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3 Reasons YOU Are Not A Thought Leader

November 16, 2010

A while back I wrote a blog called The Age of Thought Leadership. Sometimes, to define something, it helps to define what it is NOT, so I thought I’d have a little fun. I hope you take it in the spirit in which is was intended.

Hey you! Stop calling yourself a thought leader. For that matter,  you can stop with “expert” and “guru” and anything else that comes up in your thesaurus.

I admit I am somewhat addicted to so-called social media: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, blogs.  I am, by nature, gregarious and these are great tools for interacting with other people. As with every other communication medium, it wasn’t long before savvy/unscrupulous individuals co-opted it in the name of the almighty dollar. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for profit and free enterprise. But if I see one more profile or blog where someone calls himself a thought leader I’m gonna puke.

By what process are leaders selected? They’re certainly NOT self-selected. It falls to US to designate YOU a thought leader/expert/guru – please don’t do it yourself. After all, real leaders don’t look for followers, they just do what they do and people follow.

Dating Sites Without Pictures

Thought leadership on the web seems to be more like a dating site without pictures: 6’, athletic build, loves long walks on the beach. Yeah, right. Sadly, people tend to believe things they see in writing. That said, when you write something on the web that’s hard to vet, and you call yourself a thought leader, I’m gonna have to say “prove it.”

In science, when you publish an article it’s subjected to peer review. They call it intersubjective testability.  It was laid out by Herbert Feigl as follows:

“The quest for scientific knowledge is regulated by certain standards or criteria … the most important of these regulative ideals [is] intersubjective testability… What is here involved is … the requirement that the knowledge claims of science be in principle capable of test on the part of any person properly equipped with intelligence and the technical devices of observation and experimentation.”

Ideally, we should be able to  substitute “content providers” for “science”  and demand of our content providers some intersubjective testability. Unfortunately, that’s not the case today.

Caveat Emptor

“Let the buyer beware” has never been more relevant. As consumers, we are (somewhat) protected by the FTC against false claims by advertisers. Publishers, in turn, are protected by the First Amendment. However, the Internet is a Wild West of unregulated and unvetted content. Some of it is selflessly expository, some of it is naively exuberant, but more and more of it is consciously self-serving.

It’s too easy to game the system. You’ve got all these people talking about what great leaders they are and buffing their resumes. Who’s vetting blogs for quality, authority, plagiarism? How do you separate the real ones from poseurs?

As Fred McClimans recently wrote in Are We Outsourcing Common Sense to the Internet?:

…in a world where we are all “publishers” and sources of information, not all information has the same value or trustworthiness.

How people judge thought leaders should be how we judge all leaders, from Presidents down to the local school board members or your next vendor. Do some research. Compare and contrast. Are there any references to back up claims? Real data?

How about on the web? On blogs? How can we apply intersubjective testability? Some common sense. Are they delivering value or a sales pitch? Are there comments on the blog? Are there negative comments on the blog? Are they responded to in a civil fashion?

Bottom Line: Apply Some (Not So) Common Sense

In the end, we can’t change other people. We can only change ourselves. A bit zen, yes, but I’m being practical. We need to learn to apply some sense to the content we consume. I’ve indoctrinated my kids: when I say “what’s a commercial for?” they reply “they’re trying to sell you something.” It’s a start. How about you? Can you inject more integrity into your content? Can you apply some intersubjective testability to your consumption of content?

If you ARE producing content on the web, or anywhere else, please make sure that none of these apply to you:

  1. if you call yourself a thought leader, you aren’t;
  2. if you’re not transparent and we can’t validate your data, you aren’t a thought leader;
  3. if your goal of blogging is blatantly to promote yourself or your product, you’re not a thought leader.

So, I haven’t puked since I was, like, twelve. I really don’t want to start now. A little help, please?

Who’s Going To Read My Blog?

October 13, 2010

When I talk to my clients about blogging the first question I get is “who’s going to read it?” They are overwhelmed by the blogosphere and wonder that their blog will be just a drop of water in a very large sea of content. It’s a reasonable question and a reasonable concern. It’s just the wrong question.

