Twitter, The Medium and the Message


The perfect use for most tweets?

Last week I noted the launch of PSFK’s new print publication. This week, two other ‘digital to analog’ items caught my eye. First up is sh*tter. A service that will put your Twitter feed on a roll of toilet paper. HuffPo has the story. This is a great example of McLuhan’s ‘the medium is the message.”  Your tweets in book form, or on a quilt, even on Kleenex, carry a completely different message than on toilet paper. Take it a step further, and your or my tweets on toilet paper is different than say, @shitmydadsays on toilet paper. That would have a poetic quality to it. 

I think this is important to think about. How does the medium affect the message is more relevant than ever as social media, in all its forms, pushes more and more messages at us. Even within social media itself, does sending a message via Facebook give it different meaning than sending via Twitter or Google+? Does sending a tweet via your laptop mean something different than if you are sending it from your mobile phone?

Somewhat more interesting is Type Breaker, from Len Kendall. Len’s planning on, “us[ing]my Remington Model S fully restored typewriter to punch out a short humorous letter to you. It will be based on your twitter feed and will be customized to you based on your thoughts and items shared. Then I’ll mail you the letter…in the mail. You remember the mail don’t you?” 

An interesting idea and one I wanted to know more about, so I got in touch with Len to ask him a couple of questions:

Rick Liebling: McLuhan famously said, “The medium is the message [Foreshadow alert].” So stripping away the content for a minute, how does the medium of a letter, book, magazine, etc. compare, or surpass, the digital medium?

Len Kendall: It’s all about focusing the content consumption experience. A connected device is one that constantly taunts the user with something else. Something that they’re missing that they could be digesting right now. As much as technology can make our ageless stories more visually stunning, deeper in content, or social, there’s always the reminder that the same benefits are waiting for us in the next piece of content. I don’t want to argue that tangible channels prevent us entirely from distractions, (after-all we all have our smartphones next to us at all times) but they do at least remove some of the magnets that divert us so easily in the digital space.

RL: This project requires you to use a typewriter. How does the “equipment” (typewriter v. keyboard) effect the medium AND the message?

LK: Mediums evolve based on society’s needs as well as the opportunities (utilities) that technology reveal. Anachronistic mediums generally don’t captivate our time anymore because of the time it takes to create or consume content within those venues. Where they’re seeing the greatest resurgence today is when they’re used in tandem with digital, or in ways that differ from the original intended design. With Typebreaker, I’m using a typerwriter to slow the frenetic pace of interaction on twitter. People tweet, other people respond within a few minutes, and the conversation is quickly forgotten on both sides. By typing a “long-form” response to my subscriber’s twitter feeds, I’m forcing myself to have a deeper experience with their status updates and spend more time going into archives of their thoughts. By typing a letter on a typewriter, on paper, and then mailing it, I’m taking unusual actions that I hope encourages, a least for a few instances, my subscribers to actually read my comments and reflect back on their own thoughts from the past that yielded my responses.

I’ve signed up for Type Breaker (you can here for just $5 a month) in lieu of a Kickstarter project this week. Check out the previous Kickstarter projects we’ve already supported this year.

Len’s project also reminded me of the recent Twitter by Post project from Giles Turnbull. In both cases the ephemeral nature of Twitter is being subverted and given a weight one can only get from a physical output. It will be interesting to see if these projects portend a larger trend towards choosing mediums that put a greater value on permanence.

If these sorts of questions intrigue you and you are in NYC, DC or Boston, you should check out AETHER, hosted by Orangutan Swing. On April 12th I’ll be the moderator the NYC edition, which is described as a roundtable on the conduit that conveys ideas between people. In other words, how does the format, the channel, even the tools of content creation effect the ways in which we receive and perceive that content.  All very McLuhan-esque. The event will feature Ben Popken, Michael Neff, Andrew Marshall, Dan Blank and Scott McDowell, all of whom you can learn about here. AETHER, which is free, will be held in Bryant Park. I hope you’ll come check it out, should be thought-provoking and somewhat different from the usual industry events. Register for tickets here.

DearPhotograph builds around emotion

Yesterday I wrote about the need to focus on shareable ideas rather than the tools of social media. Shareable ideas aren’t about numbers, they are about thinking, sentiment and emotion. Instagram and are great examples of platforms that tap into people’s emotional being, and are major contributors to their success.  DearPhotograph is another site that really hits you with an emotional impact.

