Monday, December 27

Looking Back: Top Ten Communication Stories In 2010

Good Bye 2010This past year has been an interesting one for Copywrite, Ink., especially as it relates to this collection of communication observations. In addition to adopting a different design in early 2010, adding the Disquis comment system, we also changed to a dedicated address.

The dedicated address change, specifically, led to some interesting behind-the-scenes changes. While both addresses lead to the same destination (and there was no interruption for subscribers), traffic is counted separately on some external measurement systems and many well-read posts appear as if they were never read at all (because of the tweet share button).

I only mention it because it fits with some of the content themes written about in 2010. Looks can be deceiving. What isn't deceiving, however, is which stories seemed to resonate with readers. And to close out 2010, I thought I'd share this with you.

Top Ten Communication Stories 2010.

1. TSA Policies Are Not A Privacy Issue.

Some things are not a simple matter of semantics, liberty among them. So while the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Department Of Homeland Security continually make the case that current and future security measures are a choice between security and privacy, liberty remains the real issue we ought to be talking about. This was the most read story of 2010 and probably the most important, given the far reaching consequences of those who will choose the illusion of security over liberty.

2. Unteaching Social Media: Communication First, With A Deck.

While some people were surprised to learn that I spend more time teaching communication as opposed to social media in social media classes, the deck attached to this post generated more than its fair share of interest among communicators, hailing from public relations, marketing, and advertising. I tend to keep social media simple. It's a singular environment where broadcasters and receivers cannot be distinguished and communicators must learn to simultaneously communicate on a scale of one to one, one to niche, and one to many. This post included a link to the deck I used in class.

3. Fresh Content Providers, Quarterly Updates.

What began as a relatively simple question became a year-long experiment of sorts. The Fresh Content Project tasked Copywrite, Ink. with picking a single post per day from a growing field of 250 communication-related bloggers. The intent was to discover whether or not popularity could be an indication of quality content. The experiment will conclude on December 31, with some reveals and loose ends to tie up in 2011. At its close, we'll begin working on the next experiment — the anti-influence project (for lack of a better name).

Interestingly enough, it wasn't the weekly content recaps that attracted the most attention. It was the quarterly rankings, which featured every author chosen during any given quarter. You can also find every post chosen on Facebook.

4. Managing Crisis: Bad PR Is Only A Symptom.

Without question, one of the most captivating live crisis communication case studies that took place in 2010 was the BP oil spill. Of all the posts related to the case study across multiple companies, the initial story that recognized that the BP oil spill was not a single crisis communication event, but rather several across the weeks and months, resonated the most with communicators. I'm glad it did because if there is one thing public relations professionals need to learn about crisis management it's that almost all crises have independent events within them that must be handled on a situational case-by-case basis.

5. Saving Wildlife: Dawn Responds To Oil Spill Crisis.

While there were many stories written around the Gulf Coast oil spill, there was a related/unrelated story that also captured some interest. What made this story important, in terms of reader interest, is that it proves people aren't always keen on simply gravitating to bad news. There was good news to be found in the field of bad news stories. One of them came from Procter & Gamble (P&G) and its product, Dawn, which gently removes oil and helps save wildlife affected by oil spills. Although Dawn has been used for more than 30 years in the field, P&G doesn't push public relations related to saving wildlife. Rather, like most good public relations stories, it allows people to discover it on their own.

6. Pushing Pies: Pizza Hut, Domino's, Papa John's.

While pizza doesn't seem like a captivating communication topic, there is a lot to learn about big companies marketing virtually the same product. The comparison between the marketing efforts of the big three — Pizza Hut, Domino's, and Papa John's — pinpointed how important it can be to find a product contrast that resonates and then stick with it. For Pizza Hut that meant unbeatable value and quick order convenience. Contrast that with Domino's and Papa John's. The former took to attempting to punish the Pizza Hut and Papa John's brands while failing to deliver on its own promise. The latter celebrated everyone's love for pizza, but failed to communicate the distinction that made it one of the big three to begin with.

7. Integrating Communication: PR-Driven Social Media.

Throughout 2010, we offered up several communication models for consideration, the most popular of which was the PR-Driven Social Media model. I'm not surprised. While we believe that social media is a cross-discipline activity that requires an integrated approach that involves marketing, advertising, public relations, and other fields of expertise, public relations professionals remain the most interested in taking the online communication helm. As long as they continue to embrace social media at a faster pace than other fields, it seems likely social media will increasingly be viewed as a public relations discipline, for better or worse.

8. Understanding Bloggers: Why PR Doesn't Get Them.

Having worked with bloggers for multiple social networks and outreach campaigns over the course of five years, it seemed relatively easy for me to break out a list of considerations related to the predominant types of bloggers. While it's an oversimplification to assign "motivations" behind various bloggers, the lesson to be learned was not to categorize bloggers as much as it was to open up the eyes of public relations professionals, helping them to realize that not all bloggers are motivated by cash incentives or the "privilege" of getting the inside scoop of a company. Contrary, bloggers are as diverse as people, which makes sense as most of them are people. Treat them as such.

9. Changing PR: Customers Are Media; Complaints Are News.

Not all crisis communication scenarios happen to big companies. Once of the most interesting mini-crisis communication challenges that occurred this year happened to a relatively small theater operator in St. Croix Falls, Wis. What started out as a private complaint made by a customer, quickly turned public after the theater's manager sent the complainer an email response without a bit of empathy or remorse for the theater's failings, basically telling the customer to "f*ck off." This runaway email became the subject of scorn as a Facebook boycott page took off and mainstream media started covering the story. Sadly, all the manager had to do was apologize and offer a free popcorn on the next visit.

10. Branding: Personal Branding And Reputation Are Illusions.

Despite the growing number of communicators who are joining the fray to question the validity of personal branding, it remains a controversial topic in that people are generally divided between the two schools of thought (with the third group that attempts to find some middle ground). I contributed several posts to the topic in 2010, but the one that resonated with readers was one that included some cognitive psychology into the mix. People who enjoy discussing this topic might be happy to know that I anticipate the personal branding topic will reoccur several times in 2011. It is also the subject of the book I've been writing, which I limp along with from time to time.

And that brings about some of the changes ahead in 2011. Copywrite, Ink. will be turning 20 years old next year and this educational extension will be turning seven with more than 1,200 posts under its belt. It's time to scale it to three times a week as opposed to five, allowing me more time to focus on additional projects.

Those include working with our growing stable of clientele, finishing the aforementioned book that lands on the back burner too often, accepting the occasional guest post on other blogs (usually declined as I hadn't the time), and nurturing our side project Liquid [Hip], which continues to see some exceptional traction.

Thanks so much for finding time to make the Copywrite, Ink. blog part of your busy week. I'll work even harder to keep the content fresh in 2011. But this post closes out 2010. With the exception of one of the last fresh content recaps landing next Sunday, look for the first post of 2011 on January 3. Happy New Year! Good night, good luck, and good fortunes.

Sunday, December 26

Bending Perception: Best Fresh Content

Fresh Content Project
If there is a trend to content creation online, the leading theme is probably perception. As more marketing and public relations professionals enter the space, they seem to gravitate toward it, given the mistaken (but partly true belief) that perception somehow equals reality. It doesn't. Not really.

Knowing this, is it any surprise that professionals who cannot come up with innovative ideas rely on their company's "authority" to propel them forward? Or that people are clamoring for an "online influence" measurement system even though the very notion is silly? Or that, every year, agencies allow themselves to produce campaigns that fail because they don't recognize the difference between a client and a customer? Or that, despite influence and authority, you can find plenty of people at the top who demonstrated that, for all their popularity and promise and entitlements, they still suck at communication?

