Archive for November, 2010


Is the Internet destroying your culture … or creating it?

“Mass culture is dead. Every one of us is creating our own version of culture.”

This quote from futurist Faith Popcorn sums up a lot of things I have been experiencing lately.

Whether it’s YouTube-inspired dance moves, crowd-sourced literature, or my own personalized information stream, the Internet is inexorably un-tethering  culture from the places on earth and moments in time.

Culture used to be narrowly defined by country — perhaps even a region within a country — that had its own way of dress, food, art and lifestyle. But what happens to this concept when all art, music, and literature is globally-dispersed, user-generated, open-source, multi-platform and available on demand?

Well, for one, I sense that I am creating my own individual “culture!”

Not long ago, pop culture in America was largely defined by TV networks, local newspapers, ad executives, Hollywood and record companies. Now, I make my own newspaper. I watch programming from all over the world whenever I want to, and largely commercial-free. There is nobody in the world who  watches my “TV network” or listens to my “radio station” or reads “my newspaper.” I am surrounding myself with the World Culture of Mark. And through my own publishing, I’m influencing the culture of others.

Even something as physical and seemingly regionally-specific as dance is evolving digitally and globally.  Chris Anderson recently gave a compelling TED speech on how the rise of web video is driving this phenomenon.  In one example, he showed how dance moves now spread through the world, are enhanced and improved, and then sent back the other way again.  A global culture of dance is evolving through what Anderson calls Crowd Accelerated Innovation.

Personally, I like it!   I get a rush out of connecting to the world on my terms and my time. I love experiencing these amazing new cultural mash-ups.  But over time, will these rich historical cultures be diluted or even forgotten? Will we have museums to the regional cultures and customs the Internet diluted — or destroyed?

So much to think about and this is a subject EVERYBODY can have an opinion about!  Here are a few questions for you. Pick one that interests you and tell me what you think about it in the comment section!

  • Will the Internet eventually create a definable World Culture?  Is having a global cultural icon like Michael Jackson a sign of this?
  • Will the rich customs and culture of a place like France or Japan be made less relevant to the next generations by a digitizing, globalizing world?
  • What are the implications of an Internet culture that seems to favor the English language?
  • Are you creating your own user-defined web culture?

Ten reasons to blog – even if nobody reads it

Building an engaged community through a business blog can be extremely difficult — sometimes impossible. Look at companies like General Electric who do an amazing job with their blog and yet have almost no “community” or comments at all. There must be some good business reason they do it, right?

There better be. Every corporate marketing activity must somehow be tied to creating shareholder value and blogging is no different. Let’s look at ten legitimate business reasons why your company should be blogging — even if you can’t seem to build a community of active readers.

1) Search engine benefits — This may be the most obvious business benefit of blogging. Search engines give preference to websites that have fresh, relevant content. Hubspot research shows that sites with blogs get 55% more traffic than sites without blogs — even if there are no readers!

2) Marketing differentiation — Finding a way to stand-out may be the most difficult chore a business faces. Do your competitors have a blog? If not, this might be an opportunity to establish the voice of authority in your industry and enhance your brand image with customers.

3) Infinite search life — A few weeks ago I received a call from a potential new customer in the Middle East looking to me as a possible marketing consultant.I had to wonder how in the world they found me! Turns out they were looking for somebody who could help explain where the future of social media was going and when they entered this into Google, a blog post I wrote a year ago popped up!  Your content keeps working for you month after month!

4) A cost-effective sales call — You might not be able to visit your customer every week or every month but a blog is an excellent way to provide a constant drip-drip-drip of communication to remind them of your products, services, and why you’re special.  If they don’t read your blog, re-purpose the content in customer newsletters and sales materials.

5) Your content engine — Your investment in a consistent stream of quality content can be leveraged in many ways to support a content marketing strategy. I use links from blog posts to answer customer questions, as the basis for speeches, newsletter content, and as reading assignments for workshops.

6) Direct sales — Sure, you can sell through your blog!  SAP does a great job advertising training services in a sidebar on its blog. This is valuable real estate! Why not use it?  Wegman’s grocery store employees blog about seasonal recipes and show how to use their food products in new ways.

7) Indirect sales — Featuring blog-only promotions and offers or opt-in content can expose new sales leads.

8) PR – Blog posts have the opportunity for massive reach. When one of my posts gets picked up by an aggregation service like ragan.com, my message has a chance to be heard by hundreds of thousands of people. That opportunity would not occur with a press release or status update.

9) New product development — Many companies use blogs as a way to engage customers to solve problems and create new ideas. Caterpllar has blogs dedicated to each major product line. Starbucks blogs about customer ideas as a way to crowd-source new product innovation.

10) Crisis management — A blog is an essential channel to explain the facts amid chaos. In less than an hour after the earthquake hit Haiti, The Red Cross blog had news of their activities and information on how to donate.  Company responses through blogs are often quoted by mainstream news sources.

So when your company has seemingly unrealistic expectations about building an online blog community, pull this blog post out as a reminder that there are many solid business reasons to have a blog, even if the crickets are chirping in the comment section!   Is a commenting community important to you and your company or do some of these benefits make sense?

Pushing beyond the comfort zone

When was the last time you experienced a moment that made you pause and consider your approach to life?

I had one of those rare experiences last night when I attended a concert by the eclectic Sufjan Stevens. I am admittedly a huge fan of this incredibly talented performer but was unprepared for the onslaught that occurred in the intimate confines of an old vaudeville theater.

Stevens is best know for his quirky, banjo-infused tunes and an angelic voice that lifts up songs about the darkest and funniest sides of human nature.  His music is usually categorized as folk or folk-rock but last night the acoustic instruments were put aside for a computer and synthesizers as every corner of the room was filled with pulsing space-rock bleeps, pops and crackles.

Like most fans, I was looking forward to hearing his old acoustic songs but the concert instead blazed through epic new anthems. At first it was dis-orienting, maybe even a little disappointing, but slowly his musical vision was peeled back song by song and I was moved by his courage and artistry.

He told a story of experimenting with electronic sounds so deeply he felt he couldn’t get out.  He described the kinship he felt with an Alabama primitive artist who struggled to create through bouts of insanity. It was a centuries-old artistic struggle to create something entirely new out of uncomfortable places.  I didn’t like every song. Some seemed monotonous and repetitive. But others soared in epic beauty. What music could I compare this to?  There is none.  And that is the achievement.

His music reminded me of a Jackson Pollock painting. Drips and drops filling every space, lush colors spilling over a canvas. Sometimes difficult to understand, but undeniably unique.

The other signature element of Sufjan’s music is his deeply personal, spirtual and courageous lyrics.

After two hours of bombastic music filled with two drummers, a horn section, three keyboard players and every electronic gizmo in the music industry, he stood alone on the stage, playing a guitar, singing his hauntingly beautiful “John Wayne Gacy Jr.” — yes a song about a serial murderer who raped and tortured young boys.  But the song is not about this criminal horror. It is about himself. The last lines of the song had some in the audience in tears:

“In my best behavior, I am really just like him. Look beneath the floorboards for the secrets I have hid.”

And with a look of humility and exhaustion that punctuated the song, he looked into the audience, waved, and exited.

Sufjan Stevens leaves nothing on the stage.  He pushes his craft to the edge of every comfort zone … and beyond.

What would it feel like to live like that?  To WRITE like that?  Is that even possible?  What’s next? I am unsettled.

If you would like to hear the John Wayne Gacy song, click below: