Mario Sundar

LinkedIn's 2nd PR hire. These are my thoughts on products, public relations, and startups.

The Larry Summers Show: Straight Talk. Served Angry.

Yesterday, Larry Summers, whose words have landed him into trouble on more than one occasion was interviewed by Walter Isaacson (Aspen Institute President and Steve Jobs biographer) at a Fortune conference. Of course, the blogosphere was abuzz, but I felt the interview was interesting on a couple other areas on CEO communications that I’ve spent quite some time talking about here.

Three more tips on being interviewed in public ensues… right after the pic.

BTW, I couldn’t embed the video here because WordPress sucks at embedding flash files (they cite security but what’s good for Tumblr’s good for me) on their posts and don’t give any other option either. Thank you very much! But, I digress.

1. Speak your mind. Don’t mince words. Not Angry.

Love him or hate him. You’ve got to give it to Larry Summers for speaking his mind — no matter, how controversial it is — and no matter how he is perceived at the end of the interview. Of course, he seems to get away with lecturing the audience in his professorial tone given his past history.

Why so serious?

The very first question was about a scene from the Social Network that portrayed him being dismissive of the Winklevii twins (I’m not gonna get into the details, but if you’re reading this blog, I guess you’ve watched the movie). Here was his no-nonsense answer to it.

I’ve heard it said that I can be arrogant.

If that’s true, I surely was on that occasion.  One of the things you learn as a college president is that if an undergraduate is wearing a tie and jacket on Thursday afternoon at three o’clock, there are two possibilities.  One is that they’re looking for a job and have an interview; the other is that they are an a**hole.

This was the latter case.  Rarely, have I encountered such swagger, and I tried to respond in kind.

Of course, not everyone can pull this off, but for someone with Larry’s notoriety this was a great start to an entertaining interview.

2. The power of simple metaphors

I’ve said it before (while describing Steve Jobs’ style) and I’m gonna start collecting more examples of leaders who are effective at using simple metaphors to get across a point during interviews. In my opinion, this is the only way to communicate effectively to your audience. For instance, I thought Larry Summers probably made the simplest description of the debt ceiling debate in this interview:

Look, if we default on August 2nd, it’s going to be what happened after Lehman collapsed on steroids.  It’s going to be financial Armageddon.

The idea that adults who have some agenda, whatever the merits of their agenda, are really prepared to threaten sending the United States into default, to pursue their agenda, is beyond belief.

You know, I have had arguments with my college-aged children about spending, and sometimes we discuss whether they should spend less, whether they should pay, whether I should pay.  We don’t entertain the option that because we can’t resolve our argument, Visa should get stiffed

3. Got Stories? Share it.

I think one of the key reasons people watch keynote interviews is to learn something new but more importantly, to just hear some “exclusive” stories they’d normally not hear elsewhere. It’s kinda like one of the key reasons people read blogs instead of press releases.

My favorite moments from this interview were surely an answer on the different leadership styles of the two Presidents Summers has worked with: Presidents Obama and Clinton.

You’re working for Barack Obama.  If you have a meeting scheduled at ten o’clock, there’s a 25 percent chance that the meeting will begin before ten o’clock, and there’s a — you know what’s coming, and there’s a 70 percent chance that the meeting will have begun by 10:15.

If you wrote Barack Obama a memo before the meeting, it is a virtual certainty that he will have read it.  If you seek to explain the memo you wrote to him during the meeting, he will cut you off, and he will be irritated.  If he, as the leader of the meeting, will ask one or two questions to kick the tires, but will basically focus on how whatever subject you’re talking about fits with the broad vision and approaches of his presidency.

He will basically take the attitude if you’re his financial advisor, that if you can’t — it’s up to you to figure out whether preferred stock or subordinated debt is the appropriate financial instrument for your bailout, and that if he doesn’t trust you to figure it out, he’ll get a new financial adviser, but that is not the question on which he is going to spend time.

So it’s a very focused executive, big picture guidance, disciplined approach.  At the appointed time, his secretary will come in and will bring a card that says it’s time for his next meeting, and you will be out of that office within five minutes.  It is a certainty.  That’s working for Barack Obama, and it is a wonderful experience.

Working for Bill Clinton is also a wonderful experience.  It is a different experience.

(Laughter.)

And, here’s his experience working with President Clinton:

The probability that there is compensation for the fact that your meeting will begin late, it is virtually certain to end late.  Bill Clinton has a 30 percent chance of having read your memo before the memo.  Bill Clinton will, however, with near certainty, have some set of quite detailed and thoughtful perspectives to offer on your topic.

He will say things like “I was in the White House library reading the Journal of Finance, and there’s some really interesting thinking about the role of dividends in the system.”  “I went to a conference at the Brookings Institution 11 years ago, and do you know that there’s a really interesting experiment with providing credit access in Tennessee?”

“Did you read the latest issue of — the Asian edition of The Economist?  It had a perspective on Thailand that you might want to think about.”  There was a stunning, I mean you know, while he wasn’t reading your memo, it wasn’t that he wasn’t doing anything about it.