In the battle between perception and reality, please remember to keep it real. Consider these five posts as evidence.

Best Fresh Content In Review, Week of December 13

Where Do Business And Social Meet?
Valeria Maltoni raises some interesting questions about the role of communicators and how some people with corporate roles attempt to leverage their title and company brand in order to gain visibility in social media and reap personal benefits. Her thinking touches very well with what I wrote about personal brands earlier this year. Applied here, we might conclude that those who lack ideas or popularity frequently attempt to leverage their "authority." It's neither wrong or right, but certainly reminds us not to follow people blindly.

The Top Ten Best (And Worst) Communicators of 2010.
Most fresh content picks tend to stay away from lists, but this one by Ben and Kelly Decker is worth the read. It's well thought out and all the more alluring because it starts with the best and not the worst. Even better than simply dropping in a few names and calling it a day, the Deckers work hard to share exactly why they felt some people deserved to be on one list or another, making the lesson much more fitting. When you read about these 20 people and their stories, you might ask yourself in 2011 whose company you would rather keep.

How Social Semantic Search Defines People.
Geoff Livingston does an excellent job reminding everyone that search isn't about technologies. It's about people. And just as often, it's about the semantics we type in in order to discover the content we want to cover. One person might type in any number of combination of words to find something. Another could type in something else, even if they want the same content. But even more striking is the next layer of personalization. Worse might be the fact that some of that personalization relies increasingly on popularity.

Clients Aren't Customers: Why Most Agencies Suck At Project Management.
From our perspective, Ian Lurie has had a banner year in writing content that connects. This week was no exception as he pinpointed the difference between clients and customers. Clients, he points out, typically control the fate of an entire project, whether it's a marketing campaign, a new web site or an application. Customers do not. They only purchase based on the final product. What he points out so clearly, is that most agencies get it wrong. They do whatever the client tells them, thinking of them as customers. Except, eventually, when anyone at an agency does that, they set themselves up to fail because they will still be accountable for the results, even if the client made all the decisions.

Five Primary Problems With Klout.
Geoff Livingston has since softened his stance on Klout, but the initial post was still right on the money. Somehow, the service has been embraced as some sort of influence indicator to organizational managers who don't know any better. Livingston points out five reasons you might think twice. And those, from my opinion, are only the tip of the iceberg. At the same time, please do keep in mind that I have nothing personal against Klout (although some people say I sound like I do.) Nah, not at all. I have a problem with the entire concept of online influence measures. There is even a post waiting in the wings to kick off the new year.

Friday, December 24

Wishing Everyone: Happy Holidays

Holiday Card

Dear Santa,

A pint of hope,
a pound of love,
an ounce of faith,
a pinch of wisdom,
a dash of perseverance,
and a lifetime of gratitude.

Please deliver generously to our friends and family; clients and colleagues. It's all anyone needs this year.

All my best,

What else can be said? Thank you for allowing me to be part of your day and you a part of mine. Happy holidays and merry Christmas. Until next week ... good night, good luck, and good fortunes.

Thursday, December 23

Advertising 2011: A Year Of Confusion?

Advertising 2011
While 2010 may mark the first time marketers put more money into online advertising than newspapers — newspaper spending falls to $25.7 billion and online ad spending rises to $25.8 billion — next year will be one of the most trying for advertising that works.

On one hand, recent analysis from Better Advertising shows few consumers choose to opt out of targeted online advertising programs. On the other hand, consumers will continue to tell marketers, publishers, and pollsters that they don't want targeted advertising.

As if that wasn't challenging enough, some predictions for online advertising are almost too painful to read. Take the six predictions from Jesse Thomas that recently appeared on Mashable. Some are postscript predictions and some will lead to advertising campaign failures.

Why Will 2011 Be A Year Of Confusion?

Earlier this year, I was very optimistic that 2010 would be considered the year of integration. In many ways, this proved to be true. Companies worked diligently to better align various functions of marketing, advertising, and public relations. Those campaigns worked exceptionally well.

Yet, for all the successes, integration has had some unintended consequences as bad practices began to spread from one discipline to the other, creating one wave after another of thinking that is increasingly tactical. The Masahable predictions underscore the problem. Let's highlight some inherent problems with the predictions.

Channel Focus Or Communication Focus?

With increasing frequency, some companies are asking for proven platform strategies like how to get more fans on Facebook or more followers on Twitter. They are asking the wrong question. Or, at least, they are asking questions in the wrong order.

Companies might ask how they can introduce their product to more people or increase sales or become a subject matter expert in the industry. And only then do they need to ask how Facebook and Twitter might fit into that, if they fit in at all.

Global Reach Or Location Based?

This is one of two areas where Thomas contradicts himself in the post. He emphasizes the importance of many, but then provides relevance to smaller segmentations. If the number of Facebook "likes" is so important, why bother with location-oriented ads?

The reason is because location-based advertising isn't new. If a company has a physical location, then it only makes sense that location-based advertising works. Retailers that don't market to the radius around their establishments, whether that includes online advertising or direct mail, are missing what could be their most regular customers. If those people connect to Facebook (and people from the Sudan do not), all the better.

Influencers Or Micro-Networks?

This is another problem with the "many" to "few" networking game. Online influencers are generally considered such because they amass a large following. This seems to contradict an increasing trend where people are scaling back and segmenting the associations they make online.

Riddle me this. If more consumers spend more time in micro networks, then how can "influencers" amass thousands? Simply put, they can't except as a matter of perception. Case in point. I invest almost 40 percent of my Facebook time in one Facebook group. That means even though several dozens of pages count me as a "like," I'm mostly AWOL from their pages.

Predictable Or Professional?

While it is not true in every case, predicting that Silicon Valley could be the next Madison Avenue could have unintended consequences. For one thing, I don't see many creative directors and copywriters lining up to make less money Tweeting blurbs alongside people with two months of customer service experience (one company calls them "web presence professionals").

More likely, if there is a trend to focus more on tactical channel development (social networks) over adding creative into the strategic communication mix, then my guess is creative professionals will jump ship and enter the entertainment, fashion, and product design fields because it seems that consumers appreciate their talents more than some business owners anyway. Once they're gone, you can expect consumers to hate advertising all the more.

Personally, I'm very optimistic about 2011. However, with the influx of contradictory tactics, I anticipate more companies struggling against conflicting tactical ideas and not enough of them developing strategic marketing plans that balance the mix and meet their business objectives. It will be interesting to watch and even more interesting to participate.

Wednesday, December 22

Amplifying: Social Media Is Not For Timid Executives

Shel Holtz, principal of Holtz Communication + Technology, recently wrote a thoughtful commentary about why he believes communication consultants (public relations professionals with blogs, for instance) ought to think twice before piling on companies that make mistakes. He alludes to the idea that it turns otherwise savvy professionals into PR ambulance chasers.

There is some truth to this idea. He says there are companies that have been frightened away from social media because of the put-downs and jibes they receive from a growing world of "experts." On that point, Holtz is very right. And yet, I have mixed feelings about the conclusion.

Intent is a powerful ally in the art and science of communication.

Holtz is right in that it is rather unbecoming to create a persona of someone sitting behind a computer screen salivating for companies to get into trouble and then piling on them with links to half a dozen equally verbose colleagues, all hoping to build a mountain of evidence out of cheap shots or colorful prose or campy satire. Do it too much, and it will hurt your business.

