Saturday, May 30

Reviewing Reviewers: What Goes Up


It’s been interesting to watch the mix of reviews popping up for the indie film that we’ve helped release during the last few weeks. And, I might underscore interesting because I have better than a decade in as a professional entertainment reviewer and editor.

The very worst of them mixed up Olivia Thirlby and Molly Shannon, but the rest claiming this film was "seeking some raw truth" weren’t all that either. It made me think for a moment, after missing a few posts in favor of doing work on the premiere in Los Angeles, that it might be fun to review some of these reviewers, while correcting the most glaring inaccuracies along the way…

For example, New York-based film critic Ethan Alter, writing for the Hollywood Reporter, complains about a student caught by his mother while having anal sex with a crippled classmate. Except, we can’t be sure what fantasy he was having during the film. There is no sodomy to speak of. The best guess around the office is that he doesn’t know more positions than missionary, which means his claim that he spends “way too much time in movie theaters” might be right. Add to the misfortune that he only sees the movie being played out in one formulaic way or another, and we think it's probably best that he take a break from living through the lens of others. Reviewer Grade: F

Next time around, we suggest Alter look over the shoulder of Janelle Tipton with Back Stage. She said the same scene Alter loathes is the one she found a little bit of sweetness in, writing that the “development of these two characters and their relationship turns out to be something we wish had been the whole point of this otherwise frustrating film.” She may not have liked the film, but at least she paid attention for her readers. Reviewer Grade: B-

Brian Lowery, writing for Variety, on the other hand, skews more to Alter's angle as he never seems to recover from bemoaning that somehow this was a film that makes a statement against journalists, opening with “As if journalism hasn't suffered enough of late…” Have they suffered? Then there seems to be plenty of suffering to go around as Lowery pens a review that won’t help him ever make the leap from a small screen reviewer to a big screen stringer. Better luck next time. Reviewer Grade C

Ken Miller, writing for Las Vegas Weekly, criticized the film for “the 11th-hour suggestion that the teacher was murdered.” He calls that ludicrous, which can also be said about his claim. There is no suggestion of murder beyond a not-to-be-taken-literally drawing by teenagers that places the blame on the self-righteousness of a flawed small-minded teacher. If accuracy matters, then Miller is destined to stay with the local weeklies. Reviewer grade: D

A much better Las Vegas-based review comes from Carol Cling with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and then picked up by the California Chronicle. Cling is critical that the movie doesn’t provide filmgoers with any answers (despite other reviewers who claim it pretentiously does), but goes on to share that “there's also something endearing -- and, occasionally, achingly poignant -- about "What Goes Up" and its gallery of valiant misfits.” Her review runs straight down the middle. And even though it’s not glowing, it’s everything you expect a review to be. Reviewer Grade: A

Tom O’Neil, writing for a Los Angeles Times blog (not the paper, mind you) shows us everything a review ought not be. He strikes up predetermined chatter by claiming Hilary Duff could land a Razzie for this performance, which is untrue. And then, for fear of standing up for his opinion, he goes on to find the harshest quotes in three of the harder reviews to prove his position. While some didn’t care for Duff in the film, others like Lowery did. No matter. We couldn’t read his review in full because a Kentucky Grilled Chicken ad kept popping up in front of his skewed prose. As much as I hate pop-up ads with dancing people, I realize now that the ad that earned an F was a step up from what he wrote. Heck, O’Neil didn’t even get the DVD release date right. Reviewer Grade: F-

The contrast is made even more clear when you compare O’Neil’s review to another on the opposite coast. Manohla Dargis, writing for The New York Times, was critical, but rightly so. She points out that director Glatzer “seems to be trying to say something critical about America and heroism (the cartoonish musical suggests as much); at other times he appears to be embracing the very values he previously lampooned.” Is it any wonder Dargis is writing for The New York Times and some others are not? And I'm not just saying that over Dargis' lead line that starts ... “There’s some nice filmmaking tucked inside “What Goes Up” a muddle of moods and intentions.” Reviewer grade: B+

All in all, the reviews for What Goes Up have been mixed, which ought to be a sign how bad algorithm sites like Metacritic lack. While it attempts to consolidate reviews, its point system is more of a mess than Chicago Tribune critic Michael Phillips' pointlessness and writing style. Metacritic gave The Onion review 30 points despite a fair lead line that starts “Jonathan Glatzer’s directorial debut What Goes Up is a quirky-small-town dramedy that just barely avoids the “overly cutesy” and “self-indulgently melancholy” traps that snare so many indies.” Seems more like a 60 or better to me.

ONTD does much of the same. Not only was it the only other site to rip O’Neil (go figure), but it also trumped up all the negative reviews while bypassing any positive ones found on Gordon and the Whale, Salon, and UGO.

Speaking of UGO.com, Alex Dorn nails my thoughts about this film perfectly as he concludes — “If … you like your comedies pitch black, as I do, you will enjoy this dark little jewel.”

Add it all up and What Goes Up gets a healthy mix of good, bad, and in the middle. That’s not bad for a film that was destined for a DVD release only a few months ago. But even more important than what the reviewers said or didn’t say is the obvious — the only reviews that count are from patrons. So far, most people that we’ve talked to either liked it or loved it.

Suffice to say that my take is simple. If you want a different film than the usual done-to-death releases, What Goes Up is it. If you prefer pretty, perfect, or packaged films, then you probably won’t enjoy it. It’s not that kind of film, which is why I did like the theatrical release and wish more people could see it because the DVD release will be different by a few critical minutes.

In closing, I have one final thought for critics who continually attack studio films for being formula and then attack the indies for not being formula: you're not a critic at all. Somewhere along the way, you've given in to becoming a cynic taken in by your own cleverness. And maybe, just maybe, more folks ought to review your reviews more often.

Tuesday, May 26

Dunking Public Relations: Raymond Ridder


Last Thursday, Raymond Ridder, media relations director for the Warriors, was caught posting pro-Warriors points of view as "The Flunkster Dude" on a non-franchise fan site. Once caught, his antics eventually drew a scathing response from James Venes aptly titled "The Art of Deception" on WarriorsWorld.net.

