Are you a writer or a brand?

Are you a writer or are you a brand?

Earlier this week, I wrote about my absence from twitter this month, digging into the “why” of my sudden drop off, after having become a somewhat regular “tweeter.”

Similarly, I was looking at my writing production this month and how it appears to have dropped precipitously. Reflecting on it, as well as some other reading and listening I’ve done in recent weeks, triggers several observations.

It’s not that my total production has dropped off that much; it’s just that I’ve posted a bit more frequently to other blogs, some of which have been internal and/or private. So, for example, I posted in the 2.0 Adoption Community a couple of times, nGenera’s Wikinomics blog a couple of times, on my GovLoop blog, and my “FreshTech Friday” column in Austin Startup.

The reason I post in other blogs is partly because I tend to apply a different editorial focus for each, whether the blog requires it or not. It’s also because, in theory, it widens the audience of people with whom I’m in conversation. However, it’s also occurred to me that it has the potential to diminish one’s “personal brand,” if done without more thought.

I suppose at first blush, this would seem counterintuitive, because you would think that a wider audience from articles posted across multiple blogs and online publications would enhance your brand. But, in an era where the NY Times recently reported the trend where “nearly everyone will publish” eventually, one has to manage your published brand, if you desire a degree of reach and attention from your work.

Wired magazine suggested just how little the value of an undifferentiated writing is worth in this month’s issue, where they dissect at a high level the process of DemandMedia’s automated search/video advertising operation. The pay for headline and article writing is pennies – reflecting the dramatic effect of writer wages arbitrage, at least in one particular niche.

Now, look at the other extreme, illustrated in the same issue of Wired, in the “Mob Rules” article, where the inflection point for Twitter’s explosion in unique visitors aligns with the Ashton Kutcher versus CNN race to a million followers. Now, there’s the power of a personal brand, even when thumbed out in 140-character bursts of celebrity stream of consciousness.

The good news seems to be, if you manage your writing and your brand carefully, it’s worth increasingly more to those that want to leverage it. NPR started a series about information privacy this week, but dug into an interesting sidebar about information as currency. Alessandro Acquisti, an economist at Carnegie Mellon University, says in the report that personal information is almost a kind of currency — something people spend. And, I would offer, accrue if you focus on the brand.

I explored this subject a bit in one of my posts on FreshTech Friday a year ago this time, called “Make ‘Em Pay.” And, I still think there is potential for people to better control their personal information and, even moreso, their opinions and observations – something like MyRealtimeMemoir.com or LiveTimeValue.me, if you will.

We’ll see. In the meantime, time for me to go re-read Sean’s and Alex’s “Brand Communities” research report, which came out earlier this summer. Go grab a copy of the digest, yourself, from nGenera’s website.

Social media MIA

I just noticed last night that I’ve been MIA, i.e., “missing in action,” from twitter for nearly 3 weeks, now, and have hardly noticed!

As I was reflecting on why I had gone for such a long stretch before realizing it, I was reminded of a recent chat with my good friend, Gordon Montgomery. Besides being among the best user experience (U/X) experts I have ever worked with, Gordon is a very astute observer of trends where technology and society intersect.

During our recent chat, to paraphrase a point he was making, Gordon said far too many people – including reporters, analysts, and other trend watchers – tend to overly focus on the “media” part of “social media” while all but ignoring the “social” part of the phrase. In other words, the primary point of social media is to enrich the human social interaction, for those times when we do physically come into contact with one another. In fact, Gordon argued, social media is at its best when it facilitates bringing people together in more meaningful, productive, physical (as opposed to virtual or digital) situations.

So, that key business meeting amongst representatives of different partnering organizations, that gathering of moms & dads of regional girl scouts organizations, that happy hour meet-up or tweet-up of like-minded inventors and entrepreneurs, from 20-to-50 somethings – all are good examples of social media serving its prime directive.

And, when I reflected on my 3-week twitter absence, indeed my direct in-person interactions were way up beyond the normal day-to-day individual and group business meetings, with some of the larger highlights including:

  • I started participating in a 5-week workplace ministries workshop at our church;
  • I took on an assignment to launch a fledgling development effort for a fascinating new sustainability effort that could have a big impact on innovation, called the GreenXchange;
  • I attended the wedding of only the third of many nephews and nieces that are starting to come of age, which turned into a big extended weekend family reunion;
  • I served as a judge for the 3rd annual Clean Energy Venture Summit; and
  • I helped get my parents further situated in Austin, after moving here recently.

Oh and to top it off, I was sick for two work days (a fairly rare occasion) with what I’ve deduced may have been a “light” version of the flu, I hope!

