I signed up when it first came out but didn’t use it much as none of my social friends were there yet. Now it seems everyone’s posting. Even though I’ve only followed a select group of folks (it’s a lot of images to look at if you follow hundreds) I have in my feed their breakfast, lunch, dinner, meetings, architecture, furniture, reading materials and whatever other everyday tsotskes they find across the table, out the window or overhead. And I’ve been doing the same. Publishing everything from chairlift views to close ups of appetizers. And why not? It’s a fast, fun and easy way to share where you are, what you’re doing and whom you’re doing it with.
But it strikes me that the real reason Instagram has taken off is that it provides us with the illusion of creativity. The brilliance of Instagram is that it lets us snap a most ordinary photograph and instantly “art it up” with one of 15 filters. It gives us the sense that we are better photographers than we actually are. We don’t have to do anything other than point our iPhone at the most mundane of subjects. Early Bird, Hefe, Sutor, Toaster and their fellow filters do the rest. We think that we are creating, expressing, being clever. But as Douglas Rushkoff might remind us, we’re simply being programmed. Told by this app what constitutes an image. Just as we’ve been told by Facebook what defines an online profile, a digital friend, or an endorsement. Just as we’ve been told by Tumblr the new format for a blog post.
Don’t get me wrong. I really like Instagram. Often an image is a much better way to share an idea, a place or an enviable experience than is a check-in or 140 character soundbite. But we should remain cautious of just how much we let all the new social apps and platforms dictate what we produce and how we communicate.
Instagram or its competitor Picplz may or may not be here to stay. Twitter could take them both out. But the idea of posting images in the stream, in a more socially conducive manner than Flickr or even Facebook allows, is here to stay. Which means you may have to endure (or not) a little visual clutter coming from my direction. I make no claims to being a photographer, but if you want, you can find me out there as edwardboches. If you’re a better shooter than I, perhaps I’ll follow you back. (Smile.)
Based on my recent time at the University of Oregon and my current email stream, it’s the time of year when college seniors only have one thing on their minds. Finding a job. It’s no surprise that most kids wait until their final semester to begin a serious search. But waiting that long could be a disadvantage.
Finding that first gig isn’t simply like launching a campaign for oneself, it’s more like a new business pitch. The former calls for research, planning, strategy, and creative. (Remember Alec Brownstein?) But the latter also demands building the kind of relationships that put you on someone’s radar much earlier in the timeline.
We now live in an age when that’s easier to do than ever. Social media eliminates barriers between students and professionals. It allows students to achieve a level of visibility previously impossible. It even enables opportunities to demonstrate intelligence, initiative, determination, responsibility and creativity (the five qualities every employer wants) long before it’s time to send off that digital resume or link to the website.
Rather than answer all the emails I get individually, here are five things every college student should start doing before his or her senior year.
Use Twitter to establish relationships
This is the easiest thing in the world to do. For example, if you want to be a planner or strategist, find planners and strategists to follow (hint: you can start with @garethk, @saneel, @mikearauz, @faris, @andjelicaaa). Pay attention to what they talk about and share. See who influences them. Look for ways to engage. Share links that will add value to their conversations. Or simply get smart by understanding what they consider to be trends and content worth paying attention to. Don’t pitch them or ask for favors. Prove yourself first. Five years ago you wouldn’t be able to get 10 minutes of their time without a major effort. Today you have an open invitation to connect. Take advantage of it.
Build something (or at least say something)
It goes without saying that the first thing many prospective employers will do is “Google” you. They’ll look at the content you’ve generated, explore your online presence, and see who you interact with. Other than looking at your creative portfolio that is the surest way for them to see what you’ve done. So at the minimum establish an online presence. (That doesn’t mean Facebook.) Create something original and put it out there. It can be a blog, video content, Twitter stream, or an original website or service. Demonstrate that you know how to use all the new tools available to you. Finally, as far as your blog goes, do something more than simply post things you’ve discovered or found amusing. Too many students simply share or report rather than develop a voice and a point of view. The latter is harder, but it will help you stand out.
