Authentic marketing at scale

As the world moves away from believing as much as it used to in brand communication, toward a world of networked peer communication and a real emphasis on authenticity, I think there’s a new way to achieve scale.

Picture a person who’s earned a big, relevant, audience online because they’re smart, entertaining, and they have good taste. In B2B, they’re probably forward looking, well-connected, and good at critical thinking. You can’t BS them, at least not easily.

One-to-one communication with people like that is a powerful new way to communicate with the world at scale. If you can win them over, they’ll tell their large, relevant, audience about your business. When they do, it will be more relatable, authentic, and credible than anything your brand voice says directly to the world.

In order for smart, well-connected, critical thinking people who have built big audiences to tell those audiences about you – you’re going to have to communicate with them one-to-one, authentically, credibly, and probably over time. You’ll want to be strategic about it, because lots of people want the attention of people like that. Unless it’s available for sale, you’re going to need to earn it.

I made a little white board sketch about it.

Communicating with your target market at scale, by building authentic relationships with credible market influencers.
Communicating with your target market at scale, by building authentic relationships with credible market influencers.

The idea here is that your company wants to communicate at scale with your target market but that market now has a shield of authenticity around it. Direct brand communication is too often inauthentic and thus ineffective. But influencers have authentically earned credibility and can speak to your market at scale. Thus, communicating one-to-one with them, with authentically earned credibility, is a way to achieve that scale. To do so, be relevant, interesting, consistent, and use flattery while maintaining your dignity.

All of this is made easier than ever, of course, by the technology we’re building at Little Bird.

Into the future we go! Life after CEO’ing at Little Bird

We announced today that Little Bird has closed a new round of financing and I have changed roles at the company.  Long-time COO Ben Kaufman is now CEO, bringing tons of experience and smarts to the top of the organization – and my new role is co-founder, company evangelist and chairman of the board. I am really excited to rock this new position and spread the word far and wide about the power of discovering influential expert voices and insights on the social web.

I’m focused on telling the world about Little Bird (something I love to do), and opening doors for technical integrations with other products in the marketing tech stack and beyond.  Our company announcement is here and we got some nice local press from Oregon Live and the Portland Business Journal.

Big, big thanks to Mark Cuban, Jason Calacanis, Oregon Angel Fund and all our awesome investors.  I’m really proud to get to work with them and will forever be grateful for their support. I’m super thankful for my wife whom I love (Mikalina was essential to founding the company with me). Thanks to co-founder Tyler Gillies. And to the great team we’ve built to propel the company into the future.  There’s a lot more to do.

If you haven’t seen Little Bird lately – it’s not like other “influencer marketing” platforms.  If it’s been awhile (or never), I’d be honored to walk you through it personally.  This is the kind of thing people say when we do that together:

Being CEO these past few years has been a great learning adventure.  Now I’m excited to take things to the next level by focusing on my strengths: connecting with the world at large, largely through the social web.

My last public act under the CEO title was this morning’s live Ask Me Anything on Product Hunt, but I’ll be aiming to do a lot more stuff like that as company evangelist.

And now, into the future we go! Drop us a line and we’ll show you what we’re building.

Overzealous surveillance puts innovation at risk

The FBI has been demanding web browsing, cell location and other data from technology providers, without a warrant, for over a decade, it was demonstrated this week with a court ruling that ungagged a National Security Letter delivered to an internet service provider.  Techmeme coverage roundup here.

You know why this bothers me?  For lots of reasons, but here’s one: it puts this gorgeous platform of the web at risk. This is going to be a big struggle for the next few years: the tension between our desire to better know ourselves and build on top of the data created by our online activity on one hand and the government’s desire to keep us safe on the other hand.

Overzealous surveillance puts at risk the public support that’s essential for innovation platforms that present opportunities to move the human experience forward in really important ways.  This global communication network is really important, let’s not screw up its future.

One example: If you’re a user of the Foursquare mobile location platform, you’ve probably noticed how they’ve begun tracking your location persistently and sending you a push notification making it really easy to check in when you stop moving at a particular public place.  It’s something I’ve hoped they’d do for years.  Why?  Because 3 years ago today I was visiting a friend in a beautiful place, I took pictures, I checked in to the coffee shop and restaurants we went to, and now I can see all of that and more rolled-up together in my daily time capsule from Timehop.   That’s the story of my life. That data provides a structure that I wrap a narrative understanding of my life around.  I want that data capture to be easier so I capture more of it.  But I want the data for myself!

Understanding my life means two things: optimization and meaning. (That’s just begging for two more blog posts.) Think of the inverse: less meaning and less opportunity for optimization.  I do not want that – I want software developers to be able to build technology on top of my data that help me better understand and improve my life.

Software developers can only do that if there are a bunch of people excited about using data platforms.  For example, Foursquare and Timehop wouldn’t exist (free for users!) if there weren’t millions of people excited about using them.

It’s one thing for commercial interests to use that data for improved ad targeting – everybody’s got to pay the bills.  I think society has already accepted that.  Europeans have cookie warnings. Fine, we’re good.

But if law enforcement keeps slurping up all our data and looking over our shoulders, without due process like warrants and in cases where we’re supposed to still be presumed innocent, that just seems like a recipe for public backlash, withdrawal from the web and collapse of the beautiful opportunity that is data.  Call it data, call it quantified self, I think of it in terms of optimization and meaning.  Better understanding ourselves, each other, and the world equals a big step in human evolution.  That’s what I want. When society’s need for safety and control puts that at risk, I think it’s a big deal.  Not just because of what it means for the present – but what it means for the future.