Monday, August 31

Turning Channels: Consumers Choose The Internet

If you're looking for more evidence that social media needs to be part of any communication plan, consider that social media is mainstream for more than 90 percent of all Americans. In fact, according to Forrester Research, four in five Americans use a social media platform at least once a month. More than half gravitate to services like Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace.

The Big Picture, By The Numbers

According to Forrester Research, adults over the age of 34 increased their participation in social networks by more than 60 percent. Older audiences have also adopted social media, with 70 percent of online adults ages 55 and older using social media tools at least once a month (26 percent use social networks and 12 percent create social content). Here are more numbers to reinforce the Forrester survey...

• As reported by USA Today, 250 million people are now members of Facebook, spending 13.9 billion minutes on the social network.

• About 30 million Facebook members already access social networks through mobile devices. ad:tech estimates mobile marketing is expected to grow over $24 billion worldwide in 2013 from $1.8 billion in 2007.

• According to comScore, Twitter users spend 66 percent more dollars on the Internet than non-Twitter users. They invested 300 million minutes on the site in April.

• LinkedIn has more than 365,000 company profiles. More than 12 million small business professionals are members of LinkedIn.

• More than 1 million small businesses and individuals promote their goods and services on MySpace. This is despite its steady decline in usage.

• The fastest-growing segment on the Internet is over 35, representing more purchasing power than any single traditional medium can deliver on its own. Even television is being outpaced by the Internet in terms of time invested, which is why most networks are migrating online.

Digital Media, By The Numbers

According to comScore, 158 million U.S. Internet users watched online video during this month, making it the largest viewing audience to date. More than 21.4 billion videos were viewed.

• 81 percent of the total U.S. Internet audience viewed online video.

• The average online video viewer watched 500 minutes of video, or 8.3 hours.

• 120.3 million viewers watched 8.9 billion videos on (74.1 videos per viewer).

• 48.2 million viewers watched 518.6 million videos on (10.8 videos per viewer).

What It Means For Businesses

Forrester Research has been a long-time proponent of integrated marketing approaches, conducting several studies that indicate traditional media's broken business model and fragmented audiences have disrupted traditional strategies. But beyond typically measured growth trends — numbers of members and time spent online — there are several key trends companies will have to consider as they integrate social media into the mix. Here are five:

• The average person will only follow or support a finite number of products and companies, making the social media program just as important as the product. People do not want constant updates as much as they want added value and original content.

• While the largest services — Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace — are current darlings, several social networks have sparked and then sputtered as policies change, services change, and companies are bought out. The social media space is constantly changing, making long-term strategy more important than short-term tactics.

• The chances that customers will seek out companies, products, or services on social networks is remarkably slim. Agencies and public relations firms that attempt to bill friends and followers as the ultimate measure are short-selling clients as many people join groups or follow companies and promptly ignore them. Measurement doesn't end with a connection.

• Media-Internet convergence means an increased need to consider mobile marketing. With new portable products coming online in the months ahead from Apple and others attempting to follow them, every company ought to be thinking about digital content not based on singular devices (phones, computers, etc.), but based on scalability and portability.

• Companies that engage people online have already seen an average increase in revenue by 18 percent, while those that did not saw a decline in revenue by 6 percent over the last year. Eventually, companies that ignore social media tools will fade away, much like those that didn't adopt the telephone years and years ago.

Friday, August 28

Inventing History: Malleable Memories

David DiSalvo, freelance writer and self-described research wonk, nicely summed two studies from the journal of Applied Cognitive Psychology that suggest what we remember may not be reality, especially when presented with evidence that seems to support what did not happen.

Can false memories be adopted?

After participants were asked to perform a computerized multiple choice gambling task, they were prompted to withdraw money from a bank when they answered correctly and deposit money when they answered incorrectly. At the end of the task, researchers told participants that they were caught cheating. Some participants were told that there was video evidence showing that they took money (but were not shown the video) after answering incorrectly while others were shown false video “proving” that they cheated. In a second study, participants were accused of cheating more than one time.

The results of both experiments were surprising. When shown fake evidence, nearly 100 percent falsely confessed, and 67 percent (Experiment 1) and 73 percent (Experiment 2) believed they committed a false act. But even when subjects were told that video evidence existed, nearly 100 percent falsely confessed, and 60 percent (Experiment 1) and 13 percent (Experiment 2) developed false beliefs.

In a similar study, participants conducted the task with a second person and were then told the other person had cheated and asked to sign a witness statement. In the second study, nearly 40 percent of the participants who watched the video complied. Another 10 percent signed when asked a second time. Only 10 percent of those who were only told about the video agreed to sign, and about 5 percent of the control group signed the statement.

How does this apply to communication?

A significant amount of communication happens in real time or near real time. In some instances, participants may debate or disagree about any number of issues and topics that sometimes evolve into a drama. However, not all dramas may be legitimate, even when evidence seems to support them as such.

John Mackey's Aug. 11 opinion in the The Wall Street Journal may qualify as a fitting example. While there was no outrage in his opinion piece that offered alternative ideas to health care reform, the retelling of false inferences combined with content taken out of context as evidence has fueled some odd and fabricated outrage.

Today, there were about 100 stories with continuing coverage about the boycott, with an emphasis on a Facebook group dedicated to boycotting Whole Foods. There are about 30,000 members. (There is also an anti-boycott group growing at a faster pace, if you can believe it.)

By comparisons to other cause-driven efforts I've covered — ranging from the cancellation of Jericho and Veronica Mars to outrage over Motrin or push back on United Airlines, any fire behind any boycott seems overblown no matter how some agenda-driven proponents attempt to fan it.

Still, both Whole Foods and Mackey have exhibited some regret over the piece, with Whole Foods apologizing while clarifying that Mackey's opinions are not the official stance of the company. In a way, they've accepted an erred definition that providing any opinion was ill-advised.

It really wasn't ill-advised. But with the case being made with the thinnest of evidence, it may be remembered as such. Weird.

Of course, if anyone prefers a simpler example, consider how an old friend might share a memory we don't recollect. We may accept their account, even if they made it up. And, we're even more likely to accept it if they have a photo or video that offers any evidence, even if the evidence is only implied or supportive without a direct correlation to the story. Malleable, indeed.

Thursday, August 27

Redefining Publics: Employees First

While some companies consider social media to be the greatest change in how layoffs are handled, a new study, Global Trends in Separation Practices from DBM and the Human Capital Institute (HCI), reinforces that severance packages and internal communication remain the most critical components to survival.

"When employees leave an organization, they don't just become ex-employees," said Robert Gasparini, CEO and Chairman of DBM. "Departing employees become customers, referral sources, competitors, and perhaps even future employees returning to the organization. By well managing employee separation, companies can fortify loyalty and mitigate retention risk among the remaining workforce."

Specifically, the study found that 71 percent of organizations reducing their labor force experienced reduced employee morale and 62 percent reported reduced loyalty among employees. Unfortunately, for too many companies, this news came too late. And, in some cases, even companies that delivered fair-to-superior severance packages missed the mark on effectively communicating their efforts.

