Fourteen years of Digital Transformation

My first recollection of what was to become Digital Transformation is somewhat hazy, but I remember a couple of events which have a timestamp.

In 2005, Tim O’Reilly wrote “What the hell is web 2.0“, an article of still unsurpassed clarity; if you haven’t read it, yet, stop and go read it.

Now, I’ll wait.

I liked it so much I started writing a series of blog posts, the first of which starts with a this comment:

the “Web2.0” moniker is something we have been developing a lot of experience over the last couple of years

allowing me to date my professional interest in the thing that today we all call Digital Transformation circa 2003, hence this post’ title.

I also remember our first large client(*), a multinational company in whose Italian sub we managed to find someone crazy enough to risk the budget he had for a project on an approach completely unproven. The project turned out to be extremely successful, won a whole truckload of awards and kept growing and growing. At some point, however, the need of the Client for our support diminished as, essentially, they had learned everything there was to learn and continued on their own.

Such is the life of Agencies.

This event notwithstanding, the relationship was and remained good, and we did many other projects together, albeit none ever was as ground-breaking as the one in 2003. Nine years later I left the Agency world and wrote two books (this and this) which are deeply rooted in these learnings: I assumed that, by then, my knowledge was not (only) mine anymore, since nowadays Digital Transformation consultants are more abundant than bartenders.

Fast forward to 2017, when I get a call from that same client, but from another country. The person who calls me is someone I had never met before, had never heard of the project we did in Italy; in fact he does not even know me, except for the fact he attended (and liked, obviously) a workshop I gave in Riga, Latvia and when his boss asked if he knew someone who could run a Digital Transformation Masterclass, he thought of me.

In preparing this session, we demanded the audience (a dozen people who are responsible for marketing and communications for that company in a certain region) what were the issues they were trying to address.

To my huge surprise, these were EXACTLY those they had in 2003: it’s like knowledge had not spread around at all; despite the roaring success of that first project, our approach never turned into a true best practice and was never widely adopted.

Questions included:

  • why should we be doing this?
  • who should we talk to?
  • what should we be talking about?
  • how do we establish meaningful though leadership?
  • how do we keep it alive?
  • how do we connect it to our Brand?
  • what if we’re not selling a product?
  • how do I engage the rest of the organization?
  • how do I know if I’m being successful?
  • what should I measure?

So while I am flattered that after all these years the same client in another country is asking for my help, even if just for some training, at the same time I am bothered because – despite my approach being correct – I failed to really make an impact even on a Client which fully experienced its success.

Perhaps I was too ahead of my time, perhaps my books are not engaging enough (the forced readers in my family tell me, no, they aren’t), perhaps the methodology is awaiting some complementary element which will make it truly understandable and, therefore, useful.

Being right is not even the beginning of the solution.

(*) sadly, the client won’t be mentioned. Unlike other cases, I am not cleared to do so, and it will remain unnamed.

New book project: The Extinction of Trust

Just heard back from my publishers: my proposal for a new book is being well received – waiting to hear the final word but I am optimistic. In the meanwhile, to decide whether you want to line up at the store (er, no) here is the synopsis for you to peruse.

The Extinction of Trust

Can we afford it?

Can you imagine living in a Society where you cannot trust anybody? Where nothing can be taken for granted and everything must be checked?

To answer these questions, I analyse the more general form of Transactions between Entities:

2015 10 28 eq1 L

which reads: “Entity 1 enters in a transaction with Entity 2”.

Personal relationships or commercial deals, individuals or organisations, this simple equation is general enough to encompass them all.  The focus of this book is on underlying factor that accelerates the speed of transactions, which we commonly call Trust: it is much easier and faster to enter a transaction with “someone you trust”.

So we shall call T1,2 the level of trust that Entity 1 (individual or organisation) feels towards Entity 2 and it is obvious that T1,2 may not be reciprocated, i.e.

2015 10 28 eq2 L

The book attempts to analyse what are the components of the Trust and how some of these are critically challenged by the transformation of the Society we live in.

The Fundamental Equation of Trust:

2015 10 28 eq3 L

says that “your Trust of an Entity is directly proportional to your Knowledge of such Entity (direct and indirect) and inversely proportional to the Value at stake”, i.e. how important is this transaction.

Kd derives from your DIRECT experience with the Entity while Ki captures what others think about them (something also called Reputation); V may represent a monetary but also sentimental importance.

Kd and Ki are complementary factors: when you know someone very well (very high Kd) you do not care too much for his/her Reputation; of course, when the Value (or importance) of the occasion needing trust is very high, you will be prompted to exercise more caution.

