Tuesday, September 30

Teaching Social Media: A Near Dead Deck

Social media is one of those subjects where the life span of a single deck is three months if you're lucky. So, I'm retiring the deck I've used (and updated several times) at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Since it was never intended for slideshare with 62 slides serving as the back drop of a 3-hour open conversation-driven class, I've had to break it up in several smaller parts to share it there. You can find all four here or read the content description each part:

Social Media For Communication Strategy, Part 1 (20 slides)

The first 20 slides provide an overview of social media mass, with an emphasis on the fact that more than 90 percent of adults are online and there is virtually no demographic difference between online people and offline people. Nowadays, there are only people, many of which are passively engaged in social media whether they know it or not.

Social Media For Communication Strategy, Part 2 (8 slides)

The next eight slides emphasize how the adoption of social media among businesses is accelerating in every industry; how convergence is playing an important role in driving increased Internet usage; how print continues to be impacted by the Internet; and a quick comparison of an Internet footprint left by a static Web site and consistently updated blog.

Social Media For Communication Strategy, Part 3 (18 slides)

The next set touches on analytics, with an emphasis that analytics are useful but not the end all in tracking or determining success in business. For businesses, intent remains the most defining factor in determining ROI. These slides also include some very basic blog orientation content and general theory about citizen journalism.

Social Media For Communication Strategy, Part 4 (16 slides)

For businesses, I generally propose they employ their intent specific blog as their home base before moving into social networks. The last batch plainly provides a social network overview, with an emphasis on the idea that people move through social networks much like they move through various physical social spaces in their daily lives — from the home to the coffee house to their job, etc.

In many cases, I’ve back linked specific slides to source material on this blog and elsewhere (if it was not already linked in an originating post). It might provide some additional insight into the verbal portion of my presentations.

Sure, this might be a little more nuts and bolts than my usual posts. But there are a few people out there that might appreciate a peek into social media beyond the bubble and from the ground. Enjoy.

Next year, I might even make it more slideshare friendly.


Monday, September 29

Writing Wrongs: Haste Makes Waste

Deanna Wright seems to be one of the most recent candidates wounded by the double-edged sword that seems to accompany politics and the Internet. While Web sites and blogs can provide a competitive edge, they can also cut away at credibility if they’re not managed properly.

Last week, the Las Vegas Review-Journal skipped past Wright’s positions and went right for the prose, citing that she wants to play an “active roll in the future of education.” And while the leading daily might not have given the mistake a second thought, it was one of a dozen errors.

It’s bad enough that Wright is running for the Clark County School Board, but to make matters worse, she blamed the mistakes on haste and a bad spell checker.

Blaming spell checkers is a poor excuse, mostly because there is no such thing as a “good” spell checker. More concerning is how the errors are handled.

Anyone who writes with frequency on a blog will find a few errors sometimes slip through the cracks. Most of us correct them as soon as they’re spotted. But what stood out to me about this story is that she said she knew about the problems on her site, but hadn’t had time to correct them.

Ironically, this is precisely what is wrong with our school district. There are too many known problems that no one seems to have time to fix.

But more to the point, the easy accessibility of the Internet and the ability to quickly share information is changing the electoral process in that voters have a real opportunity to learn about various issues from each candidate in almost every race. It also takes a brave candidate to share ideas on blogs, knowing that critics are likely to hang on every word much more than any supporters.

Candidates might keep in mind that while the Internet is a great opportunity, bad writing can kill even the best ideas. Slow down and appreciate that there is something to be said for the idiom “haste makes waste.”

It always takes longer to undo the damage caused by careless errors than it does to make those errors in the first place. Ask anyone.


Wednesday, September 24

Paying $1 Million: Pepsi Banks On Consumers

According to the Wall Street Journal, PepsiCo will be awarding $1 million if anyone can create a Doritos Super Bowl commercial that beats out all other Super Bowl ads based on viewer rankings.