I’ve a couple more interesting themes on corporate social media I’ll start covering shortly as I continue my fluency of writing posts on here. In the meanwhile, follow me on Twitter.

Filed under: Leadership Communication, Public Relations, Public Speaking

America is to Apple as China is to…

These were some thoughts I shared on Quora recently on the topic of countries and brands, around the July 4th weekend. The question asked was around what it means for a country to have a brand and if so what brand was China’s? Inevitably my arguments revolved around (you guessed right): Apple.

To me, much like everyday brands associated with products, a country too has a brand value commensurate to the set of values associated to its core identity.

To me:

America is Apple. The monarchy can be represented by IBM, Microsoft and Google over the years.

China is Walmart.

For a brand to stand the test of time (in a world with choices), the brand proposition should be based on core values that are ideals people aspire towards, and are not necessarily product related nor can they be commoditized (think Xerox).

With regards to America and China: America’s brand value will always remain – freedom. Apple (under the guidance of Steve Jobs) ably portrayed themselves as the brand that stood for freedom against the tyranny of IBM.

Check out the quintessential 1984 Apple Ad (embedded above).

Apple had a shot at becoming the super-power only to see them relegated once again as a rebel force with Microsoft taking the crown. Even now (despite their leadership) they can still be portrayed as battling the institution called Google.

Apple’s brand values will always remain freedom, innovation, and design. And, if they steer clear of it, they’re bound to fail (as they did under a non-Jobs leadership).

On the other hand, as Ashton Lee explains in his answer to this question, China’s brand proposition today is of low cost, cheap goods, much like Walmart is today. These are not values that are necessary aspirational. That said, post-Olympics, the world has started perceiving China differently, and time will tell what direction their brand will evolve towards over time.

Filed under: Miscellaneous

Steve Jobs as Luke Skywalker. Circa 1987.

Rockstars are made, not born. They practice tirelessly; honing their craft at every given opportunity, and with the help of Jobs’ 1987 Playboy interview, I’d like to shed some light on the early stages of Jobs’ communication savvy and the communication consistency that he has now perfected into an art form.

Jobs In 1987. p.s. What’s up with the bow-tie.

Fine tuning the metaphors:

Nobody hits a home run on Day One. Some have an in-born talent but it’s always a work in progress. Steve Jobs’ D8 presentation, his keynotes, his Stanford commencement speech — is the culmination of years of assiduous practice. I’m gonna walk you through three examples of Steve coming up with metaphors to describe nascent technology that most people (at the time of the interview) didn’t grok.

Let’s see how his thinking and his metaphors are fine-tuned over time.

Let’s take his earliest interviews, the Playboy one in 1987 is a great example, and look at his response to what is a computer. I know. Bear with me here. The year is 1987 and people still don’t get the PC revolution that’s gonna hit them. It’s amazing how hard it is to impress upon the reporter what a game changer the Mac is gonna be.

His first attempt to describe computers is kinda rambling:

Computers are actually pretty simple. We’re sitting here on a bench in this café. Let’s assume that you understood only the most rudimentary of directions and you asked how to find the rest room. I would have to describe it to you in very specific and precise instruction. I might say, “Scoot sideways two meters off the bench. Stand erect. Lift left foot. Bend left knee until it is horizontal. Extend left foot and shift weight 300 centimeters forward…” and on and on. If you could interpret all those instructions 100 times faster than any other person in this café, you would appear to be a magician: You could run over and grab a milk shake and bring it back and set it on the table and snap your fingers, and I’d think you made the milk shake appear, because it was so fast relative to my perception. THat’s exactly what a computer does. It takes these very simple-minded instructions––”Go fetch a number, add it to this number, put the result there, perceive if it’s greater than this other number”––but executes them at a rate of , let’s say, 1,000,000 per second. At 1,000,000 per second, the results appear to be magic.

That’s a simple explanation, and the point is that people really don’t need to understand how computers work. Most people have no concept of how an automatic transmission works, yet they know how to drive a car. You don’t have to study physics to understand the laws of motion to drive a car. You don’t have to understand any of this stuff to use Macintosh––but you asked [laughs]

Wow! Quite verbose. It’s got the early stages of his story-telling but it’s definitely too technical for a reporter and not impressive since he asks him again the same question. Steve takes a second shot at it, which goes…

A computer is the most incredible tool we’ve ever seen. It can be a writing tool, a communications center, a supercalculator, a planner, a filer and an artistic instrument all in one, just by being given new instructions, or software, to work from. There are no other tools that have the power and versatility of a computer. We have no idea how far it’s going to go. Right now, computers make our lives easier. They do work for us in fractions of a second that would take us hours. They increase the quality of life, some of that by simply automating drudgery and some of that by broadening our possibilities. As things progress, they’ll be doing more and more for us.

Meh. Kinda there, but he’s hinting at the potential it possesses as a revolutionary, incredible utility. Still not convinced, the journalist asks him a pointed question on computers for business and Steve ends with:

There are different answers for different people. In business, that question is easy to answer: You really can prepare documents much faster and at a higher quality level, and you can do many things to increase office productivity. A computer frees people from much of the menial work. Besides that, you are giving them a tool that encourages them to be creative. Remember, computers are tools. Tools help us do our work better.