Writing about crisis communication to serve up a collection of lessons for students takes much more than a series of fleeting sentences. Even then, there is some risk.

"Did you ever wonder..." asked one of my students at lunch. "...if what you sometimes write about scares away people who might otherwise hire your company?"

I chuckled, telling her that I used to think about it every day. However, despite having the company brand on the banner above, I had to make a decision whether this blog was about attracting business or educating students and discussing concepts and constructs with colleagues. I chose the latter, even if this blog has helped win and lose a few clients (who I never write up).

But not everyone has the same educational intent. I think that is what Holtz is alluding to. If you're thinking about a communication blog, consider the intent. Even then, never leave your readers with a story that ends on some double negative snarky beat down — you have to be thoughtful and do your homework. At some point, you have to provide solutions to the problems. A little bit of empathy doesn't hurt either.

Social media is no place for a company with unmanageable blemishes.

So, why do I have mixed feelings about Holtz's post? Simply stated, I don't have much sympathy for companies that are "afraid" to enter social media. Executives who think every glimmer will be celebrated and every blemish overlooked have unrealistic expectations not only in social media, but life in general.

I had this conversation almost four years ago. And as I roughly wrote then, if companies seek "attention" then the executives and team leaders have to appreciate that they do not get to choose what others find newsworthy or interesting. And, once you invite bloggers and members of the media to take an interest in the company, you cannot "uninvite" them.

It's one of the lessons a group publisher tells my public relations classes every year. If you invite reporters to give their opinions on "X," they might not agree with you. Equally possible, they might decide to write about "Y," especially if "Y" seems more interesting.

It's the one thing that social media has in common with traditional media. Both communication channels have an equal propensity to amplify organizational vices and virtues. It has always been this way, and always will be this way. If you want your company to be something, you have to accept the risks. Or, if you prefer someone much wiser than me, consider what Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC) said more than two thousand years ago.

“Criticism is something we can avoid easily by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” — Aristotle

Tuesday, December 21

Nurturing Teams: Keep Incentives Simple

Fargo, North Dakota
Many people had a chuckle after learning about a sales team that was given an all-expenses-paid trip to Fargo, North Dakota, for missing their sales goals. Had they hit those goals, the makers of Hot Tamales would have sent them to Hawaii instead.

But some executives might ask whether or not it was smart. Infinitely so.

Just Born, the family-owned candy manufacturer that has been in business for eight decades (three generations), believes in motivating and engaging employees. One of its many philosophies includes that great things happen when everyday courtesy, kindness, and humor are woven into all our personal and professional interactions. And the Fargo team vacation underscores it well.

While some companies create incentive programs that make employees feel like they lost something, this company simply gave them something else. So instead of having an office filled with people who "lost" going nowhere, about two dozen sales people shared an experience that may even be a better team building vacation than had they won the most luxurious team trip.

Case in point. One of the sales associates told the AP, succinctly in good spirits, "Twenty to 30 years down the road, when we see each other, we're going to say, 'Remember Fargo?'" Whereas nobody seems to be dwelling on how they lost a trip to Hawaii, which is what they would have done otherwise. Worse, they might have even second guessed their sales, which increased by two percent (as opposed to the goal of four percent).

Developing Incentive Programs That Work.

Many employers put significant thought into employee reward programs, but sometimes they forger that employees do too. When faced with a rewards program, many employees ask: do I value the reward, can I realistically achieve the results, and is the reward really related to my (or my team's) performance?

Case in point. I worked with one company years ago that gave employees annual bonuses related to individual store sales, with the managers (up to 5 percent), assistant managers (up to 5 percent), and employees (up to 1/2 percent) receiving a scaled percentage of their salary as a bonus. While store managers seemed to be motivated (they received credit for new clients), it didn't connect with many employees — in-store sales people, stock personnel, or delivery drivers.

Why not? Because the bonuses were not related their performance. They were more motivated to excel in areas related to their job descriptions (and semi-annual raises).

In some cases, the program even split the team because as managers left the store to find new clients, employees felt deserted by management. In other cases, managers would aggressively pursue the bonuses as money they already counted on at the end of the year, sometimes wearing their performance emotions on their sleeves.

Even more daunting, store managers were also competing with outside sales reps. What made that especially interesting, however, is that outside reps' sales had to be filled at stores (and stores received credit for those sales). In sum, it was a mess.

Keep It Sweet, Simple, And Equal.

Now take a good look at the Hot Tamales sales incentive. The incentive was simple, sweet, straightforward, and singular in how it was structured. But best of all, even when the team didn't achieve its goal, they received something that fits in nicely with the company's philosophy, sense of humor, and is a memorable team building opportunity (maybe even more so than if they had received a trip to Hawaii).

Monday, December 20

Counting Outcomes: Pepsi Refresh Project

Pepsi Refresh OutcomesWhen people ask about social media outcomes, one of the best examples comes from Pepsi Refresh. In 2010, the Pepsi Refresh Project directly impacted the lives of 73,000 people and will complete 360 projects that will reach more than 1.1 million.

Better than a "viral video," the company's contributions have sustainability. For an investment of $20 million, it will fund 400 ideas in 2010. Just a few of the outcomes that Pepsi has every right to be proud of...

• 26 parks and playgrounds that have been built or improved
• 54 public and private schools that have been improved
• 3,800 animals that have been saved or treated
• 23,000 volunteers involved in the project
• $3.2 million dollars of additional funding has been leveraged and secured

These numbers only scratch the surface of what the project has helped accomplish. For more ideas, visit Pepsi Refresh Project.

"We’re looking forward to continuing and expanding the Pepsi Refresh Project in new directions," said said Jill Beraud, chief marketing officer of PepsiCo Americas Beverages. "We’ve asked all our fans on Facebook to share their thoughts on what matters most and to provide us with ideas on how to improve the program for 2011. These insights have helped us shape the program next year."

While many companies might look at the total amount of funding and shrug at the deep pockets, it's always best to remember that scale is relative. In 2009, the company's revenues were $43.23 billion with a net income of $5.95 billion. The point?

Every company generating a profit might ask what it could accomplish with a fraction of a percent of its gross profit. With proper planning and direction, it could generate sustainable outcomes, it could engage people within their communities, and it could leave an imprint on everyone involved. In some cases, it might lead back to sales. But more importantly, it will likely do something even more substantial. There are some things people don't forget.

Sunday, December 19

Counting Numbers: Best Fresh Content

Fresh Content ProjectThe five fresh content picks highlighted this week not only reminded me of colonization as an analogy for social media programs, but they also inspired me to expand upon the concept. After all, once colonies grow up, they often become countries.

So what would happen if we measured countries like social media programs? Well, China and India lead the world in terms of population (followers); Russia and Canada lead the world based on land mass (size and scope); Switzerland and Iceland lead in total employment (engagement); and Korea and Finland beat everyone in education (savviness). And which is the best?

I am sure most people might say their own country, but Newsweek picked Finland and Switzerland based on other criteria. Of course, if those countries were social media programs, some people might frown given those two clearly don't have enough followers, scope, engagement, or renown theorists. But the real lesson here is that people with social media programs, like Finland and Switzerland, probably don't concern themselves with Newsweek.