Challenge people you respect
You can kiss ass all you want. And that may actually flatter some people, but no one I’d ever want to work for. I would much prefer you challenge me. Call me out. Disagree. Interestingly, after a week of talking, teaching, and lecturing at University of Oregon, I saw lots of posts that reported back what I had to say, but not one that claimed I was full of shit, or only got it half right, or neglected to acknowledge certain key facts, or presented only one side of an argument. I’m not suggesting you be a pompous ass or disrespectful when you’re challenging people you may want to work for some day. But my guess is the best of the best will welcome and respect an opposing view. It shows courage. (That’s another quality employers might want.)
Offer your valuable services
You have more to offer right now than you think. You have access to dozens, if not hundreds, of students and Gen-Yers, both of whom are coveted as consumers. I bet you could easily find an agency, a planning director, or a client who’d love access to those students and what they’re thinking. Why not offer your services as a researcher, a planner, or a videographer? Find an agency with clients who are interested in the community in which you live and see if there’s a way in which you can provide insights or content. The initiative you get to show and the opportunity it might offer for you to take on a project and generate content would both demonstrate that you have those desirable qualities mentioned above.
Write for TheNextGreatGeneration.com
OK, this is a plug for a Gen-Y blog that I incubated last year. But there’s value in having your content and writing be more visible than you can make it yourself. And there’s also advantages to finding a tribe of like-minded young journalists, SoMe types and creatives who can all help each other develop their skills and make introductions. Mullen has hired at least four or five students who used TNGG as a platform from which to showcase their talents. And a number of others students who wrote or edited for the blog found the experience paid off with both increased confidence and in some cases job offers. There are other options out there that offer the same kind of benefits — experience, community, connections.
The lines everywhere are blurring. Between brands and customers. Between media and readers. Between professionals and amateurs. Why not between students and employers? College kids these days have more opportunities than ever to reach into the world that awaits.The ambitious ones are taking advantage of them.
Photo by Jack Liu
Last week Ken Olsen, the brilliant entrepreneur and founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, passed away. He was 84. I had the privilege of meeting him a few times. We were Digital’s ad agency in its declining years. And I started my career working for Data General, another minicomputer giant founded by ex-Digital engineers.
Olsen was the visionary who realized that mainframe computers needed to come out of the back room and into the lab and office. That foresight launched a $12 billion dollar company that defined high-tech for two decades. But despite his early prescience, Ken Olsen failed to anticipate or even acknowledge the personal computer. In fact he insisted that no one would ever need a computer in his home. And of course the rest is history.
In our industry — advertising, marketing and media — there is no shortage of innovators who subsequently lost out to the next innovation. Why? Like Ken Olsen, they had a tendency, as well as a need, to focus on the business at hand. There were numbers to make, deadlines to meet, work to produce, clients to serve, awards to win. Of course this short-term mindset — a focus on current clients, an obsession with known competitors rather than emerging foes, and a determination to leverage existing competencies instead of developing new ones — was a deterrent to preparing for the future.
Granted predicting what’s next is impossible. But if we’re paying attention, we can certainly see a number of trends — a diminished reliance on messages, the emergence of networked storytelling, and the growing importance of real time information are but a few. They suggest we’ll need a host of new skills even if we’re not yet sure what we’ll need those skills to do. Design thinking, modern collaboration, a mastery of new tools and technologies might help us stay relevant and #buildshit that matters.
In addition to learning new stuff, we may also want to forget much of what we already know so that we can invent the future in what’s referred to as Box 3 — a virtual place and mindset where we can escape linear thinking, take a leap and create something original without any of the people or processes from Box 1, which is where we conduct our day to day business.
