Tuesday, June 30

Killing Quietly: Social Media Is Often Silent

When most people talk about social media and corporate reputation, they talk about being prepared for social media firestorms, stakeholder perception, and how people are more likely to purchase products from companies they trust. All of these conversations are certainly part of the equation, but what about the subtle stuff? Does it matter? Should we care?

Several months ago, Michael Sommermeyer, court information officer for the Eighth Judicial District Court and the Las Vegas Township Justice Court in Las Vegas, posed his son's question: “If a tree falls in the forest, will it make a sound?”

Sommermeyer then applied the question to social media, asking "If an A-lister Twitters alone in the wilderness, will anyone hear?" He's not the first person to ask. He certainly won't be the last. And yet, more and more, I think it's the wrong question.

We no longer have to hear the tree fall or tweet chirp.

Online public sentiment toward people, products, companies, and organizations doesn't have to erupt in some fiery fashion like the favored case studies among social media speakers. The real danger is that there will never be a sound nor will anyone hear the explosion.

Or, to borrow the analogy I employed on RecruitingBlogs, maybe you don't have to hear the fall when the epicenter resembles the aftermath of the 1908 Siberian explosion. The unaddressed wreckage speaks for itself.

Sure, the Tunguska event took place after a ball of fire exploded about 6 miles (10 kilometers) above the ground. But it doesn't always have to be that way. Social media is much more likely to knock one tree down at a time, slowly eroding the brand. Nobody hears anything.

Since we've started researching online sentiment for several companies, organizations, and industries, we've noticed that most of the damage is subtle, seemingly one tree at a time.

• A public utility with customer service complaints written out in vivid detail, including customers left without heat for a winter weekend.
• A physical therapy practice considered area experts in its market, but with an online presence so thin that prospective patients are more likely to find faith healers.
• A government agency that invests 90 percent of its time answering questions posed by traditional media while ignoring citizen advocates that are 90 percent more likely to adopt the agency's message.
• An entire industry suffering from a labor shortage, with recruitment efforts being undermined as potential employees discover more than 80 percent of all online comments are negative and the remaining 20 percent are best described as neutral.

In all of these cases, there was no thunderous explosion. The challenges are subtle, with one tree dropping at a time until entire forests are laid bare or, if you prefer, the brand has eroded beyond recognition. And this is the way most brands end, not with a bang but a whimper.

Monday, June 29

Uniting For Iran: Bloggers Unite

News organizations may be restricted inside Iran but various reports still manage to make headlines, ranging from militiamen "carrying out brutal nighttime raids, destroying property in private homes and beating civilians in an attempt to stop nightly protest chants" to several British Embassy employees being targeted and detained.

The turmoil began as a national disturbance shortly after the polls closed on June 12. It continues to escalate as protesters reject reports that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who assumed office in 2005, earned more than 60 percent of the votes cast. The election was rigged, they say. More than 2,000 Iranians have been arrested and hundreds more have disappeared since.

"We have enjoyed so much freedom for so long that we are perhaps in danger of forgetting how much blood it cost to establish the Bill of Rights." — Felix Frankfurter, Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, 1939-1962

Not everyone. People from around the world are uniting for free elections in Iran. Some are sharing their thoughts on blogs and social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. Many of them are asking their readers, followers, and friends to visit Amnesty International or other human rights groups to take action.

But even those who do not take direct action can have an impact as elected officials and government leaders around the world look toward social media to gauge public sentiment. Members of the media do too. Since June 12, social media has hastened the shift of some administrations from painfully dismissive to cautiously concerned.

Of course, not everyone agrees. Sure, Matt Sussman was only penning satire, but not all detractors do.

"I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations." — James Madison, Virginia Convention, 1788

Madison might have been talking about the United States in the late 1700s, but the sentiment can easily be transplanted to today. Sometimes, I think people forget what it was like five or ten years ago when the most action any member of the public took over political unrest was grumbling at a television set.

Does it matter? Of course it matters. It matters just as much as the groundwork laid by Gandhi through the Satyagraha in India. While the exact reasons for the British departure is more likely related to the creation of the Indian National Army and the revolt of the Royal Indian Navy, the foundation for such events and the global perception of British occupation was set much earlier.

Does it matter? The Guardian reports, maybe so. We tend to agree. Silent acceptance and excuse against any action are most often the preferred means of oppressive governance. It's so much easier to rule when the people do nothing, believing themselves unfit.

