How to Optimize Your Digital Footprint in a World Where Your Reputation Is Your Most Valuable Asset

LIVING ON THE GRID

Is your reputation ruined? Perhaps. And chances are great that if, indeed, insurance companies consider you uninsurable and potential employers consider you unemployable because of something in your digital “record,” you don’t even know it. Welcome to “The Reputation Economy,” the title of a new book by privacy experts Michael Fertik and David Thompson. The theme of The Reputation Economy is that soon, if not already, people know everything there is to know about you — and thus have enough “information” to define your reputation and take steps accordingly.

The Internet’s potential to hurt your reputation is not necessarily new. Clearly if your arrest makes the local newspaper, your name has been indelibly besmirched in hyperspace — but then it’s already been ruined in your community. What the digital age has changed in this example is the breadth of the impact — from your small town to, essentially, the world.

The future Reputation Economy, however, is not about general public information such as newspaper reports. Fertik and Thompson describe a 1984 world that watches every single move you make on the Internet. As they explain, “Massive digital dossiers are being developed on every individual, right down to the websites you visit and the links you click on. There is even a fast-growing underground economy of archives and data-storage sites that quietly collect records of trillions of online activities, often just waiting for someone to figure out a way to make use of all that data.”

And numerous websites are finding ways to make use of that data. Spokeo.com mines government records and address databases and makes them available. Klout goes even further, analyzing social media to determine a score on how much influence you might have. Despite some setbacks (notably Klout’s scoring Justin Bieber above Barack Obama), scoring sites are bound to become more numerous and more sophisticated.

The growth of all of these reputation scoring sites, the authors write, will inevitably culminate in “reputation engines.” “Instead of searching for Web pages with relevant information about a particular topic,” the authors write, “reputation engines will search the massive databases of personal information to return all of the relevant information about a person — or find a person who meets a set of criteria.”

It is impossible, according to the authors, to avoid becoming fodder for such reputation engines. “There’s no way to ‘live off the grid’ online,” the authors write. “The reputation engines of the future won’t have an easy opt-out mechanism, and we will all participate whether we like it or not.”

So, what to do? In essence, the authors recommend a “you can’t beat them, so join them” strategy. Don’t try to get off the grid. First, it’s nearly impossible. Even if you don’t have a Facebook page, your friends do and they’re posting pictures of you. And there will always be government records, and a variety of other digital trails of your existence.

Instead of trying to get off the grid, the authors write, it’s better to take charge of your reputation by carefully curating the information on the Internet. As with an art-exhibit curator who selects the pieces in the art show, curating your information on the Internet refers to selecting the “items” you want to highlight. For example, if there’s a picture of you and your sales team receiving an award for sales team of the month, post it. Curating also means avoiding the negative. For example, don’t use social media to insult others, the authors warn. You’ll be the one hurt in the long run. “By carefully curating and highlighting positive information — successes at work, trust among friends, a positive social life and more — you can flood the computers and scoring systems with the type of information you prefer.”

Fertik is the CEO and founder of Reputation.com. Thomas is the chief privacy officer of Reputation.com. In short, the authors of The Reputation Economy are in the business of privacy. For the majority of the reading public, who may be only dimly aware of the breadth and depth of intrusion allowed by the Internet of today — and even less aware of what awaits on the horizon, The Reputation Economy offers vital advice on how to protect yourself from harm. And even better, according to the authors, anyone can turn the threats of the reputation economy into opportunities.

Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies

THE SECOND MACHINE AGE A New Era Going Full Steam

For most of us, the Industrial Age refers to the late 19th-century explosion of large companies with large factories that fundamentally changed the way we live and work. Yet, as authors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee explain in the opening pages of The Second Machine Age, their brilliant study of digital technologies, the Industrial Age was actually launched in 1775 — an era that for most Americans evokes colonial leaders with white wigs and tri-corned hats, not dirty factories belching dark smoke into the skies and thousands of smudge-faced children working dawn to dusk. What happened in 1775, of course, was James Watt’s invention (or, more accurately, the refinement) of the steam engine. The full impact of Watt’s steam engine on our society would not be felt until much later.

For the authors, humanity has reached a similar “inflection point” for the computer age. Companies have been buying computers for more than 50 years. Time declared the personal computer the “Machine of the Year” in 1982. But it is now, in the second decade of the 21st century, that “The full force of these technologies has recently been achieved,” the authors explain. “By ‘full force,’ we mean simply that the key building blocks are already in place for digital technologies to be as important and transformational to society and the economy as the steam engine.”

