing, liking and retweeting. She believes this new era is upon us, calling it the age of enlightenment in our digital history. This transformation will be led by:

[…] thinkers, artists and storytellers not programmers and geeks. These are people driven by a vision that’s a bit more individualistic, centers more around exploring the tapestry of human opinions, intimacy and feelings instead of connecting the world into one large immutable being.

And what will this lead to? According to Jinal: a mindful web… systems that:

1. Are designed for constructive debate and dialogue by exposing us to different points of views
2. Are designed for quality and intimacy – not quantity. Where there is less immediate gratification.

It’s a compelling vision and one I wholeheartedly support. But it’s also a big task. The simple truth is that the vast, vast majority of people aren’t interested in changing their behavior. They enjoy the relatively simple gamification elements of Foursqaure and the ability to express their opinions view a digital ‘thumbs up.’  Even when viewed at the micro level, exploring just the world of marketers that both Jinal and I are part of, it’s evident that not everyone is interested in exploring the new possibilities.

And yet, I’m literally inundated by the highly intelligent thinking of people in our industry who are committed to building something better, to thinking deeper and exploring ideas that are challenging. From Tim Stock to Justin Briggs to countless others the issue is how do we build the type of web Jinal is talking about that will not only connect all these great people and ideas, but allow them to be connected in a meaningful way?  How does an idea I write about, say, The Cultural Singularity Paradox connect or build upon an idea like Interdependence, Chomsky and the crowbar by Eaon Pritchard, a winner of Neil Perkin’s Post of the Month Hall of Fame?

I think we still need the “programmers and tinkerers and computer scientists,” the builders of the web’s Industrial Age according to Shah. We need them to continue to build, but this time to build a web that intelligently connects and combines the work of those that will create the Age of “Onlinetenment” (my term, not Shah’s).

In her book, Reality is Broken, Jane McGonigal relates the story of Halo 3 and the collaborative effort to record 10 billion kills by game players. How can the marketing industry create that sort of collaborative effort?  On the subject of games, a subject I’m passionate about, Shah says, “Gaming will have a larger role to play in the age of enlightenment, but perhaps not so overt. It’s job will and should become about elevating the meaning and importance associated with a like, number of friends and followers etc.”

And while that’s important, I think gaming can play a bigger, more important role in a different way. Games can solve bigger problems than improving the meaning of the quantitative issues Shah mentions. Games can be used to rally people (marketers?) to work for a common cause, to unite for a single purpose greater than themselves. That’s something I think we could use. Rather than everyone writing and thinking in isolation, we need to figure out how to write and think together. When that happens maybe we will enter the Age of Onlinetenment.

Google Beyond Google+ — Five Areas Google Could Soon Be Competing In

After looking at some of the lesser publicized recent moves by Google, in this post I want to turn my attention to other areas Google is already, or I think might soon, point their gaze. Similarly, Steve Rubel has also taken a look at Three Key Things Google Is Doing While We Focus On Google+. It’s a really smart post, I strongly recommend you take a read. In it he draws some interesting conclusions that reinforce my thinking on areas I think Google may move into. My thinking is predicated on Google’s “Search and Social” pincer movement. By staking out strong bases in both those areas, Google can now corral important areas, some big, some small but crucial, as they continue to gobble up people’s online time.  These areas include:

1. Music

Digital music is clearly a huge area, from iTunes and Amazon to Pandora and the recently introduced to America, Spotify. Well, Google isn’t going to be left out of this, Google Music is currently in beta.

If you can see this, then you might need a Flash Player upgrade or you need to install Flash Player if it's missing. Get Flash Player from Adobe.

And yes, it works on your Android mobile device.

2. Influence Ranking

The +1 button is gaining adoption across the web quickly. This makes an easy entry point for Google to create their own influencer ranking to rival Klout and PeerIndex. Once people like Rober Scoble, Chris Brogan and Ashton Kutcher realize that posting content to Google+ and getting +1s will significantly affect their Googlefluence (yeah, I’m totally trademarking that), Google can own the important online influence category. I think many people would see a Googlefluence score as being more credible than the others (and of course, other people would not). In all, they’ll create a virtuous circle in which people will be using Google tools and platforms to increase their scores.

3. Social TV

If I was GetGlue, I would be worried. With GoogleTV, Google’s search will be complemented by the social aspects of Google+. The next step is to add a further social layer a la GetGlue.  Interacting with shows and brands via a GoogleGlue platform would provide Google with a rich data mine for advertisers.

4. Location Based Services – Google Places

Foursquare, Gowalla and even Facebook Places also seem vulnerable to me. Google Places just recently removed 3rd party reviews, putting a focus on Google-generated content. Will Google+ and Google Places see some integration soon?