"Many politicians are in the habit of laying it down as a self-evident proposition that no people ought to be free till they are fit to use their freedom. The maxim is worthy of the fool in the old story who resolved not to go into the water til he had learned to swim." — Lord Thomas Macaulay, politician, essayist, poet and popular historian, 1800-1859

Friday, June 26

Selling You On Twitter: uSocial

“We just signed a contract with a large Fortune 500 company who have invested around $22,000 with us to conduct a continuing Twitter marketing campaign. The package includes some custom-designed tactics for them, as well as some services of ours which are publicly available like our Twitter follower packages." — Leon Hill, CEO of uSocial.net

So what is uSocial’s Twitter follower packages? According to the OfficialWire, its suite of Twitter marketing services includes allowing their clients to buy Twitter followers.

Buy Followers?

Right. uSocial claims for an investment of only $87, "we'll bring you 1,000 brand new Twitter followers to your existing account, or we'll set up a new account for yourself or your business at no charge in order to deliver the followers." If you think that is a bargain, 100,000 Twitter followers is $3,479 (normally charged at $4,970), which makes us all cheap. Cheep.

“Our client has requested anonymity, however I can tell you they’re an organization in the health sector,” Hill told OfficialWire. “I wish I could say more, though I have to respect the wishes of my paying customers.”

We're not surprised. Any decision maker willing to purchase Twitter followers is unlikely to be authentic, externally or internally.

Thursday, June 25

Flirting With Brand Damage: Mark Sanford

"When we do these kinds of things like what happened with Ensign and now with Sanford it hurts our credibility as a party of good governing and of values.” — Ron Kaufman, lobbyist

If anyone is wondering (and some people still are) why marital affairs seem to roll off some politicians and not others, look no further than the Fragile Brand Theory. It has much less to do with the personal lives of political candidates and much more to do with the personal brands they adopt.

Never mind that 90 percent of Americans believe affairs are morally wrong. Conservative estimates suggest affairs are commonplace, with estimates that 60 percent of all men and and women will have an affair. Quantified, that would mean infidelity impacts approximately 80 percent of all marriages with varying degrees.

As for politics, marital affairs became fair game in 1828, with Andrew Jackson's opposition wondering if his wife was legally divorced by the time they married. Since, Wendell Wilkie, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy all had affairs. And along with Bill Clinton in 1998, MSNBC reports there have been 23 high profile scandals in the last decade alone, which seems to coincide with increased public scrutiny over personal choices as well as the global trend to place less value on the definition of marriage.

Understanding marriage and extramarital affairs as a definition

While researchers generally break down extramarital affairs into physical and emotional attraction with the root cause being dissatisfaction with their partners, the real reasons are generally much more individualized. They could stem from any number of reasons, including low self-esteem, physical fantasy, geographical distance, pressure escapism, random encounter, intoxication, dissatisfaction in a marital role (with no bearing on the partner), and so on and so forth.

However, regardless of the reasons, extramarital affairs provide a stark contrast to the value most modern civilized societies place on a family to provide an intimate environment, mutual support, emotional security, and personal commitment. In simplest terms, and from a brand perspective, marriage is among the most prized of all partnerships.

Affairs, on the other hand, are generally regarded as the polar opposite, much more so than any other factor that could potentially estrange a relationship (e.g., poor financial management, the assumption a marital contract exempts poor personal choices, etc.). In simplest terms, and from a brand perspective, affairs represent selfishness and betrayal.

Understanding the public figure's ability to survive one

Why was John F. Kennedy or Bill Clinton able to mostly survive extramarital affairs whereas John Ensign and Mark Sanford cannot (beyond the apparent hypocrisy)? They did for very different reasons.

Kennedy carried forth a suave and youthful image during an era well suited to ignore it. And Clinton's emphasis was on being human for nearly ten years, and thus more apt to make a human mistake. (Ergo, a man with a weakness for a Big Mac might very well have other weaknesses.)

Of course, there are other factors too. Any infraction made by a public figure is dependent on the company they keep and on how they handle the crisis once it surfaces.

In Nevada, the feeling toward John Ensign is one of disappointment after a somber but articulate press conference. In South Carolina, Sanford's bumbled press conference seems to be facing more backlash for breaking trust and betraying not only his wife but those he governed.

