Can Companies Fit into the Dunbar 150?

Posted on February 1, 2010 by 7 Comments

Ever since I joined Facebook in 2004 (and MySpace at some forgettable moment likely before then), I’ve been interested to see how social networking impacts an individual’s social structure. When one of my more outgoing friends reached the 1,000-friends mark during Facebook’s first year, my interest in that question intensified. Would this friend truly be able to maintain meaningful relationships with such a large group of people?

Friend Request Accepted (Dentyne)

The short, predictable answer is no, and countless numbers of people have been interested in this very question, including, most famously, Robin Dunbar, professor of Evolutionary Anthropology at Oxford University. Though the results of his study will be published later this year,  the Times Online has the early scoop on Dunbar’s latest findings. Some key excerpts below.

Dunbar is now studying social networking websites to see if the “Facebook effect” has stretched the size of social groupings. Preliminary results suggest it has not.

“The interesting thing is that you can have 1,500 friends but when you actually look at traffic on sites, you see people maintain the same inner circle of around 150 people that we observe in the real world,” said Dunbar.

“People obviously like the kudos of having hundreds of friends but the reality is that they’re unlikely to be bigger than anyone else’s.”

Having some scientific proof of this constraint, how will this affect how companies attempt to become a part of their customers’ online life?

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Attending CES from Afar

Posted on January 13, 2010 by 2 Comments

Ever since I showed this picture to Thinkers and Doers’ contributing editor Mike Foley, he’s been asking me when I would put it up on this blog. Well, Mike, you’ll be happy to know that day is today. As luck would have it, Engadget decided to publish a short post about their gear being used during their CES coverage, so it seems only natural to address what I used for my work around that same event.

CES Station

I wasn’t on the ground like the Engadget team, so rather than focusing on capturing content in the wild (with their “digital cameras of all shapes and sizes,” USB encoders and other gear to maximize largely unwired reporting), I arranged my setup to ensure that I was monitoring the pulse of the event real-time from my Seattle HQ. Note: The photo above is my night station as my day setup is considerably less interesting to view and would be more open to “The Office” comparisons.

Also, unlike the Engadget squad, the hardware is not among the most interesting components. For posterity’s sake, however, I’ll give a quick overview of some of the tools that I used to monitor Twitter, blogs and other Web activity around CES.


  • On the table: One laptop connected to an external monitor for dual-screen use. Controlled by external keyboard and mouse to maximize typing and scrolling.
  • On the TV stand: One desktop connected to larger LCD monitor (aka 37-inch living-room TV). Controlled by wireless keyboard and mouse.
  • On the table: One laptop with external mouse.
  • On the couch: One smartphone for calls and texts to the team.

Sample of monitoring tools and other applications:

  • Tweetdeck: Used to monitor key terms of interest to clients around CES keynotes and events.
  • IceRocket: Used to determine what was being said by whom with the benefit of getting to know follower count on the same screen.
  • Twitter Search: Used to monitor other terms and refreshed frequently in various browser tabs.
  • Collecta: Used for real-time news searching.
  • Google News: Used to search key terms and determine client position in articles.
  • Live streaming sites: Queued up whenever possible. (Live streams are watched on the largest screen.)
  • Twendz/Twendz Pro: Used to identity key tweets by sentiment, influence and more.

In addition, there were a number of other sites referenced and applications used to best guarantee that our team and our clients had a real-time pulse, ensuring that hackneyed catch-phrase wasn’t the case here.

Passive is So Passe: The Case for Active Social Media Engagement

Posted on December 30, 2009 by 8 Comments

Matt Whiting, Senior Account Executive, WE Studio D

Two-way trafficWith the year rapidly winding down, now seems like just as good a time as any to spend more than 140 characters to make some more general observations about a major shift we will see in 2010. I’m not going to promise any sort of brilliance here, but instead, will simply offer some ideas on the present and future of social media and corporate communications. (For a detailed look back at 2009 digital marketing trends, check out Kevin’s post on that subject.)

Since I first began jotting down a few thoughts related to this post, the ubiquity of Facebook has not only surfaced in many conversations with friends and family over the holiday break, the social networking site has been putting up some gigantic numbers. The fact that Facebook now accounts for 5 percent of all time that people spend online is a staggering statistic. (For more on that comScore stat, check out this Mashable post.) Further, according to Hitwise, Facebook snagged the #1 spot for most visited site on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. (For more on that feat, check out this ReadWriteWeb post.) While it’s command of the social real estate has been expanding significantly virtually since its inception, it’s only just now that companies are paying serious attention to social media investments.

