Don’t Be a Social Selling Lemming


You probably have a social media presence. You might even call it a social media strategy. But is it really strategic? Or is it just a lemming strategy—making you look like a thousand other firms rushing headlong together toward a cliff? There’s a chance your social selling strategy may not be very strategic at all.

Let’s review a few basics about strategy, then come back to the question.

Competitive Strategy Must Differentiate You

First, a strategy that doesn’t distinguish you from competitors’ strategies is not a strategy at all. The whole point of a competitive strategy is to point out why you, in some important way, are different from your competitors.

This is why the pursuit of “best practices” is not only un-strategic, but it’s anti-strategic. The more you adopt everyone else’s best practices, the more you look like everyone else. A “me-too” strategy isn’t a strategy at all.

Economist Mike Porter suggested years ago there are only two kinds of strategies: being a low-cost producer or being a differentiated producer. Differentiation, in turn, can be along product or industry lines. That makes for three distinctive, differentiable strategies. If you are not following one of the three, then you are in danger of being un-strategic.

What does it mean to be un-strategic? It means you present no compelling reason for anyone to hire you—unless you’re willing to cut your price (an act that often lowers your perceived quality anyway).

The Social Media Lemming Strategy

As the popular myth has it, lemmings throw themselves en masse into the waters in a collective undifferentiated rush toward oblivion. Clearly that’s not a metaphor you want your social media strategy associated with.

But there are two huge forces that drive us all in that direction. One is the zero-marginal cost of volume on the Internet. The other is an obsession with metrics in social media.

Zero-marginal cost: As direct marketers found out to their glee when they discovered Internet marketing, the marginal cost of adding another name to your email list is infinitesimal. The result: spam.

The zero-marginal cost feature has likewise encouraged people to build massive databases, expanded Twitter lists, turned “friend” into a verb, and so on. It all costs nothing. If X is good, then X + whatever must be even better, so why not go for it?

Obsession with metrics: The zero-marginal cost factor is a feature of Internet economics. By contrast, the obsession with metrics is a purely human creation. Encouraged by a tsunami of data supply and a desire to appear scientific on the part of dozens of management gurus, the field of business has been overwhelmed by a tendency to mistake a measurement for the thing that is being measured.

This mistake—basically confusing cause and effect—is evident in the ever-finer increments of activity to be found in CRM systems. It’s embedded in the formulaic insistence of learning and development managers that all training must be evidentially behavioral to be relevant. But nowhere has it become more endemic than in the field of social media.

Think Klout: a metric of metrics. Think Twitter: how many followers you have and how many people you follow. Think LinkedIn: how many “contacts” you have. Think about the incredibly complex mix of analytics put out by Google and a thousand website traffic consultants. All are aimed at improving your metrics. And what do they measure? Basically, more metrics. The ultimate substrate of reality (revenue, anyone?) is sorely missing.

Four Anti-Strategic Social Strategies

  1. Promoting the Same Content: Consider one social media “strategy,” exemplified by Triberr but also evident in LinkedIn groups. Join a group, and the agreement is “we’ll all promote each other,” thereby driving up everyone’s numbers. Does the metric work? Sure, it works to drive up metrics. The cost, however, is strategic.

If you and 25 others all agree to auto-tweet everyone else’s blog post, you then have 25 people all tweeting the same content. Their twitter behavior becomes asymptotically identical to each other. The result: mass un-differentiation.

  1. Pumping Up the Numbers: Another social media “strategy” is to simply increase your number of followers. The direct approach is to announce to the world that “I follow.” Thus, any lemming-like-minded twitterer who follows you can automatically expect you to return “the favor,” thereby increasing each of your numbers.

Do the numbers work? Sure. They work to increase your numbers. Eventually, high numbers will get you onto lists—lists like “Top 50 sales bloggers” or similar. Finally, at that point, differences become grossly evident. There really are some true sales experts. And, there are others who got there solely on social media grade inflation. The difference becomes stark. In the sunlight, quality is evident.

  1. No-Value Content: Another social media “strategy” is a perversion of “content marketing.” Originally (and still, for some people), this meant offering high-quality content in an accessible way to help potential customers develop their thinking. But it rapidly succumbed to the “obsession with metrics” rule.

