Are Brands Fracking The Social Web? [ My talk from Squared ]

I’m not long out of giving a new talk this morning for the first time, at Squared in London to the bright young things who’re just starting out on a six week intensive learning experience.  It’s always a privilege to talk to the future leaders of an industry, and today was certainly no exception.  Find out more about Squared here.



I was nervous beforehand, given that so much of it was new thinking, and the rest was a different look at some older things I’ve written and talked about.  It seemed to go well though, and it started a good debate (which could have gone on longer, so I should try and shut up sooner next time perhaps).

More than ever, there’s a lot lost in just having slides here, rather than the full “sound & vision” experience.  But would love to know what you all think, as ever.

Thanks to Sarah & Jen for the invitation to talk, all the mystery folks who kept recommending me to them for a ‘talk on the social web’, and to Mark Earls for kindly giving it a quick sense check last night at some ungodly hour.

And finally, thanks to everyone who adds to the dialogic conversation around this stuff, by blogging, writing, sharing and chatting about it.  It makes putting the talks together so very interesting and enjoyable.




White Papers & Black Mirrors

I’ve been meaning to properly read the “Digital Isn’t Working (Yet)” white paper by Ian Fitzpatrick & Erik Pelletier at Almighty in Boston, and found some proper time this afternoon to do it.

(I was honoured that they asked if they could reference MTPW > MPWT for it, and doubly so to be acting as source material along with the likes of Gareth, Neil & Faris.)

Now, the whole paper is an excellent read, and sets off many ideas as you go.  I could probably sit and write a 3,000 word companion piece just off the back of it, but that would distract you from actually reading it, which you can do by downloading it here.

I will say one thing about it though, which is a thought bridge to the excellent first episode in the second series of Black Mirror which was first screened* last Monday.

Screen Shot 2013-02-17 at 15.52.55



If you’ve not seen it yet, but want to, maybe stop reading, go watch it, then come back…



…OK, all done?

So, to cut to the chase; there’s a dead boyfriend who is ‘brought back’ to life by his grieving girlfriend.  At first it’s as an email bot, then secondly as a voice on the other end of the phone, then finally as an actual fleshy android thing.

All of his thoughts and actions are based upon what he posted to the web during his life.  But of course, it’s not him, as the girl points out…

“You aren’t you, are you?
You’re just a few ripples of you,
there’s no history to you,
you’re just a performance of stuff
that he performed without thinking,
and it’s not enough…”


Now, back to the white paper:

“What we’ve heard consistently over the last year – from clients, colleagues, audiences at events and conferences – is that mobile still just feels like another place to put ads (and hard-to-click ads at that), data is impossible to integrate across the organization and social is ongoing and yet difficult to relate to the organisation’s goals.  Somewhere along the path to complexity and the resulting focus on channels and platforms, organizations lost track of the very people they were trying to reach”

I can’t help but think that a lot of marketers and agencies have lost track of the people because they are becoming beholden to the “performance of stuff” which characterises a lot of social media.

It’s pretty much impossible to peer through a data dashboard and see the people behind it.

And yet… data is great, because it’s really easy to point to, if you’re a marketer, and show your CEO (who’s more and more likely to be a numbers guy) that you’re acting ‘responsibly’.  And it’s great if you’re an agency, because data can look seductive and difficult and important, and therefore must be something worth paying for.

But it’s not really your customers, is it?  It’s just a few ripples of them, there’s no history to them, they’re just a performance of stuff that they perform without thinking.

And it’s not enough…


Read “Digital Isn’t Working (Yet)”


*it doesn’t really matter anymore when things were ‘first screened, really, does it?  Or does it?


Lego Batman’s take on the Future of Advertising 2020.

Last year, the Herdmeister Mark Earls and I were asked to contribute to the Wharton School of Advertising.  Given that it’s a celebration of different views from across academia, business, students and more, we thought there might be enough long reads already, so we’d do something…

…well, a little different, using Artefact Cards.  And Lego Batman.  Enjoy:

Developed for the Wharton Future of Advertising Program’s Advertising 2020 Project 2012-2013,

If you want to sign up to get news of when all the pieces are released, then head on over here and sign up for news.

The Attention Ponzi?

This grabbed my attention the other day, from this article on the New York Times Dealbook site (via Ana Andjelic)

“Facebook counts as “active” users who go to its Web site or its mobile site. But it also counts an entire other category of people who don’t click on as “active users.” According to the company, a user is considered active if he or she “took an action to share content or activity with his or her Facebook friends or connections via a third-party Web site that is integrated with Facebook.”

Come again?

In other words, every time you press the “Like” button on, for example, you’re an “active user” of Facebook. Perhaps you share a Twitter message on your Facebook account? That would make you an active Facebook user, too. Have you ever shared music on Spotify with a friend? You’re an active Facebook user. If you’ve logged into Huffington Post using your Facebook account and left a comment on the site — and your comment was automatically shared on Facebook — you, too, are an “active user” even though you’ve never actually spent any time on”

Which made me wonder if it’s an unintentional Ponzi scheme?

An Attention Ponzi.

A traditional Ponzi scheme is one that “pays returns to its investors from their own money or the money paid by subsequent investors, rather than from any actual profit earned by the individual or organization running the operation“.

If every investor asks for their money back, there’s not nearly enough in the pot to cover it, and the scheme is exposed, and collapses.

Now, if Facebook really does calculate “active daily users” as suggested in the NYT article above, it’s an attention Ponzi.

The currency is attention. Facebook shows ‘investors’ that they have a large pot of attention. But that includes attention they themselves contributed, or it’s the attention provided by past ‘investors’.

By showing companies the tremendous “active daily users” figures, they fan the flames of interest – ‘they have cornered the market in attention’, thinks the company, ‘so we’ve got to be on there, in amongst it, getting some of it’.

They do this through advertising, or through social projects of their own.

If you are running social projects on Facebook, it’s common practice to put a like button everywhere on your own site, linked to your own Facebook page.

So people are logged in to Facebook when they are on your site, but they then count as being “active daily users” if they send an action back to Facebook.

The ‘attention pot’ gets bigger, the next company are attracted in the same way, and you are convinced that it’s becoming a more important site, because the “active daily users” figures keep going up and up.

Now, by and large every tech firm is guilty of manipulating their figures to look better. It’s how the market works, it seems.

What matters specifically in the case of Facebook is what proportion of “active daily users” actually visit Facebook, and can be advertised to, or are in ‘circulation’ enough on the site to be useful to companies undertaking social projects there.

It matters for investors in the forthcoming IPO, as they should know how Facebook plans to make money from the users, and it matters for companies using Facebook, as it would give them a sense of how important Facebook really is for a given audience they’re looking to connect with.

It’s certainly an area that will continue to get a lot of attention. Wherever it’s counted.