Most brands are boring, Understanding Social Graph Optimization and Ken Lee

I caused a bit of ‘twitter flutter’ when I said at the Social media week London event (ironically hosted at the IAB in London : ) that ‘Most brands are boring’ ..

It is an interesting comment .. and the context was as below.

Our panel was about ‘Understanding Social Graph Optimization’ with me + Carter Brokaw(CRO, Meebo); Vincent Sider(Head of Strategy: Social Media, Gaming & Presence, BT); Maz Nadjm, Online Community Product Manager BSKYB); Trevor Johnson (Head of Strategy and Planning, EMEA – facebook) and chaired by Antony Mayfield – SVP Social Media, iCrossing(Antony has a forthcoming book which I look forward to reading)

Thus, it had some very clued on folk and I enjoyed the event and the discussion both on the panel and also with the audience.

I took a neutral/agnostic – almost academic view which complemented the panel well

‘Understanding Social Graph Optimization’ is quite a mouthful .. but it is also relevant mostly to organizations and brands(and not customers) i.e. customers are really not concerned about others optimising their ‘social graph’. In fact, they are concerned(rightly so ..) about companies owning their Social graph. Ultimately, we will not want companies to own our social graph and I believe that open and interoperable technologies (like OpenId, XMPP, FOAF, SparQL, Oauth, XMPP, APML, Attention.xml ) and others which become the foundation of sharing social data across social networks. This leads to interoperable social data which will be shared with others(as opposed to one company owning the social data) – I alluded to this in a previous blog (Variant of ) APML for mobile devices .. for attention data

I had four key points to say in my 3 min intro:

a) Recommendations vs. profiles: There is a tendency to confuse recommendations( netflix, Amazon et al) with profiles. Recommendations are proven. Profiling has some reservations and unknowns in the minds of many people. The operative difference is: the provider does not maintain an ongoing profile about you through all your social media activity – but rather(like Amazon) uses it for recommendations mainly. Recommendations are based mainly on your previous activity and also on preferences from your social graph(i.e. people connected to you)

b) Privacy: taking control of your social data. Interesting concept. Many are talking about it. Has an inertia problem(extra step from the customer). Yet unproven

c) Mobile: Could benefit from a converged recommendation engines. Ex – I like ZZ top and blog about it. That feed(my blog) is freely available. It could be used to augment existing feeds about me for targeted advertising. Could be seen as ‘spooky’ but if handled well .. could be a benefit.

d) Communication is a condiment. It is not monetizable in itself (like WiFi – see Salt pepper and social networking ). More recently, RIM used this strategy to successfully gain adoption in the youth segment with Blackberry messenger

Some more thoughts ..

a) Don’t forget the Harman Bajwa episode. There is considerable scepticism

b) Antony Mayfield mentioned Russell Ackoff . Highly recommended and it’s great that social media agencies are following Ackoff (who I also have a high regard for)

c) Although I did not mention this, Tim Berners Lee’s original vision of the Web was Peer to Peer (and not Client server). Many of the issues we see on the web(privacy, controlling social graph etc) are as a result of Client server and would not happen in a Peer to Peer system. The Web would also be more scaleable (with fewer middlemen and failure points) in a Peer to Peer system.

d) Finally .. One of the few advertisements I love is Compare the Meerkat (and there is a whole social media marketing strategy behind it) .. I once saw an interview with the creator of this advertisement and he said that the product was so common – that he had to be really innovative

So, my point is: Actually most brands are boring! i.e. the marketing folk may like us to think that we all love their specials and their promotions, but most people don’t. So, it may be a more interesting idea to associate with a popular social media item like ‘ken lee’. This video has 14 million views .. and is an attempt by a woman to sing the Mariah Carey song ‘Without You’ – which she thinks is ‘Ken Lee’(Cant leave!) So, brands could sponsor a viral classic like this song which people like .. that’s the point .. especialy if they are a product that is hard to distinguish(hence gain mindshare by entertainment of customers)

Thanks to Sam and Julia of Chinwag for inviting me.

You can follow the event on Twitter at #smwldn

Corrected to #smwldn, not #swmldn. Thanks @RoseKue

Enjoy ‘Ken Lee’


  1. Suparna says:

    Great reminder of this afternoon. The likes of ‘Ken Lee’ seem to be the future of marketing for ‘boring’ brands. By the people for the people. It is so simple though can get very complex when it comes matters of legality and privacy.

  2. “Most brands are boring”, was definitely my favorite quote of the day.
    It is kind of an heretical thing to say among marketers, as our focus is utterly on the brands we work with much of the time…
    …too much of the time, obviously, as when we are competing in attention markets, our focus should be first on the user, second on the competitive landscape (what else it out there that is more interesting than we are).
    “Brands are boring” is a useful phrase, perhaps, reminding us that they have to fight hard for attention, not just wait for it to turn up because they have coloured themselves in differently, hired a new celeb or concocted an over-engineered, under-imagined “viral”.

  3. Ajit Jaokar says:

    it as great to meet you Antony and much to discuss esp Russ Ackoff fans :) look fwd to your book with anticipation. kind rgds Ajit

  4. Anonymous says:

    thanks suparna. it was good to meet you briefly. lets keep in touch kind rgds Ajjit

  5. Rose Kue says:

    Just a quick note that it’s #smwldn, not #swmldn (honest mistake)