Friday, July 30

Finding Truth: The Death Of Hyperbole?

For several years now, dozens of companies have released scores of research studies that have captured the fancy of mainstream media for headlines. I've mentioned it a few times over the years.

In May, MyType surveyed over 20,000 of its users on Facebook to determine that iPad owners are generally selfish elites and their critics are independent geeks. Never mind that in another part of the study, the independent geeks self-scored themselves higher on being susceptible to greed. And never mind that MyType, a Facebook application developer, created the segments "by selecting only people who matched multiple profile characteristics."

That might be a naughty note in research circles, but it didn't stop a few papers and magazines from jumping at the chance to publish the findings, without the methodology. One exception, one month later, was the Guardian. It took more interest in John Grohol's article that called the MyType research bad science.

Balancing Popular Polls With Real Research.

Things are changing. As more celebrities join social networks, they tend to grab up positions of popularity over the once socially famous (assuming they aren't automated celebrities). As expert authorities increase their participation, quick psychology surveys by software developers lose any feeling of real importance. As agencies play a greater role in developing online content, what once was considered creative loses some of its luster.

It will take more time, but the media will eventually participate in the shift. As publications compete for the same base of subscribers, it might be in their best interest to police themselves against those that grab up nonsense. Specifically, those that benefit from pushing catchy headlines one day, may find themselves making the headlines the next (much like the Guardian did to several by pointing out which ones published the MyType research). Even those that maintain popular blog listings might be turned off, eventually.

The point here might be that this signals a restructuring over who and what can hold people's attention. And the good news is that some patently bad ideas might be vetted. The not-so-good news is that some networks might be more dismissive of those little gems that bubble up from time to time in favor of sticking by bigger brands. We'll see.

In the meantime, expect more research to be unraveled by people who practice science and psychology (and other fields) . While people who are authorities in those areas aren't always right, they're welcome to point out what others might be doing wrong. And that, we can hope, will be worth coverage by the media.

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Thursday, July 29

Trapping With Inaccuracy: Plagiarism Days Are Marked

The invention of the Internet
Ever since Bob Conrad, author of The Good, The Bad, and The Spin, shared the Wired story about Las Vegas-based Righthaven, we've been wondering about the future of a few "experts."

According to the article, Righthaven has filed "at least 80 federal lawsuits against website operators and individual bloggers who’ve re-posted articles" originally written by their first client. If the infringements are settled, they are worth between $1,500 and $3,000 apiece. If they go to litigation, they could be worth $150,000 or more.

Trapping plagiarists with inaccuracies.

While reposting complete articles is obvious, reframing ideas are not always so obvious, as Ike Pigott illustrated last March with his post Attribution is the Sincerest Form of Flattery. And again, comparing this story with this story. Are there similarities?

It might be more crystal clear if the screen scrapes were even more blatant. And one way to make that happen might be to borrow a page of out The Trivia Encyclopedia by Fred L. Worth. Worth lost his $300 million lawsuit even after inventors of Trivial Pursuit acknowledged that Worth's books were among their sources*, but recently a Wall Street Journal writer wasn't so lucky.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported on one of its contributors. It seems two "Agenda" columns by Bill Jamieson, executive editor of the Scotsman, sourced information without crediting the source. (Hat tip: Regret The Error). The reason it was obvious was because Jamieson had apparently scraped up errors from those sources.

*Interestingly enough, the only reason Worth lost his lawsuit is because the judge had ruled that facts cannot be copyrighted. However, while I'm not an attorney, I wonder if a better counter argument could have been that embedded errors aren't fact at all.

Avoiding the accidental pickup.

I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. So let's assume most people want to write something remotely original, but also want to use the openness of the Web to color their stories with other ideas, thoughts, and opinions. The easiest way to do that is by following some simple guidelines.

• Some facts don't have to attributed. In the States, we'd all be hard pressed to attribute who first told us that the United States declared independence on July 4, 1776.
• Other facts, however, deserve to be attributed anyway. And since we have the ability to link back to the source, readers might benefit from the source.
• Opinions and original thoughts are always attributed. Sure, there are times when two people stumble upon similar topics, but certain phrasing, analogy, and novelty might reveal a different conclusion.
• Full story screen scrapes, even with link backs, are a very, very bad idea. It neglects the rights of the publisher, which is why more firms like Righthaven are very likely to become the publishing industry's new friend.
• Attribution is the sincerest form of flattery, just as Pigott said. It's in your best interest to credit original thought because those credited are much more likely to promote the content.

For some of us, it all seems pretty basic. For others, it seems much more challenging, but not for long. If firms like Righthaven become a profession that publishers and even bloggers embrace, it seems very likely that a few popular names in social media and communication might come crashing down at $1,500 to $3,000 per infraction (or more).

You see, there has been another trend noticed among communication blogs that started about two years ago. As some became more popular, their propensity to attribute has shrunk. Author Geoff Livingston mentioned it last year. And since I built out my reader to the size he sported then, I've seen more "coincidences" than I care to share.

Wednesday, July 28

Telling Fibs: Why BP Photoshop Blunders Are Big News

BP Photoshop Photo
With Tony Hayworth, CEO of BP, stepping down to be replaced by Robert Dudley in October, many people have the same question. Can Dudley turn BP around, clean up the Gulf, and restore the company's reputation? At the moment, the answer is maybe.

October is a long time away, which may give Dudley a cleaner start than if he took over today. But the real challenge for BP isn't a change in leadership but a change in company culture. As one of the world's largest energy companies, that won't be an easy task.

The smallest fibs, not the largest, can be the most telling.

BP's liberal and enthusiastic use of Photoshop, not once but twice, became one of the biggest stories because the fibs were so terribly small. And that might mean something beyond the Photoshop lessons some very creative folks have left sprinkled around the Web. (It's hard to pick a favorite.)

• The company's code of conduct is being ignored.
• The culture has accepted a standard of deceit.
• The smallest of details don't really matter at all.

Years ago, when I was working on one of my first political campaigns, we discovered that the primary opponent had lied. Not only did he not have a degree in the field stated on his literature, but the college he had attended never offered such a degree.

Upon discovering this, we began a much more rigorous investigation better known as opposition research. Of about twenty points made to convince people that he was the best candidate, about 14 of them were either made up or patently false.

One fib on its own might have been forgiven by the public. But anything more than a dozen fibs was a lofty number. It didn't matter how small some of them seemed to be. Tell enough half truths, spins, and misstatements and any brand or reputation will eventually collapse. There seems to be a mountain of them related to Deepwater Horizon and the Gulf Coast oil spill.

Have you ever read the BP Code of Conduct? It begins as "one of the world’s leading companies, we have a responsibility to set high standards: to be, and be seen to be, a business which is committed to integrity."

How do you feel about that statement today, knowing that the company culture seemed to have embraced a general rule that tiny lies, little breaches of protocol, and miniscule lapses in following safety standards were somehow acceptable. As long as the paperwork looked good and nobody was hurt, did it really matter? It mattered on April 20.

On some things, it's better not to give an inch. The poorly done Photoshop pictures weren't being sent out as cover shots for the annual report. They were being provided as part of a slew of shots meant to convince us that BP was on top of the problem.

Obviously they weren't. The problem is on the inside.

