Biz Stone On His Journey From College Dropout To CEO

As an industry, marketing has a troubling relationship with metrics, so it’s unsurprising that we’ve been measuring Twitter’s success wrong for a while now. “We saddled the board at Twitter with the wrong metrics,” admits Biz Stone, Twitter co-founder, who officially left the company in 2011, and was speaking at the London Business Forum about his early experiences with the company.

When challenged that Twitter’s reach is dwarfed by Facebook’s user figures, he points out that what we’re dealing with is a broadcasting service, a distribution arm; “it’s not how many people have signed up but really how many people have seen a tweet,” he says. And when we consider how heavily Twitter is woven into our media experience now, how it accompanies headlines on global events, with tweets being shown in the news and hashtags used in advertising, then arguably its reach can rival that of Facebook.

On the subject of social corporate responsibility, Stone recognises its growing importance and how start-ups are much better placed to reflect this; “start-ups are uniquely positioned to be built for doing good.” You can embed the idea of social and corporate responsibilities as central pillars of the company at the beginning. “At Twitter we hired a social responsibility guy two years before we hired a sales guy,” he says. “The future of marketing is philanthropy,” meaning, if you have an easily identifiable cause you’re defending then you’ll attract more talent and more customers. “It goes back to the hierarchy of needs model,” says Stone.

In Maslow’s diagram it shows that when you reach a certain point the way to satisfy our needs shift, so once basic shelter and comfort is taken care of then we can work towards fulfilling needs that centre on having a meaning by helping others, through self-actualisation. “Even by showing up at work people feel like they are doing something meaningful.”

According to Stone, when faced with a $5 million budget, $4m should be spent on the causes that mean something to you and the company, and $1m on telling people how you spent that $4m.
Re-imagining search With rapidly advancing technology, platforms like Twitter or the use of iPods, we don’t realise how much we needed them until we have them. Twitter has grown to embody many uses, and affects us in ways we couldn’t have anticipated. The next area to experience this phenomenon, says Stone, is search. “The opportunity is there for us to re-imagine search. We don’t know how much it needs to change yet, but it does.”
Based on the number of people currently on the planet, and how much is indexed on the web, Stone believes that nearly 100% of the world’s knowledge and recommendations is not yet online. This of course, is part of the need that Stone is trying to fill with his latest venture, Jelly. It’s not quite made a sizeable dent yet, and as a network feels more like a migration of the more frustrating people from Twitter. But the sentiment, of altruism and disrupting an old and likely ineffectual model, should be lauded.
Authentic brands on Twitter – “I don’t know who’s doing that” When it comes to advertisers on Twitter, Stone keeps out of it, choosing not to engage in this revenue-driving side of his company. But, as with advertising on the social web, he echoes sentiments of best practice and sensitivity. “You earn good will if you show that you’re human and that you’re authentic,” he says. “There’s a value in vulnerability, and if you share that you are not bullet proof then people will respond.” Although Stone couldn’t say exactly which brands are doing this. As a close he shares some of his hopes of Twitter for the future, linking back to how the social web has made the world feel smaller, if harnessed properly, will increase productivity and effectiveness. “I hope in the next decade we’ll use Twitter to place ourselves in someone else’s shoes across the world. Then we’ll start thinking of ourselves not as citizens of this city or this country, but as citizens of the world.”
In reality this isn’t too dissimilar from recently launched app 20 Days a Stranger. With this global connection and collaboration, achievements that would take 100 years could now just take ten. “That’s my vision for the future,” concludes Stone, making his message about life and business is clear – having empathy will lead to success.

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