Finally, we add a constant T0 because when your contact with the Entity happens within a Common Frame, such frame may carry a “default” level of trust: take for example trading platforms like eBay or Amazon, who feature built-in rating systems to attribute an artificial trust to entities trading on their platform. Or think of the Stock Exchange, which require a certain amount of disclosure to allow a stock to trade.

What is changing?

There is ample literature on how to professionally establish and maintain Kd and Ki : Customer Relationship Management and Reputation Management have created whole service industries.But how are such established techniques changing vis-à-vis the profound transformation of the landscape where information is exchanged and shared?

I will look at how Kd is influenced by others, analysing the concept of Customer Journey, whereby someone moves from the consideration set (a range of possible Entities with whom to enter the transaction) to a short list (a much smaller group which you directly compare with each other) to finally enter the transaction.

But while the relationship never stopped there, modern times give the next phase as much (and often even more) visibility than the previous ones: existing clients can heavily influence the decisions of other by sharing their own transaction experience, therefore heavily influencing Ki.

I will also look at how “modern times” Ki and Kd depend more and more on direct contact between Entities: in this frame, the job of professional communications intermediaries, or journalists (to assess the veridicity of what Entities proclaimed to offer readers their own, filtered view of the facts) depended on a business model that has been largely disrupted.

The consequence of this disruption is twofold:

  1. communications intermediaries are not able to sustainably continue to perform their duties therefore Ki becomes solely the result of “what people say” (largely experiential and un-managed)
  2. T0  plunges towards zero: people develop a radical distrust for all they hear anywhere

Can we live without Trust?

The world has been made much simpler: each Entity is assigned the task of preserving the factors contributing to its Trust factor. No one else will. No external contribution can be negotiated, managed, cajoled or extorted.

People judge us on how we behave, not on what we say.

People check out everything, because they will assume that we will lie through our noses.

Imagine the cumbersomeness of a commercial transaction where your counterpart does not trust credit rating and asks for a full audit before extending credit.

Imagine intensive background checks for job candidates; imagine every diploma or certificate must be checked.

Imagine having to prove beyond doubt anything you say or claim.

Imagine financial transactions, contracts, marriage promises…

My conclusion is that we need Trust to preserve the functioning of Society as we know it, so we need to think quickly about how to preserve Trust from Extinction and what actions we can and should collectively take to uphold this universal value.


I have am fascinated by rap battles, where contenders take turn at improvising lines in a song on a common base, while hurling terrible insults at each other and their closest relatives.

I also know there are competitions of writing improvisation, but the things that I find most fascinating in this area is something my friend Brian called Crowdwriting, a text written by many people in a sequential fashion, also called a Stream.

Our first attempt to a Stream (in the early 90’s) was the imaginary history of Georgius Lottus, the XIII Century inventor of the spreadsheet. That was more a game of tag, where each contributor would write a chapter and then nominate the next one, but having discussed the topic at length, we came to the conclusion CW has rules and here they come:

  1. it should never start consciously as we did with the story of Georgius Lottus. Proper Millennial CW starts spontaneously: i.e. someone writes some silly statement, and whoever sees it can build on it, and so on
  2. every addition must make (sort of) sense in its own right, but must be connected to the previous ones. The Stream is a story, and each author must keep the reader in mind.
  3. keep individual contributions under 1,000 characters
  4. the style of the Stream can be humorous, or tragic or academic or scientific or whatever. However, it cannot change too often, lest readers be confused and lose interest
  5. it’s OK to introduce new characters, but don’t overdo it.
  6. it’s funnier if many people take turns
  7. it’s funnier if snappy
  8. the initiator does not own it, the biggest contributor does not own it.
  9. be careful in using “closing” statements (like the death of a character) as it may make difficult for others to follow up
  10. it may be acceptable to add a #CW tag after the stream has started (still under review as it may conflict with #1)

Arab PR Conference

Very honored to participate in my capacity as Co-Chairman of the World Communication Forum as a Keynote Speaker at the Second Arab PR Conference organized in Vienna on november 3rd.

I am honored to be in such a distinguished company, but also a great opportunity to developfor Friends, not for Brands links with another very interesting part of the world; wisely, the organizers asked me stick to my guns: my topic will be the Digital Transformation Governance and will be one of the first public appearances of my second book “For friends, not for Brands!” (soon to appear in an e-bookstore close to you! – sorry, couldn’t resist the plug :-D)

As I said many times, I have always marveled at how close the level of professionalism of colleagues coming from remote parts of the world is when compared to western Europe, demolishing the bias of a wide gap between different geographical areas: definitely, Digital is a great chasm-filler!


#cong14 (2)

My good friend Eoin, who is the heart and soul of the #cong event asked me to shrink in 600 words the gist of what I will talk about in Ireland, and this is my attempt; this is the proverbial killing of two birds with the same stone, as my publisher asked me for a similarly-sized presentation.

Why is Digital Marketing like a bicycle?

Essentially because, like in a bicycle, you have two wheels who serve two very different purposes, but are both equally important.

The REAR wheel provides impulse, energy, velocity; the rear wheel is all about knowing how to manage a Digital project, be it large or small, where you break it down in phases whose progress you can easily measure, to avoid being swamped by the uncountable multitude of what you can measure (because in digital, you can measure everything).

Understanding how you break down a complex projects into its components is important, especially if you accept the fundamental law of Digital Communications which is that Brands do not control the medium (anymore), simply because the new crop of media is frictionless and only thrives on content or, to be more precise, on what Google perceives to be “good” (= worthy of Googlejuice). The new media needs advertising support, but instead of being directly paid as in the old times, such support is mediated by Google and therefore access to this financial support drastically depends on quality of content.

The Rear Wheel deals therefore essentially on how to engineer a sustainable system to sustainably produce content that Google will deem as “good” while at the same time retaining a strong connection with the Brand messages.

However, the Rear Wheel does not stop there, as Awareness must turn to Engagement and Engagement to Prospecting and – ultimately – to Sales.

People can and should be followed as they walk the so-called Customer Journey (which, by the way, does not stop at the sale, as we want to make sure every happy customer becomes an Advocate for our Brand); while the process can and should be measured in its overall yield, much more interesting is breaking this total yield in phase-related yield, setting target and success criteria, but also providing a sure-fire way to look at where the cogs are not working to perfection, what to improve and how.

This sort of Governance helps large Corporations to deal with the sense of uneasiness coming from the acceptance of the loss of control embedded in the basic principle, replacing it with a steering mechanism that may be perceived as more complex, but once it is understood, it’s really not complex at all.

And the FRONT Wheel?

The front wheel of a bicycle provides direction: it does not matter how strong we push on the pedals, without a sense of direction we’ll never get to our desired destination.

The Front Wheel deals therefore with the softer issues that often sink even the most successful Digital Marketing program.

Once you master the mechanical nature of the Rear Wheel, you may be tempted to reduce everything to spreadsheets and dashboards, forgetting that large Corporations are complex entities: a successful project may grind to a halt because we failed to involve the right company function at the right moment, asking them the right questions in a language they can understand and respond to. Communications, Marketing, Sales, Top Management and Customer Support need all to be involved so that the successful pilot becomes a team success that everybody can regard as their own and they can build upon.

Finally the Front Wheel is about the Team; who do you bring on board, who does what when, how do you rotate people and professionals in and out of the team, how do you lead it.

Hopefully the speech will make attendees curious enough so that they will want to buy the book, which premieres in Cong for its launch.


Made up my mind to participate in the 2014 edition of the CongRegation, a Social Media Gathering, on November 28th in Cong, Ireland under instigation by good friend Eoin Kennedy.

I havent been in Ireland in ages and really looking forward to spending a few day on the green island (not to mention its music and beer).

Haven’t quite made up my mind on what I will speak about, but as the new book is coming out in weeks, this may well become its first public appearance, we’ll see; the provisional title I have offered to the organizers is “Digital Transformation Governance. Like riding a bicycle”.

I am very intrigued by the format which does away with the distinction between audience and speakers in favor of a peer to peer exchange.

For Friends, not for Brands!

2014 06 28 draft coverA little over a year after my first book, “The Digital Self Manifesto” I have today officially completed the editing of my next work, “For Friends, not for Brands!”. Given the fact I have been a lazy sod, it’s likely to come out in september, which gives me a little time to build expectations  around it (yeah, that and the fact that Sepp Blatter asked me not to take attention away from the World Cup Finals).

So what is this book about?

Well, first of all, it is a true book, as opposed to a simple essay like TDSM was; this is what made editing so excruciatingly slow.

Its objective is to describe in detail how my Digital & Social Media methodology works, how you break it down, what are the deliverables and what kind of people you need to put it in practice. In other words, read this book and you don’t need to hire me for your project (which speaks volumes about my business shrewdiness I guess).

There are a ton of case studies, of course, and ready-to-use resource allocation tables, job descriptions and other goodies. It was meant to be a practical manual rather than a theoretical dissertation, and I hope I have achieved this.

No idea of what the selling price will be, but as previously, it will be available on every major ebookstore on the planet.

I will be posting teasers and small excerpts which you can grab either here or on Twitter under the #4Friendsnot4Brands hashtag; get your review engines humming!

Davos 5 wrap up

I just returned from the 5th edition of the World Communication Forum held in Davos. Several innovations in this year’ edition really catched my attention:

  1. we ran a business game designed by Lena: in about an hour “consultant” players organized themselves in “agencies” and sold their services to “client” players. It is amazing how in such a short period of time, with no preparation and uneven understanding of the rules the simulation did take off, people started literally behaving like in real life. The group I was in created a relatively big agency, we aggressively pursued new business and eventually we bought out a smaller agency. After a while, it was clear we were the largest and most aggressive player in the market and the other smaller agencies reacted forming an association and extolling the virtues of niche, specialized players. Fun and exciting, really got people off their butts and participating, with no exception.
  2. The organizers were kind enough to allow me to design the panel I chaired (“Do you e-xist?“) in every detail: other than a 10′ intro, we dispensed with all presentations and instead focused on the discussion. Dicran, Virginie, Eric and Lars fielded question after question, agreed and disagreed and – as it was predictable – we reached the end of our hour with still a lot to discuss.
  3. I participated in a “closed doors discussion” where a sponsoring client grouped a half dozen consultants, explained what their problem was and received some off-the-cuff advice. Together with me were Iekje from Holland, Stuart and Michael from the UK and Christian from Switzerland / China / UK. Without over self-praise, I think we went remarkably far in these two hours, and the client received a number of very good ideas.

Then the usual perks of WCF: international attendance like no other event I have ever been to, lively audience, lots of networking during the breaks and meals, beautiful all-around scenery. I even had the extra perk of presenting the Award Ceremony with Katie, I may well say I really feel accomplished!

I think these interaction elements worked really well, so maybe next year the organizers could put more of them; also perhaps I would move the business game to the second day and – as a final suggestion – maybe we could experiment with the 99 second presentation format, as defined by Scott Berkun.

New book entering the final stage

As programmed, the new book is about to enter its final stages of editing: I have been given another 60 days to complete the draft, most importantly, I must downgrade the interactive version I had almost completed on iBooks to an ePub compatible format.

Sadly, this means doing away with a lot of the hyperlinked content, the applets and so on, but hey! the time will come; realistically, given the already niche appeal of what I write, the last thing I need are further restrictions on the potential readership.

No idea of what the cover will look like, but I have the title:

“For Friends, not for Brands!”

which is lifted from a comment I made during a discussion with my friend Carmen (who sounds spanish, but is filipino and lives in Canada – talk about melting pot…)

According to the synopsis (which I have written myself, so its got to be pretty accurate):

This book covers the whole spectrum of the Digital & Social Media project.

It is suitable for the intermediate and advanced user and assumes a working knowledge of the major Social Networks, as well as a certain familiarity with searching and browsing the Internet or participating in a Forum discussion.


This section briefly addresses the reality of Social Media, how pervasive they have become and how diverse they are; the key message here is the fundamentally non-technical nature of the phenomenon, how it echoes a basic need of humans to socially connect with their peers.

The first thing you should do if you need a quick win to convince your company to “dip their toe” is starting to listen to your customers.  


This section lays the foundation of any D&SM project because it states what realistically can be achieved with such a project. To the risk of being schematic, it is our belief that D&SM project should fall into one of two categories – awareness or lead-generation.

There is also evidence that the former is best applied to fast moving goods, while the second requires a somewhat longer sell cycle.

We also cover here the fundamental principles which apply here, stealing (several) pages from Dale Carnegie’s venerable book “How to win friends and influence people”.


This section is divided into two big subsection covering the “process” of a D&SM project, i.e. what are the phases of a D&SM project, the deliverables at the end of each phase, how it connects and interacts with the others, where it takes place.

The focus of this (long) chapter is the doing of things, answering questions like “Do I need specialized monitoring software?” “How do I build a sound , reliable and lasting content strategy?” “How do I ensure the marketing data intercepted on Social Media are accrued to my company and will be usable for future projects?”

Also we start to look at the organizational aspects or – perhaps better – the art of navigating of a D&SM project during the course of its life: “What are the main control points across which you extend the buy-in of the company?”  “When do you involve Communications?” “When do you engage with Sales?” “When do you boil it down to a story the CEO can tell his peers and consider contributing to?”

