Formation of New American Group Influencers

New groups are being formed throughout the country, and nobody has noticed. These emergent groups are zero to three years old. And the organizers are not the usual suspects. If there is a connection to urban tribes it is the connecting of existing urban tribes.happyface

We meet our new friends, talking to others we know through the same medium, and in introverted humility ask “oh, how do y’all know each other?” Assuming it predates our joining the group. But it doesn’t. We assume these eclectic people of diverse backgrounds knew each other selectively before the overall group formed. But they didn’t. It’s like everyone has the same social birthday. It all happened as part of the Great American Social Software Revolution. The grandparents were born in 2004.

And I am not convinced they, we, follow the RENGEN model.

It is simply like minded people. Who met through sites like Flickr and twitter, form groups. Old news, like 15 year old prodigy news, right? What is news is that about three years ago the local aspect got magnified somehow. Asynchronous communication on bulletin boards drifted not to synchronous, but on an exponential curve much closer to synchronous. And the closer the line moves to zero, the more local factors come into play.

Local is the new black. And these new local influencers, many previously also influential but with a new magnifying glass, are more powerful than ever. Or newly powerful.

And these new groups haven’t self-identified yet. And the leaders don’t even realize they are leaders. People who nominate themselves as leaders are frequently rejected. Like an atom that meets to form when it wants and then goes on to reject the laws of physics, a self-nominated enforcer is refuted.

This is startling in that there is no visible ideology to bind.

“A common sharing of ideas integrates individuals into the community, a group, a party, or a movement. Ideas, commonly held, define the things that are acceptable and the tasks to be accomplished, excluding all others.  Ideologies play the same role that totems and taboos play in primitive tribes, defining what is common to the members and what is alien.”

– Contemporary Political Ideologies, pg. 9, 1986

Yet there is no dominant ideology that can be seen by this writer. Liberals and conservatives and the rational majority that are not on either end of the spectrum all participate. The “unfollow” and “block” functions of twitter are natural enforcers.

The main take-away is not a new ideology so much as the awareness of the rapid fire formation of new influencers. Influencers who in a majority appear, ironically, “off the grid” to the current power structure.

As I close this post I find I am very convinced of

  1. the formation of new groups is very real
  2. there is no readily apparent ideology that binds
  3. the leaders are below the radar, the influence unmapped

The next 10 years will be interesting indeed!

Note: The image? No relation to the post. Just an image of happiness on my flickr stream. That is all.

Social Media for Public Relations Pros at PRSA Charlotte

Thanks to the Charlotte North Caroline Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America for the opportunity to address 160 pros yesterday. Attendee Jason Keath of Charlotte already has a wrap up post from my talk here. Thanks Jason!

And of course the slides are available on as well as embedded below. Thanks!

Just Because You Are Smart Doesn’t Mean Your Opinion Matters

Just because you are smart doesn’t mean your opinion matters. Yup, you got lottsa gray matter up there, plenty of neurons firing at will, but perhaps the best course of action is to acknowledge you and ignore you. Or me.

Here’s the point. Being smart is, you know, pedantic. Narrow. Baseline. Easy. It’s like selecting a date with a criteria of “must have a pulse“. OK, great, you are alive. But don’t ask me to be impressed by your baseline. Have you done your homework?

This sounds simple enough. Brilliant guy walks up and tells us how to do web design but has never seen the Internet. Easy enough to ignore. Because you have no ties. Ties that bind.

The most common example of this in our industry is Doctors who have never studied psychology or marketing or design and then want to art direct. At the end of the day you say yes, but this isn’t really in their best interests, is it? No, you have to push back. Doctors are smart. And you have to be pretty self confident to cut another human open and assume you can reassemble the bits. But they are out of their element and need to do their homework when it comes to marketing.

What about a programmer with 1 year experience out of college. Lets say they have more “snap” and raw IQ points. In a conversation with a programmer with 10 years of experience they come to a disagreement. The programmer with 10 years of experience keeps saying “that won’t work” and the new-programmer says “why not?” and “prove it.”

Why not? Well, the person with 10 years of experience has seen this pattern before. Our brains are hella-good at picking up on patterns. But that doesn’t mean we can articulate them. Working with a Millennial, frequently you just give in and say “ok, you figure it out”. And eventually they get back to the correct path. But at what cost and what lost-opportunity costs for the months lost?

Another example is you have a friend and your interests overlap 80%. But you are an artist and they are not. In fact they have never so much studied or read a book on art. This is like expecting a 2 year old to savor a fine wine. So they ARE smart. They ARE your equal on so many subjects, but on this one subject you pretty much have to ignore them because they are unqualified. Following their advice would be an expensive mistake in this one instance.

Yet they are your friend and suddenly you think they are full of it. Do they differentiate that this is one topic? You aren’t questioning their brilliant mind. Just observing that in this one area they are woefully unqualified and expecting you to take their advice (say dropping oil painting for making balloon animals because they see a future in that) is a BAD idea. But you treasure their advice in other areas.

So again, what do we do? We sometimes give in to the smart yet unqualified friend or let things progress at their speed until they figure it out. At what cost to you and society?

