January 2011

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We all have megaphones to one degree or another. As I’ve mentioned in various pieces, the Internet allowed for the reclamation of the voice. I’ve also mentioned that those who reclaim a voice after having been without one for a long time tend to yell.

We all have megaphones to one degree or another. If you decide that you want to amplify your voice, it’s relatively easy to do so. Social media, etc. allows us to – now more than ever – connect with a constituent group, enter into discourse, and then exponentially amplify our words.

We all have megaphones to one degree or another. This didn’t begin with social media, the Internet, or the 24-hour news cycle. The printing press allowed for the amplification and redistribution of voices.

We all have megaphones to one degree or another. I was fortunate enough to study for two years with Elie Weisel. Of the many things he taught me — all having to do with empathy (this from a holocaust survivor) — his most emphatic message was: “All we have are words.”

We all have megaphones to one degree or another. I have had the good fortune to write a few books (and have a few more coming), and to have stood in front of a thousand or so students over the past number of years. There isn’t a word I write or a word I say where I don’t try to consider the impact my words might have. This doesn’t mean I haven’t said/written things I’ve regretted/have been inappropriate. I have. I have also tried diligently to apologize on these occasions, and have encouraged discourse from those who might have been offended/confused by what I’ve said.

We all have megaphones to one degree or another. I have two young children. I have a very wise wife. She correctly reminds me that our kids soak up everything we parents say or do, and that our sphere of influence over the kids is massive. I lose my temper. I say things to my kids I regret. I also try not to do this, and reduce the amount of times this happens. I also sit them down, after such incidents, and speak to them about these incidents.

We all have megaphones to one degree or another. Can any of our words move people to actions? How can we even ask such a question?

We all have megaphones to one degree or another. Irrespective of how large or small your megaphone is — a parent, a blogger, a film star, a music star, or a teacher or a politician — you have an opportunity to influence the level of discourse.

We all have megaphones to one degree or another. Does this have any bearing on issues around freedom of speech/expression? No. It’s a choice.

We all have megaphones to one degree or another. You can attempt to raise the level of discourse with your words, or you can attempt to lower the level of discourse with your words. In either case, there are consequences.

We all have megaphones to one degree or another. How will you use yours?

One of my greatest frustrations with respect to marketing has been that while I speak often about human’s predisposition to share, we’ve yet – in the entertainment realm – developed a way to encourage/reward sharing/sharers.

A bit of background. It was when music/books/movies/etc. went from being objects (analog) to being information (digital) that people could finally satisfy their hard-wired impulse to share with no downside.

Prior to this, if I wanted to share an album/book/DVD with you, when I gave it to you I was deprived of my copy – you win, I half lose/half win. Post the shift to information, when I share my digital versions with you, I still keep my copy – we both win.

This switch, naturally, had a massively disruptive impact on media (and other) businesses. It’s really the underlying cause of the crumbling of the firmament of the old-school media businesses. We’re doing what we’ve always done/wanted to do (share information), it’s just that now, with the switch from objects (analog) to shareable-information (digital), scarcity-based economic business models are left scrambling to find a purpose that can be monetized.

In any case, we can all agree with Mark Earls when he says:

Human beings are to independent action, as cats are to swimming. We can do it if we really have to, but mostly we don’t…. Instead, we do what we do because of what those around us are doing (Whatever our minds and our cultures tell us). So if you want to change what I’m doing, don’t try to persuade me — don’t try to make me do anything. I can’t make anyone do anything. They do what they do because of their peers.

So, we as content creators desperately need to encourage our constituents to share. In the past, I’ve made facile suggestions to artists (musicians, visual artists, etc.) to attempt things like “buy one, give one free” in the analog realm. That is, when someone buys a CD at your show, offer them a second for free, with the request that the person buying the CD give this second one to someone they believe will appreciate the music. Same with prints of photos, etc.

While not exactly the most innovative (or measurable) strategy in the world, I still think there’s merit to to this approach. However, it doesn’t really scale, and I’m constantly asked by people with whom I work if there’s a way to reward digital sharing.

So far, what we’re seeing is variants on the “RT for song” that firms like CASH Music have developed. I, of course, love this type of approach, and hope more utilize it (Disclosure: I’m a proud CASH board member).

However, I believe this approach needs to be expanded upon.

I genuinely hope that artists in 2011 take the approach that when a customer purchases their digital work, they are presented with the opportunity to email a copy to a friend they feel will appreciate it. Perhaps this is part of the transaction cost that the initial customer must bear. In other words, prior to the original customer gaining access to the digital work, she must not only pay, but also enter a verifiable email address of one of her friends, who she believes would enjoy the work.

If this all sounds vaguely familiar, it should. Beyond the fact that I’d be surprised if someone smart in the media world hasn’t tried this (it seems like, for instance, something Topspin or Kristin Hersh would be doing), it’s very consistent with what appears to be an emergent tenet of social entrepreneurship. The most visible example, of course, being Toms Shoes. Their “One pair sold = one pair donated” approach is not only virtuous, but also great marketing.

When I introduce the concept of social entreprenuership to my students, the very first example I offer is Toms Shoes. When I ask how many people have heard of Toms, typically two-thirds of the students raise their hands. There are very few companies that when I ask my students if they’ve heard of that I get that type of response. And, yet, to my knowledge, Toms has spent little on traditional advertising. Rather, their conceit of “buy one, give one free” has done the work for them (of course, there are costs associated with Toms’ approach, but I’m guessing these are less than what a traditional ad campaign would cost, and clearly their approach is more effective and vrituous).

I’ve long felt that there is a linkage between social entrepreneurship (“team of teams,” small groups, emphasis on “changemakers,” “purpose-driven brands,” etc.), and the creative arts. I believe both can learn from each other.

I do hope that more in the creative arts glean from social entrepreneurship this notion of “buy one, give one free.”

I’ve been frustrated by the lack of a mechanism for this type of sharing of information, which makes it easy for the existent constituent to introduce the work to her friends. As above, one may exist, and, if so, I’d love to see some examples, so please leave them in the comments.

Here’s hoping we see this develop in 2011.

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