In Social Media, are exclusivity and openess mutally exclusive?

Today I want to posse a question. I don’t have the answer, I’m not even sure there is an absolute answer. But it seems an interesting idea to discuss:

In Social Media, are exclusivity and openess mutually exclusive?


Sometimes it feels like Social Media has brought back the bubble. People are using the ‘ramp up, get critical mass, and worry about the rest later’ mentality. You see it in the quest for more Twitter followers, more Facebook friends and bigger blogrolls. Combine that with Social Media’s tenents of sharing and openess and you have a lot of people talking to a lot of people. On many levels, that’s a good thing and certainly an improvement over the “I’ve got a secret formula for success, it can be yours for $99.99” mentality that was so prevalent for so long.

But at some point, do we reach diminishing returns with all this openess? Does all this sharing reduce the value of the content being shared?

For many real world brands, volume is the name of the game. Walmart wants to sell as much as possible, to as many people as possible.  But there are other brands, usually high end brands, that have a different approach. Their success lies in their exclusivity. Here are some thoughts Al Ries shared with me via email recently:

 … “I certainly agree with you that you don’t build a brand just by promoting yourself on social media. As a matter of fact, you don’t build a brand just by being well known. Some brands, for example, are stronger because they are relatively unknown.”

An example here might be a trendy club in New York that doesn’t even have a marquee out front announcing its name, yet the place is jammed packed (because of, not in spite of, the low key approach). Ries continues:

“The owner of a Ducati motorcycle would be upset if everyone recognized the brand. The aficianado in any category wants to buy brands that the hoi polloi never heard of.  As a matter of fact, too much publicity… might backlash against the [brand]. [F]or example, Dom Perignon is perhaps the world’s most famous champagne brand, but it is not the best-selling high-end champagne. A wine enthusiast would be embarrassed to order Dom Perignon in a high-end restauarant. The makers of Cristal champagne were annoyed when the brand became the “in brand” of the rapper crowd. That isn’t going to help the brand with the enthusiasts.

Stag’s Leap is a very successful high-end wine brand even though few people outside the wine community know about the brand. Too much PR would destroy its cachet.”

So, does a guy like Chris Brogan have a long-term challenge? At some point will his M.O. of being totally open and supportive of everyone – which is rightly seen as a strength today –  be seen as a negative to some in the future? Is there room in Social Media for a new type of expert/specialist/guru who shares his thoughts not with everyone on Twitter or via his blog, but keeps it for a select group of clients, colleagues and peers?  That seems hard to imagine right now, but was Seth Godin’s Triiibes group experiment a step in that direction? Seth has created a closed social network for people, the purpose of which is still to share and support in a community, but once you throw up a barrier of any sort, you are heading in the direction of exclusivity.

Again, I don’t know the answer here. Maybe you’ll give me five examples of people in Social Media who have set themselves up to share only with a select group.  Maybe there isn’t any value in exclusivity in Social Media. But at some point, if everyone is swimming in the same part of the pool, the other end starts to look appealing.

I’d like to thank Al Ries again for his thoughts in this area. Al (along with Laura) have a new book coming out in February: Check it out.  

The Brand You is Dead. Long Live The Brand You Build.

It's not you, or at least it shouldn't be

It's not you, or at least it shouldn't be

In today’s hyper-connected, no-barrier-to-enty, Consumer-generated-content world it’s hard to escape the cult of Personal Branding. Everyone has a website, blog, Twitter account and Facebook page and they aren’t afraid to use them. But it seems to me we’ve reached an inflection point, and what was once smart move now feels self-congratulatory and driven more by ego than producing value.

I think we as marketers, strategists, consultants and social media participants need to re-think what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. What’s the purpose of having 15,000 people following you on Twitter? To help clarify my thoughts on this issue, I went back to article that really launched one of the most influential magazines of the 1990s:

Fast Company, Tom Peters and You!

Back in 1997 Fast Company changed the way business people thought about themselves, business, branding and marketing with the “Brand Called You” cover story by marketing guru Tom Peters. The article is worth reading again, some 12 years later. In going over it again myself I got the feeling that, like a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy, the original intent had lost some of its clarity.

