A month ago I crowdsourced questions here and on Twitter for the instructors at BDW’s Making Digital Work workshop.
We settled on five.
How do we get clients to embrace more innovative work?
What can we learn from software startups?
Do agencies have a role in social media?
How do we stop the talent drain?
What kind of people should we hire?
Here are the answers from my good friends and teachers Matt Howell, Gareth Kay, Kim Laama, Tim Malbon, Sheena Matheiken, Scott Prindle and John Winsor.I weigh in, too.
Some of my favorite soundbites:
Matt Howell on innovation: If we’re serious about selling more progressive work we have to get serious about investing in prototyping, showing how something works and how you’d interact with it.
Gareth Kay on social media: One of the biggest problems with social media is that people are too focused on the media part of social media instead of on the social part.
Sheena Matheiken on software inspiration: Developers in general, especially the creatively inclined ones, are such doers. They just create stuff. They don’t sit around and noodle. They make and prototype.
Tim Malbon on software inspiration: Try not to treat what you’re trying to make like a piece of traditional media. It doesn’t need to be designed massively up front. It can be cruder; it can be quicker.
John Winsor on retaining talent: Traditionally agencies are siloed. The creative department stands on a pedestal. The account people are there to serve them. Strategy is somewhere in between. But great ideas come from everywhere so you need to set up a system that accepts that great ideas come from everywhere.
Scott Prindle on hiring: The core quality is an entrepreneurial spirit. Someone who is passionate about the digital space, maybe someone who thought about being in start-up. They have to come into the into the agency and quickly generate ideas and move things forward.
One thing about all of these folks is that they’re willing to share. Ideas, advice, insights. Take a look and connect with them on Twitter. It will be worth it. Thanks for stopping by.
It was a year and a half ago when we (Mullen) launched The Next Great Generation. The idea was simple: practice a bit of crowdsourcing, experiment with online publishing, recruit young talent to the agency, create an opportunity for Gen-Y to speak its mind rather than be spoken for by all the marketers, planners and researchers who claimed to know about this generation.
We didn’t really know what we were doing, but what the hell. This was the new age of media. We didn’t have to have anything figured out. We could figure it out as we went along. Iterate. Pivot. (Pick your buzzword.)
In the beginning we thought we’d provide a window into the world of Millennials through which brands and marketers could peek and learn. We (Mullen) might get some credit, prove that we knew this generation, and maybe even snag a client or two. Fail. No young writer wanted to post a “let us tell you old folks about our generation” article in order that marketers could better figure out how to sell to or engage with 20-somethings.
Instead it turned out that the editors, writers and readers wanted to connect with each other. Share thoughts, observations and musings. Support one another’s efforts to get better at writing and developing content. And more importantly, try to build something that might have value and be enduring.
So we (Mullen) did what any smart grown-up ought to do. We got the hell out of the way. Alex Pearlman (she), a young editor right out college showed up and took over. She recruited editors, set up an editorial calendar, created theme weeks, evaluated writers and took the blog to a new level. Christine Peterson, a recent college grad employed as a social strategist at Mullen managed to find an extra 20 plus hours a week to become community manager — gathering and organizing the “crowd” of writers, suggesting articles, and injecting the project with a never ending supply of passion and enthusiasm.
Then, late last spring, the two of them decided it was time to expand. They contacted The Boston Globe, offered to show the newspaper the opportunity it was missing, and invited the editors to a presentation. And here’s where it got really good. My Gen-Y friends Alex and Christine polled Boston’s Millennials regarding their media habits. They shot and edited man-on-the-street interviews. They did an analysis of the kinds of relationships urban dailies and newsweeklies had with bloggers. And they put together a stand-up dog and pony show (without any help from anyone over 24 I might add) to take to Globe management, including its editor in chief Marty Baron. My favorite line from the presentation: “Our generation doesn’t want ‘the man’ telling us what’s news.” Mr. Baron is, of course, the man. But fortunately he didn’t seem to mind.
Fast forward a few months later. The contract with the Globe’s parent company The New York Times is done. TNGG lives on Boston.com. It will post hyper-local content for the city’s students, recent grads and 20-somethings, covering “what’s going on on-campus, in the clubs and pop-up galleries, in those boardrooms where flip-flops are allowed, and everything in between.”
If things work out, here’s what might happen. TNGG will have taken the first step in a new distribution model that might earn it a larger audience. A slew of young writers and journalists will gain visibility. Boston.com will demonstrate its progressiveness and win over a new generation of readers who might otherwise eschew a mainstream news channel. Alex and Christine will have set an example for young professionals everywhere. New TNGG boston.com editor Angela Stefano will have a really cool job. And I’ll be able to say I knew them all when.
Wish them luck. Become a reader of Boston.com/tngg. And share the links. They get paid based on traffic.
Here’s where we netted out. Thanks to the willing Nick Todd, who shoots and helps edit the videos we do at these sessions, we got eight of the 10 speakers on film answering all five of the questions below. Believe it or not, while many of the answers were consistent, few if any were overly redundant.
