Wednesday, April 30

Rolling Dice: Crisis Communication Meltdown


Following the crisis that surrounds the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada over the last several months has been an exercise in evaluating futility. It can best be likened to crisis communication and common sense gone horribly wrong, with dozens involved in making decisions that resemble games of chance.

For example, the majority of physicians who helped Dr. Dipak Desai create a multi-million dollar gastroenterology business, which was closed after causing the largest hepatitis C scare in the country, are reportedly working together to reestablish practices in southern Nevada. Their decision has left the community perplexed.

The few who would comment might have refused to speak about the past and ongoing investigation, but were happy to offer that they wanted to “
get back to the community and give good quality medical care. Our patients deserve the best.” According to the story, at least three clinics may be opened by former Desai physicians.

For example, while no one had reported questionable procedures at the clinics, the investigation has revealed several nurses had complained and at least one quit on the same day she started. In addition to original reports of unsafe injection practices, the investigation has revealed that devices put in patients’ mouths for some procedures as well as single-use biopsy forceps that snip tissue were being reused.

These findings came after a poorly thought out full-page advertisement taken out in the Las Vegas Review-Journal last March. Since, most decisions seem to have followed public outcry.

For example, legislators seem to have prompted the state Board of Medical Examiners to take action after almost two months. The state’s attorney general just recently filed complaints against Desai and Dr. Eladio Carrera, another of the one of four co-owners, on behalf of the board. Both doctors were directly linked to patients who were infected. Desai had voluntarily stopped practicing medicine during the investigation weeks ago.

However, the once prominent physician continues to make decisions that further erode his credibility. The latest speculation, according to the Las Vegas Sun is that Desai may attempt to flee the country while multiple agencies continue their investigation.

The speculation arose after sources said Desai took ownership of two leased Mercedes-Benzes so they may shipped to the country of Dubai. While authorities have not charged Desai with any crime, authorities have flagged his passport, asking that they be notified if he tries to leave the country.

Sometimes public relations practitioners liken crisis communication to proper spin and damage control, rolling the dice on the location of press conferences or playing the “advice of legal counsel” card too frequently, when questionable actions — like shipping your cars off to another country — are patently more damaging than full disclosure.

Besides, sooner or later, public relations practitioners need to remember that reporters learn quick fix tactics as fast as professional dream them up. If you think they don’t know that press conferences are sometimes held across town to avoid on-site coverage, the only person you are really fooling is yourself.

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Tuesday, April 29

Stirring Media Revolutions: Citizen Journalism

Citizen Journalism
"You furnish the pictures and I'll furnish the war." — William Randolph Hearst

With the financial support of his mother, William Randolph Hearst bought the failing New York Journal in 1885. And, within a few short years, his name, along with that of Joseph Pulitzer, who purchased his way into the publishing business (he originally bought the Post for $3,000 and other papers before the New York World), became forever associated with yellow journalism.

Hearst, in particular, was ridiculed and criticized by Upton Sinclair for having newspaper employees who were "willing by deliberate and shameful lies, made out of whole cloth, to stir nations to enmity and drive them to murderous war."

The assertion is linked to the idea that if it had not been for the publishings of Hearst and Pulitzer, there may have never been popular support for U.S. military adventurism in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines in 1898. But neither Hearst nor Pulitzer were alone in their endeavors to shape the news.

Earlier in American history, it was Alexander Hamilton (1801) who pooled together $10,000 from investors to start the New York Evening Post, specifically to take aim at Thomas Jefferson and the rise in popularity of the Democratic-Republican Party. And, before that, it was newspapers that helped spur on the American Revolution by taking creative license when publishing images such as the famed Boston Massacre. The image, of course, did not represent the facts. The British soldiers were later acquitted for acting in self-defense.

The formalization of objective journalism is a relatively new idea.

These are just some of the historic footnotes I consider every time I hear the term “citizen journalists,” which is generally defined as citizens playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analyzing and disseminating news and information. Most notably, the moniker seems to be assigned to bloggers to suggest that they are somehow they are less than journalists (assuming they even want to be journalists).

Yet, with relative ease it seems, all of those mentioned above — Pulitzer and Hearst and Hamilton and Jefferson — and many others not named — Sam Adams and Benjamin Franklin among them — certainly fit the definition as very actively engaged citizens, without rules, who pursued printing the news as they felt fit.

In fact, Reese Cleghorn, former president of AJR and former dean of the College of Journalism of the University of Maryland, helped put some of this in perspective in 1995. In his article, he leads with how Walter Lippmann commented on "the new objective journalism" and what it might mean for journalism schools in 1931. An excerpt:

"I do not know much about the schools of journalism," Lippman said, "and I cannot say, therefore, whether they are vocational courses designed to teach the unteachable art of the old romantic journalism or professional schools aiming somehow to prepare men for the new objective journalism.

"I suspect, therefore, that schools of journalism in the professional sense will not exist generally until journalism has been practiced for some time as a profession. It has never yet been a profession. It has been at times a dignified calling, at others a romantic adventure, and then again a servile trade.

"But a profession it could not begin to be until modern objective journalism was successfully created, and with it the need of men who consider themselves devoted, as all the professions ideally are, to the service of truth alone."


Think of it for a moment. According to Cleghorn, professional, objective journalism was a mere 64 years old when he wrote his article. And, even then, he was not sure journalism was a profession.

Journalism has always been the art of participating citizens to report.

So it is often with this understanding, I am amused by debates between Michael Tomansky, Guardian America, who suggests that “Journalists relinquish rights frequently in the course of doing their work responsibly, as you well know.” and Jeff Jarvis, BuzzMachine, who counters that “We journalists have long traded in the currencies of access and exclusivity with the powerful. But the price we pay is complicity in a system of secrecy.”

Gentleman, please pause a moment to consider that you are debating a concept that has yet to survive a complete century against another that is less than five years old. So-called professional journalists, those who evolved out of objective journalism, were never meant to be bound by rules, except one, also penned by Lippman.

“There is no higher law in journalism than to tell the truth and shame the devil.”

As one of my journalism professors, Jake Highton, reiterated again in 1978: “Although it has codes of ethics and credos, journalism really has no laws. Yet what Lippman said in the 1920s remains true today: Telling the truth is the highest law of journalism.”

So as unfortunate as it sounds, Jarvis stands correct on those grounds. For a journalist to adhere to a promise of omission for the privilege of inclusion ... well, that strikes me as a promise to not tell the truth.

The division of citizen from journalist ought to be struck from our tongues.

Throughout history, journalists were simply citizens who hoped to make change, with the concept of reporting the truth a secondary consideration in the early 1900s. The only criteria for admission into the field was the cost of a printing press or the ability to knit prose with enough efficiency to be paid by someone who could afford it.

Certainly, social media has lowered the entrance fee considerably, but I propose it has not lowered the bar by any other measure. You see, there have always been journalists who have adhered to and/or relinquished their sense of ethics. But never has there been a code that has withstood the test of time or shackled the profession beyond individual reputation.

Let's face it. Even today, the largest publishers in the world remain tabloids that are willing to publish unsubstantiated fact and fiction at their leisure, sometimes with startling accuracy and other times without a sliver of truth. Should we impose more rules on bloggers than we would the largest publishers in the world? I think not.

And to that end I guess, as important as the conversation might be, what right would any group have to propose such unspoken governance over anyone? Truly, if there are any laws that bloggers might consider, I believe those laws might already be on the books with no other rules necessary.

As professionals continue to discuss the merits of somehow distinguishing the citizen journalist from the professional journalist, I suggest we not tread so heavily to put self-imposed etiquette over free expression. As wiser folks remind us…

“Better a thousandfold abuse of free speech than denial of free speech. The abuse dies in a day, but the denial slays the life of the people, and entombs the hope of the race." — Charles Bradlaugh

Monday, April 28

Promoting Citizen Journalists: CNN


Valeria Maltoni, Conversation Agent, did her usual excellent job covering the debate between Jeff Jarvis and Michael Tomansky about citizen journalists. It's a conversation I'll be picking up tomorrow (today got away from me).

It's truly is a worthwhile discussion. I only wish those discussing it would give a nod to history, making the point that this is not a new debate and appreciating that the so-called formalization of journalism is a relatively new concept, spurred on largely by the Internet. But I'll save that for tomorrow.

Today, it seems fitting to mention something else about citizen journalism. Both CNN and The New York Times are considering methods that may lift up citizen journalists once and for all. Both are discussing the feasibility of allowing citizens to submit stories online, some of which will then be sourced for the news. Along with them, other media outlets see the potential of citizen journalism as especially useful to shine light on non-profit organizations.

Currently, it's also slated to be part of "The Impact Of The Internet On Media And Community Outreach," a presentation being delivered by Veronica De La Cruz, news anchor and Internet correspondent for CNN’s flagship morning news program “American Morning.” Her speech will be given at The Lions HealthFirst Foundation Inaugural Dinner in Las Vegas on May 16.

I don't expect most people outside Las Vegas will hear too much about the event. Seating is limited to 50 people. I'll do my best to cover portions of it. Veronica De La Cruz is always very accommodating.

The dinner also comes at great time for the Lions HealthFirst Foundation, a public charity that maintains a community health education and preventive screening program for the purpose of reducing the rate of stroke, heart attacks, and cancer.

Sadly, the continuing health scare in southern Nevada has caused a 40 percent drop in participation of this low cost and free health screening program. It’s a travesty because the foundation had nothing to do with the crisis and their screenings are completely non-invasive.

Copywrite, Ink. is among the sponsors, along with Aaron Lelah Jewelers; CNN; Las Vegas International Lions Club; McCormick & Schmick’s; and Herb Perry, public affairs director for CBS Radio Group. All proceeds from the event will benefit Lions HealthFirst Foundation.

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Friday, April 25

Wagging The Dog: Social Media Lessons


Next Friday, May 2, I will be teaching Social Media For Communication Strategy class for the Division of Educational Outreach at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) public relations certificate program.

In addition to providing an overview of various technologies — blogs, news aggregators, social networks, digital media, presence applications — I’ll spend some considerable time emphasizing real-life case studies, how to manage messages in the new media environment, and how to custom develop a blog and social media presence from the ground up. More importantly, I’m hoping those who attend take away one important fact about social media.

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

You might know what I mean. Almost daily, someone immersed in social media writes about how companies just need to unfasten their safety belts and ride the social media wave in some sort of customer-driven free for all.

Yet, if companies simply succumb to the wisdom of the masses, adjusting entire communication plans based upon feedback from select customers and others within the same sphere, then their message is likely to spin further away from its center and not toward it.

Delivering only what people want is best left to politics, where these notions appear with reckless abandon, and voters are sometimes left to scratch their heads in wonderment when their elected officials seem to bear no resemblance to the candidates. In fact, it’s this very kind of thinking that served as a precursor to the struggles that this country faced in the wake of winning independence, with John Adams yielding principle by signing the Alien and Sedition Acts.

Even in social media, such thinking leads to erroneous ideas like “no criticism” controls. Those eventually erode.

Lead with core values and the tail will follow.

While such ideas come with the best intentions, they are almost as cliché as drinking the Kool-Aid. Of course, far be it from me to suggest we all need to put our anti-masses Charles Bukowski hats on either (though the man had a point about catering to the crowds). That’s just another extreme of the opposite color.

The only truth I have been able to discern is that most companies will never face blog dramas or social media stompfests that leave people bruised or banned. Those are best left to professionals who are trying to carve out a niche in the social media leadership scene and/or educators who are less sensitive to intellectual criticism because they know that open debate is simply a method to find the truth.

On the contrary, most companies will not likely become embroiled in the same colorful conversations that seem to spring up from time to time in social media. Sure, a few might aspire to, but only a relatively small fraction. All that means is that proven communication methods are largely the same.

So, as for those battle cries that online worlds need to be populated by customer input … well, I suppose that might work for some. Yet, more and more, it seems to me that if social media is all customer-driven content all the time, then we are merely supplanting one-way communication — corporate speak — with another one-way communication — customer speak. That’s not engagement.

Ergo, corporate speak and customer speak are the extreme ends of a much more robust bell curve, leaving companies with many more options then they have been led to believe. Of course, presenting this might make me seem a little less skilled at “telling” people how to do social media. But I have found it works very well in teaching people how to determine what might work best for them, their companies, and their clients.

