Week 53

Social is baked, it’s about details from now on, says Russell Davies and we agree. It’s an exciting time to be actually able to grasp and explain the full implications of social and we are happy to do it.

Once in a while, I stumble over a blog post and think to myself: Yes, that’s exactly it. Here is Russell Davies on Social:

But, social media feels done. Baked. It feels like we don’t need a bunch of new social media tools or publishing technologies. It’s pretty easy for anyone who wants to put something on the web to do so.

It reminds me of a thing I saw in a coffee shop a while ago. A little plastic thing, a bit like an ice-cream spoon. I couldn’t work out what it might be for. And then I realised that it’s to go into the hole in the coffee cup lids to stop the coffee spilling out. That feels a bit like the technological moment we’re in with the social web. Were fiddling around at the edges of mostly solved problems.

When we talk to our clients, we always try to emphasize the human and social behavior factor of even thinking about implementing a social strategy. While it is superbly important and beneficial to understand the underlining technology, it is not where the focus should be. We live in times of extreme technology-induced change; that is a given. The platforms that we use today are technological manifestations around a certain human behavior. They help shape it, but they are replaceable. Again, it is not about technology but about the fundamental change in how we behave. To that note, Russell’s assertion just simplifies how we need to think about Social. The technological revolution of Social is over, everything that we will see from here on in that field will be iterations of what we already have. That’s helpful. It frees up the cognitive space to think about what really is important.

And that’s how we approach our clients. We help them to focus on what’s important, often by shaping the questions, not only the answers. That’s what we’ve been doing since we started, that’s what we did last week.

More concretely: We are mostly in full prep mode for multiple new projects. So it’s mostly heads down, headphones on and a lot of face time with our screens right now.

What we read this week (16 Sep)

Every week, we filter a few of the most relevant articles about the digital business for you. This week the list features thoughts on the coming corporate revolution, computer-generated articles, digital publishing, and lessons to learn from Jay-Z and Kanye. Enjoy!

Every week, we filter a few of the most relevant articles about the digital business for you.

  • Forbes: Social Power and the Coming Corporate Revolution
    David Kirkpatrick is taking a look at how the social powers that brought down dictators will bring down company managements next, if a new generation is unhappy with their bosses. Largely ignored today, companies will have to face the effect of their employees talking about them very visibly online.
  • NYTimes: Computer-Generated Articles Are Gaining Traction
    A fascinating read on software that takes data, like that from sports statistics, company financial reports and housing starts and sales, and turns it into articles.
  • Forbes: Selling The New Cool: Inside The World Of ‘Influencers’
    Matthew Newton from Forbes digs into the marketing trend of ‘influencers’ but only focuses on so-called ‘tastemakers’. We think that ‘influence’ is much bigger than that. Nevertheless, a good read.
  • Economist: Great digital expectations
    The Economist takes a closer look at the challenges of the book publisher industry as ebooks take the lead in book sales and confront the industry with some heavy digitization challenges.
  • Foreign Policy: Jay-Z’s Hegemony in the Age of Kanye
    Watch the Throne therefore should not be judged as an album, but rather as a move in this savvy strategy of institutionalizing hegemony in the face of potential decline. Kanye and Jay-Z’s alliance offers a new blueprint for managing decline in a turbulent world from which international relations scholars and American foreign policy practitioners alike should learn.
  • T3N: Deutsche Unternehmen: Weltweit führend im Blockieren von Social Media
    Germany ahead of something related to social media? Yes, we’re on top when it comes to blocking access to social media at the work place. There’s a lot of lip service by managers about investing into social but their deeds speak a very different language. As long as managers keep the young generation from communicating like they’re used to, companies will compromise their work force and hurt their businesses.
  • AT&T Names Chief Medical Information Officer
    When telcos hire Chief Medical Information Officers you know that the world of healthcare is changing.
  • Ben Hammersley: My speech to the IAAC
    While already one week old, this is a must read: Our brilliant buddy Ben Hammersley on the importance of a “translation layer”, people who explain different strata of society how everything changes through digital disruption.

You can see all our reading recommendations (including the archives) at “What we read this week“.