Internal Audiences Remain The Most Important Public

While such internal morale damage can be related to any number of factors — the reason behind the decision, severance pay, outplacement support, and continuing benefits — the only opportunity to turn it around begins with internal communication, especially for companies that never communicated what those benefits were or what they meant. Even more important, such communication cannot rely on vehicles alone. It must be personal, and probably led by a face-to-face meeting with management.

Although not related to layoffs, the recent internal communication leaked at Nielsen provides a excellent example. Had managers been briefed about the external communication, hosted small face-to-face gatherings with employees, answered questions, and then left behind a handout that focused on the future of the company, the outcome would have been very different.

Instead, Nielsen sent out a push message to employees despite the fact that most studies indicate only about 15 percent of employees read employee magazines, newsletters, internal blogs, memos, etc. (And, according to Jack Pyle, a fellow with PRSA, one West Coast employer discovered that only four percent of top managers in the company actually read corporate memos.) Worse, of the very few who do read internal memos, they are the most likely to forward the worst ones to the media.

Of course, none of this is intended to disparage employee magazines, newsletters, internal blogs, memos, etc. On the contrary, most internal communication studies simply reveal that it is not employee communication vehicles that are failing as much as the content contained within them.

And that makes us wonder if the question some companies ought to be asking is "how is our company's communication doing these days?" And, more importantly, is it connecting with employees so our customers have the best possible experience?

Wednesday, August 26

Teaching Conversations: Richard Becker

Ten years ago, when I asked my longtime friend and mentor Keith Sheldon, ABC, APR, if he had any advice before I taught my first class at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, he chuckled and suggested I might offer him advice instead. Very funny, I had said, before refusing to accept his non-answer and asking him to reflect a bit more on the open-ended question.

"Never teach the same class twice."

I knew what he meant. After considerable years as a student, most people begin to develop a sense about various teachers, instructors, and speakers. And whereas some present material that is tried, true, and tired, the most engaging education is not all that different than social media. It's situational, adaptive, and conversational.

For all the speaking engagements that include G2E (World Gaming Expo), U.S. Small Business SCORE, Leadership Las Vegas (Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce), International Association of Business Communicators, and Regis University, I recall presenting a few common truisms with the remaining 98 percent of the class dedicated to new and adaptive content. It seems to make a difference for the audience whether they are students, working professionals, or executives, which is particularly more useful for me because I teach with the pretense that I will likely be taught something too.

"The only constant is change, continuing change, inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be." — Isaac Asimov

While the quote's conceptual construct can be attributed to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, Asimov was right. While most businesses employ people who seem to be experts on the now with 'strategies" based on Facebook, Twitter, and other popular social networks, they ought to be considering people who are prepared to guide them into the world that will be. Thinking in terms of what might be changes the entire dynamic of the questions to ask.

One of the better examples of this came from my service on the IABC Research Foundation Think Tank when some of my colleagues had proposed researching policies and procedures related to instant messages via Blackberry. I thought the idea of investing one or two years of research into Blackberry communication was pretty funny stuff (even more funny today, as social networks have since changed the entire dynamic). I suggested researching the increasing immediacy of situational communication ought to produce a more beneficial study, instead.

At the same time, the conversation taught me something. Most communicators were not prepared, and I do not believe they are prepared, for where communication will be five years from now, two years from now, or perhaps even six months from now.

Think I'm wrong? If so, don't hesitate to teach me something here or during several upcoming sessions scheduled this fall. Because the way I see it, in addition to Sheldon's truism about great teachers never teaching the same class twice, I believe another to be that good teachers always remain good students.

Nonprofit Engagement — Richard Becker

Nevada Association of Nonprofit Organizations — 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Sept. 15

This session will be unique in that, rather than providing a presentation, NANO has asked for it to be developed much more like social media — as a conversation inside the Cafe by Wolfgang Puck at the Springs Preserve. The format will provide an opportunity to demonstrate a long-standing theory at Copywrite, Ink.: social media mirrors real life in how people travel, connect, and interact with each other.

The Nevada Association of Nonprofit Organizations (NANO), which is part of the National Council of Nonprofits, is dedicated to supporting area executive directors and their executive board leadership by providing education, networking, and resources.

UNLV Class Schedule — Richard Becker

Editing and Proofreading Your Work — 9 a.m. to noon, Oct. 17

The half-day session presents a revised presentation that focuses on improving clarity, consistency, and correct usage in personal and business correspondence. It includes essentials such as language, mechanics of style, spelling, and punctuation. It also includes an in-class exercise and several take-home exercises to help students refresh their writing and editing skills.

The revised session provides basics, including definitions that help distinguish proofreading from editing.

Social Media For Communication Strategy — 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Nov. 6

The full-day class presents a new format and extended session with the latest case studies and applications to create a new understanding of social media as it fits within an organization's communication strategy. While the session begins with a presentation on increasing the use of online technologies to share content, opinion, insight, and experience, the full-day format allows for extended discussion and live demonstration, as it applies to public relations and human resources.

Collectively, social media shapes more opinion than all other media and has changed the communication landscape. (CEUs: .6)

Tuesday, August 25

Rivaling Television: The Internet

comScore, Inc. and dunnhumby released a study that may make some local television station executives lose sleep. The study, which delves into the effectiveness of online advertising in building retail sales, reveals that Internet advertising is as effective as television advertising.

One study demonstrated that over the course of 12 weeks, online ad campaigns with an average reach of 40 percent of their target segment successfully grew retail sales of the advertised brands by an average of 9 percent in three months. Television accounted for an 8 percent lift over 12 months.

In fact, according to the study, 80 percent of Internet campaigns showed a significant statistical lift in sales whereas television showed a 36 percent lift in sales. In the study, which included more than 200,000 people and campaigns that featured cereal, cookie mixes, pizza, juice drinks, snack bars, pasta, tea, deodorants, and toothpaste, the Internet seems to have come of age among big brand marketers.

"The study results represent very encouraging news for CPG marketers online and offline because the data confirms the ability of online marketing to drive results offline at the shelf level," said Bill Pearce, senior vice president and chief marketing officer at Del Monte Foods. "These are precisely the types of persuasive studies we are looking for at Del Monte as digital plays an increasing role in our marketing strategy."

Studies such as these, many of which are never released, are driving dozens of companies to explore Internet advertising and social media programs. Just one of a hundred of new examples we're tracking includes Procter & Gamble's Pampers brand, which is experimenting with digital media by creating its own version of a reality show.

The show, A Parent Is Born, will chronicle the birth of parents via a 12-part Web series that focuses on various aspects of the parenting journey, from "Finding Out the Sex" to "My Big, Fat, Beautiful Body." The Webisodes will run on, YouTube and DirecTV On Demand, and TLC will also promote the show. MommyCast, a weekly radio/podcast series, will interview the Barstons on what life is like after son Leo is born.

Gian Fulgoni, comScore chairman and co-founder, will be sharing more about the series of studies at the Digital Age conference on Aug. 27 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. He is scheduled to share in-depth insight into how online advertising really works, presenting the results of research into click-through rates as well as the importance of online advertising in raising brand awareness and ROI.

