The field of communications is probably the one that has experienced the most changes with social media. With the risks - perceived and real - of widespread publication, there are also many opportunities.
Geoff Livingston has been publicly vocal about putting communications to the service of the message and in stewardship of the product. This is not new, per se, but in social media it risks getting lost in the quest for a personal brand.
We discussed his book, Now is Gone, when it first came out. In many ways, the content is still fresh. Geoff has been a constant supporter of new ideas - and people.
If you know Geoff, you also know that he has no problem speaking his mind. So I asked him to share his thoughts about mobile communications and how he got to now.
In an article contributed to the eBook Marketing in 2009, Matt Dickman
predicted that “There are three imperatives for executing programs in
2009 - start with measurement, create content for the open Web and for
mobility.” If it's not time yet for mobile marketing, there has been a
growth in branded applications supported by high speed mobile data and geolocation.
What's your sense of where we are with market penetration and adoption? I confess that I'm pretty protective of that ad-free space. Will that mark the end of independence with our mobile phones?
is a different medium. Part of the problem a lot of organizations have lies in forcing the desktop web model onto the mobile Internet. You have a much smaller screen, and at best iPhone like tactile input. So assuming that traditional paradigms will work is in essence starting off in the wrong direction.
The application marketplace proves this. Applications — particularly for brands like banks, NPR, etc. — represent an advertisement in my mind. Perhaps not in the traditional hard call-to-action standpoint, but absolutely as a branding vehicle. Consider that you 1) own real estate on that person’s phone with your app logo 2) you own their experience in the application itself. For the user to leave your experience, they need to shut down the app. That’s a great win if you can provide the “killer app.”
As far as adoption goes, we’ve finally hit a point after twenty plus years of dynamic growth where global adoption is decreasing. They ran out of countries to build networks in ;) Now the problem isn’t adoption, it’s movement towards 1) smartphones capable of broadband, location-based Internet applications and 2) trying to create interoperability between disparate operating systems (iPhone, Android, Symbian, Blackberry, Windows, etc.). Once we see progress, I anticipate significant adoption of mobile Internet applications, web sites, and conversations.
In a recent post about phones and GPS location, you wrote, “I really wish I could tell you how to use this stuff for your communications effort. But the truth of the matter is that location-based communications has long been dreamed about and experimented with from a communications standpoint. It has never become a foundation for mass market application.”
Isn't niche and focused communication the best way to go with social media overall? What applications are possible at this point and what would you put on the wish for list?
Geoff: Yes, absolutely. One of the applications that’s evolving nicely since that referenced blog post is called Four Square. It's a location based social network that lets you tell your friends what restaurants, clubs and other sites you are visiting. Unlike its larger competitors BrightKite and Loopt, it seems to have caught fire here in the U.S. and is providing a Yelp-like referral to what the hot spots are.
Further, it recommends places based on which ones are most frequented. This is particularly helpful for travelers who are not in their native local network.
If I was a local business, I would see Four Square as the ideal type of mobile word of mouth. How can I get people to say they visited my place of business on Four Square? This is the Holy Grail of location-based mobile marketing, and creating applications and intelligent ways to get people to use their mobile phone in reference to your business while they are there is just smart marketing.
Tell us a little bit of how you got here. What are the ideas and people that influenced you? Why?
Geoff: Funny, I just did a motorcycle ride with my old boss from two companies, Larry Rosenfeld. We had a really good conversation about freedom and work. Like Larry, I need to be free to innovate, and that’s why I went out on my own three and a half years ago, why I blog, why I continue to stay on the edge for business and, with communications in general. I like to move in creative veins, for example, right now with an increasingly granular focus on mobile, green companies and nonprofits in general.
Larry got me involved in nonprofits nine years ago, and my involvement has evolved over time. Most recently, through my business and some of the work we did there, I caught the nonprofit bug. For me, nonprofits represent the best use of social, word of mouth tools.
They have a real cause that people care about, and by working with green companies, social enterprises and nonprofits I feel like I am helping to change the world, just a little bit. Of course, the greatest value I can offer is keeping people employed through business opportunities, but at the same time, meaningful work has become increasingly important.
Victor Watts was another boss who helped me see the value of other centric behavior. By paying attention to others, we are best able to serve them and create win-win scenarios. I think this is the heart of social media, and my ethos there. Victor was a great boss who taught me a ton.
Finally, my family was a huge influence for me, obviously. Both my parents were successful journalists, and I learned everything I know about writing from them (and the things I fail at must be some sort of rebellion). But on top of that we believed in service as a core value. My great grand uncle Siegfried Livingston started the Anti-Defamation League. My grandmother who just passed away did great work for the city of Pasadena as a volunteer. My surviving grandmother was heavily involved in the arts community in Phoenix and Paris, France. I have two aunts who were heavily involved in the arts, too. Today, my sister works at Alex’s Lemonade Stand.
I know that many who are making a difference today are there because they want to change the world. In a way, the tools have made it easier to spread the word, but it is really about intent. When did you first realize you were going to step forward to help transform business through communications? Was there a specific event or conversation that inspired you?
Geoff: It just kind of happened. I don’t believe in the current corporate approach to business. It’s cruel and demeaning, and in many ways the
“American Dream” has been bastardized. To me the American Dream was
the pursuit of happiness, not profits on Wall Street. We see so many
people suffering today because of our corporate structures and “free”
market economy. To think that people believe it’s OK to cut health care
for their employees or not provide means for retirement is outrageous.
I’m not a great manager of people, but there’s a difference between management and leadership. Leadership decisions like this were non-decisions for me. Companies are places to provide well-being for the people that comprise those companies, including income, health care, growth and future opportunities.
Profitability is a by product of doing the right thing, as opposed to being able to do the right thing now that you are profitable. America has sold its soul and every decade we see this with waves of bubbles, from the current mortgage/finance bubble, to the .com bubble, to the savings and loan bubble.
While it’s nice to get a question like this, my work in this sense is far from done. Social media had an opportunity to make more companies accountable, but by and large, companies are evading this call to responsibility. I question whether social in corporate America can get the job done, and instead am starting to look at other ways to affect societal change. It’s a long, hard road, and one that is my life goal: impacting society, creating better business cultures, and making a difference. There’s much more to be done here.
One of the more interesting developments is the rise of mission-based social enterprises, and I look forward to seeing how this model works out over the next decade. Another interesting development is the rise of the sustainable green organization. Is it green-washing or real? To be determined.
Who do you consider part of your team? If you were to share one word of advice with them, what would it be?
Geoff: I consider anyone who doesn’t believe in the status quo, who wants a better world and believes that people really can change, who wants to do more than collect a paycheck to be on my team. My advice is to never give up. Ever. Failure only leads to success if you are willing to get up, learn from the prior experience, and go at it again. If you have a vision, then stick to it, slowly, methodically with undying focus. You will get there.
Don't forget to catch up with Geoff at his personal blog. What about you? What are you helping transform? How do you feel you contribute? Feel free to ask any questions of Geoff as well.