"Immediately, expectedly, the site went into an uproar over someone caught with his hand in the cookie jar, someone from the team coming in to push a pro-Warriors point of view, likely an intern too dumb to find one of the dozen Starbucks in Oakland with wifi access (trust me, I checked) to at least post without it tracing back to HQ. Oops. Big time oops," wrote Venes, before sharing how disappointed the fans were to learn the truth.

Today, it was Ray Ratto of the San Francisco Chronicle leading with the headline "Warriors brass are all Flunkster Dudes" and advising management to throw themselves on the mercy of public opinion. And so, the social media debacle has apparently moved mainstream.

"It was a laughably bad idea, with the deserved result. Then again, what good ideas are there in selling a team run as the Warriors are? How do you make a team that has missed the playoffs 14 of 15 times seem progressive and clever?" asked Ratto.

Ratto goes on to highlight just how bad public perception of the team has become, including the owner's last appearance when he was booed at the Oakland All-Star Game while standing next to his young son and giving an award to Michael Jordan; a club president who apparently wants to come across as humorless, stiff, aggressive and power hungry; and a head coach who chants "I'm not in charge" while being in charge. Ouch.

Managers Have Less To Be Concerned About Employees Than Themselves.

On the same day Ridder was masquerading as an All-Star fan, we were posting a Deloitte survey that revealed as much as 60 percent of managers believe that businesses have a right to know how employees portray themselves or their companies on sites like Facebook and MySpace. It seems apparent that managers have more to be concerned about their own behavior; public relations professionals too.

If we accept that Phil Dusenberry, former chairman of BBDO Worldwide, was right — that the "brand is the relationship between a product and its customer” — than faking posts and comments seems like an awful way to treat that relationship. Very little can be gained, even in the case of Ridder's apparent granny throw from midcourt.

Attempting to insert exclusively "pro" fake comments (or any fake comments) into an online crowd generally strengthens the resolve of the opposing viewpoint if no one finds out. And, if they do find out (and they often do), it is almost always disastrous, much more so than any unhappy fans can dream up.

So the fear factor for companies worried about what employees might say online may have nothing to do with what they say as themselves and everything to do with the great lengths some will go to remain anonymous for good, bad, or any other reason.

Fans are surprisingly forgiving, but nobody likes to be lied to. Tell them the truth. If you don't, you're likely to become the poster child for posers. And today, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, that honor seems to belong to Ridder and the Warriors' brass in the NBA. They might as well wear it proudly; it can only get better from there.

Monday, May 25

Sharing Silence: Memorial Day


Sailor and girl at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Washington, D.C. Memorial Day, 1943. (Credit: John Collier)

Friday, May 22

Misunderstanding Intent: Communication Today


There is a fascinating post over at The Notorious R.O.B. that discusses some initial reservations with Todd Carpenter becoming the social media manager for the National Association of REALTORS. In the post, Rob Hahn describes those early reservations as associated with what he believed would be an impending shift from open communication to message control.

For the controversy over the MLS data and Google, I highly recommend the read. It's one of the most pressing issues in real estate today. However, this time around, I was reading the post for another reason all together. Hahn goes into some detail regarding message control and openness that seems to be a reoccurring conversation in social media.

"The overwhelming temptation for any company or organization that suddenly finds itself in the middle of a brewing (or full-blown) controversy is to lockdown message control. One person, typically the person in charge of Corporate Communication, speaks for the organization, and all inquiries are referred to that person. Behind the scenes, PR consultants, staff, lawyers, and other executives get into meeting after meeting to work out what will be said, how it will be said, and by whom. Once the message has been polished to a high gloss, it is put out to the world with extreme care."

Message control? Not really.

One of stories I like to share in my public relations class recounts how a local homebuilder initially reacted when a news station called after a handicapped woman complained that the homebuilder had violated the American Disabilities Act (ADA) after removing a ramp near a community mailbox near her home. The owners, who were on vacation, gave very clear instructions to their marketing manager.

"If the media calls, say no comment. If they come by, lock the doors."

Fortunately, the manager asked for support instead. Within a few minutes, all the details of what seemed like a pending news story were laid out on the table. The homebuilder hadn't done anything more than temporarily remove the makeshift ramp at the request of the city to meet municipal codes. The builder had notified the homeowner on three occasions. The homeowner would still be able to get her mail, with an access point just a little further away.

When the marketing manager followed up with the reporter, they agreed there wasn't a story.

"We ran an ADA story the other day, which typically invites call-ins. Most them aren't stories," said the reporter.

There seems to be a lot of confusion these days about what constitutes message control and message management and open communication. The reality is that open communication can be managed. It's just the simple matter of everyone having access to the facts, as they eventually did in the story above. And yes, that did require various professionals to lend their insight.

The point being that open communication can often be successfully managed without control or spin. It doesn't require manipulation as much as it requires all communicating parties have the same facts. In fact, if they did, I doubt management would be so worried about employee communication online.

The reality is that there is no message control and there never really was. Lately, it seems, social media is frequently blamed when otherwise good brands get put in a negative light. But brands were being put in a negative light long before social media. The only difference was that the writers were journalists (and sometimes they still are).

If there is any takeaway today, it's simply that message control almost always consists of hiding the truth or deflecting from the facts. Message management, on the other hand, is a form of open communication that works to ensure the facts are considered in lieu of erroneous opinions. In other words, intent helps sort out the difference between authenticity (which Seth Godin mistakes as consistency) and transparency.

In fact, if more people understood the basic tenets of public relations and communication, there would probably be far fewer social media fails. Well, maybe.

Thursday, May 21

Policing Employees: Not Today; Tomorrow


According to a new Deloitte survey recently featured on The Wall Street Journal blogs, 60 percent of managers believe that businesses have a right to know how employees portray themselves or their companies on sites like Facebook and MySpace.

“While the decision to post videos, pictures, thoughts, experiences and observations is personal, a single act can create far reaching ethical consequences for individuals as well as employers," said Sharon Allen, chairman of the board, Deloitte LLP. "Therefore, it is important for executives to be mindful of the implications of this connected world and to elevate the discussion about the risks associated with it to the highest levels of leadership.”

The percentage is lower among employees but still significant. Forty-seven percent believed those managers might be right. However, that number dropped to 37 percent among workers ages 18-34.

