Archive for February, 2011|Monthly archive page

Twitter Serendipity

Last year I wrote a post about how mobile internet access was killing serendipity. For example, rather than just go into that neat looking funky restaurant I just happening to be walking by while hungry, I end up checking it out on Yelp or UrbanSpoon first and only if it’s highly rated by a critical mass of people would I enter. I might even order the dish recommended by the majority of recent commenters. I read my Surowiecki; I’m following the wisdom of the crowds. But there’s an excitement of not having a map (or the Google Maps app) in turning down that alleyway or pedestrian walkway and sampling some random place that just looks good and feels right.

Well last week, I experienced a bit of twitter serendipity. It was already a quarter to one, I was hungry but not sure yet where I wanted to go for lunch. Just then I noticed that a friend of mine had tweeted that he was wondering if anyone was available for lunch in my neck of the woods. I checked the time of the tweet and it was 2 minutes ago, so I told him I was game and we met up. Turns out someone else also noticed his tweet within a few minutes and the three of us had a delightful lunch with great conversation in a new place I had never been. One tweet and I discover a new place and meet a new face. Serendipity has been restored!

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Wiki Culture and the end of Practical Obscurity

I learned a new term the other day from Zeynep Tufekci, one that lawyers use to call information that is essentially accessible but not necessarily easily available…”practical obscurity”.

Think of all the Canadian government documents obtained through the freedom of information act. Yes, we’re free to obtain them but it can be a bit of a hassle to do so. As a result, only a fraction of the documents available through the act are actually obtained or disseminated. But wiki culture is changing that. Wikileaks is opening up our diplomatic cables and corporate files and Wikipedia has become the go to source for settling trivia arguments.

What else has digital technology freed from practical obscurity?

Fame vs. Influence

Over the past decade, marketers have been obsessed with influence. The pedestal on which influencers have been placed is tantamount to marketing sainthood. Thousands of hours have been spent finding and cultivating relationships with these influencers in the hopes that our products will fly off the shelves after their ringing endorsements. Under this premise, an influencer is someone who can get people to take action (and generally the preferred action is to buy the marketers’ products though it could also mean advocate for a position or vote for a certain political candidate).

I have no quibble with this definition of an influencer, I do wonder, however, if we actually choose our influencers on the basis of their influence. The measures we use for whether a blogger makes a given list are things like number of visitors and Google PageRank but these don’t measure the influencer’s ability to get others to take action, this measures the reach or “fame” of the influencer. Under this model, a blogger piece pretty much acts like a cheap (or sometimes free) and minor celebrity endorsement and we know from Laura Ries that celebrity endorsements need to be believable in order to work i.e. the reader has to believe that the person would actually use the product in order for it to be effective and the celebrity would be perceived to be an authority on the product’s quality.¬† Hence, NBA players are good for endorsing basketball shoes and PGA golfers are great for endorsing clubs and golf balls but when they endorse cars and shaving creams, the celebrity effect is muted or non-existent. And so it goes with online influencers. A sports blogger may watch a lot of games on TV but he or she is still less of an authority on the quality of a given HD TV as a consumer electronics blogger. A mom blogger is an authority on diapers only if her kids are still in diapers and even then only if she’s experimented with different brands of diapers. As marketers, we have to be vigilant when we choose our influencers. Are we choosing them because they have authority on our product category and therefore real influence on their reader’s purchasing decision or they merely famous. Believe it or not, fame doesn’t necessarily sell.