Still not there, and as you can see, reporters are always going for the pithy answers that even a 12 year old will understand. But, then in a later interview (video after quote), Jobs gives a far more succinct metaphor to evoke the possibilities of a computer.

One of the things that separates us from primates is that we’re tool builders. I read a study that measured the efficiency of locomotion for various species on the planet. The condor used the least energy to move a kilometer. And, humans came in a third of the way down the list. But, Scientific American tested the efficiency of locomotion for a man on a bicycle.

And, a man on the bicycle blew the condor away; it was completely off the top of the charts. And, that’s what a computer is to me. It is the most remarkable tool that we’ve ever come up with and it’s the equivalent of a bicycle for our minds.

To me this is one of the early stages where you can see the power of the evocative metaphor being used by Jobs. Fast forward to 2008 where Jobs, yet again, takes a stab at explaining a new product that Apple’s betting on big – the iPad.

I’m trying to think of a good analogy. When we were an agrarian nation, all cars were trucks cos that’s what you needed on the farm. But, as vehicles started to be used in the urban centers, and America started to move towards them. Cars got more popular and innovations like power steering, etc. happened.

And, now, maybe 1 in every 25 vehicles is a truck where it used to be like 100%.

PCs are gonna be like trucks.

As you can see, no technicalities on what an iPad does well, no reference to a study by Scientific American, nothing. Just a nuanced metaphor on trucks and cars that everyone in America and the world will understand.

Read the rest of the article here.

Hope you’re having a great Sunday. Say Hi on Twitter!

I’ll leave you behind with a behind the scenes video of a young 23 year old Steve Jobs prepping for a TV interview. Young Luke Skywalker.

Filed under: Best-of, Public Relations, Public Speaking, Steve Jobs,

Why Google Circles is a Giant Fail

Google+ (Google’s new social offering) seeks to differentiate itself from Facebook with three key features: Google Circles (their tentpole feature, seemingly a retelling of Facebook privacy lists), Google Sparks (seriously useless) and Google Hangouts (which was my first positive reaction to the features Google+ launched with.

Let’s focus on Google Circles for a second, since I read a couple of posts today: one, by Kevin Cheng – product guy at Twitter, who shares my thoughts on why friend lists don’t work and another from Fred Wilson on the potential evolution of social suggestions by Google, and therein lies the rub…

So, let’s start with my Google Circles thoughts (originally published on Quora)

“A friend list by any other name…”

Call it Google+ Circles, but it’s still just a far easier-to-setup-and-use friend list. Facebook allows you to create different friend lists today and even prompts you to bucket your friends when you connect — but how many users use that.

Unfortunately, this ain’t a sustainable solution.

Here’s why: my friend lists are constantly evolving and are extremely nuanced and (no way) am I gonna continually update these lists over time. For e.g. I’ve created a list for Colleagues. Guess what? Colleagues move and so do you (from job to job), and once somebody leaves that Circle — that privacy list is useless — cos you’re now gonna share something that they shouldn’t be seeing. So, you’ve a broken list…

Yes, Google Circles may be good spin but it’s futile. Kevin echoes similar thoughts:

Thus, maintaining digital groups has two problems. First, you don’t know when to move someone from one group to another because transitions happen gradually. Second, it’s simply a lot of effort to maintain. How often would you update the entire list? And if it’s not updated, how useful are the groupings, really?

He then takes it one step further by wondering out loud if it’d be possible to automate these groups? Here’s Fred Wilson elaborating on this topic:

This is an oppportunity to use machines. And Google is doing this with Google+. The recommendations on who to add to what circles are amazing. So why make me do the drag and drop thing other than it is fun and cool to do that on a computer?

If Google+ knows who my music friends are then just suggest “music friends” when I hit the share button and send it on. Do I care if it goes to a few people who aren’t actually my music friends? No I do not. Do I care if a few of my music friends don’t get it? Yes, but then I can add them explicitly. I trust Google to do a fine job of this for me. They’ve proven themselves worthy of the job so many times in my relationship with them over the years. I trust that they can build algorithms like this as well or better than any other company out there.

Google doesn’t get social, yet.

I beg to differ. In my personal experience, I haven’t seen Google’s expertise at crafting good social recommendations, yet. And, here’s my take. As I’ve said from the get-go, Google+ seems less like an innovative shift or evolution in the social networking construct and I’m still not convinced that they get social or community.

As I’ve argued earlier, sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Quora, Tumblr get social and are building their communities from the scratch. Google seems to be applying a sliver of social across all their existing products and I posit that they hope to create an identity ecosystem that ties it all together. Here’s an interesting theory from Vincent Wong that positions Google (and Google+, right) against Microsoft and less as a social play against Facebook.

Google’s Implicit Graph

But, I digress. Speaking of social recommendations: what does Google know today? Who do you email, from whom do you receive spam, whose emails do you ignore and what do you search for. A huge win for them in the past. But, an email graph plus search doesn’t a social graph make. That’s why I’ve wondered what sense it made to integrate Google+ Like buttons onto search.  Granted, Google+ is their first sorta serious attempt at social (Buzz, Wave, RIP), but frankly I haven’t had one pure social interaction with friends or family on Google+ yet. I’ve over 3000 followers (reminds me of Friendfeed and Twitter) but it’s definitely not the social graph we’re seeing here. It’s random comments from marketers, bloggers and Googlers seeking focus groups on Hangouts. I kid you not.