Best Fresh Content In Review, Week of November 29

Opt-In At The Source,
Adam Singer tries to balance public relations' new found love affair with social networks — and how they are investing more and more time on platforms they do not own or have any control over. As they do, many of them are experiencing diminishing returns on people who actually visit the customer's site or blog and opt in. The consequence? While it hadn't happened when Singer wrote his post, Yahoo recently listed several networks it has slated for a sunset. While some might be sold off, offsite platforms are fragile.

Overcoming Three Crucial Challenges With Content Strategy,
Valeria Maltoni offers up another way to think strategically when it comes to content creation. Specifically, she suggests determining how you are going to keep your company engaged in the conversation over the long haul. It requires resource allocation, workflow planning, and governance. Her three tips actually work as these are often the areas we're asked to help structure most often when we are not personally managing a social media program.

Commonsense Social Media Measurement.
Kami Watson Huyse, APR, sums up one simplified way to measure social media: attention (reach), attitude (sentiment), and action (outcomes). One of the best reminders she offers up is that business measures do not always have to include sales. They can include any number of measures associated with the company's objectives: registrations for conferences, sales leads, hiring, store traffic, and reduction in customer service costs. Nonprofits, she says, can consider donations, votes (for politicians), new volunteers, return volunteers, volume of donations, and the median amount of money per donation. Outcomes are the most significant measure in any social media plan. The other two — attention and attitude — just help you achieve the third one.

Online Videos 101: Keep It Simple, Stupid.
As a guest writer, Erin Greenfield shares an amazing first person account of how she was reminded that simple is sometimes better. For a class assignment, students were asked to create a video about the JHU M.A. in communication program (they called it viral, but we'll forgive that). After working with a $50 camcorder, the class learned that the footage was largely unusable despite about seven hours in production. When the class reproduced it, they used a Flip HD camera, which required about half the time and half the price. It's a good reminder that a bigger budget does not always produce the best results.

How To Spot A Great Social Media Marketing Program.
Although Klout scores continue to gain popularity, add Adam Singer to the growing list of communication pros who are quick to point out that the number of fans and followers (or click throughs) don't really add up to all that much. It's much more effective to create a program that clearly communicates your message, easily integrates with other communication channels, adapts well to including other partners, and creates a passionate team or community around its center. Not only does it make sense, it ties right back into this post's opener.

Friday, December 17

Spreading Emotions: Two Studies Touch On Social Interdependence

Have A Nice Day
As social beings, people are naturally interdependent. Just how interdependent isn't entirely understood, but one study and one report — one from the University of British Columbia and the other by the American Psychological Association — demonstrate that our ability to share emotions runs much deeper.

At the University of British Columbia, Christiane Hoppmann, professor of psychology, gleaned insights in the Seattle Longitudinal Study. This long-term study has followed more than 6,000 individuals since 1956. Their emotional state, according to the findings, is often tied more to the emotional state of their spouse than their own personal success, good health, and inner peace.

The study was recently covered by the MSNBC. While the study focused primarily on married couples, researchers theorize that it happens the same in friendships or with individuals who share a lot of joint experiences.

Stress Spreads Rapidly Through Immediate Social Circles.

This seems to be supported by a recent report from the American Psychological Association, which reveals that 90 percent of children and adolescents surveyed said they can tell when their parents are stressed based on how they act. The actions do not always have to be direct; people who are stressed exhibit less patience, irritability, and forgetfulness.

But parental stress doesn't end with the parents. As many as 47 percent of preteens (8- to 12-year-olds) and 33 percent of teens feel sad when their parents are stressed. The Dallas News recently spoke with several psychiatrists who believe such stress can lead to stress or even depression in children.

Social Media Magnifies The Emotional Charge.

Dan Zarrella tracked the impact of overly negative remarks and attitudes online over 100,000 accounts. His findings suggest that while negativity might create a spike in attention, negative people tend to lose followers over the long term.

Recently, Zarrella expanded on his tracking to conclude that people don't like spreading negative news on Twitter or Facebook. In fact, he rightly suggests that is why people turn increasingly to social media as opposed to mainstream media for their news. They've reached their threshold.

Marketers Might Consider What This Means.

When you visit a Facebook account like Delta and a Facebook account like Coke, you will find decidedly different experiences. The members of one are mostly positive. The members of the other are mostly negative.

It's pretty easy to guess which is which. What is more difficult to ascertain is how many members don't take the time to "unlike" the account. They just don't go back, unless they have another negative experience to share.

Imagine what this might do to anyone visiting an account looking for positive information about a company. Otherwise happy people could easily become hyper-sensitive in looking for more problems. Ergo, you reap what you sow. And every now and again, it really pays to consider what you might be spreading.

After all, if spouses and parents can spread stress and depression, it stands to reason that they have an equal shot at spreading kindness and happiness too. Of course, that doesn't necessarily mean everything you write about or talk about has to be another Kumbaya session, especially if it is faked. But it certainly might give you another reason to remain constructive in your approach while tempering how many "Debbie Downers" you enable or even how often you watch the news.

Thursday, December 16

Varying Story Structures: PR Needs More Than Vanilla

vanillaIf blog posts had flavors, most of them would taste like vanilla. Public relations can accept part of the blame. By any other name, the vanilla blog post would be called the "inverted pyramid."

" my opinion there is nothing more important then applying the 'Inverted Pyramid' to your writing." — Chris Bennett

"The inverted pyramid becomes even more important since we know from several user studies that users don’t scroll, so they will very frequently be left to read only the top part of an article." — Jakob Nielsen

"Structure your paragraphs in the inverted pyramid style. This means stating your conclusion first, then supporting it with the sentences that follow." — Brian Clark

"The ‘Inverted Pyramid’ writing style, where the most important information or conclusion is at the beginning of the post, lesser information towards the end." — Eamonn O'Raghallaigh

"Creating content using the inverted or upside-down pyramid is one of the top secrets for creating content that sticks and gets read or watched." — Scott Scanlon

Vanilla, vanilla. A thousand times vanilla.

So where did the all-vanilla rule come from? Conspiracy theorists might suggest it was planted by the vanilla bean growers, but journalists embraced the inverted pyramid because of the telegraph, and later because it was easier for editors to snip stories to fit whatever space the paper had available with no one being the wiser.

It made sense. As papers grew and people had less time to read, they skimmed the opening content. In many cases, readers were able to get the gist of the story, and then self-select themselves on whether they would read the whole thing. Nobody really cared whether they did or not. Newspaper circulations are based on delivery not readership.

It also made sense for public relations pros to adopt this format for news releases. There is nothing worse for a journalist than reading a dry, boring marketing-laced story that never seems to get to the point because it has no news value except for the owners of some copy and the public relations person. But then again, let's not forget that press releases are not meant to be published. They are meant to be one step up from an outline.

Not everybody likes vanilla. At least not every day.

While the majority of people like vanilla, it's a thin majority consisting of about 29 percent of the population. I suspect the same holds true for inverted pyramid readers too, regardless of what search engines and shares might do. It gets boring.

But more importantly, there are two other considerations to make. Most blogs are not just trying to report the news, giving people the option to read a little bit and move on. Engagement matters. There are not ten news stories competing for attention on the page (unless it is a paper). If they are reading your content on a regular basis, they are already there. And circulation (traffic spikes) ought not to matter as much as your readership.

Of course, that is not to knock the inverted pyramid out completely. Everybody uses it now and again. It especially works like a charm when you have less time to write a post. At the same time, I think we can all agree that scanning half a dozen blogs that read like press releases with the letter "I" sprinkled about gets old. It's gets old writing like that too.

