Can You Have Thought Leadership Without Thought?

the only rule is work

Flickr photo by litherland

Having worked in PR for more than a dozen years, one of the unkillable buzz-phrases has been “thought leader.” For PR clients, it’s a simplified expression for being known for more than self-promotional reasons. rather than shilling your product or company (there is always a place for that), show expertise in a topic, and get media coverage, and industry recognition, and the resulting boost in credibility helps bring credibility to- well, your shilling of your company and product.

Fast forward to social media days, where the push and pull between communications consulting (PR, marketing, and even advertising are being bundled up in social media, confusing matters more) and brazen self-promotion has become more fierce.

See, as a PR flak I took a lot of pride in being behind the scenes, making clients famous. I guess I was the same way in my media days as well, preferring the role of editor and producer to that of on-air personality or bylined reporter. As my work moved more towards, social media, many of us made the unaccustomed move to be out front, blogging and Tweeting  and making all sorts of media that other people can see. This process has created a lot more visibility for many of us, and that’s great as far as it instructs in how to make the people who pay us famous.

Again, we  come to the push/pull between consulting and self-promotion. I tend to tread lightly, because many people I consider friends have gotten”social media famous” or whatever you like to call it. However, determining the difference between people enjoying the sound of their own voices and those who are genuinely making contributions has become harder to discern in the flood of social media publishing (and I use that term in its broadest meaning, not just books).

This difficulty makes articles like this one in the Harvard Business Review (“How to Become a Thought Leader in six Steps”) dangerous, to be frank. Here are the six steps from Dorie Clark’s post:

  1. Create a Robust Online Presence
  2. Flaunt High-Quality Affiliations
  3. Give Public Speeches
  4. Appear on TV
  5. Win Some Awards
  6. Publish a Book

First, what is great about them is that they are common-sense steps to get attention- nothing new to PR folks, but always bearing repetition.

What worries me about this list, is it is all about gaining attention, and those prone to self-absorption will follow these rules to the hilt without necessarily fueling it with what is most necessary: thought. Just as good PR cannot overcome a bad product, effective thought leadership cannot truly survive if narcissism takes hold.

So, follow these rules (and use the word “robust” – sorry, couldn’t resist) at your peril. Is publishing a book necessary? Awards? Speaking? How about a barrel of case studies of your actual work (which might win you those awards or be publishable in a book. And high-quality affiliations are great, but flaunting them is not something I would find attractive in a potential consultant- in fact, if that’s what I look for in a hire I have already lost.

To be fair, this list will probably serve several people well, particularly Ms Clark’s audience. To me, however, it comes up empty. Substance will always rule; theses rules are polish.

Perhaps it takes Six Steps to be a “Thought Leader,” but I’m guessing twice as many to pull back if you go too far.

Pay for Twitter? Of Course!

Take II of the Panel from SMBV Back in early 2008, I participated in a Social Media Breakfast in Boston about Twitter. Actually, the title was half tongue-in-cheek, half serious: “How Twitter Changed My Life.”

One of the questions the audience asked me and my fellow panel members (Laura Fitton, Scott Monty and Jim Storer), was “Would you pay for Twitter?” I have no idea what I answered. I probably said yes, suck-up that I am.

But would we pay? Many more people are on Twitter nearly three years later, brands see it as an important part of their communications outreach and people like me see it as an important link to those of us in our profession, colleagues and past, present and future employers (relax, I’m not looking).

Would we pay? Has anyone really asked or answered that question under any real threat that we would actually have to pay a cent for the service? We have let other services dwindle into relevance or death before, and we’ll do it again. Utterz, soon to be re-christened Utterli, was big at that Breakfast, and much of it was documented through that wonderful service. What happened to that? Here’s what happened- just check out the videos from this blog post: Get my drift? Don’t want to pay? Then dust… to dust.

So now, we are seeing more incursion of ads (more to the point, paid placements) in Twitter. The horror! Twitter wants to make money! Well, I guess if you glean no value from Twitter you can write off their avarice as evil. You can, as my friend Aaron Stout says in the first link, look at sunny skies and expect appropriate targeting of said paid placements.

You can also keep on using the tool, free to answer questions like “would you pay for Twitter” without any worry about having to back up your answer.