5. Automotive

Between Google maps and their high quality mobile navigation, along with music and search and Android connection, a Ford Sync-like service could easily be rolled out to all auto manufacturers.

When you add all these together, you can see Google really owning the content and connections people create and have across a wide swath.  I didn’t even touch upon more business or institutional areas like medical or insurance records, finance, education or auctions to name a few.

Facebook launched a damp squib earlier this month with their product launch 2011 press conference, and I think they’ve really got their work cut out for them. Google might not have their auteur but they’ve got a lot of really smart people and the drive and focus of the Terminator. Don’t bet against them, at least not right now.


Social Media CEO Interview: Pierre-Loïc Assayag of Traackr

Continuing my series of CEO Interviews, this time I’m speaking with Pierre-Loïc Assayag or Traackr. A seemingly inescapable part of Social Media marketing surrounds the idea of identifying influencers.  Traackr is one of several tools on the market that can help brands and their agencies try to figure this out. I think Traackr is a pretty compelling tool and this conversation with Pierr-Loic demonstrates the depth of thinking they are putting into this.

Rick Liebling: Tell me about Traackr, how does it work and what makes it unique from other tools that help identify online influencers?

Pierre-Loïc Assayag: We’re fundamentally different from other tools out there in that we believe that relevance drives influence. There’s no such thing as an ‘influencer’ outside of a specific context, defined as: a topic, an intent and possibly a geography. For instance, Ashton Kutcher may have millions of followers, but he would be of no help to someone working on a campaign around cloud computing, even Robert Scoble, one of the most respected technology bloggers, may not be the right person to go to for campaigns around B2B niche cloud computing products.

This is the reason why Traackr only scores people in context of a specific search being run by a Traackr user. We don’t assign people a ubiquitous Traackr score as one level of influence changes drastically with context. Our tool uncovers influencers through a set of keywords. With the keywords, we’re able to identify the people on the web that are driving the conversation within a topic.


RL: What sort of brand, or what situation, is Traackr best for?

P-LA: Traackr works great irrespective of the industry, how broad or niche your topic is, B2B/B2C, etc. Customers of ours have used Traackr on large B2C product launches and very targeted (some would say obscure) B2B awareness campaigns with equal success.

The value of Traackr’s influencer data tends to grow with the precision of the search criteria and diminish for vague searches. For example, we’re often asked about ‘Mommy influencers’. Our answer always is that there’s no such thing… Being a mom doesn’t begin to define in what context one exerts influence; for that matter there are lots of parenthood topics or ‘mommy topics’ where influencers are not ‘moms’ (see this great post from Jeremy Pepper for more).


RL: The notion of ‘influencers’ really gained steam with Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Tipping Point. More recently, Duncan Watts has put together data refuting Gladwell’s theories. Where do you stand on the issue?

P-LA: I have a love/hate relationship to Gladwell’s writing or more precisely, I love his insights, I hate how they are being overstretched (by him included). We also have to be careful not to misrepresent Duncan Watts findings: DW is also saying that small groups of people (call them influencers) sway issues, spike a trend, or kill brands or products. He’s differing from Gladwell in that:

1- he believes that anyone can be an influencer and doesn’t buy into Gladwell’s notion that there’s a special breed of influential people

2- he observed in his research the patterns determining who’s influential around a specific brand or topic to be random and unpredictable (therefore let’s not waste time trying to find them)

I wholeheartedly agree with the first point: everyone is to a degree an influencer in a certain context. For any and every context, the group of influential voices will change radically. So from that standpoint, he’s right to denounce Gladwell’s ‘tipping point’ theories around mavens, salesmen and connectors.

Interestingly, our findings show that tipping points take place all the time: on any given topic, 2 to 3% of contributors to a conversation yield over 90% of the performance metrics, so Gladwell is right. They also show that these 2-3% change completely from one conversation to the next, so Watts is right…

I disagree with the point that predicting who the relevant influencers are in a specific context can’t be done: there are ways to discover who are the people most likely to have a tipping-point-like impact on any issue; or at least there’s A” way.

If you’re interested in this topic, I actually wrote about Gladwell and Watts about 3 yrs ago now when Traackr was just a toddler.


RL: Of course identifying influencers is only part of the challenge. What do you think brands should be doing once they’ve identified the people they want to engage with?

P-LA: Absolutely. Finding the right people for your issue or business is just the starting point, it’s an actionable piece of information that still needs to be actioned. Many of our clients are communication professionals and engage influencers to get a positive mention or review of the product/brand they represent. These influencer engagement campaigns can be tactical in nature or be more strategic / relationship-building. Marketers learn very quickly that influencer engagement requires a new approach, based on transparency and building mutual value.

