Review: Clay Shirky’s New Book, Cognitive Surplus

Chances are that if you are reading this blog, you already know who Clay Shirky is. If not, it’s probably a good idea that you do because Shirky is one of the leading voices in the digital space writing, consulting and teaching about the social and economic effects of internet technologies. In addition to being an esteemed professor teaching at NYU’s graduate Interactive Telecommunications Program, he’s also the author of the renowned book, Here Comes Everyone, among others.

Two years after publishing Here Comes Everyone, Shirky builds on his groundbreaking thesis in a new book aptly titled Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age. While the focus of his last book was the role that online tools played in the explosion of social media adoption (Facebook just announced that it hit 500 million members), Cognitive Surplus spends a majority of its focus the role that culture and psychology play in driving this new phenomena.

The book starts off with a provocative opening chapter titled, Gin, Television and Cognitive Surplus — inspired by a similarly named speech and Shirky blogpost back in 2008.* In this initial chapter, we rewind back to London’s Gin Craze of 1720 where Shirky describes a city in the grips of a massive spike in gin consumption. Essentially, gin was cheap, easy to drink and most importanly, helped country folk who were working hard to assimilate into city living, “take the edge off.” What I like about Shirky’s gin example (along with many others in the book) is that he not only explains why the government’s proposed solution (making gin illegal) had little impact on the level of gin consumption but rather that it was the assimilation of rural folks into the urban population over time that ultimately reduced the reliance on gin.

Throughout the book, Shirky uses other fascinating examples of “social” at work pointing cases like Howard Stern fans helping elect Hank the Angry Drunken Dwarf as People.com’s 1998 Most Beautiful Person and Georgia Merton and Penny Cross’s “couchsurfing” experience across Europe. What’s unique about Shirky’s style is that he gets at impetus of why people are doing these things, in many cases providing well-documented research by folks like research psychologist Edward Deci’s “Soma” experiment or professors, Güth, Schmittberger and Schwarze’s Ultimatum Game to explain what motivates people.

At the end of the day, the reason I agreed to read and review this book is because I am an avid believer in the fact that while social media is not about tools or technologies. Instead it’s roots are grounded in a fundamental set of human behaviors that have existed for centuries… if not millennia, and these behaviors are now being shaped and changed by the availability of extra time — a cognitive surplus have you — and powered by new social technologies like blogs, wikis, Twitter and Facebook. Shirky drives hard on this concept in Cognitive Surplus and spends his time explaining the psychological and cultural drivers behind the phenomena. To me, it’s this approach that has a much better chance of resonating with senior management and thus might help them better understand why they should be embracing rather than eschewing social media.

In summary, if I were to rate this book I would give it a solid A. It’s a quick read (just over 200 pages) and it’s chock full of new and exciting examples that help provide a better understanding of the “why” behind social media. It’s also a book that should appeal to both social media veterans along with marketing folks that are new to the space. If you want to buy the book (I don’t get anything if you do), it’s readily available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

———–
While this review barely scratches the surface what you’ll learn in the book, this 13 minute TED video from earlier this summer should help whet your appetite.

What I neglected to mention up front is that thanks to the efforts and coordination by the fine folks at TLC Book Tours, this post is one in a series of reviews by a dozen prominent marketing bloggers. To read some of the other takes on Shirky’s new book, Cognitive Surplus, take your pick from the list of smarties below…

*I learned about the origins of the name of the first chapter from my friend, Jake McKee,

What Do Facebook, The Social Network, Guy Fieri and Scott Monty Have in Common?

The title of this post is hands down the longest title in the history of this blog (I think). But I couldn’t think of a better way to respond to my friend over at Ford Motor Company, Scott Monty’s, blog post today. If you haven’t seen it, he riffs off the new movie, The Social Network which parodies Facebook and their march toward 500 million members.

As part of the fun, Scott decided that he would pick a few of us out of the social media marketing crowd (some more prominent than others, ahem, Seth Godin) that could possibly appear in the movie. And if we did, who would play us in the movie? I got a kick out of my dopplerganger and Food Network star, Guy Fieri, who ironically, I met last summer in New York City. Some folks including my darling wife thought better comparisons for me might be Ben Affleck, Billy Ray Cyrus or even Bruce Springsteen (Stephanie Agresta insists I am his long lost brother).

