Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Transition Culture: New Research Project

I’m so excited to be embarking on a new research project. As loyal readers know, every few years I take up a research project to surface what’s simmering beneath larger social trends. In 2004, I tracked changes in values and the rise of creative self-expression. That led to my book, RenGen: Renaissance Generation.

Lately, I’ve been studying ways that communities are transitioning from declining ways of being toward new ways of living and doing business. Old ways are fossil-fuel dependent, competitive, and top down. New ways look more cooperative, hyperlocal and creative. Rather than waiting for government or big business to effect change, people are taking matters into their own hands.

In communities across the country, innovative people are experimenting with creative ways to help their towns transition into the future. By addressing how food is grown and sold, inventing ways to generate or conserve energy, starting up profit-making ventures in progressive ways these change artists are examples of resilience in the face of challenging times.

Help us capture the stories of the people creatively transitioning their communities. We’re looking to study the efforts of entrepreneurs, upstarts and artists whose culture-changing projects are rejuvenating their communities. Projects led by artists, architects, designers, chefs, educators, or people stepping out of their everyday roles to beat down to doors of convention and reclaim the inherent power of community in a time of decline.

I want to learn the critical elements involved in attracting tangible support for creative projects with potential to improve a community or collective experience.

In Transition 1.0 from Transition Towns on Vimeo.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Imagining the World You Want to Live In--Part 2

I'm taking a break from blogging. Just until Dec. 27. I need time to reflect and recharge. Looking back, I came across this holiday post from last year:

As 2009 draws to a close, I find myself breathing a sigh of relief. It hasn’t been an easy year. Yet, more and more, I’m learning about what makes people resilient in tough times. To be sure, the sheer energy it takes to re-invent our lives, businesses and cities in the face of trying circumstances creates new possibilities. Like many of you out there, I’ve been through the big D’s: death of a loved one, divorce, and downsizing—in my case, a move that will reduce my storage space by 80%.

My mantra for 2009 has been: “Imagine what you want it to be like.” With this in mind, I paced through the vacant flat I would soon call home. My footsteps echoed in the emptiness. I had to choose paint colors to help make the place my own. I closed my eyes and tried to picture the world I wanted to live in everyday. Rich colors came to mind--bold and strong. The folks at the paint store got to know me. One guy in particular became my color therapist. He bucked me up when I nearly chickened out twice on the Medici Mallichite, a lustrous greenish blue that now adorns my bedroom walls. Each time I lost faith in my choices, he was stalwart. “Go with your gut.” His final admonition was: “Let it go.”

Yesterday, I began moving a few boxes into the flat. My daughter and I decided to put up a Christmas tree near the fireplace. We figured it’d make the place warm and festive. It worked. The rooms are freshly painted and stunning, awaiting our belongings. It’s even better than I pictured.

It’s hard to know what 2010 has in store. Have you noticed that fewer economists are venturing forecasts this new year? As I tilt my head to size up the number of books left to pack compared to the number of boxes I have left, I am filled with hope. My kids are home for the holidays. We are moving to a new place. I am casting off things that no longer serve me. That includes endless worrying about how things will turn out. My mantra for 2010? “Let it go.”

Here are my predictions for 2010:
1. The people who can imagine something wonderful will be more innovative.
2. Those who encourage others on their journeys of transformation will win more business (I spent a lot at the paint store!).
3. Those with the courage to “let it go” with grace will be happier.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

From the Desk of the Intern: Most Viral Headlines of 2010

Last, week we set about finding out what the top stories were for 2010. It was just a run-of-the-mill environmental scan to scout for trends. Perfect task for an intern. But then we got curious. What were the common features of a headline that inspired lots of sharing across platforms: blogging, retweets, and emails?