Today, I get at least one invitation a day from fly-by-night auto-emailing outfits asking if they can write “content” for my site or to embed a link in a post I might make available to them. In any real sense of the word, there is no “content” there.

  1. The Aggregation Delusion: Mimicking news sites, this delusion consists of writing zero-insight-added blog posts that have titles that begin with “Top 12 reasons why…” They amount to little more than clickbait, since they consist of regurgitated, even directly plagiarized, content from elsewhere. The purpose is to drive clicks and traffic so that the blogger can show up on lists of clicks and traffic. Again, there comes a point in the actual buying process where buyers easily note the difference between vapor-ware and real content.

Don’t Be a Lemming

When you set out to compete on volume alone, you’re up against some seriously tough competition. There is room for only one low-cost producer in any market, and it’s traditionally the one with the highest volume. In an Internet world of zero-marginal cost and a lemming-like belief that more metrics are better, there is no shortage of people willing to bankrupt you by leading the way to bankruptcy. Don’t go there unless you have deeper pockets than anyone else.

Competing on differentiation is inherently more attractive. But a lemming strategy is equally seductive here: just because you can “move the needle” doesn’t mean the needle is connected to anything real. It’s easy to get lost in the supposedly quantitative world of social media metrics and forget that there’s not necessarily any “there” there.

Ask yourself the tough strategic question: Why, really, am I different? And the equally tough follow-up question: How would a customer be able to really notice and appreciate that difference?

If you’re not seriously asking yourself those questions, why should anyone believe your answers? They may click, but they won’t buy.

Social Media: The End of Friends? Or the Beginning of Friendship?

Remember all those curmudgeonly quips about how online “friends” were cheapening the real thing? How the Facebook generation was mistaking true friendship for the faux, virtual kind?

Can we finally lay all that to rest?

Who’s Kidding Whom?

People with a thousand LinkedIn connections, 2,000 Facebook friends and 10,000 twitter followers are perfectly aware that what they have is not the same thing as the relationship with their high school buddies.  They don’t even use “relationship” to describe it.

But neither are those connections always number-bling (though yes, some of them are).

Social media hasn’t so much redefined “friend” as it has offered a new channel to find friends.

LinkedIn and Twitter are to friends what was to dating – a vastly superior mode for doing lead-generation and processing early-stage pleasantries.  Does anyone really think singles bars were a preferable way to find romance?

The online dating services, like online genealogy services, simply made it vastly easier to broaden the range of people from whom one might choose to become better acquainted.

The Social Impact on Business

I find my business life has been remarkably impacted by social media these past few years.  A lot of the people I now call friends – real friends, in the old-fashioned meaning of the word, and rich business acquaintances – I have initially met through social media.

People like @davidabrock, @iannarino, @julien, @chrisbrogan, @johngies, @zerotimeselling (Andy Paul), @jillkonrath, @robincarey, @ianbrodie, and more, I have gotten to know personally – through social media.

Social media are a “starter drug,” if you will; just because you “friend” someone on social media doesn’t mean you’ll end up being real friends.  But increasingly, a lot of real friends start out with the online “friend” channel.

Online “friends” may not be friends, but they can be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.



Working On Trust: David A. Brock

To anyone who doubts the power of social media, I tell them how I came to know David A. Brock. Dave’s resume is old-school – IBM, Tektronix – and I have a feeling he’s even (gasp) older than I am, but Dave is all over twitter (, he writes a fine blog, and he knows the inner workings of WordPress.

Much more importantly – David is just a delightful human being. Generous, warm, self-effacing, quick to pick up the phone, always about the customer. Dave is a superb management consultant.  Nominally, his subject is sales; in truth, it’s about making business and organizations better.  And he is very, very good at it.

Working on Trust

Which is why I’m so pleased that Dave interviewed me and Andrea Howe about our new book.

In the interview, Dave gets the conversation going about the role of trust in sales coaching.  We also talk about what someone can do when stuck in the company of untrustworthy others.  We finish up talking about what can actually be done to make customers trust us (hint: think Bonnie Raitt).

If you aren’t familiar with Dave Brock, please get to know him. His blog is called Making a Difference.  I can attest that he does.