Monday, August 24

Hulking Astroturf: Reverb Communications

As if being called out on astroturf over gaming apps while the Federal Trade Commission is considering new rules to regulate reviews on the Internet isn't enough, Reverb Communications added fuel to its own bonfire by sending MobileCrunch what can only be called an incredulous email that defies imagination. The firm, which represents dozens of game publishers and developers, sent an admission of ignorance to writer Gagan Biyani.

A bizarre blend of admission and defiance.

Hi Gagan –

I’m sure you are speaking with one of our former employees that has been contacting media outlets about Reverb. I’m not sure what “unethical practices” you are referring to so it would be hard for me to comment, but I am hoping that you will do the proper research to ensure that the facts you are reporting are accurate and not written based on information provided by a disgruntled former employee who is violating his confidentiality agreement.

My office did mention that you had issues with our staff and interns writing reviews for some of our clients' games, I’m sure you are aware that in order to write a review on iTunes an individual needs to purchase the game or app and can only write one review. Our interns and employees write their reviews based on their own game play experience, after having purchased the game by themselves, a practice not uncommon by anyone selling games or apps and hardly unethical.

I am in Europe until Tuesday, I’ll keep my eyes out for the story, once again I do hope you do some homework before posting erroneous or incorrect information about Reverb Communications.

Doug Kennedy

Although Kennedy is vice president of business development (once listed as "owner" on Linkedin), he seems to have missed the industry memo that includes the standard practice of disclosure, which is precisely why the Federal Trade Commission wants to hold reviewers liable for making false or unsubstantiated claims about products. In fact, companies paying reviewers could be held liable too, which in this case, would likely include all Reverb Communications clients given the Reverb proposal also posted by Biyani.

An alleged portion of the Reverb pitch that promises astroturf.

Reverb employs a small team of interns who are focused on managing online message boards, writing influential game reviews, and keeping a gauge on the online communities. Reverb uses the interns as a sounding board to understand the new mediums where consumers are learning about products, hearing about hot new games and listen to the thoughts of our targeted audience. Reverb will use these interns on [Developer Y] products to post game reviews (written by Reverb staff members) ensuring the majority of the reviews will have the key messaging and talking points developed by the Reverb PR/marketing team.

When firms attempt to 'serve' everyone, they really serve no one.

Yikes. Both communications demonstrate an almost willful ignorance of public relations and ethics, which seems surprising given Kennedy's background at GMR Marketing, Nvidia Corporation, and Sony Corporation. Since, the story of Reverb Communications' astroturfing scheme is making the rounds, and in some cases, dragging Reverb clients along with it.

If it can be said that a core component of public relations includes implementing planned programs of action that will serve both the organization and the public interest, then Reverb Communications seems to have failed both, and itself, equally.

Friday, August 21

Spreading Messages: How They Stick

Most studies have already revealed the truth. The average purchasing decision takes only about 2.5 seconds.

Knowing this, traditional marketers might deduce if you only have 2.5 seconds to make an impact, you might make that impact big, loud, and memorable. Some might even say that it is the driving force behind some campaigns, including Burger King, which is quickly becoming the leading fast food franchise in withdrawing what some publics call offensive ads.

Changing how people are prepared to receive stimulus is just as important as the stimulus.

In 1991, a University of Virginia study conducted by psychologist Timothy Wilson has become a classic in understanding how people arrive at making decisions. And while there are many conclusions to draw from the study, the most apparent difference is the condition in which the students were asked to make their decisions.

Specifically, college students sampled five different brands of strawberry jam. In the study, students who analyzed why they felt the way they did tended to agree with the experts less than students who did not. However, when other students were given the criteria of what constituted "good" jam, they reversed the taste-test results and gave jams they liked less higher marks.

Jonah Lehrer, who revived interest in the study after including it his book, "How We Decide," used it to make the case that emotional decisions may be smarter than logical decisions. He concludes that the conscious brain is ignorant of its own underpinnings and blind to all that neural activity taking place outside the prefrontal cortex. Thus, he concludes: "It is feelings, after all, and not the prefrontal cortex, that capture the wisdom of experience. You are constantly benefiting from experience, even if you're not consciously aware of the benefits."

However, Lehrer neglects one important factor in his own logical leap. When exposed to the same experiences, people often draw different subconscious lessons. While emotion and wisdom certainly held true for the author, the wisdom of experience is sometimes flawed. It's also why it is important to consider the core conclusion of the original study.

If you can focus people's attention on some criteria, whether it is optimal or erroneous, it can shift their judgement.

Right. It works both ways.

If you can predispose people to a set of criteria before the decision-making process, they will be more likely to make choices based on that criteria. It works even better if they are already predisposed to a specific quality. For example, if a specific number of people like, let's say, chunky peanut butter, they will more likely to gravitate toward a "chunkier" product.

Conversely, a marketer of smooth peanut butter can still penetrate the chunky market if, let's say, they have an opportunity to establish "spreadability" as an important criteria. Thus, the decision the marketer has to make isn't always about "how to reach more people," but rather whether it is more cost effective to convert chunky peanut butter lovers with a criteria or carve out a niche among smooth peanut butter lovers based on some other criteria that sets it apart.

Make the right decisions in the strategic planning portion of the process and it will stick. Make the wrong decisions, and you'll call yourself "The Shack," based on all sorts of reasons that don't add up.

Thursday, August 20

Politicizing Business: John Mackey And Everyone

There is an interesting little side bar story written by Darryl Ohrt at AdvertisingAge that suggests rethinking the traditional work day at advertising agencies. He says that since the work day for many is all day that maybe office hours ought to change to fit personal preferences.

There is some truth to that. When someone had to chat with fans of an independent movie release at 11 p.m. on Twitter a few weeks back, I decided it might as well be me. It made for more than a few sleepy mornings, mostly because I start early every day. Unlike most creatives, I like to start work before the sun comes up, which also makes it easier for East Coast clients to reach me.

So why not employees? And why not other businesses?

The comments reveal the reality, with some being for it, some against it, and a few who would outright abuse it to the point of violating labor laws as they turn employees into indentured servants (and thus why labor laws exist).

And then there is health care. I caught a few interesting comments being bandied about last night on Twitter by several communication colleagues, suggesting that John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, Inc. had lost his marbles.

"Where were his PR advisors?" some asked, despite being the same people who encourage CEOs to write their own blogs, unvetted.

Sure, Mackey is an odd duck. He has been one for a long time. But he's not your typical run-of-the-mill odd duck, which means that his op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on heath care might not be dismissed so readily. The title alone, "The Whole Foods Alternative to ObamaCare," will make a few people cringe, but Mackey has already explained that he didn't write the headline.

The fallout of his op-ed, which simply suggested eight alternatives to government-run health care that ought to be kicked around the Hill, has resulted in all sorts of craziness, including dozens of activist groups calling for a boycott of Whole Foods. There is even a wacky Facebook group that promises to do the same.