“Any damn fool can put on a deal, but it takes genius, faith and perseverance to create a brand.” – David Ogilvy

With the advent of social media platforms like MySpace and YouTube, content sharing sites like Digg and microblogging tools like Twitter, people have taken personal brands to mean “look at me,” and when enough people did, presto!, you had yourself a personal brand. But that’s a gross misrepresentation of what Peters was saying, or at least what he meant. His idea of a personal brand was one that provided value. Unique value that set you apart from others. Yes, you can get 23 million people to hear your pleas on behalf of Britney Spears, but I’m not sure what value (beyond comedic) you’re bringing to the table.

The “Brand Called You”-era is dead.

Should you have personality, a distinct P.O.V. on issues and are qualities like honesty, integrity and hard work still important? Absolutely, in fact those qualities and attributes will always be (and have always been) valuable. But the inward-looking focus on branding yourself is no longer the best way to serve yourself.

Here’s what Geoff Livingston said back in November of 2008:

There is a big difference between reputation and personal brands. Reputation is built upon past experiences — good or bad, a real track record. Personal branding is often an ego-based image based on communications. A personal brand can demonstrate a person is there, but it’s often shallow and can be contrived. It’s just like a sport stripe on a car, nice but no engine, no guts, no substance.

It’s become a lot easier to create a personal brand. Gather up 3,000 Twitter followers (by any means necessary); create a Facebook page and start blogging. In three months you just created your personal brand. But, as Geoff put it, that’s just a racing stripe. Of course the very best of breed, the Seth Godins and Chris Brogans have created very strong personal brands by creating real value for thousands of people every day. Their personal brands are focused on helping others, not on promoting themselves.

The Brand Called Me, Me, Me!

Scott Monty, formerly of Crayon, now bringing his intelligence and expertise on behalf of Ford, also has seen the rise of Personal Branding as a form of egotism:

I’m tired of seeing social media bloggers focusing inward. Whether it’s a laundry list of the latest appearances, self-referential links to previous entries in the blog, or thought leadership that feeds an overinflated ego, their sites become a great monument to…themselves.

That’s the trap of the current ‘Personal Brand’ or “Brand Called You’ thinking. How can I get more attention for myself, my blog, my Twitter feed. There are just very few people who provide value for the eyeballs and minds they are furiously trying to gather. I think most people engaged in conspicuous personal branding are missing another key element: It’s hard for other people to become engaged in your efforts. What’s in it for me when you get your 2,000 Twitter follower? The answer: not much.

Becoming a brand manager by being a… brand manager

Here’s Tom Peters from that Fast Company feature:

To start thinking like your own favorite brand manager, ask yourself the same question the brand managers at Nike, Coke, Pepsi, or the Body Shop ask themselves: What is it that my product or service does that makes it different?

This is something I think a lot of people misinterpreted or maybe just simply missed an opportunity. Today, thinking of yourself as a brand is like swimming in an ocean full of sharks all fighting over the same seal. That’s a blood red ocean. I think there is still an opportunity to have a Blue Ocean Strategy. By creating a brand that lives outside yourself.

Here’s another excerpt:

One key to growing your power is to recognize the simple fact that we now live in a project world. Almost all work today is organized into bite-sized packets called projects. A project-based world is ideal for growing your brand: projects exist around deliverables, they create measurables, and they leave you with braggables. If you’re not spending at least 70% of your time working on projects, creating projects, or organizing your (apparently mundane) tasks into projects, you are sadly living in the past. Today you have to think, breathe, act, and work in projects.

Now that’s an idea I can get behind. But instead of making your personal brand your project, why not make creating an actual brand your project? Rather than trying to impress your boss, colleagues and peers by having an awesome LinkedIn account, why not create something external and tangible. I’ve referenced Seth Godin as someone who has gone about creating a personal brand the right way, but he’s also created things like Squidoo and Triiibes, brands in and of themselves that live without and beyond his participation, yet are unmistably his creation.

Putting My Branding Where My Mouth Is

I’ve put a lot of work into creating Eyecube as my personal brand. I’ve learned a lot, made plenty of mistakes, but overall I think I’ve made a respectable contribution to the greater marketing community. But long before Eyecube I was the founder of Arsenal America, the official supporter’s club of Arsenal FC. From nothing, with no money, I created one of the top U.S.-based supporter’s clubs. Even though I haven’t been actively involved for a couple of years, Arsenal America is still a vibrant brand with members throughout the country, the vast majority of which I’ve never met.

A few months ago I launched Foundtracks, an art project / creative outlet that I’m excited about continuing in 2009. It’s still very early for Foundtracks, but I think it has potential to inspire others to create their own artifcitions.

These projects aren’t money makers, but they demonstrate my ability to promote something other than myself, work with others and compete in the marketplace of ideas. Those sound like the type of attributes an employer or client would be interested in.

I’m certainly not alone in seeing the value of creating external brands. Take a look at this recent New York Times article citing ad agencies that are creating their own brands. Listen to what Ben Jenkins, the strategic director of Zag, a division of Bartle Bogle Hegarty, says:

“Advertising is a massively old model based on the 1950s. As media has proliferated, it’s become a lot harder for us to earn enough money off our ideas,” said Ben Jenkins, . “Zag is about creating the properties ourselves from scratch and having 100 percent of it.”

Let’s do a quick rewrite and see if it doesn’t still ring true:

“Personal branding is a massively old model based on the early-2000s. As social media plaforms have proliferated, it’s become a lot harder for us to earn enough money off our blogs. Now it’s about creating the properties ourselves from scratch and having 100 percent of it.”

The Challenge For 2009

So, for 2009 I think I might pull back a little bit on the Facebook Friending Frenzy, or not check my Twitter Follower/Following ratio quite so diligently. It’s not that I think those social media channels are worthless or irrelevant, I think they are very valuable. But I think I could learn a lot more about brand stewardship by creating something that other people can interact with and even contribute to. If I can prove my abilities to create, maintain and grow a real brand – with virtually no resources – then I think I can demonstrate to my company and our clients that I can provide real value to them.

I’ve already got some ideas, but I would love to hear from you, please let me know your thoughts.

Chris Brogan on Utilizing Social Media Outposts

 A real nice ‘how to’/’news you can use’ style post from Chris Brogan on utilizing social media to your benefit. I have tremendous respect for Chris because he is the antithesis of the old adage – “Those that can do, those that can’t teach.”  Chris can certainly do, but he is also a great teacher. I highly recommend following him on Twitter. There’s a reason 15,000+ already do.

Oh, and you can follow me on Twitter too!

The Blog That Cried Wolf

Rohit Bhargava (pictured left), author of the always excellent Influential Marketing Blog today posted about something he calls Egommunication, the practice of throwing “shout outs” to the powerful members of the Web 2.0 universe (people like Peter Rojas, Greg Verdino or Susan Reynolds) as an alternative, and often more effective, way of getting their attention. These people are acutely aware of when they are being mentioned on blogs, twitter, etc. and will quite possibly follow your Siren call back to your blog.

One of Rohit’s commenters, Nicolas Maisonneuve, had a cautionary post on this sort of thing which he termed “Artificial Attention Spamming.” 

As a relatively new blogger I can see the lure of egommunication. I would love Rohit, Chris Brogan, Mitch JoelAlan Wolk or some of my other Facebook friends to check me out. But intuitively I know that the communication has to be authentic to be lasting. Can an authentic relationship begin with an ‘inauthentic’ meeting? Yes, I think that it can in some cases. I’m not looking to sell no-down payment home loans or products guaranteed to increase anyone’s sexual pleasure. And these people will ultimately still have the power to decide if a relationship can be started. They come to Eyecube, like what they see and leave a comment or link to this post or add me to their blogroll. Or they look around and decide its not for them. I hope (believe) that there will be some content here they will like, but with so many blogs in the marketing/branding/social media universe, sometimes you have to shout a little louder (or in a different language) to grab attention.