Alternatives to vanilla posts to reward your readership.

1. Focus. Focus on one individual's story before ballooning out into a broader perspective. And then circle back around and conclude on the individual's story to summarize what the reader might take away from the story.

2. Scenic/Anecdotal. Recreate the scene or experience surrounding an event (without a focus on an individual), drawing the reader into the story and then transitioning to the bigger picture. Then, circle back to the opening.

3. Dialogue. Emphasize the speech or confessional of the person or persons in the story, demonstrating their plight or pain or point of view. This doesn't mean starting off with a quote; paraphrasing works too.

4. Chronological. Tell a story sharing a chronological series of events from varying points of view, bouncing back and forth between the subjects. It can be tricky to make it coherent, but it tends to work especially when you have cause to show varied perspectives that unite otherwise very different people.

5. First Person. While it is common among individual blogs, organizational blogs (except consultants) make it more interesting. If you are personally touched by a story, write from the heart like you might tell a personal story, even if it spills into participatory journalism.

6. Analogy. This post is just as much a story about vanilla as it is about the inverted pyramid, and the consequences of having too much of the same flavor.

What public relations professionals need to learn.

Just as many copywriters have to get over writing copy that demonstrates how clever they are as opposed to how clever their client's product might be, public relations professionals need to slowly move away from the inverted pyramid because you're not simply pitching a story — you're telling it.

Right. Public relations professionals communicating direct to public have to realize that they are no longer communicating to a busy journalist who will build upon or kill a story based on the first paragraph (even if story leads still matter).

If consumers are on your page, give them a reason to read past the opener because wherever they might go next will not be on the next page of your blog. It will be the next blog on their list.

Wednesday, December 15

Exploring Networks: Two Accounts, One Upside Down

Faux Social NetworksWhen most people look at a social network account, the first thing they notice is numbers. The general assumption is that someone with 10,000 followers is more important than someone with 1,000 followers than someone with 100 followers.

The thought process is so ingrained, some public relations practitioners even subscribe to the idea that bloggers need to have a certain amount of followers before they will work with them. Some social media practitioners claim there is a follower threshold colleagues must reach before becoming experts (as if). And even otherwise bright individuals seem to be locked into their own notions of who ought to rank where and when; the same people who called for others to throw off authority years ago.

Last week, I had an opportunity to look behind the scenes at two social media programs, using Twitter and Facebook. For the purposes of this post, we will call the accounts Program X and Program Y. Both are relatively new, about three months old.

Program X, by the numbers.

Twitter, 201. Facebook, 184. (TwitterGrader, 83. Klout, 32. TweetLevel, 34.)

The account can best be described as moderately active and reasonably responsive, with more than half of its followers seeming to be a logically connected by common interests. It is obviously still in its infancy, doubling in size every few weeks.

Program Y, by the numbers.

Twitter, 2,567. Facebook, 1,539. (TwitterGrader, 98.7. Klout, 36. TweetLevel, 35.)

The account can best be described as more active than average but not always appropriately responsive, with more than half of its followers seeming to be unrelated to any common interest. At a glance, it seems successful, growing in a much more erratic fashion, with brief leaps and long plateaus.

Program X, behind the numbers.

If you shared common interests that the account Tweets about, you might meet other people who have common interests. While small, there seems to be several areas for common ground that all the followers share. And, when the account is mentioned, it responds appropriately and also engages other people about topics you might expect (beyond talking about itself).

When it links to created content, it has an average number of shares. The visitation percentage to the content, however, is much higher (something 'influence' systems do not measure), around 20 percent. Even more telling, as a location-based business, are social check-ins. People seem to check-in with increased frequency, doubling every month since Facebook added the feature. More frequency would probably propel the account forward.

Program Y, behind the numbers.

Even if you shared common interests that the account Tweets about, you might think twice. Assuming you don't look at just numbers, there is almost no common ground between the followers. While the account is also mentioned frequently, some of the mentions seem to ring hollow, almost as if automated accounts are talking to each other.

Likewise, the amount of RTs seems to have no connection to the frequency of tweets, debunking the notion that RTs are necessarily demonstrative of value. In fact, this is probably why there doesn't seem to be any correlation to site visits and network activity. The number of visits to its content site from networks (something 'influence' systems do not measure) is less than .5 percent.

Value Assessment.

While one account seems to be ten times the size, it has roughly the same value, with Program X undermining its own long-term ability unless action is taken now. One of the side effects from an abundance of low-quality followers (spammers, follower chasers, and auto follows) is that the account creates more noise, but that noise is best described as static.

It's also impacting in that the follow rate of new, unsolicited followers is almost 3:1 between the two. In terms of those algorithms, it's even more telling. Twitter Grader falls right in line with the perception and not reality. Klout and TweetLevel overestimate both accounts in terms of what they call "influence." I am not surprised. Both Klout and TweetLevel tend to perform at their weakest toward the lower and higher ends of their scales (lumping most active people in the middle).

There are dozens of accounts that I follow that have much more meaningful engagement but are 'rated' lower by comparison because they are new, less active, or simply have no aspirations to become "popular" on social networks. You know. They are people, with very different uses for Twitter and Facebook than becoming popular.

So where is the real problem between these accounts? My guess is that one is operating on an erred objective — to create a successful social media program (or the perception of one, banking on the idea it will be real one day). There are a few consultants who do this all the time.

Conversely, what the organization would be better off doing is tying its objective to the organization's output/offerings and then communicating that in a creative and meaningful way rather than wish for buzz and awareness. I sometimes wonder what percentage of professionals know the difference. Or their clients for that matter.

Tuesday, December 14

Shopping Online: Clicks vs. Bricks Or Something Else?

Santa Shopping
"Trust, over getting the best price, is most important to consumers when shopping electronic stores and clothing stores," said Craig Elston, senior vice president, Integer. "This is not a surprise considering these channels offer bigger ticket items and consumers are willing to pay more for quality and experience in these channels."

Elston was speaking about a preliminary finding related to an ongoing shopper experience study currently under way by The Integer Group and M/A/R/C Research. Early research shows that shopping experiences, time saving, and trust are outpacing discounts this year. And, according to the study, department stores are scoring higher for convenient last minute gifts.

Conversely, another report conducted by comScore shows that online retailers already have something to smile about. For the holiday season to date, more than $17.5 billion has been spent online, marking a 12 percent increase over last year.

"Without a doubt, free shipping has become a critical driver of e-commerce purchasing, with the majority of consumers indicating that they will abandon their shopping carts if they get to check-out and find that free shipping is not included," said Gian Fulgoni, comScore chairman. "Retailers have increasingly responded to this consumer demand, with market leaders Amazon and Walmart, for example, both offering free shipping on virtually all transactions this season."

Free shipping does more for online retailers than offering a discount. From the consumer's perspective, it levels the playing field, giving the online retailer an advantage in terms of time saving and trust. With the exception of a few items people still hold in their hands before making a purchase, the online shopping option is easier (and sometimes more convenient for returns).

In fact, according to yet another study (StrategyOne's Annual Holiday Shopping Index), while 59 percent of consumers still prefer to do their holiday shopping in stores, the experience is beginning to vary widely among income groups. Fifty-one percent of consumers earning $75,000 or more prefer to gift shop in stores; 63 percent of consumers earning between $25,000 and $40,000 shop in stores.

