Skip to main content

What can we learn from ‘What we can learn from David Bowie’ articles?

Unless you’ve been comatose for the last 24 hours, you will have heard about the passing of David Bowie. As soon as I heard the news, I took to Twitter looking for examples of brands trying to gain some kind of marketing capital from the public outpouring of emotion (take a bow, The London Eye Hospital, Office Shoes, and Crocs).

But of course, it’s not just brands spotting the opportunity for their fifteen seconds of fame. Oh no. Cue the onslaught of What can [insert random profession here] learn from David Bowie? LinkedIn articles and blog posts. And you didn’t disappoint. Here’s my run down of the most cringeworthy:

For business

What Business Development lessons can we learn from David Bowie? (‘Keep your mouth shut for a few days at least’, perhaps?)

What can we learn from David Bowie?

What David Bowie can teach business about being brave

A Lesson In Innovative Leadership From David Bowie (er, be innovative perchance?)

Innovation in Business – Lessons from David Bowie (androgenise your way to the top?)

For specific professions

David Bowie – What teachers can learn from the Starman (how about: ‘Teach today’s children what respect looks like’?)

What Can Indie Filmmakers Learn From David Bowie

What Investors Can Learn from David Bowie

4 Lessons for Lawyers, From the Life of David Bowie (or maybe ‘There’s always an ambulance needs chasing’)

As Project Managers What Can We Learn From David Bowie? (no idea, but it’s bound to involve critical paths)

What Public Education Could Learn From David Bowie

For everyone

What We Can Learn From David Bowie

What We Can All Learn from David Bowie

And these, I am sure, are just the start.

Added Bonus: Imperica’s Matt Muir gives us: Beeston’s Law


The four Cs of workplace social software

Whilst researching my book on social software in the workplace, four primary elements emerged. In this blog post, I present the four Cs of workplace social software, which I hope will serve as a useful framework for CEOs, CIOs, CKOs, and corporate communications departments, providing them with a method to determine their organisational culture’s fit with different kinds of social software. It also provides the basis for developing a focused strategy for social software in the workplace.

The four Cs of workplace social software

Social software cannot just be imposed on the workforce and expected to work. Its success is dependent as much on the culture that is prevalent in the organisation, as the features and functionality of the software itself. When I studied some of the earliest case studies from across the world, I identified four major categories where social software could create organisational value: communication, cooperation, collaboration, and connection.


In organisations there are different types of communication flow, including formal (prescribed and regulated), downward, upward, horizontal and networked, but the communication type most relevant to the application of social software is informal. In his article Informal Social Communication, Leon Festinger (1950) summarised the three motivators behind informal communication:

  1. People need to share with each other and agree on important opinions and attitudes in order to feel that they belong together in the group.
  2. People need to share with superiors and others their hopes and ambitions in satisfaction of needs of achievement, affiliation and power.
  3. People need to express emotions such as joy, anger, hostility and the like as a means of “blowing off steam”.


Cooperative social software is primarily that which supports informal working where there are no pre-defined goals, where each individual contributor retains authority over their contribution, where information is shared as needed, and where the software takes on the job of assembling data in order to show the combined picture. It almost always relies on a network effect to deliver maximum value to the organisation as well as to the individual. In other words, the value of the system to each employee increases as more employees use it, thus increasing the overall value to their company.

The value to an individual from software that depends on these network effects can be both direct and indirect. Direct value results from the individual’s own use of the software, whereas indirect value results from others’ use of the software in a manner that benefits others. It should come as no surprise then that sharing is one of the cornerstones of cooperative social software.


Collaborative social software is distinct from cooperative social software in that it supports the engagement of participants in a coordinated effort to solve a specific problem, with shared commitment and goals. A wiki is a good example of social software that focuses on collaboration – companies using wikis have reported most success when giving participants a specific focus for their collaboration, such as meeting/conference agendas and policy documents.


Social software that connects employees refers primarily to direct, contiguous interaction. Communication is still a key element but it is distributed over time, between multiple individuals and even across different systems. Cooperation and collaboration systems depend on direct interaction between people, whereas connection tools rely as much on connecting employees with the leadership, mission and strategy, and other organisational content, as well as other employees.

