Sam Ford

Sam Ford on Spreadable Media, Storytelling and Audience Engagement (#35)

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Our Guest Today: Sam Ford

Meet my new guest, Sam Ford (@Sam_Ford), on the feisworld podcast! As the Director of Audience Engagement at Peppercomm, Sam works with companies to better listen to, empathize with, understand, and serve their customers and other key audiences through communications and storytelling.  There are three major components to Sam’s job:

  1. Client consulting
  2. Design thinking (and how it applies to communication)
  3. Writing, speaking, and being on industry board (-> this one is probably my favorite!)
SpreadableMedia | Feisworld

When you hear the word “media”, you may already be thinking about the other word “viral”. But viral indicates or hints at that people don’t even have to try to pass that content around. That’s not how culture works, that’s just how a virus works.

One of the many interesting POVs from this book confirms:

“The act of sharing, critiquing, passing along are profoundly creative. It also gives people a great deal of pleasure and drive people’s engagement.” – Sam Ford

So the first question I had to ask Sam: What was the process like for Sam to combine his knowledge and experience from academia, consulting, journalism (in pop culture) to do what he does today? Furthermore, how did Sam navigate his career path to become the Director of Audience Engagement?

Whether you are already in marketing, advertising, consulting, or running your own business, working in other industries, Sam’s words of wisdom speak to all walks of life. It was a tremendous learning experience for me.

I hope you enjoy this episode as much as I did. If you can’t t finish this interview in one sitting, make sure that you come back to the second half when Sam reveals his prediction and analysis for what’s next for the social sphere beyond Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Quora, etc.  This is a popular question clients often ask Sam. We also dove into the idea of collective intelligence (crowdsourcing) which can be very powerful but also terrifying at the same time. “Everything is a tradeoff” Sam says, “and that tradeoff fascinates me.”

If you’d like Sam to further elaborate on topics mentioned in this episode, please drop me a note via this blog post, or Facebook, Twitter.

To learn more about Sam, you can follow him on Twitter (@Sam_Ford). Sam is also a Professor for the Pop Culture Studies Program at Western Kentucky University.

Show Notes:

  • What’s the process for Sam to combine his knowledge and experience from academic, consulting, journalism (in pop culture) to do what he does today? [11:30]
  • Why should you be interested in getting back to storytelling, content creation as a participatory relationship? [14:00]
  • What makes a piece of content engaging (put it through the “holy smoke test”)? What are the secret ingredients? [15:00]
  • What are some of the brands Sam sees as successful in engaging their audience (“show not tell!”)
  • Why does Sam believe that company’s internal communication deeply impacts external communication? [16:00]
  • How did Tom Casiello become an even better soap opera writer after the Writer’s Strike in 2008? [22:30]
  • How does Sam combine all his skills (and other tools and resources) to bridge the communication gap between companies and their audience? [26:00]
  • What has conditioned Sam to do what he does today? What was Sam’s secret origin story? [33:00]
  • Why is it important to be an active listener in digital communication and media in transition? [35:00]
  • Career advice from Sam [37:00]
  • On “Spreadable Media” – a book co-authored by Sam and his friends from MIT [41:00]
  • from Section 8 Housing, to the girl who works at Wendy’s, to solving murder cases [50:00]
  • How does technology facilitation communication? The good and the ugly with collective intelligence [55:00]
  • Sam on the popular podcast “Serial” from a journalist’s POV [58:00]
  • What’s coming up next in the social sphere beyond Facebook, YouTube, Quora, etc.? The idea of influence. [1:02]
  • Why should companies show, not tell? [1:04]
  • Sam’s Visitor Guide to Kentucky [1:15]

Favorite Quotes:

“The act of sharing, critiquing, passing along are profoundly creative. It also gives people a great deal of pleasure and drive people’s engagement.”

“You could argue the ways in which the audience has changed the path of circulation for media may be more fundamental than change.”

“Everything is a tradeoff – what you lose vs. what you gain. The tradeoff is what fascinates me the most.”

On the podcast “Serial” from a journalist’s POV: “What happens when you turn private people into public figures, what’s the ethic around that sort of process?”

The idea of influence: “People I pay attention to rarely publish anything themselves. They become a filter for smart thinking and smart stuff.”

“The way people initially engage in their leisure time dictates how they engage in their professional lives. Executives are doing this on a regular basis. What seemed edgy, crazy is now the standard, everyday communication.”

Consumers expect companies to: “Show me that you are thinking by writing and posting about X. The company needs to show what it invests in and that is hard to fake!”

Word Cloud, Keywords and Insights From Podintelligence

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Intro 0:00
Welcome to the phase world podcast, engaging conversations that crossed the boundaries between business, art and the digital world.

Fei Wu 0:18
Welcome back to the face world podcast episode number 35. I’m your host Faye Woo. It is absolutely nuts for me to see this number 35 I got to pinch myself to believe that I’ve so far released this many episodes to date in less than six months. So far I have interviewed a variety of southern unsung heroes who are as you know, musicians, actors, teachers, artists, athletes, women in business and so many more. After I interviewed Claudio Zula al toucher a few months ago, my company on a worldwide invited her to present at our New York City office. How exciting is that? And her husband, James L teacher, one of my favorite influencers and one of the most inspiring authors of our time, also came to our office to stay on top of all the new podcast episodes and have them delivered to your mailbox social news feeds. Simply sign up for my newsletter on face were follow me with the same social handle that is face world via Facebook, Twitter. I’m also on Quora and became a huge fan this year. My very special guest today is Sam Ford. Sam was introduced to me by Josh Green. Remember him from episode number two back in November 2014. Sam and Josh co author the book spreadable media, creating value and meaning in a networked culture. When you hear the word media, you may already be thinking about the word viral. But viral indicates we’re hints at that people don’t even try to pass that content around. But that’s not really how culture works. That is simply how virus works. One of the many interesting point of views from this book confirms that the act of sharing critiquing, passing along information are profoundly creative. And it gives people a great deal of pleasure and drives people’s engagement. At pepper calm. There are three major components of Sam’s job from Klein consulting, design thinking, how that applies to communication, and finally the writing, speaking and being an industry board. Sounds pretty cool, right? So the first question I had to ask Sam was, what was the process for Sam to combine his knowledge and experience from academia, consulting, journalism and pop culture to do what he does today? Whether you are already in marketing, advertising, consulting, we’re running our own business. We’re working in legal finance, Sam’s words of wisdom speak to all walks of life, I was able to learn a tremendous amount of knowledge from Sam. I hope you all enjoy this episode as much as I did. A quick suggestion. If you don’t finish this interview today, make sure that you come back for the second half when Sam reveals his prediction analysis for what’s next for social sphere beyond Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Cora. This is a question that clients often ask. We dove into the idea of collective intelligence crowdsourcing, which can be very powerful, but also terrifying at the same time, everything’s a trade off. Last but not least, Sam and his family live in Kentucky. And in case you haven’t visited yet, Sam offers some great advice that left me feeling very intrigued. If you would like Sam to further elaborate on topics mentioned in this episode, please drop me a note on face or via Facebook and Twitter. Without further ado, please welcome Sam Ford.