What Computers Can Do and Can’t Do

In a wide-ranging discussion of the joys and challenges of this “second machine age” — when, in the words of the authors, “computers and other digital advances are doing for mental power… what the steam engine and its descendants did for muscle power” — the authors give numerous examples of the opportunities created by digitization.

A GPS-based app called Waze is one example. A standard GPS will give you the standard route to your office based on its downloaded maps. However, Waze sends back to the company’s servers information transmitted by sensors on the smart phones of its members already on the road; this information can then relay to the person about to leave for work that, for example, an accident has closed down the main road on his usual route. Waze is one illustration of how technological capabilities only now available can truly make life better.

At the same time, the authors dismiss the notion that computers will be ruling the world. In an eloquent chapter called “Learning to Race With Machines,” the authors argue that ideation is out of the reach of computers. “Scientists come up with new hypotheses,” the authors write. “Chefs add a new dish to the menu. Engineers on a factory floor figure out why a machine is no longer working properly. Steve Jobs and his colleagues at Apple figure out what kind of tablet computer we actually want. Many of these activities are supported and accelerated by computers, but none are driven by them.”

The Good and the Bad

The Second Machine Age is a celebration of the “bounty” that the exponential digitization capacity offers. However, Brynjolfsson and McAfee are also not afraid to point out the potential downsides to digitization, notably what the authors term “spread,” which is the “ever-bigger differences among people in economic success — in wealth, income, mobility and other important measures.”

But the Industrial Revolution also brought serious, unacceptable consequences — widespread pollution and the scourge of child labor, to name just two, that a combination of democratic government and technological progress were able to overcome. The authors are convinced that the same combination of technology and the right policies can effectuate a similar result: a better life for all of us.

How Lady Gaga Turns Followers into Fanatics

MONSTER LOYALTY

WHY YOU NEED TO GO GAGA FOR YOUR CUSTOMERS

Pop stars will always have their die-hard fans, and superstar Lady Gaga (real name Stefani Germanotta) is no different. Lady Gaga calls her fans “little monsters,” and in Monster Loyalty, marketing and social media author and speaker Jackie Huba shows why the singer known for her outrageous costumes and mega-hits can serve as a model for developing sustained customer loyalty. Huba, whose previous books are Creating Customer Evangelists and Citizen Marketers, draws seven key business lessons from Gaga’s career: focus on your one percenters, lead with values, build community, give fans a name, embrace shared symbols, make them feel like rock stars, and generate something to talk about.

Focus On Your One Percenters

In her 2007 book Citizen Marketers, Huba dismissed the argument that 20 percent of customers create 80 percent of a company’s value. In truth, according to Huba, most of the value that customers bring to the company comes from just one percent of the customer base. These one percenters are fully engaged customers who, among other characteristics, believe in the company and feel that they are part of something bigger than themselves.

Gaga and her manager, Troy Carter, clearly understand and embrace the importance of the one percenters, Huba writes. Despite her 33 million followers on Twitter and 55 million likes on Facebook, Gaga and Carter decided that they needed to create a private space for the most die-hard superfans. Gaga and Carter created Littlemonsters.com, a website in which Gaga communicates with her fans. There is, of course, a high level of interaction among the fans, but it is the direct communication between Gaga and the fans that makes this site unique. As one superfan explained, “Lady Gaga seems to go on [the site] on a regular basis. She’s updating all the time. A couple of weeks ago, she tweeted some fan art that she found on the site.”

Lead With Values

Gaga’s engagement goes further than simply interacting on social media. Gaga is passionate about helping young people feel worthy. She does this not just through her songs but also through her Born This Way foundation, “the mission of which,” Huba writes, “is to empower youth by offering mentoring and career development, and focusing on issues like self-confidence, well-being and anti-bullying.” Gaga thus exemplifies another lesson for business: Lead With Values.

With each business lesson, Huba ties Lady Gaga’s examples to one or two business case studies. One of the most interesting juxtapositions is between Gaga and Finnish housewares company Fiskars, which was founded in 1649. As Huba demonstrates, both the outrageous rock star and the centuries-old company understand how to build a community around their “products” by understanding customers’ passions.

Readers will quickly understand that Huba is no pop fan who decided to stretch her love for her favorite singer into a business case; the lessons in Monster Loyalty are insightful and practical. Nor is Lady Gaga just a young singer who happened to hit it big. From her classical music training to her careful study of Andy Warhol’s iconoclastic life to the deliberate decisions she makes in her causes and career choices (even the infamous meat dress achieved its political aim), Gaga is a savvy marketer and shrewd businessperson.

Do You Want to Think Like Zuck?

