Sunday, September 30

Talking Free Speech: The Gylon Jackson Show


"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." — First Amendment, the Bill of Rights

On September 25, 1789, the First Congress of the United States ratified 10 amendments of the Constitution.

Tonight at 7 p.m. (CST), I have been invited to make my second guest appearance on The Gylon Jackson Show, this time to discuss the First Amendment and how it might pertain to bloggers. If you have not heard of Jackson before, visit his blog Don’t Bark Bite. Jackson covers a diverse array of topics and you’ll always be surprised by what you find there.

The first time I was a guest on his show was late last Thursday as part of the Bloggers Unite campaign. We discussed the campaign and various forms of abuse, ranging from domestic abuse to the abuse of free speech (if there is such a thing).

If you missed the show on Thursday, you can still catch it by visiting The Gylon Jackson Show archive. Tonight’s show, in fact, developed out of the show that discussed abuse.

So why give up part of a Sunday night to listen to an online radio show? I dunno. That is up to you. But what I can do is give you three reasons I’m giving up some of my Sunday for the First Amendment.

• As someone who has and occasionally still works as a journalist, the First Amendment is near and dear to my heart. While my confidence in it is often tested, it is one of the more profound, important, and neglected additions to the Constitution of the United States.
• Jackson is an amazing host, courageous individual, and it’s hard to believe that last Thursday was his first foray into online radio.
• “Libdrone,” who writes The Thin Red Line recently reminded me that Sept. 29 to Oct. 6 is Banned Book Week. You can learn more about it at the American Library Association.

If you cannot make the show, please come back on Tuesday for a recap, archive link, and some more information about banned book week (tomorrow I will be recapping our top posts of the third quarter). You never know. These discussions, on this blog or on the show, might open your eyes as to why civility on the Web is appreciated, but should never supercede our most basic and fundamental rights. Good night and good luck.

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Saturday, September 29

Nothing But Buzz: Hey! Nielsen


Hey! Nielsen, a new opinion-driven social network from the leading provider of television audience measurement and advertising information services worldwide, is in public beta. Beta is the operative word.

It’s not The Nielsen Company’s first foray into the Internet. It also has BlogPulse, which is an automated trend discovery system for blogs and powered by Nielsen BuzzMetrics. BlogPulse is not the most used Internet measure, but its trending tools are well conceived.

BlogPulse is the reason I had high hopes for Hey! Nielsen despite fan efforts to change the failing rating system. Instead, I’m not sure what to think.

“Hey! Nielsen is more than just a new idea in opinions and social networking: it's a way for you to influence the TV and movies you watch, the music you listen to, and more ... all while making a name for yourself,” says the Hey! Nielsen page.

Buzz Breakdown

Wow. Someone crisscrossed the objectives. How can you accurately gauge fan buzz on the Internet if you are dangling “fame” in front of the people scoring the system? It adds the same kind of superficial buzz measures that are overshadowing Web metrics. And, it all takes place in a walled garden approach that people like Joseph Smarr want to rip down via Plaxo. (The interview by Scoble convinced me to check Plaxo out.)

Did I mention “beta” is the operative word?

It took less than a day for fans to see what Hey! Nielsen really is — a social network that asks “users” (a word that is well past its prime) to pile into the school gymnasium and have a shouting match. Those with the biggest lungs win. And those with the most outrageous comments get the most attention.

Jericho Fans

My hat is off to Jericho fans for dominating the Hey! Nielsen site and making Jericho number one on Monday and Tuesday before all those Supernatural fans showed up and Jericho settled into second place. Firefly is third. Heroes finished fourth. Veronica Mars, which I wrote about last week, is holding its own.

Beta Pains

But the most telling result in television is that Facebook was tied with Ugly Betty for eleventh place until today. (I didn’t even know Facebook was on a network; I better pay more attention.) Linkedin, in television rankings, still holds at 60; and MySpace is ranked 40. Again, that’s in television; never mind Internet rankings.

Worse, Supernatural and Jericho fans were recently accused of spamming the system. Huh? It’s not the fans; it’s the system.

Hey! Nielsen also tries to influence the influencers on their blog with Steve Ciabattoni writing: "Thankfully, those fervent fans are also commenting and giving opinions on more than just one topic while they're here, which is exactly what we want: Deep profiles, and a deeper sense of who's out there -- and from your posts, we can tell that some of you are really out there!"

Did I mention “beta” is the operative word?

Hey! Conclusions

The Hey! Nielsen team has some pretty bright people working on it. So perhaps from beta testing a real measure of fandom might emerge from the mob rules chaos that currently exists. As it stands, not much can be determined. Hey! Nielsen even ranks second in Internet rankings (on its own system).

I was also surprised to find Copywrite, Ink. in the mix (although I might tank after this write up). Thanks for the faith!

So here’s the bottom line from an end consumer (because I am not a tech guy, which can sometimes be a good thing). Hey! Nielsen has a robust, extremely fluid interface with tremendous potential. Where it misses is in providing any sense of real measure beyond mob rules buzz. The widgets are pretty solid.

Personally, I think Hey! Nielsen would have been better off setting the topics up, linking in media critic and blogger reviews to those subjects (with the reviews subject to review), weaving in some of its BlogPulse trending technologies, and asking people to vote and comment on that. It would have gamed it a bit, but not nearly as much as it is being gamed now.

If any fan groups deserve some extra kudos, it’s Jericho and Firefly. I’m amazed that both fan bases, with one show in stasis and another long ended, have quickly rallied and dominate the site. If we’re talking influence, there it is.

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Friday, September 28

Thinking Arrows: CBS Corporation


Steven Mallas with the Motley Fool called it right. Les Moonves, president and chief executive officer of CBS Corporation, sees CBS as a content king.

However, Nina Tassler, president of CBS Entertainment, recently said, because of social media (Jericho specifically), “…So I think we are looking at a shift and a change." And with the EyeLab concept, which will give consumers the ability to create short-film clips by editing content from CBS shows, some insiders are calling CBS a “next-generation studio.”

So which is it? Consumers are asking. Some are speculating.

“I do not think CBS even has people in place to evaluate and determine whether or not an opportunity is good for them,” commented Jericho fan blogger Terocious in response to our Tuesday post. “I think the company's success with new media must be coming from a small minority within the company who sees the possibilities and is pushing for them.”

Small minorities who see possibilities and push for them.

I agree. This seems to be happening inside CBS. But will that work?

Let’s imagine Moonves as an archer. He wants to hit the bulls-EyeLab for viewers, critics, shareholders, and, well, lots of different publics. If he does, then he is an expert. The ratings come in. Fans love the company. The stock soars. Everybody makes money, a portion of which is invested to make even better content.

Of course, it’s not that easy. There are a great number of variables, just like archery. Maybe the archer needs glasses. Maybe the environment is bit windy and could blow some arrows off course. Maybe the best arrows are too expensive so some of his arrows are slightly inferior compared to others.

Add to all these challenges: arrows that have minds of their own. Right. Unlike real arrows, each CBS arrow represents a small minority of people within the company who want to fly in a slightly different direction because they see a better target or want to adjust for the wind or whatever the case may be. Well, your chances of hitting the mark are suddenly pretty thin.

Successful communication requires one archer with great vision and unwavering arrows.

Companies that win have a quiver full of arrows that will always fly in the same direction. They will likely hit the mark, every time. Or, maybe they have an archer who is intuitive enough to listen to what the arrows are telling him or her and adjust. Either way, it works.

Some people like to tell me this is impossible, especially with big companies like CBS. They tell me that building internal consensus within a big corporation is an impossible task and maybe a waste of time. But that’s not exactly true. We do it all the time.

Teaching archers and arrows to work together and hit the mark.

