Looking for Leadership? Invest in Your Networks

by Michael Cayley & Jonathan Salem Baskin

Lincoln and Roosevelt are heralded as great American leaders in times of crisis, and their vision and fortitude are recognized as drivers of their historic accomplishments. However, we think their greatness had far more to do with their abilities to be catalysts for network effects.

If we’re right, it reveals a very different interpretation of the calls we’re hearing for “leadership” to restore confidence in our economic system. In fact, there’s a good chance that no government policy gesture or announcement will mollify the worries of businesses and consumers, let alone stabilize the markets.

Confidence must emerge from the networks in which we all participate. We need to lead ourselves.

This raises intriguing issues and opportunities for corporate marketers looking to craft a way forward.

“In times of uncertainty consumers rely more on trusted relationships when making purchasing decisions,” says Dr. Brent Simpson, an expert at the University of South Carolina who specializes in understanding how social order is formed.

Stanford University’s Matt Jackson, a leading social network theorist, adds: “People’s friends and trusted social relationships are important in influencing their behavior, and people learn from and emulate their friends. Attitude certainly can play into that, especially in turbulent times.”

So what does this mean for businesses directly impacted by the financial crisis, like banks, brokerages, and insurance companies, as well as any consumer business facing the prospect of declining (or less profitable) sales?

First and foremost, you can’t brand your way out of it. You can’t rely spin doctors to declare your path through the crisis; your customers must see and verify it. While your hired guns are hatching ads and press releases to statically “position” the situation, your networks are trading information and defining it in real-time.

And that information, whether accurate or not, has absolutely nothing to do with how the brand has been envisioned, promised, or promoted. Every network is founded upon the tangible realities of action and reaction, just as the mechanism of their function is cause and effect.

How do you empower these networks to step up and lead?

* Know your networks. Invest in software to map connections between people and content.

* Move your enterprise closer to customers, employees, partners and investors. In the past we talked about flattening hierarchies; now it is time to integrate internal & external sources of value.

* Trust opportunities that emerge from the exchange (don’t just talk, and certainly don’t lecture).

* Make information a utility as ubiquitous as electrical light. If what you share isn’t affirmed and forwarded, don’t repeat it…instead, recast or reimagine it, and find new ways to prove it to your networks.

* Demand feedback and ideas.

* Stop looking for ‘home runs’ and play ‘singles and doubles’ by finding small wins, frequent trials. Make constant adjustments. Allocate resources towinners and abandon losers without blame.

The larger revelation of today’s various crises is that the era of symbolic branding is waning, if not over. The woes of the financial institutions have graphically illustrated to us why.

It was always untenable for lenders to ignore the details of weak/bad relationships and to expect instead that homes or property (i.e. commodities) would appreciate in value with no accord to the strength of home owners (i.e. the source of value that differentiated the commodity). Instead of accessing and fostering the relationship to make the loan a better product, the banker chooses to focus on the derivatives.

All businesses face similar risks. From toothpaste to software services, consumer brands invite significant downside threats when they focus on manufactured identify and perception, and not on the drivers of true business strength: connection, interaction, involvement, collaboration, consumption and the other aspects of human behavior.

There are no brands, or businesses, without the networks of people who make them real. It is in, and through, the behaviors of these networks that the Lincolns and Roosevelts for our business and social communities will ultimately arise.

Jonathan Salem Baskin and Michael Cayley met through the concurrent release of their manifestos in the 50th issue of ChangeThis.

Jonathan Salem Baskin recently released the book Branding Only Works on Cattle. This post also appears on Jonathan’s blog at http://dimbulb.typepad.com.

Twitter Matters #2: Memetic Logos, the Twishes Case

I like this little project.

Frank Tentler is scanning for the word “wish” in twitter streams and then he retweets the wish from the http://twitter.com/twishes profile.

This is Frank Tentlers memetic logo!  It is a great little way to position Frank at the intersection of media, aspirations, communications/technology, etc.

I wish I had the code for a little widget that would display the latest tweets from twishes.  I would embed it in this post and a few other places.

Update! Ask & you shall receive … Thanks Frank! (Note: Frank originally provided a widget but it stopped working and Twitter now makes it easy to grab & embedded a twitter stream.)

UPDATE: Another good example from Jacquelyn Cyr.

UPDATE 2 @ Nov.3, 2008 –

I have since come to think of some of the work that conferences are doing to assert their identities along these same lines.

Many now ask Twitterers at the conference to tag all of their related tweets consistently so that they can be viewed via Twitter Search and Twemes as one discussion thread.  #Mesh was the first that I noticed and SoCap08 retweeted all related tweets during the conference.