It might take a few weeks to get a finished video together, but my instinct tells me you’ll find it both interesting and insightful to hear answers from Matt Howell, Gareth Kay, Tim Malbon, Ben Malbon, John Winsor, Kim Laama, Sheena Matheiken and Scott Prindle when we do.
In the meantime, below are the final questions and a few of the answers.
How can agencies inspire clients to do more innovative work?
Answers ranged from setting up internal labs to experimenting more ourselves. That way we can vet new technologies and platforms and develop ideas that we know will work before taking them to clients. Scott Prindle suggested taking on the role of teacher, educating clients more frequently in what’s possible with all the software, social networks and digital toys coming at us. Others talked about the need to bring inexpensive ideas to the table in hopes of inspiring more experimentation. In short, spread excitement.
What lessons can agencies learn from software companies and start-ups?
As an industry, we no longer look to each other for ideas and inspiration. We draw on Silicon Valley, new social platforms, as well as companies like Google and Apple. If any answers stood out, they were these. Speed is your best friend. Stop perfecting the design of something and get to a Minimum Viable Product quickly by prototyping. Another equally compelling suggestion – stop organizing people around disciplines and put people together by team. It accelerates solving problems.
How can agencies stop the drain of talent to young startups and tech giants?
As we hire more creative technologists and developers, we’re competing with a much broader range of companies. Want to attract and retain people whose goals are to make things that matter? Give them more responsibility sooner. Consider a program like Google’s 20 percent time. Eliminate organizational hierarchy.
Do agencies have a role in executing a brand’s social media when authenticity, transparency and access are the key attributes for good social engagement?
This was the most controversial question. Some participants insisted outright that agencies should have no role. Social media and all the new platforms simply emphasize the diminished need for the middleman. Others vehemently disagreed, suggesting that if agencies master the art of conversation strategy and engagement that they should take the lead. Creativity matters even in the new space and agencies are better prepared to be inventive there than clients might be themselves.
What are the core talents you look for when hiring people who’ll drive change and implement contemporary digital work?
This might be the only real throwaway question, but the answers were still pretty good. Kim Laama wants familiarity with the entire digital landscape. I suggested curiosity and a T-shape. Tim Malbon wouldn’t consider anyone who didn’t have a real social presence. (If you haven’t already connected, interacted, shared and contributed on Twitter forget about working at Made by Many.) Ben Malbon, director of strategy at Google’s Creative Lab had my favorite answer. “I’m less interested in people who use technology and more interested in people who want to create it.”
Eventually we’ll have more thorough answers on film. In the meantime, thanks for joining in.
I’m taking questions. Starting tomorrow I spend three days with some of the smartest people I know at Boulder Digital Works where we’re conducting another Making Digital Work workshop.
This time around we have the usual suspects –Matt Howell of Arnold; Gareth Kay from Goodby; Tim Malbon who hails from Made by Many in the UK; Scott Prindle of Crispin; and Kim Laama who joins us from AKQA– but we have some newcomers, too, including Ben Malbon, BDW board member and director of strategy at Google Creative Lab; Sheena Matheiken, who founded the Uniform Project; and Will McGiness, creative chief at Venables Bells and Partners. Plus, back for his second visit, Daniel Stein, founder of EVB.
Virtually everyone of the presenters is either a company founder or c-level executive. And all of them have been creating, leading, or initiating digital work for a long time.
I thought it might be fun to crowdsource a set of questions we can ask everyone. For example:
What do you see as the next emerging digital or social trend?
What’s broken about the way your company does business?
Will Mesh-type businesses pose a challenge to traditional marketers?
Can ad agencies really learn how to build stuff?
What changes to you plan on making inside your organization over the next year?
What holds your company back from evolving as quickly as it should?
How do you inspire innovation?
If you have anything you’d like to ask us as a group leave your comments here. It might be fun to see if the answers we get back are consistent, different or even contradictory.
I’ll take the five or 10 most provocative or original questions posted here, on Twitter or on Google+ and try and solicit answers from all 10 individuals above. Who knows, you might learn something, or simply conclude that no one knows what’s going on.
“It’s when a technology becomes normal, then ubiquitous, and finally so pervasive as to be invisible, that the really profound changes happen. “
Remember when we talked about social media and mainstream media as two different things? Not anymore. Today, social media is the mainstream media.
True, on Google + we may be talking about the novelty of Google +. And there may only be a few of us puttering around on Percolate or scrolling up and down on Shuush. But despite the never-ending introduction of new social platforms, social media in one form or another has pretty much become everyone’s primary source of content and interaction.
So what does it mean now that we’ve all joined the conversation, mastered the art of engagement and embraced the concept of transparency? Your guess is as good as mine. But one place to start thinking about it might be the following trends.
Influence gets more influential
Initially I thought that Klout was a superficial measurement of influence. And while it still has a way to go – it needs to add Google +, Instagram and others for a start – it represents the next wave in social media marketing: learning to identify and leverage influencers. Already Klout can pinpont influencers by category (sneakers, beer, social media) and geography and help brands connect with them.