To Link or Not To Link

A colleague recently asked me how I handle LinkedIn invitations from people I don’t really know.  Another colleague asked about connecting to people whose reputation is questionable.  While the same questions can be asked about Facebook, Google Plus and other social media, because of the differences in the types of services and benefits each offer, I’m only going to discuss LinkedIn here, and address mostly issues relating to trust.

Trust All Connection Requests?

When people ask me questions about whether to accept invitations, they are usually not asking about the business benefits of making the connection.  Often, they are asking about the business and personal risks associated with accepting the invitations.

Recently, Charlie Green shared a Trust Tip via Twitter  (#57 Trust but verify?  No. Trusting means you don’t need verification).  He explained the Tip more in his Trust Tip Countdown blog.  While trusting without verifying may be appropriate in some circumstances, it is not appropriate for everything.  In his presentations, Charlie often says “I trust my dog Sammy with my life, but not with my ham sandwich.”  It is common sense to not leave a sandwich in front of a dog, if you expect it to be there a minute later.   Accepting an invitation from someone we don’t know, poses some risks, and requires some verification in advance.

Here are some risk scenarios that may result from accepting LinkedIn invitations:

  • I don’t block my connections from seeing who my other connections are.  Some people do block that access on LinkedIn.  Sharing LinkedIn connection names has the risk that some of your connections will contact people with whom you are connected without your permission, by using your name.  I’m told that because of this risk, recruiters block access to their connections.
  • If we connect to a person who has a reputation of not being trustworthy, that could reflect badly on us.
  • Some people are concerned about connecting with competitors.  That might increase your opportunity to collaborate and generally benefit from being connected.  You may also be concerned about whether your competitor will misuse your contact list, or take business advantage of other aspects of being connected.
  • If you don’t know many of your connections well enough to introduce others to them when requested, having a lot of connections may seem disingenuous.  Of course, there may be business or other reasons we choose not to accommodate an introduction request.  One of these reasons should not be: “I really don’t know that person.”

Best Practices Suggestions for Accepting Invitations  

Here are three typical scenarios I encounter when I receive an invitation on LinkedIn.  I quickly assess the risk, and simultaneously look for ways to increase the business benefits of the potential connection.   :

1. I already know the person or we have at least met in person or by phone or online.

I think about how well I know the person, and assess whether I will be comfortable with connecting the individual to other people I know.  I have fairly liberal standards, and generally opt in favor of connecting.  I may have met the person briefly at a conference or we may be in a virtual group together.  Before accepting the invitation, I may reach out to the contact and ask for a phone call so that I can increase my comfort level and trust.

2. I don’t know (or remember) the person, but we have connections in common.

For these potential connections, I investigate further, by reviewing their profiles on LinkedIn, and using Google to check their online presence.  Generally, I am likely to connect based on my investigation, relying in part on the transferred trust from the person I know.  Sometimes I even write to our common connection and ask if s/he knows the person.  In addition, before I connect, I am much more likely to reach out and ask the person to have a phone call with me so we can establish or enhance our relationship.

If the person seeking to connect with me on LinkedIn does not want to have a call with me, that is a sign that I should not accept the invitation.  Having the conversation creates a stronger connection, and could give me more information as to whether it makes sense to connect.  Interestingly, I recently received an invitation without a personal note reminding me of where I met the person.  It turns out she was a student in a class I taught on coaching.  I emailed to ask her if we knew each other, and we then had a follow up call.  We are now building a relationship, and I would not hesitate to introduce her to my other LinkedIn connections.

3. I don’t know the person, and we have no connections in common.

I suspect some of these requests are spam, but just in case, I usually investigate further by reviewing the person’s profile, and researching them on Google.  Recently, I’ve been receiving invitations from people who have high ranking titles, and appear to be part of solid companies, usually from outside the US.  Yet, they have only a very few other connections.  Their invitations do not indicate how they know me, or why they want to connect with me. I ignore these.

Those invitations that do not appear to be spam often look like they are from people who are using LinkedIn’s service to connect to everyone in a group, or everyone in their email database, regardless of whether we know each other.  I think about each one, and determine whether I want to reach out and have a call or connect by email or just ignore it.  I just use common sense.  You may end up with a good connection, or you may just be clogging your LinkedIn with people who you cannot help or from whom you can ask for help.

