Wednesday, April 16

Will The Next America Express A Culture Shift?

There are two interesting demographic anomalies being played out in the United States right now. And the reason they are interesting is that they aren't anomalies. They could be called corrections.

The first demographic transformation is that the Baby Boomer bubble will be largely played out by 2060. In its place will be a rectangle, with each age demographic being almost equally represented.

The second transformation is racial. Of the two transformations, this is the one that some people make a big deal about. "White" will become a minority by 2060, making the country a plurality.

Marketers are testing the waters of the Next America. 

There were three commercials that expressed the demographic changes taking place in America during the Super Bowl. They includes Coke, Chevy, and Cheerios. Of the three, Cheerios won with its portrayal of a blended family because the expression didn't draw attention to itself.

Conversely, Chevy flashed a brief image of a family with same-sex partners, which demonstrated acceptance more than the demographic changes ahead. Coke did something else. In attempting to celebrate the cultural diversity of the nation, it conveyed it by singing the nation anthem in seven languages.

Because of the political rhetoric that followed the advertisement, most marketers missed the lesson that tempers what Pew Research calls The Next America. The Cheerios advertisement makes the demographic nod to blended families, which is estimated to reach as much as 20 percent by 2060.

Coke was much more blatant because it expressed multiculturalism over assimilation, an ideal that doesn't always sit well with all Americans (regardless of ethnicity and political viewpoints) because it breaks down the melting pot concept of America. While most families retain some identity from their ancestral heritage, they also assimilate to some degree. It has pretty much always been this way.

History suggests demographic changes eventually even out. 

When most people consider American demographics, they tend to think of the United States as English dominant. They mostly do so because the founding fathers were English subjects.

Those demographics changed a long time ago. English hasn't been a dominant ancestry in the United States for almost a century. Dominant ancestral lines today are German (15 percent), followed by Irish (11 percent) and African (9 percent). Assimilation creates the illusion of an English country.

Sure, there is no doubt that mass German immigration (and mass Irish immigration before that) led to some cultural shifts in the country. But, by in large, mass emigrations were absorbed and people eventually self- identified with being American first. Ergo, German didn't supplant English as the official language. Other than adopting Octoberfest as a national celebration, not that much changed.

While some people will be quick to claim that mass German immigration (or any other mass immigration) doesn't resemble the same tensions we face a century later, history suggests otherwise. If anything, the alarmist anti-German sentiment was much more pronounced than any anti-anything sentiment we see today. Even President Woodrow Wilson condemned "hyphenated Americans."

The point is that the so-called demographic makeover that America is seeing today neglects that America has seen several demographic makeovers before, with most immigrant families becoming something much different within the short span of three generations or less. Everyone changes.

The ethnic and racial flames of today are too easily fanned. 

Americans tend to politicize everything these days, ethnic and racial tensions included. While some researchers, including Pew, seem to expect a showdown of sorts, it seems more likely any sweeping changes will be a whimper. The truth is that most ethnic and racial tensions are sadly superficial.

Please don't misunderstand me. I don't mean that racism doesn't exist in America. It does. All I mean is by in large, ethnic and racial lines in this country are based on self-identification and skin color.

Case in point, the last presidential election featured two candidates who come from blended families, yet many people insist as seeing Barack Obama as black and Mitt Romney as white. Why? The only explanation is skin color and self-identification.

They aren't alone either. One of the best panels provided by Pew Research's The Next America features eight celebrities who come from blended families. They include Derek Jeter, Cameron Diaz, Halle Berry, Bruno Mars,  Apolo Ohno, Norah Jones, Selena Gomez and Tiger Woods. Self- identification and skin color tend to be the rule there too. So we might considered getting over it.

The big challenges ahead will be as big as we think. 

If anything has changed in the last forty years or so, it is that some people have become very adept at convincing Americans to create artificial divisions, especially among ethnic and racial lines. Marketers have to resist the urge to fall for it and see how it plays out. It won't be what is imagined.