Multiple messages and brands dictate public figure outcomes

While predicting outcomes might be simple, any public consequence is a complex combination of personal branding, organizational (party) branding, definition (marriage) branding, current public sentiment, personal cause, and the ability to appropriately handle the crisis. Case in point, the public tends to see celebrity infidelity as vastly different — with more concern over who the celebrity has an affair with rather than the fact they had an affair.

In contrast, Republicans normally embrace certain core values, which generally reside too far away from the core of being human. And while I'd be the last to suggest Republicans sacrifice the concept of these values in order to curry the favor of more exceptions, they might consider whether it's time to reconsider the construct.

While striving (sometimes unsuccessively) for higher purpose is always admirable, current cultural trends seem to suggest that being human is all too common for any public figure to allow themselves to be placed on pedestal made of clay. In fact, the very dynamic of doing so might make one party seem overly selective (with greater failures), leaving the other to represent everyone else who is willing to admit they sometimes make mistakes.

After all, no one can really place so much emphasis on higher principles or moral ground at the risk of overriding the most admirable of all. Forgiveness.

Tuesday, June 23

Going Green: Free Iran

While most people have heard that social media has played a role in the post-election results in Iran, the consequences of immediate communication and online conversation have an impact that is equally compelling to on-the-ground coverage.

While Valeria Maltoni sees the potential for crowdsourcing to surpass CNN news (it can), we also see it as an interesting division. Whereas traditional media has been tending to cover the sentiment of the elected, social media tends to reveal the sentiment of those who elect. And that is making the elected take notice.

Mass Influence Over Influencers

Even in the United States, President Obama has been compelled to step up his stance on Iran. Originally, he hoped to avoid commenting about the democratic process of Iran over concern for future diplomacy with a country known to be developing a nuclear program and backing militant organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah. However, his initial hands-off stance had been largely viewed as timid and unrepresentative.

Yesterday, that changed. President Obama, who now says he was moved by the protest images, has called for an end to the violence while advising those who govern that they ought to lead by consent over coercion.

It's equally likely he wasn't moved on his own. Overwhelmingly, Americans have helped make the Iranian elections two of the top ten stories on the Internet — the election itself and the State Department asking Twitter to hold off on scheduled maintenance in order to ensure real-time citizen reporting.

News that used to die in a day isn't so easily forgotten. People all over the world want resolution.

BloggersUnite Hosts Spontaneous Event

BloggersUnite.org, which is a nonprofit platform that encourages bloggers to do good and raise social awareness, has launched an initiative that asks bloggers and network participants to use their blogs and accounts to do exactly that. They are asking bloggers and network members to continue their efforts, drawing even more awareness to the Iranian election and related atrocities in Iran through June 29.

“When we host organized campaigns, they are usually 90 days in the making,” said Antony Berkman, president of BlogCatalog.com and founder of BloggersUnite.org. “This time, the crisis is now, the need for action is now, the initiative is now.”

The event has already received praise by Amnesty International USA, which has its own action page condemning the violence and repression over the elections. Amnesty International says it is important for people to keep Iran in the public spotlight until it ends restrictions on freedom of expression and association, which includes the freedom to receive and impart information and ideas.

Bloggers and members of the media are asked to contribute to the Bloggers Unite for a Free Iran campaign by making it a dominant social media issue once again on June 29. Others are asked to participate by leaving supportive comments on participating blogs, sharing links to posts about this important effort, and/or by turning all avatars green in honor of the campaign. Bloggers who have already posted on the subject are asked to add their links to the BloggersUnite.org event page and post again on June 29.

Monday, June 22

Serving Bert: Lessons In Customer Service

"Always remember that what might seem like an annoying inconvenience can often be the platform for a long-term positive experience." — Richard Becker

When my daughter requested that Bert, from the long-running television show Sesame Street, join us for breakfast, I had a choice. I could grumble away the request with all sorts of "good" excuses. Or, I could accommodate by setting the table for three instead of two.

I chose the latter, propping up the miniature Bert on a chair twenty times his size. And why not? Bert didn't need much more than a place setting, silverware, and a paper napkin.

As strange as it may sound, minimal effort can produce maximum results. Instead of reinforcing proper table manners, imposing some meaningless rule like "no stuffed toys at the table," or working to hurry my daughter along without "distractions," the novelty of having Bert join us for breakfast set a positive day in motion. It changes the conversation.

It made her happy, and happy children are much more likely to finish breakfast quickly, easily, and neatly. More than that, her happiness was infectious.

