My “nostalgia analysis” post had an excellent comment – “I have noticed that nostalgia happens for certain things when you are satisfied with how things turned out. And then there is bitterness…” I am not really convinced by the first sentence, and think it’s a little more nuanced. Broadly yes, when everything turns out well, nostalgia is ‘easy’. But as I mentioned in the post, I think the mind also reconstructs and reconciles what it can. In a way, taking memories into dreams territory. A vision of near-perfectness. Probably a device used by evolution to help the organism cope, survive and thrive. Ok, that sounded cold. Moving on. It is the second sentence that really caught my attention.

..And then there is bitterness..” Bitterness. I can remember many brushes with that phenomenon. It has made me miss several years with people, though thankfully, sanity prevailed in most cases. I reached out, and time healed. It has happened in the recent past as well. The only difference these days is that I am not blind to it, and have tried to understand it, so I can try to minimise the damage it causes. But maybe I was missing something. More

Culture Architecture

Despite several posts on ‘culture‘, of the four Ps I’d mentioned in the Agile @ Scale post, ‘People’ is a topic that has gotten the least attention here in the recent past. As the change imperative forces organisations to be more responsive to rapidly changing external dynamics, the structures, processes and methods it had adopted for its internal stakeholders will most likely have to change as well. Jobs in earlier era were well defined constructs, but this era requires employees to work far beyond their job description in order to thrive. (“Why We Need to Change the Software in our Organisations“) It is probably not a coincidence that the four organisations that are defining the larger contours of business and technology are also the most favoured employers.

The task is not easy. On one hand, there is a workforce that is increasingly getting overwhelmed by communication technologies that are dictating an always-on culture. (“Why you hate work.”) On the other hand, there is a new generation entering the workforce that has expectations of a culture tuned to their lifestyle and ways of functioning. They rapidly disengage if they feel this is no happening. In both cases, the end result is a loss in productivity. This is only one part of the story. There are several factors that define culture, and in an organisation, there are several factors that resist change as well.  How does an organisation adapt to these dynamics? A few thoughts, some strategic, some tactical. More

The overhaul of currency

Back in 2012, in my first post on institutional realignment, I’d written this – “…my biggest hope is that the current currency of our lives – money – will have a better successor, one that will be better connected with our unique identities, and weave in contexts better.” In the two years since, this movement has not only begun, but is also figuring out its own dynamics. I had expected, or wanted, a disruption of money, but it will most likely be a transition. At this stage, I see at least three broad areas to frame this movement -the democratisation of finance, alternate currencies and marketplaces for value exchange.

Democratisation of finance: This is probably where it began, because the internet has a reputation for removing intermediaries who do not add value in this case, financial institutions. From projects in Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and GoFundMe to social investments like RangDe and Milaap, there are now many ways to mobilise funds for me and you from people like me and you, according to personal passions, interests and belief systems. I’ll add more to this in the ‘marketplace’ section.

Alternate currencies: Arguably, money as an institution has built a network involving processes, dependencies and establishments keeping in mind the dynamics of an earlier era. A civilisation connected by the www may find these tedious and irrelevant, and thus it’s only natural that it builds its own institutions. Bitcoin (a good introductory guide) is the one that made this phenomenon (relatively) mainstream, to the point that it even has ATMs. Bitcoin may or may not survive, it is probably the Napster in its domain, it has changed the game irretrievably. While on the subject, do read this fantastic tongue-in-cheek take on how it’d be if the roles were reversed – a cash based mechanism replacing digital currency. Meanwhile, there are other currencies similar to Bitcoin, and then there are completely different thoughts – for example, Pay With a Tweet. Which leads us to the various payment mechanisms that are being built.

Marketplaces & Value Exchange: While the other two are the dynamics, this is where the mechanics play a part as well. In the ‘democratisation’ section, I had referred to several platforms that aid both discovery and action. There are many more stories in this line – from AgreeIt, an app that allows crowdfunding from friends on Facebook to crowdsourcing for emotional advice, ideas and so on to selling one’s reservation at a restaurant/spot in a line through Shout to  a ‘new media company’ Ideapod that wants to “amplify the ideas that shape our world, create genuine and enduring dialogue around ideas and spread ideas that matter through new and traditional media channels.” to ordering food from neighbours, (Eatro in London and Imli – a startup I mentor at the Microsoft Accelerator- closer to home) there are various models of value exchange that are shaping themselves. In fact, the entire ‘social commerce via collaborative consumption‘ route is based on these marketplaces. (a few good perspectives and stats on its drivers here)

