When we have telepathy, who will own your mind?

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.

8 thoughts on “When we have telepathy, who will own your mind?

  1. I am unsure about the comparison here…Radian6 only helped monitor and display where the conversation was happening and not dictating where or when it should happen. It was a great partnership and experiment for us to view where the chatter was occurring.

    Lauren Vargas
    Community Manager at Radian6

  2. If I write a great ad for a client and win all kinds of awards, the ad remains the client’s IP and the awards may or may not leave with me (depends on how ugly they are and what show they came from). Similarly, if I write a great blog on Company time, using Company computers and bandwidth, then that blog should be the Company’s. Yes, the thinking is mine, just as the thinking behind my award-winning ad was mine. Conversely, if I write the blog on my own time, using my own input device and bandwidth, then it’s mine and mine alone. In either case, the reputation (brand) is attached to me and I benefit. Organizations are going to have to accept the fact that talent can go wherever it wants. If you want to keep it, you have to find ways to convince it to stay. Try to coerce it, and it will disappear.


  3. Thanks guys. Lauren, while R6 is a great service and just listens, the Mullen site was a focus point to grab conversation … related to a network around another brand, the Super Bowl. While I personally believe networks should be up for grabs by anyone, it is a wonderful case study of how one entity grabs the brand of another. In this case, R6 was the enabler.

    The ownership issues are fantastically complex. We all want it all personal ownership, but the crowd support of a larger brand employer (which in turn wants ownership of what we produce). Will evolve, but how, I’m not certain.

    Thanks for watching, Radian6 😉

  4. Like Mark, I’ve written ads that have won awards and client loyalty, but as a junior copywriter, I was pretty much invisible. When I was released, the agency just plugged another guy into my chair. Of course that guy tried to replicate the concepts I wrote, but still – the agency owned both the content and client loyalty. Yet, because of the copyright act of 1976 (simplified as ‘if you think it, you own it. Just be prepared to prove it.’), the IP is just as much mine as it is theirs. So the same way Forrester might own what Owyang did when he was there, so does Owyang. You can’t unthink a thing or unwrite an idea. Only, when you attach a real person to the thing/idea (not just an agency/entity/brand), loyalties shift to the person responsible for the ‘intellectual’ part, as Forrester is learning.
    As far as how #brandbowl pulled in the numbers they did – hey, the medium is the medium, we all agreed to use #brandbowl in our tweets. If we didn’t, they’d have no case study. People responded because of loyalty to Edward Boches and the reputation of Radian6 (thanks largely to Amber Naslund.) They have each developed a loyal following and those followers responded on Sunday. And because each of those followers have loyal followers of their own (etc., etc.), we begin to see the value in the idea of loyalty. Not to mention how the tools of social media help develop and exploit this loyalty.

  5. Ben:
    This post has multiple points. The first is whether we co-opted an event (maybe) or an audience (no). First, what is the event? The Superbowl? Or Twitter and the conversation about it? The conversation was happening anyway. And it belonged to no one. We simply measured it for all of those participating and interested. As for the people how used the hashtag, a totally different group as it’s a small subset of the enormous Twitter community whose conversation we analyzed, that was our community. We built it, attracted it, offered them something of value that never existed until we created it, and we inspired their participation. In short, it was simply a very large, digital, trans-geographic Superbowl party, sans Doritos and Budweiser. I don’t think you can say we took anything from the Superbowl. Instead we gave something to it: a richer experience according to most of the people who participated. Who owned the Inauguration? CNN? Facebook? The new administration? Who owned the Iran election? Iran? Its citizens? Arik and his green avatar?

    Granted we could not have gathered this community to such a degree or in a confined time frame if there were not an event as the Superbowl. And perhaps it’s the game that inspires interest. But again, in our case, it was the ads we were talking about. No one brand could have done what we did as they couldn’t be objective.

    We live in an age when the consumer/individual has no interest in sitting back passively and watching. He/she wants to join, participate, co-create, share, etc. In many ways that makes the individual and the community of individuals as much a part of any event as the event itself.

    Finally, while we got visibility and credit for the project, and hopefully future business from clients who value an agency who gets it, we made no money and instead made a huge investment of time and expense. We did that out of a sincere belief that in this day and age a brand (Mullen) has to give stuff away for free, provide service and utility to our community, and share what we’re capable of sharing.

    Truly, our intention was to give as much as we got.

  6. Edward, thanks.

    This dynamic has four components. Draw a matrix with (a) and (c) on the left, and (b) and (d) on the right:

    (a) IP or brand ownership | (b) conversation
    (c) customer ownership | (d) audience.

    The left side of this matrix is 20th century business logic: Organizations own intellectual property and products, and they own connections to the resulting customers. Ownership controlled access which controlled profits.

    The right side of this matrix is 21st century social media logic: conversations are fluid and move elsewhere, and audiences build around those conversations. Letting go of ownership opens the ideas up so more people can see them, resulting in broader exposure and eventually more demand and profits.

    Mullen did nothing “wrong” by co-opting the Super Bowl brand and its customers — you simply played in the right side of the matrix. The problem is companies large and small are having difficulty relinquishing control as tools move ownership away from them and toward the ether. They don’t see the bigger opportunity. So brands get mad at Seth Godin for chatting about them, and Forrester tells its analysts to only talk inside its brand walls.

    I’d call you a futurist and this BrandBowl a sign of what’s coming. Companies are going to have to face that future.

  7. Co-opting seems like a straddle of the two centuries. Wasn’t this just a wonderfully fresh example of participating? Or maybe I’m showing my Na’vi side.

  8. Ben,
    Ah. Mis-read initial post to suggest not that brands stop restricting conversation but that there could be construed something questionable about others taking over the conversation or co-opting the event. There are even more questions. Who owns what in any way shape or form. If you run an ad campaign and I don’t like it, I might start an oppositional fan page condemning the brand and the campaign. I may even use the images and brand name (Garfield and Comcast come to mind.) Last year we also attempted to “co-opt” the Academy Awards with Red Carpet 09 where people could talk about the fashion (tasteful or not) of the women and stars in attendance. What does that mean for the ceremony? For the attendees? For the designers whose dresses are on display? Remember the story of Barbara Streisand when she attempted to restrict a photographer from showing a picture of her home in an exhibit of coastal images? The entire web rose up in protest and instead of having the image removed from one photographer’s site, dozens of bloggers added the image to their site. I guess we’re in agreement (darn, cause I like to argue sometimes) that the conversation will go on no matter what. Smart brands are learning to accept it, inspire it, mobilize it and live with it. Others either have their head in the sand, remain fearful, or, in my opinion even worse, simply accept it without joining in, participating, steering and influencing. If you think of our exercise as a marketing effort for Mullen, it epitomized (in my opinion) exactly what brands need to do. 1. Create original content and utility. 2. Gather, invite, mobilize their community. 3. Engage in active, two-way conversation, not outbound messaging. 4. Learn from the conversation what future content and interaction might be of value. 5. Measure so you know what works and is worth the effort.

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