It's also a lesson in customer service. Consider the Kinkos employee who invested his time in telling us how couldn't help while my team member and I stood waiting in line or the OfficeDepot employee who seemed put out after he had brought out an office chair. While neither incident is really worth going into detail, it does provide a subtle and all-too-common contrast.

Neither employee risked losing anything, other than a few seconds to service. The first could have looked behind the counter to see if the order was in rather than take an equal amount of time to explain why he couldn't help. The second could have been less concerned about whether I had chosen the wrong retrieval card (it turned out that another employee had mixed two sets together). Instead, their inconvenience was infectious.

Not so much for me, as much as other customers, especially at OfficeDepot. One of the other customers waiting in line chimed up that "he might need to sit in a chair for as long as he has been waiting for one." Then another customer was also quick to express how she felt pushed off while the employee finished with me. And with each passing comment, the employee seemed less happy to be there.

As for me, I had no complaints. Bert, earlier, had finished his pretend breakfast. And my daughter ate all her Honey Nut Cheerios. It goes to show you, customer service is like that. We often have an opportunity to decide which moments in life are annoying inconveniences or opportunities for a long-term positive experience.

Thursday, June 18

Making Sense For Media: PriceWaterhouseCoopers

PriceWaterhouseCoopers released its Global Entertainment and Media Outlook: 2009-2013 yesterday, and the findings will set the stage for some companies to excel while others will be forgotten. Not surprisingly, the migration to digital entertainment platforms and convergence will accelerate as companies seek advertising distribution efficiencies while consumers want more value and more control over their content streams.

The future is bright, but not for everyone.

While the report shows declines in consumer ad spending through 2011, PriceWaterhouseCoopers sees industry growth returning in 2012-2013. Specifically, global spending on entertainment and media will reach $1.6 trillion in 2013 and then grow by 2.7 percent in digital content, which will eventually offset declines in traditional media revenue models. In the United States, the entertainment and media market will ultimately grow at a 1.2 percent average annual rate to $495 billion in 2013.

The primary challenge, it says, will be that some media companies will struggle to attract revenue from fragmented and mobile audiences. On that one point, we couldn't disagree more. The emphasis on mobile audiences is leaning toward more convergence, not less, with audiences being able to import and make portable their favorite content from their desktops to their laptops and mobile phones.

If any fragmentation is occurring, it's a direct result of consumers finding a continually increasing amount of content that would otherwise be unavailable. More choices simply means not all people will pick from the most popular three, but rather any number of options from a list of 3 million.

The decision that media companies have to make is whether their product is strong enough to capture any audience at all. For example, as one large publishing company reported months ago, its greatest challenge on the Web is competition. Rather than compete with the only other daily in a major market, they have to compete with several more migrating print sources, broadcast news sites, radio news sites, and the seemingly endless supply of amateur op ed blogs and network content.

They're asking the wrong questions. They're searching for the wrong conclusions.

Digital demand is increasing, but not everyone sees it.

"The current decline in revenues is not because of declining demand," Bill Cobourn of PriceWaterhouseCoopers' media and entertainment practice said. "In fact, demand for (entertainment and media) appears to be increasing."

The struggle that some media companies are facing is where that demand is increasing and their own ability to be able to meet that demand. Rather than continuing to find ever-narrowing niches where no competition occurs, they ought to be asking what do they have to do different to demonstrate a clear product contrast.

The right content mix would ensure that the publisher would never compete with other migration print sources, broadcast news sites, radio news sites, and the greater content sources that make up social media, including former advertisers who are finding it easier to develop direct-to-public online programs.

Ergo, today's news doesn't have to be the same on every station. If anything, that is the model that died when consumer choice began to grow exponentially. Consumers no longer have to choose which newscaster or print reporter they enjoy more as much as they choose which stories interest them the most. It changes, daily.

Coupled with the media's focus on preserving old distribution models, e.g., print and broadcast, they miss the bigger picture. While there will always be room for some print (assuming it is not duplicated online), distribution stands to sort itself out.

Even PriceWaterhouseCoopers sees it. It projects mobile and digital platforms expanding at the highest average growth rate of 12.2 percent through 2013 in contrast to a non-digital growth rate of 1.2 percent. So traditional-minded media might ask itself: which growth sector makes more sense to pursue?

Tomorrow's media model will be everywhere or nowhere.

When migrating media learns how to deliver valued content over the same old coverage and shift its one-way communication model into two-way community development, then advertisers will have a real reason to invest advertising dollars in order to capture those communities. However, and in the meantime, right now it makes more sense for companies to develop their own online communities while media struggles to sort it all out.