Make Invitation Requests Easier to Accept

I enjoy getting invitations and inviting people to connections.  My advice – when inviting someone to connect on LinkedIn, don’t just use LinkedIn’s template.  Personalize it, and, unless there is no question that the person knows you, remind her/him how you met, and why you want to connect.  Make it easy for both of you.

Chris Brogan, Meet Jack Hubbard

Superficially, they couldn’t be more different. One is old (and old school), one isn’t.  One is in middle market banking, one in social media. Tie, open collar. Midwest, East.

I don’t think they know each other—but they should.  They’re two peas in a pod—in a great pea patch.

The Banking Guy

Jack Hubbard is CEO (that’s Chief Experience Officer) and Chairman of St. Meyer & Hubbard. Along with President Bob St. Meyer, they run a Chicago-based training performance change firm. They serve the banking business, mostly medium-sized. They serve up some astonishing numbers, with very loyal clients.

But that’s just the description. Jack is known for starting his day by sending out emails to clients highlighting specific news items of interest to them.  When you talk to Jack, you discover he is on a mission to discover everything about the most interesting person in the world—you.  His upbeat curiosity and low self-orientation is infectious; he doesn’t sell you on their work—you buy it. Gladly.

Jack’s not really in the banking business–he’s in the people business.  Banking is just his regional accent; his language is human.

The Social Media Guy

Readers of this blog are more likely to know Chris Brogan.  I did an interview with Chris last year. He’s all over social media; a demi-god of Twitter, an emerging guru of Google+, co-author (with @julien Smith) of Trust Agents, co-founder of Podcamp, involved in New Marketing Labs, collaborator with Hubspot Marketing—and so on.

But that’s his day job. Chris has a phenomenal ability to remember faces and names (even twitter addresses). More importantly, he is inherently drawn to people—and they to him.

He is genuinely modest, even self-effacing.  He’s the one who taught me “tweet others 12 times for every time you tweet about yourself.” He may be a rock star in social media—but he’s the exact opposite of “rock star” in the way he conducts himself.

Chris isn’t really in the social media business—he’s in the people business. It’s no accident his main identity these days is Human Business Works. Social media is just his regional accent; his language is human.


Chris, meet Jack Hubbard.

Jack, allow me to introduce Chris Brogan.

Y’all have a nice day now.


Empty Calorie Social Networking

I’m an enthusiastic user of many social media. I welcome interaction on Twitter (@charleshgreen), for example. In many ways, online networking is sort of the first derivative of the old, face-to-face type—faster, shallower, but broader and more far-reaching, and with essentially the same objective.

Still, there are some differences. In ‘real’ (i.e. analog) life, socializing can be an end in itself. Online, sometimes the connection is dropped; the symbol no longer links to the symbolized. Numbers become their own narcissistic rationale.

Call it empty calorie social networking—lots of apparent connections, but with no socially nutritional value.

Buying Friends and Buying Lists

Which feels more personal to you: email addresses, or twitter handles? If you’re like most people, you probably have a lot more email addresses than twitter addresses. After all, the social media are opt-in—you choose who gets to be in your network.

But check this out.

You can buy a one-time email list of people who purchased homes in the State of New Jersey in the last 30 days. It will cost you $500 for about 5000 names—that’s $0.10 per name.

You can also buy 10,000 twitter followers for $97.00—that’s $0.01 per name—one tenth the cost of emails.

The email list is ten times more expensive than the twitter list. Still think opt-in networks are special?

Of course, there are a lot of reasons why those particular numbers might diverge, but one of them is this: a lot of the ‘social’ in ‘social networking’ is nothing of the kind. It isn’t just ‘lo-cal’ networking, it’s utterly ‘no-cal.’

Who’s Consuming All Those Empty-Calorie ‘Connections?’

I’m not talking about those who follow @charliesheen (1.8 million at this moment) or Justin Bieber (7.8 million). I’m talking about those who follow 20,000 people and who have 20,000 zombie-like followers themselves—and who have only ever published ten tweets.

What’s driving this is a perversion of relationships—reciprocity gone wild. You follow me, I’ll follow you, and we’ll all get—bigger numbers. But for what end?

There is more than a whiff of spam about all this, but that’s not all that’s going on. Spam is imposed against our will; following is not. Spam survives on one hit in 10,000—following gets darn near 100% returns. Like Pogo, we have found the enemy, and it is us.

