Monday, December 31

Ending 2007: Old Media Is Dead

If any year will ever stand out as the most dramatic change of direction for network television, it will likely be 2007. And if there is any credit is to be given, it doesn’t belong to a single network or broadcast executive, but rather the collective efforts of fans from several television shows, with Jericho Rangers leading the charge in the form of 20 tons of nuts and constant coverage from personal blogs to The Wall Street Journal.

Sure, while some networks and corporations like AT&T were quietly looking at broadcast-digital convergence long before Jericho was cast, Jericho fans helped set the agenda this year and hastened the pace. They did much more than save a television show by convincing CBS to offer up an olive branch in the form of a truncated second season premiering Feb. 12.

They demonstrated the power of organizing consumers via social media. They set a precedent of tracking signatures, e-mails, postcards, phone calls, and protest purchases. They pushed for sweeping reforms at Nielsen Media Research, enough so that Nielsen began to listen to them more than the networks it serves. They established alliances with other fan bases like Veronica Mars fans to expand their campaign five-fold. They made contact with writers, producers, cast members, and crew, giving everyone something to think about, including advertisers.

Passive viewers became active consumers

The writer’s strike is precisely what I’ve been writing about for almost two years: the transition between the era of old to the era of new media. The Writers Guild of America (WGA) even cited it as the primary explanation for the most recent stall in contract negotiations.

"The media conglomerates know that the core issue in these negotiations is new media. Their current proposals would cause writers even more economic harm in the future than they claim this strike has caused.” — Writers Guild of America

While the networks seem unwilling to make an agreement, the WGA and David Letterman's Worldwide Pants production company have reached a contract agreement that includes the proposal put forth by the WGA on Dec. 7.

In other words, production companies and writers are starting to make the deals that the networks are unwilling to make. And if that happens across the board, then network television will be reduced to a distribution channel at a time when content creation is the only tangible commodity. Distribution is easy.

Change happens in small, unseen ways

Cox Communications is one of a handful of multi-service broadband cable service providers that is beginning to offer OnDemand commercial programming, which would allow companies to produce and distribute their own television programs. This means that a company has the potential reach of 6 million residential and commercial consumers.

Once produced, segments of these shows could easily be repackaged for distribution across other platforms like YouTube, Revver, Apple iTunes, and countless others. The possibilities of programming are seemingly endless, well beyond OnDemand infomercials. It also opens the doors for enterprising producers to create their own programs, saving six to eight minutes per half hour for sponsors, much like local market home shows used to do.

The networks are hastening the need for change

As ratings continued to fall this last year, advertising rates continued to rise. The reason was that advertisers were less willing to experiment and attempted to simply purchase more spots to reach the same viewing audience that they once captured by buying fewer shows.

It’s only a matter of time before the burden of building reach shifts away from advertisers and onto the networks again. After all, the concept of last minute scatter market buys will likely die this year as marketers begin to realize they spent 18 percent more for primetime "scatter" than they ever hoped to save.

Even the classic measure of cpm (cost to reach 1,000 viewers) is being questioned. It doesn’t seem to hold as much weight as a measure as it used to. A lower cpm, augmented by Internet presence, can have a greater impact and make more sense as fans are eager to spend an hour or two talking about their favorite show on the net rather than watching the programs that follow.

Old media will become an abandoned term this year

It’s not so much that old media is dead as much as it is that old media has been challenged to become indistinguishable and better than new media. It’s the kind of challenge that will lead to bright possibilities in journalism and broadcast. The new year will be the year to decide. Will a company adapt or die?

Reality programming is not the answer. With rare exceptions like Survivor and American Idol, the net has taken over the reality programming niche. Not only can we watch real-life realty clips on YouTube, but also entire lives put up for consumption with live streaming. The networks need better niche programs.

It’s the very reason networks have to end the writer’s strike soon. It’s only a matter of time before some people begin to realize that the networks are not the only way to reach an audience. Big names in every facet of the entertainment industry are learning that the old model of distribution is dead.

Don’t believe it? Heck, even this blog, which might be considered in the minor leagues compared to what we would like to do on our own or with partners, reached 100,000 people this year. Not bad for an experimental platform.

Thank you all again for making this year a success. We look forward to seeing you in 2008! Happy New Year. Please be safe.

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Friday, December 28

Making Messes: News Release Resolutions


With the fast approaching New Year, it’s no surprise that New Year's resolutions and predications are among the hottest topics across the wire.

Sure, some journalists scramble for such tidbits because their readers expect it, doubly so when the space between Christmas and New Year's seems painfully short. But that’s hardly a reason to force a media release into a prediction or faux resolution piece, hoping it might get picked up as mainstream filler.

Here are five of my favorites, but not because they are true.

• FabJob.com released that quitting your job might be a good resolution because 77 percent of its visitors are dissatisfied with their jobs and are planning to look for a new career opportunity.

You think? If they were satisfied with their jobs, they probably wouldn’t be on FabJob.com to begin with.

• Transitions Lenses released that keeping New Year's resolutions is a matter of perseverance. “To stay true to your resolutions, experts recommend choosing realistic goals, like visiting your eye doctor yearly,” they say.

Geesh. If you're going to lower your expectations that much, there isn't much point in making a resolution in the first place.

• The Texas Society of CPAs came up with a boatload of “helpful hints” for meeting financial goals, including “paying off debts” and to “start saving.”

Sure, it’s pat advice. So pat, I can tell you that without being a CPA.

• A Body Worlds 2 (an exhibit in the Bay area) release suggests: everyone “Get fit. Drink less alcohol. Quit smoking. Spend more time with friends and family. Visit cultural events. Seek out educational activities.”

While the exhibit looks pretty neat, these tend to be the six most common resolutions people make every year anyway. Yawn.

• Sixty-two percent of respondents to the Turnaround Management Association's annual Trend Watch Poll said that homebuilders will face the "greatest financial and/or operational difficulties" next year.

Hmmm. Maybe the housing market will continue to be in a slump as long as experts continue to tell us it’s in a slump. (Hat tip to Wells Fargo for releasing the slump will not be as bad as some fear.)

Well, if you can't beat them, join them. I have a resolution suggestion too. Public relations professionals might resolve to save their clients about $400 per wire submission in favor of releasing ... drum roll ... relevant news. Releases like these leave big messes in the morning.

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Thursday, December 27

Everything: The Great Big Blog Of

My son says he is too old to remember, but there is one gift he asked for, year after year, and never received. He wanted it so much, he even tried to make one a few times: the handy-dandy Great Big Book Of Everything.

Not the one inspired by the kid's television show, Stanley, but a real one with everything in it. Every year, I ask him if he still wants it.

"Do you remember?"

"Sure Dad, but I'm too old to watch Stanley anymore."

"Really?" When did that happen?

"It's okay Dad," he laughed. "Besides, I thought your blog was The Great Big Book Of Everything."

"Funny. I guess you are growing up."

"Yep, I'm pretty old," he smiled. "So, can we play Heroscape now?"

"You bet. Just give me a minute ... I want to see if you're right."

Rich's Great Big Blog Of Everything

365 Dias, AgencyNext, Amuseline, Anyone Loves TV, Arabelle's AlleyHannah Azar, Tala Azar, Back Lot Projects, Darren Barefoot, Andy Beard, Better Business Blogging, BizHack, BizSolutionsPlus, BlogCatalog Blog, Blogging For Business, Blog Campaigning, Blog Contests On The Net, Blog Herald, BlogTalk Radio, Blogversity, Blog Village, Blogs We Luv, Brand Storming, A Bunch Of Words, Business Growth Power Pack, Business Live News, The Buzz Bin, Cardiogirl, Catepol, CBS Jericho Fan Central, Chessnoid, Cincom, John Cook’s Venture Blog, Greg Cooper, CompBlog, Communication Overtones, Common Sense PR, Conversation Agent, Copyblogger, The Crones Daily Groan, Cultural Learnings, CypherJFs Development Depot, Dada Media, dcr Blogs, Da Eveman, Behind The Scenes At Jewelry Tales, Debo Hobo Dot Com, Digital 4Front, Duck Tape Marketing, Durbin Media, Electronic Recruiting News, Eliteqz, Entreneurs, Jay Epoch, Find The Boots, Finding The Sweet Spot, Fubar, Ghost In The Machine, Amitai Givertz, Good To Know, Golden Practices, The Green Scene, History Survey, Shel Holtz, Home Office Lawyer, I Do Things, Image Empowering, idUnited, Inner88, Jdonuts, Gylon Jackson, Jaffe Juice, Jason the Content Librarian, The Jericho Bulletin, Jericho Central, Jericho Junction, Jericho Monster, Jericho On CBS, Jericho Rally Point, JR4OT Blog, KD Paine’s PR Measurement Blog, Trish Kate’s TV Talk, Keep It Simple Solutions, Alex King, Language For You, Living In The Edge Of Madness, Leadership Turn, Magnosticism, Marcom Writer Blog, Marketing Headhunter Marketing Useable, Marketing Whore, Phil McDonnell, Jeff McNeill, MediaBlog, Media Orchard, The Media Slut, Media Snackers, Mesmereyed, Miscellany from Past and Present, Andrea Morris, Movies And Film Blog, MS Language Services, My Radical Blogs, MyBlogLog, The Myles Files, Naruto’s Arena, National Business Community Blog, The Net-Savvy Executive, NoisyRoom, Now Is Gone, Nutsonline, O My Word!, Occam’s Razr, Oldephartteintraining, One Bee, Paris Hilton, Passion, People and Principles, The Perfect Customer Experience, Pet Lvr (The Blog), A Piece of Piece, Pierce Mattie Public Relations, Politics After 50, Positioning Strategy, PR 2.0, Ramblings From The Mermaid Tavern, PR Squared, Publicity Hound, Radio Caffeine, Raven’s Roads, Recruiting.com, Recruiting Animal, RecruitingBlogs RecruitingBloggers, Reddiggulo.us, Remote Access, Road Less Traveled, Ronin Marketeer, Rugjeff’s Blog, Rushda, Sabrina’s Money Matters, Save The Black Donnellys, Save Jericho Now, Save Veronica Mars, Sava Sakar, Scary Sh*t, Scatterbox, Selling To Small Businesses, Situtational Marketing, SEO Pedia, Six Degrees From Dave, Snupher, The Social Media Marketing Blog, Social Media Explorer, Space 150, Spin Thicket, SQ Central, Squeak Of The Week, Starlight Review, Strumpette, Liz Strauss, Jim Stroud, Jeffery Taylor, Teaching PR, Television Rocker Report, Tetsujin’s Blog, That Bee Girl, The Thin Red Line, This Girl’s Blog, Tough Sledding, Transmission, The TV Guy, Veronica Mars Movie, Andrea Vascellari Weblog, Web Conoscenza, Web Ink Now, Brian Whaley’s Pixelated Views, Word Sell, Writer’s Advice, Your PR Guy, Zero Calvin and Hobbes, and the The Zohner Family Blog.

Whether we agreed or agreed to disagree, thank you all for making 2007 interesting. Likewise for everyone who read and commented.

Sure, there are a couple more posts to round out 2007. But mostly I'm looking forward to a rewarding 2008, wondering who might make next year's Great Big Blog Of Everything, and making sure the lethal Marro hive is stopped from making more venomous predators in some uncharted jungle!

You have to enjoy this stuff before you're "pretty old" for it.

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Saturday, December 22

Striking Matches: Happy Holidays

Happy Holidays

Barefoot in the snow with blue and frozen toes,

A match girl strikes a fire to ward away the cold.

And in the sputter of the flame she seems to see

A stove to warm her hands; the comfort of a tree;

A roast to heal her hunger; and arms of empathy.


Friendships begin with faith.
May those close take a leap for you.


Happy Holidays. See you on Dec. 27.

Friday, December 21

Twittering Peas: Frozen Pea Friday


The first time I wrote about Twitter, it was less than flattering. But like so much of social media, communities have a tendency to shape themselves. Twitter has since proven itself to me, and it is now proving itself again with peas.

I have to be honest and say that I have yet to have the pleasure of knowing Susan Reynolds, an artist and new media consultant battling a dominant magpie gene and cancer. But thanks to those I do know through Twitter, I know a little more about her today.

You can too by visiting the Frozen Pea Fund, which was inspired by Reynolds. There, you will learn about her experiences and perhaps consider making a donation to the American Cancer Society. For me, making a donation was second nature. Living with my grandparents was pretty enlightening.

My grandmother survived with cancer for more than decade. She was extremely courageous, raising myself and her youngest of five children, in-between hospital visits that were frequent enough to become second nature. In the process, she taught me a little bit more about life by confronting her death on a daily basis.

She did not have the Internet to share her experiences. But if she did, I suspect she might have been as brave as Reynolds and shared them for the benefit of others. You see, she knew how it worked: no one ever really understands cancer until they are touched by someone close to them. And for that, I'm grateful that Reynolds has chosen to touch so many. I hope you will touched too.

It's about time we found a cure. Don't you think?

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Self-Regulating The Net: FTC


The Federal Trade Commission released five proposed principles and guidelines for self-regulation in the behavioral advertising industry, which includes the tracking of consumer activities online (searches, page visits, viewed content, etc.).

While the FTC has been looking at privacy issues related to the Web for more than a decade, it was expected that the high visibility of privacy issues recently created, in part, by Facebook, that the FTC would be taking a Facebook hard look at privacy issues in 2008.

In sum, the FTC suggests that companies involved in tracking and targeting consumers always inform consumers of the data they collect, how it is to be used, that they have a choice to opt-in, and that any changes to this agreement are stated, which would require their expressed consent.

Here are five principles for behavioral advertising (paraphrased):

Transparency and consumer control. Every Web site where data is collected for behavioral advertising should provide a clear, concise, consumer-friendly, and prominent statement that (1) data about consumers’ activities online is being collected at the site for use in providing advertising about products and services tailored to individual consumers’ interests, and (2) consumers can
choose whether or not to have their information collected for such purpose.

Reasonable security, and limited data retention, for consumer data. Companies should retain data only as long as is necessary to fulfill a legitimate business or law enforcement need. (The FTC staff is also seeking comment on how long companies should retain such data.)

Affirmative express consent for material changes to existing privacy promises. Companies must keep any promises that it makes with respect to how it will handle or protect consumer data, even if it decides to change its policies at a later date. Any changes in how collected data is used requires obtain affirmative express consent from affected consumers.

Affirmative express consent to (or prohibition against) using sensitive data for behavioral advertising. Companies should only collect sensitive data for behavioral advertising if they obtain affirmative express consent from the consumer to receive such advertising. (The FTC staff is also seeking input defining sensitive data and whether some data should never be collected.)

