Archive for April, 2009

small is the new black

April 20, 2009

Seeing the STREB show a couple of weekends ago, and discussing it several times with my friend Josephine, has got me thinking about the changing business models, and the reason they are changing. Let me explain.. What I forgot to mention in my previous post is that STREB is using an innovative platform of “10 second dance”. In exchange for a $10 donation, you get to co-produce a 10-minute dance, which will be presented at the next show. This does 4 things well, in my opinion:

  1. Creates a stronger community around STREB, giving all co-producers more “skin in the game”, and allowing them to be your ambassadors and telling all of their friends about it
  2. Allows everyone to participate by making the threshold so low ($10), illustrating the power of the “power in numbers” concept.
  3. Appeals to human vanity (oh c’mon, we all have it 🙂 – in my opinion, you need to be somewhat vain to want to put your life out there with social media like we all do, and imagine that others may and will care about it.
  4. Duh! raises money!

Seems that more and more things are getting processed in bite-sized pieces. There is microlending (Kiva.org, Prosper.com, Donorschoose.com) and of course, microblogging (Twitter and other platforms). Seems that small is the new black. Even the Web2.0 conference this year was themed “The Power of Less.”

I think this reach for “less” is happening due to a confluence of several events, caused by the evolution of our society.

Firstly, and more gradually, our society (online and offline) has gotten inundated. Offline store shelves are packed with brands and brand extensions, with each brand extension in several flavors, colors, smells, textures, etc. Most innovations that corporate America parades around, are actually not that innovative, but rather are updates to the same-ole-same-ole.

There is a lot of noise. Consumers are lost and overwhelmed, and manufacturers feel like they are drowning among noise.

Online, a similar thing is happening: with the “Web2.0” bubble, there are more websites than eyeballs (seems like, but please don’t quote me, I don’t have the actual statistics), and more and more are created each day. Unfortunately, most fail to differentiate themselves. A successful solution that can cut through this noise will have to successfully build around the user, wherever the user is (mobile + twitter + web), and not make the user go to its website (this is an entirely different topic that merits another post, so I will stop here).

Secondly, in addition to this overwhelming quality of online and offline “stuff”, the global economy crash is causing us all to rethink how we spend, how we save, what we value and how to course-correct the mistakes we have made so far. I think this process is a vital one, as it will separate the companies, processes and people who add value (education, where addition of skills downright changes lives) from those that don’t (repackaged toxic assets, where no value is created). Again, this is fodder for its own blogpost.

So because of this economy of “more”, followed by a downright economy crash, we seem to be embracing the concept of “less” and basking in simplicity and authenticity. Who knows, perhaps it’s this yearning for simplicity is what is propelling Susan Boyle to such astronomical heights of popularity.

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Do You STREB? You Should!

April 15, 2009

Last Friday, I had the pleasure of experiencing the most amazing show I have experienced in a while! I was lucky enough to win free tickets on my friend Mike Davis‘s blog. To enter the contest, all you had to do was sign up for Mike’s YouTube show – he will have more contests, so you should definitely join. Not to mention, Mike rocks!

I had never heard of STREB before, but I had read the description on the web, and was immediately fascinated. I didn’t know what to expect, but all I knew was that it looked like urban Cirque du Soleil. My friend Josephine had seen STREB shows before (Elizabeth Streb, by the way, is the choreographer who has given life to the PopAction genre), and had mentioned to me that it reminds her of a more powerful, and slightly more violent, version of Cirque du Soleil. Josephine had mentioned to me before the show that the dancers would be slamming into each other and into walls, which left me utterly confused. Elizabeth’s bio on the site states that PopAction  ” intertwines the disciplines of dance, athletics, boxing, rodeo, the circus, and Hollywood stunt-work. The result is a bristling, muscle-and-motion vocabulary that combines daring with strict precision in pursuit of the public display of “pure movement”, and I find this the most eloquent and terse description that fits perfectly, so that I couldn’t add anything further.

I find myself reaching for words to describe STREB accurately, because it’s something so extremely original and unprecedented. A group of extremely toned dancers with beautifully muscular bodies, present various dance numbers, in which they use their bodies to tell stories with top-level precision and power. The show starts with dancers slamming into a large plexi glass in the middle of the stage. It sounds bizarre, but looks amazing when two dancers slam into each other from two different sides and look like a mirror image of each other. Josephine and I discussed this number afterwards, and found it very symbolic of our time. We are wanting to make a difference, connect, but are frustrated with external (economic or otherwise) factors. Another favorite number of mine was the trapeze dance against the wall (pictured below), where dancers danced with their feet on the wall, strapped into harnesses.

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It was so beautifully synchronized, and required such precision (and freakishly strong ab muscles!) to pull off in a completely horizontal position.

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Another definite highlight was the “hamster wheel” (pictured below). It starts out with one dancer spinning inside the wheel, making it rotate by walking inside of it at a constant and controlled speed

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To my amazement, more dancers started hooking onto the wheel and doing various pirouettes inside, under, over and every which way.

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What a mind-blowing exhibit of synchronicity, extreme precision and control! One wrong move, and not only do you hurt yourself, but you also hurt your teammates! (none of the dancers were harnessed).