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Thursday, April 24

Eye-popping Predictions: The Genius Of Perception


The newest trend in communication seems to be the art of prediction.

A quick search on Google reveals some 15.4 million results that contain the word “predicts,” with more than 15,800 appearing in media stories — 400 in the last 24 hours alone. Prediction racks up another 11,000 hits, many trumped up with words like eye-popping, chilling, and current (which gives a nod to the idea that predications change, frequently).

Yep. The hypothetical hyperbole, which we often advise clients to avoid, is king of the hill. It’s become easier than ever to find someone with a crystal ball.

• The Alliance Trust predicts that household expenditures in Britain over the next 12 months will continue to decline as the credit crunch continues to squeeze on people’s finances.

• The Rage predicts that Carrie, in the movie “Sex and the City,” will either fall down a manhole as she rushes to meet the girls for brunch or asphyxiate herself with a Fendi boa.

• Researchers can now predict which button a subject will press 60 percent of the time, slightly better than a random guess.

• The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) predicts a “silent tsunami” in which high food prices across the globe could force as many as 100 million people into hunger.

The latter is significant at the moment because it’s partly true. Increasing demand from developing countries and poor crop yields are to blame for rising rice prices, up 70 percent this year.

However, the reporting of rice shortage predications is causing restaurants to stock up on and hoard rice and major supermarkets to place limits on the product, which has caused even more demand, making the world rice shortage an almost certain self-fulfilling prophecy.

You can make predications too. It’s easy.

There are several great ways to bend perception into reality, but two have become all my all-time favorites.

The non-committal prediction.

The weather will continue to change for a very long time.

The genius of this prediction is that it is no prediction at all, but rather simply a statement of fact, much like predicting a recession. Sooner or later, it happens. You know, like the CIBC predicting gas to hit $7 per gallon by 2012. Heck, I can do better than that. I’ll guess $10 a gallon, unless we do something about it.

The extended timeline prediction.

Within the next 50 or 100 years, something will happen, anything really.

The genius of this is that you can float a long-term prediction, based upon any number of qualifiers, and have a slightly better chance than a random guess. If it happens, you claim credit as a genius. If it does not happen, no one will remember anyway.

Personally, I think it would be just dandy if journalists started rating predictions on their apparent validity and then giving them a less serious, but more accurate terminology — wild guesses. There are only a paltry 58 of those.

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Wednesday, April 23

Tagging Games: Seven Useless Facts And 12 Great Blogs


A few days ago, Michelle from Monarch Health Promotions, tagged me with a meme that asks I share seven useless facts about me and then tag 12 more blogs, asking the authors to do the same. Her blog as the complete details.

Seven Useless Facts About Rich

1. I worked as stage foreman for a few years in college. The most memorable concert was Pink Floyd, an outdoor show in Sacramento. The 8-story stage took all night to strike in the rain.
2. I also worked as an assistant manager at a 7-Eleven. I was almost robbed at gunpoint by four teenagers. The police officers stopped them at the door, after one of officers reportedly decided against risking a hostage situation.
3. The first time I met Rich Little was at his home in Las Vegas. He’s the same offstage as on.
4 I’m about to serve by third three-year term as a governor-appointed state commissioner for Nevada Volunteers, which administers Americorps programs in our state.
5. I’ve worked on four major hotel casino openings while living in Las Vegas, including New York, New York Hotel & Casino. I wrote their trademarked slogan “The Greatest City In Las Vegas” as part of their pre-opening video.
6. I used to be an avid gamer, a side effect of working with Westwood Studios, the company that developed Command & Conquer and several other popular titles, before they were bought by EA Games.
7. I’ve won more than 100 paper weights in advertising, public relations, and communication. They are no fun to dust.

You know, I’ve always had mixed feelings about memes (pronounced “mi:ms” and I sometimes joke the better pronunciation is “me-me” because that is what most are all about) and professionals generally avoid them (unless they are thinly disguised as cross-blog communication conversations). I do too, but every now and again, I’m reminded that professional and corporate blogs are only a small sliver of the social media scene.

The McCann Universal study, mentioned on Monday, reminded me that 63.5 percent of all blogs are personal, with the majority of the balance evolving as citizen journalism.

So here are the twelve blogs that I am tagging (with no obligation on their part) because they frequently come up on our radar and any blogger — communicators or otherwise — might learn something from them. (No order.)

Twelve Great Blogs On Our Radar

1. Lucky Girl Trading Co. has employed social media to expand her gemstone and jewelry hobby into a growing studio business.

2. Romance Books provides mini reviews and author insights, with a focus on books by Avon Romance, which is a division of HarperCollins Publishers. I don't read romance books, but I get what they're doing.

3. Margie and Edna’s Basement began as satire revolving around the show Jericho from two “elderly” ladies. It has evolved into a bit about everything they like (or not).

4. Vubx highlights any number of interesting, odd, and creative gadgets from wooden phones to flying robot cameras.

5. Thomas Laupstad is a photographer from Northern Norway. I’ve become a fan over the past year.

6. About Offshoring by Remi Vespa features and opinions about IT outsourcing for small and medium-sized businesses. Very smart stuff.

7. Truebluetrain by Rob Schultz has been documenting his trials and tribulations on what he calls an entrepreneurial journey.

8. An Unsuspecting Notebook, penned by Chungyen Chang, shares something about life, writing, and her personal journey to find something greater.

9. RMO focuses on what it takes to be a successful Internet entrepreneur and what seems to work online.

10. Lisa’s World is a little bit everything weird, interesting, or funny. (Warning: this one is very addictive reading.)

11. Geek Mom Mashup has built her blog around intelligent conversation, moderately geeky tech talk, and very funny mom stories.

12. Designer's Depot provides a fun mix of photography tips, design hints, and artist reviews.

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Tuesday, April 22

Checking Reality: Green For A Day?


For all the success of Earthday, there seems to be some cause for concern too . I’m not sure how to describe it. It’s like over commercialization and meaningless messages at the same time.

"Every company is out there touting 'we're green' -- it's the new requirement for being a good corporate citizen," Allen Adamson, managing director of WPP Group's branding consultancy Landor Associates, told The Wall Street Journal. "The noise level is so high now. The first few people into it had some benefit. Now it's a cost of entry.”