It still raises an interesting question. Where does employer representation end and personal privacy end online? And can policing employee behavior backfire when breaches in ethical behavior or common sense are still dependent on titles? After all, the Domino's employees were fired. Yet John Mackey still helms Whole Foods.

Employees are currently left alone to figure it out

• 27% of employees said their companies talk about leveraging social media.
• 22% of employees said their companies have formal guidelines for their use.
• 22% of employees said their leadership team uses social networking to communicate.
• 17% of employees said their company has a program to monitor and mitigate risks.

Still, employees are aware their behavior can damage their companies. Seventy-four percent said it's easy online. For the full report, visit here. What do you think?

Wednesday, May 20

Sharing New Wisdom: Fr Federico Lombardi SJ


"One of the biggest challenges facing us at present is that of interactivity, and, I would say, of 'positive interactivity'... In recent years the Internet has been for us an important tool that has made it possible for us to deliver content to countless users of all kinds. Now, however, the reality of the situation that is emerging is one in which the great thing is not simply content distribution, but greater and greater interactivity." — Fr Federico Lombardi SJ

While sometimes dismissed by business, government, and nonprofit organizations, the Catholic Communications Network issued a release yesterday that speaks volumes about the viability of new communication. In fact, Fr Lombardi, rather than considering the Internet a means to spread a message across the Internet, suggests something that has long been held true by the best participants.

It's about engagement.

The release includes Fr Lombardi's entire lecture to an audience of media professionals at Allen Hall at the Diocese of Westminster’s seminary and a PDF that outlines dozens of key points. Of note, Fr Lombardi offers how the press office had shown him how there is a need to establish a more organic and constructive dialogue and exchange "between the communications organs of the Holy See and today’s world of social communications — for today’s world is rapidly becoming something vastly different from what it was when my generation first experienced it."

He is exactly right. And while his message may be a message of communicating faith, there is a secondary message that resonates with anyone interested in online communication. One of several standout sections includes the six faces of its abuse. Paraphrased here:

• The face of falsehood, more or less explicit, and often mixed with half-truths.
• The face of pride, of self-referencing and self-centeredness that refuses to listen to other positions.
• The face of oppression and injustice, which denies others the freedom to gather information and give expression.
• The face of debauched sensuality that seeks to use and possess, respecting neither the body nor the image of the other.
• The face of escapism, which seeks refuge in imaginary or virtual worlds, completely subverts the purpose of social media.
• The face of division, which seeks to demolish dialogue, to undermine all efforts at mutual understanding among people.

However, despite the obvious shortcomings, which resemble those long noted by several communicators who employ social media, Fr Lombardi tempers his observations by conveying that new communication requires that we look for those roads [using social media] which will be beneficial for everyone. And, in conclusion, he finds the perfect statement to sum up his thoughts.

"The changes that have taken place in social communications during recent years and decades are obvious to all who have ears to hear and eyes to see." — Fr Federico Lombardi SJ

Tuesday, May 19

Selling Cheap: Microsoft Laptops


"It would be very unusual for Microsoft's score to be increasing this much and Apple's to be decreasing without some sort of event driving that, like a major campaign that's particularly successful." — Ted Marzilli, global managing director for BrandIndex at consumer polling service YouGov

That campaign, according to Adweek, would be Microsoft's new "Laptop Hunters," which targets Apple's value perception. Specifically, the campaign asks people if they "can find everything they're looking for in a laptop for less than $1,000, the marketer will pay for the computer."

While the "Laptop Hunters" seems to be resonating with mass media, online consumers are another matter. "Laptop Hunters" commercials score two-and-a-half to three stars, which is still a dramatic step up from Song Smith. In fact, the only one enjoyed by YouTubers seems to be the spoof commercial; it scores four-and-a-half stars for featuring a homeless man who reluctantly takes the free PC.

YouTubers are not the only ones in disbelief over the BrandIndex assessment. The comment section in the AdAge story demonstrates real push back. But maybe that's because some of them already know that Microsoft recommends a laptop over the $1,000 for any designer. And, designers seem to be pointed toward the lowest end models. For gamers, Microsoft recommends a $1,899 laptop. For "Jetsetters," $1099. For "socialites," $1,499. For "all around," $1,999.

So who do they really expect to find the perfect laptop for under $1,000? Parents. They seem to be the only ones that Microsoft would recommend a laptop for $699 as configured, because parents must not do any of those other things that Microsoft mentioned above.

Monday, May 18

Sharing Quietly: Bloggers Unite For Hunger And Hope


In Fernley, Nevada, the Fernley High School National Honor Society hosted a spaghetti dinner that allowed families to enjoy a meal for free or with an optional donation. Sixty families were served, and $300 donated to Heifer International.

In Elizabethtown, Kentucky, 70 students hosted a “llama mama” picnic, which capped off a series of events to raise money for Heifer International. They raised $3,270, which was matched by an unnamed donor. It's enough money to benefit 25 families.

In Kearney, Nebraska, a local third grade elementary class became inspired by "Beatrice's Goat," which is based on a true story. They raised almost $900 to help families purchase farm animals, like goats, with Heifer International.

Small contributions add up to surprising results.

They might never know of each other's donations, but all they all understand a common cause with Heifer International and programs like it. The same can be said for approximately 10,000 bloggers who shared stories, contributed funds, and encouraged programs with Bloggers Unite: Hunger and Hope, a joint initiative to raise awareness about world hunger and the hope provided by various organizations.

First Place.Bloggers Unite for Hunger and Hope At Home by Sarah Andrews. Although she serves as communication director for Meals on Wheels, the story about her grandfather who was homeless between the ages 10 to 17, is personal.

Second PlaceBeyond Feeding The Hungry: SAME Cafe of Denver by Karen Degroot Carter. In addition to sharing an inspirational story about the SAME Cafe, she reminds her readers that world hunger is always closer than we think.

Third PlaceWhy Mia Farrow Isn't The Only Hungry One from the Share Yoga blog. The post provides some insights, and then goes on to define karma yoga and the purpose of selfless service.

These three and thousands of other blogs — So there we were, Tripletly Blessed And Loving It, Ben Spark, Caffeinated Traveller, A Writer's Words, An Editor's Eye, Double Latte Mama's Blog, and Popview — were all among those that dedicated space to the issue of world hunger and means to make a difference. And while each shared their unique perspectives, thousands helped introduce hundreds of thousands to Heifer International.

