Twittering away your digital legacy?

Here’s a story from about a “Twevent” that happened to a senior level public relations employee. The case involved FedEx (the client) and the following Tweet:

True confession but I’m in one of those towns where I scratch my head and say “I would die if I had to live here! citation summarized the ensuing events:

Someone inside FedEx was following…and that person shared the post among the top executives at the FedEx front office, and the company’s corporate communications staff. At that point, a person in the FedEx corporate communications staff apparently took umbrage to the post…and responded [to him].

The public relations executive posted the following Tweet as events ensued over the next couple of days:

This is hard to fit in 140 characters or less so please read here. All about my recent Twitter post citation has a take-away; his global thoughts on the matter.

The Scream by Edvard Munch
The Scream by Edvard Munch

I found this FedEx story via this Sun Microsystems blog post which discusses issues surrounding one’s digital legacy. The key take-away, in my opinion, is to understand that crowdsourcing memes can possibly lead to unintended consequences and misinterpreted meanings.

Thus, when asked by real estate professionals about how they should approach social media generally, and Twitter specifically, I talk about defining digital personas and sticking to that persona in every post, Facebook or LinkedIn update, Tweet, etc.

Here are my thoughts regarding managing one’s digital legacy:

  1. Define the persona you want to convey to your known audience as well as your unknown audience; this will become your digital legacy over time
  2. Understand that Facebook differs from LinkedIn which differs from Twitter, etc, and that each social media space has a different environment–ecosystem or culture if you will–that you must first understand and then integrate with after you understand it (I say lurk heartedly to see how other people use a specific medium, read the FAQs and support sections, etc, then step into the playground when you have a general sense of the rules)
  3. You can have varied persona’s for each environment, but each such persona should roll-up to support the overall “personal brand” you’re trying to build (think of the different personalities you adopt during client presentations, while at the office, at cocktail parties, etc)
  4. Think 24 months out from now and ask yourself “What do I want people to see when they search me on Google”? Think about what “output” or “outcome” you want in this circumstance, and then work backwards at ensuring that your “inputs” (your blog posts, your Facebook and LinkedIn profiles, and the majority of your Tweets) meet your expected outcome

Perhaps I am over thinking this. However, when I read posts like the above, I cannot help but think that a managed approach like the simple process I’ve outlined is a viable approach for real estate professionals (especially agents new to the space) whose livelihood, value, reputation, and expertise will be run through a Google (or some new equivalent) sieve for the foreseeable future.

Creating a culture of creativity and innovation

Real estate firms need to realign, indeed rethink, their team culture and structure to keep abreast of rapidly evolving marketplace and competitive pressures. I touched on this topic last week on the “Content is King” panel I shared with Mr. Hahn at Inman Connect NYC. I certainly share his sentiments regarding developing a content strategy. But to execute on such a strategy, firms need to delve deeper and essentially conduct a cultural/structural 365 degree analysis, with an overall goal of fostering “innovation” as a cultural norm.

After the panel presentation, I engaged in many conversations about how firms need to “innovate” and how the real estate industry needs to push for more “innovation”. Conversations generally whipped from how to create more innovative products and services, to how to be seen as more innovative by one’s customers, to how to “out-innovate” one’s competition. In my opinion, innovation begins with a culture that fosters unbridled creativity tempered by a disciplined development process–a thesis meeting its antithesis, if you will, to produce a synthesis (i.e., an innovation); similar to Eisenstein’s film theories explored in his books The Film Sense and Film Form.

With respect to innovative culture, the authors in “Climates and Cultures for Innovation and Creativity at Work” define the following factors as hallmarks for innovative firms:

  • High levels of interaction, discussion, and debate
  • Interpersonal and intergroup relations defined by trust, cooperation, and a sense of safety
  • Senior management that’s open to new ideas and improved ways of working, and proves its openness by encouraging such actions and funding them when meritorious
  • The organization is under strong external pressure

Creativity can be defined as

the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination – creativity. Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. (accessed: January 14, 2009).

Professor Jonathan Feinstein of Yale studies Creativity and has developed a great web-based resource on this topic.

I posit that fostering creativity is essential to competitive advantage. This thesis states that creativity is essential to the production of knowledge and its exploitation, and argues firms should create a creative knowledge environment (CKE). A CKE has the following salient attributes: clear objectives, positive group climate, active group participation, relatively flat hierarchical system, adequate resources, keen hiring decisions, engaged and visionary leadership; this definition aligns with the creative culture attributes outlined above. Both studies essentially conclude that such culture is essential to fostering innovation.

But once this culture produces an innovative thought, what framework induces it’s ultimate productization and monetization? It’s at this point where ultimate success or failure is determined. If such creative or innovative thoughts are always–or 80% of always–run through a control committee comprised of a “team” of senior managers, marketing types, IT types, and accounting types, chances are the innovative thought is squashed like an annoying bug as each “team member” sifts through respective intra-firm turf battles, alliances, resource jealousies, and personal fiefdom integrity and longevity issues. Countering this drying-like-cement-slow-death-approval-process, the set of authors above imply in their research that by hiring capable people who are naturally inclined to think through issues from all angles, management can relax a bit and “trust” their employee team to make the right decisions and manage the process themselves, which naturally leads to a culture of creativity and innovation. Peter Drucker touched on these themes and concepts. This is not to say that these “knowledge workers” should run amok, which is where disciplined development processes come into play.

