Expertise is obviously an interest of mine – I wrote a dissertation on it so…. there you go. It seems to me that lately expertise has become what ‘leadership’ was for the last decade – everyone wants to be an expert at everything. I choose to hold Al Gore responsible…. is he really an expert on the climate? I don’t know that he ever claimed to be, but he was one of the first to use new media to ‘talk like an expert’ about something that is a complex topic requiring a certain degree of scientific aptitude to fully appreciate. And suddenly everyone is an expert!
So what is expertise? How do we get it, how do we maintain it, what do we do with it? What does it accomplish to be an expert in a topic versus just knowing a lot about it, or being interested in it? What does it take?
I say yes. Social is by definition personal connections, providing timely, relevant, and personal information to a highly targeted audience on a regular basis. That’s tough to scale, because it requires people who are culturally aware and engaged to craft and deliver the message. I’m OK with that – I think it should take that, and don’t believe it should be reduced to a bunch of automons cranking out scripts. But businesses have to get past the gauntlet of software “solutions”, consulting “solutions”, and other supposedly quick, cheap, easy, and effective ways to be in social. I believe it can be more effective than traditional marketing channels, but quick, cheap, and easy isn’t necessarily the best way to drive effectiveness (and that’s true for most things, not just social media marketing).
I have a Ph.D. in organizational communication, so I have great respect for the discipline. But let’s be honest. When I was in college in the 1980s, Comm was the degree for athletes who needed something easy to fill their timesheets. Oh, I mean their course schedules….. (a caveat: my undergrad degree is NOT in Comm). But these days, communication majors may be on to something. The ability to communicate effectively in a variety of formats, channels, and audiences is critical to a successful social media marketing presence. Comm majors just might turn out to be more valuable off the field than on the field!
Lessons for leaders come from all sorts of places. I was recently reminded of one by a friend who was reminicing about watching the Mr. Rogers show as a child. Fred Rogers had many wonderful life lessons that leaders can incorporate into their own practices, and almost all of them centered on kindness.
“There are three ways to ultimate success: The first way is to be kind. The second way is to be kind. The third way is to be kind.”
I’m at a conference in Cardiff, Wales, a place few Americans can probably place on a map without some hints. It is in fact a beautiful old city, full of history, and quintessential British weather – cold, rainy, blustery even in June. Tough for a Colorado girl used to blue skies and sunshine. But the conference is excellent, filled with smart people who share a common interest in expertise and how it is created. The leaders of the conference, Dr. Evans and Dr. Collins, wrote a book recently entitled Rethinking Expertise, which heavily influenced my dissertation (which you can find under the Research link on this page). It has been an interesting, stimulating, and engaging couple of days.
When Dawkins first suggested memes as a way of thinking about how culture replicates itself and mutates into new and different forms in the process, the internet wasn’t even a word in popular use. There was no verb “to google”, there was no all-knowing wikipedia, and no one had ever tweeted except for a yellow cartoon bird named Tweety. And yet, culture was finding ways to replicate and spread, an idea that Dawkins recognized as interesting and useful.
Today we have ‘internet memes’ – a trend that shows in near-real time the phenomena Dawkins tried to describe. As cards, expressions, and graphics combine with rapid dissimination to large populations, it is possible to consider the idea of culture replication more closely. These memes almost beg to be spread, and move through the internet faster than chicken pox through a second grade in the 1980s, which of course is now no longer culturally relevant since the discovery of a vaccine. It will be interesting to see if society eventually innoculates itself against the invasion of internet memes in some way. By the way, I just happened to notice that Dawkins “The Selfish Gene” (published in the 1970s) is on the top seller list for the Guardian this week!