So what is the right question? First we need to understand the function and value of a blog post as it relates to promoting yourself or your business. I always describe a blog as a conversation over a cup of coffee: a conversation with a colleague, a conversation with a customer or perhaps a conversation with a prospect.

  • Conversations With Your Prospects

When you meet with a prospect do you pull out your marketing literature and recite it verbatim? I hope not. So what DO you say?

My guess is it would be a variation on a traditional sales approach: exchange pleasantries, talk about his business, get an idea of his goals, challenges and needs. The next step would likely be to identify areas where your product or service can help him with his goals, challenges and needs.

You’ll explain your understanding of his problems and suggest ways you could help. You’ll cite some use cases and specific examples.

That is a blog post.

  • Conversations With Your Customers

Your customer calls you up to ask for some advice. You listen carefully to the issue. What’s your next step? Mail out some marketing material? Maybe, but most likely you’ll proceed to dole out your wisdom in the effective use of your product for her particular situation. Or maybe there’s a complimentary product or service you recommend.

That is a blog post.

  • Conversations With Your Colleagues

If you’re like me you like to talk about issues relating to your industry with co-workers, colleagues and other industry professionals. Where is the market going? What are the challenges? How can we improve? How do we educate the marketplace?

Those are blog posts.

So Who’s Going To Read My Blog?
Who’s going to read your blog posts? Your prospects, customers and colleagues, for starters. What makes a blog different than your conversation over a cup of coffee is one simple factor: sharing. When your customer gets off the phone after a great conversation with you, where she received some great advice, she might be excited enough to tell some of her co-workers and colleagues. But the impact will be diminished. She can’t share your conversation. Ah, but she can share a blog post.

It is true that for some people creating high-volume blog sites is a source of revenue. But for the average person looking to leverage blogging as part of a business strategy, you already have your audience. It’s the people you already know and with whom you already do business.

Bottom line: People love to share. Jokes, recipes, breaking news. Anything interesting. I continue to talk about content as the currency of the new millennium. The market for quality content is insatiable and sharing is the grease that lubricates the gears of the new economy. Old economy vehicles like print media are failing. Is it because the content is not good? No, it’s because you can’t easily share it (see Death of Print Media).

Sharing is what gets your message out beyond your immediate circle. It’s like having thousands of people standing behind your prospect/customer/colleague as you have that conversation over a cup of coffee.

So the question is not “who’s going to read it?”

What’s the right question?

“Can you write something they  will want to share?”

Dark Matter and Invisible Thought Leaders

October 8, 2010

The current model of the universe in modern physics requires something called dark matter. dark matter dark energyA lot of people write about dark matter, but has anyone been able to describe it’s properties in detail? Theories, yes. But you can’t put it in a test tube and do experiments on it. And yet it needs to exist. Why? Because while it is undetectable, it’s effects account for cosmic “discrepancies.” We accept it, but we can’t quantify it.

The recent focus in the Wild West that is social media has been on targeting the “influencers.” Sure there are individuals out there with a measure of clout as a result of expertise and public consensus. And, yes, they do exert a measure of influence. But where are the majority of thought leaders, the people who influence buying decisions for millions of people on a daily basis?

Basic Role of a Thought Leader
There are many definitions of thought leadership with regard to expertise, recognition and influence, but I want to focus on what I feel is one of the most important characteristics of a thought leader. Mainly, a thought leader is immune to marketing. A true thought leader comes by an opinion independent of the flood of marketing messages and rhetoric designed to turn people’s “needs” into “wants.”

Do you need a car that goes 0-60 in 5 seconds? Do you need the $20,000 Rolex when the $50 Timex will tell time just as well? I’m not saying there is never a reason to buy these things. It’s just that most people make these decisions to satisfy needs emotionally rather than practically.

Who’s really influencing purchasing decisions?
Among my friends and family, I am a thought leader when it comes to technology. I’m not trying to brag. It’s a reality of my social circle. I’m in technology, my friends and family know it. They come to me for advice on technology purchasing decisions. And I exert a great deal of influence.