But, irrespective of the currency, every transaction requires (another) key element – trust. The social web is also building its own mechanics for this – from relatively generic clout mechanisms (Klout, Kred and the likes) to more context specific ones like LinkedIn or GitHub or even Wiki and review mechanisms. (from Amazon to TripAdvisor to Foursquare to GoodReads to Zomato) We earn trust through our knowledge and actions in these mechanisms. We earn social currency. That brings me to the final portion – how does all of this impact brands and what would be their role?

Brands & the trust economy: Across the ages, corporations have been built on competitive advantages pertinent to the economies they operated in. I found a fantastic illustration in this context here

Economies and competitive advantages

I think relationships are indeed going to be the major competitive advantage in the future, and if so, the currency that would play a bigger role than money would be trust. As in many other developments prior to this, there are opportunities here for brands to weave themselves into the consumer’s narratives and go beyond transactional relationships, and to earn social currency. Many of them are already on it, finding ways to earn consumer trust and helping him/her develop and change perspectives about various currencies and relationships between them. Since we’re talking of finance, let’s use an example in that domain. Fidor bank helps its consumers discover crowd sourcing options, staying true a bank’s generic commitment of excellent wealth management. Yes, it’s still money, but it understands that it can be deployed beyond traditional options. In the process, it also helps the consumer to belong to a community.

Brands actually have an option to join in wherever there is consumer spending. Nike+, as usual, did something back in 2012 – they allowed runners to trade in (running) mileage for Nike goods (I had shared the video in the institutional realignment post too) While this ties in beautifully with Nike’s business purpose, maybe some brands would have to lean a little more towards the consumer side and get into relatively unrelated narratives, and a relationship, before connecting it back to the business purpose. For example, airBaltic’s loyalty program Baltic Miles rewards frequent fliers who jog enough to burn off the same number of calories as miles they’ve flown. One of the aspects of agile marketing would be to enable identification of opportunities early. For example, imagine Coke getting into the act in Beijing’s first reverse vending machines that pay subway credits in exchange for returned containers.

In what might seem like a ‘changing of goalposts’, just as brands are beginning to vaguely realise that their currencies of engagement with consumers need to change, the consumer’s relationship with the common currency of transaction – money – is also changing. The two are very related, and brands need to tackle both to have meaning and relevance in a consumer’s life, because if (as Godin says) “money is a story“, we’re probably nearing a plot twist.

until next time, the end of money’s monopoly

P.S. For another detailed look at the subject, you’d want to read Gauravonomics’ post on ‘The Future of Money‘.

Influence & Context

Last week, I read two stories on influencers on sites that influence me. 😀 Since that’s a topic that has been seen here before (1,2,3) and it’s been a while since I’ve written about it, a couple of cents.

YourStory’s post, I cheered, despite failing on their influencer scale, (of 5000 twitter followers) because it asked a very pertinent question – “Are brands being  held at ransom by Social Media Influencers?” I completely agree with Mekin’s tweet (cited there) on how it takes the twitterati only a few minutes to demolish years of hard work. Anyone who handles a brand account would relate to that. Expecting ‘influencers’ to mature and watch what they say is like expecting, say, a response from the nation’s leader. The other way to handle it is to be really good at what you do as a brand, be sure of yourself, be transparent, so that you can back up your tweets (no, not that kind of backup) with facts. (more)

LHI’s post was about brands leveraging social influencers. Prasant (of LHI, but didn’t write this post) had commented in the YourStory post about contextual influence, and I quite agree with his views. In fact, my stance remains the same as when I wrote this. To sum it up, (in general, there are of course exceptions including whole domains) brands tend to treat influencers just as they treat traditional media. The more reach, the better, who cares about context? No offense meant, but I am not really influenced by the gentleman in the LHI story. Mercedes needn’t care about that because I’m not really their audience. But the entire episode makes a very good story, so if that was the intent, and not necessarily the person’s influence, opportunity well spotted, and a PR job well done!