A couple years ago, I was hired by a major utility to help create a graphic standards manual so its identity would always have some semblance of consistency (eg. no pink logos). The challenge, I was told, was that everybody — some 40 stakeholders within the company — all had different ideas about the company’s identity. (In other words, lots and lots of thinking arrows.)

What I really wanted to do was to use our core message process because one of the benefits is consensus building. But the utility wasn’t really interested because, they said, the geographical distance between several divisions was too far. So, even though we could not use a core message process, I applied a similar method that did not require all 40 stakeholders to be present at once.

I surveyed the arrows, um, stakeholders by e-mail; and then I followed up with interviewers. By the end of my research, I came across a surprising conclusion and laughed out loud.

All 40 stakeholders believed they were the only ones who understood the identity of the company. However, all 40 stakeholders had the same view. They just didn’t know it!

While that doesn’t always happen, it put us in the position to develop graphics standard manual that the arrows felt pretty good about. They liked the diection. Even better, the archer (the communication director in this case) felt very confident in being able to hit the mark every time, no matter who held the bow. They did.

The best external communication works from the inside out.

In sum, all this means is that for companies to succeed with communicaiton, the archer and all the arrows have to agree on the mark and the direction they must travel to hit that mark.

Or, in other words, if they can agree internally, then it’s easier to move a consistent message out into the mainstream. Unfortunately, especially with the advent of social media, more and more companies are sharing their internal opposing viewpoints with the outside world.

The result is mixed messages that leave consumers confused, frustrated, or worse, disenfranchised because nobody believes what the company is saying half of the time. From what consumers are telling me, that is what is happening at CBS, most major networks, and too many companies on or off the net.

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Thursday, September 27

Thanking Bloggers: Copywrite, Ink.


While there are thousands of bloggers who deserve a ton of thanks as the Bloggers Unite campaign unfolds today, I wanted to thank a few who took the time to help promote Bloggers Unite and Copywrite, Ink.’s “Blog For Hope Competition” in cooperation with BlogCatalog. Many are BC members; several are not.

Jim Stroud. Jim is a "searchologist" and presently serves Microsoft as a technical sourcing consultant and is a regular contributor to Microsoft’s Technical Careers blog.

Idea Grove. Idea Grove (and the Media Orchard blog) is led by Scott Baradell, a former Fortune 1000 media company executive and award-winning journalist. He often brings reality to the public relations industry by pointing out what so many forget.

Jericho Monster. Jane Sweat is one of the leading fan advocates for the return of the television show Jericho. Since she started, she has become an expert in consumer marketing.

National Business Community Blog. Sure, the National Business Community Blog is a Copywrite, Ink. program but Kim Becker has taken over the management of it. Frankly, I don’t thank her enough.

A Piece of Peace by RubyShooZ. At the end of her post, Ruby placed one of my favorite quotes from Edmund Burke: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

My Super Amazing Blog of Everything by TriblyKat. Tribly Kat is a personal blogger who writes about, well, everything she finds interesting. She not only joined Bloggers Unite but also created a Topix post for people to leave their links outside of BlogCatalog.

Ramblings From the Mermaid Tavern. Poseidon’s Muse is a personal blogger with a profound respect and fascination for world culture, art, literature and religion.

Blog Village News. Rosemary says she is retired, but she and her family maintain several antique and collectible shops that sell everything from advertising collectibles to sports memorabilia.

A Bunch Of Wordz, a personal blog/Ezine writer who picked up on the buzz “Saving The World One Blog At A Time.”

If It’s Not One Thing It’s Your Mother and The Crone’s Daily Groan and Living On The Edge of Madness. Bairbre Sine’s pre-post promotion across three blogs made me laugh with the suggestion that someone might consider posting about Republican abuse.

365 Dias. Fabio Santos is an online marketer from Brazil who promoted the event, and the “Blog For Hope Post” competition we’re sponsoring, yesterday.

Radio Free Jericho, Jericho Rally Point, and Nuts for Jericho are three Jericho fan forums that have dedicated some behind-the-scenes time to support this effort, as has the Jericho fans who frequent the CBS Jericho site.

Recruiting Bloggers. Recruiting Animal, who runs the site, has always been great to allow me to add the occasional Maybe It Pays To Blog For Good do-good post. Ditto for Jason Davis at RecruitingBlogs too.

Contest Girl is a directory of online sweepstakes, contests, and freebies. Linda’s is also one of several contest sites that have promoted the contest portion of Bloggers Unite.

I know I missed a ton of people, including all those who supported a Technorati WTF and Digg as well. Thank you all so very, very much for supporting this effort. And of course, Antony Berkman and the BlogCatalog team. You guys rock!

And if you haven’t posted about abuse today, don’t forget that there is still time to do so. Any blogger who participates has until Oct. 10 to collect some measurements and send their link to blogforhope@yahoo.com. For details, visit our original contest post. We have more recognition to extend in the weeks ahead.

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Blogging Against Abuse: Bloggers Unite

Let's Stop Abuse

Depending on how fast you read this post, about 25 children will be abused, assaulted, or caused severe physical and emotional harm. Many of them by people they trust — their moms, dads, uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters, guardians, teachers, coaches, ministers.

That’s one child, every 11 seconds. One right now.

Those are the obvious cases, statistics and reports chronicled by the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS), which is a federally sponsored effort that collects and analyzes annual data on child abuse and neglect. One right now. You can find one of the most recent summaries from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services here.

As defined, these children — one right now — are only counted if the act or failure to act on the part of the parent or caretaker results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation (or failure to act, which presents imminent risk of serious harm). That doesn’t count every child — one right now — whose abuse will never be identified, recorded, or reported.

That’s 3.3 million cases reported every year. One right now.

In other words, while newspapers and public opinion might be swayed by these numbers — the real numbers that go unreported, hidden away, and sometimes even blocked by the survivors of abuse are much larger. Equally alarming are those cases that do not even qualify as abuse — one right now.

Somewhere in America, for every one of the approximately 90,000 children who will be sexually abused this year, there will be thousands more who are told they are “worthless,” “lazy,” “ugly,” “bad,” “just like their bum father,” and many other disparaging labels assigned to them by the most trusted source of information — a parent.

One right now.

Parents, in fact, account for more than 90 percent of the perpetrators of abuse, many of whom are ignorant of the outcome that is sometimes spurred on by their own feelings of inadequacy and lack of control. This post won’t change that. But maybe it will help one child, one right now, for some parents to know that how they were raised isn’t the only way. Without any judgment whatsoever, maybe it’s fair to simply point out that their justifications are incorrect. Here are some less obvious forms of abuse.

• Name-calling, putdowns, or assigning statements like “why do you always embarrass me” can work their way into your child’s self-esteem. One right now.

• Discounting major accomplishments because you are too busy on the phone or computer to hear what happened during their day erodes their self-worth.

• Declaring, sharing, and apologizing that you just don’t know why your children are “pigs” is really a form of public humiliation. One right now.

• Threatening body language such as towering above them, raising a hand, or displaying weapons like belts and cooking spoons.

It’s these little injuries delivered sometimes every day — one right now — that shape these children into the people they will become long after the parents’ responsibilities end. Even the best parents might pause now again to ask themselves simple questions: do you spend more time on your commute to work than you do with your child? One right now.

The image above is a reworked billboard from our participation in a campaign for United Way of Southern Nevada several years ago. It caused a lot of controversy because I had only included “dads” as the perpetrators, but it brought attention to where attention was needed.

Of course, even I knew then that while issue ads can be striking, the United Way needed a message that was more apt to raise funds to solve the problem. The following year, we helped them launch their “Great Results Start With U. United Way” campaign that later became “Great results start with you.” It was the longest running, most successful campaign in their history.