Despite the bad press that Mark Zuckerberg has received over the Winklevoss twins, Facebook privacy issues, and the disastrous IPO, Facebook is nevertheless an overwhelming success story. Zuckerberg has overcome the odds of moving from entrepreneur to CEO, and has broken the 1 billion user mark in the process.

Just consider some Facebook numbers: 1 billion users is one-seventh of the world’s population, the site houses 140.3 billion friendships, 600 million access the site on a mobile device, 52% of job seekers use Facebook to look for jobs and one in five have been sent a job lead via the site.

But there are also many touching stories of people who have been helped in meaningful ways through Facebook. Ekaterina Walter, in her book Think Like Zuck, tells some of those stories as she makes the case for what we can learn from Mark Zuckerberg.

Walter draws out the five “P’s” that are essential to Facebook’s success:

  • Passion
  • Purpose
  • Product
  • People
  • Partnerships

If you would like to hear more about the 5 P’s, and how these principles might bring your company added success, then please join us for our next Soundview Live webinar, The Five Business Secrets of Mark Zuckerberg with Ekaterina Walter. Bring your questions and fill your conference room for this intriguing look into Facebook’s success.

Are You Making Things Happen or Just Making Noise?

THE IMPACT EQUATION

AN EQUATION FOR SOCIAL MEDIA SUCCESS

Bloggers Chris Brogan and Julien Smith burst onto the publishing scene in 2009 with their social media marketing best-seller Trust Agents. They return with a new book, The Impact Equation, which delves deeper into how to be heard and noticed in an age when everyone is connected.

Brogan and Smith know their subject. As the authors explain: “Anyone can write a blog post, but not everyone can get it liked 40,000 times on Facebook and not everyone can get 75,000 blog subscribers. We’ve done these things, but it isn’t because we’re special. It’s because we tried and failed… We tried again and again, and now we have an idea how to get from point A to point B faster because of it.”

How to CREATE

The authors’ secret to getting from Point A to Point B is encapsulated in the equation:

Impact = C x (R + E + A + T + E)

The “C” stands for Contrast, which is another way of saying positioning or differentiation. A successful contrast, according to the authors, offers both similarity and a noticeable difference.

The “R” stands for Reach, that is, how many people you connect with in as many channels as possible. At the heart of reach is your platform, which is basically, the authors write, “a combination of all the tools you use to reach others.”

The “E” stands for Exposure. This is a tricky area: Too much exposure and you just become more spam. The authors offer several strategies for building your exposure, including: start with like-minded people before trying to raise awareness; tell stories that make the buyer a hero; and help others first.

The “A” stands for Articulation. For the authors, the key with this attribute is to use small words and connect the dots.

The “T” stands for Trust. A prerequisite to successful impact is understanding why we trust others. Credibility, reliability and self-interest are the key elements that generate trust.

Finally, the “E” stands for Echo, which, the authors write, is the “feeling of connection you give your reader, visitor, or participant.” The best way to create this feeling of connection is to find common experiences and use these experiences to show people that you understand them.

Guiding Principles

The Impact Equation is divided into four sections that give a guiding set of principles for moving forward with your high-impact initiatives. First, begin with your goals, exactly what you are trying to accomplish. The next set of principles is built around the concept of ideas, and covers the Contrast and Articulation attributes. As mentioned above, platform, the next category of principles, is a key component of successful social media Reach and Exposure, while the attributes of Trust and Echo are grouped under network.

Every hour of every day around the world, people are striving to connect with each other. Most of them are no more than grains of sand on the beach, unnoticed by others. The Impact Equation offers solid advice from two veterans of the social media arena on how to break through.

How the Gilt Groupe Got Its Shine

BY INVITATION ONLY

There is an old maxim that friends should not do business together since it invariably ruins the friendship. The Information Age has disproven this notion as best friends and college roommates have launched enterprises that eventually become billion-dollar companies (Microsoft and Google are two notorious examples). Perhaps one of the most engaging stories of friendship turned into entrepreneurial success is told in By Invitation Only by Alexis Maybank and Alexandra Wilkis Wilson. The relationship between Harvard Business School graduates Maybank and Wilson is so tight that the pair is known as A&A. However, By Invitation Only is more than a story of friendship, it is a story of how two smart young women leveraged their experience, intelligence, contacts, complementary personalities, careers, skills, and a passion for fashion into an innovative online enterprise called Gilt Groupe.