The Wall Street Journal article was something I thought about today while meeting with one of our clients — an engineering firm that retrofits boilers, making them more energy efficient and environmentally friendly. Enough so that one retrofit is equivalent to planting 700,000 trees. It’s important because of what they do, but it’s not their only message. Their work also achieves payback in less than one year.

And then I thought of some other messages I had seen today: Subaru of America is donating 160 cherry trees across the country; Nokia launched a program to make recycling mobile phones easier. SmarterTravel highlighted “green” travel designations on their Web site.

While there is nothing really wrong with any of it, it does makes me wonder.

Do these more frivolous pursuits for media attention do any good? Or do they merely distract from people and companies who do things daily? Does seeing a commercial with two Anheuser-Busch employees talking about the environment make you want to buy the beer? Was Wal-Mart really smart to declare April "Earth Month?" Should we all send Earthday cards around the planet from now on?

I don’t know. Maybe that’s the difference between participation and engagement. You can celebrate Earthday today and/or you can do something about the environment daily.

We’re dropping some artificial turf in the backyard tomorrow, which makes sense when you live in a desert. (Water conservation is a big deal here.) I suppose I could have issued a news release and called it an Earthday solution.

But given we can only communicate so many messages about ourselves and hope to have any one of them be remembered, there wasn’t much point in pretending. Huh. Maybe we could call that message conservation.

Right on. Let's make Earthday daily, but not a marketing gimmick or public relations stunt. We have enough of those already.

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Monday, April 21

Tinkering With Definitions: Social Media Engagement


According to Universal McCann, a full-service media communications company, there is no slowdown in social media adoption.

Globally, 73 percent of Internet users are reading blogs with 48 percent seeking out consumer generated content. In some countries, like South Korea, new media has already edged out old media with 77 percent of Internet users reading blogs and only 58 percent reading the mainstream press.

But here’s the rub. As Adweek pinpointed in the Universal McCann study, consumers in the U.S. and Western Europe are more likely to be passive social media participants — sharing videos and reading blogs — while those in emerging markets are more likely to be content creators.

Social Media Engagement Is Not A Measure

According to the study, more than 60 percent of Internet users in the U.S. read blogs, but only 26 percent are blog content creators. In contrast, more than 70 percent of Internet users blog in South Korea and China.

"By and large, in the U.S. we're a country of voyeurs," said David Cohen, U.S. director of digital communications at Universal McCann, which conducted the study. "We love to watch and consume content created by others, but there's a fairly small group that are doing that creation -- unlike China, which is a country of creators."

This might ruffle some feathers among social media experts that have inflated the “value” of social media engagement (comments, bookmarks, and links from other bloggers) over other forms of engagement (regular readers, tangible actions, and changes in behavior). The reason: companies that create sites reliant on user created content only appeals a fraction of total audience and not necessarily for the right reasons.

It also hints at why the sudden surge in “my” URL Web sites might be the wrong illusion. Simply adding “my” to a Web site does not make it automatically more personal.

Sure, the idea worked for some and there is no dispute that people want to feel connected to the sites they visit. However, one must always take care to remember that the participants they are catering to are most likely the choir and not the parishioners (never mind those who never made it into the service).

Engagement Takes Many Forms, Not Just One

If we consider that there are approximately three passive visitors for every one participant, then the most vocal of the total audience might not always be representative of the total population. In other words, if companies define engagement too narrowly, then they might inadvertently disengage passive participants — people who are engaged and take their actions offline.

It’s something to think about, especially because there is still ample wiggle room between online traffic measures. Enough so that digital-advertising executives have long doubted comScore and Nielsen Online because they already know that there are research gaps. Even less reliable is Alexa, despite being the favorite among bloggers to compare scores and its frequency of use among ranking algorithms.

The bottom line is that engagement takes many forms. Some people might leave a comment or cite what you write on their blogs. But then there are also those who might read a company blog faithfully and only take offline actions.

For example, the last time I had a question about a home repair, I sourced the company and found the information. I didn’t blog about it nor did I leave a comment, but I did use the information to get the job done.

While I might be counted as being engaged by their social media consultant, I most certainly might have been more engaged than the person who had left a comment that disagreed with their solution. You see, unlike the commenter who theorized, I actually did the task and found that it worked.

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Thursday, April 17

Advertising Empty: Recession Creates Cuts


While The Wall Street Journal speculates that the economy might be hurting Google, others are already pointing to across-the-board cuts in advertising and public relations. Even some advertising messages have changed, skewing toward sales and savings, as an admission that times are tough.

“Advertising and the economy seem to go hand in hand,” Bob Liodice, president of the Association of National Advertisers, told Reuters. “Really, the fact that the economy is weakening is going to have an impact on the industry in the short term.”

There is some truth to that. Companies frequently find that advertising budgets are the first to be cut amidst worries of an economic downturn. The reason, which was also attributed to the 9.3 percent drop in Google ad clicks, is because people are more likely to window shop and less likely to buy.

But does that really mean companies need to cut corners on communication? It depends on the company, but not always if one recalls the wisdom of Bruce Barton, co-founder of BDO, which later merged with Batten Co. to become BBDO.

“In good times, people want to advertise; in bad times, they have to,” he said.

This might be especially true when some economic reports remain mixed. But even if the reports weren’t mixed, cutting communication budgets isn’t always the most prudent choice.

Hundreds of companies and products have been successfully launched during recessions, most notably Trader Joe’s, MTV, and the iPod. (Copywrite, Ink. is also a recession-born company, 1991.)

In almost every case, these companies increased their presence in the marketplace while everyone else cut back. Doing so increases market share, especially against larger competitors, strengthening the company’s position when the economy turns around. They also did not resort to distress advertising, sweeping discounts, or “I feel your pain” advertising, recognizing short-term messages sometimes erode long-term brands.

Of course, that is not to say that most communication and advertising plans don’t need some refinement (most do, whether there is a recession or not). And I don’t necessarily think such refinement means jumping on the rally cry of social media. Social media is better used as an augmentation tool rather than a replacement tool as some suggest.

Keep that in mind when reading those who suggest social media is the most viable solution during a downturn, a concept that seems to be largely based on the logic of Forrester Research a few months ago.

Silicon Ally Insider Henry Blodget provides a better balance. Social media remains mixed because it requires more nurturing than traditional communication.