Generosity has a surprising way of connecting people.

According to Nielsen, Heifer International received ten times the awareness on April 29 during its Pass On The Gift campaign. Does it make a difference? Watch the interview with Elizabeth Bintliff on "The Colbert Report."

Who's to say what contribution is too small or how far it might go? One post? One day? One dollar? One pig? If we all thought in "can't," then maybe goats would have never arrived in Zambia and pigs will still be needed in Tanzania. Fortunately, someone thought "can" and created the connections that make it happen.

For the students mentioned above, they've taken their first steps toward a lifelong legacy of giving. For the bloggers we've highlighted here, their stories can inspire for months. And for people like Lyell (pictured above) who can count on one time support, they have an opportunity to improve lives for generations. It just goes to show that generosity doesn't come in sizes as much as it comes in unseen connections.

"Real generosity is doing something nice for someone who will never find out." — Frank A. Clark

Friday, May 15

Releasing Indies: What Goes Up


When you're working against the clock on a theatrical release of an indie film, anything can happen and usually does. That was how James Hoke, executive producer with Three Kings Productions, described it last April.

One month later, I can attest to the fact that he is right. Much like life, it's filled with hits, misses, and unknowns.

The Three Kings film, What Goes Up, wasn't really known as 'What Goes Up' five weeks ago. And for the most part — despite Steve Coogan, Hilary Duff, Josh Peck, Olivia Thirlby, and Molly Shannon — it wasn't even known. Today, the film that will open in select cities on May 29 is known mostly through its growing groundswell.

The original model was different. Social media was meant to serve as a supporting mechanism for media engagement. And, right now, there are no less than 40 requests for interviews on the table being fielded by ten different public relations and marketing firms divided by region and product (film and soundtrack).

The bottleneck for success has become a function of scheduling (with Coogan wrapping his world tour; Duff walking for AIDS, which is close to our hearts; etc.) and possibly the earliest reviews.

Variety wasn't kind to the movie, making the film into some sort of statement against journalism. It isn't. But the review from Pete Hammond, at Hollywood.com, isn't up yet to provide a contrast.

'''What Goes Up' is a 2009 sleeper, a complete original, and definitely not your typical teen comedy. It's a darkly funny, wonderfully twisted story that marches to its own surprising beat. The entire cast is superb. Steve Coogan is perfect. Hilary Duff's seductive presence proves she's an actress to watch. Olivia Thirlby is a real find." — Pete Hammond, Hollywood.com

One of many fan comments we've read reinforces the idea. Teresa Reile from Buffalo, New York, where the film debuted at a film festival, called it "The Breakfast Club meets Mulholland Drive. It will become a cult classic!!" She nailed it.

As such, not every critic or moviegoer will get it or like it. Entertainment is like that. It's something I've known all too well after covering fan campaigns to save Jericho and Veronica Mars. The net result is the same. When traditional communication slows down, social media speeds up. Since fans are in the balance, we wanted to avoid making any them feel like Jericho or Veronica Mars fans did. It makes a difference.

Where social media has been hitting, missing, and providing unknowns.



If Geoff Livingston's post isn't enough evidence that social media is fluid, then 'What Goes Up' drives the point home. While the production blog provides a diary of sorts, the real interest remains on existing fan forums, Flickr, and YouTube. YouTube, specifically, delivered 200,000 views (building to 20,000 to 30,000 per day) before one of the unknowns happened.

The YouTube account was mistakenly suspended by an automated process. While one of the studios involved is making inquiries, there is no time to sort it out. So, in the interim, we shifted the cast interviews to Revver while setting up a new direct channel for the producer. It's a good thing we have a blog, which has helped facilitate the transition.

What can't be saved is the viral nature of the interviews, which were shared by several popular media sites, nor the basic nature of content that spreads. Much like Twitter followers, videos with 40,000 views attract more attention than videos with 40 views. No matter. Social media is situational. Each program is different. Yet, all of them require that you manage and move with it. You cannot control it (not that communication was ever controlled anyway).

For this program, some elements have worked better than others. Despite high engagement, Twitter is comparatively time intensive. Facebook much less so, because of the variety of communication methods, allowing us to message, post, share, and chat with fans on their terms. Like all of our components, we chose every network based on where fans wanted us to be and not where we wanted to be. And, if this was a long-term program, I would likely shed some components along the way.

When communication changes, the seven Fs still apply.

Yesterday, I mentioned the seven Fs. They apply to indie films. Perhaps they do even more so because we balance what we can share and what we cannot share about the soundtrack and the film every single day. We don't do it for us; we do it to prevent confusion.

While we would love to be transparent, transparency would have killed any sense of community long ago. Things change all the time, sometimes on an hourly basis given the intricacies and interests of many different stakeholders. Instead, we rely on authenticity, which means minimizing the steady state of changing communication and settling on those items that are least likely to change.

Sometimes things change after we report them, but minimizing any communication that changes and impacts people seems better than changing up the communication every five minutes or so. Even more important, when we do change the communication, we consider the obvious. They aren't just users, customers, consumers, or participants (even if we use those words as descriptors) — they are stakeholders, and some of them already "feel like family."

A couple of my colleagues told me they don't "get" everything we're doing. That's okay. We're not writing for them. We're working for our stakeholders, which in this case are fans. As Valeria Maltoni might say, we always were. And, we always will be.

Thursday, May 14

Managing Messages: Seven Fs


One of the best contributions Joanna Blockey, ABC, a communication specialist for Southwest Gas Corporation, lends to my class every year is the seven Fs of employee communication. I found myself thinking about them yesterday as they related to the Twitter misfire and other communication failures in social media.

While some people might wonder what social networks could possibly learn from employee relations, it seems clear enough to me. Participants engaged in a social network develop a sense of community. And, like any community, they aren't just users, customers, consumers, or participants (even if we use those words as descriptors). They are stakeholders. They are much more closely aligned to employees or residents or investors than loosely connected customers casually using a service. (Even if they use it for free.)

Social network members shape the communities in which they participate.

