Need Mobile Intel? Read The Third Screen

The third screenSome books capture the spirit of a marketing zeitgeist just as it begins to happen in full force. Seth Godin‘s Permission Marketing and Charlene Li & Josh Bernoff‘s Groundswell were two such books. Chuck Martin’s The Third Screen is arguably of the same caliber for the forthcoming mobile marketing revolution.

Centered around the Untethered Consumer — freed from the bondage of traditional marketing methods — the book helps marketers capture the true nature of mobile media. It serves as a solid primer, going into the history of wireless communications, and explaining why businesses have so little control over mobile stakeholders. Basically, anytime a customer interacts with a business it is strictly on their terms. It is completely an opt-in experience.

Martin’s strength lies in his discussion of mobile platforms. His knowledge of operating systems, application usage, international usage and different types of mobile media (web, apps, texting) is universal.

A pragmatic ongoing conversation in the book includes media usage patterns, and how people interact with their smartphones. Social media wonks maybe disappointed as interaction drops on the “third screen” (the first being TV, and the second is desktop computers). While interactions do occur on the phone, screen size and input methods change a person’s interaction with online media.

In addition, Martin uses significant case studies to illustrate his points, including a fantastic Cars.com case study. In the Cars.com case study, Martin details the thorough process the company went through to adapt mobile, including some a great research and listening phase. This case study alone is worth the price of the book, and could be run in Harvard Business Review (the magazine, not the blogs).

The book was written in 2010 so there is little discussion of the now growing tablet boom, though Martin does pick up the topic here and there. Martin does a fantastic job of using market statistics to back up his theories and observations.

Nitpicks include a slow start. The Third Screen‘s introduction and first chapter were repetitive, and could stand for some editorial cuts. In addition, the Pepsi Refresh case study was very questionable based on the actual business results.

However, don’t let these small items dissuade you. From the perspective of an online marketer and a former wireless reporter, this book was impressive. The Third Screen is a fantastic primer on mobile, and is a must read for any interactive professional.

Shiny Object Syndrome: Don’t Fondle the Hammer

The following is draft material for the second edition of Now Is Gone, which is almost out of print. Comments may be used in the final edition. You can download the first drafted chapter of the new edition — Welcome to the Fifth Estate — for free.

foursquare.jpgWhen seeking to inspire a conversation about one’s initiative — whether it’s product, cause or simply education — the first instinct drives one to reach for the hot tool of the day. Since the first Now Is Gone was written, this has shifted from blogs to Facebook/Twitter to widgets and applications to iPhone apps to now geolocation networks FoursSquare and Gowalla, as well as Facebook again (thank you, Open Graph).

First dubbed Shiny Object Syndrome by PR Squared Blogger Todd Defren in 2005, this phenomenon plagues organizations, companies and individuals to adapt the latest social communications tool. It’s often based on peer pressure, buzz, or a desire to be one of the first. The issue belies strategic approaches to social communications.

Ace social technology analyst Jeremiah Owyang has in time called the phenomena “Fondling the Hammer.” Web strategists oft focus on the tool rather than their strategic approach. While we have a general strategy towards creating a great conversation, we need to best understand how to participate within that community, create an approach that will work with it, rather than just run to the shelf an pick up the latest power tool.

Unfortunately, while in the short term placating a need to play with the newest communications toy, Shiny Object Syndrome can create terrific wastes of money. That in turn, can create terrible consequences for organizations, executives and communicators alike.

In Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff‘s classic book Groundswell the home run statement, “concentrate on the relationships, not the technologies.” The community drives social media, not social media in their many technological forms. Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff also note that Shiny Object Syndrome can become a major barrier to success in their fourth chapter.

Getting beyond Shiny Object Syndrome requires the lead communicator to STOP! Then go back to the master communications plan. As unsexy as it is, a blog or a widget may still be your most powerful tool. A healthy evaluation of social media tools should reveal the tools stakeholders and their influencers are using, a critical determinant as these are the relationships you seek to forge.

The History of Influencer Theory on the Social Web

A Packed Room

This weekend’s F@st Company The Influence Project gaff sparked a great discussion about influence. It’s a fascinating conversation because influence means so much to all of us online. Successful online word of mouth or grassroots marketing usually requires community influencers embracing and spreading the message.

The discussion about what influence really is has been ongoing since the social web first began. Eight years ago, Malcolm Gladwell’s the Tipping Point (2002), served as a great starting place to discuss influencers. We talked about Connectors, Mavens and Salesmen.

Yahoo’s Duncan Watts had a well-discussed counterpoint to Gladwell in F@st Company (woops) a couple of years ago dismissing “The Law of the Few

…in the large majority of cases, the cascade began with an average Joe (although in cases where an Influential touched off the trend, it spread much further). To stack the deck in favor of Influentials, Watts changed the simulation, making them 10 times more connected… But the rank-and-file citizen was still far more likely to start a contagion.

We’ve seen other critical books come out discussing the influencer, and in particular their online role:

There are those who swear influencers can be limited to a much smaller group, Dunbar’s number, roughly 150 people (the concept was first proposed by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar). Dunbar’s theory acknowledges a cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. These are relationships in which an individual knows who each person is, and how each person relates to every other person.

So who’s right? Where’s influence, the uber-connected one percenter, trust agent, free agent? Or the person who lights the spark within his/her community of 150? Well, both are. Many A-List influencers (and even traditional journalists) won’t notice an idea until lesser, yet influential peers write about it. This “Magic Middle” tier of influencers — as David Sifry dubbed them in 2006 — often break stories, which trickle up until a “Connector” discovers the story.

At the same time, what starts as an ember turns into a raging inferno once the major influencers starts magnifying a larger story. The Groundswell as Charlene Li called it (2008) begins in earnest.

My personal experience is that many times you have to tickle an idea or story up the grapevine into the major A-listers, who are often late to embrace a story. However, once they do write something up there is great potential for word of mouth to occur via their trusting communities, either through traditional media or further social media conversations.

You really don’t know what’s going to go “viral,” but you do know that you need to talk to the few and the passionate — your influencers, often leaders in the community. A social media groundswell takes time as opposed to a flash flood of media hits. For organizational social media, this means building credible relationships with contacts that have the right people in their network, not necessarily the most people. And then if their community believes it, well, things can happen.