It looks like defrag08 is doing the retweet thing too.

Update 4@ Nov.17, 2008: Extending Mad Men into Twitter. Make sure that you follow the links in Paul’s post.

UPDATE 3@ Nov.4, 2008:

I have turned my evolving reflections about twitter into a series of posts.  Catch the other thoughts:

Why Twitter Matters #1: Follow me, Follow You on Twitter

Why Twitter Matters #3: Escalopter

Why Twitter Matters #4: social capital discussion evolving

Comment, Kim Patrick Kobza, CEO, Neighborhood America: cognitive outliers, real time group cognition

Why Twitter Matters #5: Twitter and Social Capital

Why Twitter Matters #6: Twitter Love Song

Twitter Matters #7: Twitter Bot Auto-Debate

UPDATE@Nov.4, 2008 – an overview of StockTwits from Stowe Boyd.

UPDATE@Dec.1, 2008 – Tim O’Reilly “Why I Love Twitter”

Memetic Political Campaigns: Where’s Jack?

The Obama campaign has released an application for the iPhone that cleverly sorts your address book, prioritizing which friends you should call to convince them to vote Obama …. see the whole post at Social Capital Blog.

I see that Matt Ingram thinks this is cool too.

Can you believe that McCain has never used email or the internet?  Why isn’t that a debate question?

High broadband penetration rates.  Facebook crazy.  Geographic challenges to overcome.  A need to mobilize the youth vote.  The desirability of being associated with innovation.  The potential to shape broadcast media reporting.  There are lots of reasons why social media should be a big part of Canadian politics.

Apparently the threat of social media may be scaring off quality candidates, there are lots of fundraising appeals and I think www.wheresjack.ca is a good example of the potential to roll national discontent into a local campaign, but is it making a difference?

Do we have such a small population that we feel embarrassed scaling up our personal politics for fear of offending our neighbors?

What do you think?

Memetic Naming: A Boy Named Sue – Johnny Cash

Check out this link to find a pretty good overview of traditional brand thinking when it comes to brand naming:

What makes a winning brand name? A name that requires no introduction, no explanation and very little advertising to give it clout.

Here is great new thinking about naming from Seth Godin:

A long time ago, the goal of a name was to capture the essence of your positioning. To deliver a USP, so you could establish supremacy in your space just with your name. International Business Machines and Shredded Wheat were good efforts at this approach.

It quickly became clear, though, that descriptive names were too generic, so the goal was to coin a defensible word that could acquire secondary meaning and that you could own for the ages. That’s why “Jet Blue” is a much better name than “Southwest” and why “Starbucks” is so much better than “Dunkin Donuts”.

“Naming companies” flourished, charging clients hundreds of thousands of dollars to coin made up words like Altria.

And here is a something that made me think – hey!  a memetic brand name!

What do you think?  Life ain’t easy for a boy named sue, but its that name that had memetic qualities and implications far beyond any traditional notion of market positioning.

UPDATE: Doug added a great comment below: “I think one person who has used his memetic name quite well is Om Malik, of GigaOm.com – the homonymic relation to ohm gives it a tech luster while keeping the sense of the personal perspective of a curator of information.

Heh, heh! – for a much better shot at introducing this idea of memetic branding you really should read the ebook.

Are relationships memetic?

Here is a quote from one of my forum discussions:

Michael, you state,”Of course relationships can be controlled by third parties and varying environmental contexts. Ask any pair of siblings who have been separated by the border between North and South Korea or the Berlin Wall. Ask Facebook, who at first did not let you in unless you were a student. Or Google, who knows what they are up to?”
That’s true for “physical restraints/boundaries” but not “mental/motivational states” which are the essence of relationships.

So I agree. Perhaps “influence” is a better word to use than control when it comes to describing relationships. But I am not trying to be politically correct here. I am concerned that the potential exists for corporations to get so far ahead in managing and exploiting social networks that their “influence” will amount to “control” for many.

In any event, this exchange provoked some new thinking for me. Perhaps the “memetic brand” idea is worth exploring for a reason that I have not previously directly addressed?

Relationships are memetic.

Broadband powered individuals are the emerging dominant media platform.

What makes relationships evolve or become extinct?  We all have a well developed instinct for that ..

This basic instinct can move us a great distance towards understanding how brands live or die beyond the broadcast era.