*The above commenter photo can be found on Gizmodo, posted on July 22 by Jeremy "Bobafett."

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Tuesday, July 27

Interpreting Influence: Intuition Over Infatuation, Part 2

The reason I initially chose the title of this two-part post was to illustrate that we can be infatuated with someone, but that doesn't mean they necessarily have influence over us. I like many people online, but I don't always agree with them. And generally, the people I like, don't always agree with me either.

Our influence over each other is confined to the validity of our ideas at any given moment. And what makes that a stronger relationship, in my opinion, is mutual respect because neither of us is so enamored with each other that we fawn over every word. It's an unspoken, sometimes subconscious, connection. The ties that bind are ideas, not personality, popularity, or any other measure.

This post is part two of a two-part post. If you missed the first one, it's called Interpreting Influence: Intuition Over Infatuation, Part 1. It includes a link to an extensive education study commissioned by The Wallace Foundation. This post is an extension of my own conclusions in applying it to the discussion of online influence.

What Is Influence, Anyway?

1. A power affecting a person, thing, or course of events, especially one that operates without any direct or apparent effort.
2. An individual or group's power to sway or affect based on prestige, wealth, ability, position, or presentation.
3. A person who exerts influence such as friends, family, co-workers, and customers.
4. A power such as the moon and the stars, divine intervention, genetics, or law of nature.

The order of most definitions provides an insight into the meaning of the word, with the most weight being given not to people but to the ideas, actions, and reflections they make. Ideas are powerful, which is why some men with mistaken perceptions or malicious intent have worked diligently to control them.

During one of my presentations earlier this year, this became an important part of the introduction. Every innovation in communication to help messages, thoughts, and ideas spread has led to advents in how to manage, control, manipulate or snuff them out.

However, as influence applies to the concept of collective leadership, the power outlined in the leading definition is derived by a singular individual as much as it is derived from inherent truths that already exist within a public. And even individuals in definition 2 or 3 stand the best chance to succeed when they adhere to that principle.

Six Considerations Of Influence.

1. Ideas. If someone proposes a good idea, performs an action worth following, or reflects the feelings of an audience, then the idea (assuming it reaches the right mass) will be propelled forward. Consider how many ideas you have shared over the last few months and how frequently or infrequently you remember the originator of those ideas.

2. Authority. People in positions of authority have a degree of influence. A boss can set expectations. A legislative leader can pass laws. An expert might be given our attention. However, even people in positions of authority rely on the ideas they propose and the outcomes they produce. Allowing them to influence us is voluntary, even when it doesn't feel that way.

3. Persuasion. Novelty can influence us to look, but only in that it attracts our interest. The fictional Old Spice man didn't influence anyone as much as he attracted attention. It was creative, clever, and funny. Did it compel, convincing men to start using specific scented body washes? Maybe. Persuasion is powerful, but it relies on ideas to remain sustainable. (The ads also had a reward mechanism. They made us laugh.)

4. Proximity. People who are closer to us — friends, neighbors, family — can be influential, even if that influence is unseen. Over time, people tend to adopt the behaviors and beliefs of those they associate with on a regular basis, even if that proximity is not geographical. And yet, individuals don't necessarily set the stage as much as the collective of a community.

5. Popularity. Most social media measures record popularity. And while it is true that popularity can propel a message forward, giving it the reach it needs to impact more people, popularity on its own doesn't hold much influence. Consumers snub reviewers all the time to make movies into blockbusters because the collective ideas of many consumers might outweigh their popularity or authority.

6. Reinforcement. There are positive and negative reinforcements that can influence behavior. I've seen it in labs. It is one of the few actions that can trump ideas, good or bad. In a social network setting, for example, a popular person or someone with authority might influence someone to do something for a reward, whether it be affirmation or a prize (reward). As a negative reinforcement, it might be banning them from a site or the threat of diatribe (fear).

But the question I keep asking is does this type of influence come from the individual or the action itself? When I was in college, teaching mice to press a bar for water, it wasn't difficult to figure out that I did not influence the mouse. The design of the experiment and reinforcement did. (Surely, you would laugh at me for presuming I had influence over the mouse.)

What About Reputation?

Reputation fits in rather nicely. Yesterday, I mentioned that people did not march to Washington D.C. for Martin Luther King, Jr. They marched for civil rights and social equality. However, I am sure there were a few in the crowd that would have marched specifically to see him, no matter what the reason.

It seems to me, for those few, his reputation was based on not much more than the collective ideas and actions he had taken prior to that point. But what made him a great leader, much like many great leaders, is that his greatest ideas didn't make him influential. His influence — the ability to refine and reflect what was already in the American psyche — made him great.

Others, unlike King, rise to greatness only to see their ideas do not produce stated outcomes. They quickly wither. And as they wither, some of them begin to rely on other mechanisms of influence, with fear being the most commonly employed.

What's The Point, Anyway?

I don't have to be right, but what I do hope some people get out of these two posts is that real influence doesn't come from the number of followers, retweets, or any other popular online measurement. Real influence comes from something that connects two people — a shared idea (even if one person has refined it).

And while other factors, like those noted, can be influential or sometimes work in tandem, they also tend to be more fragile on their own. If you want to influence people with positive intent, the best course of action is to pay careful attention to what they already think and then refine and reflect their ideas back to them. Just don't make the mistake of believing that makes "you" an influencer. If you think that, there is a different word. It's called narcissism.

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Monday, July 26

Interpreting Influence: Intuition Over Infatuation, Part 1

There are dozens of influence measures on the Web. Most of them are reliant on some sort of algorithm. There is the Fast Company measurement disaster. Klout, which suggests Mashable is more influential than the President. TweetLevel, which even places me above him too.

When it comes to understanding influence, social media has certainly taken the wrong turn in understanding it. The continued attempt to make the unimportant look important is preposterous. Influence isn't about people or clicks or retweets or even trust. It's about ideas, actions, and reflections. And there is a new study that supports this observation.

A Study In Collective Leadership.

The study doesn't come from social media. It comes from education. It took six years to complete. It's 338 pages long.

Commissioned by The Wallace Foundation and conducted by the University of Minnesota and University of Toronto, "Learning from Leadership: Investigating the Links to Improved Student Learning" (Hat tip: Genesis) makes this case in a different area of study.

In studying 21 different leadership styles, the researchers discovered that collective leadership by school principals led to improved student performance. Collective leadership is a style that evaluates various stakeholder points of view, and then reflects those ideas back on the people where they came from (sometimes in a refined state that goes beyond what stakeholders imagined).

In other words, people don't follow the "principal" as much as they follow their own "ideas" as refined and retold to them by the principal. Not surprisingly, this is supported by long understood empirical evidence that groups and subgroups yield better results when they have a stake in the direction.

In education, the best performing schools all have principals who observe this leadership style, alone or in concert with other styles. And what this means is that the principal's "influence" has nothing to do with the principal, but the ideas and direction they give back to their audience.

The outcome is better performing students, supported by participating parents and dedicated teachers. And, when you think about it, it might even reveal why private schools tend to perform better than public schools, even though private school teachers are paid less.

What History Teaches Us About Influence.

Apply this thinking to history and you'll find the same conclusions. When leaders first rise to power, it's often on the promise of pushing the ideas of the community to the forefront of the agenda. Unfortunately, however, once many leaders are elected or assume power, they change the paradigm. They trade community ideas in for popularity, authority, or some other agenda.