A recent call from my friend, let’s call him Ned, went something like this:

NED: I’m at Best Buy. There are two computers here. One is $450 and the other is about $100 more.

ME: Buy the cheaper one.

NED: But the the more expensive one has [list of features]…

ME: That’s ok. Get the cheaper one. It will be just fine for you.

What happened here? Why didn’t all the features make a difference? He tried to give me lot’s of features of the more expensive computer that seemed attractive the way the sales clerk described them. But I know computers and I know Ned. Whatever new computer he buys will be much better than the 6-yr-old desktop he’s currently using and will have plenty of power, memory and disk space for what I know he needs. I know what he needs better than the vendor marketing folks or the sales clerk in the store. I cut through the rhetoric for him and helped him get what he needs. And he bought the one I suggested, not the one the sales clerk wanted him to buy.

Can you target what you can’t see?
I am visible. I blog, I tweet. I can be targeted, modeled, accounted for by businesses looking to market products to my friends, the people with whom I exert a measure of “influence.”

One of the partners here at Intelligst has the same level of knowledge as I do, but he’s invisible to the rest of the world. He’s never worked in technology. He doesn’t blog. He doesn’t tweet or comment. You can’t even Google him. He exerts tremendous influence over the purchasing decisions of his social circle, yet he is invisible to all the machinations of corporate marketing. He is an Invisible Thought Leader.

Characteristics of an Invisible Thought Leader
Invisible Thought Leaders (ITL) are not rare creatures. In fact, they are all too common, but they are difficult to find. Their expertise is known only to close friends and relatives. And they provide a valuable service.

An ITL strips back the marketing hype to the core need. He is a calming influence. Talking to an ITL is easy and comforting. Ever come out of a consumer electronics store with a shopping cart full of stuff, your wallet a little lighter, and a nagging anxiety about your purchase? You asked the sales clerk for some recommendations and he seemed like he knew what he was talking about, right?

Now take the same scenario but you walk into the store with advice from your buddy who is an electronics guru. He frequents Tom’s Hardware and can tell you things like how to safely overclock your CPU for the ultimate gaming PC. Armed with this knowledge, you confidently walk in, ignore the in-store marketing and uncertain quality of sales clerk advice. Now you walk out with a shopping cart full of stuff, your wallet maybe a bit heavier, and a confident smile.

What does it all mean?
How many of your purchasing decisions are directly influenced by Invisible Thought Leaders? You don’t know why you’re buying it but somebody you trust told you. In the case of my friend Ned, he didn’t even know the differentiating factors in the decision (32-bit vs. 64-bit CPU, 2Gb vs. 4Gb memory) or his own needs. And he still got what he needed.

Companies use marketing messages targeting consumers to manipulate needs into wants,  but Invisible Thought Leaders are the dark matter of the marketing world. They are immune to marketing and main stream media and exert tremendous influence. They’re spread out among millions of people. We can watch the spread of trends but can’t quantify the social interaction. Their influence is felt. We  know they’re there.

21st Century communication tools are throwing a wrench into the well-oiled machinery of traditional sales and marketing. Invisible Thought Leaders are out there and Intelligist Group has spent a great deal of time analyzing, identifying and quantifying this elusive creature. I bet you’ve already thought of a few…

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Typesetting, “Old School”-style

October 2, 2010

A special guest post today from my father, Stan Berkson. You’ve heard me quote him on blogs and in Twitter. Working for  Moody’s in the latter half of the 20th Century he was an early adopter in enterprise typesetting technology. He has been an inspiration and enthusiastic supporter since we played with our TRS-80 Model I back in 1979. When we upped it from 4k to 16k we thought “we’ll never write a program big enough to fill 16k!” His career spanned the advent of computers for commercial use through mainstream usage of personal computers. And he’s forgotten more about typesetting, layout and design that most people will ever know.

It goes without saying that creating documents today on a computer is extremely fast, with most projects taking only an hour or two—sometimes only a few minutes—instead of days. When I began doing newsletters for the school attended by my kids, the typesetting device was a typewriter. All submissions were provided to me on paper, either typed or handwritten and had to be typed (no email or flash drives; not even floppies).