I find your story your path to be really fascinating. But you know what I was thinking today, even before I jumped on this interview was you live in Kentucky? Is that correct? That’s right. Oh, wow. That alone is fascinating to me. Because

Sam Ford 4:11
it’s interesting to me, I have had a somebody a colleague, when I moved back to Kentucky, I won’t say who it was. He said it’s a shame that you’re going to move back to Kentucky. Like he didn’t put it quite this way. Because basically, there’s a lot in the media world you could have done with your life. Shame. Yeah. Like, like, as if I were just going to like drop off the face of the earth of our living in New York.

Fei Wu 4:34
And oh, man, I didn’t know you lived in New York as well, as well as Boston.

Sam Ford 4:40
I lived in New York, or for two years after I left Boston.

Fei Wu 4:44
I see. Wow. So this is quite fascinating. And I feel like I have a million questions for Kentucky. Because I’ve never been I think you might be the only friend now that I have, who’s originally from there. And you know Like diversity is this theme on my podcast. I just love talking to people from different places in the world or Honestly, even domestically here in the United States, because the cultures are so drastically different from one another.

Sam Ford 5:13
That’s true. Well, I’ll have a lot to say on that subject. So I look, I don’t want to waste any of the material now. Yeah. That’d be a great line of inquiry.

Fei Wu 5:24
Fantastic. Let’s certainly get there. So stay tuned. You know, I would love for you to provide a more up to date introduction of yourself. Like, what are you working on these days at pepper calm? We talked about this last time and steal your affiliation with MIT, what will get you excited? What get you out of bed every day?

Sam Ford 5:42
Yeah, sure, I think I’d like to talk about, really, there’s three parts to my job. I spend a third of my time doing high end consulting. So I can talk a little bit about the type of work that I’m often doing with clients and a lot of focuses on helping a company think about how they tell their story in a way that has continuity in a way that demonstrates shows rather than tells who they are thinking about how individual 75% of pepper comms clients are b2b. So thinking about how the the experts in those companies are a part of the narrative again, red speaking about the sort of corporate bio versus the the ability to as a human being show that, how do you not just say we have, you know, we have experts on x, but rather let those experts prove their expertise through what they’re publishing what they’re talking about, through their social media presence, whatever it might be. So we do a lot of that type of consulting, we also do a lot of work on how to things like design thinking, apply the communications. So how do we think about from the audience’s perspective, rather than the companies the experience they have, in communicating with these companies, as well as the digital footprint, we work with a lot of very conservative companies who don’t know, they don’t advertise. They don’t necessarily talk about when you get into very regulated spaces, and financial services, professional services, etc. They hadn’t in the past, done a lot of really proactive storytelling about who they are, but are increasingly seeing the need to do so. Because what happens when a potential client or a potential employee looked them up online, and there’s nothing there, or what’s there doesn’t reflect who they are. So that’s, that’s a third of my work, I spend a third of my work on sort of writing, speaking. And being on some industry boards, a lot of my work lately has focused on subjects around ethics. So I’d be happy to talk about some of the stuff I’ve been, in fact, just got back late last night from Washington, DC, and then meeting with the the FTC and talking met up with a guy at the SEC. You know, thinking about what, what’s the government thinking about and concerned with when it comes to marketing practice?

Fei Wu 8:20
Wow, how did that opportunity come about? Are they are they potential clients? Or?

Sam Ford 8:27
No, no, we actually went through one of our clients is, is a government regulator, FINRA. But you know, there, I was meeting with them more along the lines of To be frank, there are plenty of things that you see people do in the marketing, advertising communications space, that gives me pause. So, you know, part of what we wanted to focus on is for those who are in this space, and who are concerned about marketing practice that is responsible to the audience and doesn’t just reflect what the what the client would like to do. I find great value in talking with regulators about what they’re seeing the things they’re concerned about. And you know, how we make sure those companies and agencies who are trying to be good actors, how are we making sure that we’re diligent about not inadvertently doing things that are transparent or that you know, not accidentally, with an unintended consequence, compromise the privacy your, of our customers, or whatever the case might be? So a lot of conversations like that, but then they then I still get a third of my time do academic work. So I can also talk about some of the stuff I’ve been working on, on the academic side. Come on up.

Fei Wu 9:55
This is like, Oh, very, very fascinating, and especially when you brought up regular elation. That’s an area. I feel like it’s it’s related to user experience. But obviously, it has taken us on to even a different level. You know, it’s not just like, is user are having a good time? Is this experience intuitive? But are they really, truly benefiting from the experience? And kind of reverse that? Are we taking advantage of them in inappropriate ways? Are we manipulating them?

Sam Ford 10:28
Are we doing things and even this problem, again, unintended consequences, sometimes without thinking through what we’re doing? Might we be causing unintended harm? Without because we haven’t thought through the security, or the data privacy, or the transparency of some of the things that we’re doing? And I think a lot of times marketers get locked in their tunnel vision. And, and of course, if they were able to take a step back, they say, wait a minute, this would be kind of troubling. I wouldn’t want a company doing this to me. And I didn’t think about that. But that requires thinking in a way that we often don’t.

Fei Wu 11:06
Yeah, I’m going to turn that question around to say, What made you start thinking about things like this?

Sam Ford 11:12
Yeah, certainly, we’ll have to appreciate. I’ll be thinking about what I’ll say when you do that.

Fei Wu 11:20
So in terms of your work, you know, the question I posed to you just now actually is very fascinating to me is, how did you find a path in leveraging your experience in academia and Creative Writing, and consulting? How did all that come together for you to focus on bigger issues? Like the ones you just mentioned? What would trigger that? Well, you know, probably wasn’t just an event, but rather a process. What was the process like for you?

Sam Ford 11:53
Yeah, I think the process is a good way to put it that a lot of times we we look at where we, where we are currently, and construct a narrative that makes it seem, you know, totally logical, that you ended up at the point that you that you are, when, of course, at almost every step along the way, you don’t quite know, you didn’t quite know where you were headed next. I’ve been very interested from the beginning of, of my writing, and, you know, my background is in journalism, I was, I worked from, from an academic perspective, and studying pop culture and entertainment, and continue to do so. And a lot of the work that I’m doing now in the marketing space is really focused on the relationship between the communicator and their audience and, and thinking about how that relationship is, has always really been a participatory one. But how in the, in the current media environment we live in, there’s a lot of, there’s a lot of great potential in terms of helping those who are creating stories, who are creating, as they like to say, in the PR space, or talk to leadership, how they think about the experience of the audience that they’re trying to reach and, and be able to put themselves in the shoes of that audience. And I think there’s a, there’s a lot to that. That’s how interpersonal communication works. Yeah, for professional communicators of all sorts, whether they be journalists, or television writers or marketers have have been trained over the course of the last several decades in the sort of mass media culture, the thing is very much a sort of one to many mindset that turns the audience into a statistic or a rating or conversion number or some analytics or profile in a way that strips them of their humanity. And I’m very interested in how we get back to that concept of, even if it’s mediated, isn’t face to face, how we think about storytelling, quote, unquote, content creation as a relationship, an engaged and participatory relationship between the person telling the story of the person creating the content and the audience that they’re that they’re hoping to reach with that content or the audiences they’re not trying to reach, but who engage with it.