As I mentioned in March, there are two kinds of people who have a higher propensity to get into car accidents: those who never think they will and those who always think they will. The idea is to hit the middle.

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Wednesday, April 16

Blogging For Rights: BlogCatalog.com


“The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only object of good government.” — Thomas Jefferson

About a year ago, Antony Berkman, president of BlogCatalog.com, had an idea. He noted the media attention other social networks received were often based on raising investment capital.

He decided to do something else. He wanted to raise social capital instead.

“We had yet to see an online social community come together to raise funds for a good cause,” said Berkman. “So we saw it as an opportunity to empower and recognize bloggers who collectively focus their blogs for good.”

While Berkman says he wasn’t sure the first campaign would succeed — one that raised funds that directly benefited more than 1,000 students across the United States — he is happy to find Bloggers Unite has come full circle. One year and four campaigns later, BlogCatalog members hopes to inspire again.

This time, on May 15, bloggers are being asked to tackle a topic selected by members — Bloggers Unite For Human Rights. Although no one knew it a few months ago, the timing for a human rights social awareness campaign couldn’t be better. This year is the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

For most of us, human rights — life, liberty, justice, and freedom of expression — seem so commonplace that they are taken for granted. Yet, all over the world and sometimes just out of sight in our own backyards, human rights are tread with utter disregard. This is a great opportunity to speak out for those who cannot.

In Durfar, Sudan, women and children are raped and brutally attacked by government forces and militia. In South America, human trafficking continues to be increasing concern. In Zimbabwe, journalists are being arrested. And all over the world, censorship, from the Internet to everything, is becoming the rule and not the exception.

What can you do about it? Bloggers Unite For Human Rights.

Dedicate a post on any issue related to Human Rights this May 15 and encourage others to do the same. You can find several badges to display on your blog or submit new badges to Bloggers Unite.

Copywrite, Ink. will be recognizing several top bloggers who join the campaign and list their posts on the Bloggers Unite Discussion Group on May 15. Please give it some thought and consider how ten, one hundred, ten thousand, or tens of thousands can make a difference.

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Tuesday, April 15

Preserving The Earth: Earth Day

With Earth Day a mere seven days away, it seemed fitting to devote a post to a date that many consider the birth of a global environmental movement (1970) and that helped usher in the concept of ecotourism.

What’s ecotourism? A few years ago, I interviewed Klaus Toepfer, then executive to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), who succinctly defined ecotourism as tourism that “promotes the conservation of earth’s biodiversity.” He said that ecotourism was a unique niche because it required increased cooperation among industry, government, local populations, and tourists to ensure sustainability.

While it’s not covered as much today as it was then, ecotourism continues to grow at a rate of 20 to 25 percent annually, especially in countries like Nepal, Madagascar, and Kenya. In 2003, more than 43 million Americans considered themselves ecotourists. Today, as many as 1 in 3 would qualify.

Interestingly enough, most ecotourism is not passive. Some, like those offered by Thrill Seekers Unlimited blend in rock climbing, sand surfing, kayaking, hovercraft racing, and other extreme sports — activities that founder Rich Hopkins recognized as acceptable because people in their 20s to 40s grew up on skateboarding.

Think Globally.

Beyond thinking about ecotourism, Earth Day provides an opportunity to act on a global scale. This year, it is estimated that as many as 500 million people in 175 countries will celebrate Earth Day on April 22.

A few notable events include the free Green Apple Festival in ten cities across the United States; the Green Schools programs across America; and hundreds of other events listed all over the world, from Tokoyo, Japan, to Togo, West Africa.

Act Locally.

In Las Vegas, the fifth annual Summerlin Earthfaire, the largest Earth Day celebration in southern Nevada, runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, April 19. It features an acoustic performance by Anna Nalick at noon.

In Reno, Econet hosts the largest celebration in northern Nevada at Reno Idlewild Park from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday, April 20. It includes several bands, ranging from bluegrass to reggae, performing on a solar powered stage.

Make It Daily.

Earth Day doesn’t have to be confined to a single day. In Las Vegas, the Springs Preserve is one of the city’s first major cultural attractions developed around the environment. Located three miles off the Strip, the site used to be home to palatial artesian springs that nourished the valley’s fragile ecosystem.

Although the springs dried up in 1962, 180 acres of land were preserved after the area was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, the Springs Preserve has been developed into an indoor and outdoor recreational and educational site, with live concerts, artistic and eco-friendly exhibits, several play areas for children, eight acres of indigenous botanical gardens, and 25 acres of recreated desert wetlands.

Every building at the site was developed to maximize green design, including reclaimed timber, recycled building materials, on-site waste water reclamation, and solar power that provides 70 percent of all the facility’s power needs. Eventually, the Springs Preserve will also be home to the Nevada State Museum.

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Monday, April 14

Writing Accidental Books: David Vinjamuri


After reading a few chapters of “Accidental Branding” by David Vinjamuri, I was perplexed. Could it be that a former brand manager at Johnson & Johnson, Coca-Cola and marketing guru for recent Google-acquisition DoubleClick and Save.com, wrote a book that is both gratifying and grasping at the same time? Exactly so.

“Accidental Branding” is gratifying in that the research and interviews are worthwhile; the writing is vivid and engaging; and the case studies — John Peterman, Craig Newmark, and Roxanne Quimby (among them) — timely. The modest cover price of $16.47 for Accidental Branding via Amazon works.

Without question, Vinjamuri succeeds where so many other business writers fail — by bringing passion to pages of businesses. He does it with flair and style, creating case studies that you actually care about. I love that about the book, enough so to recommend it. Chances are that you will love the book, enough so that you might fall in love with it like Diane K. Danielson did.

But there is something troubling too. “Accidental Branding” seems to drift into a trend that is becoming troublesome. In attempting to dispel the myths of what they teach in business school as being wrong or incomplete (which is largely correct), the author presents solutions that are not strong enough to unseat traditional teachings despite finding case studies to back up his argument.

It makes me wonder. What are we doing nowadays, anyway? Social media is becoming the boom and bane for business in ways that very few have ever expected. And when books are written with the Internet communication in mind, they tend to forget their intent and fill pages with more inspirational ideas than concrete solutions in the way that books like In Search of Excellence used to do.