We used an electric IBM Selectric typewriter. This was special in that the characters, similar to today’s fonts, were proportionate, a significant improvement over the monospaced machines that were made by companies like Underwood. Such early typewriters used arms with molded characters at the end to strike a fabric ribbon. The newer IBM machine used a carbon paper ribbon and a ball containing the alphabet. The choice of fonts was limited.

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But that was not the only limitation.

Alignment: No left, center, right, and justified alignment.

Font attributes: No bold, italic, or underlining. To underline required backspacing and using the underline key. No small caps, subscript, or superscript.

Flow text around photo: ROTFLMAO

Line wrap: A hard line return was required to end every line.

Indents and tabs: Only left tabs (no center, right, or decimal). First-line indents required a tab. Hanging indents and right indents had to be done manually.

Inter-line and inter-paragraph spacing: Fugeddaboudit!

Backspace and delete: Backspace did not delete (only moved the typing element backwards). Deleting required “White Out” or “Liquid Paper” correction fluid. When it dried, you typed over it.

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Spell and Grammar Check: Good eyes and a brain

Column and Page Breaks: No such thing. Everything was typed in galley format (like a roll of toilet paper).

Cut and Paste: Sharp knife and rubber cement.

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RIM: A Floor Wax Or A Dessert Topping?

September 23, 2010

There was that great Saturday Night Live commercial spoof for Shimmer Floor Wax:

Dan Aykroyd: New Shimmer is a floor wax!
Gilda Radner: No, new Shimmer is a dessert topping!

In the end, it was both. “New Shimmer, for the greatest shine you ever tasted!”

A recent announcement about the debut of RIM’s iPad Challenger made me think about just how much RIM is falling behind with their mobile devices and whether they are even focusing on the right business. Are they a device company or are they a mobile infrastructure company?

It also reminded me of some recent tweets by Nova Spivack on The New Twitter design:

Can’t you say the same thing about RIM? Why are they in the device business? Aren’t they really an infrastructure company?

Back in January I wrote a blog iPhone Sits on the Cusp of Consumer and Enterprise where I talked about how RIM still had a monopoly on enterprise mobile. Since that time I have seen great strides by other vendors in making a compelling case for Blackberry alternatives.

As a long-time Blackberry user (I am on my 4th, a Blackberry Tour) I have sat and watched the world pass me by: Apple, Motorola, HTC have all come up with very tempting mobile devices. But I stuck with my Blackberry because it was an “enterprise” device.

BlackPadMeanwhile, RIM has tried to keep up with the “consumer” devices. The Storm was so bad it was immediately followed by the Storm II – not much better. Now we’ve got the Torch. Jury is out but it doesn’t look good.

Why is RIM the darling of the enterprise? It’s not because they have the best devices. It’s because they have an architecture and infrastructure that appeals to the IT department. They give IT what they want most: security and control.

In a global climate of specialization and intense competition I constantly urge businesses to focus on their strengths to remain competitive. RIM’s message delivery and application management system is still the heart of their value proposition. They would do well to leave the devices to those who clearly have a better handle on them and focus on what they do best.

Double Postage From Aeropostale

September 13, 2010

There should be consequences for poor customer service.

I’m reading Empowered by Forrester analysts Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler. They talk about the impact of what they call groundswell technologies – the 21st Century technology we associate with the Internet, Social Media  and Smart Mobile devices – on how Empowered Bookcompanies can and should do business. Their book, as you might expect, is full of empowered employees they call HEROs who go the extra mile to make things better. It’s a great book, you should read it, and I’ll write a full review of it at some point. For now, I feel empowered to use some groundswell technology to demand my pound of flesh. Sometimes the best way to describe how TO do something is to show how NOT TO do it. Here goes.

My wife recently purchased some jackets for my girls from p.s from Aeropostale via their website. She specifically waited for a day when they had a free shipping offer. When the jackets arrived there was clearly a mistake in size: she had ordered medium, these were extra-large. She called Customer Service.

