A few of you out there must remember the good old days (the 1980s and 1990s) when personal computing was a fresh idea and coverage of the tech industry played out in publications of varying levels of glossy. In these days, tech trades were devoured by those of us who cherished nothing more than our lightsabers and our Ms. Pac-Man high scores. (Be honest: as I'm describing early techies, how many of you are envisioning painfully awkward Rob Lowe right now?)
Years later, I look up and find myself no longer reading tech news on delay and in print, but in real time and on the Internet. Tech news is delivered with velocity, with insight and in its best instances with a bit of humor. Suddenly, it's not so bad to be a techie, not so cringe-worthy to admit you know all about the latest devices coming to market. Being plugged-in is cool; being plugged-in is social currency.
It's a world that today's Guru, Marshall Kirkpatrick had no small hand in creating. As one of the new millennium's grizzled tech veterans, Marshall was a reporter at the start of TechCrunch and an editor at ReadWriteWeb as it rose to prominence in the mid/late 2000s. In both cases, Marshall helped evolve how we write, understand and consume tech in some of the industry's most formative years.
As a result of this experience, Marshall gained unique insight into what it takes to be influential and how those with influence can best be understood, reached and ultimately influenced themselves. With this knowledge in hand, Marshall jumped into another nascent industry: social media.
The result is the most exciting and well-regarded influencer discovery tools out there: Little Bird. In coming days we'll post our own review of Little Bird, but in the meantime we can all learn tons from Marshall about Little Bird, social media and the tech industry generally.
Check it out…
1. Before your life at Little Bird you were a tech journalist--how did the transition from journalist to social media entrepreneur happen? How did Little Bird start?
I was a tech journalist, the first writer hired at TechCrunch and the co-editor of ReadWriteWeb, and I learned all about using data and systems to find news early and do research really efficiently there. I also worked as a consultant on the side, helping companies use data to find out who they should know and be known by on the social web. It was through all of that experience that I decided to productize my lessons learned in the form of Little Bird. The company started when I was in a bar in Dublin when I got an email from a consulting client saying they were overjoyed with the data I sent them and my wife Mikalina and I decided to get another round and turn my consulting practice into a business.
2. Tell us a bit about how Little Bird helps users in the signal/noise department. How does Little Bird make identifying real influence easier?
Little Bird helps our users focus their listening and engagement on the people that the rest of a particular topical community listen to and trust the most. It's not about absolute popularity in the world at large, that can be gamed, it's about peer validation, finding out who influences the influencers. Companies use Little Bird to find out which 3D printing experts the other 3D printing experts trust, or which Dairy industry thought leaders, or cardiologists, or drone makers, have won the respect of other thought leaders in their respective field. It's an ungamable measure of influence.
Little Bird maps topic communities on the social web (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, blogs etc.) on demand, then tells you who you and your competitors are and are not yet connected to, then helps you grow those connections by giving you a filtered highlight-reel of the hottest conversations among top influencers.
Other systems start with topics, then go to content and then end with people. Little Bird does the opposite: we start with finding the right people first, then we discover the content they're sharing the most and from that content our customers discover emerging topics of interest.
3. Give us a sense of your day-to-day at Little Bird--what do you focus on?
I recruit the team (now 17 people), I talk to investors, think about the product and join sales calls. I tweet a lot, I use our product all day, I go to meetings, I try to learn how to do my job (I'm a first time CEO).
I focus on different things depending on where the company is at a given month. I help bring money in the door, I think about the future of the product, I spread good news around inside and outside the company.
4. Who should use Little Bird? Who makes up your key customer segments?
Marketers and researchers in technology, retail and social change organizations. Product marketers, content marketers, PR, ad buyers and related functions.
5. What do you see as Little Bird's role to play in the future of social media? How will your team continue to innovate?
That's a big question! Little Bird is proving that there's strategic value in knowing who to listen to on the social web, whether those people are talking about you or not. My team will continue to innovate by talking to our super-smart customers, experimenting and thinking creatively about the potential permutations between various fields of data.
6. You've viewed the social media landscape from several different lenses throughout your career--when you take a step back what strikes you about how the industry has evolved over the last few years?
I am excited about the continued growth of social activity but disappointed by the rise of URL-free experiences like many mobile apps. Without URLs, it's uniformly hard to locate resources.
I am also surprised that more people haven't made careers for themselves as professional bloggers. And then turned their experiments into automated tech companies, I guess. It's pretty awesome. Really though, there's SO much opportunity in the democratization of publishing. Get in here, people!
7. What excites you about the future of social media?
I am excited about the opportunity for social media to deliver understanding from one person to another, around the world, in real time, to foster learning and empathy on an unprecedented scale that changes the human experience for the better.
8. With Little Bird being a tool focused on influence, I imagine you have some interesting thoughts on what true influence is: how do people attain it and how should we measure it?
I believe influence online is most effectively built by making dignified, high-value contributions to public conversations of general interest. Different ways to add value to online conversations include: finding something important first, articulating something unusually well, aggregating multiple perspectives into one summary, taking an unusual perspective on a topic of general interest and being funny. But being funny is very hard.
9. Who impresses you on social media? Who do you learn from?
Jason Calacanis for his prolific public experiments and thoughtfulness. Marilyn Cox at Oracle for the high quality content curation she engages in. Alex Williams of The New Stack for being an inspiration in creating his own blog. Anil Dash for adding so much to conversations, so smart and sassy.
10. Any last thoughts/advice for our audience of social media professionals/hobbyists?
You should probably Tweet more. If you read at least five Tweets for every one you post, it's good. If you subscribe to YouTube channels they'll send you an email each day with new updates from all your subscriptions. It's good to listen to people online who disagree with you. There's too much How To Do Social Media content on the internet already. The internet is wonderful, let's be good to it.