There’s nothing wrong with that, but it makes one wonder if the next wave of entrepreneurs are somehow missing out because the business and marketing books being written today are chock full of case studies designed to prove some clever ideas. For example, Vinjamuri presents six: sweat the small stuff, pick a fight, be your own customer, be unnaturally persistent, build a myth, and be faithful.

The fifth is especially interesting to me because Kevin Goodman recently asked me about how viral marketing myths might mirror the urban legend phenomena, something Chip Heath, associate professor at Stanford University, wrote about four years ago.

“Creating the mythology for your brand means that you have to understand both
the narrative and how it will be spoken and shared…,” writes Vinjamuri. “… By crafting this story carefully, you will make a better case for your business than
any presentation or advertisement possibly could.”

While there is certainly some truth to the concept that storytelling works (better than bullets anyway) because it’s memorable, creating a mythos for your brand can have some unintended consequences that run afoul in what I call the Fragile Brand Theory . Specifically, a mythos can sometimes overtake the sustainability of the brand and when that happens … they risk collapse. And yet another pitfall that can transpire a well-positioned myth comes straight from the urban legend department: over time, the point of origin becomes expectedly fuzzy and may even be stolen away by someone who demonstrates your story better then you do.

“Mary Worth … Mary Worth … Mary …” ... You get the idea. The story variations have overshadowed the point of origin.

Sure, I suspect Vinjamuri might think I’m missing “rule six,” which reminds entrepreneurs to remain faithful to their brands. He’s right, but sometimes brand busting moments are not manageable as several dozen companies can attest. Brands are much more fragile than that.

Even so, and I cannot stress this enough: where I part ways on some conclusions presented by Vinjamuri, I can appreciate excellent storytelling around some very interesting break-the-mold brands. They are often not covered enough, and Vinjamuri presents those as masterfully as one might suspect from someone who works on Starwood Hotels, among others.

Now the only question that remains is whether his “Accidental Brands” can move beyond the moment and capture its own mythos. We shall see. I hope so.

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Thursday, April 10

Failing Forward: Clark County Schools


In 1996, I accepted $50,000 in stock in lieu of cash to help the startup of an amusement park invention. I still have the original stock certificate. It’s worth nothing, except as a reminder that failures are seldom free. I paid for it.

It’s a valuable lesson, but one our school district does not teach.

Last week, I mentioned a Las Vegas Review-Journal story how Clark County School District (which includes Las Vegas) students were failing Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II — approximately 88 percent of all students — according to tests administered in January.

This week, the Clark County School District sent a letter to parents, assuring them that these test results will not be a “deciding factor in awarding or withholding a diploma or promoting or retaining individual students in math classes.” In other words, there is no need for concern.

No need for concern. Students will be moving forward regardless.

The letter goes on to stress that the exams were not mandated by the state or federal government. So, these tests will not be used to determine school status under the No Child Left Behind Act and affect federal school funding.

On the contrary, the school sees these tests as an opportunity to convene a committee of experts — as opposed to the experts supposedly entrusted to teach students — to evaluate “the concerns that have been raised about the exams.”

Parents are also advised to visit their Web site to become acquainted with curriculum overviews. It includes bulleted curriculum items like this:

• Problem Solving: Students will develop their ability to solve problems by engaging in developmentally appropriate opportunities where there is a need to use various approaches to investigate and understand mathematical concepts, (sic)

In reviewing the document, I found less comfort in the ability of our school district, not more. The above sentence, ending with a comma as opposed to a period, not withstanding. In fact, the curriculum overview seems to provide an indication why Nevada scored among the worst in the eighth-grade NAEP writing exam, slightly above New Mexico and Mississippi.

No need for concern. Students will be moving forward regardless.

Two years ago, my cousin arranged a meeting with administrators after his stepson brought home a report card with all Ds and Fs. He was concerned.

“No need for concern. He will be moving forward regardless,” he was told.

“You don’t understand. I want you to hold him back.”

“Oh no, we can’t do that. It would be bad for his self-esteem and we really don’t have room anyway.”

No need for concern. Students will be moving forward regardless.

The message is clear, but it’s not the right message. Parents do need to be concerned for the very reason the school district tells them not to be.

The measure of academic success in a school district is not federal funding, number of expert committees, the percentage of correct sentences in a poorly written curriculum overview, how many students are failed forward, or how many receive diplomas. On the contrary, the only measure is whether these students will master certain subjects or not, which will no doubt determine how well they perform as they move forward.

So while there is a perception that “trying” is good enough to move ahead, the reality is that “trying” is not good enough. The truth is that “trying and failing but moving forward anyway” is delusional and detrimental because it deprives students of learning from their mistakes and sets them up for more failures.

Worse, if teachers are continually required to present material suitable for the lowest performing students, it eventually results in entire classrooms receiving a deficient education. That means the paper with the words “diploma” has as much value as the stock I accepted in 1996, except without even providing students the benefit of learning from any of their failures along the way.

Ergo, if there are some faulty math skills, it’s not just students. The school district is operating under a formula that suggests it continually needs more funding while continually producing less educated students, which demonstrates a need for more funding. At the same time, it continually claims to be making progress, with the only proof being the growing number of students who are failed forward.

Right. It doesn’t add up.

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Tuesday, April 8

Going Green: Eco Engagement



Loomstate, a casual fashion brand that aimed at creating a demand for certified organic cotton using socially and environmentally responsible methods of production, was an early entrant in green fashion. The concept by designers Rogan Gregory and Scott Hahn, dates back to 2004. It was a great idea that just got better.

By partnering with the Sundance Channel and Barneys New York, Loomstate is the cornerstone of launching a national T-shirt recycling program from April 13-27. Any old t-shirts at all Barneys' locations throughout the nation will be re-fashioned (re-style, re-dye, re-print, etc.) to create a new, limited edition T-shirt collection.

The T-shirts will be on sale exclusively at Barneys by the holiday season this year. The proceeds from the program will benefit One Percent For The Planet. And Barneys will kick in a 20 percent discount on men's and women's Loomstate merchandise for anyone who participates.

"Recycling t-shirts to create something new and beautiful personifies the evolution and metamorphosis of the Earth," said Rogan Gregory. "We are taking eco fashion to the next level."