So, upon reflection, the “social” part of life sort of took over, without need of the “media” part. And, I’ll have to confess, I didn’t miss it that much. If anything, life seemed a little less frenetic and a little stressful than it used to be…and that seems to me to be an outcome we can all appreciate.

Super rapid awesome brands

Brands matter. Great brands make a positive difference in cost of sales and in overall company book value. You know that line on the balance sheet called goodwill? The somewhat ephemeral items that compose goodwill are often comprised of things like brand, high performing culture, and other soft items that make the company worth what it’s worth.

Social media, mass collaboration platforms, and other tools of the web 2.0 age have helped amplify brands, both for those that are going to market for the first time looking for ways to accelerate their entry, as well as established big brands that are looking to further reinforce and extend their positioning.

MS20The research team for nGenera’s Marketing & Sales 2.0 program recently completed a study and associated new report on Brand Communities. In the report, for which the research team studied over 100 online communities of big and small brands, there several notable frameworks and lists that provide unique insight on the subject of branded communities. These include:

  • The New Brand Arsenal – chart of 13 elements, comparing a decade ago to today
  • The six ways brand communities create value – advocacy, insight, content, support, perception, and serendipity
  • The FLIRT Model (Blueprint for success): Focus, Language, Incentives, Rules, and Tools
  • Implications for the Future of Marketing
  • The 50-question Readiness Assessment for building and operating a branded community

The process of creating an awesome brand isn’t just for companies with deep pockets. More than ever, one can be extremely efficient with capital, yet rapidly create and launch a brand that makes a powerful statement. One super resource I discovered earlier this year is Brandstack.

brandstack-croppedThe good folks at Brandstack came up with a way to reverse the brand creation process.   Frequently (always?) the entrepreneur must endure a maddeningly prolonged process that starts with their “big idea,” immediately followed by:

  • (a) thinking of a company name
  • (b) vetting it for availability
  • (c) checking for available URLs
  • (d) designing a logo and tagline
  • (e) creating a stationery system, including business cards, letterhead, envelopes or labels,
  • (f) designing the website, etc. etc.  

Brandstack reverses the process.  Designers from around the country (or globe), develop the brands first – including domain names, logos, template websites, and source rights to the IP – and put them up for sale in an open market for the would-be entrepreneur to browse. When the entrepreneur selects one, they can pay the suggested list price or make an offer. 

A clever way, indeed, to launch your very own super, rapid awesome brand.

Why I love /.

Why do I love /. (aka, Slashdot)?   I’ve been a long-time reader of slashdot and have asked myself this question from time to time.  I am a classic lurker (Forrester calls us “spectators”) in the sense that I have never contributed, but am a loyal follower.  Why?  Because it’s like a barcamp run amuck.

I learn something new every time I dive into the fascinating Slashdot headlines that hit my igoogle RSS feed.  Like last Sunday the 19th, I caught this interesting headline:  “Something may have just hit Jupiter”:  http://science.slashdot.org/story/09/07/20/0114250/Something-May-Have-Just-Hit-Jupiter?from=rss.  Then, three days later on Wednesday, the news about the Jupiter hit made the New York Times front page, after being confirmed by NASA. 

What I love about it is the way every discussion entry begins with a bit of news and links to the originating sources.   For example, I picked up a fascinating article about automatic game design months ago that still remains somewhat unique, in my opinion, about shedding light on the critical connection between gaming and learning:   http://togelius.blogspot.com/2008/12/automatic-game-design.html.

But, more often than not, the real magic of Slashdot is the free-for-all that goes on in the discussion thread that extends for pages and pages below the story header.  I find you learn, you laugh, you cringe, and you learn some more.  For example, here is a typical exchange – in this example – answering a PHP web developer’s inquiry regarding taking reasonable steps to protect his websites:  http://it.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=09/02/09/2254232&from=rss

The replies ranged from technical:

OWASP is invaluable for learning the WHY and HOW behind security, but for an amateur, I think the first best thing he could do is apply the Suhosin patch for PHP: http://www.hardened-php.net/ [hardened-php.net]

This lets him worry about the why and how AFTER he’s already closed many of the attack vectors a default PHP install leaves open. Especially if he’s running below 5.2.x.

Furthermore, PHP has been more security focused since 5.01. You can learn a lot about security just by reading the release notes, even if you don’t think you’re learning about security!