Pepsi’s much discussed decision to pull all money from Super Bowl TV spots to focus on other opportunities (notably web) served as a huge wake-up call to many that the era of one-way communications is (nearly) dead. (For more on this announcement, see the WSJ’s piece.) It’s interesting to see Pepsi’s decision especially as Coca-Cola has received much praise for its “new media” or internet presence (notably, the ATL purveyors of sugar water have been rated as the number one company that gets social media according to Big Money’s list of “companies that make social media work”). Innovative experiments on Facebook, such as Coke’s Facial Profiler has generated a lot of buzz as it is a unique concept that genuinely interests people. (For more on the facial recognition experiment, check out Mashable’s post.)

In 2010, we will see much more emphasis on engagement. Numbers and all we’ve been seeing show the audience is definitely now there on Facebook. The ball is in the courts of corporate communicators to figure out how to get people take notice of what they have to say and most importantly, give them a reason to care. With Facebook ads (such as those for Mafia Wars) as well as ever-present notifications (that your friend has just found a pig on Farmville) getting more annoying and thus causing people to further tune out the sidebar and meaningless updates, companies will reorganize their tactics appropriately.

Having a relationship with a brand online needs to be much more than just the process of becoming a “fan” on Facebook and then (in most cases) never hearing from the company again. Companies will need to actually give a reason for their customers to want to interact with them and ultimately advocate on their behalf. Companies will spend many resources trying to be a part of daily routines. Advertising will not be the answer (research shows people ignore ads), traditional PR will not be the answer (research shows people don’t wholly trust companies), instead, creating integrated, expansive experiences (like Coca-Cola’s facial profile, among others) will be key.

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Simplicity, The Sun and the Sincerest Form of Flattery

Posted on December 9, 2009 by Comments Off

Matt Whiting, Senior Account Executive, WE Studio D

By its very nature, change is unsettling. When out of our comfort zones, we as a species react through a range of emotions and behaviors. While no one can predict the extent of the range of such reactions to any set of circumstances, there are a few guiding principles that reemerge time and time again.

Campaigns that tap into our psychological wiring are well aware of the effectiveness of doing so, and such strategic plans ensure that the messages of these communications resonate with the audience.

One recent example that brilliantly taps into the human desire for predictability and a sense of control is the simplicity campaign by The Sun, the daily newspaper from the U.K. and Ireland, on its 40th anniversary.

YouTube Preview Image

The ad cleverly usurps the look and feel of Apple’s “There’s an App for That” iPhone ads and uses it to bring the paper to the top of the public’s mind.

What makes this campaign even more effective is its timing. With more and more people attempting to regain control of their own time (remember, this is the year that the New Oxford American Dictionary named “unfriend” as the word of the year), the desire to cut at least some of the cords connects directly with the audience in a humorous way.

Lest you think the folks who run The Sun are expecting their readers to fully embrace the medium that’s been around since the days of Gutenberg, they are also heavily investing in digital and, yes, do have an app for that.


The Evolution of Communications in D.C. and Beyond: Insights From Scott Stanzel and Tac Anderson

Posted on October 2, 2009 by Comments Off

Matt Whiting, Senior Account Executive, WE Studio D

Last week, we were lucky enough to host a presentation by Scott Stanzel, one of the leading communications professionals with extensive experience in both Washingtons. A long-time political communicator, Scott worked at Microsoft on public relations planning on security issues from 2005-2006 before heading east to serve as a White House deputy press secretary. We’ve posted the audio of Scott’s presentation along with a post-presentation video of Scott speaking with WE Studio D’s Digital Consulting Director Tac Anderson about a broad range of topics revolving around the evolution of the political and corporate communications.

Listen to Scott’s 29-minute presentation

We’ve broken the post-presentation interview into three segments, which we have embedded below.

In the first part, you’ll hear about Scott’s background, his transition from Microsoft to D.C. and a discussion around the changing speed and nature of communications.

In the second segment, Scott offers tips on how corporate communicators can effectively operate in a world that requires faster, more thoughtful communications. Other topics discussed include the need for corporations to trust their people and the essential role of honesty.

In the final segment, Scott and Tac explore the existence of a technology adoption gap in politics and role of early-adopters. In addition, Scott offers his thoughts on the next big shift in communications between politicians and constituents.