Fei Wu 14:36
Interesting, what are some of the, you know, obviously, this is this question may appear come across a little ad hoc, but what are some of the brands or some of the case studies you’ve come across that sort of impressed you in a way? And I’m asking this question because a lot of the times you know, as I’m learning through talking to people to brands, clients And users, it is really hard at times, if not impossible to predict how a piece of content is going to perform. And there are a lot of unpredictable elements. And so what is, in your opinion, sort of the secret ingredients to making a piece of content successful or surprising or engaging?

Sam Ford 15:22
Well, I’ll answer the latter part of the question first, in terms of the secret ingredient or formula, my fellow Kentucky and Jason Foles, likes to say put it past the holy smokes test. And he doesn’t use the word holy smokes, depending on which company he’s with. That’s more safe for work version. And his point is, if you write something, produce something posted on social media, and you don’t yourself like it would make somebody say, Holy smokes, I didn’t know that or holy smokes, that’s an interesting way of looking at it. Then why did you spend all of the energy posting it in the first place? What’s the point? If it’s not going to surprise, the light, entertain challenge, call to action, potentially do something for the audience, and not just you. And, you know, I think that’s really the secret ingredient, it’s it’s very straightforward. That if we’re able to understand our audience, listen to them to the point that we know what they care about that anybody whether they be in advertising or public relations, honestly, themselves, not just as the the company’s messenger, but as a as a, an ombudsman or representative of the audience back to the company, and an advocate for for the audience. As you know, the company of a company’s executives was talking about x and y. But the audience is really concerned about z’s, and it’s the job of the marketing communications function to, to push the company in that direction, often. And, you know, and I think I admire people within a lot of different organizations who are trying to make that happen. I don’t think any company does this perfectly, by any stretch of the imagination, but I think you can certainly see a lot of organizations that are trying to push themselves in that direction, whether it be in that a lot of different ways to do that, you know, in some cases, you have companies dedicating themselves to why not put our marketing budget toward creating the sort of thought leadership that people would care about. So Adobe, you know, publisher and To me, that’s, that’s interesting, because it’s very clear that Adobe publishes is not a Heartland commercial. But you know, it very much establishes for people on the marketing function, that Adobe has real investment in and focus on thought leadership, I like to look at an analyst houses like up in your neck of the woods Forrester. Right, you know, when when they have an expert on, for instance, the customer experience, that person is out there publishing content, participating in conversations, commenting on stories, tweeting, doing webcasts, speaking at conferences, writing books on that subject. So the marketing comes largely through providing valuable information and insights on a regular basis. You know, of course, they do much more customized solutions for the clients that they work with. But you don’t have to convince me that that expert on customer experience that carry at Forrester is an expert, because I’ve seen it. And I think whether you’re a consumer brand, or you are the professional services provider, that sort of mentality, I think is since companies in the right direction.

Fei Wu 19:08
Yeah, absolutely agree. And you know, what’s interesting, is, you kind of just helped me dissect the strategy and the approach when we worked for one of the clients without naming them specifically. You know, they were looking for thought leadership and that, you know, about a year, year and a half ago, that was the first time for me to hear about CxM I think customer experience management. And it’s really fascinating, because not only the we’re searching for influencers for this particular client, and the influencers didn’t just come from one place where they didn’t just come from one category. Instead, there are influencers not at all affiliated with the company, but then at the same time, they have internal influencers within the company as well as people who are technical. You know, who may have contributed to a management system that we’re building, so it’s really, it feels like a hodgepodge. But now with your explanation, you know, when everything comes together, you have the insider version, and you also have the outsider’s point of view, it’s really fascinating.

Sam Ford 20:15
Well, I have become really focused on that through, you know, throughout the last, I guess, seven years or so that I’ve really been working more closely in the consulting world. And thinking about those internal communications processes that ultimately deeply affect how a company communicates externally. A lot of times when we talk about internal communications, it makes it sound like we’re talking about how a company communicates to its employees. But I’m interested in these internal processes that are about external. And one of the things that’s challenging is that, in the average company, each division thinks about talks about the audience in really different ways. So from a customer service perspective, it’s traditionally measured by call volume and how many calls you can get through and an hour. When you’re talking and, and the sense of public relations. It’s, it’s, you know, circulation, and readers. And when you’re talking of course, and, and TV advertising, you’re talking in Nielsen ratings and, and other patterns like that, on the web, you’re talking analytics, and in sales, you’re talking conversions. And you’re all ultimately talking about the same audience that you’re trying to reach. But it’s very hard for different branches of the company to come together and talk comprehensively about this customer. On the other hand, one thing that they all have in common is every part of the company is or ought to be ultimately focused on those and audiences that they’re trying to reach. And, and if that’s the case, then one common point everybody internally could get around is if they can be able to put themselves in the shoes of that audience they’re trying to reap. So I think there’s a lot of ways that that sort of mentality from customer experience as a subject can help transform how companies work together internally. I’ll give you an example. And this is this comes from my academic work, but it’s become one of my favorite anecdotes. When I’m talking to people in the business setting. There’s a there’s a soap opera, well, he was a soap opera writer, and then went on to write for World Wrestling Entertainment, with a guy named Tom Cassie ello. He’s won some Emmys, really sharp guy. And Tom wrote a piece for a book that I co edited, called the survival of soap opera. And Tom describes he had grown up a soap opera fan, and then went to work in the soap opera industry, and worked as a writer for a lot of different us soap operas. Until the writers strike hit, I guess it was in 2008 or so. And when the writer strike hit, he could no longer you know, he was on the sidelines. He wasn’t writing, but the soap operas brought in temporary writers who worked with the Writers Guild and kept on going. So here he is, sitting at home watching the show, he writes for continue on without him. And he started getting really active and blogging about and talking about the soap operas, he, in essence, he became a fan again. And in the process, he said, he started to realize something that in the, in that time period since he had quit becoming a fan, quit being a fan and become a soap opera writer. In the writers room, they talked about the fans every day, they were obsessed with their audience. But what they talked about were Nielsen ratings and demographic profiles. And he realized that he had in the process of being obsessed with the audience had lost touch of who the audience actually was as real human beings and being able to fake oh, wait a minute, this show is a relationship between us and our fans. And when I write x, the fan may respond with y and the average viewer, the average fan of the show is gonna think Z. And and he realized, really why the fans often got frustrated with the riders and the way that he said, When the strike end, and then he came back to work, he felt like he was an infinitely better rider. Because of all that time he had spent sort of looking at his world, again, from the fans point of view. And I think that’s why companies have to challenge themselves to do is they they spend very little time looking at themselves from their audience’s shoes, and to their detriment.

Fei Wu 24:56
And I absolutely agree. And I think that’s related to You This is fantastic job title you have is director of audience engagement. And you know, last night I was trying to study it. And it really speaks for itself. And what are what I was wondering is, in terms of the disconnect between brands and their audiences, what are some of the ways that you’ve come across? And I think what’s really fascinating is you’re at a crossroad of academia, and consulting, which dealing with brands and corporations, that has benefited your vision and your knowledge tremendously. So what are some of the things applications that you have practiced in the past? Or currently, you know, bridge that gap more or less?

Sam Ford 25:47
Yeah, there are several. I appreciate your saying that about the job title, I have done the same basic thing the whole time, I’ve been at pepper calm, but it took us a long time to figure out what to call it. I know what I think it’s funny because I have had my third title at the same company. And people are like, Well, where did you start with a company? And what are you doing now? Well, it didn’t matter. We just, they had no idea what to call it. And I didn’t have any idea how to translate it. But I’m pretty happy with where we met it out for now, unless we come up with something even better later. But yeah. Back to your question. I think that one of the one of the things, I’ll give you some examples in terms of projects, one of our client was a big professional services firm. And they were trying to figure out how they could do a better job from a recruitment standpoint with the way they use social media. That was the problem that they came to us with. And where are we? And it was interesting, because they had a, they had a Facebook page that had been written up several times, it may have even won an award or to, from a recruitment perspective was in their field, pretty highly respected. And they felt like, hey, maybe we should be doing more what what should we think about? So all we said to them is? Well, it’s gonna be hard for us to just abstractly answer that question, why don’t we went to, you know, give us a list of the schools that you care the most about the schools that you’re targeting? And what if we found some, some college seniors who are in the midst of their job hunt in your field right now and just follow them through their process of looking for researching, thinking about where they want to work upon graduation. So we did that. And they kept diaries, and we interviewed them throughout their, their job search. And one of the things we found for those who were considering this particular company, that Facebook page, almost none of them ended up on. When they did end up on it, it was at the very end of their process, which kind of makes sense, they narrowed their choice down to deciding, hey, I might really like to work for this company. And they went on to the Facebook page. And they asked questions like the currently have any job openings in your Madison, North Madison, Wisconsin office, or whatever the case might be. And it was a great experience when they got to that point. But one of the things we came back to them, and we said, we said you’ve done a very good job of helping address the audience, who has already figured out that they want to work for you, or they’re very interested in who have some really specific questions at the very end of their job search. But that is, of course, when you look at the journey of the recruit. That is, you know, that’s kind of the you’re helping, as you’re jumping in at the 95% of the way on the journey,

Fei Wu 28:55
your loss of the majority of the population, you really want to be part of the decision making process, right? Yeah.

Sam Ford 29:00
So so we said to them from this point forward, you have to think about how to, and of course, it’s not like offline, for instance, they were doing plenty of things already. And they had a presence on these campuses. I’m not, not trying to say they had done anything in that model before when it came to, from from an online perspective, they hadn’t really thought about how to communicate with people provide more thought leadership, do things that would reach people provide advice to them earlier in the journey and so that became then one of their one of their focus is moving forward. So you know, to give a very different example, we were working with a client who was in the automotive space, and they had had found that they had one branch of competitors, but as their product lines changed and as their as other automotive product lines changes, they were starting to find themselves competing with a whole different group of competitors than they had before. So one of the things we help them do is look at, or somebody who is trying to choose against you. And you know, against your car and car A and B, look at the experience of shopping for and researching and thinking about a car. But if they’re looking at you, and cars C and D, then let’s go through that experience and see how it different and and, you know, one of the things they realized is that they had designed themselves in a way to compete really well and differentiate themselves completely from their traditional competitors. But from an experience standpoint, when you looked at some of the new spaces that they were finding themselves in, they had their messaging the way they were talking about themselves, et cetera, hadn’t necessarily position them to compete with some of those other groups. So you know, it’s really often things like that very, seems very logical when you when you walk through it, but how do you help a company? Approach it in that direction?

Fei Wu 31:07
Yeah, I, you know, Sam, I, one of the things I was looking through, you know, you’ve written two books already. And a lot of the things you have explained and just the way you approach them, clearly in the case that we often say, analytical problem solving, but what do they mean, exactly? I think you’ve really planned on that path and kind of give people an idea of what a thinking process is. So I always ask a career related question, because many of my audience that I’ve interviewed on the face world podcast have very intriguing titles, very interesting titles. And without seeing your face, which I’m going to ask that photo of you people will not even realize hearing your voice realize you’re you’re a young guy, you know, and

Sam Ford 31:55
just kind of birthday, I just turned 32

Fei Wu 31:58
Oh, my goodness, you When was your birthday?

Sam Ford 32:01
Let’s say what is today? recording this? It was one week ago. Wow, you’re

Fei Wu 32:06
only 32 years old. And we are now talking minute? 32. That’s crazy. That’s incredible. And I want to pose a question, then the answers, sometimes very different sometimes. is the same from people is it for a kid still in school or fresh out of school? I want to consider your career path. I know you’re gonna laugh, because your title changed three times. But regardless of the title, the type of things, you’re you’re doing the problems you are helping, brand solving. And what do you think really equipped you to to have gone to where you are today, whether that’s, you know, academic, related, or family related, what has conditioned you to do what you do today?

Sam Ford 32:56
Well, one of the things I’ve tried to always pay attention to, is to think through why I’m interested in what I’m interested in. Yeah. So early on, I started off in fact, in junior high school, doing some some writing for my local newspaper, which, which we can separate. Well, that’s a whole other subject. But I had, it was a small town newspaper, and then that’s what took me to college. I’m a first generation college student. Wow. And I’m throughout school and throughout those extracurricular activities, I love writing. I love telling stories I love to kind of communicating with the community. And the natural way for me to turn that into a job was was journalism school. But this was the early 2000s. And there was a lot of questions about the future of journalism by the time I got to J. School. And the first time I heard people really talking about this idea of convergence in the media, how do we make sense of the fact that newspapers are publishing their stories online and including video brought no broadcast news now have websites when they’re publishing print stories? How do we make sense of multimedia journalism, how to use and all of that, and at the same time, journalists laying everybody off because they couldn’t figure out what to do with things like Craigslist, and all these online publications that were cropping up. And I instead instead of going down the path of being a journalist, I did work as a journalist for for for a few years while I was in school and while I was in grad school, but I really got interested in those those questions, which is, well, that’s a fundamental shift in the media industry. And I started thinking about it in relation to the things I myself was a fan of I cared about journalism because I wasn’t an active reader and cared about the news. But I was also a fan of things like professional wrestling soap operas, which I’d grown up a fan of. And I started to think, Why am I a fan of these things? What intrigues me about them? What are the commonalities that draw me through them, and it was very much this sort of immersive relationship that you develop with the story world. You know, in the case of pro wrestling, and soaps, these are worlds that people you know, it’s not a short run series that only has 10 episodes a season for a few seasons, these are shows that that air, you know, in many cases, spot and five hours a week without end. And, and, you know, there was something that it always intrigued me about getting to know that world so deeply, and following it so, so thoroughly and finding other fans who are sort of immersed in the same, the same story world. And so for me, it’s hard to separate that discussion of the storytelling, from the discussion of the relationship that the fans have with one another, and the relationship between the fans and the creator. I was not at all interested in marketing or communication. uninterested, but I ended up when I am when I came to MIT to go to grad school. That was the program that made a lot of sense for me, because it was the comparative Media Studies program was looking specifically at this moment of media and transition, how we make sense of the media world, and the rise of quote, unquote, digital communications and new ways of of circulating media content. And it was 2005 when I moved to Boston, to go to grad school. So this was shortly after Facebook and started well before Twitter in the earlier days of the blogosphere. And people were trying to figure out how to make sense of these, these new pathways, people were taking in new ways that the content was traveling. So for so for me, a lot of those those questions really sort of took root. And as I started talking to marketing companies were trying to figure this out and realizing that the answer didn’t come from the traditional marketing space. So they started coming to us. And I got really intrigued by the fact that, wait a minute, here you are one of our partners was Fidelity Investments in this research consortium that we ran at MIT. And it was fascinating. And we had launched this mainly as being about entertainment brands. And I thought suddenly, and here’s Fidelity Investments, knocking on our door wanting to talk about some of these same questions of audience engagement, and storytelling and relationships and participation. And I think that’s interesting to me, because here’s, here’s a set of problems that come from a totally different space, but they’re really talking about some of the same core questions and issues I care about. And today, I find myself in the, in the consulting branch of what I do, working with companies, from everything from professional services and accounting, to architecture, to asset management to I spoke at the annual insurance executives conference a few years ago, I space, social media for utilities. You know, these are just these aren’t worlds that I come from, I spoke at a Travel Industry Conference not that long ago. And I love these opportunities, because here are people who are immersed in their field. They’re, they’re struggling with issues that I’m thinking about too. But I’m thinking about it from a remote way outside their world. And equally so I learned so much to start thinking about in the how the things I think about translate to the specifics of their world, if you run a tourism attraction, you know, your perspective of questions about audience engagement are very heavily shaped about you know, around the actual in person experience of having people come to your place. And and that’s a very different question for me than when you get into, you know, a financial services company who have all sorts of government oversight and regulations that they’re trying to follow to make sure that in the prospect of trying to, quote unquote, do their thought leadership, they’re not accidentally running afoul of regulatory constraints that are on them. So yeah, and I ended up learning so much from that. So I think my advice took a long way to get back around to this but my advice to people who are trying to think about their future career path is rather than pick a predestined path, and follow it, there’s nothing wrong with that. And that’s one direction. Another is to kind of naturally follow a progression of where your where your career leads you while staying true to the things that you really want to focus on, which is what I feel like I’ve done. And it intrigues me when somebody comes up to me and wants to talk about something that, again, deals with the issues I care about, but tackles them from such a different worldview than the way I’m thinking about.

Fei Wu 40:34
Yeah, definitely. And I love this answer. And what’s also intriguing is a lot of things you’ve explained, I think, are really rooted in the concepts and sort of the progression of your book spreadable media. You know, I haven’t read the entire book just yet and has fantastic reviews on Amazon and as a dedicated web page, a lot of what you’re speaking to kind of encapsulated in such a book, and I highly recommend my audience to read. So, you know, the funny thing is, we are introduced by Josh Green, who is a co author on the spreadable media book as well. So, you know, I but I would love to hear your point of view, possibly same, a little bit different than how Josh Green sees the creation of the book itself. Do you mind giving us like, like a little snippet on that?

Sam Ford 41:33
Oh, absolutely. I’d be happy to. So as I mentioned, I did my master’s research at MIT at this program, comparative Media Studies. And when I arrived, there, there was a lot of focus on potentially creating a new research project that came to be known as the convergence culture Consortium. So named after a book that, that the co director of the program, Henry Jenkins, who’s Josh and I’s co author on Josh and my co author on spreadable media. He had a book that he was working on called Convergence culture. So when I arrived, the this research group was just getting off the ground, and particularly so because here’s this humanities program at MIT, that, that various media entertainment and marketing audiences were starting to come to because of a lot of Henry’s publications on things like transmedia storytelling, and fan engagement. They were starting to come through this program to want to speak or want to meet the students or in some way participate. And Henry thought, well, you know, this could be a great moment for academia to intervene, and have some sort of dialogue with the industry more than just a one off, come speak to our students, or come to a conference. And so we created this consortium, and it was focused on how do we share the research the things we’re working on, from a media studies perspective with with companies in marketing and the media and entertainment, and get their feedback and see how it resin the things we’re researching resonates with what they’re struggling with in their, their day to day work. And a lot of that early work was really focused on the idea that everybody could become a content producer. And it’s true. We were really fascinated by that. So we were, you know, we published, I think 2006, which was the year that if I’m, if I’ve got my timeline, correct, that’s, that’s the year that Josh moved up and joined us. So as a group of grad students, and a recent graduate who ran this until we were able to get Josh to join us and help become he became the research manager for our group. And, and at that point, that 2006 was the year that Time Magazine said you are the person of the year. And so there was all this focus on Well, what happens in a world when anybody can publish their opinion, anybody can become a creator, anybody can gain an audience. And I think we were really focused on that question, perhaps too focused on that question. Because eventually, we started to think about the fact more and more that not everybody considered themselves a producer. And I fear that and writing about, you know, fans who created their own YouTube channels and who, you know, worked on these extensive fictional projects and other things, we we prioritize certain types of audience engagement and that tivity over others. Because, you know, in actuality most people don’t consider themselves media producers and don’t necessarily strive to be. And yet they are putting significant labor and activity and creativity and to how they discuss debate, critique and just share the stuff that they’re working on. And so we really started to think about that this was around the time people were using stories, you know, really using metaphors like going viral, to talk about how things spread, and we were unhappy with and the book starts off, and the title comes from kind of being cranky about the use of that, that phrase going viral. Because it supposes that this activity of sharing of circulating material is an uncreative or almost an act without human agency, right. Viral indicates that I didn’t even try to pass that along, I and my daughter has recently had the flute, she caught it from school from somebody who I’m sure didn’t tend to give it to him. That’s not how culture works. That’s how a virus works. And, and so we started to think about how do we give more critical attention to that everyday act of sharing, critiquing, talking about passing along media texts. And just because that’s more mundane, then then the act of sort of production and creation. And a lot of people’s eyes doesn’t mean it’s less significant. In fact, I think you could argue, the ways in which the audience has changed the path of circulation, or a media text may be more fundamental and change.

Fei Wu 46:57
Yeah, I would agree. You know, one of the questions I was going to jump in, and, and I kept thinking about, as you’re describing the process is, what is your point of view or your opinion on, you know, information sharing versus content creation? You know, seems like it’s not less significant. What is well and

Sam Ford 47:20
this thing, so, withdraw, to, to the to, to great align between those things, because what is a media text and what is an act of creation, you know, what does create meaning and value which is the sub subtitle of our book, because a lot of these acts of sharing, of critiquing, of discussing of passing along, are profoundly creative acts and get, you know, they give people a great deal of pleasure, and they drive a lot of people’s engagement in and around media texts, when you often like to say, this happens to me on a regular basis. Man, I first I’m most often these days, discover what I read, watch and listen to, through other people. I mean, that’s not that’s not news. And most of us are doing that more and more these days. But more often than not, when I first discover a new piece of content, it has less to do initially with that text than it does with the person who shared it. Because I’m thinking, why did they pass that along to me? Why are they posting about this. And so a lot of the relationship I initially have with that media text has to do with my relationship with the person I discovered it through. And the way they post about it, the context they put around it, the critique that they have of it, who they choose to share it with, that is a very, those are very conscious acts, they may not be significant in terms of people, you know, don’t think of them as like, this is a monumental decision I’m about to make tag in this Facebook post about this funny Onion article that I read. But yeah, you know, those are sort of everyday creative acts that that many of us are, that are engaged in. And, and, and I think we have to give significant attention to those and not treat those as somehow less important, man,

Fei Wu 49:24
that the examples of StackOverflow and Cora just come up over and over again on my podcast. And clearly something Josh, Josh and I talked about a lot, and on and off the podcast. And the reason is, you know, on Quora, and Stack Overflow and Pluralsight me all these amazing companies are letting people to not just pose questions, but also meaningful questions and they’re categorized and tagged in such a way that it’s easy, not only easy for people to respond to but kind of draw conclusions and connections among them. And you know, And then people obviously people are responding to the questions our content contributors. But it’s just fascinating. And I, you know, what’s funny was last night, I was watching, I was watching listening to Charlie Rose interviewing Chris Rock. And, and when you brought an example of like, a lot of the content really is about the person who’s sharing it. So for instance, if somebody, people said, you go to a grocery store, and you look at healthy people, and he’s like, what are what are you eating? What are you buying? And, you know, you start to whether they’re really doing the right thing or not. I mean, I honestly argue sometimes my, some of my friends who may be very physically fit, but when I start listening to them about dietary information is like, you are actually not entirely right about this. But that just kind of comes around. One of the things that really cracked me up last night was, you know, Chris Rock basically said that men get their opinions about fashion from their guy, friends, who, who gets laid the most. I thought it was so interesting, because literally, Chris said, I will look at the shoes that he’s wearing. He’s like, Oh, you know, and you know, all girls go crazy for him. Maybe those are the right shoes to get no, that’s the right brand to buy from. And, you know, just somehow that kind of just echo that information. There’s all these patterns on path people choose to follow.

Sam Ford 51:26
You’re talking as you were talking about Korra, some some other platforms. You know, one of the things that fascinates me too, is the look at sort of the oldest of old school there’s a there’s a an academic, I think he’s currently at the he just graduated from the Ph. D. program at USC Annenberg. And I believe he’s up in your neck of the woods now in the Boston area, at the Microsoft New England research group, Microsoft nerd, and a guy named Kevin Driscoll and he’s one of the area’s Kevin has been really fascinated with his message boards, old school unsexy old school message boards, where there’s still such often such intense creativity and discussion and debate and, and postings, one of the one of the sites that I’ve been really fascinated with if you’ve ever come across a site called topics, the OPI ax?

Unknown Speaker 52:23
Oh, yes, yes, I have.

Sam Ford 52:25
It is a fascinating look at a lot of these questions that we talk about when it comes to spreadability, and discussion and creativity, often and disgusting and disturbing, and challenging ways, right? So allows people to anonymously post about any subject on which they have a common viewpoint. And how that reflects is that people create Bolton message boards for every small town and big city across the country. So the town that I’m from the county that I’m from, is in Kentucky, or rural county, and there’s a message board there on topics focused on my county, or Beaverdam, Kentucky, and they’re, you know, post after post just these fascinating questions, these papeles fascinating topic. So you know, one example there was a whole message board of a group of people who live in Section Eight housing, who are getting together and using that forum to start to post and talk about poor living conditions in their building. And because they were posting anonymously and organizing anonymously, they didn’t, they were able to sort of get together and get their list of grievances together without fear of repercussions in a public setting to talk about kind of the sort of basic health violations that are happening in the building they were living in two threads down there was a there was a post that was up I apologize for this in advance, please. There was a Who is the girl with big tents that works at the Denny’s Oh, I know I go in there to eat, just look at her. And then somebody comes on and says that’s my sister, and she’s 17 years old. You all are disgusting human beings and the height breaks out. And then at the same time here, there was a whole thread there was an unsolved murder in Ohio County, Kentucky from 1993 Wow, people took the topics to say we never solved this murder but I think half the people in this town know who did it. The organizing information about who they thought they did and all the evidence they had and the police you were able to use that as a as a lead the murderer and ended up arresting the guy. But that’s terrifying because of course, we saw the same sorts of activities happen in places like dreaded around the Boston Marathon bombings where people were sleuthing and picking out the person who didn’t do it. We all fancy ourselves to be a CSI investigator on the idea of being able to bring together our collective intelligence has potentially horrifying repercussions to there’s a, there’s an academic named couple of academics, one named Whitney Phillips, who contributed to our spreadable media project, a woman named Kate Milner who was at that Microsoft group for a while. And now she did the opposite of Kevin Driscoll, she left the Microsoft research group to join the Ph. D. program at USC Annenberg. But they did a lot of research on things like public shaming and hive mentality. And in groups like 4chan, where, you know, you have these sorts of the new ways that technologies facilitate us to communicate, allow us to share and hold on one another’s work and, and do really interesting things. But sometimes things that are that are dark and disturbing.

Fei Wu 56:04
And then to, you know, for people like us, I think we very much find that to be very, very interesting. And, you know, sometime I wonder, the reason for Korra, again, to receive such high quality is because I feel like there’s a clear guideline to really policing the quality of the content and people vote up and down based on the quality of the contributor. So that’s really interesting. Like there’s, there’s a facilitation where moderation process would that results or yields and higher quality? Or could it could that person just be in charge of steering their content one way or the other, you know, I’m looking at topics right now. And I had to pull it up, and really is very freeform, not to mention that, you know, as geotargeted knows where I am, and then just pinpoints me to the topics that people in my area are interested in talking about. And I can see myself start dropping, you know, that sort of Google Map, book, Google map marker to other parts of the world, and even within the US, I want to like pull up two tabs and see what people in your town are talking about, versus what people in Boston are talking about.

Sam Ford 57:16
Absolutely, absolutely. Everything’s a trade off. So the more quality control and sort of safeguards and checks and that you put in place, there are things you lose in the process, the things that you potentially gain in the process also, and then that that trade off fascinating, because, you know, in the example I just gave with topics, we see, we see places where the ability to post anonymously was, I think, you know, from my perspective, unequivocally a good thing with the section eight housing, unequivocally a bad thing to this, you know, these disgusting, misogynist sort of rants that you might find somebody go on and then ambivalently, right. Family of the person who had had the relative be murdered, and no one brought to justice. That, you know, that was a very good outcome, but potentially terrifying outcome. I

Fei Wu 58:13
love that example. So juicy.

Sam Ford 58:16
discussion around the the show cereal, right. From a journalism ethics standpoint, there’s a lot of great question.

Fei Wu 58:24
What do you think of that show, by the way, I had to listen to because it was popular. But I want to be honest, I have very mixed feelings towards it.

Sam Ford 58:31
Coming from a journalism background, it raises the question, of course, number one. Why, on the one hand, that brought people’s attention to some very real and concerning issues, and it did sort of documentary storytelling through the lens of of sort of fictional serialized engagement, in a way, it copied the style of what I would expect, in some ways from, you know, from a fictional series in a way that engaged people in an issue that they weren’t engaged in, otherwise. So they’re in that way, you’re looking at great potential benefit in terms of from a social issues, perspective coming out from journalism background, what does it mean, when somebody is going through the act of investigative journalism, or reporting on what they’re working on? While they’re in the midst of working on it? Yeah. That affects the outcome greatly. When you’re reporting on your investigation, while you’re still actively investigating, and then there are a lot of questions of what happens when you’re turning private people into public figures, ways that they didn’t necessarily sign up for and how do we, you know, what are the ethics around? That sort of that sort of process because this is the only reason some of these questions some of these people became so timely as you know, and found themselves in the public eye is because serial decided to shine a light on this, this whole issue and in what ways do people have a right to not make In that position and not have their line of privacy violated in a world where go back to and a small town, are you that everybody’s a public figure? Yeah. And so, you know, this idea we traditionally have had of public figures versus private figures, who isn’t a celebrity and a high school, right? I mean, everybody is sort of a known entity. And you’re talking about in the realm of one small micro community. And so those questions of public versus private and what people’s rights are, are murky,

Fei Wu 1:00:34
especially if they’re victims, and you know, they’re no longer living, even they in this case, or their families, how can they represent them themselves properly, where they don’t want to be involved? You know, which what is the justification for all of that? That’s, yeah, that’s a, that’s interesting. So I got to ask this question based on, you know, how, you know, how I reached out to you and how then later, two weeks later, after I connected with you, I somehow unintentionally discover the book spreadable media was among the, you know, Pops, if I remember correctly, top 10 recommended books in summer 2013. And then there was, you know, because I work in marketing, social media, there was a website recommending the seven most valuable books on, you know, social media and spreadable media, it was just like, really on the top of the list, and just knowing how many books are out there. And as a result, how many people are kind of turn away from spending three, four years working on a book, and it’s really an impressive accomplishment, it’s very significant. So congratulations, for sure. But I gotta pose a question on you is because you are in the frontier, or like the Pioneer, and just so in tune with the culture, or culture and society, what do you think might be coming up next, in terms of trends in terms of potential user behavior? Like, I have a theory, but I don’t know, hold myself back. Oh, what do you think it’s coming up next, you know, beyond Facebook, Twitter, and you know, Quora, and all these things.

Sam Ford 1:02:13
Yeah, it’s interesting to me, because of course, being in the consulting space, clients are trying to figure that out all the time. And one of the things I remind people, I’m gonna go a little bit of a different direction with this, with this question is, you know, very little is next, in terms of what people that the, you know, ultimately are interested in. All the things we’re seeing people do, on the platforms you just mentioned, are things that people have always done, or have long done. And we’re just we’re seeing new ways for people to organize around doing it. So in that sense, I think there is, there’s just something important to keep in mind that, that, you know, the behaviors that we see, people bring on to new platforms are often often enabling the way people have long wanted to connect and apply their creativity and things that they were doing that had less visibility in a previous era, but the things that people you know, we’re doing. And so for me, one of the things that fascinates me and continues to fascinate me is the, the higher and higher degree to which we follow people, not for what they say, but for what they rewrite and listen to. Right, that that and that that role, I mean, you know, you talk about the idea of influence. And we often think about influence in terms of who is that blogger that people really want to read, the people who really I pay the most attention to are often, in some cases, people who don’t ever publish anything themselves. But the people who have a lot of sway for me are those people who really share and become a filter for smart thinking and smart stuff. And, and I think what I hope to see happen is people get tied up less and less with the strategies of a particular platform and focus more on those activities and ways of engaging that people care about, I’ll often encourage my client, you know, my clients who don’t have a Facebook strategy, you don’t have a LinkedIn publishing strategy. Because that’s the wrong way to think about it. You know, no, it’s kind of silly to talk about someone as a LinkedIn user in any comprehensive way, because of course, they’re human being who happens to occasionally log into LinkedIn because they got a message or because they want to read something that one of their connections is posted, and see who just changed jobs or whatever. They are also and engaging on five or six other platforms in an interesting way. So I think focusing more on the behaviors and the ways you want to engage is key. When it comes to what’s next, a lot of my clients are in the b2b space. And one of the things I think about often is the way that people engaged initially engage initially in their leisure time eventually becomes how they get more and more comfortable engaging in their professional lives. So, you know, 20 years ago, it was really strange to imagine commenting and talking back to what you read, write and listen to, and they, you know, business executives are doing that on a regular basis, just a few years ago, the idea of a lot of folks in financial services, being publicly visible, and sharing snippets of their thinking, seem seem crazy, or a waste of time, or dangerous, or, you know, potentially get you in trouble, or all these other things. And yet, that’s become, you know, increasingly sort of a standardized way of, of doing work. So I, I’m interested in seeing how, what is becoming everyday communication practice eventually becomes codified and the way people participate as professionals in their professional lives. It’s a real challenge in many cases, because because that brings with it a lot of a lot of concerns. If you think of posting your opinion about something online, or sharing an article, online, as representing your company, leaves a lot of companies to say I don’t want my people talking about their professional lives at all, the labor review board increasingly said is making decisions and giving opinions that indicate, hey, if people are going to spend half their work, or at least you know, more than half of their waking hours at work in some people’s cases. It’d be crazy if they can’t talk about their professional life. I agree. Yeah, and it’s a basic human, you know, at what point does it become a basic human right to be able to talk about work, on the other hand, you can understand a company’s consternation, say that these people are out here talking about work. They’re not a spokesperson for our company. How do we balance that out? And how do we figure out common sense approaches to some of these questions, but I

Fei Wu 1:07:21
think that goes back to, you know, our initial topic of, you know, what do users user as an people every day, whether they’re interested in applying to the company, where they simply want to learn more? Do they rather hear from a representative a spokesperson? Or do I hear a real voice? who truly cares about the company? But yeah, I want to tell you kind of give you the insider version of what it’s like,

Sam Ford 1:07:42
it gets back to showing rather than telling, you know, pepper comm started off as a PR agency. So our core was things like media relations, pitching stories to journalists, and one of the things we increasingly say to people, you know, even that part of it is very much focused on the digital footprint of those of those experts. If I reach out, well, I don’t do media pitching. But if somebody in my agency were, who does media relations, we’re reaching out to a journalist and say, you want to talk to x, he’s an expert on Y, and you go to a search engine and type in ex’s name, and nothing comes up. When you search her name in relation to y you as the journalist are thinking, Well, if she’s such an expert on Y, how come I don’t see any evidence of that? Don’t tell me, you know, our neighbor, living here in Kentucky, our neighbors Missouri, the show me state, the mentality people increasingly have is rather than than market to me and tell me you care about X, show me through the fact that you are posting and thinking and writing about X on a regular basis. corporate perspective, that’s important for a company to do show it’s invested in what it’s invested in. You know, and it’s hard to fake. I mean, that’s the problem. A lot of companies come in and say, Okay, we need a content marketing strategy. Let’s go license out some generic content. And Phil, you know, one of my friends says content content is what fills up an empty space. And you know, he’s right. That that’s often what companies do. They say, Let’s launch a content platform. Now we’ve got this platform. We got to fill it with stuff. Let’s find filler. What to go back to Jason falls, holy smokes test. For present passes, except Holy smokes, what a waste of money. Holy smokes, what a waste of time. Who would want to read that and why did the company spin in the end six fingers on something that nobody wants to read? Right,