Perhaps more telling is the slew of new tools to measure, promote and identify influence. We’ve always had Hubspot, but just this week Edelman launched Blog Level and will no doubt be encouraging clients to use it.
As marketers begin seeking out such influencers it’s only inevitable that more individuals strive to become one. And why not? It’s easier than ever to share expertise, whether blogging, tweeting or answering questions on Quora. And as marketers covet your connections, you’ll benefit further from the validation.
If you’re a marketer you should be developing relationships with all the influencers who can use your product and invite them to play a role in marketing it. If you’re an individual with any specific area of knowledge, share it, engage, build a following and raise your score. It could help with everything from making a few bucks to getting a job.
Individuals are the new filters
We, as individuals, organize the people we follow into columns on Tweetdeck. We place them into specific circles on Google +. We use them to filter the content that comes into our lives. We create our own magazines with Flipboard and Pulse. And eventually (see below on the stream beyond real time) we’ll search, using our categories of friends, for recommendations from their past likes, shares and posts. The challenge of course is how any brand or marketer maintains some degree of control over what it stands for as it passes through those individual filters. We all remember what happens in the first grade exercise where a message gets whispered from one end of the room to another. It comes out as something entirely different than when it started.
For brands and marketers, it’s more important than ever not only to stand for something clear and simple (Zappos and happiness; Jet Blue and service) but to assure it gets passed on and represented accurately (if that’s even possible) by consumers. Clarity will become more essential, along with behavior and tools that mirror what you claim to stand for.
Content generation and sharing gets even easier
Percolate makes it easier to blog by giving users content based on their interests. Instagram has enabled anyone, including the vocabulary-impaired, to fill the stream and attract attention with quickly generated and easily doctored images. Pinterest, a visual bookmarking service has a social component to it that makes it a little like Tumblr, the latter now more popular than WordPress.
What this means, of course, is that more people will generate more content than ever. As they do the stream will rapidly become a waterfall of never ending, rarely memorable digital bits, making it even harder to stand out, get remembered or inspire enagement. I recently saw someone tweeting about how they had abandoned their nightly hour of television to scroll through their Instagram feed instead. He found the images and imagined stories behind them more interesting than network programming.
For those of us in the business of attention and engagement, we’ll find it harder to be noticed. We might get on the radar for a moment or two, but the real trick will be mastering the network effect and getting more people to generate content for us. Quantity as well as quality may be our friend. Burberry has 55,000 followers on Instagram, but if 25 percent of them also generated content and used a hashtag calling attention to the brand it would be even more valuable.
The stream moves beyond the moment
I don’t know about you, but I miss 90 percent of what flows through my social networks. Going back and filtering or discovering stuff that might be genuinely meaningful is hard right now. I can save a tweet, or throw a link into Trunkly, but what if next month I want to search what the 10 top creative directors have shared as links over the past month? What if I want to know what new books have been liked more times by my trusted Facebook or Google + friends?
These capabilities are coming. New platforms like Postpo.st, while still buggy, could make Twitter a far more valuable resource. I know one company in particular that will soon turn Facebook likes into real social currency. When that happens, we will all have more reasons to encourage social response to our products and content.
Wondering what the value of a “Like” is now? Imagine what happens when it becomes a searchable source of recommendations. Don’t think it matters what someone says about you on Twitter a day or two later? Think again. For marketers it means sharpening your engagement and content strategy with an understanding of the long term value of a Like or a +1 along with learning to earn rather than buy them, ideally from people whose influence is meaningful.
C2C rivals B2C as Mesh-type businesses proliferate
We have too narrow a definition of crowdsourcing if we think it’s about soliciting cheap content. Its real value comes from the new platforms that encourage sharing. Sharing tools, apartments, cars and more. If you haven’t checked out Airbnb, (or read Lisa Gansky’s bookz The Mesh) do so. Sure you can find the exotic igloo in Greenland, but there’s a room with your name on it in just about any city.
Fueled by environmental concerns, economic realities and the possibilities of the web this trend is just starting to take off. It will inevitably grow and affect lots of businesses, from car companies to hotels, bicycle manufacturers and toolmakers. And if my familiarity with Gen Y is any indication, there will be an entire generation more open to this way of living and sharing than either Gen X or Boomers.
Brands should create their own versions of these networks. It may be too late for a credit card company to invent Groupon or for a camera maker to think up Instagram. But if you’re a business paying attention to what social media is doing (care to share your breast milk?) then you’re thinking about how to create new business models yourself.
There’s a consistency across all of these thoughts. And it’s this. The individual –content generator, media force, smartphone toter, uber-connector – is driving the bus. She is influencing, searching, producing, accessing, connecting and deciding with more control than ever before. Time to move beyond the basics of social media and learn to be even more creative in the new spaces.
Thoughts? Other trends – personal data, images, visualization – you think are as or more important? Please share.