The (Nearly) Perfect Podcast

Posted on September 30, 2009 by Comments Off

Matt Whiting, Senior Account Executive, WE Studio D

Dog with headphonesAs a consultant with Studio D, I spend a good portion of time talking with clients about the various channels through which they can best communicate with their audiences. While discussions of social media tactics often draw the most immediate interest and intense head nods, podcasts continue to be great options that allow for a richness of communication that is (nearly) unparalleled to this day.

(While I won’t get into exactly who should be podcasting in the post, I encourage those interested in the topic to check out a great presentation by Christopher Penn, who asks the question “Should Your Business Be Podcasting?”)

What I would like to do here is point out a great list of podcasts from College Crunch that highlights “15 Podcasts That Will Make You Smarter.” This list, which includes an excellent collection of series that cover a broad selection of themes and styles, will give you a great idea of what success looks like…scratch that… sounds like. Take a look at a list, subscribe to those that interest you and rest assured that you’ll be enhancing your knowledge of the medium while getting smarter about the content.

While listening, think about the stories you would like to tell the world as an individual, as an organization or as anything else in between. It might just turn out that podcasts should play a role in your life that extends beyond helping you through your morning commute.

Some of my favorites from the list below:

9. The Sound of Young America

Duration: 30 Mins

Based in Los Angeles, The Sound of Young America is hosted by Jesse Thorn, who spends segments interviewing popular arts and cultural personalities. Guests have included Art Spiegelman, David Cross, Patton Oswalt and even Ira Glass. The Sound of Young America got its start as a college station back in 2000 and made the jump to podcast form in 2004. The show has been mentioned in TIME Magazine and, who said, “If you’ve never heard of The Sound of Young America, The Sound of Young America is the greatest radio show you’ve never heard of.” Well, now you don’t have an excuse, you’ve heard of it, now you just have to listen to it!

Check out The Sound of Young America

3. TED Talks

Duration: Varies

TED talks is one of those rare shows that spans a large quantity of topics, without sacrificing the quality of discussion. This series of lectures features some of the best concepts (”ideas worth spreading”) as well as amazing speakers. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Jane Goodall, Al Gore and Bill Gates have all been noted speakers. By April of 2009, the talks had been heard over 100 Million times by over 15 million people.

Check out TED Talks

1. This American Life

Duration: 60 Minutes

This hour-long program, hosted by Ira Glass, is a journalistic non-fiction program, featuring essays, memoirs, short fiction and much more. The show, which first aired on the radio in 1995, is one of the most listened podcasts of our generation. The show’s incredible value was recently on display when it tackled the housing crisis and economic collapse with two episodes entitled “The Giant Pool of Money” and “The Giant Pool of Money Part 2.″ TAL excels at taking the esoteric and making them understandable — relatable even — to the average Joe. Each week’s episode tackles one issue or topic in a variety of ways, ensuring that you will come away each week with a deeper understanding of the world.

Check out This American Life

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Gnomedex 9.0 — Affinity for Robots? Affirmative. Robotic behavior? Negative.

Posted on August 26, 2009 by Comments Off

Matt Whiting, Senior Account Executive, WE Studio D

It might have been expected that humanness is what ultimately would take center stage at Gnomedex 9.0 as after all the theme for the conference was Human Circuitry, the same theme as the year before. But even going into the conference with that preconception, I still was surprised by the wealth of invaluable advice offered at every corner of the conference to encourage a return to human behavior.

As someone who studied psychology for many years in labs, classrooms and at the American Psychological Association, naturally, I was thrilled. It was great to see some of the most proficient and active personalities in the social media and digital communications space stressing the importance of actually acting like human beings.

All of us who have listened to social commentators, observed others interact in public spaces, or otherwise noticed the invisible walls that go up as a person walks through a crowd wearing their iPhone/iPod/Zune earbuds, it is certainly not an unfair assessment to assert connectedness is not what it once was. But before the cynics amongst us write the human race off as one that is doomed like those pitiable humans in Pixar’s WALL-E (pre-ending), a conference like Gnomedex showcases the great insights from brilliant people who not only get it on a technological level but even more importantly, get it on a human level.

While all of us who were lucky enough to attend this year no doubt have countless favorite moments and personal highlights, I’ve selected three key points in which I learned the most about the importance of being a human in the age of Twitter.

Tips from Warren Etheredge’s “Art of the Interview”

Warren EtheridgeInterviews should be conversations, actual interactions between two people. What makes interviews interesting is this very fact. Listen and react, don’t try to force interview subject into a pre-conceived script or story flow you have in your mind. Let the interaction dictate what ultimately ends up on paper/film/your blog/etc.