Viral headlines have one or several of these features:

Clever: Good alliteration, a turn of the phrase, or some counter-intuitive pun.
Princess Diana, From Huntress to Hunted,

Lists: Overdone, perhaps. But there’s a reason for it. People want quick recipes for self-improvement, or to focus their attention on what’s essential.
10 Apps That Make You Smarter, New York Times

Timely: Any headline that conveys breaking news or states a position on breaking news.
BP CEO Resigns Gets $17 Million Severance, U.S. News and World Report

Gisty: Okay so we made the word up. But headlines that help a reader get the quick gist are like guide posts. And if artfully done, can convey a nugget of information that teach readers something about the topic.
Youth cry out: I Can’t Stand Warcraft and I Can’t Stand to Leave, IGN blog
The brain will learn any word it hears 160 times over 14 minutes. Science Times

Outrageous: These are intensely dramatic, causing a sharp intake of fear, lust, pity, greed, disgust or rage. Great ones conflate a mix of emotions.
Your Money: A Dying Banker’s Final Instructions, New York Times
2 Year Old Indonesian Boy Addicted to Smoking, AP
Fired for Being Too Hot? Village Voice

Best of the best? Our favorite grand slam headline incorporated all three qualities:
Enron’s Last-Minute Bonus Orgy,

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Entertaining Millennials

Entertainment brands, especially live performance brands, have a unique set of challenges in attracting Millennials. Recently, I went out and gathered a few case studies of experiments that paid off handsomely in arts and entertainment. They are captured in an entire chapter of Tipping the Culture. Download it here.

Monday, December 20, 2010

4 Mistakes That Kill Community for Your Message

A book is the manifestation of an idea. It can also be a parade led by the author. That’s why Tim Ferriss fascinates me. He leads a raucous parade for each book he launches. He’s a brand. And now more than ever, brands need to be thought leaders. So pull up your chair and take in his advice.

Ferriss writes in an adult non-fiction fantasy genre (it’s a category name I made up). You know, books that make outrageous claims in the title. One Minute Manager, One Minute Millionaire, The 4-Hour Workweek, which was Ferriss’s last title. His latest is The 4-Hour Body. Yes! Perfect body in 4-hours, done and done! The book is scaling the heights of Amazon and Kindle.

Want your message to rise above the clutter? Ferriss says, avoid these common mistakes:

1. “Not understanding what type of headlines 'travel' via social media. Study sites like and to see what works.”

2. “Thinking of “social media” as text only. My latest book 'movie' trailer, which is only 50 seconds long, took The 4-Hour Body from #150 on Amazon to around #30, where it has remained until dropping to the top ten. I believe this video was the primary driver behind making the book the #1 'wished-for' book on Amazon.”

3. “Overcommunicating. There’s no need to share every detail of your life. On my Twitter stream (, I aim for 80% useful links vs. 20% insight into personal life and schedule. There is no need to share minutiae unless it displays an endearing or grounding aspect of your personality.”

4. “Not measuring. How many books did promotion X sell? I know, as an example, which offers in my 'land rush' competition converted browsers to buyers most effectively, as I used SlideShare. How many people watched the slideshow and then bought? It was the 3-book and 30-book packages. I could then focus on these for a follow-up promotion, which sold more than 4,000 books on Amazon in less than 20 hours. Measure the ROI of your campaigns or fail — that’s the choice.”

Complete article at GalleyCat.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Social Media and Gen Y—Just Get Me Started

It’s hard to imagine that some people may still be wary of social media as an outreach vehicle, but it’s true, and for good reason. Let’s be honest, social media is confusing and time consuming. That’s why some folks have waded in ever so cautiously. Am I describing you? Or someone you know? If you need a gentle push to get rolling in the right direction, check out this chapter in the new Ebook, Tipping the Culture. It’s a brass tacks set of questions that are foundational to increasing traffic using social media to woo Millennials. Take the quiz and see where you stand.

P.S. The Ebook is FREE. No hoop jump. No strings. Many thanks to its sponsors, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the Nonprofit Finance Fund.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Why Content Rules Among Millennials in Digital Culture

What makes for good content? Well, people love stories. Wait, people love narrative. Not every narrative is a story with a beginning, middle and end. GenYs favor narrative that's emotionally intense. But using content authentically takes heart and insight. The heart thing is up to you. Insight, we got.

If you want to understand more about how Millennials grab onto content and make it part of their lives, I have a freebie for you. It's based on my interviews with world brand managers at Google, Red Bull, Ford Motor and more. They've spent thousands of $$$ cracking the code. Learn their secrets by cracking open the chapter on content from the new eBook.

Want more tips on how to engage Millennials? Download this:Tipping the Culture.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Social Brands Get People Participating

Social brands are very good at personalization. My research into audiences between the ages of 22 and 30 proves that the more socially networked they are, the more they’ll expect to be able to personalize the experience. Being treated as an individual, in fact, is the foundation for community. Facebook epitomizes this. A great way to engage a Millennial audience and achieve a more personalized experience is to create a means for participation.

