"Read odd stuff. Look anywhere for ideas." Tom Peters
Chris Brogan has been blogging since 1998—it was called "journaling" at the time. Thus, he's a ten-year veteran of social media for both web and mobile technologies, which he uses to build digital relationships for businesses, organizations, and individuals. Chris speaks, blogs, writes articles, and makes media of all kinds at chrisbrogan.com, and his blog is in the top 100 on Technorati. He recently became president of New Marketing Labs, where he runs the Inbound Marketing Summit events (with CrossTech Media) and Inbound Marketing Bootcamp educational events.
He works with large and mid-sized companies to improve online business communications like marketing and PR through the use of social software, community platforms, and other emerging web and mobile technologies. Chris won the Mass High Tech All Stars award for thought leaders for 2008. He has been quoted in US News & World Report, the Montreal Gazette, Newsweek, and more.
His book, written with Julien Smith, is coming out in August. It's called Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust.
[Bio adapted from ChrisBrogan.com.]
tompeters.com asks ...
Seth Godin told Tom Peters that you're an up-and-coming guru. Your blog site states,
"Chris Brogan advises businesses, organizations, and individuals on how to use social media and social networks to build relationships and deliver value." What does that mean?
CB: There's a whole new set of tools out there that are different than what was available at the advent of the Internet. To me, they are every bit as impactful as the telephone was over a hundred years ago and as email was 25 years ago. These are the new forms of presence. We're not relegated to voice, as with a telephone. We're not relegated to text on the page, as with email. We can now add video. We can now add all kinds of different media in different formats and interactive styles.
A blog is like a conversation or a blog is like a podium. Something like Twitter is more like multi-streaming conversations, one-to-many or one-to-one as the mood fits. It goes far beyond what instant messaging was doing in the 1990s. Blogs go far beyond what websites were in the 1990s. This new technology gives us wonderful opportunities to build business relationships and other kinds of relationships because it really gives people a whole new set of means and tools by which to have a conversation.
You're speaking from the viewpoint of a marketer, or from an organization that's producing something—be it an idea or a widget or a service—and would want to speak out to the people who might be interested in purchasing or acquiring that thing?
CB: Not necessarily. My background before getting involved in this space was almost entirely in technology. I worked with internal teams in organizations, dealing with collaboration and project management. I did projects where I would be acquiring a company or building a data center that required 15 different departments within the organization to interact. Tools similar to blogs or Twitter were available behind the firewall.
The only thing I'm selling now is support, creation, and content information on how to use these tools to get your business interests met.
You say you've been doing this for ten years or more. What was social media like ten years ago?
CB: I started blogging in 1998. Before that there were bulletin board services. They were allowing one-to-one or one-to-many conversations, but in a serial mode, not a parallel mode. One modem could log on, read all the messages, leave some messages, pick up some files, deliver some files, and then the next person could have their turn. If you were really fancy back then, in the '80s, you had a multi-phone line bulletin board service, but that was it.
In 1998, blogging was called journaling. It didn't have RSS. It didn't have comment platforms. It didn't have anything to allow much of a two-way conversation. Someone said something and everybody else read it and maybe linked to it.
CB: His name is Victor D. Lavalle. He wrote a book of fiction called Slapboxing With Jesus. Before 9/11, I was writing a lot of fiction and using my site to share short stories, ideas, and thoughts that were inspiring me. Victor was one of the first people that, when I reached out and gave him credit for what I loved about his book—he was an up and coming author—he struck up a conversation. When my daughter was born, a gift arrived from him. This is a guy I've yet to meet face-to-face. These tools allow you to form new kinds of relationships.
The dogma is all around authenticity and transparency. In real, basic terms, these tools allow people to feel like they understand you a little better. There's now a whole new suite of tools across multiple technologies that facilitate some level of knowledge, awareness, understanding, and acceptance before a handshake has even happened.
Twitter and Facebook—let's go back to the high school essay—compare and contrast for a newbie to social media.
CB: Twitter is much more lightweight than Facebook. The barrier to entry is so much smaller. You can use a cell phone to do it. You can use a desktop computer. You can use any Web browser in the world. There are multiple ways to get a conversation going. So that's the first point, that it's very easy for the masses to make messages go back and forth.
It's restrictive in the same way that a haiku or a sonnet is restrictive and makes interesting poetry. Twitter's restriction is that you're allowed 140 characters or less to answer the question, "What are you doing?" I tell people to re-write that question to, "What has your attention?" because that answer is almost always more interesting. Twitter is just a faster one-to-many platform. Biz Stone, one of its founders, often calls it a multi-modal messaging platform. It allows you to talk back and forth with "friends" or you can read what they have to say and just stalk.
Facebook is a lot richer in its interaction opportunities. There are games, videos, small message spaces called walls, and an internal email system. Facebook allows you to express a lot more personality and have more presence. You can join groups in Facebook. Twitter, at least in its raw form, doesn't have a grouping feature; there are either people you follow or people you don't. Facebook allows you to pare that down into, "I belong to this group of people who like to talk about innovation and change," or, "I belong to this group of people who like to talk about beer." Facebook allows a far more robust level of interaction.
Yet the reason I think Twitter wins out more often, at least for me and how I use it, is because Twitter is so simple and streamlined. It's just so elegant in what it does and it doesn't take as much time investment. I don't have to go so deep to get the lay of the land, to understand what people are talking about. It's far more point-to-point in how I want to make conversations, whereas Facebook requires almost a three- or four-course dining experience.
You say the barrier to entry in Twitter is lower. I suppose that's true technically. However, when I started using Twitter it seemed like such a mess. I didn't see any connections between what was going on. Once you jump in and start getting some followers and following people, then all of a sudden, some of these conversations actually start connecting. It's a little bit like putting together a runaway crossword puzzle.
CB: That's an interesting way to look at it. I would say that if we go back to Internet 1.0 terms, Twitter is a lot more like IRC [Internet Relay Chat] meets Usenet, whereas Facebook is the new AOL. AOL worked perfectly for the masses because it was laid out simply and showed you what to do. Twitter requires you to erect your own network. It's free form, but as you say, far more chaotic.
I'm not sure if it's because of the people I'm following, but it seems that more business is happening on Twitter than is happening on Facebook. Facebook seems as if it's what people would do in the evening. It's more hobbyist, whereas Twitter is this thing that's going on all day long. This is work. This is people hustling and bustling. Some say it's a complete waste of time, but there's a dynamism and energy there. I think some real ideas are getting moved about and acted on.
CB: I quite agree. Look at the news: Twitter reported Mumbai's problems far faster than any other platform. I'm told Twitter is reporting earthquakes now faster than geological surveys. The difference is that scientists have to go over and check some machine and say, "Oh, I think there was a shock," whereas people who are experiencing it tweet [post a message on Twitter] about the shock, and then it's sprawled because people who live in those areas want to retweet that message and make a point about it.
I was in New Orleans during Mardi Gras. A gentleman reported that there were shots fired on XYZ Street. So I retweeted that message to my 50,000-plus followers, figuring that some percentage of them could be down in that area. All levels of communication are happening on the same platform, international, national, local, and ridiculously hyper-local. So yes, there's chaos.
To your point about dynamism, Twitter reacts and sways and moves much more like a loosely gathered organism than does Facebook. Facebook is set up with firm use cases in mind. It's like a toy gun versus a box of Legos.
What kind of tool is Twitter for you?
CB: Twitter is a lot of things. It's an attention director. I can say, "I'm really excited about this piece written by Sarah Perez from ReadWriteWeb about the Internet of things." That'll give more traffic to Sarah and point out where good ideas are happening. Twitter is a promotional tool that allows me to say, "I'm going to be at this conference. If you're there, I'd like to meet up with you." It books a lot of my appointments, if not all my appointments, for business. Twitter helps me never eat alone.
I was planning a trip to Amsterdam, and I have an iPhone. So I tweeted, "I don't know if it'll work or not." Someone answered my question. Twitter has replaced Google for me with most of my searching because I'd much rather have a human concierge level of search than to have to sort through the pages of Google results for a small factoid.
How does being on Twitter turn into work for you?
CB: I'm a little different in that this is also my medium. I'm helping organizations use the same tools that I'm using all day. Let's pretend we're a software company. Most software companies now have support on Twitter so that you can ask them a question there.
The other day, Nova Spivak, the creator of the software platform called Twine, said, "If you know somebody on Twitter that you think really should use Twine, post their Twitter user name and we'll send a direct message to them from your account saying, 'You should come use Twine.'"
Well, I have a lot of followers. I got a lot of those messages all sent in a row and it felt like I was being spammed. I got a little hot under the collar and complained about it. Nova suddenly has a PR problem because someone with a huge following—me—is saying he doesn't like what they're doing. Nova had to respond quickly. I would've given him points if he'd responded the same day. He responded in less than an hour. That's pretty fast. It's not that it has to be that fast, but boy, what a difference it makes to the story. I mean, he went from having a really angry customer telling a large audience he's horrible to driving some awareness because people said, "Wow, that's really cool that he did that. I think I'll check out this app." His subscriptions actually went up as a result.