At Mullen we actually think about this stuff. So above I’ve shared a deck from a recent management offsite where I talked about the trends that will affect our business and some of the ways we might deal with them. Would love any thoughts you have on ways to keep an organization from becoming another Digital Equipment Corporation.
photo credit: Yunghi Kim/Globe Staff/File 1988
Thought I’d share some of these here — some content from a keynote, a lecture and a TEDx talk at the University of Oregon.
The first deck, The End of Us and Them, is a modified version of a previous presentation I’ve given. It reflects the changing media landscape, from a time when a few controlled all, to the new landscape in which billions have become media participants. People are starting movements, casting new business models, hi-jacking brands, even launching revolutions. As marketers we need a new mindset; as individuals we need new skills.
Suggestions for Strategists should be self-explanatory. Posted about it previously, but this is the complete deck.
Finally, here’s a condensed version of a TEDx talk I gave in Portland. Those of us in the marketing and communication businesses have spent most of our time and talent marketing other people’s products to other people’s audiences with other people’s money. But with a billion dollar infrastructure now available to us all, we have the means to do something for ourselves. Whether it’s setting inept companies straight, calling them out when they deserve to be called out, or actually pursuing something more responsible. Like raising money for potable water, inspiring the unemployed, encouraging young gay kids to stay hopeful, or creating new, sustainable businesses.
For your viewing pleasure, check out the actual video represented by Slide 22: The Fake Inbox, an idea to promote Discovery Channel’s Most Evil.
To all my friends — John Winsor, Made by Many, Uniform Project, Fearless Revolution — whose content I’ve borrowed for some of these presentations, thank you. And to all the teachers and students at the University of Oregon who made me feel so welcome, my gratitude.
As always, feel free to use anything you find useful.
I return from a week of lecturing, teaching and learning at the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication invigorated and confident about the future. The students I spent time with already embrace the concept of design thinking. They naturally conceive networked solutions. They work even more collaboratively than we do in most advertising agencies.
On the morning of my third day I sat through five stand-up presentations. The assignment: make innovation a movement in America. I have to say I was blown away. No one presented anything remotely resembling an ad or a message. In fact every solution was a platform, an app, a social experience or a community. And more than a few seemed worthy of development and investment. (I offered to put $1000.00 of my own money into one right away so the students could by the URL.)
I wish I could share all the ideas here, but to be honest, some are too good to leak out before the students have a chance to develop them a bit further. But I’ll offer a glimpse.
One team developed a new platform that would encourage corporations to be more innovative (socially, environmentally, economically) by assuring that their products would get rated based on those criteria by consumers everywhere. A new kind of product endorsement based on a company’s behavior if you will.
A second team incorporated gaming dynamics and reputation management into a new platform that would encourage more young people to learn about causes, charitable organizations and support them with either time or money.
A third found a way to focus on innovation (with a small “i”) by inviting ordinary people everywhere to easily identify challenges, gather suggestions and initiate solutions. It was not unlike Alex Bogusky’s new Common, but at a grass roots level.
The students were nervous, but poised. Their presentations weren’t perfect. And their ideas have a long way to go before they’re marketable or able to be monetized. But something’s happening here. A new generation of advertising, journalism and communication professionals are just starting to emerge from our colleges and universities. They represent the first generation that doesn’t use words like digital or social media. To them everything is digital and social. It’s how they think and create. Our industry needs them. Badly.
In one of the classes I spoke at, taught by Dave Allen of North, the students came up with a hashtag to define what it is that they want to do. They want to #buildshit. Not say stuff. Build stuff. Ideas, technologies and platforms that will take advantage of all that the Internet makes possible. For brands, for users, for society at large. I can’t wait. Hope they come to work for me.
Gigantic thank you to Deb Morrison, Dave Koranda, Dave Allen, Dan Morrison, Dean Gleason, Mark Blaine, Harsha Gangadharbatla, and everyone else who welcomed me so warmly and taught me so much. Special thanks to Richard Ward for sponsoring the Executive in Residence Program.