Reclaiming Social Media

We don’t like how ‘social media’ has gotten a bad rep. Here’s why we think that it’s time to take it back.

A dirty word

How did it come to this? Somehow, “social media” has gotten a bad rep. We look down on people who put something with social media in their bios. “Social media expert” has become a curse word. Gary Vaynerchuk famously said:

99.5 percent of all social media experts are clowns.

Maybe it’s just the normal process, when something is new and nobody really knows how it all works. Every crook in the world is smelling some easy money making opportunities and flocks to the space. The companies don’t know yet how to differentiate the experts from the amateurs and get burned.

Tactics will only get you so far

Most brands got into social media in a reactive way. Everybody seemed to talk about it so they had to be part of it, too, right? They moved onto every platform that was the place to be for that time. From corporate blogs to Twitter to “social media newsrooms” to Facebook to Quora to Google+. The approach has been completely tactical and purely based on current hypes, in most cases. That also means that most social media activities have been launched with one implicit goal: taking part. No wonder, defining KPIs is hard. What can you measure when you have no quantifiable goal? Most social media activities have been basically developed in a company sandbox, separated from everything else in the community departments, let alone the rest of the company.

I think this is about to change as social media is approaching a more mature phase within the next months and years. Once bigger brands all have their Facebook pages and Twitter accounts with a decent amount of fans, they will start asking the big question of “What now?”. You already can hear the much feared “ROI question” getting louder every day. This is good, very good. When companies have made their first steps and gained some experience, they have a better position to build solid, long-term social media strategies. And this is the kind of social media work we’re interested in.

We Do Social Media

At the speakers dinner at the Next11 conference, I spoke with someone about Third Wave and he said “But you’re not doing social stuff, too, are you?” Yes, we do. But to be honest, we were having a hard time admitting to it in the first months of this company. Sure, social media was at the core of what Igor and I in particular had been doing at our agencies. But we didn’t want to be perceived as “Yet Another Social Media Agency”. That’s why we focused on projects like CoCities in the beginning. Nevertheless, we’re still excited about the prospects of social media and see it at the core of our consulting business, especially as we enter the “second coming of social media” (as we jokingly refer to it).

We’re eager to help companies create social media strategies that will carry them through the next years and integrate tightly with their existing strategies, processes and efforts. We think it’s time to reclaim social media with competence, a comprehensive approach and earnest craft. Let’s give it the rep it deserves: as one of the most amazing developments to make communication more personal and human.

Also, check out the notes for Week 32 for some similar thoughts on how social media will become ubiquitous.

Week 32

Despite our experience, we don’t describe Third Wave as a social media agency but we also think that we’ve ain’t seen nothing yet in social media, nevertheless. Read the week note for more of our take on social media, where it’s going and what else we’ve been up to last week.

Last week, I was invited to an agency in Stuttgart to give a big-picture talk on social media and where its going. I love doing these talks, but social media is always a special case. It’s one of the most controversial topics in the marketing- and pr-business and everybody seems to have a different take on it. But it also as a special topic for us at Third Wave. We get asked a lot “What exactly are you?” and coming from our backgrounds (Igor was the social media go-to-guy at Ketchum Pleon in Düsseldorf. I created the social media discipline with my friend Gerald at Neue Digitale/Razorfish Frankfurt), it would have been the obvious thing to start a social media strategy agency. This is the field that we have the most experience in and that seems to be in the highest demand at the moment. And although we do a lot of work in this field and you should definitely talk to us when you need someone to help you with your social media strategy, we decided to make our lives a little bit more difficult by going with a broader definition. And here’s why.

We think that we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg yet when it comes to social media. The communication patterns established by the social web are only a symptom of a long-term fundamental change in our society from hierarchical organizations to networks based on emergence theories. These patterns of human behavior emerging from the social web will be the fuel that drives our communication in the near future. Patterns like the change from an inbox handling of news where we look at everything that is send to us to dipping our attention randomly into the stream of news knowing that the important stuff will “find us.” The more familiar we become with these patterns, the more universal they will get.

Social media will be ubiquitous.

In two or three years, social media will be ubiquitous. In companies, it won’t be the domain of marketing and public relations departments any more but it will be everywhere. Every designer, every developer, every strategist, every customer service representative, everyone will be using social media naturally to communicate without thinking about it. The term will probably go extinct, it just won’t be special anymore. And if it isn’t special anymore, you don’t need any more specialist. That’s why we don’t want to label our company as a social media agency so we don’t have to pivot it in a couple of years. Instead we want to focus on something that David Armano once said:

You see, businesses, brands and organizations are truly struggling with the disruptive nature of social technologies.

In fact, the term “social technologies” is part of the problem—we are all fixated on the technologies and meanwhile the real action lies in harnessing the change brought about by human behavior enabled by technology.

Until we have a better claim, the best way to describe what we want to do with Third Wave is to help our clients “harnessing the change brought about by human behavior enabled by technology.” That’s what really excites us. Observing and analyzing how human behavior is changing all around us with the help of technology. It’s much bigger than marketing or pr. In my presentation in Stuttgart, I talked about how social media is changing businesses to the core by changing the internal hierarchies and how new platforms based on social media patterns are changing the way we consume (less) and develop products. The change in cities has fascinated us so much that we organized a conference about it.

So although you can hear a lot of talk in the industry about how social media is dead or boring or failed, we say that we’ve seen nothing yet and it’s just getting started and it’s going to get a lot bigger. We currently working on a detailed presentation about our point of view on this.

While I was thinking about the big picture of social media and preparing my talk, Igor worked on the next iteration of Cognitive Cities that we’re finally able to announce. As you might have already seen, we’re going to Amsterdam next to host the first Cognitive Cities Salon. The first details are here and obviously, we’re super excited about this.

At a workshop, Peter had a closer look at Podio – these guys have really started out strong, and it’s great to watch where this is going. On Wednesday evening, he attended the first meet-up for Social Media Week Berlin (SWM) – Joel and the rest of the crew kindly asked Peter to be a member of the advisory board for SMW Berlin. It’s one of those events that shows just how much is going on in the city at this point, so it’s great to help out there. Also, Focus Magazin published an article by Peter about the future of social media and the importance of community managers (it’s in German). This coming week, though, it’s all about the NEXT11 conference here in Berlin.

We have been helping the Next with the curation of the social media track and are very proud to bring some fresh faces like Matt Gierhart and Mike Arauz to Germany while also featuring the best practitioners from Germany like David Noël from Soundcloud and many more. Peter will be moderating the social media track on Wednesday. Igor and I will be roaming the halls at the conference. If you’re there, let us know. It’s going to be totally our kind of a week: lots of fine people in town, deep conversations, preferably over good food, inspiring presentations and a good drink here and there.

Week 26

After February was mostly about CoCities and client projects, March pretty much was about traveling and meeting a lot of great people. The last week was no exception. We traveled to Mannheim and Vienna to join a social media panel and meet with our friends from LHBS.

After February was mostly about CoCities and client projects, March pretty much was about traveling and meeting a lot of great people. The last week was no exception.

Panel about Social Media at SAP Congress

I took the train to Frankfurt on Tuesday to attend the SAP congress on personnel management in Mannheim. Our friends from Wolters Kluwer had invited me to join a panel labeled “Social Media – Revolution in the work space or pointless waste of time”. Yes, the discussion in human resources circles in Germany about social media is still very much at the beginning. People told me that decision makers in personnel management are among the most conservative and anxious ones around. Stuff like this always baffles me. Especially in human resources, there are so many amazing possibilities to get your employees more involved, collaborate better and scout out the really motivated and engaged ones. Well, never underestimate the endurance to resist change. The panel anyhow was a nice chat with two fellas from Audi and Deutsche Telekom, two companies I’ve actually worked for. At least on stage, it all sounds like it’s going in a good direction for them…

On Thursday, we all flew to Vienna to spend a few days meeting with our friends from LHBS. We had been following each other’s development for quite some time now and when they were in Berlin for CoCities, we took the chance to finally sit down with them for a coffee. The vibe felt great and so we decided to visit them in Vienna to take more time to see how we could collaborate and learn from each other. And yes, we also couldn’t pass the chance to check out the current state of the Vienna coffeehouse culture. (For a modern take on Viennese coffeehouse culture, check out Phil.)