For the record, I pay for Flickr (photos) and Vimeo (video) accounts, not to mention blog hosting and domain registration. As for Twitter? Bring on the sponsored Tweets! Make them relevant– does anyone complain about search engine ads? Really? Facebook ads (aside from the howlingly inappropriate targeting that sometimes occurs)? Really?

Ads are coming. Enjoy!

Are the Smirking Jackals Hoping to Kill Foursquare in the Cradle?

Those of us in the social media and marketing industry have seen the reports over the last day or so: “Only” 4% of US adults who go online are using geo-location services like Foursquare, Gowalla and the like.

The people who hate these services, find them annoying (fair enough) or don’t understand them likely take this as proof that these services are doomed to failure.

Here’s the real problem– people’s sense of time, their patience, has left them.

Remember this headline (or others like this), from mid-2009, a full two and a half years after Twitter launched?

Only 1 in 20 Americans Use Twitter

If my math is good, that works out to 5%. Are people writing off Twitter now? The same organization Pew, that people are quoting to show how “little” traction geo-location services have, also puts the Twitter number up to 24% (up from 6% in 2008, a bit different than the story linked above stated, but still).

By the way, here is the direct link to Pew, which doesn’t offer judgment in the upfront summary.

And, a more sane analysis from Business Insider (!), comparing Foursquare to Twitter growth rates.

Ignore geo-location services at your peril. These are early days, and things are just getting started. True, the location-based aspect may limit the final growth of these services (and sure, some uses are annoying- same with Twitter and Facebook, I must add), but they bear watching. No responsible communicator should be writing these off.

*If you’d like to go slightly down the dictionary page from “jackals” for the title of this post, be my guest

How to Format a USB Thumb Drive for Your Car: A Solution to a Nagging Problem

I drive a Honda Fit (2009 Sport model), and love the USB connector in the dash. Not being an iPod owner, I use it to connect a thumb drive that is big enough to hold as much music as I can stand. There were a few obstacles to getting this just right, however, and I thought I would write about the process here in case anyone else who had issues and like me is a not a super tech-nerd but can handle some hackerish tasks. Gere’s how to format a USB thumb drive for cars, the way I figured it out:

First, the problems:

  • The Fit (and possibly other cars) are picky about formatting: I needed to format my disk in “FAT32,” but on my Windows 7 lap top with a 64GB drive, that option doesn’t show up, only NTFS and exFAT. When I tried to use a drive formatted with either of those options, the car would not read it.

  • The car stereo would not display all of the folders: I discovered that if you have more than 700 folders, too bad (it’s easy to have that much music on 64GB. The car would read the first 699. You could play any track in random mode (I realized this when Velvet Underground tracks played even though I could not find the folder), but you couldn’t go select the tracks manually.
  • Folders would not appear in any logical order: Actually, it’s perfectly logical for folders to appear in the order you placed them on the disc, but that doesn’t help you when you have scores of folders you might like in alphabetical order. The tags in the MP3 files don’t always help, either, especially if you have a single folder for one artist drawing from several albums.

So, on to the solutions.

  • Limiting Folders: That was a simple matter of being more efficient in how I copied music on to the USB drive, creating one folder for each artist (for the most part), and  then finding away to arrange the files in order (next). That got me well under the manageable number of folders.
  • Rename the Song Files: The forum poster pointed me to an MP3 re-tagging utility. It turned out to be pretty easy to use. I renamed the files (once copied to the USB stick, never touching my originals) to display the album name first to group albums together within artist folders, then track #, then name. The images below show the process for renaming one of my albums, but you could do the whole shebang in one stroke. One thing I could not figure out was the code for shortening album titles so I could cram more info into the short car stereo display (the example in the post didn’t work for me), but otherwise it worked well.

  • On to sorting the files: The forum post pointed to this file sorting utility, which overwrote the default ordering (folders pop up on car display by date modified) by letting you order them as you wish. I, of course, chose alphabetical. The example below shows me adding a single folder (Nick Cave”) and putting it in its proper place.

Now, I can find any file by artist, rather than searching through jhundreds of artist and album folders in seemingly random order. Plus, when I add new purchases, I can slip them into the proper findable order as well. It was a bit of picking to find the process, but now that I have it it is reasonably easy. I hope this helps anyone else out there looking for a similar solution.