This doesn't mean department stores and specialty shops are going to have to continue to lose to e-commerce. But it does seem to indicate a need for brick retailers to rethink the shopping experience. When an online shopping cart seems friendlier and most trustworthy than a check-out counter clerk after facing lines of tired bargain hunters, it's time to rethink the strategy.

Monday, December 13

Researching Sex: Does It Sell Or Smell?

Does Sex Sell?
Despite a new study by AdweekMedia/Harris Poll that works hard to prove that "sex sells," there are plenty of case studies that suggest the opposite. The further removed the product is from sex, the less people appreciate the bravado or even innuendo.

In fact, while Americans are known to be more reserved than their European counterparts, many advertisers don't appreciate just how conservative they might be. As a whole, Americans could take it or leave it, with a slight majority hoping to leave it.

• 56 percent are bothered by the amount of sexual imagery in advertising.*
• 37 percent are not bothered by the amount of sexual imagery they see in ads.
• 6 percent say that they do not see any sexual imagery in advertising.

*25 percent say they are very bothered by the amount they see in advertising; 32 percent are somewhat bothered.

Of course, there is a gender gap. Among genders, almost three-quarters of women (73 percent) say they are bothered whereas just slightly over half of men (53 percent) are bothered. Age also plays a factor. Less than half of those 18-34 (46 percent) and half of those 35-44 (50 percent) say they are bothered by the sexual imagery in ads, compared to three in five of those 45-54 (60 percent) and two-thirds of those 55 and older (66 percent) who say the same.

If people are bothered by sex in ads, why do marketers think it sells?

With the exception of sexually-related products, such as lingerie, sex is an easy way to attract attention when otherwise boring products or boring sales propositions just can't cut through the clutter. So, in most cases, sex has nothing to do with selling.

It has to do with getting noticed. After that, marketers are only hoping that people talk about the provocative advertisements and hopefully the product. But sometimes, this backfires in big ways.

For example, the Monte Carlo Las Vegas tried to reposition itself last year with a "can't think of anything clever, let's use sex" approach. It didn't sell Monte Carlo as much as it sold better Las Vegas hotels. (You might also notice that one commenter mentions it was a rip off from an artist.)

So, the question marketers need to ask, at least in the U.S. where people are more uptight — are we selling X or XXX? And, if we are selling XXX and consumers happen to remember X, then what are they saying afterward? In the case of Monte Carlo, they seemed to have said everything except what the resort wanted them to say. You know, like maybe they wanted to stay there.

Personally, I'm not uptight about sex. I am, however, uptight about bad ads because they are such a tremendous waste of money. Worse, they sometimes make all your other marketing efforts work ten times as hard, trying to undo the damage.

Sunday, December 12

Planning Ahead: Fresh Content Project

Fresh Content Project
When you work anywhere near communication, you will eventually meet scores of tacticians. They are smart people and many of them are needed. They work especially hard developing systems that they can use over and over again. Some of them even like to say "rinse, wash, repeat."

But is life really so easy? Is there some sort of magic formula that anyone can apply and soar to the top? Maybe, but I kind of doubt it. At least not in a tactical way, as important as tactics can be. Just ask the percentage of public relations professionals that used to rely on lists to get the news out (they didn't have a plan for all the turnover). Or, ask the scores of business owners that, sadly, couldn't weather a recession (most of them never planned for one). Or, ask several hundred SEO specialists who recently learned social networks are slowly undermining their coding skills.

As a business owner, you need a plan. And you don't only need a plan that touches on those little daily activities every day, but one that transcends daily actions that can be changed and gamed along the way. You have to build a better strategy, one that gets you from point A to point Z regardless of the weather, economy, or adaptions that occur faster than you can master them.

Best Fresh Content In Review, Week of November 22

PR Content: A New Architecture?
Although anyone could easily debate Adam Vincenzini's opener that public relations has been responsible for the creation and management of 'news' (we'd like to think actions create news, not a department), there is no mistaking his assessment that the function of public relations is changing again. There is a shift that requires public relations practitioners to understand what news is because they are often charged with developing the content. In other words, some practitioners are learning why their pitches never went anywhere.

Why We Let Strangers Tell Us What To Buy.
Unbiased (or the appearance of no bias), group intelligence, and reassurance are among the reasons that Jason Keith says we turn to virtual strangers for advice. There is another piece of this puzzle that deserves some notice too. After affirmation (looking for opinions after we've already made up our minds to buy), people turn to the Web because online reviews do not include "us" in the equation like any advice from a friend or family member might. While I don't agree that the quantity influences purchasing decisions as much as the quality of what certain reviews say, Keith still presents a solid consideration of what consumers do every day.

Do You Have a Plan, or Just a Wish?
Years ago, one of the first things I learned about strategic communication was that setting an objective was never enough. It had to to be reasonable, measurable, and achievable too. Based on what many prospective clients tell us, they often operate in wishes. They want to be market leaders before they ever have their operations in place. Valeria Maltoni pinpoints why we pass on these accounts. They dream of success, but never develop a plan to get themselves there. Sometimes something as simple as outlining the steps you need to take from A to B, as Maltoni writes, can help you appreciate the difference.

“Social Business” Can’t Replace Product Marketing Skills.
In an unrelated but related post, Geoff Livingston tackles the issue another way, specific to social media. He uses Jumo as an example. There was plenty of social buzz but no real bite. The launch had more than its share of bugs. Lesson learned. Chris Hughes may or may not be a social media genius, but he clearly didn't know how to handle the launch of a network. In contrast, Livingston mentions how Apple doesn't even have a social media program and it still managed to launch a product that has already changed the way we see the Web, at least for those who purchased the product.

Why Being “Big” On Twitter and Facebook Is Important To Google.
Jeff Bullas recapped Danny Sullivan's interview with Google and Bing, which shed light on why social networks have become increasingly significant in SEO: When people point to articles and blog posts from these networks, it counts. Specifically, Google said it looks at the social authority of a user. It's even more likely to count on Bing's social search, where tweets from more authoritative people flow to the top. One of the reasons both search engine services use this approach is simple enough. It's a lot more difficult to game social networks than spiders.

Friday, December 10

Being Yourself: An Anti-Personal Branding Introduction

shadow management
The usually adept Jonathan Fields wrote an interesting commentary inspired by a comment made by Paulo Coelho, which had attracted more than 37,000 "likes" in agreement.

Coelho had written "what other people think think of you is none of their business." Fields then contended it might be the opposite. In the real world, Fields says, what other people think IS your business.

The Paradox Of Personal Vs. Public Images.

In his book, Life, Keith Richards mentions that he is entirely aware of the image that is Keith Richards while still remaining true to himself, the real Keith Richards. Think about for a moment.

You don't have to be a rock star, especially online, to appreciate that many people have both. It's the core premise of "personal branding" and "image consulting" that if you look your best and project your greatness, you will attract greatness. The theory is sound and provable anywhere communication (verbal and nonverbal) interconnects — even politicians learn that there is a time to wear a suit and a time to wear a blue shirt, sleeves rolled, and khakis as if to say "I'm not with the suits; I'm one of you."

Working in advertising and communication is one of the best professions to see this stuff play out on a regular basis. People expect account executives to wear suits, creative professionals to be hip and cool (or unaware, almost anti-socail, and reclusive), public relations pros to be in between, and social media types to adopt something in between cool and tech. And, for the most part, many people dress the part.