I wanted to mention this campaign today because it lends well to the concept of “Bloggers Unite because great results really do start with you. One blogger. One post. One right now. One topic. At a time. One right now.

Please take a moment to read and submit your Bloggers Unite post against abuse to our competition, win $250 for a charity (among other prizes), and receive some well-deserved recognition that will inspire others to lend their voices against abuse; which is important to them. One right now.

You can also purchase a T-shirt with the image above from the Bloggers Unite store. Proceeds from that item this year will be donated to Prevent Child Abuse. Proceeds from other Bloggers Unite items will be donated to aid against animal abuse as requested by our friends at BlogCatalog.

Later today, I will be adding a thank you for all those who came out early to support our "Blog For Hope Post" competition that is underway and BlogCatalog in this very important effort. If you haven't joined this effort today, there is still time. It only takes one.

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Wednesday, September 26

Advertising Respect: Adweek and JWT


According to a study released yesterday by Adweek and J. Walter Thompson (JWT), only 14 percent of those surveyed say they respect ad people.

Gasp! Sometimes, I am ad people. That’s me! (Well, sometimes anyway.) So maybe I need public relations help. Or perhaps some journalists might weigh in. Oh right, never mind.

With Mad Men on AMC capturing positive reviews and ad guys coming out of the woodwork to join some playful Ad Legends cameos, is it any wonder?

Maybe it’s because as niche sub-consultants who wear many hats, we don’t always see all the glam slam that is associated with the industry. I guess I’m still stuck on a concept my creative director knocked into my head years ago … “great advertising isn’t always about being clever, it’s hard work.”

I laughed at him then, but it didn’t take too long to find out he was right. Maybe not at the big firms, but certainly everybody I’ve worked with (including a couple of big firms). Take a ton of research, apply strategic communication, and just before you become so left brained you’ll never have a creative idea again, you push your thinking to the right and come up with something that conveys the right message to the right audience while being exciting enough to get noticed.

Here’s a reality check. The survey only accounts for 966 Americans in a random online survey. That’s not only a pretty slim number, but it was also conducted in an environment that is largely predisposed against advertising. And the real irony, the survey was conducted by an advertising agency.

What the survey does do is provide meaningful discussion points.

• 84 percent agree (strongly/somewhat), “Too many things are over-hyped now."

Just yesterday, I said buzz was not a measure. Maybe consumers agree.

• 74 percent agree, “The Internet helps me make better product choices."

This finding has social media pundits in a tizzy claiming consumers want authentic engagement. (As if social media was devoid of hype; as if pretending to be someone’s “friend” to sell them is somehow better than selling them something.)

• 72 percent agree, “I get tired of people trying to grab my attention and sell me stuff.”

Which is a tremendous irony in consumer behavior considering Harris Interactive research that suggests 100 percent the opposite.

• 52 percent agree, “There’s too much advertising — I would support stricter limits.”

These folks obviously need a trip here.

• 47 percent regard “Advertising as background noise.”

Bad advertising is background noise, you bet. Only about 10-20 percent of advertising is any good, and I’m being generous. Most ads, ironically, are company-dictated because, well, companies don’t trust ad people either.

And the list goes on. And on.

“The study significantly uncovers a basic disconnect between the ad industry’s ‘world view’ and that of its audience,” JWT reports. And that is probably the most truthful statement in the entire report.

As for the rest, even if we were to consider the sampling size to be valid, here’s the real rub in this report. Ad people might have only scored 14 percent as a repected profession, but they still beat national politicians and car salesmen. Lawyers only scored 19 percent and journalists (truth tellers) a dismal 26 percent. The ONLY two other professions even asked about were teachers and doctors, and they barely broke into the 70s.

Funny. Maybe advertisers are not the only ones using hype these days. That Adweek hyperbole headline really drew me in for a minute.

Hmmm ... maybe consumers are just not all that trusting anymore. Sometimes, I don’t blame them. (Hat tip: Recruiting Animal.)

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Tuesday, September 25

Measuring Buzz: Strategic Meets Social Media


It is no surprise to me that most social measures are misused. Many of the misconceptions mimic erroneous measures that are currently misapplied by the majority of public relations firms (not all of them) and ad sales teams.

By bridging traditional communication example with the current misapplication of measurement in social media, the error becomes even more apparent. We know a lot about that; we see it every day.

Buzz is the easy part.

In the late 1990s, my niche sub-consulting company did something out of the ordinary. We launched a split local/international trade publication for concierges and hospitality professionals.

At the time, the concierge profession was relatively new to Las Vegas, which had previously relied exclusively on VIP guest services (for guests who gambled a certain amount, based on coin in or average table wager). Between their interesting and sometimes funny stories (secrets inside Las Vegas and from around the world), front line customer service tips, and hospitality management content with interviews from key people within the industry, we had a hit concept — enough to score the front page of the Las Vegas Sun business section and dozens of write-ups in other publications.

This was a huge success because start-up publications are a dime a dozen in Las Vegas and established publications, not surprisingly, are usually unwilling to write about another upstart that might compete for advertising revenue. We were the exception.

But then again, we had a strategic plan, the right editorial mix, and knew how to communicate our message. In fact, some publishers not only gave us a leg up, but they also became content sponsors.

Buzz is not a measure.

Where the division between publicity and public relations sometimes lies is in the execution of the message and in what is measured. Had this public relations effort been measured by some firms, the measures would have been focused on the buzz.

Some might have counted column inches and reported that those column inches were worth the equivalent of tens of thousands of dollars in advertising. They may have claimed that the number of “hits” the release received and media comments meant something.

They may have even claimed that they had “special relationships” with certain reporters to make sure the story got play. Or that if the release in its entirety, then that means something about the firm. Silly, I know.

Defining tangible measures.

All the media attention we received was appreciated, but not our measure. Sure, we tracked it, but that is only the tip of measurement ice berg. The real value was in tangibles like how many potential advertisers called to order one of the highest cost-per-impression publications anywhere? Several dozen.

And how well did these positive stories help establish our brand and reputation? Very well. And how many advertisers actually signed contracts? A few, but that was intentional. We only started the publication with 8 pages and didn’t have a whole lot of space to sell.

How did we do that? We had the daunting but doable task of killing the concept of cost per impression. What we had instead was something different. We calculated the value of concierge recommendations. In doing so, we discovered that concierge recommendations influenced approximately $1.2 billion in purchasing decisions in Las Vegas every year.

What does that mean? It meant concierges referred as many as 4,000 qualified buyers per month to a select retail stores, booked almost half of all reservations at select restaurants, and sent more than 2,500 additional participants to local events. These were not window shoppers. They were qualified buyers. Of course, being an advertiser was not enough to get this kind of traffic. The burden of meeting high concierge standards was still on the advertiser. (Of course, knowing key executives read the publication helped too.)

Drawing the comparison.

So what if this publication existed online today? What is a suitable measure? Link buzz? Cost per impression? Influence ranking? Click-throughs? The measurement comparisons are apparent.

Tangible results generated by our public relations effort would ultimately be the end result of receiving calls for advertisers (including the publications themselves). The measure of our media kit and sales team would be the number of qualified conversions (because we did not accept all advertisers). And for advertisers, the measure was in the number of qualified buyers recommended by a trusted source. Those are tangible measurements.

Key News * Las Vegas enjoyed a great run until we sold our rights (but the parties who bought it did not do anything with it). Five years later, we still receive calls from potential advertisers inquiring about purchasing an ad in a publication that grew from eight to 16 pages and from 500 to 10,000 hard copy and online readers. (We even had a function that was not dissimilar to a blog).

Eventually, we’ll duplicate these efforts again with someone. We just haven’t found the right partner or investor (which is secondary to our core business services). Of course, any new publication doesn’t have to be hospitality based nor would have to have the burden of expense that we had: printing and full-time designers are optional.