Some of the members don't even know why they are boycotting Whole Foods, other than the maligned representations of what Mackey wrote. Some say Mackey said only the rich deserve health care. He never said that. So overall, those members seem mostly concerned about getting media attention so they can say they belong to a group covered by CNN or whatever. Whatever.

There are at least three points to consider in framing up what will become a living case study, with coverage from time to time.

1. Will it become common for everyday people, who generally support the idea of expressing their own opinions online, resort to diatribe every time someone else's opinions differ from their own? And would a reverse boycott include unfriending everyone who joins this group on Facebook?

What happened to open discussion, which seems more productive? Nowadays, people tend to turn off dissent.

2. Are public relations professionals so naive to think that politics and business don't mix? They have always been mixed, and they are increasingly mixed as the federal government has encroached on the private sector.

I may not be a fan of mixing the two in communication, but I do recognize times have changed and the voracity in which executives might talk about politics has changed with it. Ergo, the same people who cheered on executives like Warren Buffet's endorsement of a presidential campaign are the same who now chastise a less politically motivated column on health care reform, written in plain language with some points that ought to be part of the discussion.

3. Are government health care proponents so desperate that they would attempt to hang their hats on an individual who represents no one other than himself? It seems to me, for lack of a better patsy, that some organized political groups are hoping to frame up a debate as health care reform vs. Mackey as a poster child for big business.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Mackey has always marched to his own beat. Sometimes disastrously so. He hardly represents the status quo of business and neither does Whole Foods. As a matter of fact, Whole Foods employees have health benefits.

Whole Foods is not alone. Most businesses are not against health care reform. On the contrary, most businesses want their employees healthy and working. The best of them also want to keep their employees happy or at least motivated, and do so by providing more incentives than unions or government can muster.

The bottom line nowadays is that employer-employee contracts are increasingly regulated by the government, which dictates the hourly wage, benefits, and hours of operation. And, since most of the government's newest regulatory design seems to plan against the exception and not the rule, executives like Mackey will be increasingly forced to speak up, and rightly so. If they do not now, they may not be able to later.

Wednesday, August 19

Confusing Companies: Social Media

Perhaps it's because social media "feels" so old that it's easy to forget it is in a state of infancy. It's new enough that even the people who are still attempting to shape it accidently drive it in two different directions at the same time.

The conversations creep into play often enough, and sometimes lead to some healthy debates and disagreements. They are almost always the result of someone asking the wrong question.

Five Favorite Social Media Contradictions

1. Who Should Own Social Media: PR or Advertising?

This was one of my favorite debates. It's still fresh and a few social media proponents are trying to flush it out. What makes it amusing is that the question is loaded. It dares communicators to pick one or the other. And yet, I keep asking myself how anyone can make a case for ownership while telling companies to give up control.

Nobody can own it. It requires thinking beyond silos.

2. Should employees promote the company online?

While the concept is well intended, it creates a contradiction. Considering most employees join social networks for personal reasons, they don't want to promote their employers (unless they feel like it). I don't blame them. Not everyone signed on to work as a public relations specialist or, worse, a message broadcaster despite the fact that their individual online endeavors impact public relations (which is why Dominos fired two employees for a YouTube video).

This debate was settled before social media. Let employees speak for themselves; spokespeople for the company.

3. Dive In or Develop A Plan?

You may as well ask "What came first, the chicken or the egg?" On one hand, less experienced public relations firms are advising their clients to dive in and try it. On the other, those clients are damaging their brands by adopting some very bad habits that tend to push people away. In one extreme case, we've been tracking a public relations firm that is creating accounts for its clients, connecting them all together, and then having their clients push market to each other. (No, I'm not making this up.)

Individual participation does not equal a community development experience. Find a guide.

4. Be Yourself or Be Edited?

In all honesty, this discussion is nothing more than the repackaged "Should a CEO blog? question" In sum, the question is whether or not executives need editing and vetting before someone pushes "post." And, if that answer is "yes, they do," then how much is too much before someone might classify it as ghostwriting?

Like so much of social media, most answers without specifics can be summed up in two words: "It depends."

5. Outsource or In-house?

All too often, companies are placing inexperienced communicators in charge of their social media programs. Considering social media requires more engagement and leaves a longer lasting imprint on the consumers they touch, it might not be a very good idea. So the bottom line becomes more the same — there are too many variables to hazard a guess. Not every company will come up with the same conclusion. And most companies don't even know how to arrive at an answer.

Case in point: I know several companies that are attempting to go the in-house route. Some are doing an excellent job. Some are doing okay, but could use some out-of-house boosts. And some are damaging their reputations. The difference between the degrees is not always apparent, except for the analogy I'm leaving with clients after any social media presentation.

You can buy a violin almost anywhere. It doesn't mean people will want to hear you, even if you practice every day.

"I really did play the violin when I was 13," Antony Berkman, president of BlogCatalog, told me recently. "You're right. Nobody wanted to hear me."

Five Fun Posts About Social Media Experts

8 Questions to Ask Your "Social Media Expert" by Dave Fleet

What I Want a Social Media Expert to Know by Chris Brogan

10 Questions to Evaluate a Social Media 'Expert' by Ian Lurie

Is Your Social Media Really An Expert? by Peter Shankman

You're Not A Social Media Expert, You Idiot by Joel Mackey

Tuesday, August 18

Measuring Impact: Nielsen

In May 2008, fans of a cancelled television program, Jericho, dumped more than 4,000 pounds of peanuts on the doorstep of Nielsen Media Research. Shipping peanuts had become the statement of choice for the fans, who had secured a truncated second season after sending more than 20 tons to CBS.

But the nuts sent to Nielsen were different. The statement wasn't a call to action as much as it was a measure of their displeasure with the people who control what people watch based exclusively on the viewing habits of a shrinking few. They blame a flawed and antiquated rating system for the demise of the series. And they are not the only ones to feel that way.

This week, there was more talk about dumping. And this time, fans of television shows weren't talking. According to the New York Times, it is the owners of the four major broadcast networks; cable channel operators, including Viacom and Discovery; three of the country’s biggest-spending advertisers, Procter & Gamble, AT&T and Unilever; and two of the biggest advertising agency holding companies, GroupM and the Starcom MediaVest Group unit of the Publicis Groupe. And the conversation did not include dumping peanuts as much as it included dumping Nielsen.

Nielsen, which possesses a monopoly on the rating system for television, would not comment. It has been trying to prove its ability to catch up on the measurement curve for years, with plans that it once said would take five years or even a decade to execute.

But times have changed. It only took Facebook nine months to add 100 million members and Apple to celebrate 1 billion application downloads for the iPhone. In terms of communication, especially social media, we frequently talk in terms of what can be accomplished in 90 or 180 days. So it's no surprise that words from the CEO of Nielsen say old world to many of them.

"Innovation is a process," says Dave Calhoun. "And it has to be a well-defined process."

Translation: It will take a long time. And it may take long enough that the opening of his story in Fortune last year might not read as funny as it did then. Not much has changed. If anything, it has gotten worse outside and inside as indicated from this internal memo sent to employees after the Financial Times had broke the story (hat tip: James Hibberd's The Live Feed)...