They are also taking eco engagement to the next level. Sure, companies have added ample talk of green this and green that for more than a year. But what makes this campaign stand out is it touches on something communication alone so often forgets — you can talk about the environment until your blue in the face, but talking about it doesn't change behavior. This program does.

Add in support for the program from The Sundance Channel, which is promoting the second season of its "The Green" series, and this campaign, along with an incentive from Barneys, touches consumers several times in different ways throughout the year.

To learn more about "The Green" on The Sundance Channel, visit their Web site. While you're there, you can also enter a contest to win $10,000 for an fresh idea that helps the environment. (Hat Tip: Image Empowering.)

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Friday, April 4

Fishing With Prices: Target


Lisa Thurmond, a college student who pens a sometimes funny, often satirical, and always interesting blog Lisa’s World, recently helped popularize a camera-phone picture posted by Michael Wesch, a professor at Kent State University, on Digital Ethnography, a student work group blog.

The picture? A “2 for $4.98” offer on Archer Farms organic flatbread at Target. The price for one? $2.49. He posted it without comment. She called it manipulation.

Both posts garnered some interesting reactions and responses. Some comments zero in on consumer psychology: if it looks like a sale, our brain reacts like it is a sale, even when it isn’t a sale. Others, they called it patently unethical and misleading.

Only one person defended Target by calling it marketing” that all mass merchants are employing. Her comment was quickly voted to the bottom.

Well, technically, posting “2 for $4.98” as an advertised price is not unethical. It would require Target to imply that there is a sale as opposed to the consumer inferring that it is a sale. However, resting on that point is about genuine as attempting to redefine what the definition of “is” really is.

The bottom line for marketers? It doesn’t really matter whether “2 for $4.98” is ethical or not. If your price point offer is irritating customers, being technically right could cost you more than being theoretically wrong.

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Thursday, April 3

Cooking Up Contests: Chef Clive Berkman


Notable and award-winning chef Clive Berkman may have come to expect cooking for presidents and celebrities at Charley’s 517 and later Clive’s in Houston, but he never expected to cook up an online contest for his upcoming book Cooking With Clive, Creating “Empty Bottle Moments” With Those You Love.

The contest, which runs through June 15, invites participants to pick 20 pictures from more than 250 featured on his Flickr account. Whoever selects the most photos that will appear in the book will win a seven-course meal for 20 people, prepared by Berkman anywhere in the continental United States.

“I am hoping the winner lives in an area that has tons of fresh meat and locally grown vegetables,” says Berkman. “Then I can work with them to make a menu with local products like lobsters in Maine for a sake curry soup or lamb in Colorado with rosemary and corn polenta.”

Originally, Berkman had set up the Flickr account as a way to share the photo shoot with his friends and family. But as other people started to visit, he decided that he might as well share it with more people. So on March 24, Berkman announced the contest on a blog that he started in April.

“I could have started blogging last summer,” Berkman said. “But I did not want to ramble on about nothing for no reason at all. So I started about five weeks ago as a simple way for people who are interested in my book to stay up to date.”

Adding one-minute video segments on YouTube happened much the same way. He originally wanted to produce a 4-minute DVD that he could send to speakers bureaus and the media, but decided to try producing one-minute video segments in order to reduce production and distribution costs instead.

“We filmed 25 one-minute videos that are unrehearsed and definitely not-scripted,” says Berkman. I didn’t want show glitz as much as authenticity. That way people can see me as an author who wants to share his reflection of a book.”

The first video, which is a trial demo, features Berkman sharing his disdain for green peppers. While not as popular as his Flickr images, it does provide a true-to-life glimpse of who this Johannesburg, South Africa, native really is — someone with a passion for life and food that began while watching his mother teach cooking classes in the back of their home.

His mother wasn’t his only inspiration. Berkman also had the pleasure of working under noted chef Victor Broceaux, best known for his work at The Four Seasons, Forum of the XII Caesars, La Fonda del Sol, and Tavern On The Green.

“He pushed me every day to be my best,” says Berkman. “But although I was grounded in classic French, my style cannot be only described in one word.”

Like some seasoned chefs, Berkman prefers to present an eclectic approach to cooking by finding the best ingredients available and then creatively combining them into something special and cooking them with the best techniques.

While he is still motivated and inspired by standards set in New York, the recipes in his book are simpler and more user friendly. The idea is not to simply give people specific recipes, about 100, but to also share his passion by reminding people that every meal is an opportunity to create a unique moment with loved ones.

“I truly believe that if we pursue creating moments with our loved ones, it can strengthen our relationships,” Berkman said. “Eating together is designed to bring people together, which is where the subtitle of my book comes from.”

The subtitle, which references Empty Bottle Moments, refers to how decorative glass bottle collections resemble guests at a dinner party. Every bottle may be unique, but together they create a celebratory visual metaphor for people.

“I tell [people] that in a sense, we’re all in the kitchen because it’s a symbol of life, full of joy and spills, glorious successes and burnt dishes, tender moments and unnerving chaos,” Berkman includes in his book. “We’re all in the process of learning, growing, and laughing with each other. It’s there that we develop our recipes for cooking and for life.”

In addition to New York, some recipes are also influenced by Berkman’s home. He enjoys sharing these recipes because people are often surprised to discover South African food includes hints of Dutch, British, Portuguese, Indian, and Greek cuisine. The 256-page book with approximately 80 full-color photos will retail for $30. For more information about its summer release, visit here.

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Wednesday, April 2

Wondering About Funny: Corey Levitan


“For the record, I apologize to all the readers I offended, even those who aren't prominent rabbis. Offense is never my intent,” said Corey Levitan, Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist. Humor always is. And humor is subjective, as proven by the people who somehow find Dane Cook to be hilarious.”

This is part of an unsolicited apology received (I’m part of his e-mail list) from columnist Corey Levitan after he “portrayed” a cantor for his Fear In Loafing column a few days ago. The column features Levitan assuming various occupations and then writing about them. Sometimes he is funny. Sometimes he is not, at least not according to some people.

”Mr. Levitan's glib misrepresentations about Reform Judaism were not just erroneous, but disgusting and hurtful,” wrote Rabbi Kenneth I. Segel in a letter to the editor. “Being a clown and imposter is one thing, but denigrating a religious faith is another.”

