I can definitely relate to that strange cat John in HBO's new series "John From Cincinnati" when he mutters, "There are some things I know, and some things I don't."
This is reinforced every summer when an intern (usually from Cincinnati) arrives at my desk. I get that anxious, insecure feeling that I'm not moving fast enough, not digesting enough technology, and beginning to drift toward Planet Irrelevance.
It's actually not a bad tension to cultivate -- it keeps us on our toes. In 1997, I initiated a still-continuing Procter & Gamble program called Future of Advertising Summer Intern Training (FAST) program to advise the company on all aspects of digital strategy, from marketing to women online to using corporate intranets. Senior execs, including the CEO, enthusiastically embraced the concept. After 10 weeks of work, these early digital pioneers hit the assignment out of the park. I opportunistically (and gratefully) surfed their wave to become one of P&G's first digital brand managers.
Chandler From Cincinnati...and His Insights
Enter my current intern, Chandler Koglmeier -- from Cincinnati, I might add. A third year student at Middlebury College, as well as an alumnus of Boston-based City Year, this kid is, how shall I say this?, well into the digital groove and certainly representative of his generation. He's keeping me on my toes, challenging my antiquated assumptions, and providing a fresh lens on all manner of topics. While I get theoretical about tools like Facebook, he talks with granularity about the site audience or the daily count of custom applications.
Here's what the little punk has taught me so far:
Google rocks and scares at the same time. Like so many others, Chandler seems tortured over Google. "Google keeps coming out with extremely useful tools but is walking a very fine line between evolutionary corporation and Big Brother," he says. Tools like Google's Street View have him on guard. At the same time he notes, Google is just part of a broader trend. "Google is not the only culprit here, but the wave of mergers and control by a few corporations with ever-increasing abilities of surveillance is slightly disturbing. Don't forget that everyone is watching you, too."
Facebook trumps MySpace. As far as Chandler's concerned, "the end is near" for MySpace. Not sure I entirely agree, but here's his rationale: "The cluttered, spam-filled, and teenager-controlled world of MySpace has been unable to keep up with the nonexclusive version of Facebook, which also has a cleaner interface and controlled ads (no pop-ups!), is organized around real-world communities, and most recently has shown an active ability to continue evolving with its launch of an integrated third-party development platform." As he sees it, Facebook has successfully built on MySpace's early foundations to take social networking to the next credible level.
Friends are social currency. Friends, Chandler insists, are your social currency and the key to your reputation. Choose them well, he insists. "Online, it's all about reputation, whether you're on Facebook, LinkedIn, or elHood. Why should I accept your electronic friendship? What do I get out of it? With whom are you friends? People are as judgmental online as in real life. They're often even more critical, as they can see much of your life laid out before them. An understanding of those ideas is key to how social networks work." Right on, amigo! Now, will you please just say "yes" to your boss's six-week old friend request?
Reputation is earned, never assumed. True online street cred must be earned, says Chandler. "If it happened yesterday and you post it, you're a little behind the curve. If it happened a week ago and you post it, you'll lose your readers and be run off the Internet," he says. "Readers want fresh scoops, new information, video, and all the wonders of the new Internet. If readers want old information, they can always watch the evening news." Well, every Blog 101 book makes this point, but it's good to know the younger set walks the walk...and will keep us all accountable.
Simple packaging really matters. College kids seek order, not clutter. At the end of the day, the Web drives demand for greater organization. Even the process of mash-ups underscores the need and value of synthesis. He's learned to use programs like Facebook's new F8 platform and a personalized iGoogle home page to efficiently integrate the Internet's levels of complexity but still present things simply. This is an important insight, because I always bump into misguided comments from bewildered CMOs along the lines of, "Where do folks find time to do all this stuff?" Web 2.0, at its core, is an organizing principle.
Scarcity and student poverty beget efficiency. There's nothing like the efficiency that comes from limited resources. This leads college kids to great cost-saving sites. One day, I just couldn't find a reasonable airfare for a trip, even with my company's corporate scale purchasing advantages. Using a search engine I'd never heard of (Kayak.com), Chandler found a one-way ticket from New York to Cincinnati for $125 only a day or two before the flight, far trumping what our corporate site was able to find. God bless the desperate and resourceful!
Your life is your résumé. In the Internet dominated world, Chandler insists your résumé's always in play, even when you don't know it. Recently, he had the opportunity to engage in a debate at his school involving the academic role of Wikipedia. This debate was generated from a single school newspaper article, and his online comment evolved into a "New York Times" article. Result: a brief comment at a small school in New England became an instant résumé and credibility booster.
Wikipedia rocks! On this point, we're probably all in consensus. Wikipedia, Chandler explains, "gives old media a new platform from which to broadcast ideas to the world. Academics have taken their time recognizing it and evolving but are slowly getting there. In a world where people value responsiveness and flexibility, Wikipedia is playing and will continue to play a key role. Most important, it should remind us the Web is a launching pad for information gathering." Stop right there. You had me at "Wikipedia rocks!"
A fine conversational bloom must be groomed. "Always keep the conversation well-managed and fluid," says Chandler, "and don't kill the bloom." Here he seems to offer a healthy skepticism to brands embarking on conversations. In fact, with participation in one or two Facebook revolts under his belt, he offers the following warning: "Attempts to co-opt previous community-based or two-way information streams and turn them into a conduit for only your ideas will be identified, cause backlash, and likely destroy your community." There's both good and bad ways to embark on Facebook's sponsored groups, and he's witnessed plenty of roadkill, even among nonprofit groups.
College students cheer open source. No surprise here, but it's good to know there's an extra wave of enthusiasm among our best and brightest. "Open source software is the future -- embrace it! This is co-creation at its best. From Lego to Mozilla, open-source work has changed the way companies are innovating and doing business. The open-source organizing tools that have been developed within Facebook, for instance, have been utilized to organize and generate funds for nonprofits and drive business for corporations. When you give the creative minds of the world a framework within which they can generate genius, you will be amazed by the results."
I just love today's idealistic youth. Anyone else out there care for an interview?
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Pete Blackshaw, whose professional background encompasses public policy, interactive marketing, and brand management, is executive vice president of strategic services for Nielsen Online, a combination of Nielsen BuzzMetrics, a firm Pete helped cofound, and Nielsen//NetRatings. One of Pete's key focuses is helping brands interpret, manage, and act on consumer-generated media (CGM). A former interactive marketing leader at P&G and founder of consumer feedback portal PlanetFeedback.com, Pete cofounded the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA). He authors several blogs, including ConsumerGeneratedMedia.com, and is the author of an upcoming book from Random House, "Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3000: Running a Business in Today's Consumer-Driven World."