The site, built on the Tumblr platform, is incredibly simple in design – another factor in its success.  To participate, users need only “take a picture of a picture from the past in the present.” In words that may be a little hard to picture, so take a look at a recent example:



The simple genius of DearPhotograph


Visually brilliant. Each entry is accompanied by a caption that, as if the image wasn’t poignant enough, fills in the details of the story. The picture above, submitted by Leah Romm, reads, “Je t’aime Paris, but I love my mother more. After 15 years she finally brought me along!”

Every entry seems to be receiving hundreds (if not thousands) of reposts across Tumblr, and while it feels almost disrespectful to sully this beautiful idea by placing it in a marketing context, the implications are obvious. Fashion, cars, soft drinks, plenty of brands could take this idea and drive real emotional connections.  Let’s see which brand is smart enough to jump on this.

Don’t focus on Social Media, focus on shareable ideas

What exactly is “social media?” By one definition, it is “the use of web-based and mobile technologies to turn communication into interactive dialogue.” True, but what if I share a graphic novel with a friend, and over lunch we have a discussion about it? Perhaps we haven’t fulfilled the first part, but we’ve certainly generated interactive dialogue.

So the question is, are you more worried about the former or the latter? If you’re focused on web-based and mobile technologies, here’s what you’re going to end up doing:

  • Measuring how many Facebook “likes” your status update received
  • Checking your Twitter followers
  • Seeing how many people circled you in Google+
  • Counting how many Foursquare badges you have

Now here’s my question: What do those have to do with your brand? Unless you’re in the selling Google+ circles or Facebook Likes business, probably nothing.

But what about the other half of that definition? The interactive dialogue part. That has plenty to do with your brand. If you’re interested in developing that, then you are interested in fostering:

  • Product reviews
  • Roundtable discussions
  • Heated debate
  • Recommendations

These are softer metrics. Qualitative metrics rather than the merely quantitative. These support opinion, passion and preference – things that are shareable. So what are you doing to generate those? When you run promotions to get people to “like” you on Facebook, you’re not generating shareable ideas.  When you offer a 10% discount just for checking in on Foursquare, you’re not generating shareable ideas.  Instead, try something like this:

  • Post something provocative on your Facebook page, and give a prize to the comment that receives the most “likes”
  • Create a hashtag on Twitter and reward everyone who uses it with a coupon
  • Got a product on Amazon? Challenge your customers to write a review in haiku format
  • Own a restaurant? Offer to ut the best Yelp review on your menu
  • Reward people on with the highest rated responses to a question in your industry with an opportunity to write a guest post on your blog

You could probably think of a dozen more. The point is, these all create shareable content that is relevant to your business. But more importantly, don’t become fixated on the platform. Create a print publication or a physical badge instead of a digital one. Reward people with content that can be shared in more intimate, personal ways, not just via a Twitter blast.

Beyond Google Plus: What’s next for Google?

Google is everywhere, or soon will be

This is going to be the first of a two-part piece on Google beyond Google+.  The last few weeks have seen Google dominate the social media news landscape with the launch of their social network, Google+. Google’s recent revamp of Google News got a lot less attention, but I think was also very interesting. Now, some more recent news from the company helps to shed light on where they are headed. In this post I’ll examine these recent announcements. In my next post I’ll put forth my opinion on where else I think Google will set their sights.

First up, Google credit cards. According to BusinessWeek:

Google is offering a select number of smaller advertisers a new way to pay for online search ads: a credit card that can only be used to pay for AdWords, the Internet search giant’s keyword advertising program.


While this certainly seems smart in the short run, the long-term implications are interesting here. Does Google use this as a test program for a move to a PayPal like online payment system, or something bigger? Does Google make this card widely available to consumers and bundle it somehow with One Pass and Checkout?  Online payment, and mobile payment, will continue to be growth areas moving forward, expect Google to have an answer here.

The second piece of “news” is about Google’s print publication for advertisers, Think Quarterly. I put news in quotes because although the New York Times piece on it ran this weekend, I’ve been following the Think Quarterly Twitter account for a couple of weeks now. The Times piece also alludes to Google using the book to promote itself as a nod to a “slow data” movement, something I’ve mentioned in the past, using the term slow social. But more important than the medium, is the message. Think Quarterly is aimed at the same people as the Google credit cards, ad buyers.