You know who could create the implicit social graph: Facebook can.

From day one, they’ve created a truly social universe for three quarters of a billion people and they probably possess a slew of real social gestures (whose walls do you visit, whose photos do you tag, whose tags of your photo do you untag, whose photos do you comment in, what group messages are you being sent today, whose parties are you invited to, which of those parties do you actually go to, I could go on… and then there’s the mobile side of it, places, etc.)

Now, I’m sure my experience may not be your Google+ experience (if yours is different please leave a comment or @mariosundar me). But, to summarize, I believe Facebook has a real good shot at creating the implicit groupings that Fred and Kevin talk about and I look forward to that.

And, btw, you know who can suggest music friends. Wait till Spotify and Facebook unleash their plans for world domination and then musical social recommendations won’t be too far fetched.

Disagree? Sure. Leave a comment or let’s chat on Twitter.

p.s. All said and done, I wouldn’t write off Google. They are definitely in this for the long haul, are taking a ton of feedback from users and who knows what their next play will be. Rest assured, you’ll hear about it here.

Filed under: Google+, , , , ,

Looking for a Job? Here’s a LinkedIn Checklist.

In the past few months, two of my good friends started looking for a new gig and I shared with them a primer on using LinkedIn to find a job. As I’ve always maintained, be engaged on sites like LinkedIn before you need a job, but rest assured if you’re looking for a job you definitely want to add LinkedIn into the mix. So, I put together a basic checklist that’d come in handy for any job seeker.

Looking for a job? Try LinkedIn and Twitter.

  1. Your profile – Check if it’s got the basics covered. Besides the obvious, don’t forget to update websites (with any press articles or blog posts you’re mentioned in), summary & specialties (cos this really stands out when people stumble upon your profile), and your skills (btw, you can reorder these sections to be most effective).
  2. Your connections – Next, your specific LinkedIn universe is only as effective as the people you’re connected to on there. So, find your real friends, colleagues, peers and connect with them on LinkedIn. Two ways to do this: people you may know or find your friends on email (whatever mail client you’ve got web or desktop works).
  3. Search – Have a strategy / a plan / keywords before you try researching jobs, companies and people you know who could help you on LinkedIn. Try advanced search here (but before that come up with key areas, places you like to find a job at, etc. And, the best part is you can slice and dice these results through your past college and work history. So, find your friends from school or past colleagues who are connected to a hiring manager (for e.g.)
  4. Reach out to potentials – once you have your first set of search results. Figure out how you’re gonna reach them. There are two ways :
    1. Connect through a common connection. If you’ve a common connection ping them for an introduction. Always the best way. The only way in my opinion.
    2. Cold call. Not ideal but if time’s of the essence you could try InMail (requires subscription) that lets you reach out to folks who may help.

That’s just a primer. I realized since I was sharing these tips with friends who were looking for a job, I may as well just codify it here on the blog for those searching for similar tips.

But, don’t forget, you don’t want to start looking for a job in the last minute, so go into your LinkedIn profile today, do some spring cleaning today, edit work experience after every project completes, gather recommendations from folks you worked with right after the project ends, or easier still create a twitter profile and tweet out a simple recommendation to a friend (it’s easier than writing a lengthy one) and connect your Twitter account with your LinkedIn account — start establishing your reputation on the web, before you realize you need a job!

Wish you guys the very best!

Filed under: Linkedin

Apple iTunes, meet your nemesis. Spotify.

Spotify is to Apple iTunes music as Google is to Newspapers. Oh, yae! Game on.

Let me explain… 

Today, Spotify — the much talked about music service from Europe — finally surprised everyone by actually launching in the US and I had a chance to give it a spin. Spotify reminds me of Rdio (a similar music service I really liked) and is the second coming of Napster from bad boy entrepreneur, Sean Parker. But this time it’s legit (yes, music labels are on-board this time), and boy, what a ride this is gonna be.

There’s a new Kid on the block, iTunes. Spotify.

For starters, let’s talk about Apple Ping.

In the history of my Apple usage, there are two services that I’ve been completely disappointed with and they are: MobileMe (cloud service) and Ping (iTunes Social) or “the Suck” as I call it.

I’m not gonna rehash my dislike of Ping, but as a product it sucked and for a company as awesome as Apple (especially in the music space), it was a huge letdown for users that Jobs and team just didn’t get social.

Enter Spotify.

How it works.

Now Rdio had done this before but Spotify is better in some subtle ways so I’m gonna focus this review on Spotify alone. Frankly, these guys have nailed the freemium model: There’s just enough for everybody in every pricing tier. I’m a free user and I don’t see myself upgrading anytime soon (unless if they start limiting the hours of music I can listen to, like they did in Europe). Here’s a breakdown of what each group of users get.