But that’s why I’m writing this post… instead, my goal is to continue with the meme that Scott started. In his post, he asks…

If they were holding open casting calls for extras and you were going to be featured, what famous person, dead or alive, would play you in the movie? Leave a comment below or reply with a post on your own blog with a link back to this post.

So I’m adding a few stars of my own. What do you think?

David Armano, sr. vice president, Edelman Digital / John Leguizamo [updated 7/20]

Maria Ogneva, social media director, Attensity360 / Scarlett Johansen

Brett Petersel, business development and events lead, Mashable / Christian Bale

Shannon DiGregorio, social media marketing, The CR / Angelina Jolie



Adam Cohen, partner at digital agency, Rosetta / Rob Thomas

And last but not least…

Kyle Flaherty, director of marketing, BreakingPoint Systems / Jack Black

[updated 7/20] And apparently, I look much more like Josh Beckett in this pic than any of my other dopplergangers above… (thank you Kyle)


Quick’n’Dirty Episode 52: We Love Your Tweets

It’s hard to know where to begin on the recap of this episode of the Quick’n’Dirty podcast. While the end result ended up being pretty good, the getting there part was a little nerve-wracking…

Having spent a day and a half out in Napa at the Wine Industry Technology Syposium, I knew that wedging in the Quick’n’Dirty with co-host, Jennifer Leggio, was going to be a little tricky. But with a 2:05 PM flight and a start time for the show of 12:00 PT, I figured that I would have enough time to get from Napa to Sacramento (about an hours drive) in time to get settled at a local Starbucks before doing the show. That was right up until the point where my iPhone decided to crash on me (apparently the outcome of updating all of my apps without having upgrade to the new 4.0 operating system).

Well with this post as my witness you can probably deduce that I did make it to Sacramento in time to co-host the show. The only hitch being that I had to do so from a rest area about 4 miles away from the Sacramento airport… in my rental car. For any of you wondering where I was in the chat room or on Twitter, that’s where I was. So now that you know the back story, on to the recap!

Jennifer and I kicked today’s show off with our social app of the week. Our choice was none other than Taxi Magic, a service that allows one to order and pay for a cab, all from the comfort of your iPhone, Droid, Blackberry or Palm app. The coolest part is that it uses your GPS to track you down so you never actually have to call the cab. Self-admittedly, this app isn’t that social but it’s very useful and I think may adopt more social features like integration with location-based services, etc. in the future. As I mentioned on air, a big old hat tip goes out to my friend, Chris Heuer for pointing this service out to me.

Next up was our guest of the week, the lovely and talented, Adele McAlear. If her name sounds familiar, it might be because she was our featured Twitterer back on episode 28. This go around, Adele was kind enough to share some information on her latest project called Death and Digital Legacy. While that may sound a little morbid, it’s actually a growing issue and addresses some of the messiness involved with a person’s digital assets (e-mail accounts, social networks, blogs, etc.) in the event that they die. According to Adele, some of the e-mail providers like Google have created a process to obtain the “contents” of a loved one’s e-mail account but there are a number of validations and documents that must be produced first making the process a difficult one. One the other hand, most of the social networks really have done very little to allow for the transfer of ownership of onc’s digital assets post mortem.

Our featured Twitterer of the week (and the reason for the title of this week’s post) was AJ in Nashville. Jennifer discovered AJ through his regular commenting on her ZDNet Blog and liked that AJ started calling her “Scrapster” (a nod to her feistiness). Regular listeners will then a know that Jennifer has a phrase that she likes to use as we wrap up the Twitterer of the Week segment ie “we love your tweets.” This week, Jennifer was a little “we love your tweet happy” and started saying it after our social app of the week. Bot being one to let an opportunity to poke a little fun slip by, I insisted on using the phrase a dozen more times during the show including in the title of the wrap up.

Last up was our point counterpoint. And for once, it was a topic that Jennifer and I did disagree on. Inspired by a recent article on Yahoo that talked about 10 brands that would likely disappear in 2011, I teed up the question of, “will brands that don’t embrace social go away?” My answer was yes based on my own observations and validation from authorities like Charlene Li and Professor Jerry Wind. Jennifer disagreed and pointed to a number of B2B examples (her company included) that should do fine as long as they made good products.

Want to listen to past episodes of the Quick’n’Dirty podcast? You can find them all here on BlogTalkRadio or on iTunes by searching for Quick’n’Dirty. You can also read recaps of past shows on Jennifer’s, my and now Rich Harris’ blogs. So until next week, remember, “we love your tweets!”