But if brands do treat influencers as media, how long will this party last, especially when people are already trying to correct their filter failure? (noise in the stream) Mass media’s  indisputable role in creating perception have been blunted in the web and social eras. Arguable, but I think, in a while, we’ll see a kind of flip. Folks would start figuring out their go-to people, when making consumption decisions. I already do that – in fact, I realised that with a few exceptions, everyone on this list is a go-to person for me! Not all of them have 5k followers, but in their domains, they’re #likeaboss. What has social contributed here – 90% of them were unknown to me before blogging/twitter, but if I am asked for a recommendation in their domains, I don’t have to think twice. I trust them, and this has been built over various interactions across time.

In essence, using influencers would boil down to the intent of brands – mass reach or targeted reach (in this context) – for each activity. There are tons of ways to get reach on social media, in many ways it has already begun to resemble its media predecessors, but trusted sources remains a precious commodity. If brands earn and retain the trust of influencers in their domain – and they could only do that if they are really good at what they do – think of how it could help them when it comes to responding to those ransom calls.

until next time, an affluence of followers :)

Until the customer is king..

Instagram just released v3.0. One of the biggest changes in this version is the introduction of Photo Maps, which quite obviously, plots your photos on a map. The default is opt-in, not opt-out, though they’ve done their bit to give the user control over data.  I updated despite reading this Wired article on the privacy implications and the bug that briefly exposed private photos!

I’d written my first post that referred to Big Data recently, and the day after that, I read this very interesting post that talked about various applications including an algorithm that can identify cities based on their unique architectural elements and other distinguising characteristics. But a few weeks earlier, WSJ had an interesting post that talked of how large corporations see big data as a means to get personal with customers using information gathered by placing tracking files in people’s browsers and smartphone apps without their knowledge—so they can be stalked wherever they go, with their “experiences” on commercial websites “personalized” for them. The post describes not just its real world analogies but practices as well, and predicts a future where the user will declare your own policies, preferences and terms of engagement—and do it in ways that can be automated both for you and the companies you engage. An entire ecosystem across apps and corporations built in a consumer centric fashion.

But as the post itself admits, the move toward individual empowerment is a long, gradual revolution. Until then, we need to define our own limits of sharing, fully understanding that it is a give and take. Not just what and where, but whom too – since all it takes a RT or a ‘Share – Public’ for something shared in a close circle to go public. How much of privacy would I give up to open myself to opportunities, or get an experience that is tailored to my needs and convenience. On the other side, a modern corporation needs to understand the choice the consumer is making and use the information to not just provide genuine value, but also make it easier for both entities to adapt to the rapidly changing landscape.

until next time, kingmakers

The price of influence

Speaking of trust, between a corporation and consumers, one of the earliest controlled version of ‘outsourcing’ it was celebrity endorsements. I use ‘controlled’ because organic WOM is not really in the corporation’s control. Though it is still in vogue, the credibility is possibly dented thanks to abuse by the endorser, the endorsed and a media that creates more ways to make an a$$ of the end consumer. eg. passing off ads as content.

In the era of social networks and lightweight interactions, the beneficiaries of this decline would be micro celebrities (MC from now) who have created their own circles of influence in specific domains. I remember writing about that – over 3 years back, and following it up later with influence cycles and the tool based influence calculations being used by brands for promotions. The platforms used by these celebrities could be any – twitter, blogs, Pinterest etc and it does allow the brand to customise their interactions basis the medium itself and with help from the MC, use the strengths of the medium to the hilt.

I was hoping that it would evolve such that brands would identify MCs who would be connected to their own category and therefore would wield their influence among people interested in that category. But judging by the directions the platforms are taking, the equations seem to be becoming closer to the earlier forms of media, and ignoring the social aspect. When Vijay shared this and pinky-swore that he wasn’t playing an April Fool prank, I was even more convinced of the direction. Full circle. Hopefully the lessons will be fast, and the new cycle will begin soon. :)

until next time, influenced?

In trust we trust

Karthik recently wrote a post on a subject I’ve been thinking about for a while now – “How should brands use public information you share on social media“, on British Airways’ “Know Me” scheme to personalise their service by providing iPads to their staff and “giving them instant access to customer data, including passengers’ travel history, meal requests and details of any previous complaints. They will also use Google Images to search for pictures to link with passenger profiles, helping staff to identify them next time they fly” (via) It has already been met with disapproval from some, but Karthik believes there is value if there is intelligent use of context to delight a consumer. I’d tend to agree.