If the reader was offended by Levitan’s column, there seems to be little doubt that he would have not appreciated the e-mail apology e-mail, as Levitan states … “Frankly, I just can’t see how anyone can interpret the sarcasm of my condensed Jewish history as anything other than glaringly obvious. (Um, I KNOW that Christmas and Easter are not Jewish high holy days.)”

Levitan also mentions receiving about a dozen phone calls accusing him of hating himself for being Jewish. And later goes on to drop Larry David, Jackie Mason, and Mel Brooks as other humorists he is inspired by as a defense.

Ho hum. While the column was meant to be satirical, it was also obvious, in my opinion, that he held back compared to other articles , hinting that maybe he was less comfortable with this one than others. David, Mason, and Brooks never were, which is why they are funny.

While Levitan is right, people are often too sensitive when humor is presented, one wonders whether his e-mail was the best idea. Certainly it was better than Michael Richards’ attempt to defuse racism but perhaps not so solid as what Chris Rock might have done as mentioned in the Richards post.

It invites others who would never have known to opine, dismisses the complaint in a communication vehicle that generally doesn’t employ sarcasm, and alludes to the notion that Levitan might not be against the idea of using the angst of others as publicity. Of course, that all depends whether the two offended rabbis were privy to knowing that they were the rub of Levitan’s more private correspondence.

If they were not included, then no, not so funny. If they were included, then I hope they’re smiling because that might make it funny.

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Tuesday, April 1

Revealing Secrets: The "Mushup Strategy"


In the last few years, social media has experienced explosive growth. So given today’s date, we thought we would share the five top “proven” theories about social media and what companies really need to know. Here they are!

Five Steps To Powerful Social Influence.

1. Blogs are the new you. Forget personal image, professional skill sets, and products. Those are out. Blogs are in.

It doesn’t matter what you write about, just write about it as often as possible. Pictures, videos, discussion forums, and podcasts are all good to add too. The more technologies you can produce, the better.

In fact, encourage all your co-workers to start their own blogs and join social networks. It’s all about your online footprint.

If they don’t know what to say, remind them that the only real rule is never to write about anything your company does well, but always be personal and transparent about everything else. Personal problems at home, nasty customers, and any internal failings at the company are especially juicy topics that drive traffic. It’s all about the buzz.

Advanced Tip: Mentioning what you wear when you blog, on occasion, is always fun. If you write in the nude, definitely mention it. SEO helps drive traffic and “naked pics” is a powerful search term. Use it often for maximum effect.

2. Links help blogs thrive. Once you have a blog, focus on links. In fact, some people say that links are the single most important thing you can do. It doesn’t really matter who you link to, just link to them. The more the better, but never so many in one post that your link list is overtly obvious.

Five is a good round number, like this: Chris Brogan (Happy birthday, btw), Ike Piggott, Robert Scoble, Antony Berkman, Jason Falls.

See? It does not matter whether or not the links are relevant. Just link to them anyway. It will do two things: First, it encourages them to visit your blog so they know what you said about them. Second, if they are new bloggers, even better, as they will feel obligated to link back to you. Oh, and don’t forget those co-workers!

Advanced Tip: Every co-worker needs to link to every other co-worker. And, if you have more than one blog, don’t forget to link all those together. It all counts! I have 100 more blogs planned to launch tomorrow. Cool, I know.

3. Talk about other bloggers. That’s right. It’s important to encourage a conversation. In fact, if you can convince people to join a meme and “tag” other people to talk about someone else, even better. It’s the single best way to become the center of the conversation without being the conversation.

Again, it does not matter if those people are part of your target audience or not. Besides, everyone knows that companies spend too much time focusing on customers. Online, nobody really cares if anyone buys a product, reads your book, or goes to your movie. The click through is still king.

Just yesterday, Geoff Livingston posted a contrary viewpoint about this very subject, suggesting engagement is more important than conversation. That is complete nonsense.

Everybody knows that everyone talks about Paris Hilton. A few year ago, she won the coveted Razzie award for House of Wax. That award led to even more people talking about her and the movie they never saw! That’s a virtual goldmine if you ask me.

Advanced Tip: Of course, since most of us are not Paris Hilton, we have to work at it. Ask people what they think. Just keep in mind that while comments are good, links are better. Sometimes, you can even post about a comment, which will obligate the commenter to post about your comment post, giving you the comment, a link, and some more comments, which you can post about too, and then crosslink them to your other blogs and social network accounts.

4. Always tout your rank as influence. It is extremely important that you always report how many posts you make, how many comments you receive, what your Alexa score is, what your Google PR is, and where you stand on as many other ranking systems as possible. It makes you look very important.

That’s right. While it might be considered bad form to talk about your company, it’s perfectly okay to talk about anything that makes it look like you have the most talked about blog on the planet. And, if one of your ranks begins to fall, don’t worry about it. There is a solution.

If any social media measure begins to drop, simply denounce it as flawed. For example, if your Technorati rank falls, write about how that does not matter. Add “Boo!” at the end of the post for impact. This is a proven technique and a lot of top bloggers have done this. Technorati is the current favorite to denounce.

Denouncing rating systems does two amazing things. One, it makes you look cool, a virtual bad boy or girl swimming against the stream. Two, other people will link to you if their rank falls, because volume makes something real online. It gets better. In a few weeks, when everyone links to you about how your rank fell, your rank will rise again. So then, you can write another post saying how they fixed the system and you played a role. “Yeah!”

Advanced Tip: If you have some extra time, make your own algorithm of various ranking systems and call it a “Top Something” list. People will write about making your list, even if at least one measure is subjective. Flip a coin if you like. It doesn’t matter what that measure is as long as you never ever share it. People will even write posts about what it might be. Amazing!

5. Recap everything, invent terms, and link to “experts” who agree. Did you get all that? I hope so because details matter. Here they are again:

• Create as many blogs as possible.
• Link to as many other blogs as possible.
• Write about creating and linking, preferably when you are naked.
• Claim your successes but blame other people if it doesn’t work out.
• Recap, rename, and link some more.

I call these five steps the “Mushup Strategy,” mostly because mashup was already taken. And if you don’t believe me, here’s another “expert” opinion.

Advanced Tip: Disclaim everything you said.

April Fool’s. Hope you enjoy. Special thanks to Antony Berkman for the “link to yourself expert” idea and anyone else named for your sense of humor.

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