Hotel Nikko Asks: What Could We Do to Get You to Stay?

Last week, I had the opportunity to speak at the Social Media Marketing 2010 Conference in San Francisco which happened to be held at the Hotel Nikko. If you haven’t visited/stayed at the Nikko before, it’s a nice hotel. Centrally located (just a few blocks off of Market), bright and clean with all the charm of a boutique hotel. The rooms are well-laid out with large flat panel televisions, wet bars and bathrooms that offer separate bathtubs and showers.

Of course I enjoyed my experience at the Hotel Nikko (in fact, this was my second time staying there) but my main criteria for choosing it had more to do with location (it’s where the conference was being held) and price (about $200/night all in) than anything else. While I was there, however, an interesting thing happened that led to the eventual writing of this blog post…

I was riding up in the elevator when a young woman who was interning at the hotel asked me if I was attending the conference. I said that I was which prompted her to ask me why I thought more of the attendees weren’t staying at the hotel. This was a fairly easy question to answer given the fact that I knew a lot of the speakers/attendees lived locally and thus didn’t need a hotel that night. It was her next question, though, that really piqued my interest. The intern asked, “what could we do to get you to stay here next time?”

At this point in the conversation, I started thinking to myself, either this is a very clever young lady who will go far some day OR Hotel Nikko may be taking an innovative approach to their customer research. Either way, I told her I had exactly the answer she was looking for… but she would need to do a little homework. I gave her three names that I told her to write down: The Roger Smith Hotel in NYC,  Brian Simpson aka @bsimi (their director of social hospitality) and Brian’s sidekick, Adam Wallace aka @adwal (new media director at the Roger Smith).

[NOTE: if you don't know the story of the Roger Smith and how unbelievably successful they've been through their customer-centric AND social media efforts, be sure to listen to my colleague, Joseph Jaffe's interview or read Chris Brogan's glowing post about their efforts]

Being as diligent as she was curious, the intern took out her notepad and wrote all this information down, obviously intrigued by what a hotel in NYC and two guys with hip hop sounding Twitter handles could have to do with getting me to stay at her hotel. At this point, she thanked me for the information and we parted ways. Upon our separating, I got thinking more about the question she had asked me and decided to write a prescriptive post about five things I liked about my experience at the Nikko along with five ways they could improve.

The good:

  1. I arrived at the hotel at 8:30 AM and asked if I could check in. While many hotels are strict about their early checkin policy, the woman behind the desk was very polite and let me check in early without even batting an eyelash.
  2. This may not be a big deal for most people but as someone that travels a fair amount AND is married to his laptop, the fact that the electrical outlets were easily accessible and that they had reliable wifi was much appreciated.
  3. Anyone that follows me on Twitter will understand how happy I was that there was a Starbucks in the lobby.
  4. There was a bottle of water on my bedside stand.
  5. I’d like to think that the Nikko was the impetus behind their inquisitive interns line of questioning, even if they didn’t explicitly tell her to chat up guests in the elevator. If that wasn’t the case, they were still smart enough to hire a smart and motivated intern.
The “could use improvement”:
  1. When I arrived to checkin, I was as little surprised that they didn’t acknowledge the fact that I had stayed there before (level of difficulty from a CRM perspective is about a 2 on a scale of 1-10). This also required NO knowledge of social media whatsoever.
  2. The “reliable” in-room wifi was $15/night. And while it was provided by AT&T; (a network that usually allows roaming via my Boingo account), I wasn’t provided with a “roaming” option in spite of the fact that the FAQs on the site said that I could.
  3. Corollary to number four in the “good” column above… while there was in fact A bottle of water on my bedside table, the aforementioned bottle was not a FREE bottle of water. I am of the strong belief that every hotel should offer at least A free bottle of water, even if it’s the cheap, no name kind.
  4. While I don’t expect that many businesses will make an attempt to use or even experiment with location-based services like FourSquare, Gowalla and Whrrl, restaurants and hotels are foolish for not tapping into this capability now. To that end, I was disappointed that the Nikko did not acknowledge of my FourSquare checkin given the fact that I cross-posted it on Twitter for all to see.
  5. They weren’t the Roger Smith
All in all, you’ll notice that my “could use improvement” column isn’t too scathing. While I travel a lot, I have simple needs. And maybe I’ve been spoiled by my stays at the Roger Smith but I am really surprised that more hotels — boutiques AND chains — haven’t done a better job at embracing social media.
How about you? Have you had a good or bad experience at a hotel that you’d like to mention? Please include it in the comments below.

