Two sides of 'influence'

by admin on October 24, 2008

in General,Innovation,Marketing

Ever since I started AccMan I’ve held the view that this media is a way to build reputation and influence. It’s an essential part of marketing your skills and wares. It doesn’t have to be ‘in your face’ messaging but about the ability to tell a story that resonates with people. It’s been something I’ve tried to encourage our crusty profession to pick up from day one. I don’t think I’ve been that successful but then I’m not hurting for work or cash so something must be OK. The last couple of days are a sort of testament to that.

In the wider blogsophere I’ve cobbled a reputation the US calls ‘cumudgeonly.’ That’s fine though I prefer something that describes the practical voice of reason. While I love new technology and innovation, I detest the disconnect between marketing hype and reality. The crap I have to digitally shovel is unbelievable when weighed against PR spin on topics such as social media, a topic I think is vastly over-rated and horribly over-hyped. Check this as an example from a piece I received a few hours ago:

6 out of 10 Americans who use social media interact with companies on social media Web sites

Please – don’t laugh. It’s pitiful.

It was against that backdrop I wrote a piece at Chris Brogan’s place that attacked the rationale behind Web 2.0 Expo. I described it as boring and dull. That incurred the wrath of Tim O’Reilly, the show’s founder and a well known luminary in tech circles who basically thinks I’m an idiot but managed to show incredible ignorance by failing to do even the most basic research on me or my background. I don’t mind. In fact as I said on Irregular Enterprise, I believe the topic I was discussing needs a good airing.Wea ll make mistakes and it is all too easy to fall into the knee jerk trap when a particular sacred cow is being slaughtered.

I was surprised by the amount of support for my position that came through back channels like email, direct messages and on Twitter. I’ve come to rely on Twitter as part of my research toolkit so when I ran a search on ‘dahowlett or Dennis Howlett’ this is what turned up.That will change over time so I’ve taken a snapshot (image left.)

I particularly like Graham from bpodr’s assessment where he says:

I won’t recreate the debate here – read the comments on the post for a great insight into some of the problems associated with taking these tools mainstream – but what the comments revealed was the power of an open forum for trying to define something and reach a consensus. This is what drives change…

Opening up the debate might seem scary. You may hear things you don’t want to or which reveal things you would rather stay hidden. But, as Menchaca says in the FT piece, being open leads to credibility.

I’ve no idea if I/Tim would have sparked the debate anywhere else except at Chris’s place. Be that as it may. Having the opportunity to put my dyspeptic voice to the topic at a high profile site was definitely worth the attention.

Around the same time, a Google News Alert came in, tagged with my name. I found that a piece I wrote at TechDirt’s InsightCommunity found its way onto the American Express Open Forum. In this case, TechDirt was paying for views on how to overcome the credit crunch. I donned my number crunching hat, lathered myself in a bit of biz consulting lotion and set out a bunch of things business can do. I knew the piece would end up being syndicated but as I implied on IT Counts, knowing that you’re helpful to even a small handful of readers is incredibly satisfying and good for business in the long term.

Even for those of us who make this medium our business, it takes time to get attention and to build a reputation. Unless of course you’re someone like Stephen Fry. 99.9% of us are not. We’re simply trying to make our way in an increasingly noisy world but passionate about the things in which we believe.

Many professionals I know have become jaded with what they have to deal with. HMRC’s IT is a farce, Sage sucks the life out of creative thinking and as for spreadsheets – don’t get me going on that one. Especially after the Barclays-Lehman debacle. And then there is the degeniracy among the Big 4 that casts a shadow across us all. But it doesn’t have to be like that

I love the technology and I still think there are plenty of good things that can be done with it. This media alone and the references I’ve made to others should offer some evidence of that. It is clear to me that a combination of passion, wit and an ability to express that intelligently can serve you well. Even in a recession. It’s really up to you how much influence and reputation matter to you.

In the meantime, I leave you with this link from the Guardian about why you should not friend your boss on Facebook. A salutary lesson to all social media types. And a good reason to check out LinkedIn.

I’ll now get back to my favourite job: comforting the disturbed and disturbing the comfortable.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Comments on this entry are closed.

Richard Stacy October 24, 2008 at 11:23 am


I share your frustration at the extent to which the whole web2.0 debate has become dull and boring and/or dragged into purely a marketing focused conversation.