There still needs to be strict adherence to processes that bring innovative products and services to market for the ultimate benefit of consumers. And in my opinion these processes are based on iterative design principles, or rapid application design principles, layered over agile stage-gate approval processes. Real estate firms that are hindered by stilted and overly obtuse ideation and development processes will suffer in the coming years; that is, firms that over analyze every move (or 80% of every move), allow poisonous turf battles between Marketing and IT to continue, and feel that nothing should be released to the public unless its “perfect” will suffer in the coming years. On the other hand, firms that realize that iterative design principles coupled with sound expected valuation analyses yielding rapid deployment and testing of prototype products (be they widgets, new website UI design, whatever) will benefit from the wisdom of crowds (see my earlier post on crowdsourcing) and release products and services that meet–and exceed–consumer needs and desires; which I’d say is innovative in its own right.

Engagement and consumer value propositions

Here’s another recent article on the changing consumer landscape regarding brand affinity and marketing. It parallels themes from my Crowds, Hives, Mobs, Swarms post.

The contemporary savvy consumer is seen as someone who combines areas of competency (particularly technological sophistication, network competency and marketing/advertising literacy) with empowerment (especially self-confidence and self-efficacy).

The paper points out that consumers are focused on value in their online interactions: value-for-time, value-for-attention, and value-for-access for their personal information. In searching for this value, consumers have become self confident in utilizing new technologies to filter and control brand-centric messaging. Additionally, consumers are by and large comfortable tinkering with new technologies on a trial and error basis as opposed to following a script or reading a manual, which has resulted in mega-brands like Google, iPhone, etc. As other brands attempt to match the success of these mega brands, ad spends are increasing in places like social networks as these brands go for consumer “engagement gold”. But there is a downside.

Organisations that serve consumers, employees and citizens in the world of person-centric commerce will be beneficiaries…but along the way there will be losers and casualties, including some businesses that over-estimate the desire of their consumers for engagement at the expense of offering basic value-for-money.

Accordingly, brands need to account for the differences among consumers and their attendant needs regarding value. These differences fall largely along generational lines, but even these lines are blurred as older consumers learn to adopt new technologies and adapt to novel ways of socializing and networking. In conclusion, the paper posits that despite a brand’s overt focus on highly customized, highly relevant, and highly emotional appeals, these efforts may not be enough to get these customers “involved” with the brand because the consumer landscape is too fragmentized and unstable.

Crowds, Hives, Mobs, and Swarms

Here is a great article discussing intriguing concepts in consumer innovation.

With the diffusion of networking technologies, collective consumer innovation is taking on new forms that are transforming the nature of consumption and work and, with it, society and marketing[.]

The authors argue that marketers should redefine “consumer” as an individual belonging to various creative/collaborative communities (Crowds, Hives, Mobs, and Swarms), where routine information consumption and disgorgement leads to unanticipated insights and innovations.

The authors define Crowds as large groups organized around a specific purpose or goal that disbands at the completion of the goal. The authors state that an example of Crowd innovation is the Frito-Lay Super Bowl Doritos advertising competition “Crash the Super Bowl”.

Crowds tend to emphasize a particular project, or bounded set of projects. They are organized, focused, and purposive. They are centered on the achievement of a particular objective, after which they usually disband.

The authors define Hives as groups formed to reach a specific goal; these groups are typically small in size but high in skill (e.g., the authors point to the open source community as an excellent example of a Hive, with its attendant focus on fostering innovation but creating a creative commons licensing struture to prevent corporations from gaining a hegemony over innovation within the community).

Usually Hive sites have many different forum topics including sections for expert talk, exhibiting creations, and/or providing downloads.

Mobs are defined by their singular focus on a specialist topic, providing targeted expertise solely to that topic. The authors point out single fathers, registered massage therapists, or nineteenth-century coin collectors as Mobs.

[The Mob’s] specific focus lends them particular value, especially to marketers who are able to capitalize on the value of segmentation, and the insights that come from understanding the unique needs of various segments.

Swarms involve communities engaging in mass behavior where individual contribution may be low but aggregate (output) value is high. The authors categorize Swarm behavior along four vectors: hyperlinking (think Google page rank), creating a “nation” of consumers so vast and complex it cannot be easily duplicated (eBay), ranking and rating (ala Amazon), and finally tagging (

[H]ighly adaptive and complex solutions can emerge when large numbers of slightly diverse individuals with different expertise follow simple rules in pursuit of their objectives.

It is the convergence of childlike play, adult rules, passionate fandom, and serious work that make these communities so intriguing to marketers.

In an attempt to overcome the utilitarian notion of work and creativity, many of these [new types of consumers] reaestheticize their creations and re-enchant creative labor in a way that is not typically found in the many mundane jobs which the typical industrial and postindustrial information economy offers[.]

But therein lies the difficulty in trying to “study” or “tap into” or “utilize” these groups; that is, the authors point out that a Mob can spin off into a Crowd, which can turn into a Swarm, etc, a process the authors label as “Elicitation-Evaluation” (i.e., inducing a Mob to create something, like Frito-Lay’s Super Bowl ads, which then spins to a wider audience that rates, ranks, and tags submissions, which then distills a “winner”, but then disbands to go participate elsewhere). It’s more like trying to manipulate an amoeba rather than command nanotechnology.

Nevertheless, the end result, the authors argue, is a serious organizational network with roots in medieval craft guilds, art studios, and organized work networks with four implications for marketers: (1) marketers should address Crowds, Hives, Mobs, and Swarms differently, (2) marketing managers need to think of themselves and their brands as a thread in an ongoing communal tapestry, (3) these communities should be considered as fiscal partners in product/service innovation, and (4) companies need to understand that these communities operate as powerful counterbalances to corporations perceived to be acting unethically, irresponsibly, and abusively (e.g., see Google search steak and shake and look for “A Deaf Mom Shares Her World: Steak and Shake Denies Service” about position three).