Most of the changes taking place in the United States will be largely regional and not comprehensive. And even in those areas where "white" becomes a minority it won't necessarily mean much. California, New Mexico, and Texas all have pluralities today (with non-Hispanic whites at less than 50 percent) and it's still difficult to find three states with so little in common from a socio-political perspective.

And to that point, marketers are supposed to be sensitive to cultural values and beliefs by engaging in fair and balanced communication activities that foster and encourage mutual understanding. In other words, smart marketers create messages for existing markets as opposed to predictive ones.

While some people believe that companies, political parties, churches, and police forces need to prepare for what they call sweeping demographic changes, the truth is that nobody knows what exactly those changes will be unless they build assumptions based on pre-existing stereotypes. I cannot think of a worse idea.

There is no question that the nation is changing (as it has for decades), but these changes aren't going to adhere to whatever limited schism we can think up today. On the contrary, there are an increasing number of regions in the United States that have abandoned ethnic and racial identification all together, making one of the fastest-growing segments of the population unwilling to subscribe to hyphens.

When you ask them, they say they are Americans. Nothing more. Nothing less. And it's probably refreshing to the rest of the world because most places don't see hyphens either. They see nations.

Wednesday, April 9

NASA Continues To Emerge As A Social Media Savvy Agency

Although some people rightfully question whether or not the United States space program is significant without a self-sufficient means to send astronauts into outer space or return to the moon, NASA continues to take the lead in several areas of innovation, including its a policy of proactive communication.

The space agency is steadily becoming a leader in education and conservation by means of its television webcasts, website content, and social media assets. Its ability to effectively use modern communication tools as a means for inspiration and awareness for under-covered scientific events is admirable, especially for Earth-bound observations such as the upcoming lunar eclipse.

NASA will provide full coverage of the lunar eclipse.

On Tuesday, April 15, NASA will broadcast live coverage of the lunar eclipse, beginning between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. (EDT) and ending when the moon will enter the Earth's full shadow (or umbra) at approximately 3:45 a.m. on the East Coast (and 12:45 a.m. on the West Coast). The event is significant because the United States is in a prime orbital position to view the eclipse.

Depending on local weather conditions, anyone awake to witness the event will have a spectacular view looking into the sky as the moon's appearance changes from bright orange to blood red to dark brown and perhaps gray. Assisting NASA in its coverage is anyone who wants to participate.

The agency has invited anyone who is interested to share their images of the eclipsed moon on Instagram and the NASA Flickr group. Currently, the agency has hundreds of pictures of previous lunar eclipses along with educational illustrations and models. It will also cover the event on its television channel and share multiple telescopic views from around the United States.


Some additional plans made by the social media team include live conversations (including question and answer sessions) on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, and Instagram. Use the hashtag #eclipse to easily source the conversation. The agency also planned to host a Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) on Monday, April 14 at 2 p.m. with astronomers from the agency's Marshall Space Flight Center.

Live lunar eclipse resources are also available on a dedicated webpage. In addition to the photos, the educational webpage includes an animated simulation of what the eclipse might look like from the surface of the moon. This particular eclipse is receiving additional attention because the United States will not be able to witness a full lunar eclipse in its entirety again until 2019.

Sizing up the social media program at NASA.

NASA continues to be diligent in covering a broad spectrum of missions, programs, and projects. It largely succeeds in making its findings prolific across most major social networks, adapting the content to suit the specific best practice models of each platform.

It also earns high marks in making its resources readily available so individuals can join in the conversation. As a public agency, many of its photos, images, and artwork are in the public domain (provided the resources aren't used for commercial purposes).

Where the program is still in its infancy is in categorizing its content to engage specific interest groups as well as space generalists and agency loyalists. Specifically, while the agency does a relatively fine job categorizing its website assets by mission, program, and project, its social media efforts tend to feel exceedingly expansive.

The net impact to its outreach is that it still relies on traditional media to set the awareness agenda. People are more likely to hear about the lunar eclipse and, perhaps, less likely to learn about the NADA Cassini Images that may reveal the birth of a new Saturn moon. If the small icy object that formed within the rings of Saturn is a new moon, then NADA will have effectively witnessed something that could help explain the formation of our own moon.