Any user of Rapportive would be familiar with the thrills it offers thanks to rich profiles provided as you read/write a mail from/to a contact. :) At an enterprise level, any social media practitioner would also agree that it’s sometimes useful to butt into conversations where an @ has not been used, if you can provide value to a consumer. A Capgemini infographic, based on 16000 interviews in 16 countries, shows that 61% of digital shoppers want the store to remember their personal details, 54% want to receive persoanlised offers, and 41% actually want to be identified through digital devices when they enter a physical store! But when Orbitz starts showing Mac users different and costlier options as compared to Windows users,  I’d really wonder if the business is providing value to consumers in personalised offers!

At paidContent, I read “Big data and the changing economics of privacy“, which discusses how easy it is to get info on people, and debates a ‘Do Not Collect’ law, especially in the context of new technologies like face recognition. Another suggestion I read at AdAge is to let consumers build their own tracking profiles – What consumers might prefer, if one were to actually ask them, is the ability to build, manage and get useful things from their own profile and data. Let consumers remain entirely anonymous and in control.

As this Econsultancy report succinctly points out, personalisation is ultimately a trade off, and businesses need to learn to provide tangible value to consumers who share their data. But before that, they also need to make the consumer comfortable by using even freely available data intelligently in a way that shows their intent, asking consent when applicable, building trust and allowing users to retain control.

I personally believe that if you’re putting any information out on the web, you should take responsibility for it – that includes what you share and who you share it with. From experience, it can give you great lessons in trust, and I think that applies to the relationship between people and businesses too.

until next time, trust worthy

Consumer Tracks

I heard a very interesting quote recently, attributed to Rishad Tobaccowala

When consumers hear about a product today, their first reaction is ‘Let me search online for it.’ And so they go on a journey of discovery: about a product, a service, an issue, an opportunity. Today you are not behind your competition. You are not behind the technology. You are behind your consumer.

That reminded of the title of a post last month from Mitch Joel – “The Ever-Evolving Consumer Evolves (Again)“, in which he talks about how consumers are now more advanced than marketers in terms of technology and how they communicate. Quite agree in general, though it varies with geography, kind of demographic and so on.

Simplistically put, word of mouth with a technology assist. You'd say that every 'social media' presentation has a version of it, and I'd have to agree. But the interesting part is how brands react. For the purpose of this post, let me give you a contemporary tool based example.

Within a few days of the launch of Google +, a few brands jumped on to the wagon. They weren't just content sites, but regular brands. Only to be told by Google to lay off until they were officially allowed to. Were the brands behind the con

sumers in this case? Or technology tool? Not. But even if they were allowed to operate in Plus, would that guarantee a success story? Not necessarily. That's probably because many a time, when brands (and brand managers) get to know about technology, they choose the easy way out. Order the agency to create a page/handle/group and get x number of fans/friends/followers, post some content to 'tick' engagement and then wait for the next shiny object. The harder way is to understand why people are active on the social platforms and the networks that are created within. In this context, relationship and trust. Something that brands lost when they made full use of the fact that traditional media didn't allow consumers to talk back.

Mitch Joel is right when he says that brands finally found an answer to the first coming of the web. They answered the 'why' reasonably well – information, and built websites. But with an explosion in platforms and interactivity, the answers this time around aren't that simple. Having a touch point at every new internet nation state is a great thing, but if brands look at the new shiny technology/service through the prism of why users are flocking to it, and go through the data – information – knowledge – wisdom path to figure out if/how they can use the technology/service to anticipate and meet consumer needs, they might be evolving a better and scalable strategy for the days ahead.

until next time, to corrupt a cricket line, platform is temporary, class is permanent 😉


Influence, Decision Making & Data

It’s been just over a year since my last post on influence, but a couple of very interesting articles, and a few advances and observations makes this a good time to visit the subject. I am in touch with both the custodians of my influence these days – Klout and PeerIndex, and like to experiment with them. (the rise in Klout a few days back is the result of one such :) ) They are obviously in early stages, which is probably why I think they can be gamed, despite their stout denials, and also why Klout considers me ‘influential’ on the topic of lottery. (thankfully Pakistan has been removed now)

What I did find a bit disconcerting was the usage of these scores in brand strategy/promotions. (relevant link at the end of the post) The basic thought here is to identify ‘influencers’ and engage them for various purposes – from product design to communication, advocacy etc. Not a bad thought in itself, but I wonder if it is way too early in the evolution stage to try this out, because there are way too many variables, including trust, involved and many of them have probably not even been acknowledged, let alone tracked and measured.