Tips from Chris Brogan and Julien Smith’s “Trust Agents”

Julien SmithThe amount of information competing for limited attention has reached a staggering level. The huge challenge is not just showing up on your selected audience’s radar (awareness) but moving that attention to one of trust. In addition to walking the audience through their trust equation, Chris and Julien underscored the importance of earning trust through showing value and demonstrating that you, as a human being, belong to the community of which you’re seeking to be a part.

Tips from Micah Baldwin’s “Building Influence Online”

Micah BaldwinDefining influence as “one person influencing one person about one thing,” Micah turned the room’s sentiment back to the importance of one-to-one connections. Humanness and ultimately, success online, is about being involved, becoming effective at discovering and filtering content and lastly by showing value by aggregating knowledge.

While connectedness is not what it once was, I certainly have faith that people like those I met last week at Gnomedex will work to ensure that we all remain connected in a way that gives the term a 2.0 meaning.

Photo credits: turoczypenmachine and stewtopia

Great Storytelling 101: Valuable Tips from “This American Life”

Posted on August 20, 2009 by Comments Off

Matt Whiting, Senior Account Executive, WE Studio D

As we’ve been discussing with clients, on this blog, in the WE Influence Manifesto and with pretty much anyone else who will listen, we’ve entered into an unprecedented era where everyone has the potential to influence a vast audience with the click of the mouse. Naturally, the shifting communications paradigm has created an environment in which the amount of information that exists in the world is more confounding than it was just years before.

The thesis of the Influence Manifesto sums it up as follows.

The outbreak of new communication channels has gone from feeding people’s hunger for information and connectedness to overwhelming their ability to absorb information, data and points of connection. The information age has morphed into what could be called a Communications Cataclysm.

With more and more information competing for our attention, there is a need to return to the basics of storytelling in order to cut through the din.

On this theme, we were incredibly enthused to see the master storytellers behind This American Life post a series of informative videos about the building blocks of great stories on YouTube. Waggener Edstrom Chief Innovation Officer Marianne Allison has offered her thoughts on her always compelling Innovations Conversations blog and we invite you to check out the video (Part 1 of 4 below).

Among the many gems of wisdom Ira offers, below are the two elements he identifies as the essential building blocks of great stories.

  • Building Block #1- The momentum of anecdotal storytelling is a tremendous force; especially when you are able to incorporate elements of suspense. Viewers want to feel that they are “on a train that has a destination.”
  • Building Block #2- Offering a moment of reflection is critical to telling your story. “At some point someone has to say why the hell you’re listening to this story.”

Further, Ira goes on to offer a series of tips including:

  • Don’t be predictable and/or waste people’s time by saying nothing new.
  • Don’t underestimate the time it will take to find a good story and be ready to kill off stories that just don’t cut it.
  • Don’t be discouraged if you feel the quality of your output is lacking at first. Everyone goes through those phases, which often take years to plow through.
  • (And as your mother always told you) Don’t imitate others. Be yourself.

If interested, be sure to watch the full series (four videos in total) on YouTube.

Beyond the Silver Lining: Action-Oriented Planning in Changing Times

Posted on August 4, 2009 by Comments Off

Matt Whiting, Senior Account Executive, WE Studio D


On the heels of some unexpected yet exciting announcements over the past weeks, many of the conversations of which I’ve been a part have naturally turned to the topic of change. While it’s human nature to try to make sense of new occurrences by looking to previous similar situations, there comes a point when reflection must be coupled with thoughtful analysis and action-oriented planning.

As we’ve discussed on this blog and as is being discussed broadly, change in the communications field is picking up at an unprecedented, hurried pace. Readjusting communications strategy is imperative. While, we certainly don’t, to borrow and an old and particularly disturbing cliché, recommend “throwing out the baby with the bathwater,” there are strategic steps that can help outline how to navigate these unchartered waters.

Late last year on this blog, WE Executive Vice President Pam Edstrom offered some wise counsel on the subject of change that is particularly relevant in these dynamic days.

  1. Understand the underlying business problem.
  2. Identify and understand your audience.
  3. It’s the Internet – use it.
  4. Keep in mind the big picture.
  5. Results – measure and monitor them.

(Pam’s original post can be found here.)