For example, the filter_input() function. Instead of doing this:

$phone_number = $_POST[‘phone_number’];

do this:

$phone_number = filter_input(INPUT_POST, ‘phone_number’, FILTER_SANITIZE_STRING);

That simple change applied to all of your $_POST, $_GET (and/or $_REQUEST) look-ups will shut down most of your application-level attacks.

Any PHP developer should learn and ALWAYS use the new Filter features: http://us2.php.net/manual/en/ref.filter.php [php.net]

To the procedural:

It’s a few easy steps that keeps most of the knuckleheads at bay.

Set up your site on a hosting service with automated backups. Dreamhost has a great backup system that can restore your entire site with DB in minutes once it’s been compromised. This will satisfy your client while you figure out how the defacer did his trick. It also puts the burden of OS-level security on them, so any intrusion will be incredibly unlikely to escalate priveleges and purge the logs.

Minimize use of web software packages (forums, blogs, photo galleries, etc.). This will limit your site’s exposure to known exploits when you fail to keep these packages updated. If you must use such a package, edit the paths so that it won’t fall prey to automated script attacks spidering for these packages. This makes upgrades more complex, but it will repel the dumb script kids.

Use .htaccess to ban foreign IPs. Most small-time sites have no need to be visited from overseas IPs. The site you build for a dentist doesn’t need to be accessible to a kid sitting behind a computer in Brazil.

Check your form inputs. Plain and simple.

To the hysterical:

Buy a pony.  [ To which another “slasher” replied:  “I would use the protein.” ]

A last example of why I love Slashdot comes from an article about intellectual property rights, the WTO, and China, wherein there was a vigorous exchange about taxation, open source, the mixing of global politics and finance, and East-West relations. In the end, as so often occurs, after wading through the technical weeds and silly chaff, the discussion ends with some wonderful observations from people who at least claim to have on-the-ground experience in-country.

by Ritz_Just_Ritz (883997) on Wednesday January 28, @12:20AM (#26634721)

I spend a great deal of time in China. The real crux of the problem is that there is a WIDE gulf between the law and enforcement of the law (unless it involves anti-government behavior…then the gulf narrows quickly).

I can easily go to any one of hundreds of locations that I know of (and I’m a damn foreigner) in Beijing and buy openly pirated movies and software. Sure, it is illegal to sell that stuff per the law books, but the government just doesn’t care. And when they make some noise about caring, it’s VERY temporary, the press gets their story and photos, and then it’s back to business as usual.

Government officials are profiting directly from winking at this illicit trade so there’s little incentive for those lower on the totem poles to rock the boat.

It’s not uncommon for the owner of one of these illicit DVD/CD fabs to bring in the relative of some party official in as a “silent partner” to keep the heat off. Welcome to China. Now be quiet and enjoy your 10RMB DVD (complete with fancy packaging and liner notes) that can be had in most subway stations and street corners in Beijing…er…roughly 7% of the price I’d pay at my local Best Buy for the same title in similar packaging…..

[REPLY] by Sanat (702) on Wednesday January 28, @01:30AM (#26635213)

I was a visiting American Scientist during my prolonged stay in China and was the first American that many Chinese seen since the Chiang Kai-shek stuff from the 50’s and 60’s. I traveled some with the president of the American company where I worked (he was American Chinese) and so I had a lot of opportunities to explore many place that most Americans would not be admitted.

I literally traveled from one end of China to another. I am rather a low key guy but because of my title then each Chinese providence would hold a banquet in my honor and so we would drink wu-shing pigu (5 star beer) and a clear liquor that I forget the name of but it was potent… anyway, I found the Chinese to be a most proper group of individuals and were good to their word… except if government was involved then they followed the ticket that was being trailed out… probably for self preservation.

I really enjoyed the people and loved the environment… being raised originally on a farm in Ohio made me understand a lot more than if I was a city slicker. What I did find though was that the average person did what they had to do to get along in life. If it meant duplicating a song or a data file then it was not a problem for them… I must reiterate that their values were neither greater nor less than mine but rather that they did what they had to do to survive in the economy of that era.

Sometimes I wish that I had transferred there permanently. My heart is very similar to that of the typical Chinese individual and they had a warmth that I find missing in today’s life in America.

An anonymous reader writes “The World Trade Organization yesterday released its much-anticipated decision involving a US complaint against China over its protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights.

The US quickly proclaimed victory, with newspaper headlines trumpeting the WTO panel’s requirement that China reform elements of its intellectual property laws. Yet the reality is somewhat different. As Michael Geist notes, “the US lost badly on key issues such as border measures and criminal IP enforcement, with the international trade body upholding the validity of China’s laws.”

And that, my friends, are but a few examples of why I love Slashdot.