The Naked Tweeter: Traditional v. Contemporary Channels of Influence or is it AND Contemporary.?

I grew up a bibliophile. I love books. I always have and always will. And since I love writing, I’ve written books and been happy with the results – of the sales, sure – but more importantly, of the writing.  I’m proud of that.

When I wrote CRM at the Speed of Light’s first edition back in 2001 (well, it was published in 2001), I didn’t have much of a notion of what it would do for my life really. But it, more than anything else, propelled me into the place I’m happy to occupy when it comes to my role in CRM.  But I do remember something about the process that led me to decide how I wanted to get the book published.

I had to consider a number of things. First, my place in the CRM universe. It was an area that I wanted to take the company that I was working for at the time to – but neither my company nor I were well known. CRM wasn’t a huge industry but was growing and certainly intriguing. It appealed to me because it was so people-oriented – it concentrated on the corporate departments that were the ones that had the most interactions with customers. They were the “in the face of customers” departments, for better or worse.

That led me to thinking that it was an industry worth being involved in.

Then I had to think about how I would be able to get my company – and me – better known in the industry. No one had a clue who we were. I knew I had a talent for writing.  I had already written a couple of books published by significant publishing houses so I had an “author track record.” Plus I just loved writing.  So a book seemed like a good thing. There was little to nothing on the market that covered CRM end to end so I thought that this would be a great thing to write about – and it would differentiate me and my company from the pack out there.

When that was settled, I had a key decision to make, which you may or may not think much of – but, I had to decide how I wanted to be published.

Huh?
Well, there were four options:

  1. Self publish
  2. Small publisher
  3. Academic publisher
  4. Large publisher

My decision (in 2000) was #4 – large publisher. Here was the rationale.  They had a big name. Their imprimatur was meaningful. If I was published by McGraw-Hill (my publisher) it would carry more clout than any of the other three options.  That wasn’t hard to figure out.  Let me put it this way.  If I had a small publisher – how would I be answering the question to the people who asked me in those early days – “who is your publisher?”  “Little Publishing House on the Prairie” – “Oh. Since I don’t know you, who are they, now?”  OR if the academic publishing house wasn’t Harvard Business Press or MIT, it was – “do you teach somewhere?”  Self-publishing?  Not in 2000.  So I chose the path of wangling my way into a larger publisher.

It made a HUGE difference. Yet that’s an ironic statement. McGraw-Hill is the second largest publisher in the world after Simon and Shuster.  Between the two of them, they own 84% of the entire market with a 1/3 McGraw-Hill, 2/3 Simon and Shuster ratio.  But their imprint logo got sales, gave me instant credibility and it was their influence as a publisher that opened doors.  What I said, that was good after you decided to read it because a. it was on a subject of interest to you and b. was published by a major house.

What’s the irony?  Two things:

  1. McGraw-Hill doesn’t know anything about CRM in practice or theory. Never did. But their stamp of approval validated the book which then people actually read. Because they were McGraw-Hill, a legitimate publishing superpower.
  2. If I had self-published word for word (LOOOOONG blog post…), I wouldn’t be in the position I am today. You wouldn’t be reading this and you…well, no point in belaboring the point. Self-publishing wasn’t a valid way to get heard. It was called a “vanity press.”

But here I am with a book called “The Bible of the Industry” that’s been through 4 editions and in 8 languages.  I’m called (probably wrongfully) the “Godfather of CRM” and was inducted (probably wrongfully) into CRM Magazine’s CRM Hall of Fame – all because McGraw-Hill published the book and I didn’t self-publish in 2000.  More or less, anyway.

But this got me to thinking. How do you measure the influence of a book – and thus, how do you measure the influence of more traditional channels when calculating the total impact that a person has on other people.

I’m going to leave the deeper thinking to the ones who actually can do it – that would be people like my favorite scientist on this subject – Michael Wu over at Lithium. But it does raise some questions about the overvaluation of Twitter in this whole discussion around who are truly influential.  I’m going to tell you stories that I hope reflect the point that we have to take a more realistic look at how influence is determined and recognize that, as caught up as we all are in this hot, new, sexy social web-focused world, the actual workings of influence aren’t clear and who and how you target, thus, has to be rethought in a much more balanced and calmer way.  Twitter doesn’t drive the world of influence. Its merely a factor in it.

So gather round and let me tell you some stories.

Books: A Metaphor for Traditional Influence

The discussions on who influences what and how they influence and what the value of that influence is seem to be endless.  What I find to be disconcerting is that there is an enormous black hole pulling the entire discussion to focus in and around Twitter influence and that the contemporary measure of influence is “measuring” how you roll through Twitter.  Twitter measurement tools are being given a gravitas they don’t deserve – in a relative sense. I’m not debating how good or bad they are as Twitter measurement tools.  Some are good, some aren’t.  But I am talking about the value of the category.  Twitter is a single channel which, right now has a disproportionate amount of buzz. There are dozens of other channels – both digital and “analog” (not really the right word, but good enough for now) that, when thinking in context, have as much or even more influence than Twitter when it comes to the reason for the debate/discussion in CRM – the influence on the purchasing behavior of customers.

