About Me

Hi, I’m Alex.

I build communities, started one of the longest running coworking communities in the world, write a crapload of words every day, tweet a little too much, coach people to be the best version of themselves possible, can't stop learning new things, and do my very best not to take myself too seriously.

I have one goal: to fill the world with truly excellent collaborators so we can all work together, better.

Because let's be honest...most of us aren't very good at it.

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Cluetrain-a-Day 2009: Networked markets can change suppliers overnight. Networked knowledge workers can change employers over lunch. Your own “downsizing initiatives” taught us to ask the question: “Loyalty? What’s that?”

Hang on a second. Cluetrain-a-Day? We thought you’d abandoned that, Alex!

Well, it’s true, I went on haitus. My last post from mid-February marked an exciting, but time-consuming shift, where I (and many others) invested a great deal of time into the expansion of our coworking community and space.

While we’ve accomplished a lot in 2009, one of my primary goals was NOT met…more writing. This series was designed to drive that, and ultimately, I really wanted to start writing a book of my own.

Well, discontent with myself I did the only thing I could…I decided to at least attempt to end 2009 the same way I started….helping make sure you’re getting your daily does of having a clue. So without further adieu…

This post is part of a 95 post series discussing the 95 theses of the Cluetrain Manifesto as they relate to business in 2009. Read more about the series in the introduction post. And check out the rest of the series!

Thesis #31: Networked markets can change suppliers overnight. Networked knowledge workers can change employers over lunch. Your own “downsizing initiatives” taught us to ask the question: “Loyalty? What’s that?”

Not only CAN they change suppliers (or employers) overnight, they will.

In terms of commerce, the disappearance of intrinsic brand loyalty from the scope of consumers (at least in America, but abroad as well) is only accelerated by the fact that entire NEW brands are existing purely as aggregates.

Think about airline travel, which we’ve talked about before. Along with credit card rewards systems, Airline “Frequent Flier” programs are among the prominent commerce systems designed to reward you for your attention. In the 80s during their popularization, Airlines had a clue and were simply rewarding their most traveled customers with additional benefits, like first class upgrades and other priority statuses.

Then, the industry began to network in the 90s…literally. Formation of airline alliances and code shares made it easier for their most loyal customers…to fly with other airlines. It came at a cost, though: inconvenience.

Then that pesky internet came along. Be it airfare aggregation tools like Kayak.com or Expedia.com, or points-sharing hubs like AwardWallet and most recently TripIt.com‘s point tracking tools, it was no longer nearly as inconvenient to grab the cheapest fare no matter who it was from, jump on their awards program, and let the web track your “loyalty” for you.

Despite these advances, the airline points industry is still a multi-billion dollar contribution to air travel revenues. But the point remains:

The customers are largely migrant, thanks to tools online that help them distribute their loyalty.

In terms of employment, there’s an interesting shift taking place, and it’s generational. A couple of months back I was speaking at a Human Resources conference about remote workers & telecommuters in respect to worker communities and recruiting opportunities (i.e., how recruiters COULD get involved with coworking communities and spaces). The speaker following my panel, Sylvia Ann Hewlett, strongly re-inforced a number of the things that I’ve come to understand about the non-monetary incentives that drive modern workers in two generations: Gen-Y, and Baby Boomers.

She discussed 5 bullet points of these non-monetary incentives:

  • Odyssey
  • Altruism
  • Purpose
  • Recognition
  • Collaborative Workspace Design

That first bullet, Odyssey, is what we’re talking about here. Workers of Generation X (and baby boomers, up until recently) were taught career planning. Graduate college, get a job, you’re in it for 30+ years, accruing retirement savings, etc.

Things changed for Generation Y. Employer loyalty, even industry loyalty, has gone out the window completely. And it’s probably not helped by watching our parents get screwed out of their retirement that they worked their entire lives for.

And as a generation, we’ve illustrated that it’s possible to climb a different ladder, despite it not being the one planned for us by the human resources department at your local bigco.

The career has become about journey. The odyssey. The perpetual search for finding the next great opportunity.

And it becomes easier to find that next opportunity every day.

Cluetrain-a-Day 2009: Brand loyalty is the corporate version of going steady, but the breakup is inevitable—and coming fast. Because they are networked, smart markets are able to renegotiate relationships with blinding speed.

This post is part of a 95 post series discussing the 95 theses of the Cluetrain Manifesto as they relate to business in 2009. Read more about the series in the introduction post. And check out the rest of the series!