They invite people to join. They promote the network. They keep people engaged. They drive the conversations. They report the violations. They develop unique ways to expand the intended services. They make investments. And, they deserve the same seven Fs that Blockey prescribes for internal communication.

1. First. Be the source of information for your community. Report any news first.

2. Fast. Respond to feedback quickly, effectively, and in a timely manner. Share information fast.

3. Fair. Not all news is good news, but even bad news can be fair. Empathy remains one of most often missed ingredients in communication.

4. Focused. Attempting to sidestep pressing issues in favor of the frivolous is not much different than AstroTurf. Communication deserves to be prioritized.

5. Friendly. Sarcasm is sometimes warranted, but mean-spirited personal attacks never resonate. It doesn't resonate with those attacked nor anyone watching.

6. Factual. Make sure the information is factual. Sure, sometimes things change, but they tend to change less when facts are reported in the first place.

7. Follow Up. Communication is warranted until the stakeholders are satisfied. If they have more questions, answer them and offer time lines for updates.

This might seem overly simple to some, but the fundamentals are sound. After all, whether you call them tribes or communities or online customers, they don't follow as much as they develop relationships that some even define "like a family."

Wednesday, May 13

Twittering Choices: Social Truths


"We're hearing your feedback and reading through it all. One of the strongest signals is that folks were using this setting to discover and follow new and interesting accounts—this is something we absolutely want to support." — Twitter

That is how it happens with online services. After Twitter went out on a limb and made a fundamental change to its service, specifically the option to receive public messages from people they are not following, the entire community pushed back, many of them rightly calling it a disaster. Some are saying that this might be the change that lifts friendfeed to the forefront or even cause Twitter to fail outright. That leaves only a few who, well, disagree.

After receiving the feedback, Twitter did what it ought to have done in the first place — communicate with its community. However, as Mashable points out, addressing the feedback and returning the function that many participants enjoy are two very different things. Now, Twitter, a service that participants made the poster child for authenticity, looks like it whitewashed the real reason behind the change.

You can track the customer comments right here: #fixreplies. It's a rough critique of a service change and testament to why communication continues to remain a struggle for social networks.

Choice has always been a fundamental part of the online social equation.

What does the change really mean? If you are not familiar with Twitter, you might not understand the service change. Simply put, someone could write to you (probably because you were talking about a subject that interested them) by including the "@" in front of your account name. That message, or tweet, would appear in your thread, making it easy to see and respond to.

Without that service, you may never know someone sent that message to you, unless you followed him or her from the start. Not everybody used the service. People had a choice. For people with thousands or hundreds of thousands of followers, they could choose to see only those messages from those they followed. For anyone looking to meet new people, not so much.

Personally, I've grown to like Twitter. I like it enough that I speak about it from time to time. I especially like it because they've always given their participants choices. And, I hope those feelings don't change since they say they "learned a lot."

But there is something else to learn: Never become too attached to a tool.

Online tools change all the time. And very often, the change is not for the better. Technorati, once the premier place for bloggers to connect, seems to be struggling. MyBlogLog has become fairly flat. Entrecard spiked on the promise of cash, but now that's eroding. Hey! Nielsen is in redesign. And Utterli, after rebranding, just isn't the same. There are hundreds more. Some of them long closed.

All of them have one thing in common. At some point, usually when unduly scared or overly secure, they start making big and rapid changes without communication beyond their inner circles. Jumping on the advice of high profile "experts" instead of regular members, they might even feel smug to make them. But then, after awhile, they notice that the inner circle is all they have left.

Choice has always been a fundamental part of the online social equation. And ultimately, members may choose to go somewhere else.

Tuesday, May 12

Tearing Down Definitions: From Phelps To Prejean


Michael Phelps is an American swimmer. He has won 14 career Olympic gold medals and holds seven world records in swimming.

A few months after his most recent successes, he apologized for "behavior which was regrettable and demonstrated bad judgment" in response to a photo that depicted him using a Bong. The controversy cost Phelps a few sponsorships. And some former sponsors a few sales.

Now, the News of the World, which broke the photo, is trying to spark another scandal. This time the story is based on testimony from lap dancer Theresa White, who alleges Phelps is great at lovemaking but not much of a tipper.

"They were there a couple of hours and asked three of us back," White told News of the World. "Michael was a bad tipper but he was nice to me, although he was kind of mean and cocky to some of the girls."

What Is An All-American Image Anyway?

Who's to say? According to the outrage expressed over Carrie Prejean, Miss California USA, the concept seems open for debate. She told the truth, and it took Donald Trump to set the record straight while smartly avoiding the issue all together.

Perez Hilton, on the other hand, has enjoyed a free ride calling Prejean the “b-word,” rescinding it, and then rescinding what he rescinded, adding that he was thinking of the “c-word.” Why? Because most people didn't hear Prejean's entire answer, which began "Well, I think it’s great that Americans are able to choose one or the other ..."

Is Being All-American An Impossible Image?

Maybe so. After all, the all-American image cannot be lived up to because any number of definitions seem to supposedly disparage one person or another. Just as people are divided on a spectacular number of issues and tolerance just isn't enough, so too are people divided on whether or not anyone deserves praise for greatness.

When and where I grew up, the all-American image was pretty well defined — baseball, apple pie, and the red, white and blue — despite being imaginary. It was pretty simple. If Norman Rockwell might have painted it, you might be in the right ball park, even if such a ball park never existed, not really. Yet, the sentiment was there. We were taught to strive for greatness; not in fame, but simply trying to do our best at whatever it was we did.

Today, it's not always so easy. Baseball is supposedly tainted, apple pies reinforce stereotypes, and the American flag means different things depending on where you fly it or not. And greatness? Sometimes it's frowned upon as a badge you have something more than someone else.

You know, usually, when we talk about the The Fragile Brand Theory, we talk about why it is more important to stick with one image rather than the image one might pick. It's why Trump can be Trump and Hilton can be Hilton. But there is something more at work here than Phelps or Prejean failing to reach the unobtainable image that the public apparently sought for them.

It seems to me that Phelps or Prejean or anyone else who strives for greatness can never live up to an all-American image. Because most Americans no longer want one.