After all, digital spending is projected to rise to 25 percent of total industry revenues in 2013, up from 17 percent in 2008. And advertisers will continue to shift toward new media, boosting Internet advertising to 19 percent of U.S. advertising by 2013, from 13 percent in 2008. In other words, the hard choice media needs to make today is whether they want to be everywhere or nowhere at all. And that choice will not be made by media alone.

Content Related To The PriceWaterhouseCoopers Report

Digital spending to fuel slower media growth-PwC by James Pethokoukis

Pricewaterhouse Coopers Notices We're Going Digital by Catharine P. Taylor

PricewaterhouseCoopers Study Finds A Positive Outlook For Digital Media Growth by Stuart Elliot

Wednesday, June 17

Retooling Spin: MySpace Layoffs

"Simply put, our staffing levels were bloated and hindered our ability to be an efficient and nimble team-oriented company. I understand that these changes are painful for many. They are also necessary for the long-term health and culture of MySpace." — Owen Van Natta, chief executive for MySpace

That is the message being floated by MySpace in the face of layoffs that will leave 420 employees jobless. But one wonders if that is what has really happened to MySpace or whether some observers are right in saying that the portal approach cost the company its lead position in the United States.

Or, perhaps others are right in saying that MySpace was overshadowed by the fast-paced migration of Internet nomads to Facebook, which doubled its membership to 70 million users while MySpace was losing 3.4 million. Worse, lost members only tell part of the story. Tracking MySpace over the last year reveals a steady drop in activity by the people who have stayed.

The trend began late last year after a long period of flatness. Indicators such as reach, page views, and page views per user have all declined by 50 to 80 percent in the last 360 days. It was one of many reasons while some social media tacticians were setting up MySpace pages at a premium, we needed a compelling reason to recommend the platform.

The real issue is probably platform simple over staff nimble; ease-of-use over innovation.

Simplicity continues to be the number one attracter in a country of voyeurs over content creators. So while MySpace was developing MySpace Music, which did less than impress, Facebook focused on simplifying everything from its message service to friend connections. Simply put, it's easy to join Facebook; MySpace takes some work.

While Facebook has also had its share of missteps, usually centered around sweeping changes that prompt members to remind Mark Zuckerberg that Facebook is more their network than his, MySpace is now faced with a communication mess that will be not be cleared up by uttering "whoops." Layoffs, after a year-long lingering decline, are an admission that something ought to have been fixed some time ago and now employees and investors will be left to pay the price.

Assuming MySpace can reinvent itself after what it calls a complete reset, the next question it will have to address is how to overcome the communication damage. It will likely take some time to overhaul the network without alienating its members, which can only mean more trouble ahead while people wait and wonder what's next.

So what's next? Here are a few ideas...

MySpace: After the Layoffs, Here’s What’s What and What’s Next by Kara Swisher

What Will MySpace Become After A 30% Headcount Reduction? by Scott M. Fulton

MySpace Isn’t Done Yet: Big International Layoffs Come Next by Michael Arrington

Monday, June 15

Spotting Talent: Copywrite, Ink.

While there are many personality and assessment sets that claim to know when someone might show promise as a leader, there is no substitute for spotting top talent than seeing their work. This holds true inside and outside of the organization.

What To Look For In Talent

• Performance. When you're an outcome-based communication company, the numbers don't matter as much as meeting the specified objectives. We look for people who do what they say they can do. It's surprisingly rare to find such people because so many have been coached to tell you what they think you want to hear as opposed to what they can actually do.

• Initiative. Some large firms have positions that are easily taught with turnkey systems, but communication is mostly situational. It requires initiative at every turn, with everyone looking for solutions that have yet to be considered by anyone. The best of them are seldom found in compilations of best practices that litter the net.

• Relationships. Some people mistake the concept of relationships as those who have the largest networks. The irony is that most communication firms benefit from the strength of the established relationships and not the number of contacts in today's electronic Rolodex.

• Problem Solving. Since every communication program is unique, it often requires the best practitioners to find new solutions. With the current state of change within communication, there are plenty of challenges to overcome.

• Work Under Pressure. Some things never change. Communication remains an industry that is built upon increasingly rapid response and a steady stream of deadlines. However, even with shrinking production windows, those who stand to excel are the people who can do it but never show it. As G.K. Chesterton once said "The reason angels can fly is because they take themselves lightly."