We don't learn this stuff in college or anything. When you really think about it, we learn it in high school. At a certain age, our peers demand some semblance of sameness in sometimes cruel and unusual ways, reinforced by scads of ugly duckling movies that transform otherwise dismissed boys and girls into beautiful, popular people with a little makeup and a wardrobe change much like Ally Sheedy did in the movie Breakfast Club, despite the underlying anti-stereotype messages. A little bit of sameness can go a long way.

Sure, there is some truth to that. Not everyone can thrive in a lifestyle carved out by someone like Charles Bukowski and be happy. But neither should anyone expect to be happy putting on a mask every day because that is what people expect.

You don't have to wait for the world to catch up; it's really about you, anyway.

I appreciate that Fields says someday the world will catch up and allow people to be whatever they are, but I don't think they have to. There is a different dynamic at work. The world seems more than capable of accepting whoever we might be, as long as we're true to who we are.

It's the very reason someone like Don King can tease their hair up into a crown and make it work while other people would seem too buffoonish. Can you imagine Bill Gates sporting a King hairdo? But that is the point. Gates would look silly because it doesn't fit him as person.

Where personal branding people get it wrong is they often tell people to adopt stylings that reflect what's expected and accepted. Ergo, if you want to fit in, adopt the corporate culture, even if that isn't who you are. Hmmm ... is it any wonder the most extreme cases, musicians and artists and actors, are the most likely to suffer personality snaps and drug addictions?

Coelho is right; Fields only partly so.

Coelho provides some truth in less than 140 characters, but it's not enough to give people some indication of how to do it. It requires several steps, with the most important step being the one step that many people don't know. Be true to yourself.

There are a surprising number of people who don't know who they are, so they struggle with it. (That's okay. I did too, at different times, years ago.) But that is the first step. If you don't know who you are, then chances are nobody else will either.

Where I am sometimes disenchanted by personal branding experts or image consultants is because they seldom consider the first step. Instead, they tell people to imagine some famous fantasy as the end result. Business owners do it too, trying to emulate companies like Apple or JetBlue even if they aren't anywhere close to those companies.

It's one of the reasons we help companies (and sometimes candidates) develop core messages. We help them find out who or what they are, find the differences that make them unique, and then encourage them to stop trying to be vanilla because consumers (or employers) seem to have taste for that flavor. After that, it's a little bit easier.

So unless you're someone whose nature is to go against the grain, you can find ways to be yourself while demonstrating that you can meet the group or corporate culture halfway (a lack of empathy, after all, is a different sort of problem). In other words, embrace and promote your differences while demonstrating that you respect their sameness. It's a much stronger position, and allows you not to care so much what other people think about you.

You might even consider "anti-personal branding" of sorts. It's an awareness that character (who you are) and reputation (what people think you are) are two different things. If you want to succeed, all you need to do is diminish the space between the two.

Thursday, December 9

Playing At Public Relations: Rolls-Royce Asks Will It Pass?

QantasPeople often misunderstand that there is a virtual chasm between public relations and media relations. Rolls-Royce might be one of them.

While the grounding of Qantas Airways Ltd.’s Airbus SAS A380 fleet after an engine explosion may cost as much as $204 million, the airline will likely recover financially even if it does take significantly more time to rebuild the brand. For the most part, Qantas has taken a traditional crisis communication approach, communicating to various publics through multiple channels. It was and still is highly engaged with the media after one of its flights suffered engine failure.

But what about Rolls-Royce? By most counts, Rolls-Royce was largely silent about the failure of its engine about a month ago. The intent seems to follow the forgetfulness of the public by remaining in the background of public discourse.

It's not an uncommon approach. It's the same approach Halliburton took during the BP oil spill crisis. For Halliburton, it seems to work.

Does Communicating Less Work?

For Rolls-Royce, it's not. While the company continues to perform with diversified products and services, it seems clear enough that the engine failure, repeatedly called a design flaw, is weighing heavily on the company. It's not enough to kill it, but it is enough to stall it for an indefinite amount of time.

While the public might be satisfied to hear from Qantas, shareholders and industry experts following Rolls-Royce were not. What did the company offer up to its publics?

“This event and the consequent actions will have an impact on the Group’s financial performance this year. However the scale of our order book, the breadth and mix of our portfolio, the global nature of our business and our strong balance sheet makes Rolls-Royce a resilient business, and we expect continued underlying profit growth in 2010,” Sir John Rose, chief executive officer said.

With that measure being pushed forward to investors, a different message is being put forth to potential customers. Since the interim report, Rolls-Royce has put out a steady stream of releases focusing on innovations and contract wins.

While it is no more or less than it did three months ago, what does seem different is a drop off in softer news. Rolls-Royce is communicating, much like it did to shareholders, that it is all business. And while it has expressed some regret over the incident, there isn't anything to account for in terms of an apology or empathy.

The most current pre-incident forecast by Rolls-Royce was that during the next 20 years, 141,000 engines, worth more than $820 billion, are predicted to be delivered, powering 65,000 commercial aircraft and business jets. Specific to the most popular engines, Rolls-Royce maintained a 50 percent market share. In the past, it contended that the market is pretty unforgiving.

To date, it seems more than the civil aviation market is unforgiving. Investors did not appreciate that the company considered the Trent incident to be "partially mitigated by better performance in the Marine and Defence businesses." Companies that fail to communicate to their publics' satisfaction take much longer to recover than those out front.

Companies Cannot Afford To Be Too Quiet During A Crisis.

The exception, Halliburton during the Gulf Coast oil spill, was only possible because BP public relations missteps had distracted the public. Sometimes that may help a behind-the-scenes company forego public scrutiny in the short term. However, once the bigger bungler is removed from the equation, the behind-the-scenes players step into the spotlight. Case in point, Halliburton no longer has someone in the foreground.

While this story is still developing, the early lesson is that even if a company can escape short-term consequences by not communicating, that does not absolve it from long-term consequences. But more specific to the original observation, Rolls-Royce might already be doing better had it communicated well to select publics (customers and investors) even if it chose to let Qantas handle the media. Case study in progress. (Hat tip: Recruiting Animal.)

Wednesday, December 8

Branding Expansion Or Dilution: Train Wine Club

Train Wine ClubCo-op advertising and business partnerships are nothing new, but some upcoming pairings will certainly feel that way. San Francisco-based rockers Train have recently paired with K&D Wines and Spirits in New York to create the Train Wine Club.

"Hey all. My name is Jimmy Stafford. I’m in that band Train, and I happen to like wine. Welcome to our wine club! We talk about our favorite wine, the places we find it, what our favorite bottles are talk (sic) and some of our other wine-related shenanigans too." — Jimmy Stafford

The club offers a good value, even though plenty of people will find it pricey. It ranges from $120 to $480 per month for two California wines monthly, tasting notes, and eight exclusive songs from a live Train concert. Basically, $20 per bottle with some Train mp3s too.

So far, the club has attracted 3,000 registered members. Assuming they are all in for a year, the wine club generates about $1.4 million in revenue. Even so, Crush Management in New York told The New York Times it isn't about money. Bob McLynn, a partner there told the Times it is about “building a cult” around the band, using “the cult of wine.”

Brand Expansion Or Brand Dilution?

The concept of cult is hardly new. Gene Simmons was a mastermind when came to creating the Kiss Army. And even ventures like Sammy Hagar's Cabo Wabo have mass appeal even when the new music might not. Simply put, musicians include outside investments as part of their retirement packages these days.

But what seems a bit more unusual this time around is that the cult presence sought by Crush Management is beverage related as opposed to music and lifestyle (Kiss) or entertainment (Hagar). It's about wine, which seems far off from music — even more off than the single Meet Virginia was from anything found on Train's settled down album Save Me, San Francisco (which fit sipping wine).