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Monday, September 24

Considering Sundance: Social Media Measures


A few years ago, Sundance Catalog Company opened a store inside Boca Park in Las Vegas, a retail center that continues to offer great dining, apparel, art, and accessory boutiques. We were working for the developers of Boca Park at the time, the same developers responsible for the acclaimed the Mall of America in Minneapolis.

There was no question that Boca Park was the right place for Sundance. Boca Park is located in Summerlin, a master-planned community surrounded by more than 100 square miles of luxury, executive, custom, and gated residential developments with thousands of homes priced at more than $1 million.

From a social media perspective, Robert Redford’s brick and mortar store was a virtual gold mine. It had it all. A prime location. An attractive corner building. Friendly employees. A high traffic count. Celebrities stopping by. Great content. Dozens of “link-like” plugs from various newspapers and magazines. It was hot!

Oh, except for one little thing. Sales. Nobody bought anything. It was all eye candy; a window shopper’s paradise. I once bought a very nice light switch cover there. It cost about $10.

Not surprisingly, Sundance moved out. It was replaced by Tilly’s, which does very well at Boca Park because, well, people buy things. Sometimes I buy too many things.

Sure, I know precisely what was wrong with the Sundance store and how it could have been amazingly successful given the surrounding area, but that’s not really what this post is about. What this post is about is the growing pressure on social media measurements and why these measures are slowing down businesses that want to migrate to social media. More often than not, social media is measured like the Sundance store.

I’ve been brooding about this for some time now. And no, it’s not the kind of stuff that makes you popular in some circles, especially those who rank. However, other people are starting to wonder if I might not be right, at least a little bit.

Where does the hype end and the real measure begin? At least those are the kind of questions that Geoff Livingston, author of the new book, Now Is Gone, is starting to ask about what is now called the Ad Age Power 150. (We’ll be opening up more discussion about this later today at BlogStraightTalk on Bumpzee and BlogStraightTalk’s newest home on BlogCatalog.) But I wanted to touch on a question raised by Andrew Graham, an account executive for Cognito, on Linkedin.

“How should social media companies be valued?” Graham asked in response to my query, what social media question is not being adequately answered by communication experts? “Given a lot of these companies are more or less built for acquisition, I think it's a legitimate question.”

Exactly. Right now, traffic counts, clicks, rank, and links are considered the most relevant measures of social media. Don’t get me wrong; these measures can play an important role in the greater scope. But, unfortunately for businesses, they provide a skewed sense of reality.

In other words, there are a whole lot of Sundance brick and mortar stores (like the one mentioned above) online. They have everything going for them, except a tangible measure like sales. And the reason is pretty simple. Many of them are chasing social media measures instead of strategic business goals. To what end?

As preliminary answer to Graham, in my opinion, a social media company is worth what someone will pay for it, but the social media measures that are currently in play (like clicks and links) over inflate the value unless proprietary technology is part of the package.

In terms of blogs or other social media tools, the best measures are based on its ability to meet strategic goals: things that range from brand awareness and market share to member engagement and sales. All the other stuff, while helpful and not to be discounted en masse, are not really valid measures unless the buyer is equipped to turn traffic into something tangible.

Likewise, companies entering social media to expand their communication plan might consider what goals they want to meet on the front end. And no, I don't mean rank as much as bank. That's what we've been doing for several companies over the last few weeks, determining what real goals they can tie to their social media plan.

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Saturday, September 22

Making The Grade: Veronica Mars


Jericho fan John Rodriguez, who publishes the Jericho-dedicated video-driven ThunderHawk blog on Yahoo! 360 beta, knows that the “greatest challenge is keeping people motivated. It takes a lot of time invested into
promoting something. It takes good communication, and fresh up to date information, on what is going on.”

“You must fan the flames of your project, and keep it hot,” says the Internet veteran who used to run three early BBS networks. “There is a small handful I have seen excel above and beyond. The work I have seen is much better than current CBS promotions.”

Jericho fans continue to do their best, largely on their own, while waiting for CBS to officially reveal the start date of Jericho Season 2 (which is likely to be a mid-season break). Similarly, but for very different reasons, the power of consumer marketing is also being played out by another fan base. Unlike Jericho, they have nothing but rumors and faith that something, anything, might happen.

These are the fans of Veronica Mars, the critically acclaimed teen drama/mystery neo-noir series starring Kristen Bell. They could not save their show from being cancelled (the only reason perhaps, in my opinion, was the late start of the consumer campaign), but have, amazingly enough, continued to build on their momentum.

“The main problem with putting together a campaign of any kind is ensuring that there are not multiple campaigns working against each other,” says Shannon Miller, Web master of the Veronica Mars Movie Web site. “The best way to keep up morale is to work in phases … to have multiple steps to the larger plan, and continue to encourage smaller campaigns along the way.”

Like Jericho, there are several groups of fans with different goals, ranging from fast-tracking syndication to focusing on the full-length feature film (and some who still hold out for a complete reinstatement, which seems unlikely). Where Veronica Mars fans are winning is in their success in establishing a centralized forum called Neptune Rising. The goal of Neptune Rising is to consolidate fans with different goals under one campaign banner in order to benefit each other and support a larger campaign, whether that means promoting syndication or the movie.

“We occasionally have a hiccup, but we work them out,” says Mark Thompson, who was introduced to Veronica Mars as late as season 3 because of previous fan efforts. He works on Save Veronica Mars. ”Morale is something that has to be considered and it varies with each person [so we have to keep it high]. Right now, we’re concentrating on building our membership numbers because the more members we have, the better our chance of success.”

Thompson, like everyone we had contact with, stressed that they respect the privacy of the creators, crew, and cast (even saying they are excited that Bell will be appearing in Heroes), and prefer to keep their focus narrow: finding existing fans, creating new fans, requesting syndication, and keeping the dream of a movie alive. By doing so, their work has gotten noticed. Rob Thomas, Veronica Mars creator, recently responded to a letter sent in by a former Web master.

“I'm afraid I don't have a definitive answer other than to say I want to do it. Unfortunately right now, I need to pay the bills, and I'd have to write the movie on spec.,” said Thomas. “It's difficult to consult on a show, develop new pilots and knock out comic books and/or a feature script. I'm grateful that there are fans anxious for it, and I remain motivated.”

Thomas is not the only one. Rachel Gerke, who was instrumental in providing backgrounders and assisting us with collecting interviews (better than some public relations professionals, I might add) for this post, notes that Bell’s answers in interviews have changed.

“I think that Kristen Bell is listening. Her interviews went from thinking that a movie was not going to happen to talk between her and Rob Thomas that it could happen,” said Gerke. “I think the challenge is getting enough active people in each of our smaller groups. As long as we have someone overseeing each of them, which we do, it will work out well.”

Courtney Harris is one of the primary organizers. She created the majority of the sites, including the forum and MySpace page. She also made many of the petitions and movie posters.

“I’m not big on coming up with ideas, but I’m really good at getting things done,” says Harris. “A lot of dedicated fans seem to be listening and willing to take on the challenge, and fans in general seem to be interested in what we’re doing. Just getting a group of fans together to create a campaign is a huge success in my opinion. As long we stay on track, I’m hoping it will all go up from there.”

If there any is indication that their collective plans are working, perhaps Sara Pillitu is the perfect example. She is an Italian fan who followed the “Bars for Mars” cancellation protest campaign but suddenly found herself very involved in the effort.

“We’re very lucky to be happy to be ‘shiny, happy people’ and we work constantly to keep morale up with jokes and discussions about the show,” says Pillitu. “We do a lot of recruitment and we always look for new ideas to get the people involved in our campaign to save Veronica Mars. Unfortunately, Veronica Mars is not so popular in Europe, so right now I'm trying to spread the buzz on the show and create a partnership between us and the European fan sites.”

Collectively, while the outcome is anybody’s guess, Veronica Mars fans have a lot working in their favor. Here is a hot list of things they are doing right:

• They have established a centralized group that remains largely positive.
• They have designated smaller groups, each focusing on slightly different promotional efforts or social networks with informal leaders to provide direction.
• They welcome new Web masters and encourage them to promote specific goals.
• They have established clearly defined primary goals: engage existing fans (some who have become active supporters) and find new fans (loaning personal DVD sets when they have to) with the focus on supporting a movie.
• They have established secondary goals such as encouraging Warner Brothers to put the show into syndication and promoting DVD sales.
• They have a consistent message. Each participant responded separately, but they all had very similar answers. Their message sticks.
• They have remained courteous and supportive of the cast and crew, even going so far as to promote other ventures.
• They have remained courteous and supportive of each other and have fun.

All of this seems to demonstrate marked progress since we first mentioned Veronica Mars fan efforts in June. Currently, the fans are also looking for ways to raise funds to support promotional efforts as well as encouraging other sites to pick up on their efforts. (Hey Stephen King ... maybe you could plug fan base movements in one of your Entertainment Weekly columns.)

For some other insights into the fan base that will never say Neptune sets, visit the VMCW MySpace page where they still comment today. Consumer marketing. You have to love it!

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Friday, September 21

Growing Pains: Really Fast Apps


We all know about fast cars, fast companies, and fast social networks. But how about a fast app?


“We’re about 5 days into the launch of BlogRush and its growth has been nothing short of EXPLOSIVE,” screams an e-mail from BlogRush. “We’ve served over 40 MILLION blog headlines…”


Zooooommm …

But all is not is not well in the land of social media for BlogRush. In some cases, it is losing subscribers because it took less than five days for programmers to game the system. From BlogRush …

• We are moving to a Manual Review; eliminating automation
• We are continuing to add security measures to ban cheaters
• We have added different colored widgets (called flavors)

This is not to say BlogRush will crash; I am still testing it. So far, there seem to be a few errors in their overall model. Much like Yuwie, they are attempting to overlay a multi-level marketing approach, where members who get members get credit (this model begs for cheaters). But more than that, one wonders how much gaming there really is — are people randomly clicking through just to drive up their credits? (I won’t know until I can measure “time on site” from BlogRush clickers to regular readers.)

BlogRush is not the only one experiencing growing pains. The New York Times announced that people would rather search for news than subscribe (really?). And CBS is speeding up its plans toward convergence. Everybody, it seems, is attempting to leap frog to the next level.

• Yahoo! just merged MyBlogLog accounts without any communication other than an opt in.

Bloglines is beta testing a start page that looks a little like PageFlakes without the news and cool content.

• Digg is adding profiles along with 50 new features. It highlights a mere five promising features on its video; it says it will only take a minute but it really takes about two-and-half.

BlogCatalog.com is in the process of launching Groups, which is expected to be moved out of beta in just a few days.

Hey!Nielsen is only three days away from becoming a larger public beta, Nielsen’s effort to stay relevant in a changing world.

From a communication perspective, only Digg and BlogCatalog seem to be spot on with communicating change. They both have different approaches: Digg launched the changes but had an arsenal of communication vehicles waiting in the wings and BlogCalalog has been completely transparent every step of the way.

So if communicaton is any measure as it can be with traditional companies, those who communicate the best will likely thrive. Those who don't ...

Well, hold on tight. Really fast apps mean some people might crash and burn along the way (or maybe get acquired). As they do, you can expect some measures to crash right along with them. More about that on Monday.

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Thursday, September 20

Pitching Bloggers: Commercial Real Estate News


How many blind pitch letters need to be published before businesses and public relations firms begin to appreciate that a poorly written pitch carries more risk than reward? Right.

Dear commercial real estate blogger,

Each day you'll find new stories that relate to the larger and more institutional size real estate transactions that are currently taking place around the entire United States at crefeed. [note: I removed the .com, etc.]

We're a commercial real estate site interested in the people involved in each transaction and something that's newsworthy about those people and the relationships the [sic] make the transactions happen.

We've come across your blog while doing research and we're seeing if it's possible that you could post a link on your blog to our site.

Also, feel free to reference us and our stories in your posts.

Please reply with any questions to [e-mail].

Thanks,
The CREfeed team


The commercial real estate blogger is supposed to be “me.” While it is true that our company has commercial real estate experience, this blog really has more to do with advertising, copywriting, marketing, communication, public relations, and social media. You know, topics like, um, poor pitches.

To be honest, having worked as a journalist, I’ve never been really big on pitches. Generally, pitches are non-specific pleas to a journalist to find something interesting about the company (as opposed to the company or public relations firm finding something interesting about the company, which is their job).

Reporters get dozens if not hundreds of these pitches every day by e-mail and on the phone. Then, we wonder why they become cynical. Maybe it is because the vast majority of pitches are loaded with lies and a complete waste of time.

While news releases are not much better, I am beginning to think I prefer them because at least they do not pretend to be something they are not. Anyway, while I have mixed feelings about drafting a pitch solution, let’s explore how this one might have been better crafted. (I would like to stress though, pitch at your own risk. There are better ways to reach bloggers. Journalists too.)

Dear Rich,

I recently read your blog and noticed that you have some experience in commercial real estate. I was especially interested to read that you were able to help move a commercial real estate company to be ranked number one in your market.


Consider the obvious. With a personal salutation and direct reference to something on the blog, they could have demonstrated they’ve actually read it (even if for no other reason than to pitch something).

Since your focus is on communication and you have commercial real estate experience, I would like to share some results that the CREfeed has had since launching its new commercial real estate news feed.

Okay. This might be more interesting because it might be a pitch, but at least it is a specific pitch. You might also notice that there is no need to boast about their pretend blog research; they could have proven it.

What we do at CREfeed is cover large commercial real estate transactions, including the people and the companies behind the transactions, sometimes focusing on best practices. Since our launch, we have accomplished [insert some examples and results].

The examples and results would determine whether or not I would write about the company. Of course, if I were writing this pitch, which I probably wouldn’t, I’d add a link in the above paragraph.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Thanks,
[insert actual contact]


There is no need to blantantly solicit a link or grant “permission” to reference them or their stories in my posts. In addition, what you could not see was that although an individual sent me the e-mail, they directed me to e-mail my questions to a blind e-mail account.

In closing, let me add that by quickly rewriting this pitch, this does not indicate that I am advocating pitches. What I am advocating is that if you are going to pitch as opposed to sending out a news release, at least try to ground yourself in fact rather than fiction. It might also help not to send the e-mail twice.

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Wednesday, September 19

Changing Times: The New York Times

“The blogosphere is all about Internet links that move faster and more efficiently than the traditional word-of-mouth advertising.” Tracey Clark, May Papers

From Maria Piscopo’s article in Communication Arts, Tracey Clark believes in blog marketing. She's not the only one. And for good reason.

It took me less than a minute to find Clark’s e-mail and congratulate her on a prolific quote. The same day, she wrote me back, thanking me and mentioning that she didn’t know the article was up. I almost e-mailed her back to say I didn’t know if it was up on the net or not; I had read the hard copy version of Communication Arts. (How barbaric of me to say so, but Communication Arts is one of my few hard copy vices.) The assumption though is part of the story. The speed of being able to have a brief communication exchange took hours.

Do you remember how long something like that would take? Weeks? Months? Never?

In the article, Clark also mentions how quickly she understood the potential. Within her first month of blogging, she was featured as the “momtreprenner” of the month by a highly trafficked shopping blog for moms. Another featured blogger in the article, John Janstch, says he can track as much as $500,000 worth of business to his blog. There are more case studies to consider. We have a few here at Copywrite, Ink. too.

Social media works because as Clark’s quote sums, word-of-mouth marketing, one-on-one communication, or frontline communication have always been recognized as the most credible forms of communication. The down side was that it used to be slow – travel, meetings, follow-ups, phone calls, introductions.

Social media, blogs specifically, have a unique ability to create that one-on-one communication link between the blogger and the reader, which is reinforced by open participation in comment sections. It makes sense that individuals and small businesses were the first to employ them because blogs, unless overburdened by puffery, provide a better return on investment than other communication tactics on their own. Sure, it still takes some time and it is better to have someone on board who can write well; but that’s where companies like ours fit into the mix.

Ironically, this blogger-to-reader model is one of several hold backs for most businesses. Most executives don’t have the time nor the inclination to peddle their companies with a blog. And more than that, as I offered up on recruitingblogs.com, is that any trepidation is not because of blogdramas or personal blogs as some claim. It is because of what David Meerman Scott and I pointed out some time ago: there is too much gibberish. When you talk to people who are not immersed in social media, their eyes glaze over if you rattle off traffic, rank, connections, and influence.

In contrast, you can see the lights turn back on when you mention that Southwest Airlines attributes $150 million in ticket sales to its widget, which is part of its social media mix.

So what is really going on? Social media gibberish is beginning to outweigh the significance that social media can add to business strategy which is an opportunity to communicate with the power of one-on-one communication, develop a dedicated online publication (as opposed to e-mail blasts), or whatever 5-in-1 tool you can dream up.

The more businesses hear about these possibilities, the more likely they will engage in social media. But, if you ask me, eventually, they will embrace it anyway. Because, you see, the times are changing.

Right. The New York Times is changing (Hat tip: Jane Sweat). Effective today, The New York Times is ending TimesSelect and opening its content, archives, and other features for free. Why? Take it from the Times.

“Since we launched TimesSelect in 2005, the online landscape has altered significantly. Readers increasingly find news through search, as well as through social networks, blogs and other online sources. In light of this shift, we believe offering unfettered access to New York Times reporting and analysis best serves the interest of our readers, our brand and the long-term vitality of our journalism. We encourage everyone to read our news and opinion – as well as share it, link to it and comment on it.”

Digg!

Tuesday, September 18

Blogging For Hope: BlogCatalog.com

“Sept. 27. will be the first time in history that social network members will collectively promote a single social awareness issue on hundreds of blogs all over the world on the same day,” said Antony Berkman, president of BlogCatalog.com. “They chose the topic and it’s a call to end abuse.”

If there is any truth to the idea that one good deed deserves another, then BlogCatalog.com’s Call To End Abuse, which is its third social awareness campaign, certainly qualifies. While the topic is broad, the blogger-driven campaign promises to raise awareness of abuse-related subjects and related non-profits around the world.

In cooperation with BlogCatalog.com, Copywrite, Ink. is inviting any blogger who participates in the campaign to submit a link to their Sept. 27 abuse awareness post along with two weeks of measurable results for a contest designed to benefit others while drawing additional recognition to bloggers who do good.

Blog For Hope Post Competition

The Challenge. Simply post about some form of abuse on your blog as planned on Sept. 27 and then track any measurable results (traffic counts, comments, links from others, recognition from charity or media, donations collected or made to a charity as applicable, etc.) for two weeks. Your name and address must be included on the e-mailed entry (we will publish pseudonyms upon request; this information will not be used for any other purpose).

The Submission. Please submit the link to your post in the body of an e-mail along with any measurable results to blogforhope@yahoo.com by no later than 5 p.m. PST on Oct. 10, 2007. Title the post “Blog For Hope Entry.”

Entry fee. Nada. Zero.

First Place.
• $250 (U.S.) donated to a recognized charity of your choice in your name.
• Six months of premium services from BlogCatalog.com
• Choice of any “Bloggers Unite” T-shirt, mug, or other product.
• Your blog and post topic profiled on Nov. 4 by the Copywrite, Ink. blog.
• A “Bloggers Unite” product design based on your post, which will include your blog address (proceeds will benefit charity), and design featured on the Back Lot Projects store blog with a direct link to your post. Additional recognition on BlogCatalog.com, Copywrite, Ink., and National Business Community Blog.

Second Place.
• Three months of premium services from BlogCatalog.com
• Choice of any “Bloggers Unite” T-shirt, mug, or other product.
• Your blog and post topic profiled on Nov. 11 by the Copywrite, Ink. blog.
• A “Bloggers Unite” product design based on your post, which will include your blog address (proceeds will benefit charity), and design featured on the Back Lot Projects store blog with a direct link to your post. Additional recognition on BlogCatalog.com, Copywrite, Ink., and National Business Community Blog.

Third Place.
• One month of premium services from BlogCatalog.com
• Choice of any “Bloggers Unite” T-shirt, mug, or other product.
• Your blog and post topic profiled on Nov. 18 by the Copywrite, Ink. blog.
• A “Bloggers Unite” product design based on your post, which will include your blog address (proceeds will benefit charity), and design featured on the Back Lot Projects store blog with a direct link to your post. Additional recognition on BlogCatalog.com, Copywrite, Ink., and National Business Community Blog.

Honorable Mentions.
• Up to five honorable mentions to be included in the winners release.

Winners will be announced on Oct. 27, 2007. Entry assumes that you agree to allow us the right to republish portions of your post in the event you win and make yourself available to answer a few e-mail questions for the winners’ profiles to be published at Copywrite, Ink.

Judging. Post will be judged on the basis of the quality of the post (be accurate, clear, concise, human, and conspicuous), the abuse subject or charity mentioned in your post, and any additional measurements submitted. Judges will include two members of BlogCatalog.com, two members of Copywrite, Ink., and two outside judges with no affiliation to either company.

Additional. You do not have to be a BlogCatalog.com member to enter. We reserve the right to not award some or all prizes if no suitable entries are submitted. Neither BlogCatalog.com or Copywrite, Ink. employees are eligible to participate. All decisions by the judges are final. The first place cash prize will NOT be awarded to the first place winner personally (but rather to a charity instead) and therefore the winner shall not be entitled to receive an income tax deduction for such prize contribution.

If you have additional questions or comments, feel free to post them in the comment section of this post. The sole purpose of this contest is to have fun, recognize causes against abuse, and bloggers who use their blogs for good.

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Monday, September 17

Walking Planks: Social Media Pirates


I first heard about the dreaded black spot while reading Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. It’s a coming of age story about swashbuckling adventures, treasure maps, one-legged seamen with parrots, and the dreaded “Black Spot.”

Hey! That almost sounds like social media when I read Eric Eggerston’s beautifully summed take away of Paull Young’s post, entitled “Young PR’s - Know Your Place.

“Don’t needlessly or carelessly piss all over someone who may be in a position to help or harm your career. Public relations, marketing … the people involved all know each other, talk to each other and compare notes about up-and-comers. They also throw business the way of people they think they can trust. Flame them at your peril,” says Eggerston, who writes one of my favorite blogs.

Arg! If you mess up, we’ll give you the Black Spot and, much like Billy Bones from Treasure Island, you will suffer a social media stroke and your blog will die.

To be certain, there is ample wisdom to be taken away from these posts despite my play on the idea that sometimes social media practitioners sound more like threatening pirates. It is true that if you launch a personal blog, you are making yourself semi-public, if not public. As such, you subject yourself to consequences. Random flames may carry with them some unintended penalties. And sometimes, even the most minor disagreements become the bane of the social media world — blogdramas.

So who knows, perhaps there is some logic in saying that, as Mitch Joel says, the soap opera aspect of social media “is hurting our industry and our ability to convince clients that these channels are excellent for their Marketing and Communications' needs (which it is).”

But at the same time, I don’t blame young professionals like Chris Clarke for mimicking the social media world created before he got here. On more than one occasion, I’ve read seasoned bloggers say “be bold or go home.” Be bold, they mean, but be bold against those who haven’t earned the eye patch. You know, I’m not defending the post, but Clarke was hardly the only one to target Joseph Jaffe.

Of the two posts, which is harsher? And of the two, which seems to have caused more outrage? To me, it seems that maybe Clarke is being singled out because he hasn’t earned his eye patch. Although I can’t call myself a fan, Amanda Chapel seems to have been given at least that much. And, as I have said before, Chapel and others exist because the public relations world seems to need them. It certainly embraces them. So who is to blame a younger professional for capitalizing on similar traffic spike generating content?

Before we get carried away, let me point out that this post isn’t about Jaffe or Chapel or Clarke. Everybody else can write about that.

What this post is about is an idea. And the idea is this: whereas name calling and blatant flame posts don’t lend anything to a discussion (though it happens to drive traffic and garner attention from what I’ve seen), neither does positioning social media into high school-like niches where the price of admission is blind acceptance of equally bold statements being put forth by “experts,” as defined by crazy measures like page rank.

As much as we don’t need a new generation of flamers, neither do we need a pirate-like society where select groups might dole out “Black Spots” to those they don’t like. The way I see it, social handshakes and eye patches might work in the short term, but most will unravel long term. The more exclusionary they become, the more likely they will be swallowed up by some greater group that develops around them.

So let’s not be so serious as to pretend social media is a new world when what it really is for businesses is a powerful communication tool (more about that on Wednesday). While my partner likens it to looking at the world through a magnifying glass — with egos sometimes growing to gigantic propositions — the same rules that apply to social media are the same ones that are always applied to communication: the bolder the statement, the more likely you are to receive attention.

The only difference is that it used to be journalists were the ones to knock down the bolder goofball ideas. Today, it can be anyone with a keyboard. So just like a public relations professional would not blacklist The New York Times, Clarke doesn’t need to be blacklisted either. He only needs to be proven wrong. So, Jaffe, prove him wrong. What can be easier than that?

Ho hum. Looking beyond the confines of this social media boat that seems to sail nowadays, I might point out that today’s collective practitioners face bigger challenges than young bloggers. And if we are being honest, I suspect some “experts” today will be distant memories in two years, eye patches and all.

“Har, har, look there captain! On the horizon... It’s an armada of advertising professionals to the east and a fleet of corporate communication professionals to the west. Darn, it looks as if their boats are bigger too.“

Digg!

Sunday, September 16

Writing Fan Fiction: Ray Hayton


On August 31, we announced the winners of an unofficial Expanded Universe Short Story Competition fan fiction contest to promote Jericho for the fans, expand its universe (outside of the town where it largely takes place on television), and demonstrate the possibilities of its rich story line. Today, we’re proud to present the work of Ray Hayton, also known as hrayton at Jericho Rally Point. We hope you enjoy this story that takes us back to the opening of the show. Congratulations to Ray Hayton!

Letters To The Lost
by Ray Hayton


Brian Weber was ten years old. He and his sister Tricia attended Olive Elementary School in Novato, California, a small town located a few miles north of San Francisco.

They were walking home from school on Sept. 19, just like they did every day. And then it happened.

A bright flash lit the horizon to the south of them; and Brian was just old enough to know what that meant. Tricia sobbed hysterically, more upset that she wet herself than what the implications of the bright light meant.

Brian already seemed to know that his mom and dad were never going to be coming home again. He felt the tears welling up, but didn't let them spill over. His little sister needed him.

Tricia was six. She was in first grade this year, and the two of them walked to school every day together. His mom always told him, "take care of your sister, Brian, and be careful today."

Brian took this responsibility seriously. So he grabbed Tricia’s hand began to run home, six long blocks from school. While Tricia went to her room to change, Brian started making some peanut butter sandwiches. They always made everything better.

The two of them always made it home from school about an hour and a half before his mother did. She worked in Sausalito, the town just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. His father owned a small software development company in San Francisco, and he always worked later.

Brian froze for a second, feeling dizzy and sick. Then, he slowly smoothed the peanut butter across the bread. Things will be fine. Just make some sandwiches. The power will come back on.

Outside, he could hear people shouting; a siren somewhere off in the distance.

When Tricia came down, Brian got her settled in at the kitchen table with a coloring book, a peanut butter sandwich, and a glass of milk from the fridge. And then he slipped outside to take another look at the monstrous cloud to the south.

His neighbor, Mr. Friedman, was running toward his house. Mr. Friedman's son, Josh, was a year older than Brian. He was kind of a jerk, but they did hang out occasionally.

"Mr. Friedman!" Brian shouted. "What's happening!?"

Brian hated the whine that he could hear in his own voice. It revealed how he felt. It said he was about to cry and couldn’t do anything about it.

"Brian! Are your parents home by any chance?"

Brian shook his head. Friedman muttered something under his breath for a moment, put his hands to his head, and looked up at Brian standing in the doorway.

"Okay," he said. "Brian, I want you and your sister to meet me at our house in ten minutes, okay? It's very important that you guys come over in a bit, all right? Pack a small bag … for a sleepover … but I have to go now."

As Mr. Friedman started jogging toward his home, Brian went back inside.

"Look, Brian!" Tricia said, as she held up the coloring book. "I finished the ponies!"

"Cool, Trish!" Brian responded, "They look great! Hey Trish, how would you feel about having a sleepover at the Friedmans’ tonight?"

Tricia thought about it for a second and then her whole face lit up. She knew Abby Friedman well enough. She babysat them occasionally. She was 15 and Tricia absolutely idolized her.

"Will Abby be there?"

Brian nodded, "I'm pretty sure, Trish."

She nodded.

Brian wolfed down his peanut butter sandwich, hurriedly packed a small bag, and then went in to help Tricia pack hers. He added some snacks and a couple cans of soda from the fridge to his backpack. And then he added some coloring books for Tricia.

Brian grabbed the yellow legal pad from the kitchen counter, and wrote a quick note out for his mom and dad.

Dear Mom and Dad,

Mr. Friedman asked us to spend the night. Tricia and I will be over there. Okay? Please don’t be mad. I love you. See you later.

— Brian and Trish


Brian taped the note to the front door and they started walking toward the Friedman home. The entire family was packing their old Bronco. Within minutes, they were gone.

All up and down Cherry Street, indeed, all over Novato and the San Francisco suburbs, notes on front doors rustled and flapped in the wind.

Letters to the lost.

Disclaimer: Jericho and its related characters are the property of CBS Paramount Television Network and Junction Entertainment. This contest is solely for entertainment purposes. Neither Ray Hayton, Richard Becker, nor Copywrite, Ink. is affiliated with CBS or Junction Entertainment.

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Saturday, September 15

Marketing By Consumers: Jericho Bloggers


Consumer marketing, better known as viral marketing, continues to be a hit-or-miss method of increasing brand awareness that some marketers and advertisers only dream about. Some take the form of funny videos (Justin Timberlake on Saturday Night Live comes to mind) whereas others take the form of something else all together (like Facebook). Most, of course, never go anywhere or get off the ground.

To gain a better understanding of consumer marketing, I decided to go to the source. While there are forums, Web sites, e-newsletters, and several other fan-generated promotional efforts associated with Jericho, the television show resurrected by CBS after one of the most convincing and well-publicized cancellation protests in history, bloggers tend to be on the front lines.

So I asked five dedicated and prolific Jericho bloggers to answer a few questions this week. Three of them answered in time to be included today: Lisa Coultrup (Jericho On CBS); Teresa Rothaar (Jericho Bulletin); and Jane Sweat (Jericho Monster, among others).

Interestingly enough, while these three bloggers might seem to dominate Jericho content online, none of them had much social media experience beyond personal projects (whether MySpace or Live Journal) prior to the show cancellation. In a few short months (and many, many hours), they’ve emerged as semi-experts in social networking and online message proliferation.

“I had just begun a WordPress blog called ‘Trippin’ about a month before Jericho began and then started another WordPress blog for Jericho in October,” says Coultrup. “So, I’d gotten my feet wet in both fields [before the cancellation]. One thing I have learned is that social behavior is vastly different than it is in real life. There are more behavioral rules.”

Learning the sometimes complex behavioral rules online isn’t the only challenge. While fans are partly responsible for the buzz they generate, they often operate without any support network whatsoever. They have no little or no access to CBS or the producers of the show and sometimes feel like they have to fight for content ideas and information that will eventually benefit the network.

“People don’t want to read the same darn things on multiple sites so I had to make a choice to make the blog multifunctional or have it go dormant,” explains Rothaar. “So I decided to branch out and talk about things that have nothing to do with "Jericho," like the housing meltdown.”

Jane Sweat has made some inroads into the interview arena to provide new content, but it requires significant effort on her part. She often scours the Web looking for people off the beaten path. And, on occasion, she manages to capture a blogger (with a blog not specific to the show), cast member, or member of the production crew.

“There is a real lack of communication with the network,” says Sweat. “I know a network can't communicate with individual fans, but I think they could find a way to work with us better, having fans submit artwork, fan fiction, blog posts, etc. to highlight their efforts and use it for promotional purposes.”

In the greater context of consumer marketing, CBS is not the only one that might take notice. If there is something to be learned from spontaneous consumer marketing it is that once the company begins to benefit, there exists a need to follow through. Without support, consumers might become frustrated with challenges unique to being a consumer marketer.

All three said if they were calling the shots at CBS, they would improve the communication and even create a partnership between the marketing arm of the show and the fans that are promoting it. All of them suggested CBS could enhance its own Jericho marketing efforts, allowing them to take on a supported ancillary role. At the same time, they prescribe more content to write about in the form of CBS-sponsored contests, giveaways, blogger cast member interviews, promotional material, story ideas, and photos. All of which, they say, would help them interact with the fans.

Along with this, CBS might consider working its non-paid marketing arm to help define suitable measures. Other than tracking traffic and comment counts, all of them seem unsure of what to measure (that’s okay … most companies don’t know what to measure online either).

While some might argue companies cannot necessarily invest in every blogger who takes an interest in a product or show; I might offer up it is often the companies that encourage the initial efforts. In the case of Jericho, CBS has all but placed the burden of making the show successful onto the fans. (To balance this a bit, part of the equation might be speed to market. CBS has BTR host Shaun O'Mac reporting from Jerichon in Kansas and the Production Blog demonstrates some of the better insider work, among other things.)

Of course, none of this meant to suggest these three bloggers are unappreciative of the recognition they have received. All three were thrilled that CBS linked to their blogs at Jericho Fan Central. Otherwise, however, most the recognition, they say, has come from other fans.

But that’s all right. None of them began writing about Jericho to receive individual recognition. In fact, if there is one constant among bloggers and other fans who promote the show, it seems obvious why they originally lent their support: they love the program enough to do whatever it takes to ensure its success.

Consumer marketing. While many companies want to benefit from it, very few seem to know what to do with it once they actually get it. Here’s one idea: ask the fans and then deliver. Heck, we’ve even been doing that here for some time now.

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Friday, September 14

Making Changes: NBCB

Since April 2005, our company has hosted and administered the National Business Community Blog, which is a national news feed that focuses on businesses doing good.

Today, we gave the blog the first phase of a long overdo face lift. More work needs to be done (and we have yet to add every state), but it's a step in the right direction. Everyday, we publish one example of best business giving practices with the hope to inspire more companies to engage in community service.

In other words, we're always looking for best business giving practices from small businesses and large corporations across the nation. We'd be more than welcome to consider your business giving news; just send a release to the e-mail identified on the site.

In addition to sharing business giving ideas, the blog also benefits Nevada Volunteers (The Nevada Commission for National & Community Service), a state commission that administers AmeriCorps programs and generally works to increase volunteerism in our state.

I've been privileged to serve as appointed state commissioner for several years now. You can learn about the latest commission news here, including the recent announcement to name Nevada First Lady Dawn Gibbons honorary chairwoman.

There are other state and national non-profit organizations as well. And that doesn't count more than 300 acts of business kindness we're collected on the site. Drop by some time and let us know if you think we're moving one of our other blogs in the right direction.

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Advertising Misstep: MoveOn


The best advertising tends to be the perfect balance of art and science. You can usually spot which campaigns lean too far one way or another by the quality of the message, not the production.

Too much science and the message becomes an exercise in bullet points. Too much art and the ad will become the subject of debate rather than the issue.

MoveOn might know what I’m talking about. For all their clever (not really) shock value in attempting to denounce Gen. David Petraeus, they have only succeeded in shifting the debate from whether or not we need to be in Iraq to whether or not their message is fair and their organization credible. Enough so, even Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) had to put the usual polarized politics aside.

"The ad is distasteful and frankly, below the level of respect that America's commanding general in Iraq has earned,” Reid said in a letter. “No matter whether any senator supports or opposes the war in Iraq, we should all voice recognition and appreciation of Gen. Petraeus' long and distinguished record of service to our country."

As brands are fragile things; not all publicity is good publicity.

Relatively few people can look at the MoveOn ad like Jane Hamsher did in her article in The Huffington Post: “To join with the right and start firing arrows into their backs is both destructive from a movement perspective and displays tremendous naiveté about what it's going to take to end this war.”

She does, and in doing so, demonstrates the true weakness of the MoveOn ad: in or out, black or white, for us or against us. Stand by your “progressive fighters” at all costs. Tow the line. Or, in other words, let’s make a case for polarization.

Around almost every corner, polarization remains a front runner in creating miscommunication. In our country, it continues to distract from solutions because it creates a political environment of distrust and suspicion while offering public spectacle that can be likened to high school debate teams. One team picks “pro” and other team picks “con” (nowadays both sides generally pick “pro” and change the noun).

From a communication standpoint, only one Democratic team seems to have made the mistake of choosing sides as outlined by MoveOn. Hillary Clinton embraced the message as a blunt speaking point for the following day, opening it up for Rudy Giuliani’s team to ask a pointed question: “Who should America listen to … A decorated soldier’s commitment to defending America, or Hillary Clinton’s commitment to defending MoveOn.org.”

This copy line above is part of a rebuttal advertisement that Giuliani’s team wants to raise money for in order to rebut MoveOn and Clinton. You can see the ad by clicking the copy line on a fundraising page here. It’s not the best ad in terms of political copywriting, but it gets the job done.

Regardless of the issue, the communication lesson is objective: although there are some exceptions, the best messages are those that focus less on polarizing the messengers and more on the issues being discussed. By shifting the message off our presence in Iraq and onto the credibility of someone who was recognized as one of America’s 25 best leaders by U.S. News and World Report, MoveOn buried its anti-war message, made the issue about them, forced would-be allies to distance themselves, and drew at least one candidate into controversy.

If we apply this study to our Fragile Brand Theory, it becomes even clearer where MoveOn went wrong. Rather than stick to the issues, they asked the country to denounce a four-star general or denounce a political action group. The law of gravity, as it applies to our brand theory, suggests that when two brands go head to head (as opposed to point for point), then the one with its collective impressions closest to the middle has more pull and will prevail.

Clinton’s team seems to have missed it. Giuliani’s team seems intent on letting them know it.

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