Good leaders or bad leaders, the story always plays out the same. Stalin rose to power on collective ideas from the community, but then ruled with individual authority that refused to listen anymore. So did Napoleon. So did Hitler. So did many others.

There are some who didn't mistake influence for popularity or authority alone. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, George Washington, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Martin Luther King, Jr. all earned respect and influence because they remained committed to the collective ideas of their community. They were influential because it was never about them.

Ergo, people did not march to Washington D.C. for Martin Luther King, Jr. They marched for civil rights and social equality.

Sure, popularity or novelty can sometimes increase the reach of a message. But, at the end of the day, if the most influential person you know tells you to punch yourself in the head ten times, most people wouldn't do it, with rare exception. What exception? The same ones employed by those dark leaders mentioned — the positive or negative use of authority in the form of fear and consequence or praise and reward.

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Sunday, July 25

Flipping Social: Fresh Content Project

Fresh Content Project
When you talk about communication in a social media space, the conversations tend to shift toward social media. Even when they do, I always try to remind fellow professionals, friends, and students that social media topics often have lessons that transcend online communication. Replace the nouns and most posts are about communication.

That's what you'll find in this week's lineup of Fresh Content picks. The context might be mostly social media, but the lessons are embedded in communication. Take Jason Falls's post as a prime example. Before social media bubbles, there were people who would invest half of their day in professional organizations and feel pretty good about their illusionary places of power as industry leaders. There is nothing wrong with that, unless you want clients too.

Best Fresh Content In Review, Week of July 12

Get Out Of Your Comfort Zone, Or Else.
Jason Falls offers up a hard reminder why working too much or too long inside the social media bubble can dampen potential. With social media experts constantly talking to themselves and praising each other's ideas, there's still the rest of the world that doesn't know much about social media or communication. He then shares two encounters to illustrate his point. The greater majority don't follow the rules that communicators have erected and some never will.

A Cupful of Wisdom.
Finding an analogy between social media and the World Cup, Ike Pigott points out the obvious. There is a tendency for social media pros to game their stats but never score a goal. Sure, all those blind follows look good on spreadsheets much like being the shots-on-goal leader. But unless there is a conversation that leads to something tangible, your communication metrics aren't much more than the sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Social Media is the Servant of Strategy, Not the Master.
Writing a guest post for Jay Baer, Mike Cassidy shares his insights into why he sometimes feels that social media pros place too much emphasis on allowing the cart to drive the horse. He has a point. Embracing social media doesn't have to mean organizational change as much as it changes the organization. The difference might be subtle, but it's an important one. Social media can do an organization good, but not at the expense of a vibrant internal community.

The Internet Is A Kennel.
Ike Pigott explores minion behavior that sometimes occurs within the organizational structures that develop within social media. The minion's reward for following a chosen one is quite clear. In exchange for social servitude, minions receive attention, transference, respect, and a sense of belonging. And when the chosen one is attacked, the minions band together to assault the so-called attacker, even if there wasn't much of an attack to speak of.

The Million Dollar Pickle.
Communicators tend to be great storytellers, but that doesn't mean all stories are successful. Sometimes the stories we tell are memorable, but no one remembers the teller. It happens all the time in advertising, with one of my favorite examples being the company that ran a dazzling spot on cat herding. One week later, everyone remembered the commercial. No one remembered the company. Roger Dooley's pickle story is just as powerful.

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Friday, July 23

Trading Pace: How To Increase Productivity Without Being Hasty

Jeremy Sherman, evolutionary epistemologist studying the natural history and practical realities of decision making, has some interesting insights into decision making. And how, as things continually speed up, expediency becomes driven by an emotional aversion of hard work. He's partly right, perhaps with the wrong word.

He really means hasty, with all the spoils of an over-eagerness to act. As Benjamin Franklin once coined, haste makes waste. It's even the theme of a hit song by 10 Years.

How to recognize haste with online communication.

• Speed reading our critics to avoid anxiety or confrontation.
• Focusing on feedback only by those who appear to have amplification.
• Writing short, incomplete posts to flood the net with more of them.
• Reorganizing social network lists in order to only listen to a few voices.
• Using SEO shortcuts to attract people, regardless of content relevance.
• Following folks who are popular as opposed to those with quality insights.
• Tweeting conversations when you had enough thoughts to leave a comment.

And the list goes on, online and off. As Sherman says in an article on what he calls disappointment psychology, trading in a fast set for proper form at the gym is counterproductive. There is no benefit, other than our brain telling us to meet the quota without doing the hard work.

Another great example, especially interesting for anyone who tracks feedback across the Web, comes from a different article by Sherman (and it doesn't sink in to the murky pool of politics like the first one). He suggests people tend to speed read criticism because they are threatened by it. Again, he's partly right.

So what to do about it? Anyone working with marketing and communication on the Web knows that expediency acts as a magnet. Shorter posts that require little thought are the bread and butter of many popular bloggers. The author and readers have an unspoken contract to be marginally beneficial provided there isn't much thought involved. And that's fine, I suppose.

But what about feedback? Are you shortchanging the opportunities that present themselves from voices that aren't amplified by 10,000 readers? I know people who do. Some don't engage critics for fear of giving detractors validity. Some don't like confrontation, preferring to prop everyone up. And others simply try to define which voices are more important. Whatever.

How to avoid haste and increase productivity online.

• Speed read for validity, with a sensitivity to your emotions.
• Read every comment, looking for ideas not personality.
• Write tight, but make sure to fully flesh out the ideas.
• Keep up with friends, but allow other voices into the conversation.
• Never measure for traffic when trying to construct relationships.
• Give everyone a chance to demonstrate they add value.
• If you don't have time now; save and circle back when you do.

Sometimes people ask me how I can be active online and still make deadlines (my time online is miniscule compared to some of my colleagues who have 10-100 interactions more than I do). Still, I have found ways to maximize participation. It has everything to do with developing systems to improve productivity. And most of them work for me, but they might not for you.

An offline solution, for example, is finding time to read books. It took awhile to figure it out, but I have about 15 minutes to half an hour after dinner (usually on a reader). And, I have about the same amount time before bed (thanks to audiobooks).

Online, it's much the same. I can look at 100 or so posts from a reader list of 250 every day, skimming for substance. I flag those that seem to be a cut above and then read them deeper, never mind who wrote them. If I have time, I comment on them, but only if I can add value. (For example, I just cut a paragraph on speed reading critics, meaning to save it for another day).

The takeaway here is simple enough. Look for ways to improve productivity without being hasty. It's the most valuable tip from Sherman, summed and paraphrased: When you shortchange the journey, you may not reach your destination. And even if you do, you won't value it as much.

The same holds true for leaders. Look for ways to make the team more productive, but don't risk quality by forcing production.

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Thursday, July 22

Spooking Social Media: Ad Agencies Wake Up

One creative, interactive YouTube campaign and, suddenly, everyone's concerned about advertising agencies moving into social media. Some agencies, like Interpublic's Universal McCann and Publicis Groupe's Vivaki, are already building dedicated divisions.

It could reshape social, with some people concerned about the silos and buy-ups that I mentioned what seems like 100 years ago. Except, back then, I was talking to recruiters who "got" social media well before public relations professionals and communicators. Jim Durbin was listening. He recently outlined how social media stacks up in the job market.