He convinced you that he'd fixed it?
CB: He changed the code at my request. I got him to shift his opinion, which has nothing to do with the fact that I'm influential. It has everything to do with the fact that people are using these tools to listen and build relationships that are not public relations-controlled.
Twitter is now public relations, customer service, and many other things. Frank Eliason [www.twitter.com/ComcastCares], fields customer service issues that used to go through the phone tree. He's grown from a staff of one guy who tried it as an experiment, to ten employees now doing the job.
All via Twitter.
CB: Yes. And it's turning out to have an impact. Dell is using it very heavily. There are 40 to 60 Dell employees using Twitter. They have a few robotic feeds that are actually booking retail sales by saying things like, "We accidentally have an extra 200 Latitude laptops, so we're going to drop the price to $298 for the next five hours," and they're selling them like hotcakes. People are opting in to those kinds of feeds. If you're a small business IT manager and your budget's been slashed in 2009, you're thankful that Dell has a Twitter feed that's launching that at you.
John Andrews from Wal*Mart deserves some credit because, in the last ice storm in Arkansas, he was on Twitter fielding questions, as Wal*Mart was one of the first responders with goods and services.
You said you have 50,000-plus followers. What does that mean?
CB: As of March of '09, 55,000 people have chosen to receive my updates. Anytime I post something there, when they log into their Twitter accounts, 55,000-plus people see it. I'm growing at a rate of four to seven hundred followers a day, which isn't as much as some of the top Twitterers. Justine Ezarik who goes by iJustine, is adding almost 2,000 users a day.
Okay. But what does it mean?
CB: It means that many people are opting in to understand what I'm talking about, what I'm interested in. They're finding some kind of synergy with my messaging. They're saying, "Wow, Chris finds interesting resources for us. Chris brings us interesting ideas. We'll listen to him and we'll forgive him when he talks about being on a plane or complains about his sandwich." I can do this on Facebook, as well, by using their status update feature. On Twitter, I might say anything from, "Boy, I have to pee," to talking about the Internet of things and what it's going to be like when your car pulls into the driveway and the RFID chip tells your fans to turn on.
With that many followers, do you have a different sense of responsibility for what you say? If you just had a few followers, you could say whatever the hell you wanted. But when you have over 50,000, don't you think twice about saying, "I have to pee?"
CB: You would think I would. With great power comes great responsibility. Yes. But I believe very much in the authenticity angle; I use the same terms on Twitter that I would in person.
From the 1950s to 2000, we were told to not be human. We were told, let's mass mechanize how we communicate in business, the more mass communication, the more likely we'll hit some number. I'm saying that in 2009, you hereby have permission to be a human being all the time and to have a family and a life and blur all those boundaries. Talk like a human being. You can have a business conversation that moves toward a goal. Everything doesn't have to be so loosey-goosey that no one's actually trying to do business, that's not what I'm suggesting.
Having a large audience makes me want to point to other people coming up with great new things. I want to share the stage the way, you know, good legendary musicians do with upcoming talent. I want to try my hardest to use my authority to bring up the better voices that are around me so that it's not just the cult of Chris.
The beauty of these tools is that we gather around each other and share ideas. It's as Socratic as we've ever had it to date in the technology space.
Tell me about the currency of attention and trust.
CB: Absolutely. So if I am in a situation where I have your attention, I hope that I'm delivering some value to you. Attention as a currency means that there's only a finite amount of time in the day. I'm probably not going to evaluate your product if it's just the same as 17 other products. But I might if a friend of mine who really loves it tells me something about it. I tend to do a lot more of my buying now by recommendation than I ever do by research. We're drowning in a sea of information and starving for the parts that we need to know.
If I say to you, "Wow, I just rediscovered Canadian Club as a drink. My grandparents used to drink it. Because of their most recent ad campaign, I tried some just for fun. I actually like it. I've been ordering it at a lot of bars," you'll say, "Huh, maybe I'll try it some time."