Call for additional information: Using tracking data for purposes other than behavioral advertising. FTC staff also seeks comment on what constitutes “sensitive data” and whether the use of sensitive data should be prohibited, rather than subject to consumer choice. (Comments will be received through Feb. 22.)

The latter suggests carrot dangling (perceived benefits) for sensitive information (like social security card numbers) might not be an option.

Overall, the FTC has been very balanced in its approach to online advertising, recognizing there is a fine between protecting consumers and allowing companies to develop advertising programs that fund content and benefits for consumers.

But what is most important is to consider that self-regulation is generally maintained by the willing participation of companies to adhere to these principles. Every abuse, especially by visible companies, will move these principles toward permanent federal regulation. You can find the complete FTC guidelines here.

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Thursday, December 20

Branding America: The Year Of Living Stupid?


It has been four long months since Miss South Carolina, Lauren Caitlin Upton, stumbled on the Miss Teen USA question that stated “one-fifth of Americans cannot find the United States on a map.“ Old news? Maybe.

"I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because some people out there in our nation don't have maps and I believe that our education like such as in South Africa and Iraq and everywhere like such as and I believe that they should our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S. or should help South Africa and should help Iraq and the Asian countries so we will be able to build up our future for us."

While the fervor it created in the United States has mostly died down, it hasn’t slowed elsewhere in the world. On the contrary, old and new media continues to amass “evidence” that Americans aren’t so bright and the international community enjoys a good laugh about it.

So does Fred Shapiro, editor of the Yale Book of Quotations, which placed Upton’s answer as the second most memorable quote of 2007. Her confused answer was bested only by “Don’t tase me, bro,” which was uttered by a Florida college student about to be removed from a Senator John Kerry appearance.

One frequently cited post from Aby The Liberal, a non-profit socio-political information Website, compiled scores of data to ask the question “Are Americans stupid?”

In June, it cited data from the book IQ and Global Equity that claims the USA scores the lowest national average IQ among developed countries. It then goes on to point out that we’re also low in science and math, and includes an old New York Times interview with Jon D. Miller, which includes “Fewer than a third can identify DNA as a key to heredity. Only about 10 percent know what radiation is. One adult American in five thinks the sun revolves around the Earth, an idea science had abandoned by the 17th century.”

In reviewing some of the methodology used in various surveys and polls, they seem questionable, which makes me wonder if the challenge is purely educational or mostly perceptual. But even so, it might point to a change in how we present ourselves.

It used to be that Americans tuned in to see intelligent people compete on Jeopardy. Now Americans are more likely to tune in “Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader” to watch people look not so intelligent.

Singer Kelli Pickler’s appearance on the show, which makes Upton’s answer seem brilliant, has been watched more than 2.8 million times, several million more if you count all the variations.

"I thought Europe was a country. Budapest? I've never heard of that. Like, I know they speak French there, don't they? I wanna say, is France a country?"

Beating out Pickler on YouTube, almost 10 million watched this gem, which seems to underscore why some people say 2007 will best be remembered as the year of being stupid in the States.

Do our entertainment choices — canceling smart shows like Journeyman and producing guessing games like Deal Or No Deal? give us a hint or is entertainment just more fun with no thought whatsoever?

Is it real? Or perception? And even if it is perception, are there long-term consequences to fueling such social cues at a time when globalization is imminent?

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Wednesday, December 19

Sneaking Peeks: Copywrite, Ink.

For the last month, we’ve been making changes to the Copywrite, Ink. site, gearing up for a great 2008. Some changes will begin spilling over here to our blog, while others simply demonstrate our continued experimentation with the integration of social media.

We’re not done.

But sometimes sharing works in progress helps inspire other people. And that is what I hope to do today. You see, there is one question I’ve learned that needs to be asked about social media by people who hesitate to include it into their marketing mix. The question isn’t “why?” The question is “why not?”



Why not begin to introduce videos using Revver or YouTube to introduce yourself or your work or something else?

Why not forego static profile pages and instead link to Linkedin, where clients and contacts can connect?

Why not skip those same old “menu bars" and make a Web site a gateway to everything else?

So that’s what we are going to do. In the weeks and months ahead, we’ll be asking “why not” a lot more often. Sure, our experimentation with integrating social media into a traditional Web sites will not work for everyone.

That’s the beauty of communication. One size does not fit all.

Of course, if you’re thinking this comes from someone who doesn’t understand the difference between small business and large corporations, please don't allow my sometimes relaxed nature fool you. It's exactly the opposite. We've worked behind the scenes with the 9-1-1 National Emergency Number Association, American Greetings, Fidelity Investments, GMAC, McDonalds, and the United Sates Air Force (to name a few).

Combined, our experience spans more than 1,000 accounts. Or, as we like to say, 1,000 secrets that very few people know about. Some of them do. And those that do also know our secrets can tip the balance between landing an account and seeing it slip away.

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Tuesday, December 18

Socking Steve Hall: Biegel’s Attorney


When Adrants posted a mud wrestling photo and colorful commentary related to the Steve Biegel vs. Dentsu lawsuit, it attracted some attention. Most notably from Biegel’s attorney, Andy Dwyer, who offered up his own sharp commentary in a comment. It was sharp enough to convince Steve Hall to strike through his post and proclaim himself an idiot.

“I find it incredible that Mr. Hall feels qualified to post on this case when (a) he has obviously never read any of the filings in the case, even though they are all publicly available on the internet, and (b) he has never bothered to speak to anyone involved on the side of the plaintiff, even though they can all easily be reached,” noted the Dwyer comment. “Mr. Hall erroneously relied on an article in another publication, and then bought their spin hook, line and sinker.”

However, given other comments were offered up from “Toyo Shigeta,” and “Denny Crane” and “Not Biegel’s Lawyer,” one never really knows if someone who comments is who they say they are. Right?

“Is there anyone in your industry who is willing to take the time to read the court file in this case before they publicly express an opinion? Or is that too much to ask? If folks in the blogosphere ever want their writings to rise above the level of graffiti, they are going to have to work a little harder at getting their facts straight before they post,” stated Dwyer.

Never mind that advertising folks read Adrants because it provides tabloid-style op-eds in contrast to more recognized advertising trade publications, one of which Dwyer claims erred in its reporting. Never mind that Adrants never attempted to establish itself as legitimate journalism that I am aware of.

Never mind, except I still took interest in exchange. Why? Because I had read the court file. And, although I mostly write on public observation, I wanted to find out if Dwyer made the comment. Maybe he'd even answer some questions I had about the case, I thought.

He did make the comment. However, he doesn't seem inclined to be interviewed about the case beyond the reasonably polite and extended commentary he e-mailed me, which says that he pretty much has “zero respect” for bloggers. According to Dwyer, he is not alone either.

“Interestingly, real journalists have written to me in response to my post on Adrants to applaud what I said, because they are tired of bloggers being compared to journalists,” he wrote.

Highlights From The Andy Dwyer E-mail

• He commented on Adrants because he says the statements made were “demonstrably false.” He said he was setting the record straight.
• He says that he and his client have refused to partake in the media battle, contrary to statements made by some bloggers (He says they have refused comment to some journalists, and he and his client has repeatedly denied interviews).
• He likens the anonymous comments to garbage, which “reduces blogs to little more than the walls of a bathroom, where any idiot can scrawl whatever illiterate nonsense pops into his head.”
• He finds it unlikely, “even if I gave the entire court file to a disinterested observer, he would not be able to understand it unless he had particular expertise in employment matters and/or the law.”