Welcoming Hadley Thom

Several months ago, I had the pleasure of meeting someone who exhibited all of these characteristics, first in class and then as a point person for our not-for-profit account. So when she met with me over coffee a few weeks back and said she was looking for a fun and challenging position with our company, it only seemed natural to find ways to make it work.

As an events manager for Aid for AIDS of Nevada, Thom was responsible for fundraising and event planning, including the AIDS Walk Las Vegas and the Black & White Ball. She was also responsible for the organization's marketing and public relations efforts, which included the development of its first social media program. During her time with AFAN, the AIDS Walk Las Vegas set records in total fundraising and individual donations. In 2009, more than 8,000 participants raised over $401,000.

She is now joining Copywrite, Ink. as a communication manager, and will be responsible for communication program development and client services for a diverse range of clients. Over the long term, we envision her taking a lead position for our growing team of communication analysts and specialists.

A few months ago, I wrote a post about what it takes to be a leader during an economic downturn. However, the lessons applied there aren't really confined to management or financial outlooks. They are meant for everyone.

After all, as much as companies can easily energize new employees, new employees can sometimes energize a company. And if you haven't found anyone like that lately, there is a good chance you haven't been looking. You can find our newest addition here (LinkedIn) or here (Twitter).

Thursday, June 11

Reinventing Public Relations: Edelman PR

You don't have to agree with Richard Edelman of Edleman PR, an independent global PR firm, to appreciate some of the finer points of the presentation delivered at Georgetown University. Social media has changed public relations and mass communication in ways that few people ever expected.

From Edelman's perspective, public relations is faced with the challenge to evolve from pitching to informing, control to credibility, from one-off stories to continuing conversations, from influencing elites to engaging a new cadre of influencers.

Yet, for some, in looking at these four points for the evolution of public relations, they might wonder where public relations took the red pill. Was it ever about the pitch? Were they ever in control of communication? Was the focus on one-off stories? And was public relations really a game of expanding influence? Was the public relations world so bleak or is that the tone to make a brave new world seem twice as bright and shiny?

There is probably too much content for the confines of a single post to address those questions. So it might be best to stick with just three.

What Was Public Relations?

Bill Sledzik, an associate professor at Kent State University (and one of the few people I know who has an aversion to online typos like I do, even our own), still reigns with one of the best sum-ups on what public relations might be, assuming it never became what Edelman suggests it is today.

The point is that Sledzik's post has become required reading for my students, specifically because none of the definitions presented include words like "pitch," "control," "influence," or "one-off stories."

Who Owns Social Media?

If there was ever a misnomer in communication, it's the constant question of who owns social media. Does public relations own it? Marketing? Advertising? Social media experts?

While I often share the idea of integrated communication because social media skill sets tend to pull from all communication-related disciplines, the less obvious answer is no one owns it beyond the people who participate.

Why Are Influencers Nouns?

While there is enough good in Edelman's presentation to encourage people to read it, there is plenty wrong too.

The best of it mirrors some recent research we completed. It demonstrated to one of our clients that engaged citizens are much more likely to promote the organization's message than are members of the media, despite the fact that the organization devotes more than 90 percent of its time to media relations.

The worst of it keeps reinforcing this notion that there are new influencers. I used to think so, and might use the term for simplicity on occasion. However, Edelman keeps missing that while anyone can have influence about a subject or within a network for a varied period of time, the bigger picture suggests there aren't any influencers. And even if there were influencers, that noun is seldom permanent.

Wednesday, June 10

Selecting Tools: Social Media For Business

The most common question communicators ask about social media is which tools, if any, are best suited for their companies. At least, that seemed to be the consensus among communicators attending the International Association of Business Communicators' (IABC Las Vegas) "Six in Sixty" program last week.

While there seems to be a general propensity to lead companies to the most popular social media tools, platforms, and communities, I provided an alternative solution for attendees with the premise that the long tail of social media need not always wag the company dog. During the 10-minute presentation, I shared a small deck to reinforce key points for three very different organizational needs: B2B, B2C, and nonprofit.

While there were strategic communication objectives for all three organizations, the simplified answer (given that each speaker had ten minutes) is that most are best served by considering two critical questions. 1. What communication assets do or will they have? 2. What tools, platforms, networks, and communities do their publics tend to use?

