Who owns your social graph? According to Super Bowl fans, anyone can. According to Forrester Research, only your employer — or at least your boss owns a big chunk of your personal human network.
We’ll start with football. On Sunday ad shop Mullen and social-tracking service Radian6 captured up to 0.7% of all tweets with their clever BrandBowl 2010 advertising portal. The site, if you missed it, used Radian6 monitoring to rate chatter about Super Bowl ads. But beyond buzz, BrandBowl also illustrated an agency and software firm co-opting the Super Bowl social experience.
What did Mullen and R6 really do? They didn’t take over the sports brand. And this wasn’t about content. They borrowed someone else’s audience. And if you think about it, far more than a brand or product, an audience is the most valuable thing anyone can create, because only your customers are a source of inflowing value.
Social networking has destabilized customer bases because now anyone can find a way to pull an audience to their own hub. In the past, the only way to watch a national football game was to dial in to the correct TV channel; today, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo, LiveFyre, and soon Google Social Gmail create fluid hubs that carry conversations elsewhere. A smart marketer has an opportunity to build an axis that spins another brand’s existing audience. Or, in financial parlance, it is now possible to steal someone else’s customer stock portfolio.
Forrester says, no way
Many businesses with customer equity, such as Forrester, aren’t keen about this. When the superbly talented Jeremiah Owyang left Forrester last year to move on to a consulting role, Forrester asked his replacement, Augie Ray, to shut down his prior marketing blog and only post comments related to marketing on the official Forrester sites. It’s hard to peek behind Forrester’s curtain but outside data shows traffic to its main web site down about 50% from summer 2009, so we understand why Forrester is building a wall. Augie appears happy to do so and has defended Forrester’s policy as a basic intellectual property agreement.
According to 20th century business logic, Forrester is absolutely right. IP produced by employees, or even the client roster an employee builds while working there, should belong to Forrester. But the real question of Forrester’s wall is not who owns content or IP, but who controls an audience. Augie’s past blog, according to Quantcast, reached about 1,200-2,400 users per month — not a large crowd, but likely highly influential in the marketing industry. The real risk for Forrester is Augie becomes the next go-to social media star like Jeremiah and then leaves, taking his fans with him.
So who is right? If the issue is not your product (services, methodology, thoughts, blog writing) and really your audience network, should a brand be able to own that as well? What if the audience is following your persona as the center more than the illusory corporate brand?
It’s a serious issue because as networking technology improves, you, dear individual, will become the center of everything. Another Forrester ex-strategist, Charlene Li, has proposed social media will soon “become like air“. Imagine Facebook in the year 2030 when a chip in your ear and webcam on your wrist allow you to post videos of your every thought to everyone in the world, and social media approaches telepathy.
Who owns your mind and its human connections then? And can you take your own brain with you when you change jobs?
It’s been said open systems flourish and closed systems stagnate. Social media systems, on the other hand, simply rewrite the rules of business.