"We've always believed our fans have the talent and passion to compete at the highest level, and we are putting $1 million on the table to demonstrate our confidence and also help our winner fulfill their own destiny," said Ann Mukherjee, group vice president of marketing for Doritos. "Whether it goes toward funding a short film, opening an ad agency or anything in between, we're empowering them with an unmatched stage to compete on and a motivation to make it happen."

Winning the $1 million will not be easy. After consumer-creators submit their entry, it will be up to fans to vote online for five finalists (including the one advertisement that will air during Super Bowl XLIII). All finalists will receive $25,000 and a trip to Tampa Bay, Florida, to attend Super Bowl XLIII.

Additional details for the "Crash The Super Bowl" contest are posted on the Doritos interactive Web site. The contest represents an increasing trend among companies to engage consumers by asking them to create original advertising and marketing.

Related thought: For the all these efforts to turn consumers into brand ambassadors, one wonders why there is ever any debate on employees becoming brand ambassadors too.


Tuesday, September 23

Communicating Change: Where Utterz Went Utterli Wrong

"The initial reaction to the name change is mixed. People don't generally like change, unless things are going really poorly. As a company and community, we've never been better, so I've expected push back on the identity change." — Aaron Burcell

It’s almost cliché to say that change is never easy, especially during an election year when change seems to be the synonymous mantra of every candidate and politician in the running. However, for the multi-media presence application Utterli, formerly Utterz, change — the recent identity change, not necessarily its new interface — is suffering more than push back. It’s a disaster.

Never mind the comments that keep popping up online; consider that any time I mentioned the Utterz identity change at BlogWorld, every communicator and blogger I spoke with rolled their eyes and expressed a complete dismissal of the idea.

Some even wondered who was paid to push that idea through, speculating that such an identity change would carry a mighty price tag. Others suggested it would take months or even years to undo the powerful brand they had established with Bessie, the lovable cow. A couple said they never heard of Utterz anyway.

In fairness to Utterz, while the name change might have been a surprise to most members, it was leaked the same time it started rubbing Aaron Burcell’s head for luck and made him CMO. The leak, however, never made it beyond the whisper stages. And that’s too bad. If it had, I don’t think they would face so much “push back” as they call it today.

How Utterz Could Have Better Communicated Change

• Utterz could have released its interface change without the identity change, ensuring the new features would have been the story. It would have also captured its audience’s attention, providing a better venue to suggest the identity change might be in the near future, opening dialogue.

• Utterz could have remembered that it would need to be responsive to the identity change. For all the claims they expected “push back,” the post communication comes across as dismissive. The “we’ve grown up” message is weak and distances the company from its community because maybe its customers don’t want to grow up.

• Before committing to the change, Utterz could have promoted the idea of a name change, providing a forum for feedback, allowing people who feel vested in the service an opportunity to share their questions, comments, and concerns.

• Open communication is critical during change, but most Utterz members seem to feel that there was no communication by the company until after the fact. The change has left them feeling that any feedback is futile.

• Utterz, like so many Web 2.0 companies, need to consider the length of the change initiative. Communicating change is actually very easy, provided a company can extend the change cycle and adjust during adoption. Steady will always win the race.

• Too many online companies rely exclusively on their blogs to communicate change. Considering how many companies employ push marketing at the wrong time, not enough use it at the right time. When communicating change, one communication vehicle, such as a blog post after the fact, is not enough.

Successfully communicating change, especially when it impacts an identity that customers feel vested in and a part of, requires a controlled pace and deep engagement. For all the praise Utterli has received on being responsive with the interface, it’s always buried under the name change that exemplifies the opposite.

For Utterz, communicating an identity change would have played better after the service changed, especially if it would have been rolled out in several phases.

1. Announcing that an identity change was being considered and clear reasons why the change was being considered.

2. Collecting community feedback on the name change.

3. Announcing decisions based on that feedback, such as keeping a significant portion of name as the brand.

4. Providing some sneak peeks to the spontaneous stakeholders that become interested in the process, which would certainly include the most vocal critics of any change.

5. Finalizing the identity change and revealing it from the inside out — employees, hard stakeholders, community stakeholders, the entire community, and then outside interests such as the media.

Instead, now they are playing catch up. As they do, it seems more likely the name change had less to do about this and more to do with the fact that Utterli, formerly Utterz, wants to be acquired.


Friday, September 19

Communicating Disparity: Reuters On Wall Street

There is an interesting communication insight that emerges after reading Reuters collection of public opinions on the recent market drop.

Wall Street workers said:
• People are in misery. You can see it, you can feel it.
• It's at the level of 1929, I'm sure.
• It's mind-blowing. There is no place to hide.

Non-Wall Street workers said:
• Look at this -- it's jam-packed with people and they don't look too stressed.
• If the market dropped 25 percent like it did in '87, I'd be worried, but a 400 point drop isn't that much.
• Today, anyway, the money that the Fed put into the markets seems to have straightened things out.

Communication can be decidedly different depending on vantage point. It's something to keep in mind when deciding whether to run with a campaign based on insider or outsider perspectives. Here's an idea: stick to the truth and manage from a point of authenticity, never minding what either group says. It's your message as long as you manage it.


Thursday, September 18

Uttering New Identity: Utterli

Utterz is dead. Long live Utterli.

Mashable called it an impression of Prince. And another member, Jason, who is bullish on the cross-posting service, says he’s utterly confused. Jason doesn’t seem to be alone. Confused is what most people seem to be.

According to their blog, Utterz has “outgrown” its identity, but Mashable offered a more plausible explanation. After conducting some market research, they learned that many people, especially females, did not like the name Utterz.

That might make sense to folks like Sheryl Altschuler, president of A-Strategies Marketing Consultants, who subscribes to the idea that the “the customer is in control from here on out …

This is also one of several places where I depart from the construct that the “customer is in control” of the identity and the brand. In fact, this thinking might be precisely the reason that Utterli has taken some people aback. What customers are they talking about? By some accounts, including their own, Utterli seems to be relying on input from some people who aren’t customers at all. And, the identity change is barely half and half.

They killed Bessie, but insist members can still “utter” and can continue to use meaningful references to “utterers” and “utts.” They put up the new logo, but any marketing and instructional videos will have to change; it will be a long time before all the directories and databases can be updated; and the new name will forever remind people of what it once was, perhaps using it when feeling sentimental much like they did after trying New Coke.

(I don’t even want to talk about the mark, a generic identity that looks something like a cross between a lemon-lime soda logo and a Partridge Family partridge, other than to say it's utterly unmemorable compared to the cow that pops up all over Flickr and elsewhere.)

Of course, even if everyone liked the new name, you have to wonder about the execution. Social media companies have a nasty tendency to spring change on their communities, which is the opposite of being responsive or responsible. Some customers, women included, are even wondering why they weren't asked and a few are considering a petition to change it back.

While it is too early to say in this case, the social media contract that proposes that the customers are in control, might have led Utterli, formally Utterz, astray. No, customers do not control the brand or the message. No one controls it.

“If you don’t manage the message, the message will manage you.”

Of course, none of this is to say that I don’t hope for their best outcome. I’ve met some of the folks behind Utterli, formally Utterz, and believe they were probably convinced it was the right thing to do. It's still a shame though. The name change keeps drowning out the more important message — they’ve enhanced some services.

Who did? Utterli, formally Utterz.


Wednesday, September 17

Communicating Politics: Has The Bar Dropped?

It’s a good thing I watched the John Adams miniseries this summer because I might otherwise believe it when many news outlets call the 2008 elections the dirtiest, ugliest, and meanest in history.

Somehow, for me, being reminded that Jefferson vilified his longtime friend and colleague Adams in 1800 or that Jefferson himself was later vilified by his political opponents, helps keep things in perspective. Joseph Ellis, in his book The Revolutionary Generation called this rivalry unequalled in terms of “shrill accusatory rhetoric, flamboyant displays of ideological intransigence, intense personal rivalries and hyperbolic claims of imminent catastrophe.”

Although, when you think about it, Ellis really could be writing about 2008, with the only notable difference being that many poorly executed ideas like Obama Waffles or the now debunked claims by the DailyKos that Sarah Palin faked her pregnancy are often beyond either campaign team’s control.

Much more manageable are the messages being put into play by both campaigns. Obama’s claim that McCain votes 88 percent of the time with President Bush is disingenuous at best, given that the reality is Obama and McCain voted together nearly as much. And, I’ve already commented on the McCain team’s silly Obama is like Paris Hilton comparison ad. Both were wrong. Both were ineffective. Both backfired.

The excuse? Everywhere I look, “they’ve” lowered the bar “first” seems to be the prevailing mantra. Yet, nothing could be further from reality. Somebody, eventually, has to be the better person and not expect voters to ferret out the truth on their own, just as I’ve been advising closer to home. As expected, the nasty national tactics have been spilling over into local and state races.

“The Nevada Democratic Party is showing an analogous moral bankruptcy in its effort to oust state Sens. Joe Heck and Bob Beers because it must believe the end — returning the upper house to the Democrats for the first time in 18 years — justifies the execrable means.” — Jon Ralston, Las Vegas Sun

Ralston is referring to a smear campaign being promoted by the Nevada State Democratic Party to help lift up their candidate who professes not to know who is behind the campaign (um, the same people financing her). yet, she is more than happy to benefit from it. You can find one example of the fictitious campaign claims on another local blogger’s site. You can find the truth here or here.

Since the campaign was launched, several communicators have asked me what do you do when the opposition intends to spend $1 million on a mountain of lies? Don’t you hit back?

Sometimes you want to, but that’s no answer. Reactionary communication is not very effective communication. So as much as the media loves to cover such conflict, there is only one remedy for political campaign lies, in my opinion. It requires more and more truth. And that is what Sen. Beers is doing.

Now, only if national campaigners would learn, because they have set the bar lower and some local campaigners seem to have set the bar even lower than that. Enough so, that I’ve already told most of my friends that I’m not making any national election decisions until after the debates and asked some not to subscribe to or promote sound bites from either side until it can be verified as fact.

Otherwise, we risk making liars of ourselves, even if it seems justified by the audacious notion that the sun will not rise on Nov. 5 if the other candidate is elected. On the contrary, the sun will rise.

The sun will rise on Nov. 5 just as it did on July 4, 1826, after two longtime adversaries realized that for all their wanted differences, the rest of the world perceived them to be largely the same. And “Thomas Jefferson survives.”


Tuesday, September 16

Blaming Sexes: Bad Research Habits

Researchers at the University of Toronto recently compared the stress levels and physical health problems of men and women working in one of three situations: for a lone male supervisor, a lone female supervisor, or for both a male and female supervisor. The report concluded:

• Women working for female bosses reported more psychological distress and physical symptoms than women working for a male boss.
• Women reporting to a mixed-gender pair reported more symptoms than their peers who worked for a single male boss.
• Men who worked for a single supervisor, regardless of the supervisor's gender, had similar levels of distress.
• Men who worked for a mixed-gender pair had fewer symptoms than those working for a lone male supervisor.

My speculation differs. It seems to me that psychological distress and physical symptoms are more likely caused by poor coping skills; ineffective management and leadership skills; or choice of research.

Monday, September 15

Teaching Social Media: The Friday After BlogWorld

It will be interesting to see what impact, if any, BlogWorldExpo on Sept. 20-21 will have on my Social Media for Communication Strategy class, sponsored by the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, on Friday, Sept 26.

Much like last year, it will likely depend on the speakers. After all, social media sometimes comes across as being an inch deep and a mile wide even though it really is a mile deep within the context of strategic communication.

Right on. The long tail of social media need not wag the company dog.

When put in the right context, the value of social media for the public and private sector is easy enough to understand. When it is not, I cannot blame decision makers for being skeptical about the satire that is all too often presented as fact. Applied without the Kool Aid, social media tends to look more like this ...

Five Critical Facts About Social Media That Businesses Need To Know.

• Social media reaches more people and shapes more opinion than all other paid and unpaid media combined.

• The online population represents 90 percent of all adults, with online demographics in lock step with offline demographics by age, gender, ethnicity, income, and education.

• Active participation is not an accurate measure because content consumers outnumber content creators in the United States by 4-to-1.

• While there seem to be many rules in social media, the only one that seems to stand the test of time is authenticity, which makes sense because that concept in communication predates social media.

• Social media analytics are always interesting, useful, and insightful. Yet, none of them means anything.

Five Critical Trends That Are Shaping Social Media Today.

• Social media is trending toward mobility at an exponential rate, especially as Apple continues to push mobile technology forward.

• The bar on quality original content will continue to be raised as entertainment producers and magazine publishers turn their attention online with the hope of salvaging advertising revenue.

• The modern concept between citizen journalism and professional journalism will continue to evaporate, with some citizen journalists employing social media as their entry into the profession.

• Companies will come to terms with social media, but will continue to struggle with the difference between being responsive and intrusive.

• Tactics to expand online reach will eventually be redefined to include a mix of organic traffic, long tail search terms, and message-specific ads on sites that already capture organic traffic and key word searches.

In other words, I suppose any impact to my class will be directly tied to how deep BlogWorldExpo speakers can delve into such topics.

If these speakers do, I’ll anticipate some pretty heady questions. And if they do not (and I’ll know because I’ll be there), then the deepest questions on the Friday after will likely be “what is social media?” and "what if a someone disagrees with me?"


Friday, September 12

Thursday, September 11

Digging Holes For Bloggers: Naked Boy

Sometimes, the best rule of thumb for bloggers is to think before taking action. Take J. Son, who produces Naked Boy News, for example. He almost jeopardized the entire jury selection process in the ongoing O.J. Simpson trial.

He jeopardized the trial by contacting two jurors and allegedly claiming to be with CNN. However, in this trial, like many trials, the court had previously ordered restraint by members of media to ensure an unbiased jury. In fact, media attempting to contact jurors would be in violation of a court order and charged with contempt of court and/or have their their press credentials confiscated.

Upon learning the contact came from a blogger, District Judge Jackie Glass said she could control media representatives, but couldn’t stop the public from trying to speak to prospective jurors. Other than hoping to tell him to knock it off, the judge has taken the position that there is nothing she can do.

”The folks on the street — I cannot control them,” District Judge Jackie Glass told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

I disagree. While I tend to be an advocate for the relatively few bloggers who hope to cross over into civil journalism, I also believe J. Son should be held in contempt of court just as any other publisher would.

If he is not held accountable, his actions will hurt bloggers over the long term by pressuring the courts and others to define what is a 'legitimate' journalist. Doing so would not only be bad for bloggers, but for everyone.

It’s simple really. Bloggers acting as or claiming to be journalists need to accept the responsibilities of journalists or else they risk a future where journalists will become licensed by the state and the First Amendment a mere privilege. With freedom comes responsibility.


Wednesday, September 10

Learning The Hard Way: NBC Returns To iTunes

There are two ways to learn. One of them is the hard way.

Almost one year ago to the day, NBC Universal (NBCU) made one of the worst decisions since it entered the digital media arena — it effectively banned itself from Apple iTunes. With the launch of iTunes 8 a few days ago and its fall schedule falling in place, NBCU seems to have finally learned the hard way and come back.

Of course, rumors of the peacock’s return to iTunes have been out there for some time. In January, Jeff Zucker, CEO of NBC, made a massive public relations dance move, shifting from the position that iTunes had destroyed the music industry to saying "We've said all along that we admire Apple, that we want to be in business with Apple."

When the rumors first surfaced in January, Engadget could only speculate as to NBC’s reasons. Today, it seems more clear. Apple has refined its terms of service and NBC will generate more revenue, assuming consumers want to spend $1 more for a high definition version of a television show.

The return might even be bittersweet. The SciFi Channel — which returns to iTunes along with NBC, USA, Bravo, NBC News, and Sleuth — praises the new deal, but then goes on to add “there's not much reason get your shows from iTunes instead of streaming them for free on NBC.com or Hulu.”

Wow! I’ve never seen a company tell consumers not to purchase its programming before. But then again, advertising revenue has always trumped consumer purchases at the networks. Ask any television show fan groups.

Since the SciFi Channel doesn’t seem to get it, we’ll help spell it out: NBC has always been smart about some of its moves into the digital arena like Hulu but dumb when it comes to understanding one critical component — portability.

Apple has created a platform that seamlessly allows me to purchase programs that I can watch on my computer, iPod, iPhone, or flat screen TV. Unfortunately, any HD purchases I might make will have to wait because the system requirements remove that portability selling point and/or double up on storage space.

There’s something else too. Apple needs to fix a glitch. Right now, if you select some shows in a standard format, they still default to HD in your shopping cart, making them impossible to purchase unless you have a dual-core 2.0 Ghz processor or better. So, for the time being, I’m blocked from buying certain shows until they sort it out or I upgrade my 2.1 Ghz “just before” dual core cpu.

More to the point, the return of NBC to iTunes sets the stage for how digital media will work on the net and it’s much more in line with our thinking when people were still telling us that convergence was nothing more than a fantasy. NBC and other networks need to focus on content creation to stay relevant.

Apple and others will become the digital distribution bridges while the finer points of convergence are finally sorted out. And networks have a long way to go before they understand public relations. You’re back on iTunes despite Hulu. Get over it.


Tuesday, September 9

Diminishing Returns: Magazine Publishers Market Online

With advertising continuing its trend toward straightforward communication, it’s no surprise magazines are looking to promote their product — advertising — with a simple straightforward message: “They make people want to buy things."

The Gawker, emphasizing that magazine ad pages are down more than seven percent, presents some tongue-in-cheek logic behind a campaign that appears mostly on the Internet. The Gawker also pulls our favorite sentence from the article that offers an explanation:

” The goal is to show that advertising in magazines encourages consumers to consider buying products — a phenomenon known as purchase intent — and stimulates them to go online to shop or to learn more about items they might want to buy.”

Wow! The logic is nothing new. Magazine publishers have been pushing this message — that print advertisements drive online searches, Web site visits, and word of mouth (among other things) — for some time but public relations and direct marketing wasn’t preventing the decline. Why not? Target audience.

The vast majority of print ad purchasers are at agencies. Yet, media buyers are much more likely to consume content online. But that has little to do with the real challenge that magazine publishers are facing today.

Most magazine publishers have spent so many years promoting cost per impression; it will require significant effort to reverse the most pervasive magazine marketing sales message in history. In fact, they have to retool their message to be more like the small publications they used to browbeat based on numbers provided by the Audit Bureau of Circulations because Internet content beats them in free content, niche consumers, and numbers. Is there anything left?

Yes, and no.

It seems to me that the only thing that magazine publishers can hope to do is refine their niche, improve quality content, and provide some or all of their content online while still retaining some semblance of differential between the print publication and online content. Impossible? Not really.

Entertainment Weekly seems to be doing a reasonable job at differentiating its online and print content. But Time seems slightly more challenged. Dwell, which is one young print publication I do enjoy receiving in the mail, not so well.

But more importantly, they might do a better job bundling print and online space. After all, if magazines have something right, it’s this: most advertisements are starting to have a singular mission — drive the consumer to the Web site where every inch of content is controlled by the company.

That’s something to think about. And so is the logic behind a marketing campaign that makes consumer look unhappy with their magazine-influenced purchases.


Monday, September 8

Branding Shift: Microsoft?

Microsoft wants consumers to believe that its new advertising strategy has come a long from this to this. But has it? Really?

Friday, September 5

Claiming All Confetti: Sprinkles Cupcakes

The next time your read a recipe that calls for sprinkles on top of a cupcake, it might be a recipe for disaster. At least that’s what the legal eagles charged with defending the name of a three-year-old “cupcake only” shop in Beverly Hills thinks.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Sprinkles has sent about a dozen letters to shops around the country and filed three lawsuits, including one last month against Famous Cupcakes in North Hollywood because it too uses dots on its packaging and in its store.

But what’s so odd about warning away other small businesses from using candy, dots, and other decorations is that Sprinkles doesn’t even use dots all that much in its identity or on its Web site. In fact, it seems to me that few, if any, of the cupcake bakeries have any similarity in their presentation. See for yourself: Sprinkles Cupcakes, Sprinkled Pink Cupcake Couture, and Famous Cupcakes.

Sure, I’m not an attorney, but I do know enough about trademarks to understand no one can claim common symbols or words like sprinkles. I also know my grandmother used to adorn her cupcakes with a candy corn at the end of every October and Necco Wafers whenever it struck her. She had taken the idea from a small neighborhood bakery in the Midwest.

So when you add it all up, whatever Sprinkles Cupcakes thinks it can gain from flirting with legal action against other bakeries will be lost to bad public relations. And it might become worse than that.

Beyond looking greedy or silly or petty or all of the above, these lawsuits could run the risk of the company having its own identity challenged. After all, Sprinkles Custom Cakes has held sprinkles.com since 1997. Since trademarks are based on first published usage, not first registration filed, sprinkles.com or any other bakery that has happened to use sprinkles in their name might do the same.

Conversely, if Sprinkles loses even one lawsuit, it’s likely more bakeries will be adding “sprinkles” to their names; not fewer as the owners of Sprinkles Cupcakes had hoped. It’s already on the radar. [Hat tip: Spin Thicket.]


Thursday, September 4

Making Noise: Boston Herald

Do newspaper publishers ever consider that stories like this might be the result of stories like this? [Hat tip: Steven Silvers]

Wednesday, September 3

Branding Employees: Chapel vs. Dell

While Tamera Kremer at Wildfire was covering the debate between RichardatDell and the fictional AmandaChapel on the value of making brand ambassadors out of employees, Adweek was covering Zappos.com. Zappos has already moved full steam ahead and is one of many companies that already consider employees brand ambassadors online.

In fact, according to the story, the vast majority of trial and repeat business at Zappos.com is driven by word of mouth and employees. Brian Kalma, director of creative services and brand marketing, employs the term "people planning," arguing that each employee needs to be a great point of contact with customers.

Indeed. So where is the debate?

Based on the comments on Wildfire, it seems Chapel was taking the position that “front-line folks that you’ve assigned to the ‘conversation’ on Dell’s behalf, particularly your Twitter social-media team, are making a complete mess of it.”

Richard has defended the Dell position by saying “We believe that social media helps us foster direct relationships, not just transactions with our customers. Think about your own customer relationships and to what extent they rely on the personal and professional interactions that you have.”

Amazingly, the debate seems to have some social media participants questioning the need to distinguish personal and professional brands online, a notion that seems contradictory to any sense of transparency that social media practitioners claim is critical to success. As I noted on Twitter, "trying to separate personal and professional brands is like arguing that you are a different person when you wear jeans or a suit." We can pretend people are somehow different, but it’s really not true.

Still, that is not to say employees acting as brand ambassadors can enjoy a free-for-all online. Common sense suggests if you wouldn’t say something to a customer offline, it’s probably a good idea to avoid saying it online, where it can be archived forever.

Look offline for online behavior guides.

This isn’t rocket science. The best companies already know that employees tend to be the best brand ambassadors, provided the company benefits from a strong internal communication program.

One of the examples I frequently share in explaining the impact of external public relations on internal audiences is how two different utility rate cases turned out. Without sharing the specifics here, one company started with a proactive internal communication program so by the time the rate case hit the papers, employees could explain the reasons behind the rate increase with friends, family, and neighbors. The other did not. The results were dramatically different, with one rate increase succeeding and other quickly turning into a crisis.

My point is simple enough. Front line employees have always been brand ambassadors. It’s not a new concept. So maybe the real question is: do companies realize blogging is front line communication and are they educating their employees well enough for them to deliver a return? Apparently, Zappos does.


Tuesday, September 2

Earning Distinction: HWH PR

bad pitch award
HWH PR was apparently awarded the Bad Pitch Blog Lifetime Achievement Award for the worst in public relations yesterday. This dubious distinction comes after two years of spamming bloggers, journalists, and anyone else who might be unfortunate enough to make their mass blast email list.

The Bad Pitch Blog sums up its assessment as “Blasting news releases to anyone with an email address and ignoring their replies is not practicing media relations – it’s spamming.” Case in point, HWH PR is the one reason I won’t write anything about MyClick technology and everything about MyClick’s inability to hire a public relations firm that knows what they are doing.

Even after writing a post that outlined several shortcomings of the so-called public relations firm (without naming it) and asking to be removed from all future pitches, HWH PR continues to send me one poorly written pitch after another, with the most recent from Lois Whitman landing in my spam folder just last month. The release is nothing more than an embarrassing exercise in turning client news into non-news:

Visitors to China Mobile’s Pavilion at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games Exhibition are experiencing MyClick’s unique breakthrough image-matching technology. The MyClick technology allows visitors to access instant information and pass on their best wishes to the Olympic Games with just a few clicks on their mobile phones.

One would think even a first year student of public relations would be able to find some semblance of a news story for an upstart company landing some space at the Olympics, but not HWH PR. They trivialize any hope of a hook to the point of absurdity. Even if I could have salvaged the story for them, I already know that it is a complete waste of time to contact this firm.

They have no idea who they send pitches to and don’t want to be bothered by the people they pitch. It’s about that simple. Other HWH PR “spam, don’t speak” clients include Samsung, Westinghouse Digital, and Dotster.


Monday, September 1

Creating An Industry, Or Not: Social Media

J.W. Sass, vice president of business development with Myxer, seemingly inspired by “The Future of Social Media: Hope or Hype?” by Jason Falls, wrote his own post declaring “Social Media is NOT an Industry.” Sass further expands on the idea in his comments, saying that social media is core communication, a sharing and feedback process widely used for both personal and business exchanges, internally and externally.

He might be right. Maybe social media is not an industry.

It might be emerging as a field of specialization, which addresses Falls’ comment that “… I do think there will always be specialists, always be conferences, always be professional development groups and opportunities relative to social media and, thus, there will be an "industry" around it. But until social media, the practice or the tools, are ubiquitous and universal, there are people (like me) who make a living doing it. Thus, an industry does exist.” Possibly, but probably not.

Sure, we could take the broadest definition of an industry — the category describing a company's primary business activity — and make it stick. But we could apply that definition to any number of services and claim those are industries too, even if they are not.

Writing, for example, is generally not considered an industry even though it also passes the broadest definition. Instead, writing is generally assigned as something one does for another industry — advertising, publishing, film, etc. Likewise, graphic design is generally not regarded as an industry. Acting does not seem to be an industry unto itself. Web site development isn’t really an industry.

For social media to become an industry, I imagine it would have to demonstrate its fundamental uniqueness of service much like advertising did in the 1920s and public relations did in the 1950s. That seems unlikely to me as advertising, public relations, marketing, publishing, and even IT all have an increasing stake in it and communication continues to trend toward integration.

Does this preclude social media specialists? Not at all. Does this censor some experts from promoting it as an industry? Absolutely not. Does it mean mainstream media will eventually succumb to being part of something it once loathed, simply because it moved into this space as its most viable means of self-presevation? Yeah, right.

But there is something else. Does social media even want to grow up into its own industry? After all, becoming an industry usually involves corralling a discipline, which almost seems contrary to the freedoms that seem to be pushing it forward.


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