As research about social media adoption and use patterns continues to flourish, so is the evidence that social media is a women-centric vehicle. A recent Compass study by BlogHer reveals that of the 79 million women online, 42 million (~53%) use social networks; Facebook reported earlier in the year that their fastest growing population is that of 35-65 year old women; and BusinessWeek reports that while both young men and women in their twenties are equally represented as members of social networks, young women are much more active on these sites than young men.
There are many reasons for this trend but at its core is the fact that social media is less about technology and more about being social. Unlike pre-web2.0 gadgets, operational software, or convoluted front-end algorithmic solutions that have been traditionally adopted by men first, social media is propelled and adopted by women. There are five key factors influencing this trend:
1. Social media is gender agnostic. It is a channel open to all, at the same cost, no special club membership or lineage required. In fact, many of the traditional requirements such as formal education, location, full-time availability are obsolete in a social media world.
2. Social media is about expression. It is a platform for communication, for self-disclosure, for sharing--things women do naturally but have had to learn to keep under control in board rooms and team meetings.
3. Social media is about people. It is a channel designed for those people who understand what others want, who can express themselves eloquently (and, increasingly, very concisely), and who can connect with others through words or actions. Most women are born with these capabilities: they tend to be better at relationships, they are more attentive and compassionate, and are happy to share with others while having no desire for immediate return other than recognition.
4. Social media powers instant communication. Live feed, comments, cross links--all enable immediate communication and feedback--which are key values for women. We thrive on communication: we want to know what others think, what works and doesn't work, how we can improve--it is part of our own self-awareness and growth.
5. Social media is as much about the process as it is about the results. It requires time, strategy, careful construction, fine-tuning, conversing with others, helping—all those things many women enjoy and are good at.
While there may be other factors that make social media a women’s channel and gives women advantage both as consumers and as job seekers, these five are key because they speak to the alignment between the nature of the channel/tool and the human nature of its users. And, as in any discipline, with alignment comes momentum, speed, growth, and, ultimately--success.
If you’re a startup entrepreneur looking for clarity about the current situation, you’ve also probably heard investors, analysts, and corporations speak of the economic meltdown as a time of opportunity. Opportunities are great. But what kind of opportunities are these? Let’s face it--it’s hard to see opportunities when you’re in the midst of survival planning. I mean, who cares about a smoothie when all you hear is “no more water until further notice”?
And yet, you cannot live in survival mode for long. For one, you’ll exhaust yourself: You’ll fail to evolve your product, you’ll likely minimize your marketing efforts which will result in reduced exposure, you’ll dwindle down your investment in user experience which will result in user defection, and, to finish it off, you’ll most likely miss rising competition that has been slowly catching up to you.
So what is one to do in the new
Downturn Disaster Economy?
First, recognize and accept that these are unprecedented times. We’ve heard VCs, corporations, and veteran CEOs say the very same thing. Second, realize that risk is significantly higher. Third, accept that traditional growth paths (ads, eyeballs) are now blocked and intersections are piled high with debris. Fourth, know that you must, must, must do what you can to balance between preservation and preparation for capitalizing on momentum when the roads start to open—and they will. In short, nothing you’ve done to date is certain. It’s time to think differently, act differently, be resourceful.
Here are a few things you can do now, as you’re hunkering down, that cost you very little but can have great benefit once you’re able to move again:
1. Get creative. Remember your first days as an entrepreneur? What made you leave a cushiony job (or never get one to begin with) and start your own business? What drove you to do something that fails 9 out of 10 times? In most cases, it was an insatiable excitement for doing things differently, for innovating the way people think, for being part of changing this world and for making it big. Your idea may have become a business, but the core of ideation is innovation and creativity. It’s time to go back to basics and think differently. Turn your action plan into your own startup today—draw it on a napkin if you must—get excited about it and act on it now.
2. Get better. Tom Peters, creator of the famous The Pursuit of WOW! talks about excellence. ‘Get on with the business you have,’ he says,’ do it brilliantly, stick to the basics and keep it simple!’ Applying WOW! to what you do now (yes, even now—especially now!) means that when others scramble—your customers, stakeholders, partners, and team will turn to YOU for solid delivery—in good times and bad.