Even the pricing is great. I easily see myself moving to the $5 / month tier very soon if I find myself listening to a lot more music on Spotify. Chances that I’ll get there are high because of the desktop app that indexes my home music and the more I use Spotify to discover new music, the more it becomes my default music listening app. More on this in just a second. But, this desktop app is sheer genius and is the biggest difference with Rdio (which is completely web based and follows a similar pricing model).

And, if I get to the $5 mark, chances are I’d be curating a lot more playlists and then bam! I’ll want to move up to the $10 / month tier when I’d like to sync my playlists with my iPhone / iPod. The reason it works is that most people have a gazillion songs but then you usually end up listening to your favorites over and over again. While not all of us are gonna curate a bunch of playlists, I’m sure you’ll figure out a way to create one that plays top-of-mind music for you or find ones curated by your friends that you can subscribe to.

It just works.

For new users, the ramp-up is seamless, quick and the streaming of music is instant. Yes, this is a peer-to-peer service and the technology behind the streaming is peerless. Your user interface is broken down into three parts (See pic above):

A. Search and find new music, get recommendations from friends (Inbox)

B. Index and search your own music

C. Curate playlists (that you can share with your friends and take with you on your mobile music player)

It’s got cool friends.

Now, this is where it gets really cool. Imagine Facebook meets Spotify. Now that Facebook has changed the landscape of social gaming, they will obviously look into the next frontier that lets them scale to a billion users. What’s more social than entertainment. And, if you thought music was important to you, think of the Bieber crowd (just check the top 10 songs on iTunes — its driven entirely by that audience) that’s growing up with the instant gratification mindset — this will be the tool that lets them get any music when they want, where they want it and most importantly that their friends deem cool.

Music could be Facebook’s next Photos app. And, Facebook’s 750 million users gives Spotify a way to grow their audience globally, rapidly. No wonder Zuckerberg deflected Jobs’ reality distortion field when Jobs met him around the time Ping launched on using Facebook Connect within iTunes.

It replaces iTunes.

As I mentioned earlier, the genius with Spotify is that it becomes the default way I interact with my music (since it indexes my music, it becomes the user interface with which I search and stumble upon new music). What happens next? I will start using iTunes less. It took me seconds to start using Spotify as my default music player. Seamless.

Much like Google became the way you found news rather than going to the New York Times website. Spotify will become the place you find music vs. going to iTunes. Kinda like what iTunes did to the music store.

This is a generational shift much like social is today. iTunes will be around for a long while, but the next generation that gets Facebook will find Spotify (through them), and will not know what iTunes was and Apple won’t know what hit them.

Should Apple worry?

Hellz yae. Obviously, Apple’s investing in building our cloud services (Steve Jobs showed off his new data centers at the last keynote he did) but this is more than just storing your music on the cloud and taking it with you (don’t get me started on that — you still can’t sync your music via Wifi on iTunes — Spotify allows for that as well).

This is about how you find your music. In no other industry does social recommendations matter more than in music. Apple’s music future (much like Google’s today) will one day depend on social and they better prepare for that day, now.

If you liked this post, you’ll like me on Twitter too

Filed under: Best-of, Spotify, , , , ,

So, you’re on Live TV! Now what?

I’ve written a couple of posts (just in recent memory) on tips for you to glean some presentation secrets from Steve Jobs. Thought I’d rewire my blog timing with a simple post along similar lines that didn’t garner too many votes on Quora.

I’m sure at some point of time in your lives, you’re probably gonna face a camera to talk about your work. At those times many of us fail to impress, cos it’s not something we practice regularly. So, I thought I’d jot down 3 key tips to really excel in those situations. Hope you find this helpful. And, feel free to share your personal experience either in the comments or @mariosundar.

Live TV interviews can sometimes be like this…

Here’s a couple more thoughts to ponder — this is true for most interviews — but with live TV the challenge is exacerbated since you’ve got to perform flawlessly (in one take; if you will).

1. Take your time to answer: The biggest problem I notice with individuals being interviewed is their urgency to respond to the question and get it over with. So, they blurt out a quick PR planned response only to regret it later.

Steve Jobs is the best at giving a thoughtful, well articulated response that’s both thought provoking and (frankly) entertaining. Here’s how he’d answer difficult (really tough one here) question in front of thousands.

2. Build a rapport with the interviewer beforehand: Establish a camaraderie with journalists and media personalities, way before you have to be interviewed by them.

One of traditional PRs biggest shortcomings is treating journalists as a carefully “managed” entity while keeping CEOs and executives away from them.

Welcome to the new world of social media.

Proactively, find journalists and media personalities and follow them (on Twitter and Quora). And, most importantly engage with them. You’d be surprised to find you share a lot with them in common. And, should an opportunity arise to be interviewed by them — you won’t be tongue tied — because you understand each other well.

3. Practice makes perfect: It’s tough to perform on command. That’s why actors get paid the big bucks. If you don’t wanna suck at interviews, start practicing at events and panel sessions.