The NJ Nets Go-Walla! [UPDATED on 9/29]

If you hadn’t noticed, I’m on a bit of a location-based services kick these days. Not because I like technology for technology sake but rather because I see real business value that companies like Gowalla, FourSquare, Whrrl and even Twitter and Facebook are starting to provide through their offerings. For anyone that hasn’t seen the post I did a few weeks ago on location-based services, the comments are a MUST read (there are 45+ and still growing).


As a result of the aforementioned location-based post, I received an e-mail the other day from someone working on behalf of the New Jersey Nets regarding their current Gowalla campaign. The e-mail talked about the NJ Nets’ launch of a 225 x 95 foot painted wall at the corner of 34th and 8th Streets in New York City, just a few blocks from Penn Station and Madison Square Garden (the home of the New York Knicks). The wall features Nets owner and Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, and minority owner and hip hop legend Jay-Z. More important than the images of the two owners is the call to action at the bottom of the mural which states simply, “Check in Gowalla to get a special item.” Now I don’t know about you but even if I didn’t know anything about location-based services or Gowalla, I’d be tempted to jump on Google to find out more.

As a marketer, however, I was curious about what the goal of this program was. Yes, I’m sure it will generate hype and of course it will be a conversation starter (hell, it’s got a blogger like me writing about it so they are doing something right). But I wasn’t satisfied with that as my answer so I asked my new NJ Nets friend to give me more detail. He pointed out that with new ownership (Prokhorov and Jay-Z), a new coach (Avery Johnson), the third overall pick in this year’s draft (Derek Favors), and a new home in Brooklyn in 2012, that the Nets wanted to create an aggressive marketing campaign to let New Yorkers know the Nets are back and ready to compete. One way of sharing this excitement was by experimenting with new experiences like the one that Gowalla would provide.



To that end, I also like what Laura Castronovo, director of research and strategic marketing for the Nets, had to say about how this giant sign with the non-traditional call to action fit in with the Nets’ overall plans:

Digital Marketing is now a part of everything we do; whether it be driving traffic to our websites njnets.com and netsallnew.com or building up our social networking communities, having a digital presence is crucial. We also like to make our campaigns as interactive as possible. It made sense for us to include Gowalla on the Blueprint of Greatness 34th St wall so fans can engage in this campaign with us.”What are the results? As of this writing, there have been 90 organic check-ins to the spot. It also got coverage from TechCrunch which is never a bad thing (okay, mostly never a bad thing). But will this campaign help move the needle? I’m not sure. But you can bet I’ll be keeping my eye on how things progress. And you can damn well bet that next time I’m in New York near Penn Station I will be checking into Gowalla to see what kind of “special item” I’ll receive.




UPDATED on 9/29 based on panel information at the Location-based Marketing Summit in NYC.


This wall was just the first phase of the campaign. The important part of what the Nets did with @Gowalla is that they randomly gave away 250 pairs of tickets to a Nets game. People would win tickets when they checked in. The redemption rate was 15.2% which the Nets were very happy with. The key was that the nearly 80 people (2 x 40) were encouraged to take pictures, post updates, checkin on Gowalla, etc. This obviously led to a number of conversations and a good deal of earned media. With a franchise that’s struggling to regain some relevance in a town that has more than its fair share of successful sports teams, any kind of brand excitement was a net positive. To date, the Nets have been very pleased with the results.

Influence, Networking and Building Equity

There’s been a post stewing about in my head for the last several days. It’s about the importance of keeping your virtual “bank” full when it comes to networking and influence. As someone that has been focused on networking well before the idea of social networks came into vogue, I can tell you that this is easier said than done, mainly because it requires a lot of work and the frequent subjugation of one’s ego.

The impetus for this post came while I was out for a walk last week. This is usually my quiet time where I can catch up on tweets, e-mails etc. away from the office, my wonderful wife and three beautiful children. During my walk, I listen to music, take in some fresh air and get a little exercise. On this particular day as I was going through my friends tweets and realized that there was a certain influential friend of mine (let’s call him Jim Jones) who I hadn’t spoken to in a while. I didn’t need anything from him but wanted to just say “hi” since it had been a few months since we last connected.