Even in changing times, fundamentals are critically important. It cannot be said often enough that before you can effectively chart your course, you must determine where you want to go. As is stated in WE’s Influence Manifesto, the importance of knowing your audience and being nuanced in your communications is more important than ever. Careful planning can help to avoid the vast majority of negative outcomes that can be sparked by what may seem like the smallest misunderstood detail. As the rate of communications continues to accelerate at a seemingly endless clip, communicators have the responsibility to not only respond faster, but also more thoughtfully than ever before.

How will you ensure you’re best equipped to deal with the unexpected?

The Stealth Starbucks Meets the Angry Mob: Lessons Learned in the Twitter Age of Communications

Posted on July 29, 2009 by Comments Off

Matt Whiting, Senior Account Executive, WE Studio D

There are no two ways about it, Starbucks faced a rough public response the last couple of weeks when they tried to roll out a subtly branded coffee shop, 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea, in (what just might be) the coffee capital of the U.S., Capitol Hill, Seattle, Washington. While the new store was carefully designed to attract local customers, who are more likely to support local, independent establishments for their caffeine fix(es) of the day, the communications rollout left a bitter taste in the (vocal) mouths of many.

On many levels, they got a lot right, but in a few critical areas, as I’ll detail below, their miscalculations backfired severely and ended up getting them a copious amount of vitriol. There’s a lot to learn here, so by looking to the core tenets of WE’s new influence manifesto, allow me to highlight the pros and cons of the strategy (we have seen so far) and the public response.

Content is King (or should I say, Coffee is King): There are two ways to look at the content here. Typically, when discussing content on this blog, we are referring to messaging and ensuring communications contain all of the key elements to fully tell the story. From this perspective, Starbucks Corporate Communications has done an admirable job with their pressroom, fact sheets and other communications platforms. While Peter Merholz, writing on, takes Starbucks Corporate Communications to task over the “corporate marketing speak” the company uses in the Web site it created for the store, overall the language is not anything that is objectionable and does a fine job of communicating the necessary information.

Perhaps even more interesting here, however, is looking at content as the contents of their unbranded coffee cups. From everything I’ve been hearing, 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea hits the nail right on the head in terms of producing a quality product. Sure, there are those who will still complain by saying that anything that the Green Mermaid touches tastes burnt due to a propensity to over-roast, but the excitement around the Clover machines and exotic offerings shifts the buzz significantly to the favorable end of the spectrum. Also, artisan baked goods, cheeses, wines and beers have people excited as well.

Understand the Audience: Here as well, the communications tactics (pressroom, stand-alone Web site, etc.) were solid efforts. Nothing said was overtly offensive or would have been that jarring to the community (see the Nuance section below to see how it actually played out.) Again, we’ll turn to the tangible to round out our analysis.

As it has been reported, Starbucks has put an impressive amount of effort into ensuring they were able to meet the high standards of the Capitol Hill community — reportedly even going to look around neighboring establishments with “observation” notebooks. Even if you aren’t able to visit the store in person, the video below from the Seattle Times will give you a good overview of how far the new store varies from your typical neighborhood variety. andPuget Sound Business Journal, also have good galleries and analysis of the overall store and the painstaking details. (Note: the “Pooch of the Month” display above the free dog water out front is a personal favorite and in the right context would be a huge hit among the countless dog lovers of Capitol Hill.)

Engagement is Nuance: If you’ve heard anything of this story before, you’ve no doubt heard the controversy. If like me, you’ve been reading through the masses of comments left across the Internet, you’ve seen people aren’t taking too kindly to this stealth move. Sure, there are some words of support here and there, but for the most part the public (through online comments, casual conversations and interviews with the community) doesn’t feel this was a transparent and authentic move. Upfront transparency would have helped to stem the speculation. Of most concern from a communications point of view, the first article from Seattle Times, which notably received 148 comments, published on July 16, and numerous other articles from the likes of AP and CNN came out the following days. Starbucks did not post its public response in the form of a fact sheet until July 23, thereby allowing one week to pass without having the company voice in the debate. As mentioned in my previous blog post on this topic, “those reporting had nothing to go off of from the Starbucks communications camp, [thereby ensuring] there was nothing to counter public perception and journalistic observation.”

Overall, the latest experiment by Starbucks has proved to be an incredibly dynamic one. The shifting landscape that companies are now confronted with requires those who work in the field of communications to proactively operate within these new conditions. No longer can companies rest on the fact that a digital pressroom will be forthcoming, but instead, they must actively engage to ensure their voice is in the conversation from the beginning (or at least before a week elapses).

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