"As you know, our Company is committed to measuring across all screens – known in the industry as “three screens”: television, computer and mobile – as part of our long-term strategy. Over the last three years, we’ve invested more than a billion dollars in research and development as part of this effort. As with all of our measurement science, we’re working closely with our clients, whose input and engagement has been consistent and constructive.

You may have read the Financial Times article published late last week, or the subsequent articles appearing in a number of publications over the weekend, about the potential formation of a new three-screen consortium. While our Company policy is not to respond to speculation or future announcements, we have been in direct contact with many of our clients, including some cited in the original article. Much of what was reported by the Financial Times remains unclear, and many of our clients are themselves looking for answers to questions raised by the story. What is clear, however, is that three-screen measurement is at the center of our strategy. Just as clear is the commitment of some of our largest clients who have recently renewed multi-year contracts with us for television, online, mobile and other measurement services.

We continue to move forward helping our clients understand and measure media consumption anytime, anywhere."

Of course, nobody would have understand media measurement if, you know, Nielsen could count everyone. You know, like Arbitron (no, not seriously).

Monday, August 17

Targeting Behavior: YuMe

Most advertisers are already familiar with YuMe for its video ad management platform. Basically, advertisers can purchase space — power rolls, click to videos, overlays, tickers, sponsorships, pre-roll, etc. — on video streams provided by more than 500+ publishers.

Earlier today, YuMe announced its new partnership with Access, which is another advertising network that targets automotive consumers specifically. But what we found interesting about the news isn't the partnership as much as the reasoning behind it — behavioral tracking.

Behavioral Tracking Places Qualitative Over Quantitative.

Forget all the buzz about who has the most friends and followers, online advertising is beginning its slow shift away from the number of impressions and toward qualitative measures that lead to qualified buyers. The shift in thinking could eventually hasten the decline in traditional media, which tends to focus on volume over value. In fact, according to YuMe, the partnership was forged because of the company's ability to leverage data about the viewers' browsing behaviors, search histories and video consumption habits.

For example, Access will now have the opportunity to target video ads to viewers who have recently searched and compared vehicle prices online or searched for a specific car make and model. The concept is simple enough: reaching people with a specific interest is more powerful than reaching someone within a specific demographic.

This comes at a time when online video viewing has reached a record high. According to comScore, Inc., more than 157 million U.S. Internet users watched an average of 124 online videos (each) totaling an average of 453 minutes during the month of June. This represents more than 81.2 percent of the total U.S. Internet audience. Additional data:

• 111.8 million viewers watched 7.6 billion videos on (67.9 videos per viewer).
• 53.6 million viewers watched 524 million videos on (9.8 videos per viewer).
• The average visitor to Hulu watched 10.1 videos, totaling more than an hour of videos per visitor.

There Is One Caution In Behavioral Tracking...

Much of it touches on demand fulfillment. Demand creation is something else, entirely.

Friday, August 14

Understanding Emotion: Branding Beats Banners

There are several studies related to neuroscience (not marketing) being conducted that marketing professionals and other communicators might consider following anyway. Both of these studies touch on long-standing advertising rules; Rule 3 and Rule 7, specifically.

Study 1: How Emotions Connect To Memory.

The first study is being conducted by researchers at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine. The intent is to develop treatments to prevent and treat conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, but the findings may also be important to understanding communication, emotions, and memories.

Specifically, the study is finding that Protein Kinase C (PKC) is activated through the release of norepinephrine. When norepinephrine and glutamate arrive together, PKC gives them permission to create stronger memories.

As Ashok Hegde, Ph.D., an associate professor of neurobiology and anatomy and the lead investigator on the study, explains: when memory is stored in the brain, the connections between nerve cells, called synapses, change. Strong memories are formed when synapses become stronger through structural changes that occur at the synapse.

Where this may connect with communication is it helps demonstrate why some messages connect and others do not. A large amount of advertising, especially push marketing, never penetrates our natural filters because those messages never touch our emotional triggers (e.g., well-developed synapses), which represent some of our strongest memories.

Simply put, we tend to react to messages that are capable of piggybacking on established memories that help shape our emotions OR messages from a source (via a brand connection) that we already have an emotional attachment to. The latter exemplifies why social media works because our interaction with select people and companies creates emotional experiences (good, bad, or indifferent) and reinforces these synapses.

In the case of a banner ad, which generally doesn't have any emotional connection, for example, we mostly ignore it unless the person or company already has established a brand connection. Who knows? It might pinpoint why a company like McDonald's has such a powerful brand as it establishes and strengthens synapses throughout childhood.

Study 2: Why Interruption Advertising Is Losing Its Luster.

Meanwhile, neuroscientists at New York University are conducting some interesting studies on a group of monks and secular meditators to understand how our brains work. While the study is being conducted to better understand brain disorders such as stress, depression, Alzheimer’s, and autism, it may also unlock some practical applications for marketers and communicators.

Specifically, they are finding that average people are either conscious of the external world or their personal world (self-awareness), and alternate between the two. Scienceline describes the phenomenon by asking we "Imagine how concentrating on a situation in the present, like listening to a friend’s story or solving a math problem, can make you less self-aware — that is the pull of the external world. But then a lapse of focus creeps in, and you begin to wonder if you missed your doctor’s appointment this morning, or what you want to do on vacation next week — and you have felt the push into your inner world."

For marketers and communicators, the lesson to be learned is that if the goal is to reach the inner world then attempting to compete with an increasingly loud external world is much less effective. Using Scienceline's analogy, imagine several external world experiences competing for your attention. Some advertisers have come to believe that the only means to reach people is to create advertising that demands attention and some public relations professionals think that hyped news releases sell.

However, we know those tactics are not sustainable over the long term and, in general, do not reinforce a brand relationship. They cannot because they generally never reach people on an emotional level or break into the inner world. Specifically, the messages are being pushed at them.

This might also explain why social media tends to work well as a communication tool. People often search and find content because they begin with an inner world problem — they want to learn something, need to know something, etc. When they find the content, it tends to be more reflective and has a greater chance to establish an emotional bond. In a sense, that is the pull.

What do you think? Does communication that connects via the inner world have a much greater chance of creating an emotional experience that, in turn, stays in our memories much longer than interruption that commands our attention for a few moments of time? It seems to be.

Thursday, August 13

Misspeaking Costs Credibility: Health Care

With more than $263 million already spent on lobbying for health care, surpassing spending on all other issues this year without including what AARP reports as $1 million per day on advertising (with the health care bill outspending opponents 2-to-1), there are plenty of problems that might already be solved in the United States. Add to this the untold costs of the President and other proponents traveling across the United States to push the plan, and sometimes with disastrous results.

"AARP would not be endorsing a bill if it was undermining Medicare, okay?" — President Barack Obama

Except, AARP is not endorsing any bill. AARP is disgusted by all of it. And the misstatement of fact by the President, not once but several times, forced the silent observer to issue a correction to that statement.

"Indications that we have endorsed any of the major health care reform bills currently under consideration in Congress are inaccurate," Chief Operating Officer Tom Nelson said in a statement.