Start with panel sessions (easiest) but go with a plan (in terms of what you’d like to communicate). A good way to prep would be to write a blog post about your panel session (before or after) the event. You’ll find that writing a blog post on your upcoming session clears your mind and helps you organize your thoughts. Follow that up with a tweet linking to the post and chances are the journalists you follow or connect to on LinkedIn may read that as well.

Graduate to solo presentations (to audiences of increasing size), and before you know it, you’d have internalized your responses to a degree that will make you sound fluent and sharp when in front of a camera.

And, just practice.

Filed under: Best-of, Leadership Communication, Public Relations, Public Speaking

My frustration with Twitter

First off, a huge hat tip to MG Siegler who wrote this sentimental post on TechCrunch the other day about the early days of Twitter and how far we’ve come (on the occasion of the President’s Twitter town-hall).

Aah, those were the days. Were people scoffed at the idea that Twitter was a passing fad. I remember those days when Steve Ganz would walk all the way up to my cubicle to try and get me using Twitter more actively. I relented, attended the next SXSW, got hooked on Twitter and have never looked back.

Since then, Twitter became a media phenom in the spring of 2009, culminating with this TIME cover. They scared the bejeezus out of Facebook who copied some of their innovations (@mentions anyone?), fended off apparent threats from Friendfeed and grew to over a quarter of a billion users making me and every other early adopter – a proud user.

But, what frustrates me till date is Twitter’s inability to corner the brand identity ecosystem that they were made to win.

You break my heart, Twitter! (Note: If you don't get this movie reference, you'll be breaking my heart too, dear reader)

The Brand Identity ecosystem

Twitter’s model (following) is far more well established to create a brand identity ecosystem vs. Facebook’s model that lends itself far more easily to creating the personal identity ecosystem (for more on the difference between the network models, I recommend an earlier post of mine). But, I digress.

Since the very beginning, I’ve shied away from liking or promoting brands on Facebook since it feels inauthentic to sell or promote (even inadvertently) to people I really care about. Twitter, on the other hand pioneered (kinda like Blogger) the follower model that was more about building your brand identity that makes it far easier to share your thoughts on the services you’re most passionate about to people who care for your thoughts. Guess what? I do it every single day and it feels natural for me to love or hate brands and products publicly on Twitter. It’s got an in-built reward mechanism for both individuals and for brands.

That’s also the reason, I feel it poses such an opportunity for Twitter to pioneer the lead in building out this brand identity ecosystem for brands.

Instead, I’ve been surprised and impressed by Facebook’s relentless second mover foray into the brand identity ecosystem. They’ve successfully and despite many concerns, impressively built out many a subtle innovation for brands along the way. Whether it is making it easier for all of us to build out brand pages (much like personal pages), tag brands in photos (my thoughts then), and give brands as close to a human identity as possible. Facebook has single-handedly created the online equivalent of treating brands / corporations like people. Brilliant, elegant solution.

Herein lies my frustration with Twitter.

Why haven’t you guys nailed the brand identity ecosystem. Given the obvious intent of folks who use your platform, you’ll be permitting a far more organic use case of the system. Everybody on your system is a brand — be it companies or marketers:

So, why don’t we see the following:

  1. Why can’t I create an auto-fill for brands when I update my status? Not just brands I follow. Make auto-fill possible for every single brand in your database. Kind of like Quora does today on all questions, names in their system. Or, like Facebook does when you go to their search bar and start typing in a name. Make it as easy as possible for me to find and share brands. You know the part that’s aggravating. I rarely go to Facebook to pimp my brands, but I talk about brands all day on Twitter and till date I don’t have an easy way to @auto-fill those brands. That’s like a golden opportunity waiting to happen.
  2. Why isn’t this auto-tagging of brands available across all your twitter products and services (tweetdeck, tweetie, twitter.com, etc.)?
  3. Why can’t I tag brands on any picture or video shared through your ecosystem?
  4. Why can’t I tag brands on my phone right after I take a pic or video? (Hopefully, with tighter iPhone integration these things would be possible)
  5. As a brand myself, why isn’t there a way for me track my twitter stats? I’m sure other brands are wondering the same. And, why do I have to turn to a slew of social media monitoring products to help me do this when this is obviously your bread-and-butter. Or, at least should be.

I could go on… but you get the idea. I know, you twitter elves are busy at work probably making many of these dreams come true. And, I know making changes in a company (startup or otherwise) takes effort and serious planning. But, given the obvious advantage you have in this segment, it’s about time we see some magic.

Signed, a loving 4 year old Twitter user.

C’mon, Twitter! We love you guys. Now, chop-chop.

Filed under: Twitter

Zuckerberg ain’t Jobs. 3 Ways to Try.

This post has been a long time coming. As someone who earns a living in the PR space and one who obsessively follows the unique craft of tech CEO presentations, I had to concur with CNN’s recent piece on Mark Zuckerberg’s recent product announcement and why it was a giant FAIL compared to a Jobs presentation!

C’mon. Comparing Zuckerberg to Jobs is like expecting Shia LaBeouf to act like Marlon Brando. While Transformers may sell $750 million in box-office receipts — that doesn’t a Brando make. This seems like a perfect time to finally share my thoughts on Steve Jobs’ virtuoso D8 interview – yet another instance of Jobs’ public speaking savvy.