So we had an amazing time with LHBS last week. They are likeminded friends that went into planning while we followed our love for technology to basically become professional geeks. It’s like we have the same “parents” (curiosity, innovation, pattern recognition) but took slightly different career choices. This makes for very insightful conversations. The more similar someone is to you, the better you can work out your own characteristics in comparison. So we left Vienna with a lot to chew on when we close ourselves away for the next two days to figure out the next steps for Third Wave (we do this every three months). We also developed some ideas for collaborative projects that you will hear about in the near future.

The final slide tonight #untalk

On Thursday eveing, we gave a talk labeled “Digital Disruption – How technology is changing our cities, our work and our media” as part of LHBS’ Uncomfortable Talk series. We had tons of fun being as uncomfortable as possible which is actually not that easy when you tend to be more exited about change than scared. The talk was recorded and should be available soon.

It feels absolutely great to be able to work with friends and close acquaintances. The best ideas and conversations always form over coffee or food. We got plenty of that in Vienna. It’s the same vibe we get with our friends around our neighborhood Kotti and in Berlin in general. Hopefully, we can continue working with even more of our (current and soon-to-be) friends.

For the visuals of this trip, check the flickr sets by Igor, Peter and me.

Our travel schedule: We’ll retreat to the small town of Caputh for a couple of days this week. Peter is going to be in Hamburg next week, and Igor and Peter are headed for New York later next week.

On politicians and social media

Toute L’Europe and the Goethe Institute in Paris invited me to be part of a panel about the affect of social media on politics. While the topic in itself is certainly not new, I decided to go, because it was a good opportunity to dive into the French debate.

As you would expect, the Goethe Institute is a very gracious host and the organization is just as good. Still, the setup of the panel was … shall we say, ambitious? Six people is too many for every panel and for me it was especially interesting, since I was the only one who doesn’t speak any French. But first things first, here is the list of all the panelists:

  • Estelle Grelier, EU-Delegate (Faction S & D / EP)
  • Sandrine Bélier, EU-Delegate (Faction The Greens / EP)
  • Jan Philipp Albrecht, EU-Delegate (Faction The Greens / EP)
  • Alain Girod, Professor at the University Lyon II, Director of the Instituts for Communication Lyon II (ICOM)
  • Benoît Thieulin, Co-founder of Netscouade (Internet Agency, specialized on Social Web and Community)
  • Igor Schwarzmann, Co-founder of Third Wave in Berlin

Together with the moderator, we ended up being eight people on stage, since I could only participate in the discussion with the help of a translator. A new experience for me, but it worked out just fine. At least for the important parts of the discussions. Obviously, I couldn’t catch the small nuances, which made it a bit difficult to get into a real discussion. Then again, on a panel with so many people there isn’t much room for debate anyhow.

What discourages me to accept further invitations to panels about social media and politics is the lack of progress in the discussion. France – in this particular case at least – not different from Germany. The whole premise of the discussion is based on the wrong questions. It’s definitely not about the tools, services and platforms that a politician uses and it’s not about how those politicians need to find the exactly right tone without giving up too much privacy. That’s the boring part of the discussion.

We are living in a time, where we can watch revolutions unfold on the internet while our policy makers still struggle to understand the impact of it all. And more often than not, they seem not only very reluctant to dive into the topic, but actually are part of the problem. By making decision without any appreciation what has developed without their involvement, they only increase the overall impressions that most of them aren’t prepared to govern in the 21st century.

I ended up saying something that I read a couple of years on a blog of a social media consultant (imagine that!):

If your product is shit, it will still be shit on social media.

Same goes for politics, dear politicians. It’s moot to discuss if it’s important to be clueless on Television or Twitter, in the end you are still clueless. Start listening to what is being said and stop planing your next campaign and how you might or might not use Facebook for it.

P.S.: While I’m rather harshly generalizing the discussion, there are of course exceptions with a deep understanding. One of which was on the panel: Jan Philipp Albrecht.