We conclude with the vision of the Social Enterprise CEO, of which very few examples exist today.


Measurement is the beast for D&SM projects, simply because it is so easy to measure things in digital that you may be tempted to measure everything, but understand nothing.

Our approach is based on the observation that while awareness is relatively easy to measure and leads very quickly to consideration for purchase in a fast moving sell cycle, not so for longer cycle goods or services.

In fact observation has allowed us to identify the three phases of opinion forming, and how they are related to the sales funnel conceptual description of a longer sell cycle.

Measurement must be therefore allow us to assess how well we make consumers progress from one phase to the the other, isolating the effects of that phase and offering suggestions for improvement.


The final section deals with the description of the skill profile of a good D&SM team, regardless of whether is inside the company or outside or – more likely – somewhere in between.

Which skills are needed and when or the project to achieve its result and to act as a best practice within the company, spreading as a benign virus.

Additionally, there are a dozen case studies, although the final word on which ones will make it to e-print will depend on authorisations; this new work is quite a bit longer, although as usual is hard to say given the quirks of pagination on ebooks: if the first one was a svelte 40-pager, I am hoping to keep this at around 150.

You can expect it by the summer, so start saving; in the meanwhile if you have a great idea for the cover illustration, I’d like to hear about it!

Baltic Weekend roundup

A truly interesting event, this was – and in more than one level. For me, it was the first public appearance of “The Digital Self Manifesto” and I am very happy about how it went: despite being at the very end of the event, I had a full house and a lively debate – and I have met at least one person (my good friend Valery) who bought the book right there and then!

That aside, the experience for me was amazing.

The big theme everyone was debating was one of “Russia in search of the story” it wants to tell the world; there were quite a bit of complaints about the poor image associated to russian politicians. On day 1, there was an unbelievably heated debate featuring ultra-nationalist Duma member mr. Milonov who proposed a so-called “Law to protect children from filth” of openly homophobic content, which the Duma promptly passed.

(NOTE: Andrey pointed out to me that mr. Milonov is not a member of the Duma but a member of St.Petersburg’ local parliament)

While I do not share ANY of mr. Milonov’ views, I recognize he did not take the easy way out of shifting the responsibility to the whole Duma, but instead  bravely argued his case against a more or less unanimously unfriendly audience: you see above in one of the pics two ladies making sort of a statement from the audience while he was speaking.

Hyper-conservative politicians are nothing new and there are quite a few in every country, but they tend to speak from their owned, protected channels instead of exposing themselves to the prodding the moderating journalist submitted mr. Milonov to, challenging him at almost every statement he made. In all it was a very interesting debate which I don’t think you would easily see in Europe or the U.S. – unfortunately I, Mike Copland, Peter Fleischer and Henrik Stroier, a german gentleman who spoke the next day were the only non-russians in attendance and this is a great shame: if I can give any advice to Andrey and the organizing crew for 2014 that is to get more european and american delegates, as this will do wonders for the perception of Russia in the west.

In the afternoon of day 1 I attended an excellent discussion called “Made in Russia” where we discussed whether russian products are ready for export. Someone from Lada took us though the great strides they are making on product quality; I must say I am not sold on this at all and although I engaged in a Twitter exchange later with someone claiming the new management is so good that Lada may be competing with BMW in 5 to 10 years, this seems a tad over the top.

A recommendation for Russia

While it waits for its Lada, its Megafon and many other companies to be ready to slug it out in the open competitve market, I think Russia should leverage NOW things it already has a world leadership on: nature, wilderness, lakes, rivers in a pristine condition most of us in western Europe can only dream of. After all 11.5% of the world’ landmass is situated in Russia – the only other country coming near to such a treasure trove of beauty is perhaps Canada, but how comes Russia does’t get a similar number of adventuresome tourists anxious to see places very few other people have seen before?

Have someone publish the equivalent of the Milepost, create a few campgrounds and service stations and spread the word on Internet boards where hordes of motorhome equipped dutch, french and italians are desperately searching for new destinations.

They will come back with wonderful stories and pictures, making more people want to come the following year and so on, in a truly viral fashion.

Then, next time a russian politician discredits the country, one of these people will stand up and say: “I’ve been to Russia last summer, they’re not like that at all, this guy is a jerk!”. Believe you me, I speak from experience: if the perception of Italy and italians depended on our politicians, we would be in worse shape than Russia, but luckily millions of people pour in our country every year, experience our food, visit our cities, talk to our people and no amount of vile behaviour on the part of an italian politician will ever be able to taint the great image of Italy.