Dwyer raises some good points, and some not so good points. Obviously it is much too early in the case to call an outcome. But it is not so early to note that the media has shifted its angling from a Dentsu spectacle to Biegel’s credibility.

It is this shift in reporting, perhaps because Dwyer and Biegel are less accessible to the media, that makes it interesting. Perhaps if they were more accessible, the burden would still be on Dentsu.

Regardless, while Dwyer is right that the case is about the law, he is not so right in saying it isn’t about branding or communication. Sure, media coverage is not likely to impact the court’s decision, but the outcome of this case may have long-term consequences for Biegel and Dentsu.

And therein lies the rub. As much as professionals sometimes proclaim bloggers cannot understand their area of expertise, sometimes those who say so do not understand blogging or communication. Really, it’s not difficult.

Understanding Bloggers: Engagement 101

In a very broad sense, when it comes to cases like Biegel vs. Denstu, it is the media that sets the stage, leaving bloggers to pen op-eds based on the setting. Sometimes, the commentary reads not unlike radio talk shows, which do allow anonymous callers to chime in.

That understood, non-communication people hoping to engage bloggers, even to correct them, are best served by evaluating the individual blogger much like they would the radio talk show host.

You see, some bloggers lean toward journalism and some do not. Knowing where any particular blogger may reside on this invisible line dictates the engagement. And that can make all the difference.

For example, singling out Hall’s post made little sense to me because all it did was invite more of the same, not less of the same. Mostly, Adrants is an entertaining take on the advertising industry. And while correcting Hall may have been prudent, going beyond the correction to take a couple of extended swipes communicates something other than what was intended.

Sure, some may hold Dwyer’s opinion that even well-known blogs “inspire fear (e.g. the Drudge Report) are notorious for repeatedly stating things that are simply not true.” (Personally, I don’t think bloggers inspire fear. Fear has to exist in those who are fearful.) Yet, he is not so right in thinking that all bloggers do not investigate as diligently as journalists. It depends on the blogger.

Suffice to say, if there is anything to take away from all this (beyond attempting to understand a blogger before engaging them publicly), it might be to understand that social media didn’t create public commentary or opinion. That has always existed.

What social media did was extend that reach beyond e-mails and water coolers, making it more public, especially to those being discussed. Sometimes, it is a good thing. Sometimes, it is not such a good thing.

I think even Dwyer might agree with me here, given he closed by saying “none of the posts on any of the blogs will ever have any relevance, except perhaps to support our claims of retaliation by Dentsu.”

Ironically, this is precisely what used to be said about journalists before bloggers began sharing the spotlight (or lurking in the shadows, depending on where your head is at). For most people, the media’s credibility always seemed to be related to how closely aligned it was to the subject’s opinion. Go figure.

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Monday, December 17

Sharing Acts Of Kindness: Bloggers Unite


We purchased five books yesterday. And randomly selected five different cities. Within those cities, we chose five random addresses. And today, all five books will be packaged and placed in the mail. Five random acts of kindness.

Like messages in bottles cast out into the sea, we have no idea where they might go from there — or whether they will be read, or if they will be enjoyed, or if they will be shared as we intend — or even what their fate might be.

All we know is that somewhere in the weeks ahead, five people will each receive an anonymous gift, our random acts of kindness. And within each book, they will find an inscription that asks them to pass it along when they are done, from person to person, until the margins are filled with people who shared it.

Five books. Five cities. Five strangers.

Massachusetts. Someone in Boston will receive The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom. It’s a story that reminds that reminds us that our lives are often interconnected in ways we never imagined.

Colorado. Someone in Fort Collins will receive The Philosophy of Andy Warhol. Warhol imparts a great deal of pop philosophy and little bits of wisdom on the world.

New York. Someone in Rochester will receive We by Yevgeny Zamyatin. Zamyatin’s book left a watermark on Western culture and the world, inspiring everyone from Aldous Huxley to George Orwell.

Illinois. Someone in Evanston will receive the Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff. It’s meant less as a statement for Taoism and more as an opportunity to share a charming and thought-provoking little book.

Arkansas. Someone in Fayetteville will receive Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman by Richard Feynman. His anecdotes add something more than an autobiography.

The inscription.

“You are receiving this book as a random act of kindness. Read it, enjoy it, inscribe it, and pass it along to someone you know so they may do the same.

Knowledge is the one gift that no one can take away. So we hope this book delivers something you are looking for, and if not, then perhaps for the next person you pass it along to. Until one day, this book may find its margins filled with the inscriptions of all those who shared it.”

Pay it forward.

The concept is not new…

“When you [...] meet with another honest Man in similar Distress, you must pay me by lending this Sum to him; enjoining him to discharge the Debt by a like operation, when he shall be able, and shall meet with another opportunity. I hope it may thus go thro' many hands, before it meets with a Knave that will stop its Progress. This is a trick of mine for doing a deal of good with a little money.” — Benjamin Franklin

… just the choices we make to make the world a better place. And today, those choices have made an impact as bloggers share their “Acts Of Kindness” stories from around the world. Amazing.

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Saturday, December 15

Campaigning Fans: From Jericho To Journeyman


Yesterday, Amy Vernon with Remote Access let Jericho fans know that Universal HD, a cable network owned by NBC Universal, is airing Jericho for two mini-marathons in high definition, starting tonight. One person commented.

A few days ago, CBS launched a viral YouTube video that is aimed at fans more than new viewers. To date, it has received less than 15,000 views, a fraction of what Jericho fans once mustered. Even the positive comments hint at frustration.

“Thank you, CBS, for finally letting us know what the freak is freaking happening.”

Despite still being the rally cry for consumers, with Charlie McCollum, The Mercury News, recently telling Journeyman fans “good luck with that although it certainly worked with ‘Jericho,’” Jericho prospects are tired of hearing about the campaign that saved the show and not the show. Meanwhile, even diehard fans are growing weary of carrying the rally banner for more than six months with the first real word from CBS arriving last week. Too little, too late? Maybe. We’ll know in February.

All fan campaigns have limits. For evidence, take a look back at the three we turned our attention to last June: The Black Donnellys, Veronica Mars, and, of course, Jericho.

The Black Donnellys (TBD), which was pulled from the air after the first five episodes (and even one of those was unaired), was the long shot. After placing their faith in sending 670 pounds of crackers to HBO (not NBC) to pick it up as a Sopranos replacement, TBD fans had nothing left to do when HBO politely said “no” just prior to the release of TBD DVD. The fans had the passion, but not the numbers nor a full season. Abandoned.

Veronica Mars fans surged in September prior to the launch of a Veronica Mars season three DVD. Since, sales have been admirable but not earth shattering and the fan base is somewhat hindered as people focus on the holidays. If there is any spark left that will carry the concept of a movie, it might be the abundance of DVD giveaways from places like Buddy TV. Not abandoned, but coming close to a closed case study.

Jericho has also seen its share of diminished fan interest despite the best hope for a full revival after CBS acquiesced. CBS will make good on its promise to air the truncated second season in February. However, the network not only missed an opportunity to engage fans, it may also be responsible for the discourse seen throughout the post-renewal campaign. The net sum of six months suggests the network’s half-action split fans into two groups: those who believed CBS will support the show, and those who did not. Alive and well, at least through April.

All three of these campaigns provide some great insights and case studies for fans rallying behind the newest show facing cancellation — Journeyman.

Immediately following the news that NBC allowed the deadline to pass for picking up the rest of Journeyman season one, fans began a campaign to save the show, which includes pooling funds to buy and send boxes of Rice-A-Roni to Jeff Zucker, president and CEO of NBC. Why Rice-A-Roni? Journeyman takes place in San Francisco.

While I’m still being brought up to speed on the viability of the Journeyman campaign, it seems clear that consumers are increasingly prepared to pummel networks for quick cancellation of good shows. Sooner or later, networks might get the message: the old rules are dead. Nowadays, it’s better to feed shows on the bubble than let them fade quietly into the night because there is nothing quiet about vested fans and brands can only take so much.

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Friday, December 14

Killing Quietly: Consumer Opinion


A few months ago, one of the advertising agencies we work with included social media as part of its marketing mix for a national account that we’ll call “Acme.” Acme has a conservative approach to marketing, so we weren’t all that surprised when they dismissed the social media portion of the proposal.

It was unnecessary, they said, because they purchase key words. A quick search of the company’s name reveals that they do. The company captures the top spot on Google and other search engines.

The fifth spot, however, belongs to consumer complaints about Acme. The sixth and seventh belong to individual dissatisfied customers. The eighth is a review site, littered with poor reviews.

Given each consumer description is emblazoned with words like “disaster” and “nightmare,” terms you cannot ignore when considering a major purchase, they outweigh any of the company’s neutral messages. In fact, each divergent and unanswered message compounds and erodes consumer confidence.

Imagine. All of this is being read before the company has a chance to submit a proposal or pitch the customer. Worse, it makes their customer service representatives look like cons and charlatans, ignorant of what is being said about their company at best.

It’s a shame because despite the abundance of negative messages, Acme is fine company. The primary reason for the disparity between their product and consumer opinion is largely related to unhappy consumers having louder and more passionate voices than happy customers, who are too busy enjoying the product to say anything.

Yet, unaware and/or unconvinced, the company continues to allow its brand to be slowly and quietly killed, drowning in the sea of social media. They have no idea, they say, why they have lost market share. Yet, part of the reason seems to be obvious.

Social media shapes more opinion than all other media combined.

One of the newest surveys conducted by BrandWeek reinforces the point.

• 47% of all respondents said they would go to a social networking site to download coupons or search for gift ideas if those services were available;

• 45% said they would visit a social networking site to find out about upcoming sales in stores or discounts on products;

• 22% said they would read or write a product review on a blog.

With results like these, even Nancy Costopulos, CMO for the American Marketing Association, told BrandWeek that they are well aware people are avoiding advertising messages and looking for alternative opinions.

While I won’t go so far as to say that social media is making advertising irrelevant, I will point out that if brands are the net sum of all positive and negative impressions (the relationship between the company and consumer), then it stands to reason unchecked social media may be delivering a deficit.

I suspect many companies know it too, but it’s hard to admit until there is a crisis. Even Acme demonstrated there is some truth to this. When the agency challenged Acme to present five reasons why social media is not right for them (which I was to politely and publicly address on this blog), they quickly declined.

Why not? If social media doesn’t matter, then what difference does it make? You know, they said, just in case. Unfortunately, based on online identity calculations alone for Acme, “just in case” seems to be “as a matter of fact.”

And they are not alone. While some accounts have engaged us in social media, several are content to say that they are not ready for it. Some are so not ready, they passed on a complimentary social media evaluation and proposal that might reveal how new media might best work for them.

The paradox is that they might not be ready for social media, but social media has been ready for them, starting more than a year ago. Since, it has been slowly and silently killing them for every day they remain disengaged. Special thanks to Evolution for allowing us to share this story; not all agencies are so ready address it. We are grateful to have you.

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Thursday, December 13

Advertising Focus: Online Content


Adam Mazmanian, lead editor for the American Advertising Federation’s Smart Brief, outlaid some pointed and apparent issues for 2008; challenges and opportunities that we agree will drive the conversation net year.

“Mobile marketing and social-network advertising promise to be big topics, as well as the way television advertisers grapple with an audience that is increasingly watching what they want, when they want,” he said.

Sixty two percent of Smart Brief readers, which consist primarily of advertisers and marketers, said they would advertise on an online social network. Seventy-seven percent concur that the online medium will continue to see the biggest jumps in terms of advertising growth rate.

Which medium will see the biggest growth rate in 2008?

• Online — 77 percent
• Outdoor — 8 percent
• Television — 5 percent
• Radio — 5 percent
• Print — 5 percent

Given television is counting down to go all digital and broadcast-Internet convergence seems like the next logical step in program distribution, allowing broadcasters to better develop social networks and other online support content around original programming. The future seems pretty amazing, unless eager developers like Facebook overreach.

According to Mazmanian, the FTC will be taking a hard look at the way online content providers target Web users in 2008. He said they are likely to address a growing call for a "Do Not E-mail" registry, which might be similar to the national "Do Not Call" list geared toward telemarketers.

This falls in line with what Harris Interactive cautioned mobile advertising developers about months ago. Always make it an opt-in they suggested.

All of this places a new emphasis on speed to market. Some of our own research anticipates that online content developers will be best served to have their plans in place as early as possible next year before market entrance becomes increasingly challenging, with the “shiny new object” phenomenon seeing diminished returns.

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Wednesday, December 12

Donating Nickels For Clicks: Les Scammell


When Les Scammell, a semi-retired educator and blogger living in the little town of Gympie, Australia, heard about a family struggling to keep a roof over their heads this Christmas, he and his family decided to do something about it.

They filled a couple of boxes with toys and sent them off. It was a small gesture, but enough to remind the struggling family and their children that there is still a lot to hope for in the world. The burden of a ruined Christmas for their children was lifted.

And as they often do, this simple gift of kindness by the Scammells inspired yet another. Since they had already made a small profit on their stock portfolio, they decided to donate it rather than roll it over. The proceeds have gone on to help more children through the Salvation Army and St. Vincent de Paul Society.

From this gift, it seems Scammell learned another lesson as people often do: generosity attracts more opportunities for generosity — something he wants to share with the blogging community and anyone else who has a spare minute of time.

When you visit any of his blogs, Just 4 Families, My Radical Blogs, and Coolayla, he will donate a nickel. Visit all three today, and he’ll donate 15 cents. Visit all three, every day through Dec. 19, and you will be responsible for more than $1 donated to charity. Send 100 friends to visit, and well, you get the idea.

“We set a target of $250, but actually hope to exceed it,” says Scammell. “At present, we have $120 from online advertising (that we’re adding in) and another $50 from visitors. I hope we can make it. Really, my wish target is more around $500.”

His pledge, one nickel for every visit, with no limit, will be donated to the Salvation Army, St. Vincent de Paul Society, and several families in the area that he says could use a PMU this holiday season. PMU, he says, stands for “pick me up.” To me, it stands for lifting the spirits of others.

“I’ve found the blogging community to be rather apathetic to a lot of causes,” Scammell says. “My traffic had a tiny spike when I first started, but has since gone down a little. I was hoping someone would Digg or help push it in other venues. But I have met some new people through the promotion and they are loyally visiting each day.”

Undeterred, Scammell continues to promote his pledge and ask people to be part of it. Nothing would make him happier than to see people visit his three blogs and drive his next donation amounts to $500 or $1,000 or even $1,500. But even his original pledge of $250 would touch a lot of lives, including yours if you take just a minute of time to visit all three blogs today, tomorrow, and for the next seven days.

Just 4 Families provides tips and hints for helping families.
My Radical Blogs offers reviews and rants from the radical blogger.
Coolayla, his newest blog, paints a picture of the town he lives in.

All three of them make giving easy with a nickel a click for children this Christmas, or a nickel for hope this holiday season. Whatever you prefer, I can promise you this — generosity attracts more opportunities for generosity.

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Tuesday, December 11

Dropping Customers: PacifiCare

Ike Piggot’s Occam’s RazR is a blog to watch for many reasons. Just one of many standout posts tells the story of how Citibank erased the last dime due from his account rather than force him to send a .10 check with a 47-cent stamp.

It’s a great customer service story and a fine example of how social media can catch people doing good. It can also catch them doing not so good.

My customer service story is a bit different, with the amount right around $1,000. That’s right. Our health care provider doesn’t want our payment for November, possibly saving us a grand.

There is catch, of course. PacifiCare would rather drop us. We found out yesterday after my partner was prompted by a past due statement that claims we did not make a payment in November.

We did make a payment in November, just without a payment coupon because PacfiCare was slow to send a new book with an adjusted rate after I moved into the 40-something column. She knew it was going up and even called to find out what the adjusted rate might be. They weren’t sure so she sent a payment anyway.

After she received the past due notice, she called again to let them know that she had sent a payment, but it apparently had not posted. In fact, she even sent yet another payment priority mail once the coupon book arrived, just in case.

The customer service representative thanked her for the call, but said it didn’t matter. According to PacifiCare, we were dropped six week ago (we just didn’t know it). So now, even if they found the payment (or both payments), our only option is to reapply, which is impossible because PacifiCare longer accepts applications from Nevada.

In other words, we were dropped six weeks ago because of PacifiCare policy and were never notified. Or perhaps more accurately, we were slowly dropped starting two years ago, ever since PacifiCare merged with UnitedHealthcare (UNH). Originally, we thought the merger might be a good thing, given the promises emblazoned on the company’s Web site.

“The health care system isn’t healthy. At UnitedHealthcare, we’re committed to improving the health care system. We aim to take what’s wrong and make it right.

We know. That’s a bold statement. But no one is better prepared to lead a heath care revolution than the strongest, most committed health care company in the nation.”


We get it. UnitedHealthcare means that if they cannot service you properly, like sending adjusted payment coupons promptly, they will drop you. And maybe, if you’re lucky, you will even find out. Amazing!

Am I upset? Not at all. Thank you PacfiCare, UnitedHealthcare, and UnitedHealth Group. Your lack of customer service has prompted us to find a better health care provider with a better plan at half the cost. We appreciate it.

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Monday, December 10

Digging In: Marketing vs. PR


Can two people be right and wrong at the same time? Bill Sledzik, associate professor in the School of Journalism & Mass Communication at Kent State University, and Geoff Livingston, author and owner of Livingston Communications, beg the question.

Sledzik is distrusting of the integration of public relations under marketing. Livingston believes in the convergence of integrated communication under marketing.

They are neither wrong nor right, or perhaps they are both wrong and right. Take your pick. Both present compelling arguments, although both posts also have points that nearly threw me out of my chair in a twisted grimace caused by the collision of comedy and tragedy — there were several such moments, but I’ll stick with the one that made me chuckle while reaching for the Tums.

Livingston’s erred definition of public relations using an online dictionary brutally misrepresents the function of public relations. And Sledzik, pulling out the dusty classical collegiate definition of marketing as defined by the 4 Ps (product, price, place, and promotion) only reinforces what many modern marketers gave up in favor of sales and profits decades ago.

If there is a convergence crisis, it is only because communication-related industries have become so fragmented and the definitions so misshapen that respected professionals in both disciplines spend more time lobbying to be above each other than they ever do to benefit their companies or clients. And if it was bad before, expect it to get worse as social media has made the battle lines look more like WWI than WWW II.

“But wait,” some might say, scratching their heads. “I thought Richard Becker was an advocate of integrated communication.”

You bet your bippy I am. But not under the condition that marketing or public relations will take the lead. You see, Sledzik is right. They are two very different disciplines. And yet, Livingston is right. We need better communication integration. But neither is right because while marketing and public relations intersect, neither can replace nor lead the other. Arg!

A Letter From Switzerland

As a longtime accreditation examiner for the International Association of Business Communicators, I have the pleasure of grading exams submitted by some very bright people, many of whom have more than a decade of experience in some facet of communication and can be easily considered leaders in their respected fields — marketing, advertising, public relations, internal communication, investor relations, community relations, etc. et al.

Specifically, this rigorous peer review process challenges candidates to demonstrate their ability to think and plan strategically and then manage the skills required to effectively implement tactics that are essential to effective organizational communication, which includes marketing, public relations, media relations, external relations, internal communication, and crisis communication.

You can learn more about the accreditation process here and as an accreditation liaison for the local chapter in Las Vegas (accreditation chair), I’ll be writing more in weeks ahead.

For the purposes of this post, I’ll simply touch on that this is a globally accepted standard of knowledge and proficiency in organizational communication, enough so that some universities recognize it as the equivalent of a master’s degree and some government agencies recognize it as an expertise that precludes certain jobs from being sent out to bid (though, some human resources departments do not). It is denoted by the designation Accredited Business Communicator (ABC), which is not to be confused with the APR, as offered by the Public Relations Society of America. (The tests are different enough that several attempts to combine them since the 1980s have failed.)

I mention the ABC today because, while I cannot share specifics as I am bound by confidentiality, my experience in grading these exams may shed light on the challenges associated with integrating communication from the disciplines of marketing or public relations. Put simply, as an examiner, I can tell which school of thought with which the candidates are most comfortable and, often but not always, razor sharp focus in either leads to communication breakdown.

Observations From The Front

An overly general and probably unfair characterization reveals accreditation candidates with a heavy marketing background tend to lack empathy and seldom consider various publics beyond their target audience, treating the transaction as more important than any long-term relationship and dismissing qualitative research with the wave of a hand. Whereas candidates with a heavy public relations background do not always link their objectives to any sort of measurable outcome, leaving one to wonder if they understand the difference between public relations and publicity (the latter is tied to promotion, folks) or realize that all the positive media in the world won’t change anyone’s mind.

Neither discipline really considers the long-term consequences that communication may have on multiple publics or how to craft a single message that will appeal to publics that have varied and even conflicted opinions about the same subject. Most do not even know how to craft communication about downsizing that will make shareholders cheer without disenfranchising and demoralizing internal stakeholders. And sometimes, in the push to redefine communication, especially with the advent of social media, many neglect the core tenets of their own disciplines, with marketing hijacked by profit seekers and sales, and public relations prowess measured by the size of an electronic media Rolodex.

In truth, both have seemed to give up ground in the areas where they have the most influence in favor of only one P, which is very place they seem to intersect — promotion. In such a world, marketing becomes sales; and public relations becomes publicity. And neither of these two distorted views of communication will have any lasting impact or profound ability to change behavior in such a way that a brand might actually become a cultural statement.

Organizational communication, though I prefer to call it strategic communication, is about much more than marketing or public relations, but values them both more than they value each other. And while some intuitive professionals may at times push above their marketing or public relations background to become a communicator, most will forever be encamped on either side of the “No Man’s Land” they created, machine guns blazing from the trenches.

And that is why Sledzik and Livingston (two people I hold in high regard in case you don’t know that), peering out of their respective foxholes, are both right and wrong. We need to integrate communication, but it will take much more than public relations or marketing to do it. See you in Versailles.

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Saturday, December 8

Getting Wishes: Jericho Rangers


Fans of the resurrected television show Jericho have finally gotten their wish, but sometimes getting a wish leaves room for mixed interpretation. The television show Jericho will return to CBS at 10 p.m. on Tues. nights, starting Feb. 12, following Big Brother.

Buddy TV has been running an online poll that reveals the fan base fractures over the decision. Only 10 percent of Jericho fans like the new time slot, 67 percent don’t care (they’ll watch anytime), and 23 percent think it is a mistake.

A mere 145 people voted, which is indicative of CBS giving up its engagement with the thousands of fans that convinced them to bring it back. Equally telling is that the Jericho Season One DVD sales did not measure up, hindered by the network’s lack of the commitment to the cause. We cautioned fans to promote the DVD heavily, as if CBS would not market it.

For pointing out the obvious, we received mixed reactions to our mixed reaction. While some did promote DVD sales, many chose to wait on faith that CBS would bring the cavalry.

No cavalry came. And CBS did virtually nothing substantial to market the DVD (surprising even me). The little they did do included a “save the show a second time” message that targeted existing fans, but nothing to attract new viewers.

Marketing, once again, proved to be the blind spot for CBS, placing Jericho in peril because it seems painfully clear that this show is being left in the hands of diminished fan base of active consumers. But perhaps that is what was planned all along, as Nina Tassler, president of CBS Entertainment, pointed out last July …

"We've really said to the fans, who have been incredibly loyal and incredibly devoted. You have got to be our 'Jericho' Rangers. You've got to recruit more viewers."

The bottom line: the timeslot hardly demonstrates network support for the seven-episode season of Jericho, even with the writers strike. It also demonstrates a lack of sensitivity to the hundreds of viewers who enjoyed Jericho as a family.

It’s not the only miss either. CBS primarily made four promises to Jericho fans when they reinstated the series in June:

• Re-broadcast “Jericho” on CBS, which they did with an odd order, until the series was pre-empted by football.
• Stream online episodes and clips online, but without much marketing support for the varied platforms where you can find it.
• Release the first season to DVD on Sept. 25, which was postponed and lacked any substantial marketing support.
• Continue the story of Jericho in digital media, which they almost did but not in any real tangible sort of way.

Form a broader social media perspective, it also demonstrates that corporate think will not necessarily translate into consumer engagement. For example, while the new Blog Council says they struggle with having 2,000 employees who blog, they’re already forgetting that finding answers is not as important as asking the right questions.

For the Blog Council, the right question isn’t what to do when you have 2,000 blogging employees. It's how do you effectively communicate your message internally so it resonates out through those 2,000 employee bloggers. For CBS, the right question was not how to end a protest. It was how to retain engaged consumers so you can turn Jericho into next year’s big hit.

Ho hum. That could have been the easy part. I can only hope the fans find a way to do it for them.

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Friday, December 7

Saving Face, Sort Of: Mark Zuckerberg

Everybody likes talking about Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook. And what’s not to like?

As a Harvard student in 2004, Zuckerberg founded the online social networking Website Facebook. As a young entrepreneur in 2006, he passed on a $1 billion offer from Terry Semel, then CEO of Yahoo! A year later, Microsoft infused $240 million into the social network, putting the 23-year-old on the fast track.

Never mind all that other stuff. Never mind the old ConnectU controversy; it was tossed out, um, for now. Never mind the lawsuit against the Harvard alumni publication for invasion of privacy over an article (irony). Never mind he basically lied to Louise Story of The New York Times about opting in to Beacon, which gathers up information about you on Facebook and away from Facebook.

Never mind. Never mind, because Mark Zuckerberg is sorry.

He’s sorry because “the problem with our initial approach of making it an opt-out system instead of opt-in was that if someone forgot to decline to share something, Beacon still went ahead and shared it with their friends.”

In other words, he’s sorry that you, and me, and probably Louise Story are too stupid to opt-out on his terms and that’s much more important than what he told The New York Times anyway. After all, Facebook, by slurping up our online lives, is only trying to make it easier for us to share with our friends, Facebook, and anyone who might happen to ask. If only we would all see it his way.

Most people do see it his way. Even Brian Solis, who I read regularly, seemed to take one look at Zuckerberg, smile and write “His words, most notably, his apology, humanize the company.”

Sure, Solis also noted the apology was less than perfect, but this sentiment represents how badly people want Facebook to be what it could be and not necessarily what it is.

Solis is not the only one. According to Forbes, everyone from MoveOn, which called the change "a big step in the right direction," to Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, who said "Facebook is learning that privacy matters. It's signaling that it does care about how it's viewed and how important trust is to online businesses," has accepted.

But, what did Zuckerberg really do? If he were a pickpocket, the Beacon fiasco might be likened to stealing a Jackson from your wallet and giving you back a Lincoln with a song, dance, and smile. Zuckerberg is one of the few who can get away with it.

Why? Because many people feel that they need Facebook more than Facebook needs them. And as long as this “feeling” remains, and some people treat Facebook as if it is the air we breathe, then we can expect more creepy than cool for a long time to come.

Far, far fewer people have put any real thought into what is actually occurring beyond the apology. Wendy Grossman is one of them. Brian Oberkirch is another. Jack Flack is yet another.

But in the great game of public relations, where perception and reality don’t always intersect, a few voices can often be outweighed by the many. And that means sincerity matters less than presenting yourself as people expect you to.

So when it comes to Zuckerberg, it seems to me that the world expects everything, except for Facebook being a responsible corporate citizen. Thus, as long as the traffic continues to surge for Facebook, “sort of” sorry will be good enough. Hmmm … no wonder Zuckerberg usually sports a boyish smile.

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Thursday, December 6

Confusing Authorities: Masked Citizens

As the old saying goes, truth is sometimes stranger than fiction, and maybe doubly so online. Two anonymous identity stories have played out very differently in recent weeks; they are dramatically lopsided and in the wrong direction.

Lori Drew Escapes Responsibility And Meier Harassment Continues

Authorities struggled with charging Lori Drew for anonymously harassing 13-year-old Megan Meier to the point of suicide. Enough so that Megan’s mother Tina Meier urged a group of north St. Louis County lawmakers and city officials to push for Internet harassment laws.

"Nothing you can do," Tina Meier told the St. Louis Post. "Nothing on the books. It doesn't fit in the box. Too bad, so sad. They get to walk free."

For all her loss and effort, Dardenne Prairie (Missouri) has since passed a law making online harassment a misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail and/or a $500 fine. These charges do not apply to Drew.

And yet, the Meier family continues to be harassed. Someone claiming to be Drew has set up a new blog called Megan Had It Coming, which seems authentic enough that some are speculating it might be real.

James Buss Gets Locked Up For Criticizing Spending

James Buss, a high school chemistry teacher in Milwaukee, left an anonymous comment on Boots and Sabers and was promptly arrested after authorities insisted the blogger give up the anonymous poster’s e-mail address. Buss was arrested.

The comment was reprehensible, praising the Columbine High School killers and saying they “knew how to deal with overpaid teacher union thugs.”

According to the Associated Press this morning, Buss won’t face charges because it was unclear whether the comment advocated violence against teachers, and even if it did, its language was not likely to incite others to act.

However, one wonders how authorities in one part of the country can take swift action on an apparent inappropriate comment and yet authorities in another take virtually no action after the death of a 13-year-old girl who was maliciously plotted against. And, no action has been taken as the Meier family continues to be harassed.

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Wednesday, December 5

Sharing Acts Of Kindness: Bloggers Unite

“Action speaks louder than words but not nearly as often.” — Mark Twain

There is something to be said for this often cited quote from Mark Twain, which is why there is something to be said about the newest Bloggers Unite challenge led by BlogCatalog members. On Dec. 17, bloggers will share stories about varied generous acts of kindness that they performed in the days and weeks leading up to the event, many of which are occurring around the world right now.

It doesn’t really matter if these “acts of kindness” are simple, smart, quirky, silly, serious, or something in between. Individually and collectively, they mean something; at least they do to me, and I hope to you too.

You see, a single act of kindness or doing the right thing, whether great or small, always takes less effort and produces greater results than struggling to be right as some people often do. As one of my favorite stories illustrates …

A myriad of bubbles were floating on the surface of a stream. “What are you?” I cried to them they drifted by.

“I am bubble of course” nearly a myriad bubbles answer, and there was surprise and indignation in their voices.

But, here and there, a lonely bubble answered, “We are this stream,” and there was neither surprise nor indignation in their voices, just quiet certitude. — Wei Wu Wei


Sure, most people are content to fight to be right and place their mark on the map of social media with as much indignity as they can muster. There’s nothing really wrong with that, except it is equally worthwhile to remember that compassion is effortless.

For the last few days, some bloggers have taken the day off to sign on to Bloggers Unite, with each act of kindness to be shared in a post, photo, or video on Dec. 17, adding value to the world online and off.

For our part, we’ll be adding our own story to the stream this Dec. 17 and have joined with BlogCatalog to assist in judging hundreds of submissions. More than 20 bloggers receiving prizes and recognition for their work. We'll also profile the top three submissions in each subcategory — post, photo, and video — beginning in Jan. 08.

See? Effortless. For details, visit the Bloggers Unite mini-site. Or, just do something nice today — even an unexpected compliment might go a long way.

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Tuesday, December 4

Communicating Change: Blogger Hits The Fan

If you want to read about tracking Santa, you can read about it on the Google blog. If you want to know about blogging from YouTube, you’ll find on it on Blogger Buzz. But if you’re a blogger with a blogspot blog wondering who dramatically altered how your blog comments function, well, happy hunting.

The new rules of communication for Internet conglomerates seem to be: if you have a great idea, host a press conference. If you aren’t really sure, bite your tongue, flip a switch, and see what hits the fan. BLOGGER!

Sure, it’s a tactic most people have come to expect from Facebook, but only because it needs a mom. We saw it when Yahoo! merged MyBlogLog accounts too, but that was just being a fast company. And now Google via Blogger has joined a new school of thought that suggests passive communication is best when you just aren’t sure if what you are doing is a good idea.

How passive? Here are a few ways a blogspot bloggger might have learned about the comment changes that affect their blogs:

1. You happened to click “Known Issues” on the dashboard help section of Blogger because it's something you like to do, um, just because.
2. A group member happened to open a case study discussion thread on BlogStraightTalk.
3. Maybe you stumbled onto the discussion at BlogCatalog, where many bloggers have vowed to migrate.
4. You happened to catch it on Twitter, either mine or Dave Delaney’s followup.
5. You happened to read one of several blogs or help groups that had less than flattering things to say.
6. Someone you know, maybe your mom, happens to know someone who knows someone who reads Blogger In Draft daily, on the off chance that it is updated, which is about every three months or so.

Okay, sure, right, communicating change is never easy. But what will it take before Internet companies come to the conclusion that viral marketing is not the best way to communicate change? Flipping the switch and seeing if anything hits the fan is nothing more than non-communication.

So what happened? Blogger removed the URL field for unauthenticated comments, which is their way of aggressively supporting OpenID. OpenID is a fine idea, which allows people to "sign" your comments with your own URL while “preventing others from impersonating you.”

The tradeoff in using the new OpenID comments seems to be the steep division between the choice of allowing anonymous posts without allowing any link backs or choosing OpenID to allow the link backs to other blogs but eliminating anonymous comments. Of course, the anonymous can always create an fake Blogger/Google ID that they’ll forget about a few weeks later, which is why I decided to flip the switch on this blog’s comments for now (use the pull down menu).

However, in the interim, Google/Blogger proves once again that most communication challenges occur from the inside out. But maybe that is part of the purpose of OpenID anyway. Migration becomes easier and exodus more likely when Internet companies fail to communicate change before springing it on their members. Hmmm … now that’s something Internet folks seem to get.

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Monday, December 3

Approaching Journalism: Tips For Bloggers


While listening to a panel discussion called “Being Opinionated in America” from the University of Berkeley that featured Maureen Dowd and Thomas L. Friedman (available for free download at iTunes), I noted that Friedman was particularly transparent in his approach to writing foreign affairs columns for The New York Times.

Five Points Gleaned From Thomas L. Friedman

• Writes fact-based commentaries that are reasonably objective
• Does not write to make friends and not doing so has no impact
• Consults with a brain trust of five people; reasonably transparent
• Fact checks for accuracy; seeks outside sources; no oversight
• Does not discriminate between the level of expertise and value of the insight

In drawing comparisons between his approach and that of bloggers, there seem to be some relatively minor distinctions, with most depending on the specific blogger.

Five Common Distinctions With Bloggers

• Some bloggers do write fact-based commentary, but most advocate specific ideas and share or debate points around their area of interest.
• Most bloggers do write to make friends, because nurturing these relationships can potentially increase their presence, reach, and perception of expertise.
• Some bloggers are influenced by select influencers, and the level of transparency is as varied as columnists. Some bloggers are also influenced by others who they never mention.
• Most bloggers do not fact check for accuracy or seek additional sources beyond what they can find available on the Web.
• Many bloggers do discriminate between the level of expertise and value of insights, often giving more weight to those who have a perceived expertise.

From me, these distinctions are especially important when considering the continuous debate whether bloggers can be journalists. I generally feel it truly depends on the blogger, always noting that some journalists are bloggers too (blogging is activity, not usually a professional designation). And, of course, many bloggers have no interest in becoming journalistic, which is fine too.

However, I do believe that bloggers can strengthen their content by adopting some journalistic approaches as outlined by Friedman.

• Never be afraid to seek offline sources to enhance the quality of the content; it’s often refreshing to read blogs that bring in ideas from non-bloggers.
• Never underestimate the value of any insight, regardless of the perceived level of expertise. Experts have an equal opportunity to be wrong.
• Authenticity is more important than transparency; meaning that disclosure is most warranted when it is relevant or directly influences the piece.
• And always be careful in pursuing online friendships for popularity so that these relationships do not hinder your ability to be honest with yourself and your readers.

The last point is often the most difficult for bloggers. For example, I generally encourage disagreement and debate while discouraging the shouting down of opposing viewpoints or diatribe, as sometimes happens when people support popularity over purpose.

I appreciate it sometimes sizes me up as someone who doesn’t much care what people think. At least that is what one of my friends told me last week. But that isn’t exactly so. I care wholeheartedly what people think; I just don’t always care a whole lot about what they might think of me for a certain point of view or working to remain objective.

There’s a big difference. In fact, it provides columnists like Dowd and Friedman the voice they need to make people think through issues without polarizing them along party platforms. Sometimes, this comes at the expense of their own popularity, if not, likeability. And personally, it’s something I hope to see more of in new media.

After all, the true test of any relationship is never when we agree, but when we disagree. Yes, we need some more of that in social media.

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