Polls also indicate that senior citizens largely disapprove of health care reform ideas so far. In fact, only 20 percent of seniors (and falling) believe any legislation currently proposed will improve their situation, and they represent the largest consumer of health care products in the United States with, in some cases, the most to lose. This is the worst news for the authors of the over-bloated legislation that touches areas that far exceed the intent of the sound bite almost all Americans agree on, especially the President who didn't misspeak once, but several times, in relation to health care.

"And that's one of the reasons that AARP is so supportive, because they see this as a way of potentially saving seniors a lot of money on prescription drugs. Okay? — President Barack Obama

No, not okay. Because AARP does not endorse any bill.

At the same time, that does not mean senior groups are thrilled with the overstatement of what part of one bill — "an explanation by the practitioner of the continuum of end-of-life services and supports available, including palliative care and hospice, and benefits for such services and supports that are available under this title.” — might mean. Again, sound bites are winning out over real solutions despite the fact that euthanasia and death panels are not specifically included in the bill.

But this blog isn't about health care. It's about communication. And the most recent example of miscommunication by the President, followed by the twisted remedy offered up by the White House press secretary.

"Well, the president said -- well, AARP has said they are certainly supportive and have been for years on comprehensive health reform. I don't think the president meant to imply anything untoward. I think he discussed the notion that AARP is supportive of -- or, I'm sorry, an agreement that would fund filling the doughnut hole for seniors as part of Medicare Part D, as well as additional savings for comprehensive health care reform." — Robert Gibbs

It's easy to see the spin in the sound bite as Gibbs reinforces the misstatement more than he offers up any clarification or correction such as either the President was unaware AARP isn't so supportive of a bill or he knowingly overreached. Gibbs then goes to add that "if you ask AARP this -- they have been supportive of comprehensive health care reform for a long time."

Not so right. The truth is most poll data reveals that 95 percent of Americans believe we need health care reform. What we don't agree on is how to do it. And what the majority of Americans are saying is that ANY existing bills being debated don't measure up. So while Gibbs can make that statement, it flies in the face of accuracy within the context.

Expect more of the same. As time wears on and these bills are bulldogged into some sort of misrepresentative statement such as "you're either for reform (and supporting this bill) or you are against it," we will see rhetoric become even thicker. Already, after the President, um, misspoke several times, the White House has decided to launch an e-mail campaign, supposedly to combat the increasingly "fishy" e-mails being pushed by people they describe as an angry mob.

Unfortunately, it seems, the so-called "angry mob" is also an overstatement in that it seems to consist of seniors, which leads many to believe that the political communication in this country is continuing its regression to a time when the rule of thumb: the message "must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over.” Even, and/or especially, if it is not true.

The net result is not always the same as it used to be, however. Misspeak too many times, out of ignorance or intention, and erosion will set in sooner or later. And that seems to be the case with health care propaganda, er, public relations.

Wednesday, August 12

Owning Social: Digital Readiness Report

According to the the 2009 Digital Readiness Report, public relations leads marketing in the management of social media communications channels whereas marketing leads in managing e-mail marketing and SEO. While the sampling size is relatively thin, it does track a greater trend in communication. People are wondering who owns social media.

According to the report, it says that public relations has taken the lead in 51 percent of all organizations compared to 40.5 percent where marketing leads. The balance belongs to a mix of executive management, IT, and other departments.

Other Highlights Related To 'Owning' Social.

• Public relations is responsible for blogging at 49 percent of all organizations; marketing is responsible for blogging at
22% of all organizations.

• Public relations is responsible for social networking at 48 percent of all organizations; marketing is responsible for social networking at 27 percent of all organizations.

• Public relations is responsible for micro-blogging (which can be best defined as message services) at 52 percent of all organizations; marketing is responsible for microblogging at 22 percent of all organizations.

Why Would Public Relations Want To Own Social?

As traditional media continues to die or shift toward digital convergence, what has become a priority function of public relations professionals — securing editorial space — is slipping away. Never mind that public relations ought to be something else, the impression measures have changed as editorial space and circulation have shrunk.

While it's almost odd to think that communication professionals who would sometimes snub bloggers seeking content just a few years ago would suddenly make a play for the space out of necessity, the profession is seeking new revenue streams. For some, it's not just about online space; it's about everything they consider "below the line," which includes marketing functions that also garner media attention.

If there is any truth to this trend, public relations professionals are trending toward communication generalists: professionals who always had to look at the big picture. Since there is some evidence to support that it is happening, the real question to start asking is whether or not most public relations professionals are ready. Jason Falls at Social Media Explorer says no.

If There Is Confusion, It's Because Nobody Owns Social.

Although every spring and a few other times a year at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, I make the case that public relations professionals need to learn social media skill sets with increasing frequency and veracity to such a degree that class has evolved well beyond any textbook available, the truth is that nobody owns social media. Simply put, if there was ever a communication channel that required integration, this is it.

Tomorrow's communication professional needs skill sets that are not being taught as part of the curriculum because communication has largely become as departmentalized at universities as it has within many major corporations. Marketing emphasizes the classic strategies that businesses understand; advertising focuses on the creative properties of communication; public relations teaches how to reach the media (and hopefully other publics beyond that).

Meanwhile, most major companies then begin to split it up further, delegating some to IT, human resources, corporate communication, government affairs, investor relations, community relations, social media, front line sales, customer service, and so on and so forth. (Never mind that content development requires some strong editorial skills too.) And, often times, all of these departments work in specialized silos where the objective sometimes becomes dominating other departments instead of, you know, working to meet the objectives of the company.

So is there any wonder why companies are confused about social media?

Social media touches, crosses into, influences, and impacts all of these areas. And the percentage of professionals who understand this represent about a fraction of one percent (written for effect, and not a currently proven statistical truism). Worse, some relations professionals, at least in this market, are taking their social media training from some "social media experts" who have managed to make a splash online for themselves despite having no experience in communication.

There are, generally, people who say things like never mind conversations, jump in anyway. The result? We all have a better chance of reaching other communication-related professionals on Twitter than we ever have of reaching everyday consumers because the conversation is dominated by people in the field. (Don't get me wrong. I like Twitter, but it is not representative of an entire population of people who might care about every product.) That works for why I use Twitter. It does not nor will it work for some of our clients.

More importantly, platform training does not equal social media skill sets. Social media or social marketing or social networking or any of it is much more situational in setting objectives, developing content, and implementing strategies.

Until companies, and perhaps public relations professionals or whomever operates within the space understand this, executives will continue to be surprised to watch their stock fall away because the intern charged with making friends on the Internet entered a forum discussion about how many cell phones were being returned because they failed to meet expectations.

That's right. It doesn't matter how big your public relations firm is when that happens. Just saying. It happens. And it will continue to happen until communication becomes integrated.

Tuesday, August 11

Being Generic: RadioShack Becomes The Shack

When most people talk about "The Shack," they are probably talking about the controversial book by Paul Young, except in Santa Monica.

In Santa Monica, "The Shack" probably means a place to party with wings, burgers, and other things, except basketball.