Monday, May 11

Shining Through: Los Angeles County Museum of Art


Last March, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) received more than 1,000 entries for an online Celebrating Urban Light exhibition. The open call centered on the anniversary of artist Chris Burden’s "Urban Light" project, which is a landmark installation that was added to the Wilshire Boulevard entrance last year.

"Throughout the days and nights of the past year, photographers and videographers have made their pilgrimage to Urban Light," writes Charlotte Cotton, curator and department head of photographs for the LACMA, in the forward of the exhibition. "This [online] exhibition celebrates the wealth of creativity that Urban Light has inspired within us."

While the exhibition has received mostly local attention, including the Los Angeles Times, it still represents one of the better uses of new media by allowing citizens to surprise us. The entries can be seen on Flickr, YouTube, and Facebook. The latter was used to chronicle the event.

The Flickr account is especially rewarding in that the LACMA is continuing to accept submissions, making it a living exhibition beyond the print-on-demand book available on Blurb. More than 50 photographs have been contributed since February.

The book, "Celebrating Urban Light," features 150 photos, poems, and video stills chosen by Cotton. The book retails for $29.95 (soft cover) and $44.95 (hard cover). The book also includes a foreword by LACMA CEO and Director Michael Govan, a preface by Cotton, and an excerpt from a conversation between Govan and Chris Burden about the work.

Friday, May 8

Starting Over: Chrysler, Not Campaigning


"When we asked consumers what they wanted to know about Chrysler, they told us to tell them about our products, tell them why they should buy our vehicles and give them a reason why they should be confident in the future of this company," — Steven Landry, executive vice president - North American Sales for Chrysler, told Adweek.

According to the article, that is why the first 30-second ad is a corporate anthem spot called "Bright Future" despite the company's filing for protection under Chapter 11. While the new commercial will air on prime time, it's anybody guess whether consumers will embrace the campaign from Omnicom Group's BBDO in Detroit.

Some of it follows the tone set by its ENVI oriented site. The main site, on the other hand, still leads with a contradictory message that says "Celebrating 25 years of innovation." Whatever happens, we're pretty sure it will be very different than when Chrysler really was a new car company.

Chrysler has plenty of ground to make up. Ford clearly has an advantage, being ranked first in the ability to connect with consumers via social media. One wonders whether the new campaign, apparently grounded in traditional media, can shift sales despite the strong online presence Ford has built.

After all, what Landry says consumers want to know is what they've always wanted to know: what do you sell, why would I buy it, and will you be around if I do? In some circles, that's called a value proposition. But according to the Adweek article, Chysler says it is "part of our continuing mission to build cars and trucks you want to drive."

That would be as opposed to those other car companies. You know, the ones who build cars and trucks we don't want to drive.

Regardless, it will be interesting to watch whether the new partnership with Fiat and a traditional campaign from BBDO will be enough. Based on the partial sneak peek of the television commercial Under The Pentastar and the smart comments made by a handful of consumers on their blog, we're not so sure.

Thursday, May 7

Making Coal Cool: With Ringtones!


If there was any doubt that the coal industry was overreaching when it reportedly produced Frosty The Coalman for the holidays, then the follow up will clinch it. The West Virginia Coal Association has come up with ringtones for our phones.

Take your pick among six mixes — male choir, male voice choir, New Orleans, mountain, gospel, and bluegrass. My personal favorite is the bluegrass mix, even though it's a little longer than the rest. Some people have been posting the lyrics, but you really need to hear some for yourself.

Coal is West Virginia - Bluegrass Mix








Coal is West Virginia - Mountain Mix







"Coal is West Virgina
Coal is me and you
Coal is West Virgina
We got a job to do.
"

However, after Think Progress (via Spinthicket) lamented that the coal industry is taking "incredible pains to make coal seem 'clean,' 'affordable,' and even 'adorable,'" we're not sure which is worse: the ringtone idea or push back that suggests these ringtones might be taken as serious and worrisome propaganda.

Polarized issues seldom make sense. The facts are facts. According to Joe Schuster, who wrote a roadmap to energy independence by 2040, the United States gets 86 percent of its energy from fossil fuels: coal (23.2 percent), natural gas (23.9 percent) and oil (39.4 percent). The rest comes from nuclear (8.2 percent), hydropower (2.6 percent) and biomass and various other sources (3.3 percent). I've seen other numbers, of course, including that coal-fired power plants generate nearly 50 percent of our electricity.

Almost everybody agrees we need to adjust our energy usage. Not everybody agrees on how to do it or how fast to do it. Not everybody agrees that there is such a thing as clean coal technology. Of course there is, because clean coal is a generic term that means reducing the environmental impact of coal energy generation.

Compared to what we are doing now, it's all good. Existing energy consumption needs to be cleaned up the best it can be. Alternative fuel choices need to be integrated into the mix, smartly so, in order to avoid additional problems like windmills killing wildlife. But more important than any of that, the communication needs to be cleaned up because right now — between the sillyfication and vilification — it seems to be the most dangerous of all.

Wednesday, May 6

Changing The Guard: The New Guard?


When Bruce Spotleson, group publisher at Greenspun Media Group, was a guest speaker in my class last March, he said something that I found a little bit haunting. Looking out over the class of almost 20 students and working professionals, he said that as newspapers scale back, looking out for public interest would increasingly fall to public relations professionals.

While I'm still confident journalism will evolve before it's abandoned, social media does provide consumers and representatives an opportunity to have public conversations like never before, with the primary difference between online communication and front line communication being the size of the audience. However, the question I often ask is "are they ready?"

When I read Erica O’Grady's post and others like it, I'm not so sure. Don't get me wrong, I think O’Grady is great. I read her often enough. My friend Geoff Livingston has written about a similar concept before, even co-writing a very funny bit with Beth Harte last year. The conversation is even older than that. And to some extent I agree with them. Emphasize "some."

"The King Is Dead. Long Live The King!"

A few years ago, well before communication professionals began to take social media seriously, back when the extent of social media (when it was almost always called new media, which seemed so silly to me) was a blog, we used to see other names along with Brian Solis' PR 2.0 and Chris Brogan's community and social media, Todd Defren's PR-Squared, and many, many others too.

