100.000 miles

It probably is a clear manifestation of midlife crisis. Or the desperate cry of an ego trying to break out. Or an honest try to order a gazillion of my thoughts in a mostly structured way. It’s certain that I miss playing with words, sentences and magic dust.

So, I’m writing a book. A collection of words and thoughts that will see the light just in time for my beloved SxSW 2019. There, the deadline is set. A book that expresses my thoughts and vision on societal trends, technology and the old ancient art of communication and influencing.

A year to collect, assess, question, write, kill, rewrite and build.

That leaves me exactly 100.000 miles to meet people, interview friends I admire, authors I like, business people walking the talk daily. A gargantuan journey to wisdom. A treasure of views, experiences, debates, talks, interviews and musings.

I will share every single mile of this journey. Every encounter. Every thought.

Romesh Gunesekera  said: “A passenger on a road journey is in the hands of a driver; a reader embarking on a book is in the hands of a narrator.”

Let me be both…

PR, marketing and Digital: The arrogance of experience…

I confess, I admit: I could never ever coach an American Football team. I have never played it, never watched a full game, I do not understand any of the rules, and I am completely ignorant to all the habits and sensitivities. I would probably do about as good as a drunken rhinoceros in artistic skating.

In my book, to be good at something requires enthusiasm, sheer will, track record and hands-on experience. And that is exactly what I see as lacking in how most influencing agencies cope with social and digital media. They line up their usual experienced heavy weights to provide their clients with strategy and guidance on how to integrate digital and social media into the overall marketing and communication mix. Little side note: an alarming high percentage of these heavy weights have no experience in the digital and social media world.  Even more alarming is that the teams they roll out, into the field have none either.

A fascinating amount of power is given to people who have no clue what’s what in Social Media land. It’s not because you’ve read Groundswell or The New Normal that you are fully equipped to deep dive successfully into this fast moving area. It’s not because you know how a journalist thinks that you should take it for granted that a blogger thinks or behaves in the same way. It’s not because you’re a hotshot in direct marketing that you understand –at all­- how twitter works. It’s not because you were fab in influencing through 25 square meter advertorials that you can safely assume that a banner on a site will actually benefit your client or cause in any way. It’s not because your toddler is reasonably good with Lego that it is statistically safe to let him/her play with a fully loaded Kalashnikov.

I’m confronted on a daily basis with blogger relations experts that have never blogged, community managers that are online rookies, and twitter experts that have less reach and followers than my 83 year old gardening neighbor on a rainy day.  Robin Wauters of TechCrunch gave a PR professional a full broadside years ago for not playing online engagement by the online netiquette rules. And Wauters was so right. Too many arrogant old style off-line influencers think they can take the online new interactive digital scene by storm… and birthright. They look down on this booming online realm with an explosive mixture of denial, ignorance, arrogance, even disdain: an ideal cocktail for guaranteed distaster.

Not so long ago, agencies tried to offer top-notch journalists, analysts, Pulitzer Prize nominees and politicians a job to get extremely valuable hands-on knowledge, credibility and experience in house. To think that these same people will make the difference in online engagement is a huge mistake that cannot be remediated by an over lunch training session. Big time for agencies and their clients to go hunt for social media wizards, top-notch bloggers, proven star-profiled tweeps and highly connected  social networkers.

Only by upgrading their workforce with Digital Wizards will companies, organizations and agencies stay afoot in this morphing landscape. How did Cary Grant say it again: it takes a thief to catch a thief….

New Top level Domains : everyone is equal, some are more equal than others…

Lord and behold. The internet domain system has changed. Can you feel it? Do you sense the frantic buzz rippling through the web? The excitement?

Let’s roll back. When the internet was taking form beyond the initial strict academic and military use,  four original domain names were pushed forward:  X .com; X.net, X.edu; and X.gov. This was quickly followed by X.org, and gradually top level domain names were added: 22 general domain names exist today, together with an approved list of country codes (.us, .uk, .be, .ly, .me etc.).

Brands could construct their web presence in a very simple way: www. BRANDNAME. TOPDOMAINNAME , eg:  www.google.com.  Before the nineties, a domain name would set you back a couple of thousand dollar, these days, you can own your own domain name for less than 10 dollar a year, allowing all brands, organizations and individuals to play on a level field.

This has now changed. Fundamentally. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), approved the creation of generic top-level domains (TLDs) for brands and organizations. These top-level domain names will be awarded in batches, and up to 1000 new top level domain names per year.

This sounds exciting. Google can now apply to own X.google . Neat. There is a “but” though, a big one. Applying is not simple, and costs shiploads of money. The procedure to apply for a gTLD is described in a document that is over 350 pages. No kidding.

Initial application set-up cost is 5000 dollar. Add to that an evaluation fee of 180.000 dollar. The applications that are withheld will have to sign up for a period of minimum 10 years, at a yearly operating cost of around 100.000 dollar. The technical setup to be able to govern the domain name is estimated at around half a million to one million euro. Wow.