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The entire show was a true tour de force of a human body. In everyday life, perched behind our MacBooks, we forget of what a tremendous instrument we were given (for free!) and what our bodies are really capable of. Everytime that I see something so incredibly powerful and precise, I bow my head in respect and admiration. See below some more examples of the nimble amazingness that is STREB:

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When the show was over, Kim Cullen, the Producing Director of the show, reached out to Josephine and myself to chat about the show and social media. I was extremely happy to hear that STREB was considering integrating social media into their current marketing mix. I just love meeting people who “get it” and are open to these new channels of engaging new consumers, because they realize that this is really the future of communication. This type of performance really lends itself well to the virality of social media, because as each social-media-engaged viewer sees the performance, he / she is going to share it with Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites, write and comment on blogposts, post pictures to Flickr, videos to YouTube. Through the power of narrative and experience sharing, the word spreads; and this really was an experience worth spreading. I will definitely be going back to take pictures with my good DSLR camera (Nikon D60), and hopefully a video device (anyone care to lend an HD Flip?) – these iPhone pics, although a good start, do not do it justice

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You can see the rest of my photographs (apologies about the quality; iPhone is not the best at capturing motion) – http://bit.ly/streb

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Do Onto Others – My Take On Tara Hunt’s Whuffie Speech at Web 2.0 Expo

April 9, 2009

(This post was first conceived on a SFO-NYC flight, and edited and posted several days later).

I am writing this from my SFO – JFK flight (Virgin America has in-flight wi-fi for $12.95 – that’s a good deal considering you are in flight for 6 hours). As I am coming home to New York from the O’Reilly’s Web2.0 Expo in San Francisco,  I am taking a couple of minutes to reflect on the experiences of this week. A definite highlight was undoubtedly meeting all the wonderful people that I had a privilege of meeting for the first time, and reconnecting with folks I had met previously. Although I would be lying if I said that I enjoyed every session and every speech I listened to, there were definitely some bright spots. Tara Hunt‘s session, promoting her new book “The Whuffie Factor: the 5 keys for maxing social capital and winning with online communities” was the best presentation I heard at this conference. In addition to excellent content, it was beautifully delivered and engaging. It was the only session that filled every seat in the house, and people were even sitting on the floor.

What whuffie means, in short, is one’s social capital online. Social capital is used to describe how far your online reach goes, how much influence you exert with your followers, and how likely your online relationships are to do a favor for you. Twitter especially tends to bring out this karmic notion that emphasizes helping others and becoming genuinely interested in others. Tara’s presentation encapsulates nicely the common-sense to-do’s that one can follow as a mental checklist to ensure that your social media strategy (whether for your own personal brand or your company’s brand) remains relevant, human, alive, authentic, and the type of brand that your target customers want to interact with.

Since social networking is such a buzz in corporate America, there is a tendency to rush in and just start doing. This is absolutely not the right approach. You must understand how these communities work, and how relationships are built. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is joining Twitter (or another network) as a salesperson and just blasting out your message 1-way (I wrote about this in my previous post), expecting to have people flock to you / your product. This is not the 30-second spot, and this kind of behavior tends to piss people off in the online spaces. You can not join as a salesperson or as an idle observer / market researchers. To really harness the power of the social web, you must join conversations in an authentic way. Relate to others, feel their pain, engage and give. As a result, you can understand consumers better, vet your ideas, turn upset customers into believers and believers into evangelists. Even though most online ties are looser than IRL (in real life), these are not throwaway relationships. In Tara’s words, “people don’t want to be a number, they want to be treated as a snowflake – each beautiful and unique.” Isn’t this a reincarnation of the Golden Rule anyway? Aren’t we supposed to be “doing onto others” already?

And finally you must create amazing customer experiences in order to make connections. This may be common-sense, but you would be surprised how many companies do not do it well. For example, keeping your customers on your site is not consumer-friendly; however, being available where the consumer is, is consumer-centric. For example, if you are a web application, you need to ensure that your consumer can interact with you via mobile device, web, desktop, Twitter, Facebook / MySpace, Flickr, and wherever your consumers hang out. The key here is knowing where your consumers hang out on the web, and what their usage patterns and goals are. Here are some great ways to ensure that you remain consumer-centric.

  1. Dazzle in details – Moleskin notebook does a spectacular job of this by thinking through all the details and accents
  2. Go above & beyond – the TED conference does this by creating a scholarship fund to ensure that all deserving folks without means can go.
  3. Appeal to emotion
  4. Inject fun – Flickr is great at doing this
  5. Turn mundane into exceptional like Method has done to simple house products
  6. Allow to personalize – Moo cards allow you to make personalized cards using your Flickr pictures
  7. Be experimental like Threadless
  8. Simplify like 37singnals did with Basecamp
  9. Make happiness your business model through increasing autonomy, competence & relatedness. Zappos and WordPress are good at doing this by giving their users ways to express themselves and gain autonomy.

It is absolutely crucial to understand that Whuffie part of a gift economy, where you gain only by giving away and not by taking. This can appear at conflict with the money economy, where making money is the focus. However, the two don’t have to be at conflict. The focus on short term gain, as illustrated by the collapse of the subprime market and consequently Wall Street, will only take you so far. Focusing on doing the right thing, focusing on the long term, no matter how unpopular it may be in the short term, is the only surefire way to succeed. This concept really underscores wocial* web relationships, because relationship building, when done right, happens over time, with an investment of goodwill, and results in good karma and Whuffie.

* “wocial” was originally a typo, but as Tara Hunt herself noted in the comment below, it’s a fun mashup of Social + Whuffie. So let’s make a new word. After all, it’s all about mashups!

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