My particular frustration is that this whole web2.0 / social media things is way too geeky. Most of the people who were in Berlin and are at the bleeding edge are far to obsessed with the technology. There are no-where near enough people looking at the big picture – which for me is very simple. Since the invention of the printing press the mass distribution of information became possible but was expensive. Therefore the flow of information in our society was institutionalised. In fact most of the institutions that have emerged since Gutenberg have been formed out of, or depend, on this basic principle. However, it now costs nothing to distribute information – and this fact is eroding a basic foundation that supports the way society operates. Almost any institution – certainly any institution whose function is the mediation of information – will be affected. And this isn't just the "traditional" media, a bank, for example, is basically an institution that mediates information between people who have money and people who want money.

This whole thing (whatever we decide to call it) is therefore a once in 500 year shift which has the potential to be as revolutionary as the original Gutenberg revolution, which after all gave birth to the Renaissance, science and the concept of modern democracy. Yet I find no-one really looking at this thing I call the Gutenberg Principle and investigating the extent to which it has shaped our society. I see almost no debate about the likely shape and form of society where it costs nothing to distribute information. No-one is looking at defining the concept of a social media citizen – what their behaviour might be and what tools they might need. Instead we are all talking about networks and platforms and gizmos. We have to get some non-geeks into the debate.

Perhaps this debate is going on somewhere and I haven't found it. If you know of it – please let me know.

Dennis Howlett October 24, 2008 at 11:26 am

That's kind Phil and much appreciated. I speak with the bitter experience of both recent past and from 15 years ago. Collaboration is the key but it's a devil's own job to make this work. I recall trying to figure this out in many years ago and while we didn't have the tools, we certainly didn't have the full understanding of the human aspects which is where the real problems lay IMO.

What truly worries me is the lack of intellectual rigor around what makes organizations 'tick' in the real world when applied to these problems. The sadness is that the literature is now there but the organizational understanding isn't among the Web 2.0 mavens who predominantly see this as a sales and marketing tool. That's just one dimension and even then they're way off the mark in terms of breakthrough results.

I agree about the 'expert' moniker. As someone said to me – if you can spell 'social media' then you'll probably get hired. It's a sad reflection of the industry in which I live but that's hype for you.

Interesting that this morning, as I joshed with someone on Twitter suggesting they let the socmed people know their thoughts are rotting and the stink of death is putrefying that the same person thought I was 'trolling.' Go figure.

Dennis Howlett October 24, 2008 at 11:41 am

@Chris – your comment came in just as I hit the 'post' button for replying to Phil.

I saw Berlin as dull because many of the pressos were things I could have found on a Google search. About 25% was new(ish) but even then I would have only found interest in maybe a third. So if we can't even use Google to research what is already there, then what hope have we?

But to your point I see this all the time. I'm a business geek so I know what you mean. People want answers to problems. They could care less what the technology is like PROVIDED it gives them a great experience. There are good examples out there.

To your Gutenberg point – it's a good argument and some people are speculating loosely on this. Most couch it in terms of the Gen-Y phenomenon but I am not convinced that generation *of itself* can bring the kind of change that social technologies suggests. Remember that the world was a lot 'smaller' then. There is a global economy today and we do have to traverse cultural norms even inside nation states. My post on Enterprise Alley where I talked with PB Wiki amply demonstrates that point. As someone who has lived offshore close to 12 years, I am aware of *some* of the differences.

The question is whether in an age where we already live with some level of technology, can we superimpose the new onto the old in ways that will being the kind of change many of us vaguely envisage.

The short answer seems to be 'unlikely' and I think that's partly because we are living with 600 year old methods as the underpinning for much of what needs to be displaced. The difficulty is that the investments already made are so huge and so entrenched that it requires a radical change in external factors to provide the trigger. The current credit crunch *might* be it. It might not.

Richard Stacy October 27, 2008 at 1:41 pm


True – it is not a generational thing which is why I also dislike this way of describing what is happening – it makes it seem like a passing fad.

We are dealing with the legacy of something that is 600 years old – and these things don't change overnight – but they do change. The interesting thing is that very few people are able to really understand the nature and direction of the change because they are always looking backwards and using the past as their frame of reference. This is why so few people are actually analysing this shift in terms of a Gutenberg and post-Gutenberg world.

Phil Baumann October 24, 2008 at 2:10 pm

What you said over on Chris' blog needed to be articulated.

For those who claim to be ardently propounding the cause of 'Web 2.0', or whatever lingo we use, why should they fear building a falsifiable case for getting this right? If they passionately believe in a cause, why fear its criticism? Fear of the truth is counterproductive for those who seek it.

What I don't think is fully appreciated within the SM evangelista is the vast diversity of strategic needs of enterprises, especially the larger ones. I think that there are many 'experts' who believe that because they know how to use Twitter or Facebook that they possess a secret gnosis that can be revealed to CEOs. The tips of the problems facing enterprises can run down to the bottom of the iceberg.