3. Be deliberate. Be Clear. Have you heard the story about the carrot, egg, and coffee beans that were put into boiling water? Which one do you want to be? Make a decision and do whatever it takes to be exactly that. Personally, I’d go for the coffee beans.
4. Take time to visualize success. Research shows that energy flows where attention goes. What you focus on is what you get. If you focus on making the chaos stop, all you’ll get is more chaos; if you focus on the stress, the change, the diminishing opportunities, it’s going to be tough to get anywhere else. So try something new. Take 10 minute a day to visualize where you want to be when all is well. Think about a time when you’ll be back in control and notice how things will have changed. See yourself there, in every detail, make it big and bright and fun. Ask yourself what information reveals itself to you that you can use now—then put it down on paper and get to work.
5. Plan ahead. Do you know what you’ll take with you if a fire breaks out? Most people have thought about it but never really bothered to put together a plan. They figure it’ll never happen or, when it does, that they’ll have plenty of time. Then they never do. This, right now, is fire time. Major winds are sweeping through the dry Valley. Do you know what you’ll do if the flames reach your backyard? It’s time to sit down and plan. What will you do next week? Next month? If your pool of anticipated revenue dries up as it had for many ad-based models, where will you turn? Make sure you have a plan on paper and revisit it regularly to make sure you know what to do at each step of the way.
6. Revise your strategy. Been pitching up and down Sandhill Road and not getting the warm and fuzzy? Focusing on a consumer market that has been shambling? The great thing about uncertain times is that while some people just scramble each day doing the same old thing, others see in it an opportunity to do different things. Imagine you came up with another idea that can make your product succeed. Instead of a website it’s an app. Instead of the US you’re going to China where the nouveaux-riche have 40% of their money in savings and are itching to spend it on cool new things. You’re an entrepreneur—an innovator—don’t shy from innovating your strategy too!
7. Practice leadership. Philippe Suchet, Former CEO of Kefta (sold to Acxiom in 2007 for an undisclosed amount), says this is the time to show leadership and to manage by excellence. If you cut 10%-20% in the past two months, most likely you’ll need to cut again, says Suchet. Do it once, cut deep, don’t fatigue your people with multiple attempts. Renegotiate packages, cut your own salary, and treat people well whether they stay or go. Then, realign the remaining resources around the most important thing for your business: either getting your product out to market or cutting deals on the existing solution. If you are able to persevere and your startup is a success, the leadership skills you acquire now will be highly valuable during times of success.
8. Step outside your circle of influencers. You’ve had great people as advisors and guides. They’ve been super successful these past 10 years. Maybe they’re CEOs with a number of exists behind them or investors who are extremely well connected. But are they the best resources for you now? Times have changed and so has the type of advice you need and there’s so much you may not even know you don’t know. So think who has been through downturns before, who has seen it all, think who can help you now and go get some face time.
9. Create a lasting network. It’s easy to network when times are good. Everyone’s happy and everyone wants to be your friend as the free champagne flows and hors d'oeuvres are being served. But during a crisis, when people aren’t always at their best, relationships are put to the test. Many of the connections you’ve made until today may be gone tomorrow—but those who ride out this wave may just last into the next big joy ride to be had.
10. Do something good; Do it free. Even the Wall Street Journal admits: The economy is on life support, there is no doubt. But as bad as you’re doing, there are many people who are doing worse. These are fellow CEOs with less experience than you, international entrepreneurs far away from home, students, qualified people who lost their jobs—etc. Figure out who you can help the most and do it. Invite them to coffee (yes, you pay) and chat. Besides making a difference in someone’s life, it’ll give you an opportunity to see just how much you have.