Here are three of the Jobs’ unique speaking skills that you can glean from his presentations — seemingly simple but tough to emulate:

Jobs’ Reality Distortion Field can be emulated. 3 Simple tricks below.

If you’re telling a story, make it gripping:

There are a million boring ways to tell a story. Just ask Bill Gates or Steve Ballmer (don’t even get me started), but Jobs has a penchant for telling an elegant story that hooks you from the get go.

Juxtaposing Jobs’ d8 presentation with Zuckerberg’s presentation would be interesting, but if you ran a word cloud through Jobs’ presentation, here’s what you’d have seen. It’s all about people.

His very first anecdote about Apple’s resurgence (overtaking the market cap of Microsoft) recounts the bygone days when Apple was down in the dumps to highlight what a glorious triumph this is:

Well, Apple was about 90 days from going bankrupt… (Boom!) in the early days. It was much worse than I thought when I went back.

But there were people there (I’d expected all the good people would have left), and I found these miraculous people, great people and I asked them as tactfully as I could: Why are you still here? And, I’ll never forget. A lot of them had this phrase: because I bleed in six colors. (Note: I remember having a “Apple bleeds six colors” poster on my cubicle wall a few years back)

You know what this reminds me of:

Don Draper, Season 4, Episode 1 (Public Relations). After learning the craft of telling stories to reporters, Don is asked if he’s the definitive entity in his newly formed ad agency. Here’s the story he relates:

Last year, our agency was being swallowed whole. I realized I had two choices: I could die of boredom or holster up my guns. So, I walked into Lane Pryce’s office and I said: Fire us! (Boom!) — Cue Background Music.

Two days later we were up and running at the Pier Hotel, within a year we had taken over two floors of the Time Life Building.

Again, start with the nadir of the story to pique the viewer’s curiosity and build up to the finale. The cadence of story-telling between the two quotes is uncanny but good story-telling always remains the same.

Use evocative metaphors that ring true and wise:

Throughout history, all the great teachers have spoken in parables. More importantly, when asked questions use plain speak metaphors from every day life that each and every one of us can relate to. Before you frame your answer, ask yourself: would a 12 year old understand what I’m about to say? And, go…

Here are a couple of examples from Jobs (from just this interview):

On why they ditched Adobe: Apple is a company that doesn’t have unlimited resources (Reality Distortion Field in effect). They way we do that is by looking at technical vectors that have a future. Different pieces of technology kinda go in cycles: they have their springs and summers and autumns, then they go to the graveyard of technology.

We try to pick things that are in their springs. And, if you choose wisely you can save yourself an enormous amount of work rather than trying to do everything. (true and wise)

To a question on whether the tablet will eventually replace the laptop:

I’m trying to think of a good analogy. When we were an agrarian nation, all cars were trucks cos that’s what you needed on the farm. But, as vehicles started to be used in the urban centers, and America started to move towards them. Cars got more popular and innovations like power steering, etc. happened.

And, now, maybe 1 in every 25 vehicles is a truck where it used to be like 100%.

PCs are gonna be like trucks.

Such a nuanced answer that yet again, aims to simplify and would communicate effectively to any 12 year old in the audience.

Here’s one more from the past on how computers are like a bicycle for your mind. Watch the video.

Clarity and consistency in thought and messaging

I recently read an essay on “Politics and the English language” by George Orwell, 1946, that I’d recommend to anyone with a fleeting desire to revisit their usage of the spoken and the written word. The essay culminates in 6 simple rules for clear writing and I think that can be extended to clear speaking as well.

These rules sound elementary, and so they are, but they demand a deep change of attitude in anyone who has grown used to writing in the style now fashionable. One could keep all of them and still write bad English, but one could not write the kind of stuff that I quoted in those five specimens at the beginning of this article.

If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy.

I think Jobs best defines this in every single interview he’s done. I could go on. But, let me pick an example from D8’s interview for his thoughts on privacy – an area where every company from Google to Facebook have had their fair share of stumbles but I think the clarity and simplicity of Jobs’ definition of privacy is startling.

We’ve had a very different view of privacy. We take it very seriously.

Privacy means people know what they’re signing up for… in plain english, and repeatedly.

I’m an optimist and I believe people are smart. Some people want to share more data. Some people more than others do. Ask em. Ask em every time. Make them tell you to stop asking them.

Let them know precisely what you’re gonna do with their data.

And, finally speaking of consistency of values that shines through every single interview Jobs has done, was this quote:

You know (long pause). When this whole Gizmodo incident happened, I got a lot of advice, that said: you’ve got to let it slide. You shouldn’t go after a journalist because they bought stolen property and they tried to extort you.You should let it slide.

And, I thought deeply about this. And, I ended up concluding.

That the worst thing that could possibly happen as we get big and gain a little more influence in this world, is if we change our core values and if we started letting it slide.

I can’t do that. I’d rather quit.

We have the same values now as we had then.

And, that consistency is true of Jobs impeccable communication skills. Watch the entire D8 Jobs interview here.

