Social Media: Big Number Bullying

A number of years ago, I was sitting at a table outside the Ferry Building in San Francisco having lunch with a friend when she saw a business acquaintance of hers. She called him over and asked him how he was doing.

His answer was, "I'm great! This coming Friday I'm throwing a 40th birthday party for myself with my 500 closest friends! You have to come!!"

That's when I was introduced to the idea of what I call "Big Number Bullying." Here's the logic:

  • No one - and I mean no one  - has 500 best friends.
  • Simply by virtue of his seeing her - an acquaintance at most, by her own description - she got invited to be his 501st "best friend."
  • It was never about his turning 40. It was all about how he could claim that he had 500 "best friends." 

He left us abruptly because he saw yet another "best friend" and just had to talk with him. Otherwise, we were sure, had she had the chance to introduce me, I probably would have been invited, too.

Welcome to "Big Number Bullying" - a world of quantity and never quality. A world where it's never about what you have to offer - only how many might hear about it, whether they're interested or not.

It's the world of "Likes" and "Friends" and "Followers" and "Connections" that seem to be the measure by which we are now being assessed on our value.

Bullies, as everyone knows, thrive on making others feel less than. Scared. Incomplete. Unable.

Bullies live in and create a comparative/combative world. Everyone is pitted against everyone else - fighting for the same territory - always against each other.

After all, if you're on the "good" side of the bully, then you don't have anything to worry about. You're protected. For now. Until the next bully comes along.

That's the outcome of social media - because they've created the platforms that lead those who don't know better (i.e., that quality is always more important than quantity) to view themselves based on their numbers.

It's scarcity in reverse. Where advertisers want to create an illusion of scarcity to get people to come, social media scarcity convinces those who don't have the numbers that there's nothing to come to. That they're not worthy.

It's mean. It's bullying. And it always targets - or creates - the vulnerable.

Sadly, today Amazon joined the fray - and is picking on a particularly vulnerable professional group: Authors.

They've introduced "Amazon Author Rank" - where, in your particular category, your popularity number - as an author - is broadcast for all to see.

This isn't about where your book stands in sales in your category or across all their sales. It's about you - and that makes them the newest bully on the block.

What's their purpose? To get authors to feel bad enough about themselves and their standing to spend loads of time trying to get people to buy their books...on Amazon.

Frankly, Amazon doesn't care whether anyone buys your books or not. They just want the authors to spend the time getting people onto their platform so that they'll buy anything. Anything at all.

The ranking number has no meaning. None. Just like that guy's "500 best friends." But, in this case, it's designed to make people feel bad about not being one of the 500.

So what's the lesson? There are two.

First - If you use any form of social media - or if you create in any way - don't think about how the ubiquitous "they" will think about you. F**k them. Stay true to yourself and true to your art.

Second - Bullying in any form is still bullying. Big Number Bullying is just a new, technological way of broadcasting bullying on a global scale. So, if you use social media for personal reasons, do it because you enjoy it. If not - don't spend the time.

After all, given that we have no idea of the quantity of time we have in this life, it's always and only about the quality of life we live.

Disruptive Heroes: My Interview with Bill Jensen

Yesterday, I did an interview with Bill Jensen (aka, Mr. Simplicity) for his new series on Disruptive Heroes.

In it, I got the chance to talk about W. Edwards Deming, unleashing employee capability, Paris, Twitter, strobic thinking and my attitude toward life - which was a lot of ground to cover in six minutes!

Bill is always a joy and always asks challenging questions. After you take a look at this edited version of my interview, make sure you go visit his site on the 100 Great Disruptive Heroes.

Lady Gaga's Social Studies

When I was a little girl and my brothers or I were behaving badly, my mother used to warn us not to be little monsters.

Little did I know, years later, that I would proudly accept that title - and recommend it to as many others as possible.

Because now, if you're a "little monster" it means that you're part of Lady Gaga's fan base - which is the same as being part of a social movement.

Lady Gaga has no hesitation in using her celebrity to do good. Of course she does well. In fact, she does amazingly well with sales that keep setting records. Good for her. Because she uses her nearly 11 million Twitter followers and all her fans worldwide as a means of moving society in a more tolerant, caring direction.

I knew of Lady Gaga, simply, as a pop music icon who was so much a part of a different generation than mine that she was barely a blip on my radar. Right up until she used her celebrity to support the repeal of the "Don't Ask. Don't Tell" legislation that was then being reviewed by Congress.

Using her celebrity specifically to speak on behalf of an underserved and still actively discriminated against population - no matter what the cause - made her different from her colleagues and contemporaries. More courageous. More willing to use her success to do good.

More recently, with her record-breaking "Born This Way" song and album, she has escalated that philosophy by making sure that her "little monsters" all know that they are perfect. That they need not feel disenfranchised - because they're not a mistake.

That they can - and should - live their lives proudly.

In a world where bullying in schools has taken peer pressure to new heights, that's a message that neither can nor should be ignored.

Then, when Clarence Clemons, the 69-year old saxophonist from Bruce Springsteen's E-Street Band who performed with Gaga on her new album, suffered a sudden - and ultimately fatal - stroke, she mobilized her troops to help in his recovery by making and sending get well videos.

Think about it. Here's a 25-year old superstar who is getting her worldwide fan base which start in their 'tweens, if not younger, to pay attention to and help a senior citizen. That's so good on so many different levels it almost defies description.