Startup entrepreneurs are known for their relentless spirit and guts. They will stop at nothing to breathe life into their ideas. As an entrepreneur you’ve heard the words “it cannot be done” and “no” many times and yet you’re still here. You’ve tested boundaries and bent the rules. It’s time to do it again: Put your startup hat back on and treat your own business as one. Get creative, do things differently, go beyond the recipe book. Make sure your revenue model and strategy are solid, cut deep and efficiently, treat people well, and above all—plan for each and every scenario on paper, in your head, and as part of your vision. Make it your state of mind. Don’t leave any creative stone unturned. Your chances of being here when the economic hairball is finally untangled will be much greater and you’ll be able to quickly ramp up having planned for it already.
This week, the World Economic Forum is meeting in Davos, Switzerland for the most lucrative annual world leadership pow-wow. Country leaders from around the world will spend 5 days together, addressing the current economic situation in the world on a global, region, and industry levels. It may be the only time in the year, other than during an Olympics games year, where leaders have the permission to put religious and political differences aside and focus on addressing elements that impact the livelihood of our world and humankind. Joining these public figures are some 1400 executives and business leaders, academia, and media. Entrepreneurs, philosophers, and even bloggers will attend. The value some of these people bring to the table is tremendous. In 2007, the impact of Global Warming on the economy was the key discussion and Shai Agassi came up with the idea that spawned Better Place—a company that creates the full ecosystem which to enable the re-entry and adoption of electric vehicles and has the potential to reduce the West's dependency on oil.
The WEF was once the only way in which leaders and innovators could meet in the same place. Back when it was established, in 1971, computers, the internet, and cell phones were mere thoughts and the enabling technology behind them in early concept and product phases. But these days, technology makes it possible for almost everyone, wherever they are, to connect with others; thought-partnership is happening real time, in the moment, across the world, with regular folks.
Today, we have the power to change our lives in much greater ways, much faster, and much more effectively than our leaders can. Whether you realize it or not, take an active part or not--change in the coming decade, will not come from leaders—it will come from the community; it is already rumbling beneath our feet. Leaders are going to return to their original roles as diplomats and emissaries of the people and governments to their roles in creating infrastructures, regulatory system, and negotiating on our behalves.
The sooner we realize our power, the more will we be able to influence the type of change we’d like to see and the people with whom we’ll be having these conversations. The next decade will be about mobilizing communities, turning conversations into action, bringing back accountability and ownership, and waking up from the lull that has engulfed us (and especially the West) to take part in creating everything that will makes this earth what it is in the coming decades and centuries.
The concept of Davos will no longer be limited to representatives selected by a committee--instead, it will be coming to each of our homes, to each of our communities--however you define those. What question will YOU want to ask? What change do YOU want to see? Whatever it is, know that there are many more people around the world who are asking the same question. For the first time, we can find each other and together, find a way to make our answers real.
Jeff Keni Pulver has been around the tech startup community from its very early days. He now throws breakfasts around the world, and especially during conference dates, with a mission to bring together entrepreneurs and anyone interested in startups.
I attended my first Breakfast with Jeff in Israel last year on the first day of The Marker's Com.Vention. It was a bizarre experience walking into what felt like a cellar, seeing people walking around wearing name tags, each holding a sheet of small stickers on which they wrote things and stuck on people they didn't know.
I was was just getting to know the Israeli startup scene and found the freedom with which people walked up to one another and put stickers that said random things like "Rockstar," "Quiet" and "Delicious" refreshing. Someone tried to explain to me what was going on but frankly, I just wasn't ready for putting stickers on anyone at that point.
Since then almost a year has passed. I left my job in Corporate and opened Ustrategy. I've gotten to know the Israeli startup scene better thanks to people like Carmel Gerber of Playce and Shahar Nechmad of Nuconomy. I've also gotten to know the Silicon Valley startup community quite well and the bloggers, CEOs, and investors who make the Valley what it is. We're having important conversations about the next generation of startups and how to help people and companies succeed going forward. I'm truly cherishing this experience and the opportunity to be a member of this community.
And last week I attended my second Pulver breakfast, this time at San Francisco's Sears Fine Foods--somehow ending up again at the lower level of a restaurant (I'm sure Jung would have had something to say about that). And there I was again, being handed two name tags and a sheet of stickers for Social Tagging.
But this time I was ready. And I knew almost everyone in the room which helped.
As people sat down to eat, Jeff explained that he started out as an odd kid--shy and introverted. When he was just starting to network,he realized how difficult it was to have meaningful conversation at these events. So he introduced live tagging. You write your name on a tag and add a statement about yourself. You stick another tag someplace you don't mind others touching (very important, ladies!), then you walk around and as you meet people, you write stuff on tiny labels and put them on that extra tag. It's not as complicated as it sounds and Jeff has a video on his facebook page explaining how you do that.
At the heart of the matter is making it easier to connect with others in more meaningful ways. It's about creating conversation starters that lead to more (who wouldn't want to know why someone wrote "VC money" on them), and opening opportunities to ask questions ("It says here you came straight from SFO...where were you before?"). I ended up with a dozen tags--one that said "let's have lunch"; another that said "superstar."
Seated at a red vinyl booth, over pancakes and a fruit bowl, I had fabulous conversations that went much deeper than customary at such events. Random people came up to me and asked questions that somehow seemed more relevant and personal--in the very best way.
Jeff's passion for bringing people together is inspiring (he writes about it here). What's amazing is that he does it on the analog side of the experience--making live what others have been trying to do online. Jeff's candor as he spoke about what led him to start Social Tagging was quintessential Social Media: simply creating ways for people who chose to be there to have conversations that was meaningful to them.
And now Jeff is launching Social Media Jungle--an un-conference emulating the experience of digital social media, only live, and he has taken it on the road starting with this year's CES.
Thanks, Jeff! (You're a Rockstar.) (Let's have lunch.)
Afghan Star is the American Idol of Afghanistan. Just like the American version, it too seeks to make dreams real--but that's where the similarities stop. You won't find a big inflated budget or smooth, rehearsed dance and song routines. You also won't find covers of famous Western singers. Afghans love Shakira and Jennifer Lopez, but behaving on stage in any way that resembles them is considered a deep and punishable insult.
Thousands of people audition for Afghan Star. Most all of them are men (there were 7 applicants for this year's Afghan Star; 3 made it on the show). They cram into their village center or line around buildings. Wherever you see people on screen you also see armed soldiers. Wherever you see a standing building, there is a street-full of crumbled structures.
Afghan Star brings tremendous hope to Afghanistan. It is the first and only show since the Taliban took over Afghanistan that allows ordinary people dream again. It allows people to play music without fearing death. On the night of the show rich and poor, young and old, Pashtuns and Hazaras gather around the village's single TV set or around a cell phone propped on a brick where they watch the streaming show. "It is more important than any politics," says one interviewee.
While the show has a website, the Afghani people have little to no internet service, no computers, no web 2.0, twitter, or facebook and yet, over a third of the population--or close to 10 million people--SMSed their choice of the Afghan Star in the second season.
Each contestant has a village behind him: Rafi--one of the two final contestants--has fans driving for hours around Afghanistan handing
out flayers. Children run after their car in the hope of snatching one
of the cherished papers carrying Rafi's image. The cars are donated by a used
car lot owner from the same village. One fan bought 10,000 SIM cards he'll use to vote for his favorite finalist. Another is selling his car to buy SIMs.
Using the show as a frame, the film's producers paint a poignant and vivid picture of Afghanistan today--a country trying to bridge the sharp contrasts within which its people live: A desire for freedom they once had mingles with habits that come from years of the Taliban's ruling, religious heritage mixes with unity and democracy, freedom of speech with fear of speaking out.
Availability of information and communication are going to become critical in the coming 5-10 years in Afghanistan. They are the lifeline of Afghanis--they are the weapons of freedom, democracy, and progress. Afghanis reference what they see on TV and what they remember from having once been free as a desired state, but in reality they have been so severely oppressed that small steps in Western terms can mean tremendous leaps.