If you mention "The Shaq" within a context even close to sports, social networks, or down-to-earth celebrity, there can be only one.

And yet, for the strange oddball "rebranding" reason, RadioShack, an international chain of electronics retail stores, hopes to break into millions of brains and reshuffle their indexing system. When we hear "The Shack," they want us to think about them.

Ironically, the abrupt identity change last week has done more to reinforce the electronics chain as an out-of-touch brand.

Although the company's push claims to be a "legacy" brand trying to put a cool, hip spin on itself, "The Shack" is about as hip and cool as being called "Siffy" or forgetting that the orange juice you make is not from concentrate. Worse, the communication plan calls for the company to retain "RadioShack" signage on retail stores in an effort to "hold onto its brand heritage and attract more tech-savvy shoppers."

Brand heritage? They must be kidding.

Not only are the dual objectives in conflict, but one can easily argue that RadioShack's brand image is what earned it an "F" from the Better Business Bureau (BBB) last April. Since, it has made amends with the BBB to receive the much better grade of "C-."

If they really wanted to capture any semblance of brand heritage, they would have to go all the way back to the days when Isaac Assimov endorsed them or well before the near-bankruptcy that convinced the Tandy Corporation to buy them in 1962. Back then, "Realistic" meant exactly what it meant. It meant "generic," which is exactly why all the other brand names — Presidian, Accurian, Optimus, Enercell — that RadioShack has invented have never become household names when compared to any number of greats like Kenwood, Pioneer, JBL, Bose, and a host of others.

A campaign launch on Times Square has about enough chance to change that as passing out T-shirts to employees and calling it an internal rebranding effort designed to change corporate culture. A much more appropriate T-shirt would have read: "My employer spent $200 million on rebranding and all I got was this lousy T-shirt." And on the back: "And a travel mug. Oh boy."

The truth about names and branding is branding better come first.

It's really very simple. Branding makes a name. Naming does not make a brand.

RadioShack's half-hearted rebranding campaign "Our friends call us The Shack," complete with an ugly thumb, is not likely to recapture the $1 billion in lost revenue over the last four years. If anything, it's likely to accelerate the problem created by inflated pricing, lackluster customer service, and "it's stupid" being the most common consumer reaction to the new campaign. If RadioShack wants to save itself before it goes belly up like Circuit City, the most obvious first step is to retool the entire company starting with the people who thought "The Shack" was a good idea.

It seems clear enough that not everyone liked it. If they did, "The Shack" wouldn't be a campaign nickname. It would be the new name. But even if they did commit, it would still have a long way to go before advertising could reverse the mess they made of a once viable company. Nowadays, the only distinguishing feature for this defunct company seems to be that it is a defunct company.

After all, while Best Buy isn't everyone's favorite big box electronics retailer, it does have an image that beat The Shack on price and people some years ago. Meanwhile, Fry's Electronics seems to have the stronger position on staffing knowledgeable people and offering a diversified product. While those two are among the best known, there are more than two dozen other retailers looking to make the The Shack nothing more than a stepping stone for their success.

Want more about The Shack attack? It's not pretty.

"Radio Shack rebranding to 'The Shack'?" by Joshua Topolsky for engadget.

""Yeah, RadioShack is turning into the Shack" by John Biggs for CrunchGear.

"Bringing Down The Shack" by Blake Howard for Matchblog.

"RadioShack, er, the Shack makes its case for relevancy" by Dan Neil for The Los Angeles Times.

"Radio Shack rebranding: Why? Why!?" by John Biggs for CrunchGear.

Monday, August 10

Seeing The Future: Cellular South

If you want to see a glimpse of things to come, Cellular South might provide a stellar example. Its new integrated sports programming initiative is hyper-local and mobile.

"Y'all vs. Us" features original programming around five of the South's biggest high school football rivalries. In addition to television broadcasts of the five biggest rivalry games, the initiative includes a 10-episode television reality series following two rival high school football coaching staffs throughout the 2009 season and a five-episode documentary series telling the story behind each featured rivalry game.

Why "Y'all vs. Us" Might Work

• It features original, professional content provided by a sponsor without being about the sponsor.
• It targets specific hyper-local events with very specific audiences who are serious stakeholders.
• It is augmented by user-generated content, contests, and education-related mobile Web engagement.
• It is exceptionally mobile, but also includes multi-channel reach, including broadcast and online programs.
• It expands content to include a mobile version of each school's Web site, and complete calendar of events.

"Some of the biggest grudge matches aren't always played on Saturday or Sunday in college and professional football games," said Dr. Ennis Proctor, executive director of the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA), which helped identify 10 teams that would be highlighted during the season. "They're played in high school football games and pit the collective community pride of entire towns and cities against one another for regional bragging rights."

While Cellular South sees the initiative as a way to give parents, student-athletes, teachers, and fans new and creative ways to interact with the company, the initiative also celebrates historic high school football rivalries (content people want to see).

Cellular South is tying in its educational outreach program, Cellular South's Gameplan, which is a statewide education initiative designed and funded by the company to inspire, prepare and inform the state's 90,000 high school student-athletes about the possibilities of reaching their dreams through academic excellence.

Young & Rubicam (Y&R) New York is credited as being instrumental in the creation of the concept (making us wonder how Forrester Research missed it before handing out agency awards). It will serve as the executive producer of the program and is responsible for an integrated campaign that will reach beyond the initiative. If the concept is successful, broadcasters, newspapers, and other carriers ought to shake their heads in wonderment and ask "why didn't we think of that?"

Good question. We've been tracking the trend in this direction since AT&T launched U-verse in 2006. Back then, we asked, "how hard do you think it would be for [blank] to add a channel with convenient and/or exclusive content (complete with user engagement) to create another unique selling point?"

Three years later, another company, Cellular South, comes up with the answer. This is one to watch.

Friday, August 7

Fearing Social Media: Executives

According to a new survey by Minneapolis-based Russell Herder and Ethos Business Law, fear continues to underpin companies considering social media.

• 51 percent percent of executives fear it will be detrimental to employee productivity.
• 49 percent fear that participation will likely damage company reputation.

Among companies that have not considered social media as part of their communication plan, it's much the same.

• 51 percent said they did not know enough.
• 40 percent said they are concerned with confidentiality or security.
• 37 percent said they worry it will be detrimental to employee productivity.

The reality of misplaced fear in the modern workplace.

As the adoption rate of social media as a critical component of any communication plan increases, all the attention seems to have catapulted social media to the top of many corporate fear factor lists. And, with the recent ban by the U.S. Marines, considering it the number one concern for decision makers certainly feels justified. Or is it?

While our company has long maintained fear itself is the underlying cause of most corporate meltdowns and lackluster results, placing social media at the top of the corporate fear list is preposterous. Here are the leading causes for lost employee productivity, reputation damage, and security threats:

• According to the Annals of the American Psychotherapy Association, low employee morale and depression are the leading cause of lost employee productivity.
• According to an abstract by Elsevier Ltd. and several other studies, management credibility is the leading cause of reputation damage among companies.
• According to several studies by Deloitte, human error remains the leading cause of security threats over technology, with employee misconduct being the number one concern.