On one hand, Train doesn't seem to be doing anything different than people who attempt to use social media to gain popularity and transform it into product peddling, except they are coming at it from celebrity down as opposed to amateur up. On the other hand, one really has to wonder how many bands would like to be remembered for a wine club, good (or not) as it might be.

It feels kind of weird, but perhaps it won't as more musicians move from selling songs to accepting sponsorships and creating signature products (e.g., Michael Anthony's Mad Anthony hot sauce) to product partner salespeople. Then again, it's hard to imagine Jimi Hendrix ever writing a blog post talking about how much he loves soap or something.

The real question for marketers is how much they are willing to gamble on the brand dilution. Anyone can appreciate Crush's point that bands can no longer make a living on music alone. However, you also have to wonder whether commercializing a brand away from the work that created it will save it or hasten the pace toward irrealivance like some had risked via reality shows.

You know. The music isn't great lately, but they know good wine. On a side note, there is no judgment here. It's more of a question, especially because some public relations professionals have been doing the same thing, picking up perks while being online spokespeople for companies or themselves.

Tuesday, December 7

Learning The Hard Way: Three Anti-Case Studies

social media
There is another side of measurement that people are sometimes afraid to talk about. It can best be described as reverse benchmarking — what happens when companies experiment with social, over focus on numbers, and then prematurely cut programs?

Sometimes they find out months later that their decision was a bad one. And sometimes, not always, it's too late to recapture the momentum. Here are three case studies and some lessons associates of mine learned a few years ago. All that is missing are names to protect mostly those who mean well.

Three lessons learned the hard way.

• An engineering firm set out to position itself as a subject matter expert, employing social media as one of the tools. The owner understood it, but the team of engineers did not. Two months after the program was suspended, the firm was asked to bid a $1 million job because of something read on their undervalued marketing asset. The return could have paid for the program for years, even if they would have never seen another bid (but they would have).

• An nonprofit organization switched from a social media expert to a public relations firm that promised bigger network numbers. They received bigger numbers on social networks as promised, but their annual fundraiser earned 10 percent less than the year prior. The excuse was the economic climate, but the truth is switching from engagement to broadcast was the difference. Higher numbers did not translate into higher donations because the firm didn't consider the connections or communication.

• A restaurant decided to reduce its social media budget, one of the heftier cuts from an overall marketing budget while entering a traditionally slow season. The owner didn't think twice because they didn't consider their presence significant based on social network numbers. But what they missed was that the real order boost was coming from people who promoted them on one-off networks. Incidentally, they also didn't know social accounted for their fastest-growing revenue stream (four times the investment) because people would check in but not redeem discount codes.

When you focus on the wrong measurements, you will lose.

While pursuing direct response sales is often pointless in social media, marketers need to remember that all communication decisions can eventually impact revenue weeks and months and years after the decision is made. It's something to think about, especially because social media numbers tend to lie on the surface. You have to dig deeper to get at the truth.

Monday, December 6

Finding Mobile: Smart Phones Make The Web Mobile

The Web Is Mobile
On Friday, comScore, Inc. released its quarterly key trends in the U.S. mobile phone industry during the three-month average period ending October 2010. The report ranked the leading mobile original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and smartphone operating system (OS) platforms in the U.S. Some of the findings are surprising. Some are not.

In October, 234 million Americans ages 13 and older used mobile devices; 60.7 million people in the U.S. owned smart phones. What is not surprising is that Samsung still commands an edge over LG on OEM devices. Apple (iPhone) and Google (Android) are continuing to carve up what used to be an RIM only market.

What is surprising is how people use their phones when they are not using them as phones. Second only to text messages, people use them to surf the Web and access social networks.

The Way Consumers Use Phones Is Changing.

• Sending text messages increased from 66 percent in July to 68.1 percent
• Using a browser increased from 33.6 percent in July to 36.2 percent
• Using downloaded apps increased from 31.4 percent in July to 33.7 percent
• Accessing social networks (or blogs) increased from 21.4 percent in July to 24.2 percent
• Playing games increased from 22.3 percent in July to 23.7 percent
• Listening to music increased from 14.5 percent to 15.4 percent

Given the short six-month timeframe, it demonstrates the rapid adaption of mobile technology. But more importantly, it demonstrates the seriousness of businesses thinking differently about their social media programs and Internet presence.

While apps have gained significant attention, Web browsing is still the fastest-growing segment of adaption. Specifically, with exception to networks, people are searching the Web from their phones. And, I don't know about you, but most Web pages aren't very phone friendly. It's something to think about. Keep it simple and give them a chance to engage your company.

Sunday, December 5

Moving Backward: Fresh Content Project

fresh content project
While the old saying "the more things change, the more they stay the same" has reached a cliche-like status, there is some truth to it. For all the good social media provides, it cannot fix problems that occur at the core. It can however, amplify them.

The government can still be among the most ineffective communicators despite having the best tools to do it right. People are still mesmerized by popularity, whether or not those popular folks know what they are doing. We still need objective reporting even if people tend to tune into opinions that affirm their own. Businesses still think in terms of broadcasting messages, even when they operate in a space where people talk back. And Google, once again, is making a change to help curb SEO gaming.

Best Fresh Content In Review, Week of November 15

Will Your Site Survive the Google Shrink Ray?
Pamela Wilson takes a look at the Instant Previews being enabled by Google. What that might mean is that the heyday of SEO trickery is finally coming to an end. It might not be enough to have the right words. If people start using the little magnifying glass, they can tell in an instant whether or not your site is worth the visit. And some of it may be made on the snap judgment related to its design. Wilson then offers up some tips to clean up the clutter. (By the way, some over-produced sites pop up as nothing more than a puzzle piece!)

5 Steps To Thinking More Socially About Communications.
Dave Fleet has always been good about writing with solid topic breaks. In terms of social, he sums up some steps that a few people need to read again: Think "inbound" instead of "outbound" (e.g., broadcast); think long term and not short term; adjust your definitions of measurement; integrate your channels; and expect some two-way communication. For many people working with social for some time, it might sound like old hat. But you know, there are plenty of people who still need to learn it.

How Not To Use YouTube by Ike Pigott.
Ike Pigott's mash up post on the failing and flailing TSA social media program is a fun way to point out that the ease of social media tool usage doesn't mean everybody ought to use them. One person who doesn't belong in a high profile spotlight as spokesperson is John Pistole. Pigott points to everything that is wrong about the video, which can be best summed up as producing it in the first place. The only thing they did right, he says, was disable comments.

Journalism Skills For Everyone.
A few years ago, Geoff Livingston and I got into a fight about whether bloggers could become journalists if they wanted to be. So, I find it ironic and amusing that he has come around with a wish list of bloggers who want to be more than hobbyists and give real reporting beyond an invented reality a try. What makes the post stand out is that Livingston, much like I did a few years ago, hopes that the amateur might step it up to help fill the void as many papers are left diminished. I hope so too, but expect we might have to have another run with a few yellow journalism empires before people see the need again.

The Problem With Influence.
Danny Brown has been writing with a new found fire since breaking free of some social media fishbowl posts. Nowadays, he is tackling the tougher issues like the problem with online influence measures and the bastardization of the word. There is an underlying irony in the post presented by Brown in that social media "experts" were the first to tear down fictitious measures of importance that some people held, only to resurrect them in some equally bizarre way — online popularity.

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