Lady Gaga gets a lot of grief for her supposed mimicry of Madonna. The pundits who keep putting that forward are wrong. Because what Lady Gaga has known from the first and Madonna never demonstrated is that there is a beauty in doing well and doing good simultaneously.

In these troubled economic times - particularly when investment in education is being severely reduced across the country - it's even more important that those who have celebrity recognize that they have a responsibility that comes with their success to support a greater good.

So, monster paws up, everybody, because we're all Little Monsters now.

(An earlier version of this article appeared on Technorati.)

The Toilet Paper Game Changer

Kimberley-Clark has not had what some would call a sterling reputation in the eco-world, according to an article in USA Today.

That makes their announcement that they are test-marketing a new tube-less toilet paper roll even bigger news.  It follows on their Smart Flush Bag, a water-saving device for the toilet, announced last year and is part of a larger strategy to reverse their reputation and take advantage of a more environmentally conscious consumer marketplace.

Good for them.

It's also not by accident that they're introducing the new product through Walmart and Sam's Club (a part of the Walmart corporation).

By being the only provider of the product for the foreseeable future, Walmart simultaneously increases its enviro-cred and gets a jump on the rest of the market ahead of when the product goes national.  Or global.

And, typical of Walmart, they are setting the competitive price base point against which every other shop or chain that sells the product will have to compete.

But there's another game changer in here and it's one worth looking at by every corporation - because it shows just how valuable innovation can be.

First, the numbers.  According to the article, Kimberley-Clark estimates that:

  • 17 billion toilet paper tubes are produced each year in the United States
  • If placed end-to-end, the tubes would do a double round-trip to the moon
  • Because the tubes aren't always recycled, they account for as much as 160 million pounds of landfill-bound trash.

By doing something as simple as figuring out how to get rid of the tube, Kimberley-Clark can make the case that it's changing the world.  It's doing good.  It's supporting the environment and the consumer's need to contribute to the protection of planet earth.

Great marketing.

But what it has also done is energize a product and market that has been stagnant for years.  Sure there were advertised changes to softness, aesthetic design and scent - but, for the most part, toilet paper has been toilet paper for decades.

Now, through innovation, there will be a completely new reason for consumers not only to think about which brand of toilet paper to buy, they will be able to clearly discriminate between Kimberley-Clark's brands and any others with the tube still in.

Big win.

Moreover, Kimberley-Clark is looking at extending the technology to paper towels - another market that has had little movement over the years.

Bigger win - because it's simply building on what it's already achieved.  The hard work is done.  Now it's just profits.

Too often, innovation is seen only in the context of new information technologies.  If it's not an Amazon or a Facebook or a Twitter - let alone all the b2b applications that make up how every company does business every day - it's not innovation.


From changing how you answer the phones to finding a way to remove a tube from a household product, innovation is innovation.  It doesn't have to be big and sexy.  It just has to represent positive, developmental change in how you do business and what you offer your customers.

So, manufacturer or service provider, the question for you is:

What innovation opportunities are out there as well as within your enterprise that you can start to access and move on - now - to create an even more successful future?

Figure it out.  Because someone else is already working on it.

Google and Sun-Tzu - It's All About Strategy

In Sun Tzu's always re-readable The Art of War, he says, "Keep your friends close but your enemies closer."

He's right - because the more you know about your enemy, the easier it is to win.  The more you learn from them and what they're doing, the more you can create tactics that counter their moves - usually before they make them.

It is exactly that thinking which is at the core of Google CEO Eric Schmidt's most recent comments at the Google Zeitgeist conference last week.

At that conference, Schmidt talked about the conflicts and rivalries that have arisen between Google and, oh, pretty much every other company in the technology space - pretty much no matter how you define it. And he put his finger on exactly why when he said, "This is winning.  If we were losing, we would not have these problems."

But in looking deeper into his comments, what you see is that as innovative as Google is, part of its success comes from building off of what others have developed.

Google didn't invent the smartphone - but the Android platform has given them what they need to get into that market.

Google didn't invent social networking - but the false starts and upcoming add-ons that they're discussing are designed to create a platform for them as an alternative to Twitter, FourSquare, Facebook and others.

Because what Google wants is advertising revenues.  They want your eyes on what they have to offer - ostensibly through their services, but actually pointing you toward the way that they make their revenues.  And that doesn't come from Android (which is free) or their social networking (which will also be free).  It comes from advertising.

That, too, is the logic of Google Instant - their new "thinking for their customers" search add-on that points you toward where they think you want to go.  Whether you do or not.  (Check out the video below.)

(Full disclosure:  This blog is powered by Google's Blogger, so I'm biting the hand that feeds me, if you get my drift.)

So, what's the take-away on this?  What's your WIIFM?

1.  Be excrutiatingly clear about what the goals, direction and strategy are for your organization.  Know exactly which markets you want to be in, to what extent and why.  Then, know what the customers who shop that market - B2B or B2C - are looking for.

Which will get you directly to...

2.  Keep closer than close watch on what companies in that space are doing.  Learn from your enemies.  See their products and services for the trajectories they offer to their customers - because they're your customers too.

Because then you can...

3.  Quickly and consistently, build your own products and services that compete in that space using what you have to offer to get those customers to direct their money into your organization's offerings.  You don't have to invent it.  You just have to find a way to ensure that what you're taking from your direct and indirect competitors will point the people and businesses you need in your direction.

It's fast, easy and cheap - because, if you follow Sun Tzu's advice, you're letting others do the hard work for you.  Then it's you - and your customers - who are benefitting.