What do you think? How effective has NASA been in adopting social media tools as part of its greater outreach efforts? What could it do better?

Tuesday, April 1

Pay It Forward With A Social Media Endowment Today!

Most of us understand that social media is not a fad. It's the biggest social shift the world has seen since the Industrial Revolution. About 96 percent of Millennials have already joined a social network.

They aren't alone. About 73 percent of every generation is active on social networks. One out of every three couples who married last year met via social media (and are less likely to split up). One out of every six higher education students are enrolled in an online curriculum. Eight in ten companies use LinkedIn as a resource tool to find employees (and 98 percent use some social media).

Social media has become so important and so dominant in our culture and around the world, that an ever-increasing number of social scoring sites quantify, measure, and rate how we perform online. These scores are so important that you cannot leave social media to chance and still come out on top.

Everyone needs professional online help but they often learn it too late.

There is only one problem. By the time someone really needs to boost their social media presence, it's already too late. So they don't get hired. They don't make the grade. They don't even stay married.

It's time to face facts. There isn't anything anybody can do help you improve your social media status.  You are not a celebrity. You are not a marketer. You have no social skills. And even if you did, you would probably blow it anyway. But even if you are a total loser, we have some pretty happy news.

Even if you are a loser at social media, your kids don't have to be losers too.

You can make sure your children aren't subjected to the same social shame you have to live with today by investing in a social media endowment policy for tomorrow. It is the very first cradle-to-grave service ever offered and we're proud to be on the cutting edge of this exciting new program.

What is a social media endowment? A social media endowment works like any other financial endowment, except the money you invest is earmarked to be invested in the social media development of your children from cradle to grave (and, technically, even longer than that). Most social media planning starts from conception and carries forward to the next generation with a post-mortem plan.

Why an endowment instead of a typical service retainer? Service retainers are great, but they can also deplete disposable income and we don't want to do that. An endowment works better because the investment holds its principal in perpetuity, paying out only a small portion for the services that are needed. When the program is complete (at death), some money can be paid out to a benefactor too.

How are allocations slated over the life of the endowment? While every social media endowment is different, we generally plan to allocate $100 per month times the age of the child, allowing it to cumulate when they need it most — applying for colleges and finding post-graduate employment. All other interest is reinvested until the principal reaches a peak operating balance. At that time, the service is capped at 50 percent of the monthly interest with allowance for events, circumstances and contingencies.

What special events do you plan for as part of the program? Obviously, there are times in everyone's life that deserve special attention— birth, first birthday, first day of school, etc. To ensure these magical moments receive fresh attention, we draw down additional funds to ensure their birth announcement (for example) trends on Pinterest or that the optional live birth video is a hit on YouTube, making your child an instant celebrity that people know they should be watching!

Can highlighting their biggest life moments really matter? Perhaps the best explanation is an example. As reported by CNN, some people already offer this service for weddings. But this concept is so much bigger because we will be in your child's corner from day one to make their dreams come true and trend at the same time. Best of all, as an endowment, it's already paid in full. As long as the endowment meets the minimum requirements, everything is covered. So, in sum, heck yeah it does!

How does a social media endowment really help? The only difference between your child and the kid who got his picture on the front page of the news for a science project is exposure. By sharing select posts, pictures, and videos early on, they create a legacy of achievement whether they were any good at something or not. The simple truth is that winning people over before your child is good at something will lead to an amateur following that will swear the child is good at it.

Are there money making opportunities for my child? As your child grows his or her social scores and fan base, the sky is the limit in terms of endorsement deals, sponsorships and spokesperson opportunities. Many children who are enrolled in the social media endowment program are already on track to become famous, giving their socially challenged parents a second chance at fame by becoming their child's manager. The perks alone will blow your mind!

The time to act is now! Imagine how great their lives will be if everything they do trends on the most popular social networks! Facebook. Streamed. Twitter. Chirped. Pinterest. Pinned. Google+. Added. The point is that as experts, we will migrate your child's success onto whatever social network is popular in the future. It's easily guaranteed because the program operating capital is guaranteed.