Companies who enter Afghanistan will have an enormous and fresh customer base who is craving the power of technology and is well versed in human-propelled virality. These companies will need to honor current ethnic and infrastructure barriers and find ways to navigate the delicate balance between power haves and have nots. There's a lot that needs to be done in Afghanistan to help rebuild even the simplest of services (mobile micro solutions similar to the ones already available across India and China are one example). But to start, bringing back the joy of freedom to Afghanis seems to have as much importance: the ability to listen and create music, to pursue stardom and celebrity, to bring people together, and to express oneself freely are simple experiences not taken for granted. And with infrastructure development, Afghanistan will become a tremendous source of opportunities for both companies and the people of Afghanistan.
David Weinberger, Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society is speaking about the necessary evolution of leadership in the age of information.
Weinberger contends that Leadership has been based upon the notion of scarcity:
Leaders have traditionally imposed artificial boundaries on flow of knowledge and controlled which information they respond to, which information gets distributed to others, and which information is ignored.
In the traditional leadership model, the leader at the top is responsible for sifting through the information, communicating, coordinating, having the vision and strategy, and being accountable for results. It can be very lonely at the top, says Weinberger, and decisions can lead to devastating results as the community--the people--rely on an isolated heroic human figure.
But today, when networks are serving as both sources and as platforms for communication and change, leadership models must evolve, says Weinberger. No longer are people and nations isolated from one another--they now have access to more information than ever before, much faster, and from all around the world. This, is the basis for crowdsourcing leadership.
Let's go back to the original purpose of leadership: to make decisions for the survival and livelihood of, and providing direction to, a people. I wrote before about Cisco's commitment to leveraging the power of its communities--providing their people with tools to enhance sharing, building, and communicating--in essence--influencing both structure and direction of the company. Technology today makes it possible to achieve outcomes of leadership from within the many communities of people passionate about specific areas. Just look at Wikipedia and Linux and the world wide web, says Weinberger.
The required change in the way traditional leadership has been thought of and practiced is tremendous, there is no doubt. But perhaps the greatest challenge for traditional leadership will be the sense that once people get tapped for their immense potential, the power that comes with leadership will shift as well. It will no longer be the sole propriety of the leader but rather will become a factor of the community as a whole. Leadership in a networked world is the property of the the network--not the few at the top, says Weinberger.
President elect Obama realizes the power of community and the power within the crowd. Throughout his campaign, Obama tapped into the power of his internal network as well as of his voters, putting up websites, using community platforms such as facebook and twitter. Regardless of your political view, it is indisputable that Obama, in a way, models how people in the West communicate and collaborate--and he also understands that in the age of networks and lightspeed information flow, the way in which politicians engage with the people needs to change as well.
I am in Paris for LeWeb08. The theme of this year's conference is Love and how apropo for this city and more than 1600 attendees who are representing their companies in full force--expressing their love for creation, innovation and--yes, success.
The event is held at the new "One Hundred and Four" conference center this year. So new in fact that the walls still need painting and the toilets need seats. It is cold in Paris to start with but, today especially, it was even colder with wet snow coming down outside the large windows while inside the venue, the low heating (if there was any) made it extremely hard to keep warm.
But even without the weather, it was far from a smooth start: There was no wireless in the morning and the wired connection was spotty throughout the day, some people's badges were lost and the modern plastic chairs and white school-tables were uncomfortable making it tough to spend a full day sitting down. Food and warm drinks are essential in the cold, and maybe that's the reason they were consumed so quickly and gone.
So the conference was not perfect on its first day, but interestingly enough, if you really think about it--so is love. Whether it's two people finding their way to one another or two guys with a technology, floundering as they try to search for their path--it is rare that it all works smoothly early on. I mean, as people, we come wired like two separate machines, it is only natural we would need to adjust and learn the other's ways--maybe read a manual if there is ever one. And as we get older--letting another person in, compromising our space, learning to communicate--finding a way through the many mitigating factors of making relationship work can be extremely difficult.