Are There Consequences If Agencies Dominate Social Media?

If David Teicher with AdAge is right, it could lead to more silos (subdivisions) and shortcuts (blended earned/bought media). If Dave Fleet is right, it could lead to short-term spike campaigns (viral) and sub-optimal results (popular channel focus). If Todd Defren is right, then agencies will put campaigns before relationships.

They're all good arguments, but it really depends on the agency. I've worked with enough agencies that have created public relations divisions to know. Some shops integrate communication. Other shops dismiss the division as an "also have" service.

The same thing happened when agencies decided it was in their best interest to buy up Web design companies (and direct mail shops before that). Some shops develop great integrated campaigns. Other shops have an abundance of strong and weak components, skewing to what they know best. Almost all of them place an emphasis on creative over strategy, which might be why Old Spice lost some shine.

What about public relations? I might teach public relations classes, but I don't always understand public relations firms' business thinking. Many jumped on social media because they were threatened by losing some of their retainers to social media specialists and because media seemed to be losing its relevance.

Sure, a few have a passion for the space. But otherwise, it was a knee jerk with the argument that they were better at "relationships." Yet, if that is so, then why all the focus on finding influencers to replace journalists? That is what many of them are trying to do, which basically means they couldn't care less about the individual customer. That is the whole premise behind why some firms use Radian6, isn't it? Find out which commenters have juice?

It's Not Who Owns Social. It's Who Owns Strategic.

Communication strategy, not social media, is what will shape the future of communication. Someone has to stand at the helm of any communication program, and that usually means the marketer (internal) will most likely dictate the team, skewing to the areas of expertise where they feel they need the most help.

And if they need help with strategic direction, you can bank on the idea that whomever is given the strategic lead will decide the rest of the marketing mix — what percentage of the budget goes to marketing, advertising, public relations, or social media.

Next year, when one of my students in public relations asks me what they need to focus on to have a successful career in a communication-related field, I won't tell them to sharpen their social media skills (although they will need to know it). I'll tell them to sharpen their strategic skills because the people outlining the strategy are the people driving everything else.

When you think about it, that really levels the playing field, doesn't it? Every public relations firm, advertising agency, and social media boutique eventually develops at least one or two strategists (and sometimes they are not who the client thinks). If you ask me, strategy dictates whether a campaign will succeed or fail, not the tactic (social media) everyone has their eye on.

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Wednesday, July 21

Writing Stronger Leads: Six Variations For Story Openers

The most important paragraph of any story is the lead. So it stands to reason that the opening graph of any post is equally important, with an emphasis for SEO. Doubly so if you only syndicate a fragment of the post to feed readers.

But how important is it?

Let's say you're a journalist looking for a story. You don't have much time. Deadlines are looming. You scan leads (assuming you can get past the headlines)...

"To support the marketing and branding strategies of its wholesale High Speed Internet (HSI) customers, Verizon Global Wholesale is expanding its portfolio of services to include two white-label, or non-branded, HSI options." — Verizon

"RMT, Inc. (RMT), a leading energy and environment company, is expanding its services to the Federal market to offer complex remediation, energy management, and renewable energy solutions." — RMT

"Everyone looks better in butter, and thanks to Midwest Dairy Association a fun new Facebook application brings a popular state fair tradition – butter sculpting -- to life." — Midwest Dairy Association

Nothing, except maybe a blurb about turning your Facebook profile picture into a virtual butter sculpture. I almost tried it, but then remembered I don't look good in animated yellow. That, and unlike the cool Mad Men Yourself app, there is no preview before you opt in.

No matter. At least I read past the first grammatically challenged graph.

The problem, it seems to me, is that while most journalists learn to write several types of leads, most public relations practitioners (many of whom now write posts) are only taught to write one type of lead: "who, what, when, where, how" lead. Unfortunately, the inverted pyramid lead is also the most boring. They tend to be especially boring for posts too.

Six Alternative Leads For Posts And Openers.

1. Immediate Identification Lead. The immediate identification lead relies on subject prominence. This works well for stories, but not so well for posts unless paired with a unique action. Sure, name prominence is important. However, if a popular headline is paired with an action that matches everybody's headline (Lindsay Lohan Goes To Jail), you become one voice in a sea of millions.

2. Delayed Identification Lead. If nobody knows who you are or what you are talking about, it's even more important to place the emphasis on the action. The action will draw the reader into the story, assuming it has some news value. A weak action is what broke the read for RMT. Several prominent bloggers have done this to gain a readership on the front end. It's not "who they are" that attracted people. It's "what they do" or did.

3. Summation Lead. Anytime you have a complicated story, it's best to sum up as much information as possible. I'll probably use this variation when I write about CitizenGulf's Day Of Action next week (on a different site). The event has several talking points so, unless an alternative lead strikes me, a summation lead makes sense.

4. Creative Lead. Unusual leads work best for stories with some element of novelty. They don't always work for news releases, but the Midwest Dairy Association is an adequate example. It's too clunky to be called solid writing and too gimmicky to be very creative, but we did read past the first sentence. Of course, we might not have if that release was a post. It requires sharp writing.

5. Pyramid Lead. Public relations professionals who send out feature releases use them now and again. But mostly, magazine reporters are much more inclined. Rather than invert the pyramid, they lead with a small detail within the story and then expand from there. Pyramid leads tend to work best with imagery: sights, sounds, smells, tastes.

6. Promise Lead. Promise leads usually appear in releases about a study and they work great for posts with an educational slant. People who write about communication frequently use them, prosing up from what you might learn from the post. In this case, I'm merely supporting the promise that I tucked inside the headline, briefly explaining why you might care.

Nowadays, people place significant attention on headlines, but they don't always pay enough attention to the opener. I invest as much as 20-30 percent of my total time into the lead. If I don't invest that much time when I start, I usually revisit the lead when I finish. By that time, a new lead has usually developed.

Where the application of a better leads pays off is on search engines that share one line of content and third-party syndication readers. The latter, which is a choice some bloggers make because they want readers to visit the site, forces the story to live and die based on the lead. My advice is syndicate the full post. Not only will your story have a second chance as they scan subheads, but it will likely increase your subscription rate.

Interestingly enough, copywriters are the only pros who sometimes have the option to skip the lead, assuming the headline is strong enough. For everything else, it's all in the lead.

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Tuesday, July 20

Warring Tribes: When Playground Fights Go Public

another blog drama
Ike Pigott had the best analysis of a recent online spat between two consultants. What's not to love about any post that resurrects Spike the Bulldog and Chester the Terrier?

I won't be so graceful. The brush-up between Kami Huyse and Peter Shankman is intriguing because it ends with two kids meeting up after school in the playground, encircled by their pre-pubescent friends, stomping their feet, clapping their hands, and chanting "fight, fight, fight!" It didn't start that way, mind you. Confrontation never does.

One tweet. One post. One response.

If you don't want to follow the links, it sums up in two or three graphs. Once upon a time, the most popular kid in school, Chris Brogan, bought shiny suspenders. So that made it fashionable for other kids to talk about their suspenders, belts, and fancy elastic bands too. Shankman included.