The bottom line. With a social media endowment, your child will be entitled to the best of everything online — from a trending birth announcement to the highest influencer scores in whatever interests they might have — long before their peers even have permission to open an account. They will be first, firmly entrenched, and positioned to make their dreams come true while receiving endorsements from companies that know exposure is everything just like the social stars you envy today.

For endowment options, please inquire after reading the disclaimer.* Based on historical averages, a $1 million endowment made today will cover $500,000 worth of social media exposure while growing the principal to $1.8 million in 10 years. Initial endowments of $50,000 or more are also manageable to reach your goals!

*For more great social media tips in the tradition of April Fools! please see The Mushup StrategyBronx Zoo InfluencerSME: 14.0Clout Bellies, How To Write A Social Media Book, or almost anything labeled satire. Have a great day! And a special thanks to Benson Hendrix for inspiration!

Wednesday, March 26

If 80 Percent Of People Won't Change, Why Force Them?

Why Change?
Jim Earley has it right. When forced to embrace change, 10 percent will respond like James Bond, 10 percent will respond like Moe Howard from the Three Stooges, and 80 percent will do nothing at all.

He even drove the point home by citing Alan Deutschman's book, Change or Die: The Three Keys to Change at Work and in Life, which found only one of nine people will make lifestyle changes (diet, exercise, etc.) even after they are told they could prolong their life, restore their health, and even reverse diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.

Get that? Only 11 percent of people choose life over death. 

Everyone else will more or less choose death, about 89 percent. And, in keeping with the Moe Howard analogy, about 10 percent of those are likely to hasten the pace by throwing all caution to the wind. It's inevitable anyway, they might say, just before they sit back down on the couch.

Most people, even those who belong in the 80 percent, will think this is crazy. I'm not one of them. I think it is crazy to expect anything different. People resist change and they have a good reason.

• Many employers do not articulate a reasonable, achievable post-change vision.
• Many employees mistrust the motivations of leadership for organizational change.
• Many employees rightly know that change is accompanied by loss of job security.
• Many employees cite bad timing, because they don't want their workflow disrupted.
• Many people are predisposed to resist change because the present feels safe and stable.

This doesn't just relate to organizational change, but change in every aspect of our lives. As Stan Goldberg put it in his article in Psychology Today, being is easier than becoming. But I might take that thinking a step further by saying that being is easier than becoming until becoming becomes more rewarding than being. Simply put, change requires a long-term plan with benchmarks.

A personal example about change and momentum. 

My doctor recently told me that I should become a vegetarian. There are a number of reasons, but mostly he has read the widely circulated study published by JAMA Internal Medicine. He has not, it seems, read the less circulated study that notes that people with high cholesterol live longer.  Enough said.

That isn't the point. The point is that his statement led to a lesson in effective communication. When he first told me that I should become a vegetarian — a reasonably athletic 40-something who works out almost daily and does watch his diet despite being raised in the meat-and-potato Midwest — I laughed out loud. I was a skinny, less fit 30-something once upon a time and have no desire for it.

Except, my immediate reaction was the direct result of ineffective communication and not a rebut of what he was saying. And since he didn't know it, I decided to help him. I'll make more changes.

My plan is much more reasonable. I can change my diet by introducing more fish (not so easy in the desert) and fiber and see where we end up. And then, depending on the outcomes, make some more changes or not. The way I see it, some numbers will even out or perhaps I'll eventually be relegated to give up meat because the change won't be as drastic then as it would be today. Slow motion is sometimes better.

A professional example about change and mentorship.

Change for everybody.
I had a conversation with someone who currently works in human resources about this very issue, even if he might not see it that way. He asked me what I would do (and have done) when confronted by an underperforming employee.

I knew what he wanted me to say, but I just couldn't bring myself to say it. He wanted me to say that I might bring human resources into the loop because they have procedures. Sure, there is some validity in this direction for extreme cases at large organizations. However, it seems to me there are better ways before the approach is formalized.

