Right now there is a fascinating, furious, facile and plain crazy discussion swirling around the interwebs on the issue of authority. How it started, how it has become amplified and where it is going are of lesser importance than the fact it is opening up a discussion I believe will be extremely important for professionals and clients in the coming year. Backdrop -
The UK is facing possibly the most severe economic downturn in living memory. Retailers are in panic mode, shifting merchandise at firesale prices to keep cashflow going. That is not a sustainable model because distress selling below cost can only go on so long before the cash is not enough to make a cashflow break even. The question comes, how do you develop models that will get customers to part with at least the same or more as they used to so you (and they) can thrive? That requires invention and innovation at multiple levels. I talked about one such in the use of on-demand as the runway for new service offerings that can be tailored to current business needs. But it goes a lot further. Back to the ‘authority’ thing.
In order to get a taste of the current argument you need to see the original post from Loic Lemeur, followed by the Mike Arrington’s flame fanning and finally to Scoble’s impassioned rant. The argument starts with the premise that size matters per Loic. Set aside the schoolboy tone to proceedings (though that does tell you something of life in the Valley), Scoble says:
It [also] fed the idiots who believe that the only thing in life that matters is celebrity. How lame…
…See, this is why I really don’t care about Mike Arrington’s claim that I should blog more because my traffic is going down. If I cared only about building a business or making money then he’d definitely be right.
My goal, though, is to have smarter conversations every day. Does anyone else care about that goal? Or are you all wanting to be celebrities so you can sell stuff on your Twitter account, like what Jesse Stay is advocating for?
It is a sad fact of life that technology is a mirror of the fashion business and so the concept of celebrity is well understood. At least in Silicon Valley. To be fair to Scoble, he is asserting the goal of personal learning rather than selling. However, it is disingenuous to write off commercial goals so easily or to pretend the learning goal doesn’t add weight to the balance of his opinions or the value of his brand when seeking adsvertisers. We all do the same for the markets in which we’re interested.
But without some level of visibility no-one would care what Scoble thinks. The same goes for anyone else. To pretend otherwise is treating readers as idiots. But does pure traffic = authority? Maybe it does in an advertising driven world that relies on pay per click, a metric and value currently on its way to zero.
Like others who are now declaring this form of metric is dead, I have long held that pure numbers don’t matter – most of the time. It is whom you’re engaging that REALLY matters. At least in the B2B world. It is one of the reasons I have had a seat at the Big Man’s table the last couple of years in one place, but not at another. The first want to engage, the second don’t. There are occasions when numbers really can matter. Like when I had a poke around SageLive. That is a really big deal, I’m known for taking a position on this and page views reflected that. So what about 2009 and how does this all fit together?
I sense we are at the start of seeing a redefining of what it means to engage both with clients and in passing on that goodness to their business models. C’mon people – we know this stuff. At least up to a point. Except it won’t be on the golf course or the Lord Mayor’s reception that things matter. It will be over the counter, in the production room, in the print shop – anywhere in fact that clients are doing their business and from which we can learn enough to make sense of what they’re trying to achieve. It will then be expressed out to the wider community through these media, parsed and brought back. Trust me when I say that too many professionals have spent far too much time rooted to their desks. That ends in 2009. Why?
Peter Kim provides what I think is the best analysis of the way in which the new technologies change the game. If you believe that the ‘old’ ad based model of getting messages out is over as an effective means of engaging then see what 14 well regarded practitioners believe. The one I liked most of all came from Charlene Li although Peter identifies a cluster of soundbites that collectively work well:
- “Dwindling budgets suddenly make low-cost social media look like the pretty girl at the ball.” – Ann Handley
- “We’re going to develop a set of better metrics to help guide, direct and validate ‘commitment’.” – Joseph Jaffe
- “The movement is rooted in a desire to have quality, not quantity, as people cocoon in the face of the economic crisis.” – Charlene Li
- “These will be cumulative events and interactions that will build brand loyalty for the companies that pay attention to them.” – Scott Monty
- “The recession will force revenue results out of social technologies.” – Jeremiah Owyang
- “Companies that focus on earning love will thrive during hard times, and kick ass when good times return.” – Andy Sernovitz
(my emphasis added)
But the bottom line comes in a single Tweet put out by Loren Feldman. Love him or hate him, Loren talks a huge amount of good sense. The packaging isn’t always pretty (see video above), sometimes it is sidesplittingly hilarious but that’s not the point. Now is not the time to be sugar coating what needs to be done:
Engagement is the new advertising model
That’s why I believe content is so important. Content in this type of medium provides a means of engagement, a gateway if you like. That’s why I like the way the sponsored feeds thing works at the top right hand side of this site. Of course it can be improved and that’s something I am thinking about for 2009. The question is whether professionals will be able to grasp the opportunities represented by the ‘new’ and see that authority is not simply a matter of numbers – if it ever was – but one of both in and outbound quality expressed through the passion of those who take positions. Oh yes, almost forgot – it’s also one of the most important steps towards transparency.
For more views on this, check out some of the Zemanta generated links.
UPDATE: for another perspective on the authority question that provides a much sharper analysis, check this from Jeff Jarvis.