Are any social media fears justified on any level?

Not knowing enough about social media may be temporarily justifiable for slow moving companies (as too many jump in without any semblance of a plan), but the root cause for all other fears — productivity issues, reputation damage, and security threats — are almost always symptoms of internal communication problems and/or bad management.

In other words, the reason for not engaging in social media might even communicate more about a company or organization than had they ever engaged in the first place. How about your organization?

Thursday, August 6

Smelling Fish: The White House

As an award-winning former campaign and political reporter with experience covering the Enron scandal in 2002 turned senior campaign advisor for the Obama campaign, Linda Douglas told Media Bistro that "my intention is that I won't spin … I absolutely vow that I will tell the truth.”

Unfortunately, it seems something happened on her way to the White House.

As communications director for the administration’s Health Reform Office, Douglas seems to be employing the White House's handicapped communication channel as a means for little more than pushing back against citizen dissent. In fact, her communication team suggests taking it one step further, asking everyday citizens to tattle on their friends, family, and neighbors to the government.

"There is a lot of disinformation about health insurance reform out there, spanning from control of personal finances to end of life care. These rumors often travel just below the surface via chain emails or through casual conversation. Since we can’t keep track of all of them here at the White House, we’re asking for your help. If you get an email or see something on the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy, send it to" — The White House

While the post was penned by Macon Phillips, the White House director of new media who oversees, which nowadays is closely coordinated with Internet operations at the Democratic National Committee instead of the American people, Douglas' late response to Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn's appropriately scathing letter clearly places credit where credit is due.

"There is a lot of misinformation about health insurance reform circulating on the internet and elsewhere. Some of it is intentionally misleading,” Douglas responded in an e-mail. “We want to be sure people have the facts about health insurance reform that will lower costs, protect consumers from insurance regulations that deny them coverage and assure quality and affordable health care for all Americans. We are not compiling lists or sources of information. We may post fact checks from time to time to be sure Americans know the truth about health insurance reform.”

By fact checks, Douglas seems to be referring to sound bites like those she used in her video appearance, placing what President Obama has said over what may or may not be included in any legislation. Specifically, she cites speeches where Obama has said that "if you like your insurance plan, your doctor, or both, you will be able to keep them."

However, that bit of misinformation has already been vetted as inaccurate by media outlets like Investor's Business Daily because "Those who currently have private individual coverage won't be able to change it. Nor will those who leave a company to work for themselves be free to buy individual plans from private carriers." Given how often employees change jobs, the likelihood you won't automatically be enrolled at some point seems painfully obvious. And, worse, once you are in the grips of it, leaving seems likely to be reminiscent of the lyrics to "Hotel California."

But all that aside, the real communication debacle that Douglas will forever regret is allowing any mention of asking citizens to collect and report "fishy" communication, which takes us all the way back to McCarthy-era politics except without the benefit of Edward R. Murrow. Someone needs to share with Douglas the lessons learned from the past, taught by journalists who didn't trade their hats for political hocus pocus.

We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men. [...] We proclaim ourselves, as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom, wherever it continues to exist in the world, but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home. — Edward R. Murrow, See It Now

Murrow might have been talking about a time when external threats struck fear into the hearts of the people, but they apply equally well when peddling fear seems to be quickly becoming a pastime for White House politics, a place that ought to represent its owners (the American people) over political agendas.

That's right. Elected officials merely borrow the space. They do not own it outright.

And if that idea sounds fishy to you, feel free to submit this post to be scrutinized and "fact checked" by government staffers who are paid with your tax money to support the plan you may not even want. Maybe they'll learn something, even if it is something as simple as how one heavy-handed post in social media tends to erode credibility at a faster pace.

Americans have a right to express themselves publicly and ought to retain the right to express themselves privately, without fear that mere opinions may be reported to the government. Truly, if Douglas didn't want to know the sources, she ought to have suggested people ask questions about sections they might be confused about rather than submitting "sources" so they could be corrected.

What's the difference? The difference is communication intent. One request may seek to clarify (even if that clarification is spun up by professionals) while the other smacks of collusion.

What's the cost to White House credibility? When I mentioned the White House post during a presentation in a room full of people with mixed political leanings, they all raised their hands with the hope that the government might add their names too.

Wednesday, August 5

Exploring Social Media Semantics: Falls

Jason Falls, principal of Social Media Explorer LLC, presented a potential challenge with social media: not everyone who practices it is comfortable with the term. And while many carry similar definitions, few have embraced the same definition.

The good news is that it doesn't matter when people listen. The bad news is people don't always listen, which can confuse the professional arena (probably not the personal arena because, frankly, most people don't care) much like there is ample confusion over public relations, with its varied definitions and even more practices.

The reason it doesn't matter is because as long as Falls defines it before speaking about it, we all know what he means.

Social Media can be best described as mediums, mostly on the Internet, that allow users to add or generate content to published works, creating conversations and sharing around the content and conversations. — Jason Falls

It's similar to the definition I use prior to presentations. Yet, as similar as they are, the two meanings eventually diverge.

Social media describes online technologies that people use to share content, opinions, insights, experiences perspectives, and media. — Richard Becker

The good news is that it doesn't matter because I listen (and so does Falls). So when Falls says that "A blog doesn’t qualify as social media unless the ability to comment is enabled," I understand where he is coming from even though my construct absolutely allows for blogs to disallow comments and still qualify as social media because any conversations about the content can still happen anywhere — on forums, message services, and whatnot.

The bad news is that most people, clients and even some colleagues, don't listen, which is why so many companies hire public relations firms to do nothing more than media relations. And, it's also why a design studio in my market recently adopted the term "integrated communication" when in fact all they mean is that they can make their various designs all look the same. (Integrated communication means something much different to me, and I hope to you too.)

While the challenge might be semantics, the real blame belongs to whatever point at which bad marketing intersects a living language.

For example, once upon a time, "blogs" were really "web logs" until the population employing them abbreviated the name as they will and do. Corporate marketers and executives, which loathe the name for no other reason than it sounds bad, came too late to change it (even though several have tried unsuccessfully to do so since).

They did, however, find some wiggle room as blogs failed to define other channels of communication online, which the online population described as "new media." Corporate marketers and many company executives didn't really like the term new media either, and successfully repositioned it as "social media" on the basis that "new media" wouldn't have a name when it became old. Since, we've seen social media called anything and everything from social computing to collaborative marketing (eek), with reasons that range from trying to create a better definition to less admirable attempts to highjack the coining credit.

All of this has been going for a very long time. It will continue to do so, which is why I generally stay out of the name game. Let whomever call it whatever they want. As long as people who listen take the time to discuss definitions, it will all work out.

The reality is over the long haul, I don't expect the term social media to survive as it will eventually be absorbed into integrated communication (which is okay, even though I prefer the strategic communication umbrella better. Not that it is up to me). But for now, social media works because most people understand it, especially when it is defined as simply as possible.

As for my presentation definition, that is the intent. After I define social media, I break it down a bit further. The media part means online technologies. The social part means people. Because at the end of the day, that is all there is.

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