A simple framework

There is clearly some overlap between these categories, most notably in the case of cooperation and collaboration: the former focuses on helping individuals work towards a common product, where the knowledge gained from the process is not the goal, whereas the latter focuses on deriving value from the knowledge gained from the process of constructing something. Yet both share the same objective of enabling a group of individuals to produce something better than that which could have been produced alone.

In the context of social software, collaboration and connection generally require a more formal environment than communications and cooperation, because they often depend on employees to do things in a relatively structured manner. Similarly, collaboration and cooperation often require a higher level of interaction than connection and communication, because of the inherent focus on groups rather than individuals.


For example, a company with predominantly formal organisational structures and a culture of group interaction with benefit most from social software that enables collaboration. Conversely, an organisation with an informal structure and a culture that rewards individual effort may prefer to invest in social software to support communication. This framework can help any company decide where to focus their time and effort for most benefit, rather than being led by vendors trying to sell their own solutions without any understanding of the organisational structure or culture into which it will be introduced.

This approach can also be used to support organisational change. For example, if a company is trying to encourage a shift from individual effort to group problem solving, but within the confines of a relatively informal culture, then it should focus on cooperative social software that requires more interaction.

Applying it to your organisation

Using this approach, it is possible to identify the preferred social software footprint for any organisation. The examples below show the social software footprints for three different organisations:

  1. Very informal, collaborative culture
  2. Very formal, highly collaborative culture
  3. Informal and formal, more focus on individual effort but some group problem solving



Organisations are waking up to the opportunities that social software brings to the workplace: more engaged employees, increased productivity, more fruitful collaboration, and solving intranet/email fatigue just some of them. Yet they must resist the temptation to contact the top-rated vendors in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant, at least until they have fully understood firstly how different objectives must be met by different categories of solution, and secondly that the ultimate success of implementation will depend as much on organisational culture as the solution chosen.

The four elements presented in this article – communication, cooperation, collaboration, and connection – make up a workplace social software ecosystem, which can create the foundation for a strong strategy. The four Cs provide a hands-on, useful framework to assess and identify the right solutions, for the right purposes, for your organisational culture.

How poor design can cost a sale

I’m in the market for a new greenhouse. Until this morning, I’d settled on a model (made by Gardman) and a retailer ( Then I read the customer reviews.

Every single one commented on the terrible instructions provided with the product: three different documents; poor pictures; unclear directions; etc. Why would I put myself through the same experience, I thought.

As a direct result, I didn’t buy that model from that retailer. They both lost a sale simply because they didn’t invest a little bit of money in good information design. In fact, they’d probably only need to sell a few greenhouses to get that investment back.

People talk about the Return on Investment of good design. I think they should be thinking more about the danger of not investing.

6 things you should know about LinkedIn Showcase Pages

UnknownIf you hadn’t heard, LinkedIn is removing the ‘Products & Services’ tab from Company Pages on 14 April 2014 with significant implications for companies that have invested time and effort in building their presence on the professional social network. They recommend that firms use their existing Company Pages to update followers on products and services, or use the new Showcase Pages feature.

However, before you rush in to start creating Showcase Pages, here are 6 things you need to know.

1. Showcase Pages might not be the best solution

If your products and services are aimed at different industries, markets or customer segments, then Showcase Pages make a lot of sense. They appear as ‘children’ of the main Company Page, with their own branding, updates and followers. But because they are so separate, they don’t always make sense for smaller single-product or service companies or those that don’t have the resource to manage/maintain them. In my opinion, they’re not really ready for prime time yet either. Let’s hope LinkedIn addresses that before April 14.

2. There’s a limit to the number of Showcase Pages you can have (kind of)

LinkedIn lets Company Page administrators create 10 Showcase Pages. If you want more than that, you have to contact them. And remember you can’t currently delete Showcase Pages you have created – you have to submit a support request.

3. Company Pages and Showcase Pages must be managed and edited independently

Showcase Pages work well when you need to devolve administration to others in the organisation. A Showcase Page is essentially a completely separate Company Page and must be managed and updated separately by multiple different administrators. It also has separate analytics data, so you won’t be able to see aggregated insights.

4. You can’t migrate your followers

You cannot migrate your existing followers to a Showcase Page though, so you will be starting from scratch.

5. Any product/service recommendations you currently have will disappear

Although it isn’t answered specifically in LinkedIn’s FAQs, it would seem that any product/service recommendations will disappear when LinkedIn turns the feature off.