Hefty. So only big brands, and big organizations will be able to carry the burden of owning an own top level domain.  Google applied for over a hundred (including X.google; X.youtube etc); Amazon for over seventy (including X.amazon, X.kindle etc.).  For lots of small brands, the financial consequences are simply too steep for the moment to compete with the Big Boys, or to try to win their own domain.

There is another big “but”:  Amazon and Google are arm-wrestling for X.music.  Wait a minute. Music is generic. Whoever has the top-level  X.music domain has a considerable competitive advantage.  Same with X.cloud; X.film; X.tickets.  Honestly, it gives me the creeps that big companies are bidding for generic domains like X.music or X.cloud.  Generic domains should be available to all, not restricted to a monolithic power brand with insane spending power. It’s not right, not good, and should not be allowed.

Ethically, I have no problem with an organization or brand owning its own top-level domain name. That makes sense, and will make URL’s more logic and comprehensive. There are without a doubt also considerable marketing and communications advantages.  The steep entry and running costs however will de facto rule out smaller brands. In one day, the web just became a lot less democratic. From now on, there will be the HAVE’s and the HAVE-NOT’s. That is a shame. On the web all were equal. Now some will be a lot more equal than others…

On the upside, as one of my clients pointed out: there is hope for humanity. X.love received 7 bids. X.sex only 2…

So, what kind of online superhero are you?

Are you a social evangelist, an online ambassador, a digital strategist or the most bizarre of superheroes: a digital junkie? Nice infographic from socialtimes.

London Olympic games: if you kill the Social in Games, all you’ve left is business

With still a couple of weeks to go until the Olympic Games in London, more and more people are getting really frustrated with how the organizers are effectively killing most social components of what could have been the first Social Games.

The days where a bunch of naked men would do some heroic, manly and very muscular things for the honor of winning are long, long gone. Sky Sports estimates the true cost of organizing the event on the upside of 30 billion Euro. A smack of money for a sport event that will turn the City of Big Ben into an armed fortress, guarded by surface-to-air missiles, long distance acoustic weaponry, a Royal Navy battleship, 13.000 soldiers patrolling the city, and small armies of foreign security service personnel (the FBI alone is sending over 500 agents).

As organizer LOCOG states on its website: “Organising the Games is a huge challenge. With 26 Olympic Sports and 20 Paralympic Sports, 14,700 athletes, 21,000 media and 10.8 million ticket-holders, it is the equivalent of staging 46 World Championships simultaneously.

The organization is also hammering home a very severe fist on what it perceives as its right to protect its assets. It lobbied, and passed the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act, that offers a draconian level of protection to the Games (and –more importantly- the sponsors) that goes well beyond any existing copyright law, and that positions all offenders as downright criminals.

Not only will brand police be taping all over all logos and signs in London that might be seen by the organizers as threatening to their commercial interests, (even announcing that people can watch The Games inside a restaurant, pub or hotel will be frowned upon) but athletes and visitors will be seriously limited to what they can do or say on the social networks, if they can use these networks at all.

Twitter already announced to put a ban on use of all games related hashtags (like #games2012) that remotely even smells commercial , and the rules on what can be uploaded or tweeted during the games beggars all believe.  All so called non-authorized association is banned. Technically, someone tweeting he saw a nice Dior outfit at the London Games, is up for a lawsuit.

Longtime it was believed that these rules would apply only on the (big) brands that could try to sneak in marketing guerrilla activities on the expense of the global event without paying. But it looks that no organization or person is safe.

A satiric organization called Space Hijackers that labeled themselves as the “official protesters of the London 2012 Olympic Games“, was (temporary) suspended by Twitter on the spot on Locog’s demand. The crime? Using the Olympic Logo.

Although I do believe in protecting everyone’s commercial and intellectual rights, it saddens me to see that too often the legislation that is put into place to enforce these rights is abused to limit other rights I fervently believe in: freedom of speech, freedom of satire, freedom of disagreeing, and freedom of sharing personal pictures on a social network.

When the social component around an event that will have an impact on over a billion people for close to a month is killed, all that’s left is a sad, expensive, commercial circus.

I hope I am wrong…

(I would have loved using the Ol*mp*c Rings here, but opted for a 150 year old drawing of Olympos. Just to be on the safe side :-))

So.cl — One more… keep the faith!

I felt a bit empty, without a purpose, even bored. As a seasoned social media warrior (I promised @thebrandbuilder not to use words like guru, ninja, persona, celebrity, Special Operations Commander and rainmaker in vain), I was secretly hoping for yet another social network to pop up, and make my day.

See, everyone is on Facebook now. Even the Belgian Prime minister is on Twitter. My boss is on Foursquare. Nine real smart people and a horsehead are on Google+. My primary schoolteacher’s little niece is on LinkedIn. I have an avatar on 2ndLife. I am connected to people I will probably never meet on Path, most of my female friends go bananas pinning stuff on Pinterest. Their boyfriends are on Gentlemint.

My Sony laptop faithfully remembers my account details of 14 (fourteen) social sites.