Fei Wu 1:09:46
right. No, absolutely. Inconsistencies is inconsistency in sometimes your point a lack of quality, but just simply focusing on quantity is an issue that I’ve witnessed as well. So um, You know, I, I’m really enjoying this conversation, but I have to ask for your permission to possibly extend out to like another if you have another 810 minutes. You know, we’ve been talking for like, an hour and 10 minutes, but I still have a couple of questions. I thought it would be so intriguing to ask

Sam Ford 1:10:17
more questions for me, I have to pick up my daughter and leave and just a few minutes pick her up from school, but let’s do a lightning round.

Fei Wu 1:10:24
Oh, yeah, of course, um, are two quick questions. One is lifestyle design, I guess. And one thing I didn’t want to ignore is all these three to four major areas that you consult that you have, you know, for different brands you re to you go to these conferences, you speak at the tender age of 32.

Unknown Speaker 1:10:47
I want to see how you come about this type of lifestyle.

Fei Wu 1:10:51
I think many people listeners are really jealous right now. So I want to give them a little bit of an insider’s view on that.

Sam Ford 1:10:58
Pepper comm came to me and hired me because I wasn’t a marketer. And one of the things we decided on early on before I ever started working for them was if they wanted somebody who had an outsider’s mentality, that wouldn’t work, if I just, if I became a full time agency person in the traditional sense, it wouldn’t work for me, because that’s not the career path I was interested in, that’s not my background. And, and then on the flip side of that it wasn’t of interest to them, because if they were looking for really good agency person, I would not have met yet. You know, they were coming to me because I wasn’t an agency person. And and I’ve learned an immense amount over the last several years working with people who’ve spent their lives and you know, creative and marketing and and PR, all the all these different marketing fields. But it’s been of great value to me that I spend part of my time consulting with pepper comm teams and and clients and then get a third of my time to still do academic work, they also hired me in a sense to help speak out on how the communication world is changing. So they give me part of my time to really represent pepper calm when it comes to writing for the business press or doing public speaking. And so what I love, is this allows me to have three very discrete parts of my job. But there are also parts of my job that overlap quite a bit, because I’m able to take the sorts of things I care about in my academic writing and studies and I teach to teach it to Western Kentucky University and pop culture. Take take the kinds of things that I’m concerned about there, and in some small way, try to help intervene and change the way the industry thinks, you know, client by client in the case of my consulting work and and in a larger sense in terms of trying to translate some of the things I care about into writing for Fast Company or writing for a magazine or Harvard Business Review. And to me, there’s great value in that. But on the flip side of that, you know, learning constantly things that I initially as an outsider was very naive about or not fair minded about, and thinking about how things work in the corporate world in terms of really understanding the people who care deeply about these issues, and are who are trying to change the way corporate practice happens inside large organizations and inside agencies and learning from from them all of the roadblocks and reasons why. Things that from the outside, you don’t understand why companies behave the way they do at least understanding why and how that happens from people who are obviously not going to work trying to do a bad job, or trying to ignore their customers to understand the reasons why things happen, and why the pressures that are in place in terms of often causing companies to do what they do. So for so for me, it all bleeds over, you know, sometimes it becomes a time management issue. And there’s an editor of an academic collection that I think I was supposed to turn something into a month and a half ago, probably will tell you, I don’t do such a great job of managing and balancing that stuff out. But for the most part, you know, there are times when I’m working on a really intense client consulting work and then there are times where that eases up and gives me a time to get back to writing and focusing on other things. So in the end, it all balances out pretty well. But you know on any given week, I might feel better or worse about

Fei Wu 1:14:37
that. Nice no fabulous answer. And I only got two runs. I got one final punch question. And it just reminded me I do have another friend also from Kentucky so he’s gonna blame me later. How How should someone plan their first trip to Kentucky? What are some of the really fun stuff to do or not so fun stuff to avoid?

Sam Ford 1:14:57
Sure. It’s a good question. That’s because I’ve learned two things. One last year a lonely planet named Louisville, Kentucky as the top domestic tourist destination in the country in terms of volume, but in terms of like their recommendation of here’s a really cool town people ought to be go into. Number two, I learned from my New York friends recently, when I was up visiting and pepper calm, that has become very involved to come to Kentucky for bachelor parties and do the Bourbon Trail. So you know, Kentucky is known traditionally for bourbon horses. Its cuisine. I live in Bowling Green, we are the home of the Corvette. So the National Corvette Museum is here. But I would say that one of the most fascinating things to me about Kentucky is that depending on who you ask, it’s, it’s a Midwestern state, or it’s a southern state or Appalachia. And, and those are all true. I live 45 minutes from Nashville, Tennessee, and I live an hour from the Indiana border. Right Kentucky is the Cincinnati Airport is located in Kentucky. So you know, and as you go east of Lexington, Kentucky is very much not used very much mountain of Appalachian mountains and for mountain culture and background and you know, all the stereotypes that come along with the hillbilly. And so to me, when it comes to the cross section of America, Kentucky becomes a really an interesting place to visit. Because if you’re coming from the north, it’s the gateway to the south. If you’re coming from the south, it’s the gateway to the Midwest. And if you’re coming from the west, lead you in Appalachia, so kind of being at that intersection, and growing up in that place has been a really interesting upbringing for me in terms of thinking about geography, you know, you asked my friends in New York or LA or San Francisco, we’re just on the flyover study. So I guess we’re all the same, but but it was it’s fascinating to me in terms of how I think about the way the US is laid out because I didn’t grow up thinking of myself as Southern I guess I very much but think of myself as a Kentucky

Fei Wu 1:17:24
awesome. I love this part. I’m so glad we close on this one. Definitely includes show notes and some of the tips and tricks to visiting Kentucky and hopefully I’ll make my way there one day,

Sam Ford 1:17:37
that would be great. And if you do let me know, please, please do stop by and I’ll be happy to be a tour guide but I’ve really enjoyed the conversation and would be glad to provide you anything you need and and follow up and maybe we can another 100 topics we could have gotten into maybe we can do a sequel at some point. Oh,

Fei Wu 1:17:54
I would love to thank you so so much, Sam. I really enjoyed it. To listen to more episodes of the face world podcast, please subscribe on iTunes where visit face that is f e i s wo rld where you can find show notes links, other tools and resources. You can also follow me on Twitter at face world. Until next time, thanks for listening

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