A better method is mentorship, specifically outlining a step program that improves whatever deficiencies the employee might have and then giving them one step at a time. I've used this method to help people improve their writing skills for the better part of two decades. It works for performance issues as well.

Why? Much like Earley wrote his post that inspired this one, people will literally do nothing if they are confronted with a change that do not believe is needed, trusted, or leads to something better. They will literally do nothing even if you tell them their job is on the line. In many cases, they are so entrenched in denial, improvement will not be possible. So unless you want to let someone go, it is crazy to confront people with an ultimatum that will cause 90 percent of them to fail.

The same can be said for organizational change. Rather than convincing people that the organization needs change, try implementing small directional steps that establish trust, reward progress and encourage feedback in order to make employees stakeholders in the process. It's more effective.

After all, the way I see it, it's not just the people who are asked to make changes that can act like James Bond or Moe Howard. People who expect changes to be made can come across that way too.

Wednesday, March 19

The Future Of The Everywherenet, Part 2

What's Not Next?
Never mind all those social media and marketing tactics that everyone wants you to remember. The life span of most online marketing tactics lasts about six months if you are lucky. Sure, some last a little longer. Some last a little less. But all of them change.

The future of the Internet is poised to leap well ahead of wearable technology that quantifies the self. It's one of the reasons I both praised and dismissed some of the tips featured in 99 Facts Every Entrepreneur Must Be Aware Of In The Digital Age. Most of those tips will last only a blink.

Ergo. Some people predict 90 percent of all Internet traffic will be video by 2017. I doubt it. It will much more likely be interactive mixed medium and augmented reality interface. Some of the other presentation facts are much more valuable because they monitor the past as opposed to predicting the future.

In fact, some of the most powerful slides from that presentation demonstrate just how powerful change can be. More than 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies in 2000 disappeared by 2010.

The future is flexible. It can be as bright or as dark as we make it. 

The first part of this post — The Future Of The Everywherenet, Part 1 — expressed some of the brilliant innovations we'll see in the near future. This one touches on something else all together.

Anytime I present On Spreading Messages as part of my Writing For Public Relations series, I point out one ugly truth about communication. For every innovation that propels us forward, someone inevitably invents a manipulation that drags us backward. The same can be said about technology.

As Geoff Livingston reported from SXSW, some of the biggest buzz centered on the surveillance. He suggested that keynotes Julian Assange and Edward Snowden set the tone. Maybe. Maybe not.

NSA
I see it as a sign of the times because some of the greatest innovations ahead come with some of the greatest potential for abuse. It's part of an older conversation that often gets shuffled away into the shadows because it creeps people out. Why? The downside of an everywherenet is the inability to escape it.

Concepts like proximity advertising, consumer profiling, and big data collection are not new, but we tend to ignore them (except when we actively embrace them without wisdom). People frequently tell me that privacy concerns are merely a topic for conspiracy theorists, but conversations that I've had about the future of an everywherenet point to surveillance as a side effect of something better.

In other words, nobody will willingly agree to everything they do being captured, quantified, and assessed. But when you package it as a benefit, everyone wants to sign up. Privacy always seems optional.

Technology is an excellent servant and a relentless master. 

Case in point. My doctor smiled when he said he couldn't wait for the day that I would walk into his office, step in front of a display, and immediately see a complete diagnostic. While working in energy medical services, first responders were among the biggest advocates of transportation computer chips that pinpoint location and provide damage assessments at the scene of any accident. Some technology futurists I know frequently fantasize about a world where you can wave a hand in front of a cash register to make a purchase or unlock your front door without a key. The benefit would be convenience, crime abatement, and (given the option) consumer discounts and rebates.

All of those benefits sound too good to be true, but none of them are free. The price is a complete and total erosion of privacy. And once privacy is given up freely, analysis is only a few key strokes away.

Dystopia
One day, your doctor could be required to submit your health information to a federally-monitored health care system with consensus-approved procedures to help you modify your health. One day, your vehicle might not only be better equipped to assist you but also better equipped to ensure compliance with all local, state, and federal laws. One day, all of your data could be confined to a single processor either embedded in your body or a federal or state issued identification card that must be carried at all times.

