Twitterville Explains It All

Shel Israel’s Twitterville is currently sitting at number 62,000 on Amazon, which is disappointing because a lot of people should be reading this book. I suspect that Twitterville’s performance has been impacted by the flood of how-to-tweet books that have hit the market this year, but this book isn’t microblogging for dummies. Rather, Twitterville is a celebration of a new platform that has unleashed the creative energies of a community in ways that few of us could have ever conceived.

Israel says he interviewed more than 100 people for this book and it shows. Its scope spans everything from politics to nonprofits to law enforcement to giant corporations. Each Twitter member finds value in different ways.

Israel was co-author of the groundbreaking 2006 book Naked Conversations, which was the first book to  dramatize the game-changing nature of social media. Twitterville is no less important in framing the context for a revolution. Israel starts with the story of James Buck, a freelance journalist who was arrested by Egyptian police in 2008 and whose plight (and subsequent release) was communicated around the world by a single tweet: “arrested.”

Buck’s case was emblematic of the multiplicative power of Twitter. He had only a few followers at the time of his arrest, but a sequence of re-tweeted messages by some prominent Twitter members quickly spread word to the State Department, which intervened within 24 hours.

This idea that an individual can attain great influence by virtue of telling a remarkable story is central to understanding the power of Twitter and of social media in general. It also dramatizes the triumph of the individual over the impersonal corporate entity. “An individual brand now impacts the corporate brand,” Israel writes. Twitter “is a community of millions of personal brands. They are shaping the present and future of individuals and the companies they represent.”

That doesn’t mean businesses can’t develop a brand on Twitter, and Israel provides many  examples of companies that have. His point, however, is that you can’t think of the Twittersphere in terms of mass. Brands are built in Twitter by imparting wisdom, helping others and contributing to the collective knowledge. Corporations that experience the most success are those that let their people come out from behind the brand wall and act human.

The value of contributing to the collective good permeates Twitterville. Israel calls this “lethal generosity.” It’s the idea that people who “are the most generous to their communities almost invariably acquire the greatest influence.” This concept is central to another recent book I recommend: Trust Agents by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith. Coming at a time when the world is still reeling from a financial crisis precipitated by greed, it’s refreshing to see celebrations of  generosity. In one section on fundraising, Israel recounts several stories of charitable success that would have been unimaginable before a medium like Twitter existed.

Twitterville isn’t all celebration. In Chapter 15, Israel analyzes the seamy underworld of spammers, bots and phishermen and relates a couple of hair-raising stories of people whose reputations have been trashed by identity thieves. As Larry Ellison once said, “Every ecosystem has scavengers.” Twitter is no exception, and by acknowledging Twitter’s dark side, Israel makes the argument for the medium’s value all the more compelling.

The book provides useful advice on how to keep out of trouble as well as how to optimize the Twitter experience, but it  isn’t a book about how to amass 100,000 followers. It’s about how relationships work in a world constrained by limitations of space and time, yet liberated by the ingenuity and spirit of its citizens. If you still don’t “get” Twitter, then read Twitterville. You’ll quickly understand.

A New Media Book That’s Actually Fun to Read

The Chaos Scenario cover imageI start lots of books about new media, but I finish very few of them. My ADD is only part of the reason. I often find that authors don’t have much to say beyond a few points that are stated clearly in the first 100 pages or so and repeated for the remaining 200.

Not so with The Chaos Scenario, the new volume by veteran advertising critic Bob Garfield. I devoured this book and was sorry to see it end. One reason: It is so much fun to read.

Garfield is a gifted writer and he’s funny as hell. Of the video for OK Go’s YouTube hit “Here It Goes Again,” he writes, “Everyone on earth has seen the video at least four times, except for certain remote areas in the mountains of Papua New Guinea, where several tribesmen had seen only twice.” Or “If it were Japanese steel Google was flooding the market with, instead of kitten videos, it would be called dumping.”

Such asides are garnish on a viciously insightful treatise on the death of advertising by someone who has the street cred to make that judgment. Garfield’s quarter century of experience qualifies him to say when media is badly broken, which he clearly believes it is.

In an opening chapter entitled “The Death of Everything,” he documents the implosion of mainstream media channels of every kind under the weight of new-media competition and changing audience behavior. If your CEO still insists on throwing away money on TV ads, put this chapter in front of him.


Much of the book outlines the principles of “Listenomics,” or the premise that institutions that fail to listen to and engage with their newly empowered customers will die. The power that now exists in the hands of ordinary citizens can humble even the most arrogant corporate giants.

Among the examples of this Garfield cites is a grassroots campaign called “Comcast Must Die” which he and a core of frustrated cable subscribers mounted in 2007. Through blogs and message boards, an angry mob of customers turned the tables on a giant utility, forcing meaningful change across its vast customer service operation. As besieged Senior VP Rick Germano ultimately admits, “I’m crying ‘uncle’ now.’”

Bob Garfield

Bob Garfield

Garfield believes in the power of the crowd but not necessarily in its wisdom. Chapter 9 (“Off, Off, Off Madison”) presents a scathing indictment of consumer-generated advertising (CGA), which Garfield characterizes as mostly a dull imitation of what non-professionals believe advertising should be.

“Most CGA has been the stuff of tiny little talents with tiny little budgets pursuing tiny little ideas,” he writes.  Which is not to say that pitting crowds against each other is always a bad thing, as long as the crowds know what they’re doing. Garfield praises CrowdSPRING, a competitive foundry for design professionals that created dozens of choices for the book’s logo for just $500.