Much as high-calorie junk food addiction is being linked to obesity in the physical realm, there’s an addictive quality about this empty-calorie following. Fat follower lists are not conducive to relationship help.

Out of control eating no longer has anything to do with nutrition; out of control follower-collecting no longer has anything to do with relationships.

Ask yourself: why are you following someone? If your answer is anything but “because they sound interesting,” enlighten me.

Are Your Business Processes Destroying Trust in Your Business?

“Automation is sand in the social gearbox.” 

So says Axel Schultz at the end of a provocative blog on Customer Think called When the Social Media Bubble Burst. I think he’s more right on his ending line than he is on his title. Automation does have a way of gumming up the social works.

I wrote a week ago about a large-scale example of this in the mortgage banking industry. Let’s go micro now, and have a look at small-scale automation.

Let’s have a look at the nuts and bolts of creating ‘friends’ on YouTube. The more friends you get, the more people look at you, the higher your ratings go on YouTube.

Here is a transcription of a video from

So you’re looking for an automated way to get more views to your YouTube videos; but you don’t want to risk losing your YouTube account by using tools that could get you flagged or banned. So you lead a lot of subscribers, and actual views, ratings and comments from other YouTubers so your videos get traffic. But you don’t have the time or the money to spend marketing them.

So you run Tube Toolbox, and you collect a few thousand users in just a few minutes who have watched and commented on videos similar to yours. You know that they’re the best friends and subscribers to have, because they watch videos in your niche, and leave comments on them.

So now that you have your list of targeted YouTube users, you start sending automated friend request and auto-subscribe to their channels. This software runs in the background, which means you’re free to do other work while Tube ToolBox is hard at work. You can even let it run overnight, and pick up friends and subscribers while you sleep.

Then when you come out with your next video, you just send your video to all your friends with a friendly message letting them know about your new video, asking them to rate and comment on it.

As comments on videos increase, you will start to notice your videos making it to he the most discussed, most viewed and top-rated sections in addition to others where the bulk of YouTubers watch videos.

Now your videos will get thousands of views with people subscribing to your channel, and adding you as a friend on auto-pilot. As you build momentum, your reach increases, and your videos have their best shot at going viral.

Before you know it, you’ll add thousands of friends, subscribers and views to your YouTube videos.

TubeToolbox is hardly unique. Nor are they doing anything wrong or illegal. But what they are doing is yet another version of “sand in the social gearbox.”

Take the germ of a social idea: a video, together with a way for people to “like” it and pass on their likes to others. Now automate it. Va-voom. Instant increases in friends, followers, statistics, etc.

As long as there remains a glimmer of personal connection, the automation of a function, driven to the limits of scale, will drive it further down the road of impersonality.

This is the story of spam. It is the story of customer ‘loyalty,’ as an emotional feeling got re-born as a statistical movement. It is what happened in the mortgage business, as mentioned previously.

It isn’t automation per se that is the villain. It is the substitution of process for interaction; the substitution of transactions for relationships. 

Much of our time is spent designing businesses that are by bots, of bots and for bots. If management equals measurement—the dominant managerial philosophy of the day—then all we need are sensors and calculators. We can manage in our sleep.

And when we can create ‘friends’ in our sleep, on auto-pilot, we are nearly there. He who gains the most friends wins, so everyone tries to gain more friends. The usual end is either a monopoly or scorched earth. Certainly there aren’t many friends left.

Unlike Axel Schultz, I think we’ll evolve an answer. It will have to look like opting out of the mechanical arms race, because Schultz is right about the sand and the gearbox.

RapLeaf: A Tale of Naivete? Or Cynicism?

You may have noticed a bit of a kerfuffle in the press recently around a company called RapLeaf, and their relationship to personal data on the internet. Briefly, they are one of the few data collectors who identify names. 

The Wall Street Journal reported on them under the title “A Web Pioneer Profiles Users by Name.” A later article, "How Rapleaf Mines Data Online" followed shortly.

The response was pretty broad, as thousands of people opted to delete their profiles. Too bad for the venture capitalists who had just sunk money into Rapleaf.   

Rapleaf has responded by saying it has fixed a number of the ‘leaks’ that were sharing Facebook and MySpace user info with advertisers. 