Some thought leaders in the technology sector look at these solutions as being vital to what they call the technological evolution of mankind — where our biological circuitry can freely interact with the Internet. And in some thought exercises, they imagine a world where working for the good of society is a foregone conclusion and the pursuit of individual luxuries (what some might call happiness) is old hat.

Think it's all science fiction? Some of it has already been done. What hasn't will be old news by 2020.  

But what does this have to with marketing and public relations? Maybe nothing. Maybe everything. Personally, I think communicators need to be more than cheerleaders for their organizations. They need to service both the interests of the organization and the public. And by that, I don't mean what needs to be done for their own good. The question always needs to be: If not you, then who?

Wednesday, March 12

The Future Of The Everywherenet, Part 1

When people consider the convergence of social media and technology, they often make the assumption that formats and devices drive the future of the Internet. It's an easy mistake to make, given the abundance of evidence that can be snapped up with a few careless search terms.

It takes almost no time to find out how social media has become increasingly visual and video-reliant and wearable technology that quantifies the self. But then there is the problem with search engines. Google leads the world in self-affirming research. You will only ever find what you look for.

What you might not find is that we are at the end of the device era as we know it and moving toward one where the Internet becomes a system ordinary as electricity. Just like few people will think about the power grid when they plug in to get an electrical fix, no one will think about accessing the Internet.

The Internet will be everywhere. Just state your command. 

The Internet will operate much like that, but voice won't be the only option and wearable gadgets will give way to function-specific augmented reality tools and rooms or surfaces prewired to be an interface. Gestures, keyboards (virtual or physical), and other function-specific interfaces will all be options, making some of the wearable marvels today look like the digital watches of the last century.

In other words, it seems relatively unlikely that smart watches will be accessories to smart phones in the future and much more likely that portable processors that might look like watches will become the hard drive to any surface when you're away from a hard drive optional environment. The result will provide augmented reality, like the Skully Helmet, as the real driver of almost anything.


While the helmet makes sense for motorcyclists, windshields will be the next interface for cars and trucks. Desks, tables, walls, closet doors and windows all have the potential to become whatever interface we want when we want it. But even those kinds of surfaces stop short of potential.

Can you imagine ski goggles that provide topographical detail of the terrain? How about surf goggles that not only help you size up a wave, but also let you know which wave to catch? Or maybe they don't have to be glasses at all. Perhaps a hammer can assist in hitting a nail straight or a duster can pinpoint which areas of your house were missed the week before.

The point is that anything becomes possible when you leap ahead even one notch. And for as much time and thought is being given to the tools we have now, most of it will feel obsolete within the next three or five years, a drop in the bucket when you consider how quickly everything has evolved.


Even more striking than predictions delivered by Walter Cronkite in 1967 as cutting edge is how technology has leapt ahead ten times further than he could have even imagined — with entire industries being built and collapsing along the way. In that same amount of time, we said hello and goodbye to tapes, compact discs, and Walkmen, to name a few. And we'll absolutely do the same going forward.

The point ought to be pretty clear for strategic communicators and public relations professionals alike. Communication and marketing plans need to simultaneously be grounded in the present while preparing for the future. And if you are interested in being ahead of the curve in the next decade, then you might have to consider what this future will look like — a mixed medium accessible without limitations or limited to whatever function-speficic parameters we choose.

All the social media and marketing tactics you know today will change.

How will companies communicate in such a self-selected environment? Chances are that the companies who will win will be those that move away from the self-affirmation models of the present and more toward an open environment of comparisons and contrasts that help people understand the consequences of their decisions. Ergo, instead of quantifying ourselves with devices, we'll quantify the grocery store to help us balance whatever diet our doctor has prescribed and we accepted.

But then again, this assumes we're moving toward a Star Trek-like utopia and not a brave new dystopia. So perhaps it might be prudent to peer into a few shadows too in part two. But in the interim, I would love to know what you think. What do you see as inevitable change in the decade ahead?
 

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