Market research uses Traackr as an entity disambiguation tool, in other words, filter the topic they care about by the people who matter most and listen to what they have to say. Product marketing uses Traackr to bring together groups of subject matter experts to provide feedback on a prototype, brainstorm a new idea, etc. These are only a few of the many creative ideas our customers have come up with to best leverage our platform for their business.


RL: In social media you have to innovate or your dead. What does Traackr have in their labs for the next generation of influencer identification?

P-LA: In business you innovate or you’re dead. We have in our DNA not just the innovation gene, but the disruption one: we want to bring things to life that are game changers for our partners and customers. So what’s next?

1- Bring a version of Traackr to the general public. I can’t say much about this except that this won’t be another Klout or PeerIndex, getting people to claim their profile and offering them an influencer score. Stay tuned for more on this soon!

2- Surface more influencer insights: we collect and process much more data than we have made available in our interface so far and we will keep expanding the analytics we offer our customers.

3- Go international. Right now, Traackr only searches influencers communicating in English. We have in the works to add new languages.


If you’re interested in the topic of Social Media influence, check out my other CEO Interviews with Azeem Azhar from PeerIndex and Duleepa Wijayawardhana of Empire Avenue.

Empire Avenue: Four Partnership Ideas

Every day I receive emails telling me that someone is “following me” or wants to “be my friend” on some social network. I don’t even remember signing up for half of them, and the reason is they didn’t do anything to really capture my attention or provide value. Some were initially intriguing, but never evolved into something more interesting.  That got me to thinking about Empire Avenue and what it could do to remain fresh.

I think the platform is pretty robust, but I’m betting a lot of people who are trying it out now will find another way to spend their time unless Empire Avenue continues to provide innovative experiences. To that end, here are four ways EA can extend the brand experience, both online and beyond:


1. Mashable

As the authority on all things social, a tie-in with Mashable would make a lot of sense. This might be something as small as a Google Chrome extension that allows you to roll over names of people or brands mentioned in Mashable stories and seeing their share price; or something larger like including EA share prices in the Topics To Follow information at the end articles.  What would be the benefit to Mashable? Perhaps they would get a ‘commission’ of eaves to their Empire Avenue account for all transactions that come from a Mashable-tagged click-through.


I would have the greatest share price in the history of the world.

2. Celebrity Apprentice

While a tie-in with Mashable makes sense and would probably be easy enough to do, product integration with a prime time television show would be ambitious. But a show like Celebrity Apprentice seems perfect. First, Donald Trump keeps score by measuring a person’s net worth, I bet he’d love the very idea of Empire Avenue.  For the show, at the beginning of the season, every participant would get a new account.  The Empire Avenue community would then buy and sell shares as normal, and share price would be figured into the decision on who gets fired.  I can just see The Donald telling a contestant: “You were a terrible project manager, none of your teammates trust you and your share price is in the tank. You’re fired!”


3. SXSW Interactive

This conference is the premier destination for people and brands involved in social media. Social tools like Twitter and Foursquare exploded onto the scene at SXSW and every year people place bets to see which hot new start up is going to garner buzz. Sounds like a perfect place for EA.  I’d love to see a Empire Avenue SXSW Index on a huge, digital, real-time board at the Austin Convention Center. Brands and speakers participating in the conference would be listed and the attendees, plus those following from home would get a true sense of who is really making an impact and generating buzz.


4. Kickstarter

Kickstarter is a great way for creative types to fund their artistic projects. But wouldn’t it be great if you could get an understanding of the social capital your funders had? That five dollar investment was nice, but knowing that the person had a Empire Avenue share price of 89.80 could be even more valuable. By knowing the share price of all their investors, the project creator might reach out to certain individuals for helping spreading the word via Social Media. In fact, real world value in the form of project benefits could be given based on an investor’s social media support of a project. Of course project creators could also list their idea on Empire Avenue as a way to build increased awareness as well.



Empire Avenue: 5 Stages of Believing

It might take a little while, but you'll start to see the value.

I continue to see wide-ranging discussions and viewpoints on Empire Avenue.  I understand the naysayers and their issues, and I’m skeptical of many of the Kool-Aid drinking adherents, but I’m coming around on the platform. Here’s my evolution, one I think others have gone through and many more still have to: The Five Stages of Believing

Stage One: Denial

No, Empire Avenue is just another horrible “vanity play” for all the ‘gurus,’ ‘ninjas,’ and ‘experts.’ I’m not playing that game.

Translation: I have no idea what Empire Avenue is about, but I read a tweet saying it was stupid and a waste of time.

Response: Yeah, that’s what I thought initially too about Empire Avenue (and Twitter and Foursquare and…). It’s a natural reaction and one I think most people go through. The question is, are you a person who enjoys novelty and is willing to put in a little effort?