Where else is Google going? I’ll take a look at five other categories I think Google may (should?) venture into.

Slow Social Media: More Thoughts on What a Slow Social Movement Would Mean

Last month I wrote that Social Media Needs a “Slow-Food”-type Movement. This piece was well received by a lot of people I know and respect, such as Ian Schafer of Deep Focus:

Great post from @Rick_Now: RT @kdoohan: Social Media needs a "slow food" type movement
Ian Schafer

The point of the post was to make an argument against the rush to quantify Social Media results for our clients and Social status amongst ourselves. I’m not suggesting that Social Media is inherently problematic, just that it has evolved (mutated?) into something where immediate reactions or gratification are the default for the marketing industry.  Tim Malbon, co-founder of Made by Many, was kind enough to send me a very thoughtful email regarding the post that helped me to clarify my thinking on the subject. Tim helped me understand the distinction between my call for “slow social” and the power of Social Media to bring about change and allow people to engage in real-time.  It helps to also understand that Tim is a proponent of Agile (with a capital A). Speed, flexibility and nimbleness are not ‘nice to haves’ in today’s world, they are a necessity, and Tim and the gang at Made by Many are at the forefront of thinking and doing in this vein.  Adapting quickly to market conditions, taking advantage of opportunities and building systems that allow for a change of plans mark the state of business today and Made by Many are putting a lot of hard thinking into this issue.

The “Slow Social” I’m talking about relates more to the results, or more specifically the way we measure results.  I see it most frequently with brands who consider “getting to 10,000 followers” a Twitter strategy.  And while many (most?) of the people who’ll read this post will nod and smile knowingly, this is still a predominant philosophy amongst marketers who should know better based on their position and the data available.

From GOOD magazine's Jan. 2010 Guide to Slowing Down issue

My feelings were reinforced by the recent Social Media Week event on communities I attended. There was no discussion of ‘how to get more followers’ or how to ‘monetize fans in 30 days,’ the talk revolved around developing partnerships and ‘win-win’ situations.  Those are tough metrics to quantify, but that’s the point. Quantifying relationships with people (not target demos, audiences, customers or consumers, but people) is missing the point. No one keeps a scorecard to measure the relationship they have with a spouse, child, friend or co-worker. And as absurd as that would be, imagine checking the score on a daily basis!  You’d be frustrated because it wouldn’t change dramatically from Tuesday to Wednesday, so you’d find ways to game the system. Come home with roses everyday for your wife or a new toy for your daughter. Great on day one, but 10 days later and those gestures would become meaningless.

It’s a recipe for disaster if you’re going to assume that immediate action will generate immediate results in Social Media.

But it’s a hard habit to break. Tweeting daily, blogging all the time, looking at Klout scores. It’s a vicious cycle that so many of us, myself included, fall into.  I don’t have any real answers here, just think the question is important to ask: Do we have to view Social Media this way? Can we make long-term qualitative metrics the new standard?

Social Media Needs A “Slow Food”-type Movement

Stop this ride, I want to get off.

How did Social Media become the McDonald’s of marketing disciplines? Why did we decide, or allow, Social Media to develop the way it did? On what basis was it determined that velocity and volume would be the leading measurements of success? Was it merely a by-product of the traditional mass marketing that came before it?

Did it start out that way? When Facebook was first created, was the purpose to catch up with your friends, or to collect as many friends as possible? Was Twitter created so you could send as many messages to as many people as you could possibly convince to follow you?

Why? Why, as marketers, have we altered Social Media to work in ways that allows Kim Kardashian to be a “winner“? This wasn’t done to us, we did this to ourselves. We looked at Twitter and said, “Most followers wins!” We jumped on Facebook and said “Most ‘likes’ wins!” We did this to our brands and we did this to ourselves. We worried over how many badges we earned or how many people tweeted our blog posts.  Sure, we made a nod to the importance of personal engagement – and then decided that 1 million personal engagements would be awesome.

We’ve made it about deals and check-ins and game theory to generate more, more, more!  Social Media has become an empty calorie treat. Sure, it tastes good, but did it really satisfy you?