Cultural institutions struggle with this. Perhaps it’s because they are content–centric, not user-centric. I uncovered several exciting examples of ways to use content to invite participation by talking with people managing social brands of all sizes and stripes.

I share the secrets I learned in Tipping the Culture, a free eBook based on research sponsored by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. Download the chapter on building participation platforms.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

3 Things Top Brands Know about Millennials

When we went out and interviewed brand managers who are having success connecting with Millennials, we heard three common themes. Whether it was a start-up candy company like Das (killer bacon lollipops), or the mega-brand Google, or the revisionist brand Ford Motor—they all shared 3 key insights.

Monday, December 6, 2010

My First eBook--Tipping the Culture

It's ready. My first eBook is here. I felt a rush when I loaded the prototype onto my iPhone.

I feel like telling you the story behind it. Just six months ago, I was vexed with a nasty bout of writer’s block. One morning, I decided to clean my office. You know, get some clean-slate mojo working. That’s when I came across a report I had written for a client. I'd been hired to research world-class brands that were having a lot of success attracting Millennials. This was my kind of project, and better yet, my kind of client. You know the type--bold, creative and smart.

I adored the project because it allowed me to interact with some very talented marketers representing savvy brands such as Ford Fiesta, Red Bull and Google, to name a few. What I learned was eye opening. I wrote up a hefty paper report and briefed the client on the findings. It was all good.

Spring became summer. I took a week off to get in touch with my muse. Sitting on a pier jutting into the turquoise blue of Lake Michigan, I kept coaxing my imagination to cough up a good idea for my next book. Nothing came.

Returning to my office, I rediscovered the Millennials report and sat down and re-read it cover to cover. Because the people I had interviewed were pioneering the digital culture, much of the material was still relevant. I had also delved into the latest psycho-social studies on the age group to prepare the report, so I had weeded out unproductive communication tactics. The information in my hands felt valuable.

I pitched the idea of publishing it to the client. They agreed. Terrific! But said it needed a fiscal sponsor. Bummer. I reached out to the people who had sponsored the original research. Intrigued, they invited a proposal. Terrific! But they explained there was a catch. Bummer. They had a collaborator who needed to like the idea, as well. More pitching and persuading. Six months and several iterations later, I am sitting at Starbucks looking at my first eBook on the itty bitty iPhone screen.

The idea for the next book never did slap me on the forehead that summer. And the summertime lull in the economy didn't distract me with any big projects. Instead I took a chance and acted on the idea I did have. And when it would have been easier to say "no" people said "YES!" And I'm so glad they did.

Pre-order your free copy. Oh, and let me know what you think.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Cool Brand: American Express Rolls Out Small Biz Campaign

Over the Thanksgiving shopping bonanza, American Express launched a very cool retail program aimed at small business. It’s got everything: B2B and B2C recruitment tactics, a social media hook, and a cause-marketing overlay, and a gender sensitivity that reflects the buyers and users, not the decision-makers at Amex. Very cool.

Here’s how it worked: American Express offered consumers a monetary incentive to shop at small businesses. The first 100,000 to register their American Express card received a $25 statement credit for spending more than $25 at a locally-owned, independent small business that accepts American Express on Nov. 27.

The movement took off on Facebook, where nearly 875,000 people "like" the program. American Express had committed to donating $1 to the nonprofit Girls Inc. for each like, up to $500,000.

I like it.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Corporate Sponsored Creativity

Photo by wallyg
Graduate students in a corporate-sponsored engineering class at Stanford have created a design for an eco-friendly disposable laptop. The design has yet to be embraced by any laptop manufacturers, but all of the ideas are openly available through sponsor Autodesk’s website.

Corporate-sponsored classes are not new. They’ve been a part of Stanford for 45 years, in fact. They allow students to work on solutions for real problems companies are facing with the opportunity to experiment and fail—a luxury the real world doesn’t provide, says a Stanford spokesperson.

The fascination with bright young things, a.k.a. Millennials, is rising. This coincides with the urgency to innovate. It makes me wonder. Will corporate sponsorship of elite college courses such as the one at Stanford become a growing trend?

More on the story.