Stage Two: Anger

Argh! I can’t believe how annoying people are. I don’t care what your share price is, can’t you just go back to tweeting about your lunch plans?!

Translation: Why is everyone having fun over there without me?

Response: Yes, it is annoying when people start talking about their little inside worlds publicly. But you’ll get over it, or learn to tune it out, or maybe, just maybe, you’ll start engaging with those people in a new and different way.


Stage Three: Bargaining

Ok, I’ll check out Empire Avenue, just to see what the fuss is. And I’ll play, but just for a day or two to see how silly this all is.

Translation: Wait a second, this looks like it might be fun. Wow, the game mechanics are pretty intriguing. Huh, a lot of people I know are playing, but tons I don’t know are as well. And several big brands are in here too.

Response: The game mechanics are pretty killer. There is a ton to do on the site, but ultimately, it’s about the people. There are plenty of people on Empire Avenue you’ll want nothing to do with (they’re easy to spot). But I’ve found a whole universe of people I never knew and have already started have interesting, smart conversations with many of them.


Stage Four: Depression

My stock price is so low, and what’s all this jargon mean? I’ll never be able to figure this out!

Translation: Whoa, did I miss the boat on this? Holy smokes, how am I going to figure this all out by next week? Shit, my clients are going to start asking me about this.

Response: Yeah, it’s pretty daunting at first, and really easy to make an etiquette faux pas. But when you stop trying to make a quick buck, or figure out how to game the system and instead try to engage with people and provide value you’ll see things become much clearer. That’s right, despite Empire Avenue’s ‘game feel,’ it stills works best according to general social media guidelines. Be in for the long haul, provide value and show interest in others and you’ll find yourself ‘winning’ in no time.

Stage Five: Acceptance

Maybe I was wrong about this whole Empire Avenue thing? There does seem to be (potential at least) for some real value, on multiple levels.

Translation: Ok, maybe if I can join #SocialEmpire or Team Zen and pick up some tips from The Cabal…

Response: Once you get past the obnoxious spammers urging you to buy shares (it can be like a Moroccan bazaar at times) and start investing time in the site you’ll start to see opportunities open up. If you are a marketer, there seems to be several ways to get brands involved. If you’re just playing for fun, this is more compelling than Farmville or Angry Birds in my opinion. So get over yourself and stop worrying about winning and just have fun.

You can find me on Empire Avenue under the stock symbol (e)RICKL. I’m also the CEO of the Advertising Index.

Empire Avenue’s Social Media Silver Bullet

If you’ve been reading the blog this week, or following me on Twitter or Facebook you know I’ve been obsessing a bit about Empire Avenue.  Is it a game, like Farmville? Yes.  Is it a way to engage in conversation in real-time like Twitter? Yes. Can you make connections for business like LinkedIn? Yes. Is is a way to ascertain someone’s Social Media influence, like Klout? Yes.  So, yeah, it’s pretty intriguing. I was going to write a big post about the different elements that make it so compelling, but then I read this post from Tal Baron on Five Reasons Why Empire Avenue Could Be The Next Big Thing In Social Media and he did a great job. So instead, I’m going to focus today on why I think it provides a particularly serious issue for sites like Klout and PeerIndex.

Empire Avenue factors your social media presence like Klout and PeerIndex. I’m sure they use different algorithms, but at the end of the day all three are going to provide you with some metric and you’re not going to get an 80 from one source, and 79 from another and a 6 from the third.  But Empire Avenue has a couple of elements the others don’t.

First, I can have a say in my score, or someone else’s via Empire Avene in a way I can’t with the other sites. Buy being able to buy stock I can help a person’s “influencer rating” go up. In fact, there are lots of things you can do on Empire Avenue to help lift your score. On Klout or PI, you check your score but it is what it is.  I’m not saying that makes for a better, more authentic score, just that with that ability, people are going to want to spend time on improving their Empire Avenue score – because they can.

And that’s the second killer part to Empire Avenue. It’s got a compelling game element that keeps you coming back (like Farmville). You could spend 3 or 4 minutes on PeerIndex. You could spend 3 or 4 hours on Empire Avenue.  I think Klout and PeerIndex are going to have to spend a lot of time explaining how their data is more pure, and the truly professional Social Media practitioners will understand the difference. But many people will be happy to look at stock prices and accept that a high stock price equals social media influence.

I think Klout especially, and PeerIndex to a smaller degree will have to look at adding elements to their sites now. Adding social rewards elements perhaps to keep people engaged. It’s a fascinating area and one worth watching.

What do you think? Can Empire Avenue compete with Klout and PeerIndex as a measurement of social media influence? Should it?  Will Empire Avenue just be seen as a game, or will brands view players with high stock prices as people worth engaging with and offering Perks to? Let me know what you think.