Thesis #30: Brand loyalty is the corporate version of going steady, but the breakup is inevitable—and coming fast. Because they are networked, smart markets are able to renegotiate relationships with blinding speed.

Brand loyalty. An interesting concept in itself, considering all along I’ve been purporting that people don’t identify with companies, they identify with other people.

Since we’re talking about companies here, and companies really suck at having relationships with their customers, I’d argue that a large portion of the “brand loyalty” in the marketplace has nothing to do with relationships at all.

I think that brand loyalty, however it’s being formed, really boils down to one thing:

Habit.

We’re human, we’re creatures of habit. The path of least resistance is always saught, and habit is often a contributor to that behavior. When companies are trying to build brand loyalty, they’re instantiating themselves as part of their customers’ habits.

But the path of least resistance has changed. It’s foolish for a company to become a part of a person’s habits, and then simply rest on their laurels. There needs to be regular reinforcement. Networked markets are constantly informing each other of new habits, and the perceived cost of changing habits is the only thing in their way.

Fighting this battle gets time consuming and costly for the companies, and to some customers…it’s irritating.

When a company is willing to embrace the forms of communication we’ve been talking about all along, and empower it’s customers and employees to interact like humans, that’s when brand loyalty starts to feel more like going steady.

There are emotions at stake. “Changing partners” has a high perceived emotional cost.

Is your brand a habit, or are we going steady?

Cluetrain-a-Day 2009: Elvis said it best: “We can’t go on together with suspicious minds.”

This post is part of a 95 post series discussing the 95 theses of the Cluetrain Manifesto as they relate to business in 2009. Read more about the series in the introduction post. And check out the rest of the series!

Thesis #29: Elvis said it best: “We can’t go on together with suspicious minds.”

We’re caught in a trap I can’t walk out Because I love you too much baby Why can’t you see What you’re doing to me When you don’t believe a word I say? We can’t go on together With suspicious minds And we can’t build our dreams On suspicious minds So, if an old friend I know Drops by to say hello Would I still see suspicion in your eyes? Here we go again Asking where I’ve been You can’t see these tears are real I’m crying We can’t go on together With suspicious minds And be can’t build our dreams On suspicious minds Oh let our love survive Or dry the tears from your eyes Let’s don’t let a good thing die When honey, you know I’ve never lied to you Mmm yeah, yeah

Be it a relationship between Elvis and a lover, or between a company and it’s customer, relationships aren’t sustainable if you’re always wondering if the other’s been lying to you.

Trust is hard to earn, and even harder to earn back. Don’t make me suspicious, or I will walk out.

Cluetrain-a-Day 2009: Most marketing programs are based on the fear that the market might see what’s really going on inside the company.

This post is part of a 95 post series discussing the 95 theses of the Cluetrain Manifesto as they relate to business in 2009. Read more about the series in the introduction post. And check out the rest of the series!

Thesis #28: Most marketing programs are based on the fear that the market might see what’s really going on inside the company.

Why is it that so many marketing initatives are designed around carefully constructed and controlled channels of communication?

Because everybody knows what everybody else is up to, thanks to the web. And worse: everybody thinks they know what everybody else is up to, thanks to the web.

Marketing and PR should not be damage control (that’s legal’s job, right?).

If something is going on inside your company that you’re worried about your customers knowing about, it shouldn’t be marketing’s job to keep that from spreading by obscuring it with a smiley marketing project.

Instead…maybe the company should stop doing that thing they don’t want their customers to know about?

Cluetrain-a-Day 2009: By speaking in language that is distant, uninviting, arrogant, they build walls to keep markets at bay.

This post is part of a 95 post series discussing the 95 theses of the Cluetrain Manifesto as they relate to business in 2009. Read more about the series in the introduction post. And check out the rest of the series!

Thesis #27: By speaking in language that is distant, uninviting, arrogant, they build walls to keep markets at bay.

The Public Relations department (or a hired firm) is often the gatekeeper for communication in a business. I’ve always found that amusing, since the methods of communication chosen by most PR practitioners are designed to protect the business and it’s interests (and there’s more on that in our next thesis).

When I was in a fraternity in college, everyone was allowed to speak on behalf of the fraternity when it was good. We saved the “single point of contact for all communication” for when shit really hit the fan. You don’t want everyone talking to the cops. But during recruitment, it was everyone’s shared responsibility to share in the communication with our new potential members.