For a niche engineering firm presenting case studies and abstracts to a generally passive audience, a blog seemed best suited to help position them as subject matter experts. Within 90 days, the blog attracted a regular readership that included manufacturers, government regulators, and environmentalists.

For a nonprofit organization with an existing but underutilized blog, it made sense to redevelop it before developing a Facebook group to help them establish a sense of community. Within 60 days, the redeveloped blog had a following of 700 readers, which would be later invited to join a Facebook community.

For an independent film that had exclusive interviews and behind-the-scenes clips featuring several well-known cast members, YouTube seemed to be the best match (with Revver as a backup in the event YouTube didn't work out). Within 60 days, the various clips earned 350,000 views (with an additional 350,000 views of fan-duplicated videos). Revver proved important too. After a YouTube error caused the account to be suspended, we were able to retain the videos on a production blog until a new YouTube account was established.

All three programs employed other social media tools as well. However, the short- and long-term priorities were determined by considering how each organization could add value for their intended audiences and where those audiences were most likely to find that content. How did we know? We listened, which is the first critical step in developing any social media program.

Tuesday, June 9

Riding Coattails: Palm Pre

If conversations are any measure, it becomes much more challenging to say whether the new Palm Pre from Sprint will have a real impact on the smart phone market, especially as it relates to the iPhone. Despite a strong sales start, which some analysts predict to be between 50,000 and 100,000 units over the weekend, the iPhone continues to dominate online conversations.

Specifically, the iPhone captures 67 percent of the conversations when compared to the Palm Pre. When another well-known brand is included, such as Blackberry, the numbers show where the impact might land and it's not on the iPhone. Split three ways, the iPhone captures 50 percent of the conversation while the remaining 50 percent is unevenly split between the Palm Pre and Blackberry. Even then, Blackberry retains a small majority with 26 percent.

So Why Target The iPhone?

From a purely public relations perspective, comparing the new Pre to the iPhone ensures more attention than comparing it to other smart phones. However, from a strategic communication perspective, it might not work.

While the new phone has some distinguishing features, it immediately loses to the more than 50,000 applications offered by iPhone. And, according to Research in Motion, it remains well behind BlackBerry Storm and HTC's G1. The Pre public relations push to compare to the iPhone also loses on price point with the iPhone's new $99 price (the Pre offers a rebate). It also seems to be providing a forum for people to talk about the new iPhone 3G S (which will retail for $199) due out at the end of June.

What Telecommunications Needs To Know

The iPhone has been a strategic communication success story as much as it was a technological leap forward two years ago.

Once its initial branding dispute was settled, Apple not only delivered a phone that was everything but a phone, it also captured 1.1 percent of the mobile phone market in two years.

Where the strategic communication coup shines through is that every other phone maker has struggled to catch up by attempting to adopt iPhone technologies. Ironically, the copycat business model fails because it continually reinforces the notion that all other smart phones still have to catch up.

When consumers consider that fact, the Pre, despite some sales successes, seems to be another public reminder that even though Apple's 1.1 percent market share is much smaller than Nokia's 38 percent or Motorola's 8.3 percent, everyone considers it to be the product to beat.

Long term, as long as Apple continues to stay ahead of the curve, most phone makers will continue to look left behind. Short term, the telecommunication competitors will be hard pressed to win a comparison as long as they continue to define their products against the one with a home court advantage.

In fact, other than trying to ride the iPhone conversation coattails, there wasn't any benefit at all in attempting to cast the Pre as an iPhone alternative. At least, there was no benefit that we could see.

Monday, June 8

Advertising Still Works: Teen Shoppers

As much as the Internet has had a dramatic impact on way people think about advertising, a new study from Scarborough Research demonstrates that proximity advertising still works. In fact, teen shoppers are looking for it.

"The findings show that teens do in fact notice advertising in the mall, and our study shows that they generally rate it positively," commented Jane Traub, senior vice president of research for Scarborough. "As mentioned previously, teens spend considerable time in the mall, so it is not too surprising that they do notice the advertising that is present in that environment."

Highlights From Teen Shopper Survey

• 91% of teen shoppers notice poster display ads at the mall
• 85% notice hanging advertising banners
• 77% notice sampling
• 58% notice promotional events
• 57% notice TV/video screens
• 48% notice interactive displays/kiosks
• 31% notice moving images projected on the floor or walls

The study also revealed that while 77 percent of teens are concerned about how the economy will affect their families' future, 62 percent said the frequency of visiting malls has increased or stayed the same. On a typical visit, 68 percent of teens spend two or more hours at the mall, with more than a quarter (28%) spending upwards of three hours. More than half of teens (56%) spent $50 or more on their last visit and 29 percent spent $100 or more.