6. The name of your Showcase Page is important

The name you choose for your Showcase Page forms part of its URL and hence has an impact on SEO. All Showcase Page names must also be unique, so you can’t choose a page name that another company is already using.

Baby’s First Words: The opening tweets of well known brands

It’s throwback Thursday, so let’s take a look at some of the more interesting first tweets from some well known brands.




Boring (how times change)


Matter of fact




Four Important Digital Trends for 2014

eMarketer recently released its Key Digital Trends for 2014 research report with a strong focus on mobile, always-on consumers and what this means for marketers. If you want to read the full report it can be downloaded here (registration required), but here’s a quick summary.

1. Mobile

According to eMarketer’s estimates, the amount of time spent daily by US adults with smartphones and tablets exceeded that spent with PCs for the first time in 2013, albeit by only 2 minutes. And whilst growth rates for time spent on internet activities on desktop and laptop computers have seen little change since 2010, smartphone and tablet time looks set to accelerate further in 2014.


Summary: Mobile is no longer optional.

2. Instant Interaction

The always-on consumer requires always-on marketing, raising expectations about the speed at which brands will respond to query and criticism. Consumers expect instant interactions via their preferred channels, whether that’s a special offer, and answer to a customer service enquiry, or the processing and delivery of products purchased online. Automated, real-time bidding (RTB) provides one solution, as does effectively applying insight from big data.


Summary: Real-time engagement and better integration of digital with overall marketing activity are two of the bigger challenges that marketers will face this year.

3. mCommerce

The growth in mobile usage and ubiquitous connectivity means that consumers are “always in the consideration phase for something and rarely more than a tap away from jumping from a physical store to a virtual store, or from one online merchant to another.” Mobile commerce – or mcommerce – will account for an estimated 24% of all retail ecommerce sales in the UK alone in 2014, rising to 35% in 2017.


Summary: Marketers should be investing time and money to ensure their mcommerce propositions are as good as, if not better than, their existing ecommerce platforms.

4. Always Social

According to eMarketer, social networking appears to be “the glue that binds together the experience of multiple device usage” in an always-on world. The firm predicts that 2014 will be the year that marketers begin to use social channels to engage effectively with consumers who are constantly moving from screen to screen.


Summary: If marketers want to connect with consumers where and how they spend their time, they must move from digital marketing to marketing in a digital world.


How NOT to respond to job applicants: museum curator accuses candidate of putting themselves first

The response to an innocent enquiry from a potential job applicant is going viral after a candidate posted an email received from the museum curator on Twitter.

Rachel Fox, “artist, curator and poetry slam producer” according to her Twitter bio, got a bit more than she bargained for after asking what she thought was a simple question about a job for a retail role at The Sherlock Holmes Museum in London. In an email to the curator Andrea von Ehrenstein, Ms Fox requested a “more detailed job specification” and details of the intended hours of work:

What she perhaps didn’t bargain for was the response from the curator:

I’m not going to comment on whether or not the response was appropriate or not – I’ll leave that for you to decide. There is certainly an argument that the candidate could have done more research to find answers to the questions herself. Equally, there is a view that regardless of this, the email did not warrant such a terse response.

However, what I am most interested in is the broader impact on the museum’s reputation resulting from Ms Fox posting the response on Twitter:

  • Even though Ms Fox has fewer than 1,000 Twitter followers, her tweet containing the museum’s response has already been retweeted 1,575 times and favourited 323 times. This network effect is the only thing senior managers need to know about social media.
  • The numerous replies received to that tweet are predominantly negative towards the museum and its curator – the summary being that she had a “lucky escape” and “wouldn’t want to work there anyway”. The museum’s reputation has suffered damage, when it really didn’t have to.
  • The story has already been picked up by The Huffington Post and the discussion on Twitter continues. Expect to see more. Social media scandal feeds mainstream media reporting.

In a recent survey by the Chartered Institute of Management, two-thirds of today’s managers say they don’t know how to use social media effectively. This episode proves that – even if managers don’t intend to use it – every senior management team needs to understand its impact and implications on how they act and behave.

Is social media killing our ability to think?

According to a paper titled ‘Analytical reasoning task reveals limits of social learning in networks’ published in The Journal of the Royal Society Interface last week, social networks make us less able to think analytically.