So, one day, Shankman shared the news about his shiny suspenders at PE class. After reflecting on this, Huyse went into the music room and said talking about what holds your pants up, on its face, is pretty silly. Then some kid, who probably doesn't have anything to hold his pants up, told Shankman that Huyse was talking smack about him. Shankman called her out and pushed her down. Dazed, Huyse said she wasn't talking about him, only suspenders (but what if she was, so what)?

Whack. Slap. Poke. Push.

And then, wow, everyone jumped in: Joe Ciarallo, Geoff Livingston, Aliza Sherman, Doug Haslam, Warren Whitlock, and a few others, not counting the comments, tweets, updates, and whatnot. It also doesn't count the dozen or so other posts that didn't make the first few pages of Google. It doesn't matter that Shankman later said he was being sarcastic.

That's how these spats are measured. Not in physical blows, but rather Google juice and search returns. The end result? Well, once Ciarallo threw in a third-party punch, all the positive ties between Shankman and Huyse (and there were a lot) shrank in importance. And that's why, these little spats, which on their face are pretty silly, were taken so seriously.

When Playground Fights Transcend Into Tribal Warfare.

Most playground spats never get all that much attention, but a few spiral out of control, including some that ended with the threat of legal litigation and the promise of physical violence (one of which we turned over to authorities). In such cases, perhaps the epic moniker might fit, with retellings of how Sparta dragged in the whole of Greece to defeat Troy.

The interesting thing about real tribal wars, however, is that most soldiers on the field don't know the circumstances. They simply raise their home banner and press forward with erroneous conjecture. And yet others jump in for any number of reasons much like Agamemnon did. He didn't care about the petty dispute as much as the excuse to gain more power.

If you are new to social media, you might as well know there is no way to avoid disagreement. Sooner or later, there will be a flare up. And with that in mind, here are a six friendly reminders that may help you keep playground antics in perspective.

1. Never write anything without the explicit understanding that you are inviting comment.
2. Never assume omitting a name will exempt you from a reaction by those who own the action.
3. Never respond to feedback when you are emotionally charged by the unexpected critique.
4. Always remember that the Internet isn't a private call. It's a party line and people take sides.
5. Always expect disagreements to eventually become a headline where you never imagined.
6. Always remember that, in time, most people regret what happened prior to the resolution.

Keep these tips in check and most discussions, even heated ones, will remain discussions. It's generally only the overreactions that attract the most attention to move friendly banter into something more akin to kennel noise or all-out tribal warfare.

Case in point, I can blame Brogan for everything that happened between Shankman and Huyse because it's funny to do so. I also know that Brogan can take a joke (if he even sees it). There won't be a flare up, let alone a tribal war. And even if he did comment (which is rare), it would probably be light.

Now, if only those who envy his suspenders would learn that lesson too. Then civility, even with debate, might be plausible. Yeah, right.

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Monday, July 19

Trusting Companies: Consumers Look To Connect Online

Looking just beyond the drum beat of get social media or die, Siemens Enterprise Communications released a study that consumers are looking to connect with companies via social media platforms. Siemens is a provider of end-to-end enterprise communications, including voice, network infrastructure, and security solutions.

Interestingly enough, Siemens says the study shows that both employees and consumers want more social networking, but only about 30 percent of companies are ready to do so. According to the study, one-third do not have any formal policy, do not allow social networking at work, or aren't aware that their company is already being talked about online.

Conversely, despite some reservations about turing social media into a giant ad platform with companies blasting out information, consumers want to find companies online and on social networks where they participate. And, when they do have questions, they increasingly want expert interaction.

Selected Study Highlights From Consumers

• 70 percent of consumers want access to company experts via social media.
• 65 percent say that the online company to customer is a positive experience.
• 59 percent feel company outreach via social media will improve loyalty.
• 50 percent use social media daily or at least a few times every week.

The study may show how far social media and social networking have come since Forrester Research's study two years ago that concluded people don't trust blogs. People are becoming more trusting of the companies they engage online, with that trust clearly dependent on the interaction they provide.

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Sunday, July 18

Ranking Content Providers: Fresh Content Project, Second Quarter

For those who don't know (or maybe forgot), Copywrite, Ink. is running a year-long experiment called the Fresh Content Project, which puts popularity to the test. By eliminating the popularity equation from about 250 blogs, we pick a single standout post per day (with weekend posts spilling into Monday). There is no algorithm.

In fact, we don't even tally daily picks until the end of each quarter. And, after kicking it around the office, we decided not to keep year-to-date tallies either. Each quarter can stand on its own. We'll recount it all, every post, at the end of this year.

Last quarter, we published 36 Fresh Content Communicators. This quarter, April 1 to June 30, we found 38. Some names are new. Some of last quarter's names didn't make the cut.

What does that mean? It could mean anything. It might mean their best posts landed on a day when someone wrote something better. It might mean they're on vacation or haven't written in some time. Some have already been fresh picks in the third quarter. So suffice to say, this experiment isn't about winning and losing and there is no possible way to game it.

The way we see it, anyone included last quarter or this quarter has provided some invaluable content. And in our book that makes anyone who reads their blogs the real winners. Also, in terms of ranking, there is no correlation between the first quarter and second quarter. Nobody really rose and nobody really fell. If you think otherwise, wait until the end of the year.

So, below are 38 communication-related professionals who provided Fresh Content picks in the second quarter of 2010. While some are suited for specific tastes, the top of this list (with more than one pick) ought to be in your reader.

The folks below represent some of the freshest, most original content related to communication today. And, we look forward to reading more of their fresh content in the third quarter along with even more new and fresh faces. The comments are yours.

38 Fresh Content Communicators By Quality Of Content

1. Valeria Maltoni continues to blend communication strategy into everything she does at the Conversation Agent. Some regular readers might have noticed Maltoni is favoring tighter posts lately. In this case, tighter might not be better but it doesn't hurt either. Maltoni belongs on your daily read list. Her posts consistently land on the top of the pile.

2. Last time around, we called Ike Pigott an undervalued smart guy who pens Occam's RazR. In the last three months, he has only gotten better, with one of his posts still considered the best we read all year. His ability to simplify subjects by employing analogy and storytelling is a rare treat to read. Even when there isn't room to be the top pick of the day, Pigott always provides something within the top three.

3. We made Adam Singer smile over the idea that The Future Buzz might have been overly bullet heavy last quarter. You won't find it that way anymore, and it makes for memorable reading. Singer is easily someone to put on your watch list, especially if you like your communication conversations sprinkled with business. Memorable.

4. Geoff Livingston doesn't write as much about communication like he once did. However, anyone reading his work at Geoff Livingston will find it still rings loudly in whatever theme he covers. Even when you don't agree with him, his knack for nailing the truth on a great many subjects will dazzle you — especially when they go against the grain. More than that, he has a big heart and his recent efforts to help people in the Gulf are admirable.

5. If you have ever had the pleasure to meet Jason Falls, you already know he can best be described as infectious. And lately, Social Media Explorer has been digging ever deeper into the fine line between perception and reality. His conclusion: Get out of your comfort zone because sometimes the people who aren't talking hold more insights than the people who are. So that's why we read Jason Falls.

6. Louis Gray, author of has penned his fair share of surprising insights in the last quarter, including his comprehensive list of 50 top startups. So if you want to keep up with the tech business side of social media, he has to be included on your read list.