So that’s the mainstream story: another predatory foray into your personal information, this one caught by a vigilant media. But how many more clandestine data-suckers are out there lying in wait?

The Rapleaf Story Behind the Rapleaf Story

That’s the official story. Of course, I wondered what was behind it. Turns out there are at least two levels.

One comes from Eric Goldman, at the Technology and Marketing Law Blog. Eric suggests that his personal data on Rapleaf is less extensive than that on Google and Facebook. He’s more concerned about the sloppy mistakes.

On the other hand is CNNMoney, which reports:

This isn’t the first time Rapleaf has been accused of privacy violations. In 2007, CNET reported that the company operated two other subsidiaries that secretly shared information with one another to create extremely detailed profiles about users — including their social network affiliations. Rapleaf quickly responded by merging all of its businesses under one brand.

Way Behind the RapLeaf Story

You might be wondering why I’m writing about this. Well, in my 21st blogpost (we’re now over 800), I wrote about Rapleaf. This was four years ago, in November 2006. 

At that time, I quoted Rapleaf from their website:

Rapleaf is a portable ratings system for commerce. Buyers, sellers and swappers can rate one another—thereby encouraging more trust and honesty. We hope Rapleaf can make it more profitable to be ethical.

At the time, I suggested this model was a good one to short, as it appeared hopelessly naïve. 

My understanding of his 2006 model (the company was founded in April of that year) was underscored by an article that month in Mercury News, which described Rapleaf as follows:

For now, here’s how it will work: If Auren buys five U2 tickets from Matt for tomorrow’s show for $150, he can go to Rapleaf after the show and say "Matt is good at selling tickets, he sold me five tickets, they were great, and even threw in a free parking pass." Matt then gets an email saying he was rated positively, and which asks him he wants to rate Auren, the buyer. Matt says: "Auren, he wasn’t very courteous."

Rapleaf wants to avoid letting people trash others without cause, and so it is building in community features which allow members to flag things if they appear wrong. For example, Auren or someone else can protest Matt’s rating, and appeal to Rapleaf to take down the negative comment. Rapleaf then relies on the reputation it has already built up about Matt. If Matt doesn’t have a reputation, and he is trashing someone with a good reputation, then Matt doesn’t carry any weight, and the comment is removed.

Naïve to be sure. Sort of sweet, in a four-decades-ago San Francisco kind of way (Rapleaf is also in SF).

But then how did Rapleaf get from everyone-rates-everyone-and-we-all-live-happily-ever-after to a model built on data-scraping?

I have no data myself. But I suspect therein lies a tale of corrupted innocence, of selling out unconsciously, of turning beliefs inside out, not unlike the way the frog supposedly boils to death in slowly increasingly-hot water.

Hmmm… now that I write that paragraph, it sounds surprisingly like the plot line of a currently high-grossing movie out there

The Not-so-Great Social Media Debate

If you’re like me, you enjoyed the recent debate stimulated by Malcolm Gladwell in his New Yorker article titled Small Change: Why the Revolution Will Not be Tweeted. (You might also enjoy his follow-up interactions with readers).

In nutshell, Gladwell compared a 1960 sitdown strike in the American South with the social activist uses of social media, particularly as promoted by digiterati royalty Clay Shirky. He found it wanting. Twitter is great for promoting awareness, Gladwell says, but hardly for promoting commitment. And the civil rights movement had its own channels for promotion; word did get around even pre-twitter.

I kind of enjoy Gladwell’s contrarian, “I prefer real books.” But he hardly has the last word. For an example of a good critique, including Shirky’s reaction, read Scotnetwork’s well-covered viewpoint.

But there’s a broader perspective here that we’re all missing.

Ho Hum, Another Boring Old vs. New Debate

Gladwell went back to 1960 for his example. Fast forward two decades, to the introduction of voicemail in about 1980. You can read about the technical history of voicemail, but I want to focus on what I remember as the commercial reaction at the time.

I was working at a consulting firm, the MAC Group, at the time. (Jamie Dimon, for a few months, administratively reported to me—one of my better party trivia). Voicemail came to us as a Rolm product. At the time, three aspects of the system quickly grabbed our attention.

Implication One. Back then there was a key job—that of telephone receptionist. Like many other companies, a single person typically sat near the front door of the office, and performed two functions: greeting those who came in the door, and answering the phone. First implication: job insecurity.