Make that 15 (fifteen). Since yesterday I’m a registered user of a new social online thing called So.cl . Microsoft started it as a top secret social research experiment fueled by social groups. They first tested it on virtual machines, then on small rodents, scared orangutans and finally on students.

As a social study on students rarely generates any tangible data, So.cl  got a nihil obstat from Nato and WHO, and has quietly been released to the  general public. Microsoft claims it is not looking to wrestle with Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare  or Google+ for world supremacy in the social space. It describes So.cl as “an experimental research project focused on exploring the possibilities of social search for the purpose of learning.”  Users of So.cl  can find information on any topic, and share interesting findings directly with their network. So.cl also enables sharing ‘rich content’ that consists of little  scrapbook-like potpourris of multimedia content.

So, it’s a mixture of Bing, Facebook, and Pinterest.  It’s search on steroids. It’s Microsoft’s crazy Frankenstein-mix of Google and Facebook. It’s vaguely interesting. I think I’ll give it a go. I just have to. It’s my job. Confucius said sternly “Faced with what is right; to leave it undone shows a lack of courage.”

Students can do it. Orangutans can do it.  *deep sigh* I’ll keep you posted.

Social Media– The Darwin Doom: Evolve, invest… or die.

It is happening. Campaigns with a heavy social media component, start driving a lot of traction. From The Hunger Games, Twilight, Star Wars, and the British Imperial War Museum to a growing number of brands; it looks like social media can claim a growing part of driving the needle.  But what most are forgetting while looking at the award winning entrees or the mind boggling engagement figures is something disturbingly simple: it is not magic. It is hard work.

Social media success, and its golden unicorn “going viral”, is not based on luck, on a throw of the dice, or on a beneficial line up of some obscure stars and planetary constellations. It is based on careful planning, iron metrics, dazzling creativity, and a perfect understanding of the sociologic –and technical semantics of the social web.

It requires hybrid people capable to find seamless interaction between on- and offline components of a campaign, it requires access to influencers and amplifiers who can give the initiative enough boost to give it enough velocity. It requires specialized analytical brains to sift through data, and to translate these figures into actionable intelligence.  It requires people ahead of the curve.

Success does not happen overnight, it’s not based on luck. As with most pieces of a business, success is directly linked to skill, empowerment and passion.  Brands and agencies capable of harnessing the best talent, and setting up a suitable multi-lingual cross border operational structure see their initial investment returned in tangible results.  It starts with investment, it ends with the harvest. As every farmer knows: What you do not sow, you cannot reap

All too often, the wishful thinking is that social media can be bolted on as an afterthought. Reality is that it is a hard fought métier, requiring deep empathetic skills, innovative thinking and an uncanny ability to spot the right touch points within the target audience.

Olivier Blanchard (@thebrandbuilder)wrote all you’ll ever need to know on the possibilities to drive real ROI through social media in his book Social Media ROI. But before the cash machines will spit mountains of 4 digit bills, before sales will skyrock, before reputations will turn around… investments will have to be made in the very bone structures of brands and agencies. Going to war without modifying your army profoundly, without new weapon systems, without strategic experts that have inside knowledge on how the other side operates, you’re in for a certain Waterloo.

The first prize is a fancy car (well, a hybrid one with limited impact on the environment that is), the second prize is a set of steak knives. The third prize is simple: you’re out of business.  Darwin was right: evolve, or die…


MarCom people versus normal people

Heat compared people from marketing agencies with normal people. As predicted, the biggest difference is in the party behaviour :-).

Kids, Rihanna and safe sex.

I’m an old timer. I grew up with John Travolta. Olivia Newton John was pretty hot in those days. Sarah Jessica Parker was half a dozen plastic interventions younger. Ford Capri’s were hip, fast cars, and listening to Survivor on your Sony Walkman was beyond freezing cool. You could go out in jeans, and white socks. My biology teacher did –red-headed– unspeakable things with a banana and pre-formed rubber in front of the class room and called it sexual education. We wrote letters and love poems. We earned our first head-aches through beer.

Today’s kids go on Bacardi Breezer and Vodka Red Bull. They eat fat free, lactose free, sugar free, meat free, healthy, responsible, bio-degradable food. They prefer Beyoncé’s derrière to Olivia’s spandex. They do listen to i-Music on a plethora of i-Machines. They do skateboards and electric bikes.

But… they did listen to the teacher with the banana. Farrokh Bulsara, also known as Freddy Mercury did not.  They speak more languages, they learn faster. I’ll go all Jezza Clarkson on this: stupid generation. Let’s hate them (a bit).


2012 Olympics: The First Social Games

From July 27 all through August 12 sports are going to be all over radio, print, TV, and my precious internet. Over 10,000 athletes from over 200 nations will compete in more than 300 events.  But, on top of the obvious golden and silver shiny medals, there are new trophies to be had: who will be the social media darlings? Who will grow his or her followers with a couple of million new online fans?

Infograph found on MediaBistro

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