The Core Idea

The Gilt Groupe — co-founded by Maybank, Wilson, engineers Mike Bryzek and Phong Nguyen, and chairman and veteran online entrepreneur Kevin Ryan — is based on the idea of the “sample sale,” in which a very select group of customers is invited to buy (during a very small window of time) luxury brands at discount prices. “To savvy, fashion-conscious New Yorkers, a Louis Vuitton or Hermès sample sale was a drop-everything-and-run proposition,” the authors write. “Once there, you basked not only in the bargains, but in being part of (and often trampled by) an elite, stylish, in-the-know crowd.”

Gilt essentially brought sample sales to the Internet. The idea began with Ryan, whose French wife discovered a French “luxury private sale” Web site. Through a recruiter, Ryan was put in contact with Wilson, who had followed Harvard Business School with stints at Louis Vuitton and Bulgari. Uneasy with the idea of an Internet business, Wilson suggested her best friend Maybank instead.

Maybank joined Ryan but eventually realized that Gilt needed a high fashion insider with the right contacts and personality to lure the right high-end brands to the site — a job description perfect for her best friend, Wilson.

How to Network and Other Lessons

By Invitation Only describes the successful entrepreneurial journey of Gilt, revealing to readers the exhilaration and terror that launching, growing and managing a start-up inevitably brings. More than just telling a story, however, Maybank and Wilson want to help readers succeed in the way that they have succeeded, and therefore offer specific advice, often in the form of boxed checklists, on moving from an idea to a profitable enterprise. Extensive networking, for example, was a key factor in the successful launch of the site. In a chapter entitled “Networking to a Launch,” the authors offer a checklist that explains the rules for growing and maintaining your network. Another chapter describes how the co-founders laid the foundation for their viral business model. This chapter includes a checklist that enables readers, through a series of questions, to evaluate whether their business has the potential to be viral.

At the heart of the book, however, is the continuing friendship and collaboration (in that order) of Maybank and Wilson. The ultra-organized and cautious Wilson and the spontaneous, risk-taking Maybank complement each other perfectly. In an era in which company founders can end up on opposite sides of a courtroom, the story of the partnership described in By Invitation Only should be a primer for any friends considering going into business together.

Tablet Mania

There has been a surge of new tablet announcements lately. Kobo rushed out four new versions (Glo, Mini, Touch and Arc) to beat Amazon to the punch with their announcement of the Kindle Paperwhite and Kindle Fire HD. And both of these companies are in a race to grab market share from the recently introduced iPad with Retina Display, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, the Barnes&Noble Nook Color and Nook Touch with Glowlight and the Google Nexus 7.

How a person decides which one of these tablets to buy is becoming a daunting task, especially since many of the tablets also have various screen sizes, screen types, functionality and wireless access options. CNET posted a great article last month taking consumers through the choices and options, but unfortunately it didn’t include the latest models from Kobo and Amazon.

What it really comes down to is how and where you’re going to use your tablet. If you just want to read books and newspapers, then you’re best off going with the Amazon Kindle or B&N Nook e-readers. If you want to browse the internet, watch movies, play games and more, then you want the iPad, Galaxy Tab 10.1 or Google Nexus 7, and if you want a device with some of the benefits of both, then you have the Kindle Fire and Nook Color in the middle.

Having all of these choices has also become a challenge for content publishers like Soundview. Our solution has been to develop and adjust our available formats to work with most devices, while launching apps specifically for iOS and Android devices.

What does the future hold? Most likely, over time some manufacturers are going to lose market share to the point that they drop out of the mix (BlackBerry?). And when the dust settles let’s hope we have a few clear options with standards for content formats. Consumers deserve to be able to purchase content from any source, and have access to it no matter what device they’re using. We’ll see if this is just a pie-in-the-sky wish or not.

Corporate Alternatives to a College Education

The Wall St Journal published a special issue this week on education called Squaring Off on Education. There are several interesting topics covered in this debate-style issue, but the one that caught my eye was titled “Do too many young people go to college?”

Although the four education-policy experts that weighed in on this question had very diverse views, there was one point on which they all agreed. There are many young people that go to college that shouldn’t be wasting their time and money in this pursuit.

As education costs have risen faster than inflation and the job market has tightened, more and more college graduates are ending up working at jobs below their education level while not earning enough to support themselves and their student debt.

With this situation in view, it’s going to increasingly fall to companies to fill in the gap of educating their workers. Learning management system providers and content developers have stepped in to provide companies with the resources they need to fill in the knowledge gap that increasingly exists with their workers.

My previous blog on corporate training trends looked at the changing landscape of corporate education. In addition, TrainingIndustry.com provides an annual list of the top 20 learning portal companies, which this year includes TEDS, Saba, Taleo, Skillsoft, Cornerstone and 15 others. These LMS companies provide the software framework and much of the content for corporate learning, and they also partner with content providers to integrate additional content into their systems.