The customer service rep was curt and unapologetic. The mistake was clearly on our part and there was nothing the customer service rep could do to help. She checked the order in the system and it said extra-large. My wife believed her. Her resolution option? See if this would make you a satisfied customer:

  1. Ship back the extra-large jackets – at our expense;
  2. Order and pay for new jackets, including shipping – no honoring the original Free Shipping offer we had;
  3. They would credit us for the jackets when they received the return.

My wife really liked the jackets so she reluctantly complied.

Funny thing. When she printed out the email confirmation to include in the return she checked the order. Sure enough, it said “medium.” She had indeed ordered the correct size.

So, not only had Aeropostale customer service been curt and unapologetic, they were wrong!

So folks, please go ahead and forward/tweet/share this story of poor customer service with all your friends, relative, neighbors, co-workers, acquaintances, and total strangers.

Not for me. No. There are many more egregious wrongs to right besides my lost $20 in shipping. Do it because that is the power of groundswell technology to initiate change in Corporate America. When we operate in ignorance,  they fail to incur the costs of their incompetence.  Shed a little light so the next person will fair better than I.

And read the book. It’s really good.

The Age of Influence

September 13, 2010

In the 20th century we were taught to be passive consumers. We sat through commercials on TV, flipped past ads in magazines and newspapers, and listened stoically as the radio dispensed advertising between sets of pop music. Advertising, media – it all focused on someone telling us something,  and us happily, obligingly eating it up. Today’s consumers, led by the Millennials, are different. (Rebekah Monson wrote an insightful and poignant post on Millenials here.) Today’s consumer is more active. Still sitting on the couch, maybe, but actively pursuing, monitoring, and filtering content for personal consumption. They are harder to sell. What’s their trigger? Showing how much they know. They give away assistance. Their currency is reputation. Their currency is influence.

Measuring Influence

Influence is not a popularity contest. Having 10,000 followers on Twitter doesn’t necessarily make you more influential than someone with 500 followers. Influence is more complex. Are you a thought leader? That helps. Do you engage your audience? That helps as well.

There are dozens of tools that attempt to measure influence: KloutTwitalyzer, and TweetLevel, to name a few.  They attempt to quantify qualities which include “reach”, “engagement”, ”popularity”, and “trust”.

In their new book Empowered, Forrester analysts Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler identify what they call Mass Connectors and Mass Mavens – individuals who appear to have influence because of their ability to connect with others and create and give away compelling content.

Crowdsourcing

The key value of influence is your ability to solicit collaboration. That’s the work model of the 21st century.

The 21st century worker is a collaborator. She wants to help and be a part of something. IT professionals have often gone to Experts Exchange for help with particularly challenging hardware or software issues. “Experts” fall over themselves to answer questions on the forums. Why? To earn “points” and free services. To earn reputation. To earn influence.

Jeremiah Oywang (@jowyang) asks a question on Twitter and gets hundreds of volunteer responses. True, he has to cull responses to find what he needs, but his audience is self-selected as already being a) interested in what he has to say and b) likely to have some expertise in his areas of concentration.

It’s called crowdsourcing. As Jeff Howe put it back in 2006, it’s “everyday people using their spare cycles to create content, solve problems, even do corporate R&D.”

Corporate R&D? Sure. There’s a concept in R&D called “Beta Testing” where a company releases a “near production” version of their product to a limited group to work out the kinks. It’s become so popular that is has become a form of crowdsourcing. Tom Fishburne lampoons this nicely, discussing products as being “always in beta”.

Herding Cats

It’s clear attempting to manipulate the needs and desires of the 21st Century consumer is a complex prospect. In a recent #custserv chat on Twitter, Roy Atkinson used the term “herding cats” as he attempted to reign in the chaos of the boisterous and eager participants. This term most aptly describes 21st Century marketing. Consumers are active. They have access to more information than at any other time. They are finicky and demanding. If they don’t like something they have the ability to shout it out with the largest megaphone in history.

Whether you’re an employee or employer, business or entrepreneur, understanding influence is a critical success factor in the 21st Century.