The consumer decision making process is itself undergoing massive shifts thanks to an ever increasing slew of communication platforms and services, which allow consumers to speak to brands, and other consumers, and has mechanisms for rapid and wide spread. For example, I saw an interesting perspective, which replaced the traditional funnel with a ‘consumer decision journey’ and discussed the need for changes in the brand’s approach so that different functions can be better aligned.

For a different perspective, take a look at this presentation (via Vijay Sankaran)

It makes a good case of why algorithms and ready made dashboards may not be the best solution possible to even finding the ‘right’ ‘influencers’. The way I see it, the current social platforms are only portion of the data, and there are going to be many more layers and sources. (earlier post ‘Data beyond Social‘)

But even though many, including myself, would agree to the observations in the presentation, the ways to scale it are still blurred because I’d say the human component still has a major role. But that might be something that will change in the longer term. In the short-medium term, considering the $ spent on many a media blitz, a better allocation of $ resources – into collecting and then converting the data deluge to actionable information – is what is warranted.

until next time, influence shell

The promised link: Involver is a platform that has partnered with Klout to allow brands to “interact with and reward fans on Facebook based on their Klout score” (via)

Bonus Reads: Resolving the Trust Paradox, and Prem’s post on ‘social’ in the buying process.


Services, Information, People

Even as the first trailer of ‘The Social Network‘ was released last week, and even as fresh rounds of humour/angst on Facebook’s privacy algo (Google’s too) are unleashed regularly, I found that the amount of things I share on Facebook has vastly increased, though the time spent hasn’t increased in proportion. Its probably the ease of sharing information, the threaded conversations (none of my usual twitter clients have it) around the shared item, or the lack of (self imposed) constraints that my blogs suffer from, but photos, videos, comments and all sorts of content (my own as well as the ones I find) get shared on FB. Sometimes I even miss not being able to send a quick mail (where is Project Titan?!) to someone on FB from GMail (yes, I have FB friends who I don’t connect with on GTalk) In a recent interview, Mark Zuckerberg also shared his views on credits, and its portability. With search and location coming up as major initiatives, I wonder when my Facebook data will become portable.

In this context, I saw the three kinds of webs (similar to the ones mentioned in the last post) and more that are almost seamlessly connected now – information, service and people. The need for filters in this information deluge is indeed pressing. While I do see some nifty tools that are being developed (eg. Pivot , Avoidr, specific search engines or even Twitter’s annotations) I sometimes wonder if it can ever catch up with the broadening scope of commonly used services. That’s also the reason why I think Facebook’s Open Graph search engine, which aims for social semantic search, is a big step, even while granting that not everyone’s on Facebook and their execution still has some way to go. Add to this privacy/security concerns (even Twitter was pulled up recently), and it does look complicated. Further layers like location will only add to this. And I wonder what new levels of complexity Google Me will bring. With each new service, the deluge of information increases, many times in the form of repetition, and our consumption changes.

The increasing usage of these services has meant that the web of ‘friends’ have also increased. In my case, while FB consisted of only real friends earlier, in the last few months, the number of virtual friends – mostly from Twitter, have increased manifold. Since I don’t usually share anything on the web that I don’t want anyone to see, my problems with privacy have been limited. But as the amount of sharing increases, I realise there are things I share that could be taken out of context. There is also the fact that personal and professional lives are no longer silos. (Read) The other take out from the last point is that its not just communication from brands/services that need to be looked at closely, but people too.

When the three webs are absolutely seamless, we will also see a shift in the kinds of relationship we have shared with brands, services and people. Facebook making payment for advertisers easier, sending me marketplace links, services making it easier for embedding ads, posts from my ‘friends’ plugging services/products with no disclosure, all work as signs for me. I do see a lot of work in setting up new ‘trading currencies’ and even different kinds of social networks (mobile phones – closed network ) and also note that the one factor that all the three entities need to keep in mind is trust. And that’s when I begin to wonder if similar systems are being developed for ‘sharing’ trust and whether they can keep pace with the deluge of information, services and people. Or maybe its already working under the radar – new services (, recommendations on LinkedIn, Twitter lists etc.

until next time, SIP investments for mutual benefits :)