Soundview Executive Book Summaries’ line of products is available as a stand-alone library which can be plugged into any LMS or company portal. We have expanded our content offering beyond book summaries over the years to better respond to the current and future technological and media needs of the new generation of employees being added to the ranks.

Soundview’s Corporate Solutions Content:

  1. Executive Book Summaries in 7 text-based formats plus MP3 audio for all computers and mobile devices.
  2. Weekly author webinars.
  3. Interviews with the authors of summarized titles.
  4. Executive Insights video interviews of executives in the trenches of American businesses.
  5. Executive Edge newsletter covering specific management skills.
  6. SmartTips videos covering essential career skills in 4-minute video plus accompanying PDF tip sheets.

If your company is trying to better address the education needs of your employees, you may want to check out the list of learning portals I linked to above, and perhaps consider how you can make Soundview a part of your training program.

The Myth of Multitasking

Recently, I was on a conference call with my office and on the other line was a room full of people. As I listened, my email alert popped up and I clicked over to see what it was about. A minute later I realized that I hadn’t heard what was being said on the call. I quickly focused back on the meeting, only to be distracted again by the headline of the Wall St Journal lying open on my desk.

Then the dreaded question could be heard on the other side of the phone, “What do you think about that?” Oh, they’re talking to me and I have no idea what was just said. With a quick “I didn’t quite catch that last part, can you repeat it?”, I caught back up with the conversation while moving the newspaper out of view.

Multitasking is a myth for most of humanity. Our minds are designed to focus on only one thing at a time, and what most of us refer to as multitasking is actually linear-tasking, moving our focus quickly back-and-forth between several tasks. But our mind is focused on only one at a time.

A Utah researcher found that only about 2.5% of the population can actually multitask, a rare group of “super-taskers.” The rest of us can only truly multitask with activities that don’t require our mind to be fully engaged, such as knitting or working out. Such automatic tasks allow us to focus our mind on something else like reading or watching TV.

In The Age of Speed, Vince Poscente says that multitasking can actually slow us down. He points out that brain scans reveal that if we do two tasks at the same time, we have only half of the usual brain power devoted to each. Can we really afford to be only half there for an important activity?

Poscente believes that we should embrace speed. What he is suggesting is that we should use every technology at our disposal to speed up the unimportant tasks of our lives – the minutiae that we just need to get through. Then we can take our time with the important tasks, those things that really matter to us.

What does this look like in daily life? Well, it means that we must always be making evaluations of the tasks we’re performing. Is this a task I just need to get through as quickly as possible, and if so how can I make it more efficient? And on the other hand, if a task is important and valuable, how can I hold back the interruptions so that this time has my full attention?

An example that most of us can identify with is setting a rule of no mobile devices at the dinner table. Interaction with our family is essential and should not be interrupted by anyone’s cell phone. We draw a line here – this is not the time for speed.

In the corporate world, this concept is leading to what is called a “values-based time model.” Poscente uses the example of Best Buy and its Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE). This initiative has led to a 35% increase in productivity.

So the bottom line is that multitasking is not the solution to our time pressures. Instead we need to make value-based decisions about what to focus our attention on and what to speed up with the technologies at our disposal. So when I’m on the phone with the main office I need to put aside the distractions!

Content: The Currency of the Web

Build it and they will come. That’s what some companies believe about websites. All you need is a snazzy website and a Google adword account, and everyone will flock to your site and spend their money. But there’s much more to it than that.

Google has so designed their search algorithm that a website really needs to provide relevant content in order to rank high in search results. And this relevancy is factored into their adword program as well. So how to you create a site that will be found?

Jon Wuebben is a search expert who has the answers. In his new book Content is Currency, Wuebben explains the importance of content marketing, which he defines as “the act of sharing tips, advice, and other value-added information as a means of converting prospects into customers and customers into loyal, lifelong, repeat buyers.”

Here are Weubben’s eight steps to content success:

  1. You learn who your customer is and where the pain points are.
  2. You develop consistent, relevant content in multiple channels.
  3. You let go of all control, and let your ideas spread.
  4. People share your ideas and link to your content.
  5. People find your content through social media and search engines.
  6. Prospects and customers start relying on your expertise—the relationship begins.
  7. You become the trusted solutions provider in your industry.
  8. Your customers tell others about you.

To really understand how content and search relate, I would invite you to join Soundview and Jon Wuebben on March 15th for our webinar Developing Powerful Content for Web and Mobile. Wuebben will also be taking time to answer participant’s questions. Invite your whole marketing team to sit in and see what you can do to strengthen your website.