We can debate the value of the different aspects of Twitter influence – for example – is retweeting really a measure of influence in any meaningful way – in the context of SCRM.  My contention – very little. However, I’m not going to do that in this post. Because that’s not why I’m writing it. Once again, Dr. Michael Wu, I defer to you on this one.

Does Twitter have value?  Of course. Twitter IS an important channel and the one du jour, but the majority of the world does not communicate via Twitter.  Not even the majority of tech savvy consumers communicate that way. Not even the majority of Gen Y – though me saying that is a little disingenuous since Twitter is notoriously not a Gen Y tool as countless studies have shown. Twitter is….well, if given the choice of looking at a really hot, totally naked person from the gender(s) that turns you on or a fully clothed person from that same gender(s), which would you look at?  Unless you’re really really strange, probably the naked one, right?  (Not you, huh? Liar.) At least for right now, Twitter is the naked one. A couple of years ago, Facebook was the naked one.  Before that….uh, MySpace is just gross now – but, damn, it used to look soooo hot.

You get my point? If not, you’re probably too obsessed with the word “naked.”

Despite the fact that Twitter is the one generating the centerfold, we still have to look to the less sexy pages to see how influence should be thought of, because an underestimation of the power of traditional sources and channels of influence, would be a big mistake, even in the era of the social customer. I’ll tell you a few stories to illustrate the point.

The first story:

About a year ago, maybe a little more, I had a discussion with a very prominent influencer – one who’s reputation primarily spanned digital channels galore and someone who is extremely well known to the vendors and practitioners in the world of and through the world of social media. This dude has zillions of followers. He told me that he thought that he had to write a book.  “But,” says I, “You’ve got millions of page views a year, countless Twitter followers and Facebook friends who hang on your every word, and clients who track everything you write.  Why would you want to spend ALL that time writing a book that will probably sell, even if it does well, a couple of hundred thousand copies?”  He said, “Yeah, that may be true but it’s a book. And to do what I need to do, I need a book.”

Another story:

Amanda Congden, a web pioneer, one of the founders of what was among the first video shows on the web – Rocketboom, left Rocketboom to go to – another web presence? Nope. ABC.  Why?  Well, you’ll get a better understanding if you check out this, from her impressive CV like bio on amandacongden.com.

“Her career has been documented in The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, NPR, CNN, MSNBC, PBS, The CBS Evening News, The Washington Post, The LA Times, The Hollywood Reporter, WIRED, Paper Magazine, Interview Magazine, Cosmopolitan Magazine, and on countless blogs. She has appeared on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation as herself and has written for WIRED, PopularScience.com and SXSW Magazine.”

How many web properties do you see her touting there? Generic blogs? Sure.   But beyond that, anything specific is only newspapers, magazines, TV, radio.  Even PopularScience.com is the web presence of the magazine Popular Science. This is a story I’ve seen repeated elsewhere countless times. You know why.  The specific names are more impressive a “resume” than any specific blogs she could mention.  Or online web properties.  Quoted in the Wall Street Journal means far more to this day than quoted in TechCrunch.  Who gets the new Apple products when they come out?  Walter Mossberg of the WSJ or Michael Arrington at TechCrunch?  While print media may be dying in circulation, their history and reputation still carries far greater weight than the newer, sexier, but a lot less experienced social sources out there.

Another story:

When Jeff Jarvis, uber-influential blogger, wrote his now famous “Dell Hell” piece on his “Buzz Machine” blog, within 24 hours, it could be googled and over 1.2 million references could be found for “Dell Hell.” But blogging wasn’t as popular, nor considered mainstream, back in 2005  So it didn’t become the big issue for Dell it became until the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post, picked it up.  Then it became an issue.  Outside of Jeff Jarvis’s blog, the most frequent source for Dell Hell discussions was the New York Times. Traditional media providing the bridge to power for social media.

Another story:

What’s the most influential specific medium on you and those like you?  Blogs? Nah.  Facebook? Nah.  Twitter? Nah.  YouTube. Oddly, no, but oddly closer. I’ll tell  you what it is. TV. Yeah, TV. TV impacts everything that we do.  Keep in mind that stars are made by TV – American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance, America’s Got Talent.  You name it.  Its no coincidence that over a 100 million people vote for their favorite future star (who is someone like them, but who performs better). If you’re like me, you know you have your favorites. C’mon. Who you kidding? You do.  You don’t?  Yeah, right. Ohhh-kay.  Not only that, my unhealthy interest in celebrity gossip is fed with TV reports – TMZ anyone? Oops.

Also, when you do or watch a video podcast, you know that you’re looking at the production values that go into it – and TV is the one that influenced your view of those production values.  Need the numbers or the validation?  Study after study finds the following – the most influential medium in general is TV, the Internet or Word of Mouth.  But where Word of Mouth wins, TV is second. Where the Internet wins, TV is second. Where TV wins. TV is first (Media Comparison Study 2010 –TV Bureau of Advertising). Meaning all in all – TV still holds a really strong place in the pantheon of influential media.  Traditional.

Another story:

Social media expenditure is a small part of marketing budgets at companies, though increasing.  For example, the 2010 CMO Survey done by Duke’s Fuqua School of Business and the American Marketing Association found that currently social media marketing is 5.6% of the total spend and optimistically will be 17.7% by 2015.  But that means the bulk of spend is still traditional forms of media. Even in five years, traditional marketing will be 82% of the budget.  Why is that? Because it still is where most customers pay attention and will continue to for awhile.

Another story:

I did some consulting work for a client awhile back and they had brought in a very good social media marketing firm to work with them – in fact, a firm I have a huge respect for. I was given the list of influencers that they chose based on their formulation.  I was on the list as were others like Brent Leary, etc. but I didn’t see the vast majority of Enterprise Irregulars, for example – some of whom are perhaps THE most important influencers when it comes to practitioners a.k.a. potential clients calling them up and saying “hey, why should we buy this vendor’s tools”  I didn’t see key analysts from Gartner who, without any numbers whatever to prove it, were known uber influencers.  The whole formulation of “who to contact” was based on their digital presence – which still is a long way from being either the only or even the primary place where companies go to find those third parties they need to help them make buying decisions. This was a severely flawed list with an overemphasis on Twitter results, when just a conversation with 10 of the people on the list who had been around for more than a couple of years would have pointed out who has the most powerful influence in the industry when it comes to buyers – and brand.  Just because they’ve been around that decade or two, doesn’t mean they are irrelevant. Some are more relevant than digital upstarts with little experience but HUGE Twitter followings.  Then again, there are value creating young cyber stars who should be talked to because they are influential.  And the wheel goes round and round, round and round, round and round……

So…..

Okay, a few stats and a few stories – all of which support both my question and what is for me an unequivocal statement. The statement – Traditional channels of influence are still very important to thinking through who is influential and who isn’t and thus, who you want to impact and who you don’t. Ignore them at your own peril.  In our industry we tend to lean too far in the digital direction because its sexier. Or cooler if you prefer the less charged term. I personally like sexier.

Does that mean that there is no social transformation going on?  Hell no, it doesn’t mean that. There is a profound social transformation going on – one that will change the way things are done – until the next one changes the way things are done. I’m not saying this to trivialize it. This change is a deep change in how we communicate – and it occurred because of the web and the proliferation of mobile devices – 4.6 billion of them. It is meaningful – and it has been strongly digital – thus the Social Web.

But these kinds of evolutions take time, they are piecemeal more often then wholesale, and the fundamental groundwork for broad and deep transformation is established in painfully small steps, most of the time, not massive upheavals – even if it looks that way.  But they are steps that, if taken and supported, are rife with promise for businesses and customers.  But there are questions along the way that aren’t anticipated, but need to be answered. Businesses have to function in the midst of the change – not just before and after it.  Consequently, there is a constant period of adjustment – and change – for business. That means that what was important to them in the past and will be important to them in the future – even if entirely different from what was important prior – have to be dealt with during the transition from the past to the future. That means that you might know who influences your customers buying decisions at point A and you might be trying to figure out who is going to be influencing them at point Z, but you’re going to have to deal with who they are at B,C,D,E….and X,Y too.  ou get the drift.   During this transformative period, who the influencers are doesn’t have a simple quantifiable answer.  The over focus on Twitter is something that as my SCRM thought leader buddy Scott Rogers put it to me yesterday is “oversubscribed because it’s measurable. And so many other things are harder to quantify.” But because they are harder doesn’t make them less important. Just because we can measure Twitter doesn’t reduce the value of traditional channels of influence, traditional measures of influence or traditional influencers. Traditional influence isn’t bathwater, its still baby. At least for now.

Which once again, leads me to ask the metaphorical and literal question – how do you quantify the influence of a book and its author?  Books are not measurable except by sales – and frankly, they aren’t that great a measure of influence – just of popularity.  I don’t know the answer, but I wonder how many books The Cluetrain Manifesto sold in its first few printings when it was published in 2000?  Lots? Maybe. Maybe not. Influential. Ohhhh,yeahhhh. Its one of the reasons that we’re having this discussion.

Alright, so who can answer the question for me? What’s the right balance between the new channels of influence and the traditional channels? Is Twitter overemphasized? Accurately emphasized? Am I speaking from my butt and if so, is my butt a traditional channel? Or is what I’m saying about the continued for a long time to come validity of traditional channels true?  Let me know. Speak up.  Use whatever channel makes you comfortable.


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Founder, Managing Principal, The 56 Group, LLC, author of several best-selling books, including CRM at the Speed of Light: Social CRM Strategies, Tools, and Techniques for Engaging Your Customers, but most importantly known as the Grandfather of CRM.