Through a set of laboratory-based experiments, its authors – Iyad Rahwan, Dmytro Krasnoshtan, Azim Shariff and Jean-François Bonnefon – found that social learning fails to cultivate the human mind’s ability to engage analytical reasoning. According to the paper’s abstract, “When people make false intuitive conclusions and are exposed to the analytic output of their peers, they recognize and adopt this correct output. But they fail to engage analytical reasoning in similar subsequent tasks.”

This, say the authors, shows that humans exhibit an “unreflective copying bias”, limiting their learning to what their peers are saying rather than the reasoning behind it – even when the effort and skill required is minimal.

In effect, social networks are creating a generation of copycats unable to engage in analytical reasoning. Every like, share, retweet and +1, perpetuates this limiting behaviour, making us appear smart yet actually making us less so.

Yet in a world obsessed by superficiality, celebrity and fame, I doubt many will care.

Who’s winning the war for growth – Twitter or LinkedIn?

Both Twitter and LinkedIn posted Q4 2013 earnings results this week, and both saw sharp declines in their stock price. But what other comparisons can be made from the usage data they made available?

User numbers

Although the two firms use different methods of calculating active users (Twitter has its own Monthly Active Users metric, whilst LinkedIn relies on its own membership data and Comscore measurement), a comparison can easily be made.


Much has been made of Twitter’s slowing growth, but LinkedIn’s growth has slowed even further (a mere 1.6% increase on Q3 2013, which actually showed a sharp decline).

Winner: Twitter


Again, both companies use different measures of activity. Twitter has its nebulous ‘timeline views’ whereas LinkedIn relies on Comscore’s calculation of page views.


This would account for the marked discrepancy in the absolute numbers seen above, so it is better to look at the growth/decline over the last quarter. Here we see that whilst both platforms have declined, it is actually LinkedIn that has dropped the most:

  • Twitter: Timeline views down 6.9% quarter-on-quarter and up 26.5% year-on-year
  • LinkedIn: Page views down 8.2% quarter-on-quarter and up 9.8% year-on-year

It’s also worth looking at these absolute activity number relative to the user base.

Views per User

Again, a direct comparison between the numbers themselves is not helpful, because of the methods each platform uses to track activity. The trend is interesting though:

  • Twitter saw a 10.5% decline quarter-on-quarter (3.5% down year-on-year) in timeline views per active user
  • LinkedIn saw a 9.6% decline quarter-on-quarter (9.2% down year-on-year) in page views per unique visitor
  • Over the full year, timeline views per active user on Twitter actually increased by 11.8% whereas page views per unique visitor for LinkedIn saw a massive 24.9% drop

Winner: Twitter


From the data above, it seems odd that Twitter’s stock price fell by a quarter following its results, whereas LinkedIn’s fell by only (!) 15 per cent. Looking at revenue trends might help.


LinkedIn is the clear winner when it comes to net revenue, out-gunning Twitter by a factor of almost two. But Twitter is beginning to close the gap; its net revenues are up 117% year-on-year compared to LinkedIn’s 47.3% growth compared to the same quarter in 2012.

Revenue per user shows the same story.

Revenue by User

In Q4 2013 LinkedIn brought in $2.39 of net revenue per user/visitor compared to Twitter’s $1.01. But yet again, it is Twitter that is seeing the fastest growth in this area, putting on 38.4% quarter-on-quarter (66.5% year-on-year) compared to LinkedIn’s 12% quarter-on-quarter (21.8% year-on-year).

Winner: TBA

So whose stock would you buy?

How Twitter’s user engagement problem affects brands

In case you hadn’t heard, Twitter has something of a user engagement problem. In its Q4 2013 earnings results the social network reported that whilst user numbers had grown overall, both the total number of timeline views and the number of timeline views per active user had sharply decreased, as shown below.


Some commentators are putting the decline down to all the user interface changes that have been brought in since the IPO, but regardless of the reason what it essentially means is that my, your and everyone else’s tweets are not being seen as much as they were. In Q4 2013, the average user made 613 timeline views – or 6.7 per day, down from 7.4 per day in Q3. That’s a 10% less chance that our tweets will be seen (and probably more given that the number of users has increased).

And that’s why Twitter’s user engagement problem is yours as well: you are going to have work even harder to get your messages across. No wonder then that Twitter’s advertising revenues increased by over 40% in the final quarter of last year. Perhaps this downward trend is just a cunning ploy from Twitter to get brands spending more of their advertising dollars with them?