There should be a word for it. A “hey, you’re awesome and I respect you. But you lack the discipline or interest to study this area and you are way out of your element here.” Like in the Big Lebowski, but with fewer F-bombs. And in a way they understood without being offended.

So yes, just because you are smart does not mean your opinion matters. On many many levels. Ease up a bit folks. Humility and do your homework before you demand the stage. Society will be better off for it.

New Office of Public Liaison with Obama’s

First – HUGE CONGRATULATIONS to Barak Obama, our new President! 2009 is going to be better than 2008, and I hope and pray he can lead us back to what so many of us believe America is capable of. obama-inauguration-cnn

From a tech perspective the switch of the site from to the actual and the first blog post by Macon Phillips, the Director of New Media for the White House, is quite amazing. Comments are not enabled, but the start with a conversational tone is appreciated by this citizen. He lists as goals:

  1. Communication
  2. Transparency
  3. Participation

In addition to having a “Director of New Media”, I noticed from a PR perspective is the new Office of Public Liaison on Doing a quick google on it there seems to be a disagreement between this article and on the leadership bio names listing Valerie Jarrett, Tina Tchen and Michael Strautmanis on the site.

I did notice that Jarrett is an attorney, and Tchen and Strautmanis are both litigators. Hmmm, no APR communicators in the office of public liaison? What does this say about the PR profession that the Obama team chose not to bring in any professional communicators on the leadership team? Or am I missing something?

Martin Luther King day 2009 – one we won’t forget

Three of my favorite MKL quotes:

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.“
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”
‘We may have come here on different ships but we’re all in the same boat now.’
-    Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

It’s one of those days that just seems so predictable and yet so impossible at the same time with our new President‘s inauguration tomorrow!

Mitigated Speech and Business Communication

DudeRecently finishing Outliers, I was really struck by the section on mitigated speech and airplane crashes. Gladwell‘s definition of mitigated speech on page 194 is:

Mitigated speech – any attempt to downplay or sugarcoat the meaning of what is being said.

In short, co-pilots may not communicate clearly with captains out of deference. They hint at things instead of speaking directly. Which leads to crashes and death. From page 193 of Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book:

Fischer and Orasanu found that captains overwhelmingly said they would issue a command in that situation: “Turn thirty degrees right.” They were talking to a subordinate. They had no fear of being blunt. The first officers, on the other hand, were talking to their boss, and so they overwhelmingly chose the most mitigated alternative. They hinted.

…a hint is the hardest kind of request to decode and the easiest to refuse.

Gladwell goes on to explain this is more of a problem in cultures with, using Hofstede’s Dimensions, have what is called a higher “Power Distance Index“.

Power distance is concerned with attitudes towards hierarchy, specifically with how much a particular culture values and respects authority. (pg 204)

A culture with a larger power distance index will have more hints. The west, and I’d agree speaking as an American, is “what linguists call a “transmitter orientation” – that is, it is considered the responsibility of the speaker to communicate ideas clearly and unambiguously.” (pg 216)

Working at a small company we have to train people how to write a decent email. The biggest part is helping people understand the burden of communication is ON YOU! Our email help file is linked  and the short version is:

  1. Subject Lines – all emails need a well articulated and relevant Subject Line.
  2. Links – ease of use changes behavior. (link it!)
  3. Numbered Lists – organize YOUR information. Bullets are evil.
  4. Short Paragraphs – with rare exceptions
  5. Nickel words – save them for scrabble

Going back to Gladwell, part of the solution for one airline was to switch to speaking English. By using a different language their learned subtleties of their native tongue were reduced thereby reducing accidents. Inter company email isn’t anywhere near as dangerous as piloting a jet. But nonetheless in a recession who has time for coworkers burning money with lazy communication skills?

And Gladwell isn’t alone. In the book The Influencer there is a case study on positive deviance for villages that did NOT suffer from Guinea Worm in Africa and Asia. The two “vital behaviors” that prevented the outbreak were:

  1. “In the worm-free village, the women … took a second pot, covered it with their skirts, and poured the water through their skirt into the pot, effectively straining out the problem-causing larvae.” (pg 360
  2. “The vital recovery behavior, then, was that friends and neighbors had to speak up when the Guinea worm sufferer was unwilling to do so. Only when the community took responsibility for compliance could the entire village protect itself from the failure of a single villager.” (pg 38)

Again we see the second critical issue is speaking up with candor. And basically turning your neighbor in for the good of the community. Communication is so critical airplanes crash and villages live in a painful cycle of disease without people who are willing to speak up.

And the importance of communication is more grave than ever. From The Rise of the Network Society pg 357.

Because culture is mediated and enacted through communication, cultures themselves – that is, our historically produced systems of beliefs and codes – become fundamentally transformed, and will be more so over time, by the new technological system.

Communication matters. And culture is part of that communication. I am unaware of any evidence that supports “hinting”, “deference” and other weak forms of communication as good for anything. Maybe in a medieval court, but it clearly has no place in modern society. Speak up, take care of the people you care about.