7. As the dominating voice on TopRank, it's probably no surprise to see Lee Odden on this list. Lately, what we've loved best about Odden's work is his quest to keep pace with the changes occurring within SEO and social media. For the last few months, Odden has also led the charge on putting a more human face on SEO, which is a direction that will only make the industry stronger.

8. Roger Dooley doesn't only care about what people think. He cares about how they think too. Several times a week, he'll show some studies and observations about how they do on Neuromarketing. If you're in communication today, you ought to be interested. Nothing will help you think more strategically than skipping tactical tips and thinking about how people think.

9. You know Ian Lurie must write some good posts on Conversational Marketing. Why? If they weren't good, I'd never pick them just because it's such a hassle to find his Twitter account. That little rant aside, Lurie has a nice blend of SEO, social media, and marketing that become addictive over time. He's especially good when he's grounded. Watch for those moments.

10. Arik Hanson and his Communications Conservations is another under-read communication blog, with an emphasis on social media. Many of his tips are task-oriented, but every now and then Hanson tackles the reality of a deeper issue — like the myth of a viral video. In addition to his blog, make sure you follow him on Twitter.

11. There doesn't seem to be any doubt that Dave Fleet is at his best when he outlays what he thinks in the frankest way possible. The blog is a mix of lists with the occasional burst of well-thought-out insights. It's a good mix of anything goes and everything Fleet finds relevant. One of our favorites this quarter was Fleet telling people why their social media campaigns probably suck.

12. It seemed to take some time before the Web Strategy blog by Jeremiah Owyang had as much as passion as it did when we first started reading it. But this time around, Owyang's less frequent posts seem back on track in between the news bites. His tried and true signature matrix maps always bring something new to communication strategy. Watch for those.

13. Mitch Joel isn't going to go anywhere soon. Six Pixels Of Separation always provides a deep look at whatever content Joel happens to be presenting. Some people say that makes his blog too heady to be popular. But on the contrary, that is precisely what makes his blog worth reading daily. You'll find a sort of zen there that other thinkers just don't seem to have.

14. If you are looking for someone to make you smile while you learn some lesson in communication, try This One Time At Brandcamp, penned by Tom Fishburne. Every week or so, Fishburne offers up a lesson or two tucked under an illustration that could stand on its own. You might not always be sure which came first, the cartoon or the post, but they always match just the same.

15. Reading The Brand Builder by Olivier Blanchard won't be everyone's bag. We say that only because his most memorable posts attempt to teach us two things at once. It makes the post much longer, and we think more memorable too (which is our bag). We especially like his lesson wrapped up in history. He's sharp on ROI too, you know, for good measure.

16. Perhaps it's because he hails from South Africa, but Patrick Collings sees things differently at the Brand Architect. What's somewhat refreshing here is that he doesn't always have a need to repurpose other people's ideas. He just shares them straight and allows you to draw your own conclusions. It also makes his thoughts on branding more powerful when he does take the time to share his ideas on how things could be done.

17. Peter Winick is a new face to Fresh Content, but Thought Leadership Leverage has been in our personal reader much longer. What we like best about Winick is his regular procession of asking the right questions at the right time. A few days ago, I mentioned that asking questions is one of the three cornerstones of creativity. Winick gets it.

18. Peter Himler offers up plenty about public relations on The Flack with an emphasis on using YouTube as a conversation starter. Sometimes there are great social media crossover topics too, including his analysis on what BP could have done better in reaching people online. It was smart, bookended by many other smart ideas.

19. Dean Rieck isn't as well known among the social media crowd, but he has made a name for himself in copywriting circles. We met online several months ago, and I've been reading ProCopyTips ever since. If you want to start looking outside your bubble, make sure you add him to your list. I'm not just saying that because of my background as a copywriter. Heck, Rieck didn't even call while he was in Vegas.

20. Maria Reyes McDavis aka WebSuccessDiva is our favorite colossal digital geek brainiac at Digital Peas & Carrots. She's always helpful outlining various SEO tactics for copy and content writers as opposed to the IT teams. And she always tempers her SEO advice with a warning. Being found is great, but you still need great content to keep people around.

21. Anytime you need someone to liven up a party, don't look any further than Bill Sledzik. Before heading out for the summer, he sparked more than his share of conversations at ToughSledding before moving it to a new address. No worries. ToughSledding, when Sledzik has time, is as tough as ever.

22. Jay Ehret aka The Marketing Guy knows a thing or two about branding. The Marketing Spot has been a long-time favorite around here for that exact reason. Any time Ehret tackles a branding issue, it's likely to help you clarify your thoughts on the subject and lead to new insights on old ideas that feel worn.

23. Last quarter, we noted how Jenn Riggle was providing valuable insight into social media with a medical twist, but her content is becoming more expansive on The Buzz Bin. Much like I once said of the person who founded The Buzz Bin, she's somebody to watch. So are some of the other voices over there.

24. Jeff Bullas seems to be on a roll lately, with some well-considered tips on Internet marketing, buried under his always sensationalized headline. Skip the headlines and get into the meat of the content and you might be surprised to find some compelling data and research on trending. Bullus needs more readers. It's that simple.

25. Chris Brogan always has a lot of irons in the fire. He has one of those blogs you almost have to read even if, over time, you come to realize the reading isn't all that deep at Chris Brogan. Don't misunderstand me. There is obviously some solid content there or he wouldn't be here (there is someone as equally popular who isn't here, I might add). Still, I'm only mentioning it now because sooner of later someone might appreciate that deep and read don't always go together. Brogan is read.

26. Kyle Flaherty tends to look upon social media with a skeptical eye. Anytime someone does that, they are likely to see some social media enthusiasts turn off. Maybe that's why we liked a post or two from Dances With Strangers. In fact, we like Flaherty, even if he is wrong about all ROI being mostly about sales. It ain't all direct response. Ha.

27. Ari Herzog, writing AriWriter, frequently finds himself on the lower end of the AdAge Power 150. (No worries. We don't even play.) And yet, his blog — between shorter personal interest posts — frequently brings a perspective to social media that can't be ignored. What you might like best about this blog is his willingness to take a hard look at the finest of details. What do we like? Its crispness.

28. When it comes to visual communication, few people do it better than David Armano. Logic + Emotion has been around for some time. Recent social media rant aside, anytime Armano has time to illustrate his thinking is something not to miss. Sometimes in a single image, you immediately see what he means. Sure, he has a little less time since he joined Edleman, but it's still a treat when he has the time.

29. Sean Williams is one of the nicest guys around online (and one of several that I'd most like to meet). Communication Ammo is also climbing up as one of our favorite reads because it often covers topics that we just don't find anywhere else. It's less popular but more relevant than many other reads out there.

30. When Jed Hallam mapped out an online network theory at Rock Star PR, we immediately knew why we decided to add him to the list. Even if the devil is sometimes in the details, Hallam is on the right track in mapping the connections people make online. Social connections can tell you a lot. Hallam had several second pick posts this quarter too.

31. Anytime someone says online and B2B in the same breath, it's hard not to immediately think of Christina Kerley. The Ck's(B2B)Blog is a longstanding veteran on the topic. And, like many other bloggers, picking this niche was a decision she made to stick close to her core as opposed to making a break for popularity. True, CK doesn't post as often as she used to, but you'll always find passion when she does.