It’s time Social Media had a “slow food”-type movement. I’m not talking about a Digital Detox where we swear off email for a weekend or giving up Twitter cold turkey, but rather re-thinking how we want to use Social Media. The notion of ‘Slow Media’ has some early adherents.  There is a Slow Media blog created by Sabria David, Jorg Blumtritt and Benedikt Kohler which features a Slow Media Manifesto that is well worth reading. Take a look, I think a lot of these are things we talked about, but forgot, or completely ignored when the allure of more caught us:

1. Slow Media are a contribution to sustainability. Sustainability relates to the raw materials, processes and working conditions, which are the basis for media production. Exploitation and low-wage sectors as well as the unconditional commercialization of user data will not result in sustainable media. At the same time, the term refers to the sustainable consumption of Slow Media.

2. Slow media promote Monotasking. Slow Media cannot be consumed casually, but provoke the full concentration of their users. As with the production of a good meal, which demands the full attention of all senses by the cook and his guests, Slow Media can only be consumed with pleasure in focused alertness.

3. Slow Media aim at perfection. Slow Media do not necessarily represent new developments on the market. More important is the continuous improvement of reliable user interfaces that are robust, accessible and perfectly tailored to the media usage habits of the people.

4. Slow Media make quality palpable. Slow Media measure themselves in production, appearance and content against high standards of quality and stand out from their fast-paced and short-lived counterparts – by some premium interface or by an aesthetically inspiring design.

5. Slow Media advance Prosumers, i.e. people who actively define what and how they want to consume and produce. In Slow Media, the active Prosumer, inspired by his media usage to develop new ideas and take action, replaces the passive consumer. This may be shown by marginals in a book or animated discussion about a record with friends. Slow Media inspire, continuously affect the users’ thoughts and actions and are still perceptible years later.

6. Slow Media are discursive and dialogic. They long for a counterpart with whom they may come in contact. The choice of the target media is secondary. In Slow Media, listening is as important as speaking. Hence ‘Slow’ means to be mindful and approachable and to be able to regard and to question one’s own position from a different angle.

7. Slow Media are Social Media. Vibrant communities or tribes constitute around Slow Media. This, for instance, may be a living author exchanging thoughts with his readers or a community interpreting a late musician’s work. Thus Slow Media propagate diversity and respect cultural and distinctive local features.

8. Slow Media respect their users. Slow Media approach their users in a self-conscious and amicable way and have a good idea about the complexity or irony their users can handle. Slow Media neither look down on their users nor approach them in a submissive way.

9. Slow Media are distributed via recommendations not advertising: the success of Slow Media is not based on an overwhelming advertising pressure on all channels but on recommendation from friends, colleagues or family. A book given as a present five times to best friends is a good example.

10. Slow Media are timeless: Slow Media are long-lived and appear fresh even after years or decades. They do not lose their quality over time but at best get some patina that can even enhance their value.

11. Slow Media are auratic: Slow Media emanate a special aura. They generate a feeling that the particular medium belongs to just that moment of the user’s life. Despite the fact that they are produced industrially or are partially based on industrial means of production, they are suggestive of being unique and point beyond themselves.

12. Slow Media are progressive not reactionary: Slow Media rely on their technological achievements and the network society’s way of life. It is because of the acceleration of multiple areas of life, that islands of deliberate slowness are made possible and essential for survival. Slow Media are not a contradiction to the speed and simultaneousness of Twitter, Blogs or Social Networks but are an attitude and a way of making use of them.

13. Slow Media focus on quality both in production and in reception of media content: Craftsmanship in cultural studies such as source criticism, classification and evaluation of sources of information are gaining importance with the increasing availability of information.

14. Slow Media ask for confidence and take their time to be credible. Behind Slow Media are real people. And you can feel that.

Jeff Vander Clute is another person who has written about this concept. Check out his posts on Slow Social Media. Jay Baer has also cautioned on this point, in a post entitled, “Are you slow enough to succeed in Social Media?”

How much of this can we bring to Social Media, both for ourselves and the brands we work on?  How can we make Social Media artisanal, where craftsmanship, art, and quality of materials and manufacturing count for more?  I think people like Hugh MacLeod may be paving the way for this idea. And Rob Walker’s slow, steady build around Uncomsumption probably fits in this universe as well, though Slow Social shouldn’t be seen as anti-Social Media. Both Hugh and Rob put an emphasis on uniqueness and thoughtfulness that isn’t measured by metric tons, but rather by the quality of interaction it engenders. They slower approach is yielding dividends. Does their approach scale for brands like TGI Fridays? That’s the question we need to be asking.

Rarely is human interaction based on volume. Are Social Media actions shouldn’t either.