As one that dislikes using the phone whenever possible, sometimes there is no substitute for it, especially when you haven’t connected with someone in a while. To that end, I thought the best way to connect with “Jim” was via a phone call. Unfortunately, with Jim’s popularity has come stalking and bothering so Jim had to change his number. After realizing that I would not be speaking with Jim via the phone that very pleasant morning, I had the following exchange with Jim via direct message on Twitter:

AaronStrout
bruthah! Was out for a walk this AM and thought I’d call just to say “hi.” realized the # I have has been disconnected ;(


JimJones
444-444-1234. Sorry to miss you. I’m in the LA this week, so won’t answer just yet. : )


AaronStrout
oh, no worries. like i said, i just saw you tweeting and thought, “I haven’t talked to Jim in a while.” Hope you’re well. ;)


JimJones
I haven’t talked to you in too long. You’re lovely. : )


AaronStrout
same back atcha sunshine! ;)

The purpose of showing you this exchange is not to make you throw up in your mouth but to demonstrate the importance of my approach. I wanted Jim to know that this was strictly a friendly call and that I wasn’t asking for anything. While “Jim” is a household name in the world of marketing and social media, I take this same approach with my entire network. In fact, I love nothing better than to randomly pull out a tweet or blogpost from someone in my network and re-tweet (repost on Twitter) or comment on their work. I say this not to come off as an egotistical prick but to demonstrate the fact that people with big or small networks appreciate this unconditional “love.”

Building on this topic, a recent post by the lovely and eloquent, Amber Naslund, got me thinking more about the real definition of “influence”which is often one of the outcomes that people seek via the process of networking. In her post, Amber states…

To me, influence isn’t about popularity. Or even reach. It’s about the trust, authority, and presence to drive relevant actions within your community that create something of substance. That last bit is key.

Yup. Couldn’t have said it better myself. It’s about “trust, authority and presence” which to me reinforces why so many many companies have a hard time with social media. They don’t want to take the time to build trust or presence even though they might already have some authority in their particular area of expertise. Like an awkward teenage boy on his first date, the company forgets that relationship building doesn’t happen in one evening and that the physical (read: good) part comes only when “trust and authority” have been established. Unfortunately, too many of these encounters end with a “slap in the face” rather than a “goodnight kiss.”

For those of you who are new to the world of social, this may sound disheartening. But you have to start somewhere. And as a great example of that, I’ll point out my friend, Kelly Stonebock, who knew that she should be blogging but had until recently put it off up. While she’s only got four posts under her belt… she now has FOUR posts under her belt and is on her way to establishing credibility as a serious blogger/writer.

So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and start networking. And while you’re at it, don’t forget the “trust, authority and presence” piece. Don’t worry, it’s never too late to get started.

LinkedIn Delivering Some REAL Value

You know what I hate? Technology for technology sake. You know what I love? When technology comes along and solves a majore pain point by being smart and anticipating my needs. Guess who just did the latter (okay smarty pants, you knew the answer already because I gave it away in the title). Yup, LinkedIn.

I’ve been a fan of LinkedIn for a while and if my recollection is correct, I’ve been a member since 2003 which is a long time in the life of a social network. While I originally liked LinkedIn for it’s ability to connect me to other smart business folks, the functionality was pretty flat beyond being an online repository for resumes for the first 5-6 years. Over the last 18 months, they’ve really ramped up their efforts and have made the site much more social in nature.

This morning, they ratcheted things up on more notch by offering a great feature which essentially automates the matchmaking around forwarding on job recommendations. Here is a screenshot of the e-mail I received from LinkedIn this morning:

For any of you reading this in an RSS reader without graphic capabilities, essentially the new LinkedIn functionality works this way:

  • Person A pings me with a job request
  • LinkedIn looks through my contacts for people that have that job description in their current or past history
  • I am then offered the ability to forward that description onto my network (see e-mail template on LinkedIn below).
  • Even better, LinkedIn looks into the connections of my connections and offers to allow my connections to forward this description onto their network thus adding value for me AND my network.
The other great thing is that I can delete (or add) additional folks to the e-mail. And as always, I can customize the messaging. In this particular case, I was able to forward this job description from Karen onto five people, five of which I wouldn’t have immediately thought of when I originally received the request had LinkedIn not done the heavy lifting for me.
Kudos to you LinkedIn. It’s functionality like this that is going to keep you relevant and in business for a long time. Keep up the great work!