What is it that makes an internet meme successful in being replicated and mutating to meet different cultural norms? There is an element of funny – a sarcastic, ironic, suble, or blantent play on culture context, ranging from politics to gender wars to the mundane requirements of getting through the day. For all of us who are somewhere between humored and annoyed by the two pages of disclaimers on EVERYTHING these days, and prevelance of stupid people – this resonates:
Timeliness does not seem to be a factor – some are enduring and span generations – most people at least in the US, and possibly worldwide, can connect with the frustrated Storm Trooper, showing the legacy of George Lucas on our collective psyche, making a fun play on the ‘inspirational’ posters that invaded our professional lives in the early 2000s.
It seems like ‘social marketing’ has taken on a life of its own, making it seem like anything and everything a company puts out there has to go viral, or it wasn’t worth the effort. At the same time, companies want an enduring viral experience – as though anyone wants a virus to stick around. We can only tolerate things for so long before we lose interest, especially if they have that jarring emotional or intellectual spark that creates a viral sensation. Very few viral videos have stood the test of time – “Where the Hell is Matt” is one of the few I can personally watch again and again, but otherwise they are like seeing The Matrix for the XXth time – the fight scenes eventually lose their allure.
There is still such a commitment to the traditional view of marketing, and to push marketing messages with the fervor of a blanket airdrop of fliers scattering encouragement to a bombed in population. There is a lot of lip service to the idea of ‘community’ and ‘connection’, but few marketers want to accept that the customer owns their own space these days, and they have to want a brand in it.
So how do yo get into the space without an air drop? Certainly viral videos, internet memes, and other phenomena are important. But there’s also value in slugging it out in the trenches – being present on Facebook, Twitter, and expert forums (or other culturally relevant platforms) for opportunities to answer questions, have a conversation, and really hear what people are saying about your brand, your products, or your industry as a whole. The problem is, this takes people and time, especially if you are a global company. It takes a native speaker with local culture to really connect to an online community that has a strong geographical affiliation. So platform selection becomes critical to any social strategy – where do you want to be committed?
Viral stories, pictures, videos, and events should absolutely be a part of any current social marketing effort. But viral only accomplishes one goal in what should be a multi-faceted approach to social marketing.
Why do events like the transit of Venus facinate so many people? One way to consider it is by applying the conditions presenting in a ‘resource based view’ of an asset. Companies who subscribe to the RBV view (which is most companies in the US today, in some way, whether they know it or not) place an emphasis on strategic assets. A strategic asset has four attributes: Valuable, Rare, Inimitable, and Non-substitutable. These are known as the VRIN attributes.
Consider the transit of Venus. I suggest it has three of the four attributes. It is certainly rare, inimitable, and non-substitutable. But is it valuable? For scientists, it has had value for centuries as it has contributed to research about our universe, especially in less technically adept times. But for the common population, perhaps the other three attributes combined give it value – the chance to see something that won’t be seen again. Truly a once in a lifetime event, which is special in our world of easy recurrance, where almost anything can become a ‘do over’.
Regardless, it is for sure especially valuabe to people who market those little filters you can use to view the small black dot as it treks across the face of the sun.
Here’s a spectacular picture from Nasa, published by Reuters:
I recently interviewed a potential senior level candidate who really stood out from the crowd. He came visibly prepared, and quickly took control of the conversation without seeming overbearing. He had printed out our ‘fact sheet’, and highlighted the industrires and service offerings where he felt he had the most to contribute. He then ranked them in order of his best capabilities on a simple scale of 1 to 3. He talked through his thoughts on how to best position within our target market, and made his experience feel relevant and thoughtful. I’ve interviewed a lot of people, so he gave me pause for thought as I tried to sort out exactly what he did to make an impression. I came up with four things:
- He seemed geniunely interested in what we do
- He specifically offered an agenda, or to let me drive the pace and tempo, an offer he made with a clear understanding of the tradeoffs for both him and me
- He took the time to think about where he would fit in
- He was articulate about his career goals and what he wants to do with his time
So many people come in with no more than “I’ve done this before I can do it again”, and a garbled explanation of why they are where they are and what they want to do next. I don’t blame them – it is hard to describe life when you are in your 40s and suddenly find yourself in the interview seat for the first time in years. But the times when you see it done well, it is memorable.