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Susan Blackmore TED talk, released June 8

A few memetic brand reflections that occur while watching this Susan Blackmore TED talk:

– good introduction to the foundations of memetics,
– we are the meme machines,
– what are the keys to selection? Variation is a key to selection. Mutation/variation is key to the survival and the spread of an idea, key to memetic branding but contradicts the traditional brand mantras of consistency, continuity and conformity … hmm,
– “don’t think intelligence”, “think replicators” … this would seem to point us as brand strategists, towards investing a lot more time and money on understanding and developing relationships with broadband empowered uploaders, we over invest in campaign creative and broadcast “push” because it is easier,
– “spreading memes is dangerous” but economic network theory (UPDATE: Just came across this related paper: http://econ-www.mit.edu/files/2756, it’s new!) makes us hopeful that not only will we observe and replicate the behavour of our neighbors, there will be sufficient optimism to spur experiments, so that we will settle on optimum behaviours … hope matters. Elections like this one in the USA, matter …

Launch the video and please jot down your thoughts as they occur below …

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Twitter Matters #1: Follow Me, Follow You on Twitter


That’s my twitter handle.  Despite the technical problems that Twitter has been having, I finally took the plunge at MESH08.  I promised to monitor the “back channel” for a few of the panelists on www.twemes.com and I just could not stand being a fly on the wall any longer.

I must say that being live in one session and monitoring the tweets from two other sessions brought an incredible FULL ON level of engagement that I could not image before Twitter and Twemes.

But my main motive for joining Twitter is not to monitor back channel.  My real reason is that I want to tell you all about what I ate for dinner – NOT.

My real reason is because I definitely think that it is a new medium that is particularly suited for memetic branding purposes.

Firstly, there is still a relatively small group of people on twitter (even less following me!).  They are the early adoptors and in most cases, they publish blogs and other web content, so they are endowed with scaled up forms of social capital.

Perhaps more importantly, I think Twitter is a medium that is involved in the genesis of shared perception.  From a memetic branding stand point, that is worth exploring.

Finally, over the years I have lived in different parts of Asia, Europe and North America.  My personal network is stretched by time and geography.  So far, only a few of my contacts are on Twitter, but I can really see how this is going to make the value of these global relationships present in each moment, in a much more tangible and immediate way.

I can only describe my initial impressions of Twitter as – prescience.

15hrs ago – “I am brushing my teeth”.  Can’t you see the potential!


I have turned my evolving reflections about twitter into a series of posts.  Catch the other thoughts:

Why Twitter Matters #2: Memetic Logos

Why Twitter Matters #3: Escalopter

Why Twitter Matters #4: social capital discussion evolving

Comment, Kim Patrick Kobza, CEO, Neighborhood America: cognitive outliers, real time group cognition

Why Twitter Matters #5: Twitter and Social Capital

Why Twitter Matters #6: Twitter Love Song

Twitter Matters #7: Twitter Bot Auto-Debate

UPDATE@Nov.4, 2008 – an overview of StockTwits from Stowe Boyd.

UPDATE@Dec.1, 2008 – Tim O’Reilly “Why I Love Twitter”

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The dog experiment

Last night I made a post over at Memetic Brand’s sister blog, Social Capital Value Add, called “What’s with the dog?“.

Social Capital Value Add is an inherently complex concept. It is based upon lots of simple ideas that everyone gets right away:

– in 2004 broadband changed the game,

– there is a “new” word of mouth power out there that brands are vulnerable to,

– brand loyalty matters,

– etc, etc, etc.

The point of developing SCVA is that there is a lot more about all of this that we do not understand at the moment, than there are simple things to grab onto. How do you get across that complexity when people are time starved and operating with attention deficits (or what McLuhan would call “narcotic numbness“)?

Symbols matter. They signal something. They are the tip of the ice berg. But, we are developing the idea here at Memetic Brand that the symbol itself is a lot less important than traditional brand management has (rightfully, within the broadcast paradigm) us believing.

I am not betting on the dog. The dog is cute. I hope the dog gets your attention. I hope that the dog signals to you that SCVA is an idea worth passing on. I hope you scratch the dog a little (go ahead he likes that) and discover the Wizard of Oz metaphor that encompasses for me the difference between symbolic brand and memetic branding.

I hope that we discover together that if we make the kinds of investments that SCVA points us towards, we will all become “clever enough wizards” to quickly transform from Great Oz into leadership of great courage, heart and brains.
Playing a role in personal identity formation by recognizing our social network connections with certifications (the Scarecrow’s diploma), testimonials (the Tin Man’s ticking heart) and medals of honour (the Lion’s courage) will be familiar aspects of our strategy and tactics.