Slow Brand

taking a slow approach to brands

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What is a Network?

14 May, 2013 (16:58) | meshforum, social media, technology | By: Shannon Clark

new_meshforum_logoIn 2004 I began to organize a conference on the study of Networks, MeshForum to answer this seemingly simple yet surprisingly complex question.

“What is a Network?”

Everyone I asked to speak or invited to attend had a different answer – each person drew upon the perspectives of their field of study and their life’s work and each arrived at a unique and different set of answers. The mathematicians answered from a technical perspective citing Graph Theory to arrive at mathematical models that represented networks in the abstract. Yet even the math differed depending on the “things” you choose to measure and define when modeling a specific network.

Transportation experts focused on the Flow – in lay man’s terms they were less interested in the structure of the networks they modeled (since roads, bridges and even buildings change slowly) and more interested in the movement across that network – and how that movement varied over time (i.e. how cars and people “flowed” across the transportation grid of a given area.

Social Network experts were, generally, more interested in the structure of the network and to a degree how that network structure changed over time. They would model people as nodes (typically though some focused on larger groupings of people – i.e. organizations), arrive at some definition of “link” for a given population (couples that had dated, co-workers that exchanged emails, people who claimed each other as friends – remember that in 2004/2005 this was before the rise of Facebook, etc) and then seem to show snapshots of the network structure at points in time. They would typically be interested what the network structured revealed – how it might show groupings within the larger network or how it could reveal key people to the organization based on their network structure.

But at MeshForum in 2005 and 2006 we had many other experts on Networks across many other fields. We had speakers who focused on Logistics (in one case for the Pentagon – among the largest most complex logistics challenges on the planet). Their interests in understanding networks were on a very different scale than social scientists studying dating patterns in a high school or social network experts mapping the political divide in the US based on relationships between books via data from Amazon (that link from a past MeshForum speaker, Valdis Krebs is his updated study from 2008).

Besides consultants, logistics experts and academics Networks matter to nearly everyone – we are all embedded within many different networks and we are all dependent upon many unrelated but often dependent networks in our professional and personal lives. From the financial networks that enable global credit to flow (and currencies to trade) to supply networks that connect global companies to global markets to the true social networks we are deeply apart of both families and those networks we choose for ourselves.

Not to mention the technical networks we increasingly rely upon for our professional and personal daily lives – the networks that connect our cellphones and that run the Internet and enable you to read this post, to share it on Facebook or send out a link to it via Twitter.

NetworkmovieIn the media a Network has long had yet another meaning – a complex business that delivers entertainment – but which does so by combining the creation of new content (“shows”) with the actual running of broadcast signals across the country (or in many cases increasingly to a global audience). This form of a “Network” encompasses many of these other meanings yet also carves out it’s own unique meaning.

What are the Networks that matter to you?

What Networks do you participate in every day? (or every week/month/year)?

How do Networks matter to you professionally? 

I will be conducting a series of video interviews about Networks over the next few months – if you are interested in being interviewed leave your name and contact links below (or send them to me privately). I’m interested in people in all industries and fields of study – whether you are a published author, a university professor, or a student, intern or parent.

These interviews will be shared publicly – and will help shape the next MeshForum conference perhaps as soon as this Fall. Watch this blog for more information about that conference and the video interviews.

Brand conversations on Social Networks – a response to Douglas Rushkoff

31 January, 2011 (16:56) | branding | By: Shannon Clark

Earlier today Read Write Web posted a discussion of a talk Douglas Rushkoff gave at the Pivot conference. In this discussion of Rushkoff’s talk the following claims were made:

Rushkoff thinks branding is irrelevant in the age of the social network. He compares social networks to the original bazaars and marketplaces of the past. The bazaar was the center of commerce, gossip, political debate and more. He says that people weren’t interested in “branding” then – they were interested in exchanging factual (or supposedly factual) information.

I wrote a lengthy comment in reply to the post:

I will write a longer reply on my blog (which is in part all about Branding – see but I think Rushkoff is completely wrong.

Brands matter now more than ever before – in no small part because more companies and products are competing for attention & sales than at any time ever before in history. No longer are (most) consumers in the global marketplace limited to just a small handful of choices and options – across almost all categories (other than some which are geographic services and in most cases protected by some form of legalized monopoly or oligarchy – i.e. Internet access in the US, phone service, power etc)

It is also well worth remembering that most “brands” compete with each other even across what is often thought about as “different” categories – i.e. the movies you choose to spend money seeing compete with the games you choose to play, the types of food you buy especially meals out and all the other discretionary ways you have to spend your money and your time.

In this environment strong brands have a great deal of value – they cut through a lot of clutter, they offer clean and simple and (hopefully) authoritative ways for a discussion about a product or service to occur.

Rushkoff is also wrong in that the “Keebler Elves” are NOT the brand. They are an advertising campaign – the BRAND is Keebler (or even more specifically Keebler’s products). Pepperidge Farms has a great ad that illustrates this which is currently running on many food related cable channels – in the ad they highlight the ingredients that go into a number of their different products and then promote each of those product brands (Milano cookies for example) all under the larger rubric of the brand of Pepperidge Farms.

Without brands (and Rushkoff is his own brand) it is very hard to have a conversation about a product.