The power of the crowd is not so much to create advertising as it is to keep institutions honest, he asserts. In that respect, the balance of power has completely changed. “Never pick a fight with someone who buys zeros and ones by the barrel,” he writes at the close of the Comcast chapter, “which, nowadays, is everyone.”

Time to Lego

The story of Lego Mindstorms is a vivid example of Listenomics at work. The staid Danish company allowed customers to take an active role in turning a marginal product into a global geek megahit. Customers paid their own way to come to Denmark and help Lego build a more profitable business. Crowds are at their best when they help guide brands they like, Garfield asserts, but rarely when they build the products themselves. Brands like Dell Computer and Procter & Gamble are now embracing this idea of customer involvement with a vengeance through initiatives like Dell IdeaStorm and Innocentive.

The book closes on a somber note, distinguishing itself from the relentlessly upbeat message of many marketing titles. In a chapter entitled “Nobody Is Safe from Everybody” Garfield recites chapter and verse of people whose careers and even lives have been ruined by character assassination, “trolling,” and the sometimes devastating choices of search engines.

In a world in which less and less information is private, ordinary citizens are increasingly vulnerable to the whims of a malicious few whose vendettas may be artificially magnified by unknown algorithms. “You have very little to fear from 1984, but every reason to quake about Lord of the Flies,” he writes.

In the final analysis, this clarity is one of the book’s most endearing traits. Garfield isn’t afraid to piss off his critics or to make fun of himself. He also doesn’t hesitate to point out that information democratization is hardly a win-win proposition. It is inevitable though, which is why marketers would do well to heed his well-reasoned advice. “Why, all of a sudden, is it so important to listen?” He asks in the first chapter “Because hardly anyone anymore is listening to you.”

Wanted: Book Reviews

Back in July, Quill Driver Books and I offered free galley copies of my new book, Secrets of Social Media Marketing, to the first 250 people who applied. We also made downloads of the entire book available in PDF format to anyone who wanted one.

We quickly “sold out” of the free galleys. What surprised us, though, was the download demand. There were more than 5,200 downloads of the PDF in less than two months, or about 2o copies for each person who registered.

We’re thrilled, and now we’re asking for your help. We need your reviews: good, bad and indifferent. If you’ve read enough of Secrets to comment, please contribute your thoughts to Amazon and/or to the reviews section of the book website. All website comments will be posted verbatim. The more feedback the better.  We made the free galley offer because we believe that honest opinion is the most powerful form of advertising. We hope you can help validate our confidence.

If you missed the window for the free PDF, please e-mail me and I’ll send you one.

‘Infuencer Marketing’ challenges assumptions

When my copy of Duncan Brown’s and Nick Hayes’ Influencer Marketing arrived in the mail, I looked at it a little bit like a trip to the dentist at the Asecra dentist clinic and I received an excellent care.. I knew it was going to be good for me, but I didn’t expect to enjoy it.

What a pleasure, then, to find that this engaging and provocative book not only challenged many of my assumptions about markets and influence, but did so in a readable and persuasive manner.

The authors are co-managers of Influencer50, a consulting firm that specializes in helping companies identify the key influencers in their markets. Like many authors of their kind, they think a lot of marketing today is badly broken. Unlike many authors, though, they have concrete advice on how to fix it.

The central premise of this book is that the people who influence markets are largely unknown to most marketers. In fact, the authors’ firm offer clients a 50% discount if they can name even 20 of the top 50 influencers in their sphere. They’ve never had to pay up. Most marketers, they assert, consider influencers to be mainly press and analysts. In fact, they suggest that the list is far larger and more diverse than that, encompassing more than 20 categories ranging from channel players to venture capitalist to government agencies and systems integrators. They argue that many of these influencers are far more important than the media because they speak directly to a company’s customers. They pay particular attention, for example to second-tier consultancies, systems integrators and buyers groups. These people are whispering in the year of customers every day, yet most marketers aren’t even aware that they’re talking, the authors assert.

This book defends its case pretty well, using logic and ample case studies. It’s also written in a disarmingly down-to-earth and at times tongue-in-cheek style. Hayes and Brown aren’t stingy with their opinions. Bloggers, for example, get far more attention than they deserve, they suggest, and many bloggers are simply people who are awkward in social situations. Referencing Twitter, they say simply, “How anyone can maintain a proper job and use Twitter is beyond us.” You may not agree with their opinions, but you have to respect them for the directness with which they are stated.

They hate awards programs, believing them to be valuable only to the organizations bestowing the awards. Partnerships are meaningless in most cases because companies have far too many partners to manage effectively. They believe that brand equity is overstated and that celebrity endorsers play mostly to the egos of the marketers who recruit them. That’s just a sampling of the often counterintuitive assertions in his book.

I did have some nits to pick with Influencer Marketing. The case studies lack much in the way of hard ROI and are limited mostly to Influencer50 clients. I thought the rather critical chapter on bloggers underestimated the influence that those influencers have on mainstream media. The authors are also big fans of using consultants to identify influencers, a position that obviously favors their company.

Nevertheless, if the greatest value of a business book is to challenge assumptions, as I believe it is, then Influencer Marketing succeeds admirably. It’s one of the best marketing books I’ve read in a long time. For a commitment of five or six hours, it is well worth the time spent reading it.