And all those names, many of which have long stopped blogging and some of which have deleted their earliest work (we even tested a few in 2004), lent quite a bit to the formation of what is commonly called social media today. (Technically, my introduction to what wasn't called a "blog" then dates back to some early work with Nevada Power Company in 1993.) Some people might even remember Bulletin Board Systems and whatnot. A few might even remember Justin Hall.

So what's the point? Carpetbagging and opportunist are relative terms and we ought be careful how we use them. If for no other reason than to give a nod to the generosity of those true pioneers who were much more welcoming and always extremely gracious in allowing others to establish "rules" that they seemed so reluctant to create, we might consider that ALL OF US were once the carpet baggers and opportunists trampling into a turf once defined as a "personal online diary."

There is no entitlement in social media. There are no rules. People will do things differently, and never as so-called early adopters thought to do (which is virtually nobody who is popular today). Sure, there are plenty of hucksters attempting to stake a claim in social media nowadays (the point O’Grady, Harte, and Livingston all rightfully aim to make), but we can all remember that "huckster" status is best defined by what some people do and not when they started to do it, just because they might do it differently.

Looking at the continued evolution of social media any other way is simply repeating what helped push it along in the first place. Some people in social media wanted to tear down the old guard of establishment (considering media to be the gatekeepers of information). But, you know, I don't think any of those folks ever envisioned that they were doing so simply to replace the space with a "new guard." And if they did, then its safe to say history is destined to repeat. There is no empire that lasts forever.

Tuesday, May 5

Advertising Annoyance: Food For Thought


“It takes a lot of your prefrontal brain power to force yourself not to process a strong input like a television commercial. If you’re trying to read a book at the same time, you may not have the resources left to focus on the words.” — Robert Desimone, director of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at M.I.T.

That's according to one of the experts in “Rapt,” a guide by Winifred Gallagher to the science of paying attention, as featured in The New York Times today. It's also a book I'll be adding to my reading list, but perhaps not for the reasons Gallagher intended.

The article shares some interesting insights about how our thoughts dictate our world views — we can obsess about problems, drive ourselves crazy by multitasking on e-mail and Twitter, or give the brain a bit of time to focus on and accentuate the positive — and lead to differing realities. While there is ample truth to that, our interest today is a bit more pragmatic in that it reveals some science behind "that guy" as described by Chris Brogan.

The concept was also the cornerstone of Seth Godin's argument that we need to reconsider the interruption model of advertising. He advocated permission marketing, which he defines as the consumer granting permission to be marketed to if they know what's in it for them.

"The interruption model is extremely effective when there's not an overflow of interruptions," Godin told Fast Company. "But there's too much going on in our lives for us to enjoy being interrupted anymore."

Godin is half right in that an overflow of interruptions leads to no one interruption being able to stand out. Where he is half wrong is that permission marketing doesn't necessarily require asking permission to market to people, especially if that permission might lead to future interruptions.

What companies might consider doing is listening. Consumers are very savvy in asking for what they want online. And, if your company is listening, you can provide them the answers that may introduce them to your product or service. You may even send them an e-mail from time to time, provided it has value.

Where companies often go wrong is in their own assessment of what's important. Even in a permission based model, especially those that bombard with e-mail, doesn't account for that moment that the company might have lost permission, or, in other words, lost permission or nurture nothing more than annoyance or aversion.

The tricky part for marketers is that no two people or products or services will ever be the same. Some products and services can support daily news and updates and some cannot. Some will capture public interest for a few days; others for month and years. Everything has a duration.

It doesn't require as much guess work as some might think. The public will often tell you when they've had enough or not. Listening to them and knowing when that might be is the difference between being "this guy" or "that guy," permission or not.

The only difference between being an annoying interruption, pleasant surprise, and invited engagement is much more dependent on an exchange, a dialogue, than we might have ever realized. After all, most companies would prefer to be a focus for awhile rather than an interruption, eventually shuffled off to spam whether you subscribed or not.

Monday, May 4

Changing Times: From Print To Push


As a foreshadow toward a possible yet uncertain future, two newspapers — The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times — carried stories that mark the sign of the times.

The Washington Post featured an article highlighting the public struggles of the Boston Globe, which many expect could close in as little as 60 days. Meanwhile, The New York Times asked its readership if big-screen e-readers might save newspapers. Some of the new models, which are expected to be released by the end of the year, are coming much closer to electronic paper as imagined more than 35 years ago (and imagined in the fictional world of Harry Potter).

Newspapers And Other Content At The Edge Of A Chasm

For several years, the most pragmatic viewpoint about newspapers has been that they might be dying but news is thriving. Indeed, the problems faced by newspapers have been confined to one of distribution and economics.

Subscription-based content on a more portable e-reader might be the answer, provided newspapers learn to segment their free online vs. subscription-based publications. Content duplication has clearly hastened the demise of print.

The analogy is simple enough. Journalism will survive and leap forward to the other side. So the real question is what will we find once we get there. That is a toss up. While most people focus on the short term, asking whether newspapers will shift toward more localized reporting with an influx of citizen journalists or more relaxed professionals, the real challenge remains content oversight.

In 2007, we asked that question with the advent of the Kindle, already recognizing that the Internet solution-providers were starting to ask questions as to how much content control they wanted as distribution platforms. At the time, people laughed to think Amazon or anyone would attempt to control content. It's not in their nature, proponents said.

Not everyone is laughing now. Apple rejected an update of the Nine Inch Nails iPhone update, saying that it contains “objectionable content.” YouTube, as if in defiance of What Would Google Do? by Jeff Jarvis, is hoping to police product placement, thereby collecting a cut from certain content creators.

The Leap Is Simple Provided People Keep Their Senses

To be fair, it's new territory for everybody. And sometimes, future solutions are easier to come by than the vision of the people shaping it today.

What Could Google Do? Simple. Stick to what it knows best — developing great distribution platforms. And rather than worry about product placement, it might consider a tiered approach to bandwidth with premium video being streamed for a monthly content creator rate. For everyone else, free as always.

What Could Apple Do? Rather than reject material based upon questionable content, it might consider opening a separate section for adults. And no, we don't mean an electronic version of the original local video store. Rather, something like NIN can stick to creating content.