Consider the dilemma most current laptop makers and most car companies face at the moment – they have “brands” which are so cluttered and overburdened it is nearly impossible for one ThinkPad user to talk about their laptop in a way that would allow another person to buy the same product. Can you explain to me the differences between the Letter & Number combo brands for most european car companies? (BMW, Mercedes Benz and Audi in particular are egregious here). Even if you want to if can be hard to recall which letter & number combo describes the car(s) which are appropriate for a particular person in a particular stage of life & family.

In contrast strong modern brands carve out a very clearly defined message and identity. .Apple is a master of this (though they failed slightly with the iPhone 3 vs iPhone 3g) but generally Apple restricts their product lineup and defines each product (including their OS versions) with a clear brand identity and name. Mini Cooper in the car world is also quite focused even as they have been expanding their car lineup. Ford has been doing a better job than many in defining and creating new brands for their modernized lineup of cars (though they do face an uphill battle with some of their brands that have legacy implications such as Focus)

In short (okay in some length) I think that Brands are more valuable now than almost ever before – a clear, well defined brand is in many ways the price of entry to being able to be the topic of conversation between people – if you do not have a brand people can refer to when talking about your product or service then mostly those conversations won’t happen – and if they do happen you (as in the company) will almost never be able to listen or react or contribute.

Smart companies whether large or brand new know this and use clear and unique brands to form a starting point around which social engagement can occur and along with that actual sales.

This is in large part what I started this blog years ago to discuss and highlight – that Brands are if anything more important in the 21st century than at any time in the past. In a global, hyper competitive marketplace where almost every company competes with nearly every other company, Brands are a key element to business (and personal) success. A slow, smart Brand is one that builds value over time, one that allows for conversations around the product(s) or services and which offers a clear and compelling vision and identity.

Whether that brand is a personal brand or the brand of one of the largest companies in the world it is vital and valuable.

Personally I face this every day as I try to offer a clear vision and identity around what I do and what I offer to clients, partners and in the case of startups I found investors (and of course to customers). But this is not easy and it is very challenging – without a clear identity, without a strong brand, it is very difficult for others to refer to me, to talk about me, to think of me when they have a business need or meet someone who might use my services.

So I would argue that Rushkoff has it completely wrong – Brands and branding is more vital now in the era of social networks than every before – without a brand conversations about your goods and services cannot happen.

What is missing from Social Networks is the social

13 September, 2010 (16:25) | social media, technology | By: Shannon Clark

I have been active in Social Networks online for multiple decades, long before the first sites that described themselves as social networks were formed and long before the current major sites – Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace etc were created. But increasingly I think there are some vital missing elements to actual social behaviors which are missing from most so-called social networks online.

In the past month I have started to get spammed on many social networks, not spammed via the messages but spammed by friend/connect requests on both Facebook and increasingly LinkedIn. On LinkedIn I am now getting about 10 but at times more than 20 connection requests a day with well over 99% of them being from complete and utter strangers, individuals with whom I share at most one connection on LinkedIn and individuals who claim that either “we are friends” or that “we have done business” occasionally they claim that “we are colleagues” at a company I have never heard of.

In all cases they are indicative that a large number of people on LinkedIn are connecting with strangers and that the claimed descriptions of connections are suspect at best.

I’ve also gotten similar, though at a lower volume, friend requests on Facebook – again from near total strangers. In the case of Facebook most of these were clearly spammers, accounts that were nearly identical but with a different photo and a single spam link to an external site. That type of spam was a problem for a few days then nearly completely died away which is a sign that Facebook probably caught on to how the spammers were creating these accounts and blocked them.

However as I have been playing a lot of “social” games on Facebook I have found myself wishing for a way to connect, myself, to near (or actual) strangers, to form new connections around a shared interest in a given game, most of which at most one person in my large Facebook network have even tried in the past let alone are actively playing.

What Social Networks need is a new form of connection – not a friend or colleague but a new, future connection

This new form of connection would be in the case of LinkedIn an appropriate way to share some information with a potential client, a new business contact, without making a stronger or permanent connection. On Facebook this new form of connection would be for making friends, it might be limited to a shared interest or application with by default only a limited exposure of your additional social information.

Sure if you are a truly advanced Facebook user you might achieve a variation of this today with careful use of lists and privacy settings, but even highly technical users of Facebook get befuddled by the privacy settings and very few people have set up complex sets of groups of friends on Facebook and set varying permissions for each group. I know I haven’t.

The idea would be to help prune the explosion of truly weak ties which appear to these networks to be the same as stronger, deeper ties. In a professional context this would be used for those folks you have just met and exchanged business cards with – increasingly this may happen via exchanging social network information (Twitter handles, LinkedIn/Facebook profiles etc) but today this results in often very weak ties cluttering up our social graphs.

For me my criteria for social network connections are fairly strict.

  • Facebook – people I would invite to my house for a dinner party
  • LinkedIn – people whom I would accept a referral from and would refer new business

Yet I find myself wanting to connect with many more people, people who I don’t yet know well enough to decide whether I would have them over for a dinner party or whether I would work with them or trust their business judgment. I also have many people whom I might not know well enough to have over for dinner or to work with but whom I would connect with in another context. People with whom I might want to play casual social games with or people whom I want to follow and get to know professionally.

In short social networks both personal and professional should support the making of new friends, the growing of your professional network, the landing of new clients. But at the moment they do not and the efforts to fudge them, to overload the connections is, in fact, reducing the value of these networks.