If I then say, "They gave me 20,000 bucks to say that," I've put a hole in your trust. Because I sounded pretty genuine, but then I changed the context. When I talk about the currency of trust, that's also true. If I'm going to do something for money, it's required that I disclose it. For example, if I review a product, I'll always be clear to say that somebody sent me this product to review. If I'm supporting a client, I'm always very upfront about the client part of that, and say, "I happen to like this client. I believe in this client. And, by the way, I'm really getting a kick out of using their product." It's baseline stuff, but it's something that's slipped a lot, somewhere between the '80s and the mid-2000s.
It sure did. I've noticed that many people don't have a clear awareness of the importance of disclosing conflicts of interest.
CB: Right. I think this trend will get even worse. What's bolstering it is an air of transparency. We all have Google, camera phones, Twitter, and all these tools that allow us almost an immediacy of data. There's a way to rip things faster to the truth.
As a blogger, am I a journalist? The answer is no. A journalist is a journalist. Blogging is a tool. A blogger may act as a reporter, but that doesn't mean that anyone's adhered to journalistic principles. In newspapers, there's a huge, hard wall between editorial and advertising. I say that with a little bit of my tongue in my cheek because we all know that no one's ever going to rip a hole in their biggest advertiser. There's going to be conflict of interest. But you've got to be able to cry that you're editorial and that you don't care.
CB: Well, guess what? All the journalists are getting fired. Not their fault. Ads aren't selling anymore in papers. So sorry. These really skilled, amazing writers can go out and start a blog for ten bucks or less and bring their quality writing onto the Web, and not have to answer to the bureau chief anymore. The only problem is, if they actually want to make a living doing that, they have to sell ads or something. They have to sell something and become sales and editorial at the same time. Congratulations. You've just graduated into a huge conflict of interest that you now have to self-manage.
So if you look at ChrisBrogan.com/about, you see a huge list of disclosures and disclaimers, and all kinds of places where I say, "This surely should be in your mind if you're reading about me." The people who host my blog are listed there and the products anyone's ever given me of any value that I've chosen to review are all listed there. I wanted to be clear from the start that if there's any level of potential impropriety, that I've already put it out in front of you to decide for yourself how that impacts what you think.
Here's an example. A few years ago, Nikon sent a bunch of influential bloggers Nikon D80 digital cameras. All they had to do was use the cameras and they were obligated to disclose that Nikon had sent them the cameras. After a few months, they were allowed to purchase the cameras at a journalistic price rate. Similar projects have always gone on in mainstream media, but this was one of the first big ones for bloggers. Everyone cried foul. Everyone used the term blogola. How could anyone write anything bad about Nikon if they were, in fact, being given a camera to use and they were going to get to buy the camera for cheap?
Nikon paid attention to some of the edgier points of the argument, adjusted a little bit, and then did the same thing again with the D60 campaign, a short while after. Every time anyone ever said to me, "Hey, cool camera," I'd say, "Thanks. Nikon gave it to me to try out." It always felt a little awkward in random conversations but it seemed like the right thing to do.
More of that's going to happen, and it will impact the currency of attention and trust. If I'm a guy who goes to 50-plus conferences a year, I'm in front of a lot of people with that product in my hand. So, all of a sudden, it's like a celebrity endorsement. I know that I have an audience that matters to me, so it becomes a burden to me not to ever put some product in my hand for any company that I wouldn't support wholeheartedly.
It's interesting to see the responsibility for integrity moving from the corporate to the individual. This isn't a company decision where you're backed up by a boss. You're an individual in the world. There's nothing to fall back on. Your own integrity matters. And when there's no one to fall back on, people tend to do the right thing.
CB: Absolutely. But listen, this is Tom's fault. I'm a product of The Brand You50, and The Professional Service Firm50. I've got Re-imagine! on my bookshelf. He said, "Go out and start your own company." I did. "Go out and be your own guy." I did. But to your point about it falling back on the individual and doing the right thing, it also means I don't have legal counsel unless I pay for it. As far as ethics are concerned, it's a whole new world. This is why Julien Smith and I are writing a book called Trust Agents. Trust and attention are important in a new way.
Even big companies need to become what I call café-shaped in how they integrate. Microsoft got a new lease on life because Robert Scoble became their voice in 2005. He was able to say negative things about them and it humanized the company. Dell has Lionel Menchaca. Zappos has Tony Hsieh. Tony makes a point of getting out in front of people. This is a world where personal brand is tied to the integrity of an organization. There are a lot of people making a lot of noise. But there are people who are standing right up in front of their companies and saying, "Here I am. I'm the right person."
Exactly. Chris, thank you for your time.
CB: Thank you so much. This was a whole lot of fun.
Email: chris (at) – chrisbrogan (dot) com