What Could Newspapers Do? Really, if the problem is distribution because printed products are too expensive, then it's well past time to partner with electronic paper makers. Some people might be willing to pay a modest rate for subscription service to some papers for delivery by application or e-reader. Just keep the price models in check. Almost everyone knows that subscription fees never really paid for print (so split the subscription with the distributor or whatever); advertising did.

Saturday, May 2

Living With Arthritis: 300,000 Kids


There are approximately 300,000 children in the United States that have some form of arthritis, which is diagnosed almost anytime between the ages of 2 and 16. The are several types of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA) ranging from systemic JRA, which affects the whole body, to oligoarticular JRA, which affects four or fewer joints.

My daughter was diagnosed last year. She has juvenile rheumatoid arthritis in both ankles, one hand, and some limited range of motion in other joints. Still, we're grateful she was diagnosed, as Nevada is only one of nine states in the U.S. that doesn’t have a pediatric rheumatologist.

Arthritis and BloggersUnite.org

When you consider all of the causes, ranging from AIDS to World Hunger, arthritis doesn't really register on a large scale. But social media, unlike SEO, is not all about the numbers. It's about engagement, connecting people with common interests whether those interests are altruistic or something as simple as a celebrity. It's about how information and action spreads.

For example, it helped one blogger find a greater forum for reporting on Arthritis Walk Atlanta, which was held today, or a few more bloggers interested in writing about Juvenile Arthritis and Kelly Rouba's new book, in which she shares her own story and the stories of various kids, teens and young adults who suffer from arthritis.

Awareness is extremely important for kids and parents because the earliest symptoms are so easily dismissed or misdiagnosed. Very often, the symptoms only include a light rash and swelling around a single joint, not all that dissimilar from a common sprain or suspected bug bite. In fact, last year, even Jennie Garth, a former "Beverly Hills, 90210" actress, shared how a "mysterious illness" afflicted her 2-year-old daughter. Eventually, after significant emotional distress, they learned it was JRA.

I learned about Jennie Garth's story and Kelly Rouba's book through BloggersUnite, which reaffirms some of the decisions we recently made for our own daughter. And perhaps, some parent with a child who has a mysterious illness will learn about JRA here too.

JRA and Treatment

Given that our daughter was born three months premature, the sudden diagnosis of JRA was a surprise. After all those months in the hospital and regiment of medications once she was home, the last thing any parent wants to learn is that the light of the tunnel (when all things seem normal and the medications phased away) is that there is another tunnel at the end of the light.

For us, it was the not-so-easy to make decision regarding Enbrel, a tumor necrosis factor (TNF) blocker that blocks the action of a substance your body's immune system makes. In other words, the trade off of taking Enbrel can make you more prone to getting infections. In other words, if your child even has a hint of a cold, you have to immediately stop treatment. (The alternative was methotrexate, which is primarily used for chemotherapy.)

Still, since Enbrel is a relatively new treatment for kids, we took a one-day trip to the Mattel Children's Hospital at UCLA to meet with Dr. Deborah McCurdy, who is the head of the pediatric rheumatology department there, for a second opinion. After the exam, she spent more than an hour with us, carefully and conscientiously weighing our options and noting that without treatment our daughter's overcompensation could lead to lifelong complications such as a curved spine.

Our daughter has been receiving injections for about three weeks now, and has already shown dramatic improvement. Normally, the expectation to see signs of improvement is six weeks. We're grateful, and hope sharing this might help another parent some time.

Is there any other takeaway? I think so. If there is a common theme with all these stories, it is that you don't have to be afraid. As fear is always related to something that hasn't happened, it only stands in the way of taking action. So for parents whose children face JRA, learn as much as you can, seek out second opinions, and never let fear immobilize you from taking the next step.

Friday, May 1

Doubling The Dilemma: National Pork Producers Council


What's in a name? Everything, according to the National Pork Producers Council.

For the last few days, the National Pork Producers Council has been issuing news releases to remind consumers that "swine flu" does not come from pigs. At the same time, it is lobbying legislators and the media to refer to the virus with its less common scientific name, the "H1N1" virus.

According to AdAge, the industry made the decision because it feared uninformed consumers would avoid buying pork. But were these consumers really avoiding pork?

Not according to NewsChannel 10 in Amarillo, Texas, which spoke to butchers at the local level and WalMart on the national level. Not according to The Herald Bulletin, which reported from Anderson, Indiana.

In fact, not according to anyone until the National Pork Producers Council began distributing releases.

As of April 22, pork bellies had rallied and stabilized. While people were concerned about the flu, few seemed concerned about pork. But that changed when the National Pork Producers Council sent out a release on April 26, which was followed the next day by a flurry of stories about the release despite the fact that the media had never made a verbal connection between "swine flu" and pigs before.

By the end of the day, Smithfield Foods Inc., the largest pork processor, saw a 12 percent tumble (but many non-pork stocks did too). Since, the public relations nightmare for the pork industry has only gotten worse.

In fact, the more that the National Pork Producers Council talks about what it calls a real problem (one that didn't exist until it said there was a problem), it only gets worse. How bad? Take a look at a recent Q&A session with Chris Novak, National Pork Board CEO, on the Cattle Network.

During the session, the interviewer asks several times "How did those two words get connected?" Novak goes into detail saying "swine flu dates back to a 1918 influenza outbreak that affected both humans and swine. This virus, however, has not been identified in swine and has been spread through human-to-human transmissions, so the label applied in the media earlier this week created unnecessary confusion in the minds of many consumers."

So how did the terms get connected? You just read it! The National Pork Producers Council linked them!

According to the session, Novak says "that one estimate showing an 8 percent drop in futures prices since last Friday [last Friday was before the council's near daily releases began] has pushed losses for the swine production industry up to $6.5 million per day. The losses are real and personal for thousands of pork producers who have struggled with market losses over the past 18-20 months."

Fear is a terrible thing. It makes regular, ordinary people behave irrationally. And here, it seems that this fear wasn't a reality until the National Pork Producers Council overreacted to a linkage that didn't seem to exist before their communication.

Worse, the media, legislators, and public are now faced with their own communication problem in having to rename and rebrand what was known as "swine flu" with the clunky "H1N1" moniker. How likely will that be successful? Given that CBS just ran a story using the "H1N1" name but sporting a picture of pigs, we might say when those little guys start to fly.

Case study ahead.
 

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