It's easy to laugh at the technological gap within most large organizations (heck, I often do myself). That's not going to advance the proper cause. Yet, that's what I most often read about: 'adopt Web 2.0 or fail!' That's nonsensical hype and fear-mongering. We need to understand the why there's a gap and appreciate it first.

Collaboration has always been a basic human need. It will become increasingly necessary as the 21st Century climbs Mount Moore's Law. It will become increasingly critical that the technology we use (and our relationship with and through that technology) be exceedingly appropriate, well understood and properly deployed.

I'm no expert. I'm an outsider. That doesn't give me much influence or credibility. On the other hand, maybe it's us outsiders who appreciate the subtle nuances within an ever-changing world. Tools are transient. Principles aren't.

We won't have many chances to get 'social media' right: technology has a nasty habit of embedding itself into our human parts. Once it does, it's almost impossible to excise.

Don't let the bastards get you down, curmudgeon. You tossed a precious gift into the ring. Some left it unopened. Some have taken it home. The rest of us already knew what was inside.

Krupo October 25, 2008 at 6:02 am

You're not truly ‘cumudgeonly’ until you start angrily waving around a cane at "dem kids."

Also – the reason why "adopt web 2.0 or fail" also doesn't work is because many continue just fine without adopting "web 1.0", if there is such a thing. :/

"Gen Y" already scorns web 2.0, noting that people who don't know what they're talking about – the cherished awful example is the job description that asks for a person with "5 years of web 3.0" experience, and even more equally ridiculous nonsense.

Jay Deragon October 26, 2008 at 12:49 pm

Your words and desire to find those who look beyond the paradigm of web 2.0 for marketing resides with me. While having some marketing background most of my professional career was spent helping major corporations transform themselves from the old management methods to the new. The more I study social media, or whatever you want to call it, the more I see it as a systemic change that cuts across all business processes.

There are no business processes that do not require human interaction and all this social stuff is about human interaction fueled by advancing technology. This goes way beyond marketing and PR and yes I too am tired of what seem to be a consumption with "social media" as purely a marketing play.

I am studying the implications and writing about my findings and my perspective at

Maybe we need a new focus on ideas that transform business as usual. Just maybe we need outside views that discuss implications other than marketing. A conference of visionary leaders who see all this "social stuff" beyond todays definition would be a good start. Hmmm….anyone interested in collaborating and creating such a forum? I know Doc Searls would agree and participate.

Emily Coltman October 27, 2008 at 9:27 am

One of my pet hates is what I call "business guff".

That's anyone – accountants, marketers, salesmen, whoever they may be – who talk about all the wonderful things they're going to do, spend ages talking about "planning a framework", "putting together a strategy", etc, etc, and then never actually do anything. It's fair enough to make a plan, the hard bit is to carry it out!

And it's also accountants who talk to their clients in accountantese so that the client can't understand what they're saying. Don't get me started on that one.

I think Web 2.0 can make this problem worse – because the guffers have got so many more media to spout their rubbish.

But Web 2.0 is also an excellent way to separate the sheep from the goats. A pithy, to-the-point blog makes so much better reading than a waffly one.

Jay, I'd certainly be interested in taking part in the forum you mention.


Dennis Howlett October 27, 2008 at 4:21 pm

@jay – it's a great idea but I don't know whether its time has come. I've come to the conclusion the reason I get so antsy on 'social media' is because ultimately it is so unsatisfying and narrow. It attempts to deal with a single dimension of business unconnnectedness but ends up lathered in the same marketing and PR hype that I've had to endure for more than 20 years.

I want to see new thinking that abstracts the best of what the technologies can offer and apply them to the larger problems that business faces. To me that comes down to collaboration. But even then I know this is an incredibly tough nut to crack.

I think I have part of the answer but confess to staring 'through the glass darkly.' It will emerge and no doubt change but right now, I'm not sure we have enough people thinking seriously about this in ways that make sense.

I know what Doc says about vendor managed relationships and while I struggle with the concepts from a practical view, I see the value. What I find truly hard to parse though are the revolutionary undertones of some people in that group. Revolutions are bloody places. People get hurt. I'm not sure that's a great idea.

Jay Deragon October 27, 2008 at 6:18 pm


Thanks for taking the time to respond. Have you reviewed Michael Cayley work around "Social Capital Value Add, see…

He and several others are pushing the edge but gaining momentum and getting attention from the right markets of conversations.

There are people thinking about all this social stuff in different and valuable ways. The problem is getting all these thought leaders connected and on the same page….go figure :)

Previous post:

Next post: