Wednesday, December 31

Recognizing Reader Picks: Top Posts Of 2008

With the new year upon us tomorrow, we would like to say goodbye to 2008 with a recap of this blog's five most popular communication-related posts, based on the frequency and the immediacy of reader views after they were posted.

The 3-Deep Leak of Jericho, Season 2

What began as the early coverage of a consumer protest over the cancellation of the television series Jericho last year became the longest running living crisis communication and consumer-driven social media case study ever covered here. While the fans succeeded in reviving the show for a truncated second season after sending 20 tons of nuts to CBS, two of several factors kept the show from achieving a third season: The network never grasped that yesterday's passive viewers had become active participants. Some fans misplaced trust in the network to do the right thing (and they continue to stumble), which resulted in a fractured fan base.

Of those posts, most written earlier this year, speculation of the 3-deep leak of the show online and potential consequences led the pack. Three days later, CBS followed up with a clarification that the leak was unintentional. (The fact that Jericho leads this list is a testament to the fans' vigilance as well as the potential for groups to use social media to organize.)

Related Labels: Jericho, Consumer Marketing

The Nine Rules of Advertising, Inspired By Fred Manley

After referencing my instructional "nine rules" of advertising on more than one occasion, it seemed suitable to share a two-part post. The first post includes highlights from Fred Manley's classic “Nine Ways To Improve An Ad," which forced so-called advertising rules on the 1960 classic “Think Small” Volkswagen ad. The companion post revives advertising as a conversation as seen by Shirley Polykoff, who was the first woman copywriter for Foote Cone & Belding, before presenting Copywrite, Ink.'s The Real Nine Rules Of Advertising. The first rule? There are no rules.

Both posts can be easily applied to social media. And, if three posts make a better set, then consider Valeria Maltoni's bridge post on the topic, using Reader's Digest as the example.

Related Label: Advertising

Why News Releases Might Die From PR Confusion

With public relations seemingly confused with media relations and media relations seemingly confused with spamming journalists, it only made sense to write a somewhat satirical piece on today's most misunderstood profession. After sampling several random releases, we presented the seven deadly sins of the modern public relations professional as told to me by public relations professionals.

As well read as the post was, even being included on a tip sheet by Bad Pitch Blog, not many have learned anything. HWH PR was outed once again. Dennis Howlett banned pitches (except via Twitter). And I was reminded why being a journalist can sometimes suck.

Related Label: Public Relations

Endoscopy Center Demonstrates Crisis Communication Gone Wrong

Following the local crisis that surrounded the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada, which was responsible for the largest hepatitis C scare in the history of the country, became an exercise in evaluating futility. After the initial story — and then the denial, lack of empathy in a newspaper ad apology, refusal to comment on evidence, and alleged plans of the primary owner to flee the country — the center's credibility eroded until there was nothing left to believe. Eventually, the center was closed permanently.

From the series, the most popular post broke down the ill-advised newspaper apology, which opened: "Recent events at the Endoscopy Center of Nevada of Southern Nevada are causing great concern to our patients and the community at large.” Ho hum. Enough said.

Related Label: Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada, Crisis Communication

Applying Twitter And How It Works For Business

In November, after following up as a live speaker to Aaron Uhrmacher's webinar, we had an opportunity to evaluate Twitter as a tactic for business communication (depending on the company and whether or not the people it wants to reach exist there). While there are other ways to use it, including real time reporting, we categorized six prevailing external communication approaches. They are outlined here.

The popularity of the post might reveal the need for social media participants to communicate in a language business people can understand or, perhaps, just the enthusiasm of Twitter participants to read something about, well, Twitter. There is nothing wrong with that.

Related Label: Twitter, Social Media

Five additional topics that came close in 2008

• How Veronica Mars fans continue to demonstrate unity and sustainability.
• How social media almost derailed our Bloggers Unite segment on CNN.
• Why applications like SeenThis? add value and expose trends.
• Our continuing coverage of broadcast-broadband convergence.
• TheLadders and RiseSmart battle for niche placement.

Since starting this blog in 2005, I always hoped that best practice posts would eventually draw more readers than the biggest mishaps. Looking back, 2008 seems to have accomplished a healthy mix, making 2009 more promising than ever. A very special thanks to everyone who joined the conversation to help make these posts relevant. It made a difference and it's appreciated.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 30

Dispelling Myths: Online Authority

In between some satire, there always seems to be some seriousness in conversations about online authority. Some social media participants want to measure this stuff, even if it for the sole purpose of vanity or perhaps selling snake oil.

There is enough of it that Jennifer Leggio lent a near perfect expose entitled "Twitter popularity does not equal business acumen" on ZDNet. The article mentions several reasons that online popularity doesn't equal much of anything. Her hope was to dissuade executives from considering popularity as a measure.

"My point that [the number of followers] should be a very, very small consideration for enterprises still stands," she concluded.

She's right. Equating online popularity to influence or so-called authority is much like equating real-life popularity to influence or authority. Online, some participants seem to forget that Jerry Seinfeld might make a fun spokesperson for Microsoft, but Bill Gates didn't place him in charge of R&D.

Eric Peterson, a web analytics expert, also poked some fun at the topic, pointing to Twinfluence, which measures velocity, social capital, and centralization. But then asks if “influence” is the best measure of success in social media. Or should people pay closer attention to something like the Twitter Ratio as a measure?

The answer is neither. Social media measures generally consider reach. And reach is, well, reach.

Influence cannot really be measured online because it suggests something that online measures do not account for — changes in behavior or actions that produce outcomes (sometimes offline). Simply having a large number of readers or friends or followers doesn't mean you have influence over them. And even if you did, that influence may be limited in scope.

There are other challenges too. As Shel Israel once pointed out: if someone has three followers, then who those followers are might make all the difference. Or, turning to one example I like to use, there are several social network owners who have less friends than other participants.

This simple fact touches on why authority cannot really be measured online either. Most professionals have friends who are experts in their field that have yet to be concerned with developing an online presence. And, if they were participants in one of a thousand social networks, they may or may not ever be popular. Yet, there is no denying their authority.

What can be measured online is reach. But sometimes, having ample reach isn't all it's cracked up to be. The wrong message communicated to tens of thousands of people instead of a few hundred is still the wrong message.

Monday, December 29

Advertising Pain: Agency Outlook For 2009

As goes mainstream media, ad agencies might follow.

For a little over a year, mainstream media and marketing has continued to tumble. In fact, according to AdAge, Wal-Mart Stores and McDonald's Corp. were the only two of Advertising Age/Bloomberg AdMarket 50 stocks to see gains.

The rest of the 48 marketer, media and agency stocks were all down in 2008, with most dropping double digits in value. Not surprisingly, McClatchy Co. fared the worst of all, down 91 percent.

As for ad agencies, they are struggling too. In October of 2008, AdAge reports agency employment fell to 182,400, a loss of 6,200 jobs from the business-cycle staffing peak. Combined market capitalization of the Big Four agency firms — Omnicom, WPP, Interpublic Group of Cos., Publicis Groupe — in December 2008 was $23.4 billion, not dramatically above the June 2007 market cap of WPP alone ($18.3 billion).

While some of it can easily be traced to the recession, not all of it is a byproduct of tough economic times. Advertising agencies and marketers seem to be struggling because fewer and fewer advertisements are capable of cutting through the clutter. Perhaps it's no coincidence that Wal-Mart won after capturing understated consumer sentiments with its "Save Money. Live Better." campaign.

Ad Agencies Will Have To Listen In 2009

While some pinpoint the problem to the advertising industry's relatively slow embrace of social media as suggested by a promotional video for Age of Conversation 2, another part of the equation is simpler still.

Remember the Matrix? In 1999, the Matrix took audiences by storm and won four Oscars, including Best Visual Effects. Four years later, audiences hadn't had enough, but were already saying that The Matrix Reloaded was a little too much of the same. By the time Revolutions hit theaters, the franchise had long jumped the shark.

The advertising industry has done exactly that. In the early 1990s, many agencies moved away from messaging to focus on Photoshop, Flash, and special effects. The new tools easily caught consumer attention. But by the end of the 1990s, it wasn't really enough.

So some agencies pushed harder with guerrilla marketing to generate buzz. But nowadays, buzz is not enough. Consumers want to relate, which is why a simple Wal-Mart ad can boost sales in a down season and give the company 17.3 percent year-to-date gain for 2008.

Listening to consumers isn't about social media. It's about relating to the audience, regardless of the media. It always has been. And only those agencies that remember that will see any hint of success in 2009.

Thursday, December 25

Wishing Everyone: Very Splendid Holidays

The Velveteen Rabbit, written by Margery Williams and illustrated by William Nicholson, has always held a special place in my heart for reasons I won't share here. Suffice to say that in the story, the Rabbit learns that being "real" is not how you are made, but rather by the relationships you have with people, no matter how fleeting those first meetings may be or how shabby some of them become. The impact is lasting, well beyond what any of us will really ever know.

It was also the theme of our greetings this year; just a little cheer for family, friends, and now you too. Enjoy through Monday.

Acquaintances may fall like leaves from a tree
in between passersby and uncertainties,
velveteen rabbits and rubbish.

And never do we really know which brief imaginings
may one day spring forth a lasting reality,
unconditional love and generosity.

Happy Holidays

Copywrite, Ink.

Wednesday, December 24

Twittering: 'Twas The Night Before Christmas

My son knows a little bit about social media. And occasionally, he looks over my shoulder when I have time for Twitter.

"So what's Twitter really like?" he asked me yesterday.

I could have explained, as some suggest, how the tools are used for conversations and those conversations are dependent, in part, on who you follow or who follows you.

But given the spirit of the season, I simply surmised that "it's a lot like the night before Christmas."

"How so?"

"How so, indeed," I said. "Take the last two weeks for instance …"


'Twas the night before Christmas, when all 'cross the Web,
No Tweeter was blogging, not even Perez.
The postings were done, auto-scheduled with care,
each blogger hoping that St. Click would soon be there.

Ike Piggot and his Personal Brand were all snug in their beds,
Dreaming up analogies to help fill some heads;
And Geek Mommy in her 'kerchief, and Armano in his 'cap,'
had just settled down for a two-and-a-half hour nap.

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
Mack Collier sprang to his screen to see what was the matter.
Away to the feed, Lisa Hoffman flew like a flash,
Tore open her browser, and started looking at Mash.
The blog drama du jour was on PR embargoes
Spurred on by Arrington with new media in tow.

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature man, and eight tiny urls, oh dear.
Spurred on by their social networks, so lively and quick,
I knew in an instant it would be BC's pick.

More rapid than viral, with widgets they came,
And they whistled, and shouted, and called each other by name;

"Now, Eggertson! now, Maltoni! now, Sledzik and Ryan!
On, Lewis! on Vargas! on, Kaufman and Gylon!
To the top of all searches! To the top of all lists!

Now Digg away! Digg away! Digg away all!"

Compared to all topics, those favorites did fly,
They bypassed all critics with an odd ROI,
So up on those memes, with conversations they flew,
Stumbling some posts, and delicious saves too.

And then, in a twinkling, though Chapel thought it a spoof,
Did Jeremiah say social media is recession proof?
Even I drew my mouse back, and was turning around,
When down the chimney came Brogan in a bound.

He was dressed all in leather, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were a mix between Web Betty and woot;
A bundle of Kmart toys he had flung on his back,
Made him look like a peddler just opening his pack.

His eyes -- how they twinkled! his dimples how Jacob!
His cheeks were like Megan, his nose like Chris Lynn!
And his droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;

The stump of a stogie held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a Jason Falls belly,
That shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.

He was chubby and plump, a Shel Israel elf,
(Basile laughed when he saw him, in spite of himself;)
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Let other brand builders know, they have nothing to dread;

So he spoke not a word, and went straight to his work,
Filled most of the stockings (except for some jerks),
And then, laying his finger aside of his nose,
Giving a nod, mentioned Izea, his host;

And he sprang off to backtype, or some other system,
And away they all flew like the Rowse of a thicket.

And then I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night."


"It's like that every week?"

"Yeah, pretty much."

Happy Holidays.

Monday, December 22

Toiling Over Titles: Everybody Online

Reflecting on last week's post, Chris Brogan noted that some people questioned his journalistic integrity even though he is not a journalist. But what struck me about his post, and the comments that followed, is a lesson learned 12 years ago.

What's In A Title?

Absolutely nothing.

For Chris, maybe he learned it last week (maybe sooner, I don't know). For me, it was while overseeing a statewide literacy benefit. As the event chair, I had an opportunity to meet both outgoing Gov. Bob Miller and incoming Gov. Kenny Guinn. One introduction seemed smooth; the other, not so much.

Afterward, a colleague and mentor of mine asked me which introduction went better. So I told him, along with my rationale.

Copywrite, Ink. was founded as a sole proprietorship in 1991. In 1996, we became a C corporation. For the team and me, the incorporation was a pretty big deal. Personally, it also meant I didn't "grant" myself the title "president." In the short course of five years, I earned the title as well as the address inside the Bank of America building in downtown Las Vegas (we've moved several times since).

When I spoke with Gov. Miller, I presented myself in exactly that way — as president of a fast-growing corporation. But when I spoke with then Gov.-Elect Guinn, we spoke mostly about my early work as a freelancer and as a sole proprietor. From my perspective, one conversation was delivered with confidence; the other with uncertainty.

"I have news for you," said my colleague. "They both went well and they were the same. They didn't see the president of Copywrite, Ink. or a freelance writer (as I was then, with support staff). They only saw Rich Becker."

While there are a great many people who will disagree with it, the lesson was well-learned. People are neither titles nor are people what they do (eg. visit a Four Seasons and you'll see a hotel manager is equally likely to flip a cushion).

How Titles Apply.

Without going into too much detail (some things are best left for other projects), appreciating that titles don't mean anything at all has served me pretty well. It's helped me connect on a human level with some of the world's wealthiest men during interviews (you'd be surprised how many journalists are intimidated by their subjects), and hopefully kept me human and approachable (I have half dozen or so titles on any given day).

For me, if it wasn't for search terms, I wouldn't mention any of them. In fact, the next time we print business cards, I'm leaving the labels, er, titles off entirely. They matter to me about as much the number of people someone employs, awards they've won, or, for the online crowd, the number of followers they have. Sure, we have those numbers if people care to have them, but they don't mean much beyond a context.

Playing With Labelers.

It's also why, even though some people disagreed with my take on Chris Brogan or even Forrester for that matter, I tried to be balanced among several perspectives. In one case, I only saw the situation (with Brogan just happening to be at the center of it). In the other, I only saw a study with missing components (that were later added in via a blog post). In both cases, it could have been anyone.

It also helps me decide who I read online. After a few months or more, you can get a sense of who feels entitled by their labels, er, titles, or whatever other buzz words mean something to them. They also tend to be the same people who call other people names or demand credentials anytime their ideas are challenged.

"Who are you?" "What study will back you up?" or "Why I haven't I heard of you before?" they demand from others while resorting to name-calling and judgments with an impecuniousness of character (sometimes puffing up their own credits in the process).

Yeah, I know that trick too. When the ideas can't stand on their own, toss some weight behind them with a long list of "fill in the blank." You know what? As an online participant, never feel obliged to answer these charges because the question reveals less about you and more about them. Of course, I sometimes make exceptions for sport.

"Which titles, accounts, relationships, and awards interest you?" I ask them. After all, at that point, it's all about them anyway.

For everyone else, I'm just me. My name is Rich. Nice to meet you too.

Friday, December 19

Thinking Internal: Watson Wyatt Study

Never mind external communication for a minute, think internal too. According to Watson Wyatt, more than one in five companies (23 percent) plan to make layoffs in the next 12 months, with almost two in five (39 percent) reporting that they have already done so. But layoffs aren't the only concern employees have.

Hiring freezes also jumped from 30 percent in October to 47 percent this month. Eighteen percent are planning a hiring freeze in the next 12 months. Salary freezes jumped from 4 percent in October to 13 percent. And 61 percent are revising merit budgets. Other changes include any combination of the following: travel restrictions, benefit reductions, restructuring, reduced training, health premium increases, and salary reductions.

“All indications are that 2009 will be a difficult year for both companies and ultimately employees,” said Laura Sejen, global director of strategic rewards consulting at Watson Wyatt. “It will be up to employers to find an effective way to manage this challenge by balancing their financial situations with the likely impact on employee engagement.”

Watson Wyatt's report encourages employers to help mitigate the effect of any decision by considering employee morale, including: choosing the greatest cost savings while doing the least damage to the company's employment brand; communicating extensively and frequently; differentiating bonuses and pay increases; and heightening employee recognition programs. Here are some additional tips from employee communication programs we have developed with several companies over the years:

• Educate supervisors about any upcoming changes first. Not only are employees likely to go to them with questions first, such meetings also provide a forum to prepare for any unforeseen questions.

• Allow supervisors to communicate the basics. Studies consistently conclude that employees trust face-to-face communication the most, and look to their immediate supervisors as the most credible source of information.

• Demonstrate consistency in communication. Depending on the changes being made, employ the company's standard communication model (face to face, video conference, etc.) as a means to connect employees to top executives.

• Provide employees with written material. The outline should include why changes are occurring, what changes are being made, the rationale behind those changes (it will save jobs), and a defined timeline for communication updates.

• Establish clear lines of two-way communication. When employees have questions their supervisors cannot answer, scale for appropriate contacts, such as designated human resources personnel and/or high level management. Collect feedback and address concerns in follow-up communication.

• Communicate straight. Provide employees with clear expectations of what the changes mean, what management expects to happen, what management expects to do if it does not happen, and the frequency of updates to come.

• Notify all external stakeholders as appropriate. Provide a consistent message, including to the media if appropriate, with similar commitments to keep communication candid, open, and honest. In every case, communication should flow from the inside of the company, out.

• Follow up the communication frequently. Communication from supervisors should be reinforced by other established communication channels (eg. bill inserts, newsletters, bulletins, etc.), demonstrating the progress of the plan. (Avoid e-mail notifications as electronic communication elicits stronger emotions and has a higher risk of being forwarded.)

• Increase management visibility. Change represents an opportunity for management to establish trust with employees. It is especially worthwhile for upper management to visit departments to recognize top performers and teams.

While one Gallup poll pinpointed that employees are hoping to be reassured that they have "stability, trust, hope, and compassion," the word to remember is empathy. Understanding a person's experience by sharing that experience, especially in regard to layoffs or temporary cutbacks, can help communicators and management avoid breakdowns that leave management appearing unconcerned and untrustworthy.

Keep in mind, like all communication, communicating change is not a cookie cutter operation. It is a process that guides communicators through a series of steps, allowing them to make situational adjustments. Almost every company culture is slightly different.

More importantly, internal communication remains top of mind because no amount of external communication can reverse employee morale once it is damaged. In some cases, the effects of improper communication won't be felt until an economic turnaround, when disengaged employees will quickly leave. Where will they go? Somewhere that has created a climate of trust.

Wednesday, December 17

Inspiring Approaches: Gauguin To Da Vinci

While there is little doubt that businesses need to approach social media differently than individuals, sometimes the conversational nature of medium distracts from the much more fluid nature of inspiration and pushes a myopic impression of the space that denies the situational reality of communication, innovation, and invention. Great ideas don't just happen from one point of a bell curve; they can spring forth from any point.

Paul Gauguin. After growing frustrated from the lack of recognition at home, Gauguin gave up everything, including his family, to escape European civilization and "everything that is artificial and conventional." There, he slowly turned inward on himself and drew inspiration from the primitive nature of man and the focus on self.

Andy Warhol. Warhol was the greatest American figure in the pop art movement. Elevated up by the masses and widely diverse social circles that included bohemian street people, intellectuals, celebrities, and aristocrats alike, he epitomized the more personal aspect of the social media movement that has reinvented his concept of "15 minutes of fame" into reaching "1,500+ friends or followers."

Leonardo da Vinci. Leonardo is often described as the archetype of the Renaissance man as he constantly looked deeper than anyone else thought possible in every discipline. As a scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, painter, sculptor, architect, botanist, musician, and writer, da Vinci was seemingly inspired by a greater power and frequently surrendered himself to it.

Although I've positioned Andy Warhol at the top of the mass movements, even he recognized that greatness doesn't just follow on the heels of popularity. It was his celebration of individual voices, which make up conversations and draw attention to unique perspectives, that set him apart. It didn't matter to him whether those voices expressed enthusiasm or dissent as long as individual thought and expression overcame blind devotion and promotion. It's also why some of my best friends are my most outspoken critics, myself included. All individual perspectives are welcome.

"If everyone's not a beauty, then nobody is." — Andy Warhol

Tuesday, December 16

Trending Ad Agencies: Reardon Smith Whittaker

According to a survey conducted by Reardon Smith Whittaker (RSW), the percentage of work assigned to full-service advertising agencies is on the decline. In as little as two years, work assigned to full-service agencies dropped from approximately 60 percent to 48 percent.

The poll included 184 marketing and brand executives in November. It included representatives from companies such as AT&T, Merck, MetLife, and Revlon.

What seems significant about the November study is how it compares to another study released by RSW earlier this year. Only 38 percent of 103 key agency principals (slightly more than specialized agencies) believed that the type of agency that would be most successful in 2008 would be those with a specialized focus or service.

Are Full-Service Agencies Losing Their Luster?

While Adweek picked up on the top-ranked reasons respondents launched reviews — unhappiness with their agency's strategic thinking (46 percent), dissatisfaction with creative work (40 percent), and not being proactive enough (38 percent) — the open questions provided even more insight. By using TagCrowd, we discovered a takeaway that reinforces where agencies might be missing the mark.

If you had one piece of advice to give to agencies about their marketing efforts, what would it be?

Understand the client better, listen, be honest, and show respect.

If you had one piece of advice to give agencies about their presentations (other than making them shorter) what would it be?

Customize the plan, research the market, and produce relevant creative.

While creative remains a key factor, clients are becoming even more interested in agencies that understand their markets and demonstrate strategic thinking. It stands to reason. The most common agency selection method is a competitive pitch process, which asks full-service agencies to create compelling campaigns with the least amount of client interaction to win the account. More often than not, the client will then introduce new information that alters any semblance of what the agency pitched.

The result? Almost half of the executives admit they don't know what to expect until after the relationship begins. Forty-six percent also said their last agency of record retained the account for less than two years (18 percent said less than one year). Most clients also work with several agencies and specialized firms in addition to their primary agency.

Monday, December 15

Being Human: Chris Brogan

If there are lessons to be learned from the veracity of a conversation that occurred this weekend around Chris Brogan, president of New Marketing Labs, it might not be what most people think. What began as a question of ethics quickly descended into something else: a not-so-subtle reminder that for all those social media participants who mistrust companies, the people who make up these companies might have cause to not trust social media participants.

And why should they? It's all too easy to deduce that social media participants eat their own.

What began as a relatively harmless sponsored puff piece by Brogan, describing a K-Mart shopping spree like a kid in a candy store, ended in charges that Brogan might never be trusted again.

Initially, it seemed like an excellent ethics discussion, but then it morphed into what some people might describe as a French mob. Then it morphed into a civil war (given that people seemed evenly split). And then again, it morphed into a 'reverse' French mob against Damien Basile (among others), a senior associate editor for, because he was as outspoken as Brogan was sometimes defensive. If you get the sense it was a mess, you might be right.

The initial conversation seemed promising enough.

On the forefront of the conversation, it was just a review by Forrester's Jeremiah Owyang: "Transparent, Yes. Authentic? Debatable. Sustainable? No." (Hat tip: Arron Brazell). And then it was easy to see that there were ethical questions being raised (never mind it was less clear which ethical questions were being raised).

For some, it was whether or not sponsored posts are ethical. For others, it was whether Brogan appropriately disclosed his relationship with Izea, given he also serves on an advisory board. And for others still, it was whether personal relationships and reputation are exempt from ethical review.

The general topic reveals paying for posts is split, but shifting in favor of.

The question of blogger compensation has been around a long time. Last March, there was a survey that touched on the practice, but it was written wrong. However, if you spend enough time speaking with various people, you'll find they are generally split on sponsored posts, with most who find them acceptable adding a condition of disclosure.

Of course, even with disclosure, there are always going to be challenges with sponsored posts. One blogger might accept payments and only write positive posts regardless of how they feel, while another might accept payment and remain perfectly objective. Thus, credibility belongs to the individual and not the practice (usually, hat tip: Owyang).

The conversation might have been better served without being personal.

Brogan's K-Mart post fell in a decidedly gray area. The primary complaint seems to be that Brogan wears many hats. He is generally regarded as a leader in shaping social media, sits on a board of advisors for Izea, and accepted payment from K-Mart through Izea. In addition, Izea wants to run a campaign for K-Mart, using a sponsored post program.

While there were plenty of voices, Basile was one of the more articulate (though sometimes overly passionate and sometimes personal about his principles). Looking back over Basile's comments, it seems to me he was trying to convey that Brogan might not have been a suitable choice for Izea because it is in Brogan's best interest to ensure Izea delivered everything K-Mart hoped it could. In other words, it wasn't the K-Mart post as much as it was his demonstration of Izea delivering puff pieces.

I tend to view ethical questions with IABC's Code of Ethics for Professional Communicators as a guide. Not everyone does, and there are plenty of others to follow. Of the twelve articles that make up IABC's Code of Ethics for Professional Communicators, only one seemed to stand out.

Article 9. Professional communicators do not use confidential information gained as a result of professional activities for personal benefit and do not represent conflicting or competing interests without written consent of those involved.

I asked Brogan if he was paid by K-Mart or Izea. Although he was clear about it in his post, he was a good sport and answered direct. He was paid by Izea. This clarified it for me. Brogan was representing Izea, paid by Izea, and disclosed that arrangement. If you want a contrast, consider Julie Roehm, who accepted gifts from agencies seeking the coveted Wal-Mart account.

Given he wasn't double-dipping, it seems to be less a question of impropriety and more a question about the perception of impropriety. And if we get into the habit of questioning the perception of other people's ethics, we're only disclosing our own lapses of ethical judgment, as Valeria Maltoni so aptly alluded to today.

"Personal experiences have become the new barometer for extrapolating trends. We stopped outsourcing trust to institutions but instead of holding ourselves accountable for our own ethics and behavior, we have shifted that responsibility onto others. Then we cast stones at people we hold up as influentials when we were the ones putting them on the pedestal in the first place."

You cannot be disillusioned by people, unless you're illusioned by them.

Which brings up that other point. While so many people vouched for Brogan's integrity, some of it was done at the expense of others like Basile, who raised valid points. So it's always better to attack issues and not people, knowing someone doesn't preclude them from ethical misconduct. Believing otherwise makes the issue about you and not the subject, invites diatribe that makes discussion look like a popularity contest, and distracts from the most important lessons of all.

"It is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself." — Thomas Jefferson

Sure, Brogan's post changed the perception that some people had of him based on the opening of Julien Smith and his own Trust Economies with a descriptor that reads "We are suspicious of marketing. We don't trust strangers as willingly. Buzz is suspect. It can be bought. Instead, consumers and business people alike are looking towards trust." But did he do something unethical? Not that I can see.

But perhaps more importantly, did the resulting conversations demonstrate a sensitivity to cultural values and beliefs, engaging in fair and balanced communication activities that foster and encourage mutual understanding as IABC advises and many social media participants suggest? Not even close. Trust is fragile, indeed.

Friday, December 12

Reflecting On Forrester: People Don't Trust Hammers

Sometimes the interpretation of research frightens me. And today, I can now count the interpretation of the Forrester Research study — which says 16 percent of consumers don't trust hammers, er, blogs — among those that do.

Since you won't find the obvious in the report, I might point out that you will find the obvious on author Josh Bernoff's blog: People don't trust companies.

Another missing element from the study is the methodology. You'll find that on Bernoff's blog too. According to his blog, Forrester surveyed 5,000 people they believe to be representative of the U.S. online adult population (18 and older) online. They then asked those opt-in participants to rate how much they trusted information on a five-point scale, from 1 (don’t trust at all) to 5 (trust completely).

"In this case about 80% of those we polled said they did use corporate blogs," explains Bernoff. "Of those who used them, only 16% rated them 4 or 5 on the five-point trust scale."

While I still don't know how they conducted the survey or if "use" can be defined as "read," I do know now that the "3"s were counted in the "don't trust" column to craft that headline. Hmmm ... why would they do that?

Well, it might make for a better headline since we already know 20 percent of the respondents don't even trust e-mails from people they know. (Sorry, Mom. Next time, please call.) That, and most of the footnotes track back to high ticket reports, which makes it feel a bit more like a lead generation piece than a content sharing piece from a company that encourages sharing.

Of course, there could be another reason. Headlines like that and the promise of juicy data create a flurry of promotional, er, blog posts. Geoff Livingston provided an uncharacteristic scolding of sorts. Kami Huyse tried a more subtle approach. And Max Kalehoff was one of the few people to get it right by saying Forrester Research got it wrong.

Know what I think? Blogs aren't to be trusted much in the same way hammers aren't to be trusted.

It's the people who provide the content that you decide whether or not to trust. And, the level of trust that occurs is based on the accuracy of the information provided or the value of the conversation it creates or the character of the people involved. To say otherwise doesn't seem all that genuine to me. In fact, to say companies shouldn't talk about themselves on their blogs is especially ridiculous given some experts talk about themselves so ad nauseam that they need a second blog to cover it all.

Until some social media experts figure out that social media isn't a second plane of existence, they will continue to bump their heads against the wall and all those surveys that say, time and time again, that nobody trusts anybody, except the people they know, er, 80 percent of the time.

The bottom line is this: if you earn a level of trust with someone, then it won't really matter where you have a conversation — in person, on the phone, in an e-mail, on a blog, or across a social network. It's about that simple.

Thursday, December 11

Gambling On Viral: "Whopper Virgins"

Although the Motrin viral marketing campaign is slowly fading from memory, viral advertising is not. There are plenty of companies willing to play the sometimes high stakes game of pushing marketing as opposed to products with the hope it might go viral.

According to Ad Age, Burger King's "Whopper Virgins" video is slowly going viral, but still slower than the fast food chain had hoped (which might explain the recent public relations support). The "Whopper Virgins" concept was to take the Whopper on a world tour, documentary style, where people who have never seen a hamburger could taste a Big Mac and Whopper.

"Whopper Virgins" is the second viral video that Burger King has attempted. The first, "Whopper Freakout", captured reactions from customers visiting a Burger King without Whoppers. It had limited success. The new video is better conceived, but it comes at a different price. Some people are annoyed by it.

Pushed by Burger King super fans — loyalist customers — "Whopper Virgins" is being seeded on various online video sites. The agency also claims teaser videos prompted a successful start, but based on YouTube counts and comments, it doesn't seem likely. While one teaser had 49,000 views, another only had 300. Some random comments left on the former:

"Lame, arrogant commercial - their website is even worse. It's an embarrassment."

"This video is to exploit indigenous people."

"I don't look at this commercial as offensive at all. I'm glad and proud to see that Hmong people are, probably for the very first time, being featured on mainstream TV."

Cathy Erway, writing for The Huffington Post, summed: "But most of all, you get a classic story of American corporate colonialism, sickly masked in that all-too-proud illusion of goodwill." Caitlin Fitzsimmons, writing for the Guardian, wrote: "It's either a fun and original ad or yet another example of the crass exploitation of the world's indigenous people." And Michael Lebowitz said: "I'm not always the biggest fan of Crispin Porter & Bogusky's work, but what they've been doing for Burger King is impressive."

Good, bad, indifferent?

PRWeek suggests that all buzz is perfectly all right given that using controversial ads can help boost a brand. And in many cases, that is the only intent of viral marketing: create some controversy, get some buzz, and hope that translates into "something" later on. If it doesn't work out, you can always say you're sorry.

So what kind of advertising is likely to go viral? As B.L. Ochman, Ad Age, recently offered up (paraphrased):

• Advertising that is funny, shocking, intriguing, or surprising.
• Ideas that customers can relate to and care about.
• A clear-cut message so people are able to pass it on.
• An easy way to pass it on such as link, embedding code, "share this" button, etc.
• A concept that builds relationships with customers by getting them to interact with others.

The caveat is that viral advertising isn't viral until it's passed on by the public. And, of course, not everyone agrees with on what measurable outcomes make for a viral success.

At the end of the day, someone has to ask if "Whopper Virgins" made people want to eat a Whopper (because it certainly didn't convince anyone that the taste test was authentic). Or, someone might even ask who really won — Burger King or Crispin Porter & Bogusky, the agency that produced it? Hmmm...

Is the new objective of marketing to market the marketing by encouraging super fans to push the marketing creative simply with the hope it goes viral based on, er, online views and perhaps start a controversial conversation? Some people seem to think so.

Wednesday, December 10

Communicating Rights: Human Rights

On Dec. 10, 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). At that time, the Assembly called upon all member countries to publicize the UDHR and "to cause it to be disseminated, displayed, read and expounded principally in schools and other educational institutions, without distinction based on the political status of countries or territories."

For the sixty years since, human rights has seen its share of successes and abuses. So many, in fact, it's sometimes hard to discern which direction the world might be moving with regard to human rights. After all, it was only a little more than thirty years ago that then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger noted only 23 of 82 countries receiving aid from the United States could claim having no major human rights violations.

Today, after skimming through the 581-page Human Rights Watch World Report 2008, you'll see not much has changed. Perhaps it's worse. In fact, Jack Healey suggests less than five percent of world even knows the UDHR exists despite a growing number of organizations working to build awareness online.

All awareness without action will erode over time. It's only a question of how fast.

It might even be eroding in the United Nations. According to UN Watch, a non-governmental organization based in Geneva whose mandate is to monitor the performance of the United Nations, only 13 of 47 U.N. Human Rights Council member states had positive voting records on 32 key resolutions. And, as a result, it seems more likely that it will be up to the individuals to step up to preserve the UDHR.

A few already are. In an effort to draw early attention to human rights, Bloggers Unite and Amnesty International USA developed the first major social awareness campaign last May, guiding 1.2 million blog posts and 500 news stories, including CNN.

Even more striking than the volume of the first campaign, the majority of these participants took action — signing petitions, writing letters, and donating funds — to various human rights-related organizations. Some, for the first time in their lives, made long-term commitments by joining Amnesty International and other like-minded organizations.

In the last several months, there have been several specific efforts that have followed as well, including "Bloggers Unite for Refugees" in November, the Save Drafur Coalition petition on Facebook, and the One Day for Human Rights project, which calls for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to be printed on passports. The latter is an especially good first step.

Only with awareness comes action. Only through action can people become engaged.

As Larry Cox, director of Amnesty International USA, recently said: action is what makes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights a "living" document, not something just to be remembered or invoked in ceremonies, but something to be fought for, celebrated, and fulfilled every day.

It's also a message that the United Nations might remember. In addition to supporting its own celebration, the United Nations HRC needs to revisit some of its mandates that have overturned portions of the UDHR.

Monday, December 8

Overloading Communication: Too Much Frequency

"If you have something pertinent to say you neither have to say it to very many people -- only those who you think will be interested -- nor do you have to say it very often . . . if it is interesting, once is enough. If it is dull, once is plenty." — Howard Gossage

Leave it to George Parker to tell it like it is as only he can. While one can never get too much of a good thing, most things aren't good enough so we get too much of it.

For example, some might say Sprint's CEO Dan Hesse has the right tools to fix the company, but few people want to hear him talk about technology with all the depth of a single Twitter Tweet over and over and over again. Yawn. Yes Dan, we call them phones.

Too much dull messaging can be a bad thing on television. And too much dull messaging can be a bad thing online, which seems to be what partly prompted Steven Hodson to write this piece on social media for the Inquisitr. Ho hum. Some people share so much content quantity that they forget about content quality.

But do you know what? As long as social media measurements, much like television, continue to skew toward reach and frequency, it's likely we'll get more of the same.

Friday, December 5

Keeping Clients Engaged: On Blogs

"Once you help a business start a blog, how can you teach the business to sustain it?"

This conversation seems to come up frequently enough. It has come up during my last couple of speaking engagements. Alan Weinkrantz asked it during Gylon Jackson's show. Lee Odden addressed it among five reasons business blogs fail. And Seth Godin included it in his e-book Flipping The Funnel.

"Faced with a semi-blank page, most people write stuff that is either boring, selfish, or indecipherable. Most bloggers quickly lose interest and their blogs wither away," says Godin. "But if you give people a template, you’ll discover that they can thrive. Give them a hole to fill, and fill it they will."

Godin's right, and it goes beyond blogging. Many employers and clients appreciate communicators who help them keep up on industry news and trends. (It's also a good practice, ensuring that we, as practitioners, look beyond the communication industry and invest time in the industry or industries we serve). In many cases, doing so will also provide the author or authors some fresh content to source, share, or offer up with an opinion. Of course, I also like and have employed Odden's idea to assign multiple authors to a business blog, thereby ensuring that no one person is tasked too much.

Every communication tactic deserves a contingency plan.

One contingency we've implemented successfully for several clients is to allow for one "generic" author account identified by "staff" or some other moniker. While it won't work for everyone (eg. it wouldn't work on this blog), it does work elsewhere.

A staff account allows for non-attributed postings, guest posts, or a communication specialist to write a post based on multiple sources within the company that is not clearly associated with anyone specific. Sometimes, such an account can even be used to help guide other company authors as they become familiar with communication or simply to ensure the company can maintain a consistent publishing date when no other posts are available.

The end result is a sustainable blog, primarily because this contingency prevents one missed week turning into two weeks and then three missed weeks from turning into "we haven't updated in so long, it's not worth saving." In fact, from what we've seen, it also removes any obligation from the client, making them much more inclined to contribute content without a set deadline.

I appreciate not everyone gets excited by the idea of "unattributed" postings. However, it seems to work well as a contingency or as an alternative when a definitive single author isn't warranted (eg. does the CEO really have to author a post about a workshop or a roundup of ten news articles?). Besides, while there is demonstrated value to helping some executives engage in social media, the set objective should never be to transform them into full-time "bloggers."

They have other responsibilities too.

Thursday, December 4

Tooting Too Much: And Other Nonsense

Say what you will about the so-called social media blunder of Matt Bacak, the "powerful" promoter, who posted some self-puffery on a social media newswire service. Some of the run downs are pretty revealing too.

Consider the implications of Dan Schawbel's otherwise fine overview on Bacak. Schawbel writes "Let this be a lesson to all of you: You gain the privilege to promote yourself, after you’ve promote everyone else."

Egad Dan! That's no strategy, it's a Genesis song.

I will follow you will you follow me
All the days and nights that we know will be...

Consider the Media Pirate echoing what so many around the Web are saying … "This morning we were shown how social media in the wrong hands can create a backlash go viral and destroy a reputation."

Geesh Pirate! One search shows this is his reputation.

Never mind the scam accusations, there are scores of results that show Bacak's communication is consistent. He creates hype and controversy that gets a lot of coverage and sometimes sympathy. Good posts. Bad posts. It doesn't matter. Or does it?

Specifically, the Twitter release "accident" mirrors most of his communication, including breaking through "the 5,000 followers on Facebook threshold" earlier in 2008. Right on. Just before he ... woosh ... found cause to retire. What's the difference?

For David Fisher and Tris Hussey, there doesn't seem to be much difference at all. Does that make it evil? I dunno. Assuming he isn't a scam artist, probably not. And the only way I can think to explain that thought is by example.

A couple of years ago, a few of my ad friends were joking about the local low-budget in-your-face rent-to-own commercials that had become infamous over the years in Las Vegas. I knew who produced the commercials so I introduced them.

"We tried creative, stylized, and professionally produced commercials," he told them. "But they just don't drive store traffic. This junk works."

Right on. Know your audience. But for most, don't try it at home.

Wednesday, December 3

Slashing PR: Dennis Howlett

He may have been a few weeks too late to match the launch date of the perfect sequel to Chris Anderson's original Halloween: The Night He Banned PR Flacks, but Dennis Howlett, who has provided comment and analysis for publications such as CFO Magazine, The Economist, and Information Week, still promises to cut a few to the bone. BOO! YOU’RE DEAD TO ME!

And who can blame him? Sure, there are plenty of good public relations professionals out there. But as industry growth seems to outpace industry education, one might wonder how many journalists it will take before the entire profession becomes ignored.

"In any one day I field up to 20 PR requests. I can guarantee that 90+% of them have done zero research to find out what I’m interested in," writes Howlett. "In the worst cases they won’t have done a basic Google search to find out who I am or where my interests lay. In 2008, that’s beyond unacceptable, it’s criminal."

It's also not public relations. It's media relations. But it's not really media relations. It's message placement services. In fact, it might even be message placement 2.0. And, right now, for a limited time, the hottest thing on the table seems to be that message placement 2.0 is looking past media to target the untapped masses of renewable social media participants as opposed to the shrinking pool of objective journalists. Do you still wonder why Howlett thinks the industry is regressing? He continues...

"In the 1990’s, good PRs could write a half reasonable press release that would at least be engaging. You would have thought that with the tsunami of material about social media that in 2008 the situation would have moved on. Sadly, no. If anything, the industry has regressed."

You see, Dennis, today's message placement 2.0 professionals already know it's all about the math. By following each other to inflate rankings, they can very easily demonstrate to an unsuspecting client just how successfully they can reach a greater readership online than the total combined circulation of the top five newspapers, with more "hits" to boot. Cool, eh?

How do they do it? Easy! Message placement 2.0 doesn't require any story writing skills whatsoever. Just replace journalists with other public relations pals and followers. After all, if everyone in your echo chamber is an ally, then you may never have to worry about the surprisingly few pros who sometimes serve as industry foils:

PR Watch
Valley Wag
Bad Pitch Blog
Collateral Damage

Sure, I know what some might be thinking. Message placement 2.0 doesn't do a thing for clients if flacks are simply passing pitches around to other flacks. However, let's face facts. It's a whole lot of fun to hang out with friends for $2,000 to $10,000 a month. The client will be even happier living in ignorant bliss. And the latest mantra "just be, online" can thrive as the advice du jour. Scared yet?

You will be. Come back tomorrow for a "no chills, just trauma" take on Matt Bacak!


Tuesday, December 2

Writing With Ego: For Jason Falls

Most people like Jason Falls, who pens the Social Media Explorer, and I count myself among them. Recently, he wrote a post inspired by his friend who hosts a blog on MySpace. The post was interesting on the front end, but lost a little steam with the traffic building tactics that have become increasingly pervasive among social media experts. Traffic is easy, but without traction it's meaningless.

Still, traffic tips didn't stop me as much as reading that "blogging is an inherently ego-driven activity." He continued...

"You don’t have a blog if you don’t think your writing is important enough to be heard. As you start to build traffic, you’ll get a little swagger about you. It makes you feel good. It makes you feel important. But the moment you start acting important to your readers is the minute they walk away. I was once a big fan boy of one significant social media blogger. But, in ever-so-subtle ways, he started big-timing folks. I don’t even read his stuff anymore, as good as it might be. So, as good as you are, don’t get cocky thinking you’re some big shot writer person. Continue to participate with the community. That genuine person is what makes people click on your links without hesitation." — Jason Falls

A column called Why write? by Thomas Mitchell, editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, immediately came to mind. Mitchell outlined four primary reasons that people write as it was once defined by George Orwell. It applies well to blogging too:

• Sheer egoism.
• Aesthetic enthusiasm.
• Historical impulse.
• Political purpose.

So Falls is likely right in that some people do blog for sheer egoism, especially as it seems to run rampant among certain echo chambers. But there are certainly other motivations that don't require egoism to drive good content. In fact, in addition to those offered by Mitchell, I might suggest a few more that other bloggers have suggested to me over the years:

• Monetization.
• Peer participation.
• Educational intent.
• Altruistic intention.
• Business and/or product marketing.
• Making interest-related connections (eg. hobbies).

Of course, it might be important to note that the vast majority of bloggers don't really know why they start blogs. Most develop some sense of purpose as they go. As I offered up in a comment on Mitchell's column (truncated and paraphrased) ...

Originally, I started this blog in 2005 (I had another, briefly, in 2004) for the simple purpose of augmenting educational instruction since the class I teach is served up in a truncated 10-week format, which is not enough time to consider the changes taking place within the field of communication. Eventually, it evolved from educational intent (instructional) to experimentation (learning how to apply specific technologies to business for client blogs) and engagement (having conversations to lend some principles of strategic communication to social media).

That's not to say any bloggers are exempt from being bitten by the ego bug as Falls points out, even me. There certainly was a little swagger in my step the first time a single post drew 10,000 hits in one day. However, that little brush with a blog rush wasn't a feel good moment as much as it was a warning not all that dissimilar to winning industry awards.

The first few feel amazing, but then you realize that awards are best left as the sequel to great results. As soon as you forget that they make a poor pilot, you suddenly run the risk of becoming a slave to the pursuit of them. The same holds true for blog traffic. Some of my favorites still remain unpopular and that's fine with me. Not all posts here are written for everyone nor were they egoism driven as described by Orwell...

“Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on the grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc., etc. It is humbug to pretend this is not a motive, and a strong one. Writers share this characteristic with scientists, artists, politicians, lawyers, soldiers, successful businessmen — in short, with the whole top crust of humanity. … Serious writers, I should say, are on the whole more vain and self-centered than journalists, though less interested in money.” — George Orwell

Perhaps I was more serious when I was younger, but nowadays I'm more interested in finding the truth. Besides that, the Internet has no place for permanence as my friends and colleagues perceive.

It's fair, of course, for Falls to disagree with me. We do that from time to time, which is why I value the friendship. Yet, while ego can be part of the equation, and there is nothing wrong with that, none of us can really guess at the motivations behind the men and women who blog. It's better when we ask them. At least I think so.


Monday, December 1

Asking Danny: World AIDS Day

In the early 1990s, I began my first formal research into AIDS and what it meant for the United Way of Southern Nevada. And like so many subjects that I've studied over the years as a communicator and commercial copywriter, I learned that for everything I thought I knew about AIDS, I didn't know anything at all.

Ignorance comes in many colors. And for me at the time, I was already colored by hard facts and cold statistics. I thought I knew a lot, but I didn't know anything at all. Looking around the Web today, many bloggers participating in Bloggers Unite for World AIDS Day say they feel colored too.

Most of them are blogging about the hard facts and statistics provided by — that there are an estimated one million Americans living with HIV in the United States and an estimated 33 million people worldwide. Some are turning to other sources like the Respect Project — that says approximately 80,000 people are living with HIV in the UK with about one-third not knowing they are infected. And a few might stumble upon some lesser known facts like I recently did after meeting with a local organization, Aid for AIDS of Nevada (AFAN), in southern Nevada — that nearly half of all new AIDS cases are people 13 to 24 years of age in the United States.

It's all useful, relative, and will help increase awareness. But what does it mean?

For me, it means that one person who I interviewed in the early 1990s taught me what I really need to know. His name was Danny Marks. And the copy I wrote for the United Way of Southern Nevada, specifically to increase donations for AFAN, remains a painful reminder that power of the communication doesn't always rely on hard facts and cold statistics as much as it relies the one willing to share a story.

Ask Danny. AIDS Kills.

No. Danny Marks isn't HIV Positive. His brother is.

And when Danny brought the issue home to Nevada Power, employee donations to the United Way increased by 14.7 percent.

Why? Danny told them the truth — without their support, the United Way can't help organizations like AFAN. And without AFAN, his brother would have given up.

What else did he say? You already know someone who is HIV positive. They just haven't told you.

In remembrance of the Marks story.

It saddens me to think that I really don't know what happened to Danny Marks or his brother since then. I fear the worst, but hope for the best.

What I do know though is that one advertisement went on to set record donations for AFAN through the United Way that year. And this year, I hope it encourages more of the same — if not in hard dollar donations to organizations like AFAN then by helping build awareness about AIDS.

The best thing you can do about AIDS is to be tested and practice prevention. If you are not willing to do it for yourself, do it for real people like Danny Marks and his family. They didn't think much about AIDS either until his brother tested positive.

We can make a difference. One person at a time, starting with you.


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