But this--this LeWeb--despite what you might think, is love one hundred percent. Over 1600 participants from around Europe and the US were present--many of them startup founders and CEOs who came for the two days despite the economy. David Weinberger spoke about leadership and love. Itay Talgam talked about the non-verbal communication between an orchestra conductor and his musicians--making us stand up and sing and playing videos shot during concerts clearly demonstrating...well- love. Helen Fisher spoke about the physiology of attraction, Yossi Vardi told Kara Swisher he's opening a new startup: website for the dead ("we user-tested it and users had no complaints"), and Paolo Coelho (ohhh...Paolo Coelho, my most powerful inspiration when I was 16) spoke about his love for writing and love for readers, and love for technology and for living one's purpose.
It wasn't easy to get through this first day--for both organizers and participants--and it was not flawless, by any means. But at the as the session closed, people went and got dinner, and many found their way to the MySpace party where Geraldine and Loic Le Meur, LeWeb founders, welcomed everyone and graciously engaged in conversations despite the long day and preceding weeks.
People talked and mingled under the bright chandelier, some even danced, letting the challenges of the first day become a memory far away--its precious knowledge not lost. New connections, new inspirations, and a lot of geek and startup talk and we were all happy to be there. We now know a little better what to expect and what tomorrow will bring, we figured out the way of the Metro and the space configuration and the temperature and yes, more of us are bound to wear hats. We love what we do, we love meeting others--and tomorrow, we'll get back to the One Hundred and Four to enjoy more of the magic that comes with love for everything innovation and making it big. We're getting through it, you see, and in the end, we will leave having experienced the magic of like-hearted alchemy and the amalgamation that takes place when passionate people seek each other as part of their personal path to making a difference and to creating something new.
I'm working on a piece on Social Media and why it's no longer that. When I write I like to take mini-breaks to "clear the cache" so I check my email and incoming twits. I've been getting a bunch of followers lately--which I love: I usually check to see who's following and add (or not) depending on what I find. A Lisabaxterjones is now following me, my twitter email alert reads. I click the link and get this:
I must admit Twitter fail messages have been serving as a great comic relief. There's even a facebook page called FailWhale somewhere. Honestly, I don't quite know what I'd do when all these bugs and snafus are fixed.
What's fascinating to me is that users have come to expect free web 2.0 to fail. It's like there's a hidden contract somewhere--a handshake--between web companies and users that says "Beta (forever) is okay." It says "We the users will put up with sub-par experiences in return for the ability to participate and try something new." Twitter and Google's SearchWiki are but two examples. Yahoo!'s new email platform a few years back is another. Facebook used to enjoy a great deal of user patience until their infamous redesign and then it was all gone.
Interestingly enough, users today will put up with web 2.0 service failure much more than they would with online services coming out of large corporations. Maybe because most consumer web 2.0 is often application-based and is free. Or maybe because expensive products coming out of large corporations are used to protect or generate revenue so they need to be somewhat perfected before they're released. Or maybe it's because there's a whole different "feel" to the web--I mean, who pays for the web anyway?
It is obvious that there's a threshold--a ceiling. At some point, even the most tolerant user will jump ship. But it seems that there's a much greater leeway for mistakes before anyone raises their hand.
That may be because the reward for tolerating unfinished products on the web is participation in the conversation--the innovation conversation. People get to see things as they are being created right in front of their eyes. It's no longer a closed niche: no longer a Visionary or strict Early Adopter play--anyone interested can join in. Soccer moms (to use the cliche) are twitting and facebooking just like techy highscoolers do.
Companies benefit from the state of virtual Beta too. It allows them to develop their products on the go, to prioritize features based on user feedback (consider it the yelling test), and helps them stay agile, cheap, and iterate fast.
But I argue that the cost of being in virtual Beta is high: it comes with increasingly lowered standards and poor final product quality. That conversion is fascinating to me: It's like being handed different exotic fish every day but ending up eating them as melts week after week, forgetting there are other, tastier meals that don't necessarily involve fish.
Will the price of participatory innovation be a reduced quality? Will it be speed over strategy? Short term fixes over long term vision? Or are things okay just as they are? If you have thoughts on the matter, do share. Personally, I'm getting tired of looking at grey robots, whales, and fish.