Filed under: Best-of, Facebook, Leadership Communication, Mark Zuckerberg, Public Relations, Public Speaking, Steve Jobs, , ,

Why Google will always remain Spock. Never Kirk.

The past few days have witnessed a barrage of non-stop Google Plus nonsense, with marketers vying with one another to carve out their territory on Google+ with the fond hope that it’ll be the next Twitter. In the meanwhile, I’ve not had one meaningful conversation on the platform with nearly 721 followers and I don’t know of any who have.

So, what gives?

Google+ 0 Friends

To get sticky with it: You always start with the community.

Let me share with you a tale of two other social sites that have increasingly become my daily go-to sites: Quora and Tumblr. Those who follow me have probably seen my tweets from either of these sites and the reason is, when I’m there I feel like home. In much the same way as I do on Facebook, which has my real friends and family.

Facebook started with the college community, built that flawlessly across the country, and then finally expanded outside of that circle that they had so masterfully cornered. This was probably what helped them break the monopoly of MySpace, whose ignominious ending we all witnessed this past week.

A tale of two useful social sites: Quora and Tumblr

Likewise, the kinship with my peers on Quora and Tumblr took months to form. On Quora we share a common interest in learning and several common topics that the site is carefully curating over time (like a good librarian who can direct you towards a book that you should read). Tumblr, likewise has a group of artful types who share quotes, pictures and videos (yet again, on topics I dig).

And, on both sites I find good search functionality that lets me pull in updates on these topics I love. Note: I wish both would automatically pull in my Facebook interests since they’re providing a high-quality stream of content on those topics that even Facebook cannot generate. Take that Google+ Sparks.

Now, I probably wouldn’t have published this if I’d not seen this morning’s top post on Techmeme from Paul Allen on Google+ that proclaims:

 Google+ is Growing Like Crazy. Report Coming Monday. Probably More than 4.5 Million Users Already

To which I say: So what? Actually, hang on, Business Insider says it better:

In fact, two days after Buzz went live, Google posted a blog entry bragging that “tens of millions” of people had checked it out, and created more than 9 million posts and comments.

At some point, interest died.

So far Google+ is filled with Googlers, reporters, and tech enthusiasts. They’re posting a lot, enjoying the Hangouts feature, and driving traffic to tech news sites.

But it’s still way too early to know whether Google+ will get any traction with mainstream users — the 750 million people who are on Facebook today.

Personally, despite having hundreds of followers on Google+ nothing of interest has happened on the site in my purview. Yes, I see my good old blogger friends asking questions they used to ask on Twitter, I’ve seen some cool hangouts with random people that Ben and others started, and the curiosity factor over which “interesting stranger” (as BI called it) is on G+ today. 

Summary

Google just doesn’t seem to get social. While the screenshot above (Googlers with 0 Friends) may be a great metaphor, as I’ve argued from the beginning, the Friendfeed cult model (that G+ mimics) just doesn’t work at building sustainable social communities, since it confuses the personal and public spheres. Granted it may scale faster as you’re gonna see soon (millions of users real fast), but will it stick?

Here’s a blog post from George Siemens that suggests why the friend forming algorithm of G+ is messed up:

While power laws (Pareto’s Principle) may exist in many areas of our lives – banking, TV watching habits, book purchases – they are surprisingly absent at a personal level. Yes, I likely respond to a small cluster of blogs and tweets that I encounter. But my personal networks – family and friends – don’t seem to have the power law structure of my public identity. For example, I move fairly fluidly between my personal networks. Facebook gets this. I’ve had very few “way out there” friend suggestions on Facebook.

G+, on the other hand, has been busy trying to make kings of a few: Robert Scoble, Mike Arrington, Loic Le Muer, Mark Zuckerberg, and so on. (Techcrunch addresses this issue as well.) I have precisely zero interest in those people. Nothing in my email history indicates that I would like to connect with them. Google’s algorithm is whacked on how it recommends friends: it is recommending them based on power laws (who is most popular) not on my personal interests. This is a fundamental and significant misunderstanding of social networks. Network properties are different at a personal and social level than they are in public spaces.

Welcome to the Friendfeed conundrum that conflates public and personal spaces. Even, the Pavlovian model of notifications is broken (and frankly useless) in this world, since now the red notification isn’t bringing in the reward that a Facebook notification does and is diminishing its effectiveness.

It’ll be interesting to see how Google+ evolves over time (cos they’ve really invested a ton of resources and are betting their future on it), but in its current avatar I don’t see how it can draw people away from Facebook.

Come back tomorrow for my post on Zuckerberg’s presentation style. This one’s a doozy. Bookmark my blog or subscribe to it.

Related posts you may find useful to form your own opinion:

  1. Follow the Quora topic on Google+
  2. Yishan Wong’s Quora answers (most of the recent ones are on Google+ and social)
  3. Ross Mayfield building on my original post re: different social networking models
  4. George Siemens post on Google+’s fundamental misunderstanding of networks
  5. Rocky Agrawal’s Solving the Scoble problem in Social Networks on TechCrunch (I’d say this is more of a G+ problem)

Sorry, Google+. For similar thoughts, follow me on Twitter.

Filed under: Google+, Quora, Tumblr

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