Online and offline communication is integrated.

While proximity advertising (signage, etc.) works, the study also reveals that most teens do not distinguish from online and offline advertising. They perceive all advertising as integrated, with more than 75 percent of males and 69 percent of females chatting with friends about meeting at the mall and purchasing items. More than 67 percent of males and 55 percent of females also went online to learn about specific items before going to the mall.

The full report is available from Scarborough Research/Arbitron Inc. Scarborough Research measures the lifestyle and shopping patterns, media behaviors and demographics of American consumers, and is considered the authority on local market research.

Friday, June 5

Missing Net Intent: Marketers See Myopically

If Brian Morrissey, writing for Adweek, is right, then online communication has a long way to go before it can right the wrongs of its own success. He correctly points out that the Internet is "blessed because it differentiated itself as more measurable than traditional media — and cursed because it has pigeonholed the medium as an engine of direct-response."

The observation comes from a new survey conducted by Forbes. The survey polled 119 senior marketers and was conducted in February and March. The numbers reveal a surprisingly myopic view of the Internet as a tool to generate direct response as opposed to a critical branding component that could eventually help establish customer loyalty.

• 82 percent identified conversations as a leading objective
• 55 percent identified registrations as a leading objective
• 51 percent identified click throughs as a leading objective
• 31 percent identified brand building as a leading objective
• 11 percent identified increasing reach as a leading objective

"On the Web specifically, advertising has moved into more demand fulfillment as opposed to demand creation. That's not really advertising. There's nothing wrong with it." Jim Spanfeller, CEO of Forbes, told Adweek. "Doing search marketing and point-of purchase displays all works, but it's not advertising. It's not about creating demand and improving brand metrics."

Why Most Top Marketers Still Misunderstand The Internet

The Internet is not as myopic as most marketers would have anyone believe. It's multifaceted, with measurement best tied to communication objectives over the medium.

Clicks, registrations, and conversations are certainly a measurable component on the Internet, but utilizing the medium as a direct response vehicle is paramount to creating a self-fulfilling myth. If you use it as a direct response vehicle, then it's likely to be nothing more than a direct response vehicle, with a diminished return on investment over the long term.

The reality is that the Internet can be all of those things listed in the Forbes survey because the Internet is less of a medium than it is a convergence of media — print, radio, television, direct, display, networking, presentation, public relations, communication, word-of-mouth, etc. And the success of any program is directly related to how you develop that program.

Indeed, its versatility as a communication tool is as varied as any communication vehicle offline, which is why so many people struggle to place it within the various communication disciplines that exist — marketing, advertising, public relations, direct response, etc. All the while, it doesn't really "belong" to any of these disciplines because the medium, or collection of media, is clearly integrated.

Monday, June 1

Speaking About Social Media: IABC Las Vegas

Tomorrow, I'll be one of six presenters at the International Association of Business Communicators' (IABC Las Vegas) "Six in Sixty" program held at Maggiano's at the Fashion Show Mall. The program starts at 11:30 a.m. and focuses on various aspects of Internet marketing and social media.

Six in Sixty programs are always fun and challenging in that IABC members and guests hear presentations from six different speakers in sixty minutes. The program format ensures each speaker spends no more than 10 minutes at each table of eight before rotating to the next table. For speakers it can be challenging because delivering a similar mini-presentation several times creates an uncanny feeling of deja-vu.

IABC Las Vegas — "Six in Sixty"

Mark Cenicola with BannerView.com will present on the effective use of blogging to drive Web traffic.

Cheryl Bella with The Firm will present on how to maximize LinkedIn.

Ned Barnett with Barnett Marketing Communications will present social media ethics.

Bonnie Parrish-Kell with Dancing Rabbits will present SEO basics.

Megan Lane with Imagine Marketing will present on using Twitter for business.

As the sixth speaker, I'll discuss how to determine which social media tools might be best suited for specific organizations or events, based upon the organization's strategic objectives, existing communication assets, and listening to customers. As part of the presentation, I'll share some recent case studies from very diverse organizations.

IABC Las Vegas is the statewide chapter for the International Association of Business Communicators, which is an international network of professionals engaged in strategic business communication management. The chapter was founded locally in 1978. You can find more information here.

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