32. Kristen Hines was one of the newer fresh content finds this quarter. She writes the very robust blog at We absolutely love her blog, but the drop down banner makes her a better read in the Google feeds. What also makes her stand out is she generously shares what she does and how she does it, ranging from why you need an e-newsletter to the experiment that proves popularity and page rank don't mix.

33. Since Chris Koch approaches marketing from the B2B perspective on Chris Koch's B2B Marketing Blog, he tends to be a little more targeted. To be more targeted, he suggests that copywriters and marketers learn something about the stories that journalists tell. We've grown fond of him because he see marketing as leading in social media, but adds that marketing has to change in order to do it.

34. MarketingProfs, headed by Ann Handley, still cuts through the clutter with the occasional study. This time around, MarketingProfs shared findings from Vision Critical to show how social networks can be influential, but not always trusted. It mirrors our findings that influence is often a collective action attached to an idea and not an individual.

35. Jay Baer likes to bill himself as hype-free social media, but we know better. His posts speak volumes about his enthusiasm for everything social and we wouldn't have it any other way. He sees social media as the final frontier and often uncovers evidence that will have you believe it must be so on Convince&Convert, where you'll find other fine voices too.

36. When Brian Solis isn't writing about his book, he recaps studies and adds insight better than most. It makes us wonder if maybe that's it: We read Brian Solis because he has a nose for news as it relates to social media. And even when we don't agree with his assessment of what that news might mean, we still give him credit for setting the right agenda.

37. Ben Decker is another new addition to the list, writing for the Blog Decker. He tends to contribute less than the co-authors, but he always makes it personal when he does. I like his prose better than his videos because video seems too linear. However, I know plenty of people who will disagree with me. He's very personable, on camera or off.

38. Michelle Bowles hasn't been active on TopRank Online Marketing Blog since April (she left in May), but her contributions are considerable. Her forte tended to be developing clear and concise tip sheets, usually with three to five tips at a time. We'll keep an eye out to see where she lands next.

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Saturday, July 17

Serving Oddballs: Fresh Content Project

Every now again, the only way to describe an entire week of fresh picks is to admit they're all off kilter. The first full week in July was much like that, with five posts that make us blink at the less celebrated outcomes of social media.

Right. Sometimes social media does the unexpected. Numbers get twisted for effect and then still land on the front page of mainstream media. Media outlets create contests to make fun of online participants, only to erode the credibility of the jokesters. And then, someone with a lighter and brighter touch does something similar with a startlingly positive outcome.

When these are the headlines, is it any wonder some companies are asking their CIOs to protect employees (for their own good, they think)? But perhaps that's the lesson. When social media is taken too seriously, it makes the sharpest people look silly.

Best Fresh Content In Review, Week of July 5

EWG Hits Home Run (Again): This Time, Sunscreen Is Unsafe.
Ever wonder how much you can believe on the Web? Bob Conrad does, especially when it comes from Environmental Working Group (EWG). EWG sometimes releases "studies" that capture everyone's interest, landing it on the front page of the press. The downside, of course, is that the details don't always hold up. In its latest attempt at garnering attention, EWG declares sunscreen is worse than ultraviolet rays.

How Fast Company Confused Ego With Influence.
Influence is all the rage as a conversation starter, but Amber Nusland was one of the first to flush out one of several problems with Fast Company's approach to measurement. Sadly, even though most people have passed on the game or got out while the getting was good, some folks are still fighting for first place in a url pimping contest. There is no question about it. We pity the person who, er, wins. Indeed, it was sad to see someone I once respected beg for votes.

Everyone is Wrong About Influence.
In a follow-up to the Fast Company debacle, Valeria Maltoni pinpoints that movements tend to influence people more than the people themselves. Even more interesting, the better direction for Fast Company was somehow outstripped by the link bait party antics of the Influence Project. Much like reputation, influence is a by-product not the "salesman" but in tune with what is being sold. Put up a link toward great content and people might click on it. Pimp meaninglessness and soon the so-called influence slowly fades away.

What Type of Earthquake Tweeter are You?.
Everybody needs some comic relief now and again, and Rachel Kay provided some with a psychology twist. She shared eleven different responses to earthquake news that has become all too familiar on Twitter and Facebook. What makes this post so brilliant is that Kay doesn't tell her story from inside a fishbowl. Instead, she puts the whole world inside one. One wonders how the fish felt gazing up at their reflections or if they even know. Better yet, after a great chuckle, some people might quickly scroll back to see where they might have fit.

• CIOs Are Sticking Their Heads In The Sand By Blocking Social Media.
As impossible as it seems, some companies are still trying to find ways to block social networks or attempt to regulate their workers from writing on each other's walls for work purposes. Jenn Riggle captures what some CIOs have either been asked to do or perhaps made up as some sort of solution to pull out of their hats. There seems to be a much easier solution than read- only access. Social media might be treated much like the two martini lunch was in the 1970s. Landing the client was cool. Coming back drunk, not so much.

Friday, July 16

Fading Creativity: How To Reignite Yourself And Your Kids Too

CreativityShortly after IBM released its poll of 1,500 CEOs who identified creativity as the no. 1 “leadership competency,” Newsweek published an article that was sure to disappoint. U.S. creativity scores are on the decline.

According to the article, American teachers warn there’s no room in the curriculum for creativity classes. But scientists are quick to point out that art isn't the only path to creativity. The creative process isn't about applying known solutions. It's about divergent thinking and cognitive skill sets, something that often becomes lost in the rote memorization that overcrowds curriculum.

However, it's not just about education in schools. Its about how kids play too. Video games, for example, require rote memorization much more for success than creativity. Immersive worlds require less imagination and much more memory of where certain advantage areas exist on a map and how to a mouse or game pad in a particular way to gain an advantage.

How To Apply Creativity Into Everyday Life.

The greatest creative sparks aren't born from what you have. The greatest creative sparks are from what you don't have. And, I might lump experiences into the mix along with the materials at hand. The same holds true for kids and adults alike.

Broaden Yourself. Try new experiences, things you wouldn't ordinarily do. Even experiences that seem ordinary can provide a unique perspective. Recently, Psychology Today ran an article on how living aboard can make you more creative. But if you apply a little more logic to Art Markman's post, you might not have to go very far at all. Even within your community, there are cultural and demographic differences that can stimulate your head.

For children, it's easy enough. Pull them away from the immersive activities and introduce more explorative activities. For adults, it might be more challenging. Break out of the routine by randomizing your weekend activities, restaurants, and even what you listen to.

Challenge Yourself. Don't take the easy road. The China Economic Review noted that business educators are placing a heavier emphasis on entrepreneurship necessity. Instead of attempting to copy what works (rote memorization and case studies), they are trying to teach the next generation of business leaders to solve problems with less.

For kids, it might mean creating their own game rather than relying on one they already own. Or, interweaving different lessons within a specific context such as learning math as Egyptians might have needed it to build the pyramids. For adults, it can be virtually anything from limiting the amount of time to get household chores done (but still get them done) to recreating a recipe (substituting duck for chicken, perhaps).