By limiting the number of people allowed to communicate with the pulic on behalf of the company, the company is doing what we tried to do when the cops showed up at the fraternity house: keep them at bay.

But by limiting the number of people allowed to communicate with the public on behalf of the company, something else happens: that communicator’s guard goes up. If they’re the bottleneck for communication, they can only field so much at any time. Any additional communication above their comfortable threshold, their instinctive reaction is to block new requests out, and a distant uninviting, and arrogant voice, is a highly effective way to alienate your customers and keep them at bay.

Furthermore, they’re excluding the communication that goes on outside of their carefully controlled communication channels, rather than using their momentum to their own benefit!

The lesson here: don’t just allow, empower your company’s employees as well as your customers to communicate, instead of relying on a single point of contact. Try to remove communication bottlenecks except when absolutely necessary. I believe that the arrogance and distance in the collective communication “voice” of the company will begin to fade away.

Cluetrain-a-Day 2009: Public Relations does not relate to the public. Companies are deeply afraid of their markets.

This post is part of a 95 post series discussing the 95 theses of the Cluetrain Manifesto as they relate to business in 2009. Read more about the series in the introduction post. And check out the rest of the series!

Thesis #26: Public Relations does not relate to the public. Companies are deeply afraid of their markets.

In the last post, we talked about how Yelp empowers Carrie Estok to effectively communicate with their users. The second takeaway from the conversation I had with Carrie and Phil relates to this thesis, and has to do with companies that get reviewed on Yelp.

At the end of the day, there are two kinds of reviews on Yelp: positive and negative. What business doesn’t want to hear positive reviews from their customers? The problem is, that’s the only kind of review that many businesses want to hear. There’s been lots of talk about businesses negatively reviewed on Yelp threatening to sue for defamation.

Now, I see where these businesses are coming from. And considering Penny Arcade’s “Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory“, malicious defamation certainly increases in probability online. But Yelp is a community first. And when you’ve got a community contributing, there are checks and balances, and thoee sorts of intentionally malicious reviewers tend to be filtered out.

But here’s the kicker: if someone was poorly reviewing your business, offline, they’d be talking smack and you’d have no idea about it.

Yelp is providing a chance for users to talk about your business, and for you, as the business owners, to do something about it! For free! Stop being a knucklehead and realize how valuable that is for you!

Companies are petrified of what their customers have to say about them. The attitude of “What happens when someone says something bad about me online” is ridiculous. This should not be your cue to call out the legal team. It should be your cue to reflect, and go “hm, maybe they’re right. Let’s see if we can show ‘em what we’ve got”. And then, with the help of someone like Carrie, relate to that very real person having that very real problem.

You’ll never satisfy everyone, but that’s not the point. Carrie had some really great insight: the companies she’s made contact with that got negative reviews and at least tried to improve, won her (and other community members’) respect. Even if the service didn’t really improve, their ability to come down from their Ivory Tower, take criticism constructively, and at least recognize that there could be an issue and make an attempt to correct it is far better than ignoring the problem.

Coming down from your Ivory Tower to build relationships means letting down your guard, and being prepared to hear the things that you couldn’t from all the way up there.

Some will be good.

Some will be bad.

With the appropriate perspective, it’s all valuable.

You have nothing to be afraid of besides your own ignorance of what’s being talked about inside your marketplace.

Cluetrain-a-Day 2009: Companies need to come down from their Ivory Towers and talk to the people with whom they hope to create relationships.

This post is part of a 95 post series discussing the 95 theses of the Cluetrain Manifesto as they relate to business in 2009. Read more about the series in the introduction post. And check out the rest of the series!

Thesis #25: Companies need to come down from their Ivory Towers and talk to the people with whom they hope to create relationships.

The issue with companies coming down from their Ivory Towers, as we’ve discussed repeatedly, is that companies aren’t particularly good at talking to people.

Worse, is that the real people inside the company that are good at talking and building relationships aren’t empowered by the company to do so.

At the Twestival in Philadelphia this past week, I met Phil Baumann and Carrie Estok. We had a really awesome discussion about Carrie’s work with Yelp (one of my favorite companies) as a community advocate, and the real value that she’s able to provide to the Philadlephia community, as well as the businesses being reviewed on Yelp.