Implication Two. Cost-benefit. As I recall, quite a bit of time was spent analyzing (we were, after all, a management consulting firm) the cost-benefit ratio of the new system. Was it a new item, with new value? So thought the nerds of the time. Or was it simply a new efficiency toy, to be justified by the job redundancies it made possible? So thought the hard-asses and Luddites of the time.

Implication Three. How could you make money off this thing? To be honest, I recall less of this discussion around voicemail than around the other two–but this was early in our love for things technoid. This question—how it would make money—became the obsessive question for later generations of techno-toys. Think laptops, PDAs, LANs, document management systems—and all that was before we even got the Big Deal—the Internet.

All of these waves of technology add up to one conclusion above all others: Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.  The more things change, the more it’s the same thing.

The Things That Stay the Same

1.    We constantly mistake plumbing for business models. A phone is not a business model. Neither is voicemail. Neither is Twitter. They all start out as cool ideas, then get anointed as business models, then quickly move to plumbing. Nothing wrong with plumbing. Though before too long, you notice that it’s only plumbers who make money off plumbing.

2.     The real issue is not efficiency, it’s effectiveness. The importance of voicemail lay not in reducing secretarial positions, but in advancing the quality and range of communications possibilities. Voicemail didn’t ruin communication—it altered it. Ditto Twitto.

3.    The new issues get framed in the old terms. Twitter and Facebook are neither the savior of civilization, nor the antichrist. They are not good, or bad. New and old media will find their own levels. One is wide and flat; one is deep and narrow. The world has room for both. They will sort out.

 Maybe it’s me showing my age, but I find the debates interesting, yet ultimately boring. 

I prefer, of course, to think of that as wisdom, borne of perspective. 

You, of course, will think what you will. That’s what we as humans do.   

Inbound Marketing, Inbound Sales, Inbound Life

My guess is about a third of my readers know this subject way better than I do; and the rest have barely heard of it. Hopefully the third will forgive me my errors, in hopes of giving the two-thirds something of interest. 

My sense of inbound marketing is cadged together from several sources, and I don’t remember to whom I should give credit. Hopefully they’ll write in to claim it. Anyway, here we go.

Inbound marketing, nominally, is a reaction to many media-based forms of selling. Our phone has become an instrument for outgoing calls only. Email is beginning to resemble spam. We have spam filters for email, caller-ID and do-not-call lists for the phone, time-shifting and premium channels for video. All to keep marketers at bay.

The alternative is networks we choose: LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and communal sites like The Customer Collective. We invite people in to those networks, and so we answer the “phone” or the “beep” or whatever. Those people, and those channels, are the ones we accept marketing from.

So how does one market to that channel? 

By serving Others. On Twitter, it’s doing 10 tweets about others to one about yourself. On blogs, it’s writing 10 comments on others’ blogs to writing one post on yourself. On LinkedIn it’s participating in 10 conversations to starting one yourself. And so on.

This is both radical and old as the hills. It’s radical for most mass marketers who are still trying to break through the email barrier, and for most corporate bloggers who think the world wants their official brand-spins. Basically, it’s radical for any marketers still trying to sell instead of offer engagement.

It’s as old as the hills for anyone who understands reciprocity. You give to get. You get what you want by getting others what they want. The love you make, you take, and so on. 

In the online marketing sphere, companies like HubSpot do a great job of offering high quality free diagnostics. Having gotten something of value, their customers become trusting, and curious. Trusting that HubSpot knows what they’re doing, and curious to find out more. The most natural thing in the world is to respond favorably to an open-ended question about whether they can offer more help. Of course, thanks for asking.

In the life sphere, we do the same. We like people who do not need, and who give of themselves. We do not like people who are needy, particularly those who deny it, and who seek to get without giving. Given the chance, we hang out with the former, and not with the latter. 

Thereby proving either the unfairness of life, or the paradoxical key to life, depending on how you look at it. 

If you get inbound marketing, I’ll bet you believe in the connectedness of people, and the basic decency of mankind. 

If you think inbound marketing is for fools who will only get themselves conned, I’ll bet you believe in the innate nastiness of people, and the need to protect yourselves from them.

Guess who’s happier.

It may not be quite all that simple—but mostly it is.