Question Yourself. Ask questions, even when things work. Almost every business problem-solving course eventually touches on creativity and innovation. One of those models was developed by Alex Osborn and Sidney Parnes. Their Creative Problem Solving Process always emphasized asking more and more questions in order to help clarify problems. And, they follow it up by providing dozens of answers to each one, even if it leads to more questions.

For kids, the warning sign to watch for is when they stop asking so many questions by middle school. When they stop asking questions, it's time to start asking them questions — even if those questions seem ridiculous (like what if clouds were made of Jello). For adults, the best place to start is often on all those challenges, dreams, and tasks that fall by the wayside. Make a list for each and start asking what you could do about taking care of it or making it happen.

Americans Aren't Losing Their Creativity.

People don't necessarily lose creativity as much as they lose the will to provide for it. Given how many hours people spend surfing the net, it's no wonder there doesn't seem to enough time in the day for anything else.

Sure, the Internet can be enriching in terms of making new connections and being exposed to other people's creativity. However, sometimes you have to unplug from what is becoming too familiar of an environment and set out to make your own way. Or, in other words, sometimes finding the answer without Googling it can lead to a better solution and always a richer experience.

Creatively Related Posts:

• Where has Creativity Gone? on Common Sense Gamer
• The Most Important Quality for CEOs? on The Creative Leadership Forum
How To Make Money Using Social Media on Six Pixels Of Separation

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Thursday, July 15

Getting Swaggered: Old Spice And Minivans?

If social media buzz ruled the world, we'd all smell like Old Spice and drive minivans. And, without the benefit of the YouTube videos to back up the imagery of what we're supposed to relate to, it's a very frightening thought.

Thank goodness some people are interested in seeing sales numbers before adopting the practice of flash-in-the-pan spots where companies poke fun at themselves. But do ads that draw more attention to themselves than the product really draw in customers?

The Toyota Minivan Rap.

The first time I really gave the minivan rap half a thought was after Driven Media mentioned its marketing blog. I'm always interested in new marketing blogs, but was surprised to find some praise for the Toyota Minivan Rap, which has been shared everywhere for approximately 4.5 million views.

Sure, it's almost funny, creative, and pokes fun at the embattled Toyota company. But why did it really receive attention? It was the first attempt at a campaign since the recall crisis. At least one media outlet asked if it was racist (I don't see how). And even the talent and agency attracted some attention. But what about the minivan?

The irony? There really isn't a minivan market anymore. Last year, minivan sales plunged to 415,000, partly due to the fact that most minivans get an estimated 19 miles per gallon.

Another irony? For all the sharing, I wonder how people would feel if they knew a consumer offered up one rap one year earlier? Still, as they say in Japan, all is forgotten in 70 days.

The Old Spice Man Spontaneity.

Even more viral than the minivan rap is the Old Spice guy. Much like a drunken party, everyone is piling on to say how brilliant the creative is without fear of a hangover. I won't question that. It's funny stuff, much funnier than the minivan video. I love reading about how they made it.

There is no question the video series is a temporary social media success story. Here are some stats, driven by the unpredictability of it all.

On the flip side, some people are questioning the product smell. That question really helps pinpoint what needs to be asked.

While the campaign might convince people to give Old Spice a try (maybe), what happens after that? It all depends on the product. But more importantly, even if changes to the product will help push it along, can the Old Spice success be attributed to social media?

NO. If people read business magazines more than they watch YouTube videos, they would already know Old Spice had inched by Right Guard to become the nation's leading deodorant and antiperspirant for men. So, this might not be a social media success story at all.

This is a long-term rebranding effort that started a long time ago, with the opening image above a part of it all. So, the social media series is just another step. And knowing this might prompt other questions all together. Does the social media series run counter to the investment that gave Old Spice a base to connect with on YouTube? It's hard to say, but there is one last irony.

One of the Old Spice products also includes a "Swagger" strip as part of the product positioning. So maybe the initial idea that minivan owners are Old Spice customers isn't far off after all. The only thing weird about that is that Tony Stewart doesn't drive one of those around the track.

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Wednesday, July 14

Causing Commotion: Apple Made One Mistake

Sooner or later, it happens to every company. And for Apple, it's not the first time. The Newton was a disaster in 1987, even if the concept has somewhat redeemed itself as being the possible first step toward developing the iPhone and iPad.

The challenge this time around is barely a blip by comparison. The iPhone 4 reportedly has a problem with the antenna design. Or, maybe it's a problem with the reception reporting formula. Or, maybe it's all in how you hold it.

There has always been some push and pull with Apple. For every five loyalists joining the Cult of Apple, it creates one, um, Whig. And today, the Whigs feel pretty proud plugging Consumer Reports' call for a recall. Despite having the highest rating in its class, the consumer watchdogs want a fix.

There is also the drama about Apple forums, which have always maintained a strict policy that they are for tech solutions and not customer complaints. (The policy is unpopular, but understandable. When I search for solutions, I don't need gripes.) And then there is drama over the small stock dip yesterday, with Apple shares already recovering.

The Public Relations Misstep Was Speaking Too Fast.

Apple clearly mismanaged public relations this time around, giving those who want to make mountains an opportunity to do so. The 30-day return policy, software problem admission, and home remedies don't seem to be enough to appeal to the media, even though there are people who are reporting they wouldn't trade in their phones because their reception has never been better. Most of this could have been avoided had Apple and Jobs, specifically, not spoken to soon.

And yet, the Whigs, if you will, seem very loud in comparison to a quieter majority without issue. In fact, there are enough unaffected people that have some people wondering whether the problem is overblown or not. But this, unlike other issues, makes for a much more dangerous game.

On one hand, Apple could recall the product (probably without an immediate replacement if it is a hardware design flaw). The cost could be between $900 million and $1.5 billion. On the other hand, no one has put a price tag on potential brand damage should the "arrogant" moniker eventually mean something. Is there any middle ground? Maybe.

• Apple could readdress the issue, specifically addressing Consumer Reports but not defensively.
• Apple could recap all the fixes to date, including a reinforcement that people can return the phone (30-day limit).
• Apple could give consumers the option once a solution beyond rubber Band-Aids becomes available.
• And, if there a hardware problem, it could offer a trade-in option on a new release rather than a recall.

In the meantime, there is no denying that people are still buying the product. That has to mean something. Most people don't dismiss an avalanche of attacks and run out to buy a product. But with the Apple iPhone, that seems to be the case. (Side note: You don't need an influence measure to see that all those people talking smack about Apple have almost none.)

The Greater Public Relations Landscape Around Apple.

Most, but not all, of Apple's problems can be likened to people being obsessed about whether Steve Jobs can be likened to the character in The Fountainhead or the one in Heart of Darkness. Specifically, he could be the embodiment of the human spirit and his struggle represents the triumph of individualism over collectivism. Or, he could be a god among natives embarked on brutal raids across cyberspace.

Personally, I lean toward the former depiction. While most media is reporting doom and gloom for Apple over the iPhone 4 as if this is the first time Apple ever encountered a problem, the reality is that this once underdog company has been attacked every time it has launched a new product. Seriously. Have you ever seen a company generate more "I spoke too soon" retractions over everything they've ever launched? It's not possible, unless they really are making products that inspire.

Compared to other companies, which seem to have piles of problems with every launch, Apple is still miles ahead. It can stay that way too, but it might have to offer a trade-in option in an effort to minimize the Whig wackiness.

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