If you’re not familiar with Yelp, it’s a review site. But unlike Amazon, it reviews businesses. And more importantly, it’s local. As we’ve discussed before, people don’t trust marketing nearly as much as they trust their peers, so the recommendations shared on Yelp are authentic and peer-to-peer. They can be good, they can be bad. They’re all honest, from the perspective of the author. And Yelp continues to find ways to capture the customer-to-customer conversations and expose them for the benefit of other customers, and ultimately, for the businesses being talked about as well.

I think part of why I like Yelp so much because of how “Cluetrain-y” their model is.

There’s two things I took away from my conversation with Phil and Carrie related to this thesis:

First, Yelp as a company embraced a mechanism for coming down from their Ivory Tower: hiring and empowering community advocates. This type of job has been recognized as extremely important for any community oriented business, and increasingly, any business at all.

While Carrie and I didn’t discuss this explicitly, I’m fairly certain that she’s able to do her job best because Yelp empowers her (having carefully selected her) to be their representative, and to represent the community she’s a part of.

That’s the difference. It’s impossible for “Yelp”, the business, to be a part of every community that they service. But they knew the importance of building quality relationships with their users and the businesses that their users review, so they needed representation. Furthermore, that representation would be most effective if it came from within the community. There was no Ivory Tower for that person to have to come down from. That person, in this case Carrie, is able to continue being a member of the Philadelphia community and have the tools and facility that Yelp provides at her disposal. Yelp trusts her to be an ambassador for their communication. If they didn’t, there would be no point to having her on staff.

The second takeaway from our conversation will address the next thesis, Public Relations does not relate to the public. Companies are deeply afraid of their markets.

Cluetrain-a-Day 2009: Bombastic boasts—”We are positioned to become the preeminent provider of XYZ”—do not constitute a position.

This post is part of a 95 post series discussing the 95 theses of the Cluetrain Manifesto as they relate to business in 2009. Read more about the series in the introduction post. And check out the rest of the series!

Thesis #24: Bombastic boasts—”We are positioned to become the preeminent provider of XYZ”—do not constitute a position.

This is the sort of “positioning” that you may sling in front of your investors…but your customers don’t give a crap.

Your customers, if they care about anything, it’s what you are committed to. At least one of the things you’re committed to should be them, at least in their mind.

Boastful “positioning” is about as valuable as a mission statement. Remember when Guy Kawasaki suggested that business ditch meaningless mission statements for meaningful mantras? The real reason the mantra was valuable was it gave businesses something to execute against.

Something to make decisions against.

Your “position”, should it be to “become the preeminent provider of XYZ”, says nothing to your customer about how you plan to make decisions, only where you plan to get with those decisions, even if it includes sacrificing them.

Today, I challenge you to drop your position for a set of core values.

A value system is a set of consistent ethic values (more specifically the personal and cultural values) and measures used for the purpose of ethical or ideological integrity…The first value category is Core Values, which prescribe the attitude and character of an organization…

In your business, your core values define how the members of your company will act and who and what are your priorities in order to attain desired goals for the business.

Core values put people first.

Unlike a boastful “positioning”, which does not.

Cluetrain-a-Day 2009: Companies attempting to “position” themselves need to take a position. Optimally, it should relate to something their market actually cares about.

This post is part of a 95 post series discussing the 95 theses of the Cluetrain Manifesto as they relate to business in 2009. Read more about the series in the introduction post. And check out the rest of the series!

Thesis #23: Companies attempting to “position” themselves need to take a position. Optimally, it should relate to something their market actually cares about.

I don’t like this thesis. Well, I don’t like the second half of it.

I do agree that companies need to own who they are. But the second part of this suggest something dastardly.

Something that, if you’re not careful, it leads you down a road of being unauthentic.

You can’t just hire a clever copywriter to position your company as quirky, off the wall, or funny because that’s what your market wants.

That’s not the point.

If your position only exists to appease your market, you’re doing it wrong.

Your position shouldn’t be what everyone else thinks, it requires introspection, and a strong set of values. Not only does that make it easier to take that position, but it lets all of the bullshit of trying to maintain that position go away.

If your market doesn’t care about your position, you’ve got two options: pick a new position to execute against, or pick a new market.

Here’s the clincher.

There’s only one of you. There’s always another market.

Be yourself. Be authentic. That’s the only position you can have.

My boy Gary Vaynerchuk has a lot to say on this, he calls it “executing against your own DNA”. You have to know what you are, and own it.

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