Sunday, October 31

Sharing Stuff: Fresh Content Project

Fresh Content Project
One of the biggest near cliches in social media is "sharing is caring," which has a double meaning. Sharing content created by people who continually provide you useful information is one meaning. But sharing relevant information with the people you are connected to demonstrates some caring too. Quantity does not replace quality.

Social media isn't the only player in the content curation game, of course. Media understands all too well that sharing the right content at the right time is sometimes more important than crafting a good story. I'm not suggesting this is the right path, but sometimes things are what they are. Here are five takes that all have something to do with sharing and its impact on just about everything.

Best Fresh Content In Review, Week of October 18

Braided Journalism And The Future Of Public Relations.
As citizen journalists begin to band together and, in some cases, become embedded, the communication process is a bit more complicated. Valeria Maltoni paints the best case scenario for businesses, offering up that embedded journalists could mean more credibility, transparency, and many more voices. She cites Shel Israel's concept that traditional and citizen journalists intertwined through mutual need, but Ike Pigott also deserves some credit for tackling the embedded journalist issue too.

• Five Ways Social Will Change Journalism.
Interestingly enough, Ike Pigott also penned a post for Social Media Explorer, related to the five cracks in the concept of journalism. Three favorite topics: curation trumping creation, the over emphasis on trending topics, and catering to the crowds. While not all of these trends are good news, it doesn't mean that it all has to be bad either. History suggests when pendulums swing too far in one direction, they often swing back again. However, right now, Pigott is right. The socialization of journalism will diminish its might, but don't mistake these temporary changes as the death of it.

• Sharing Is The Cornerstone Of Social Media Success.
Adding evidence to Pigott's concept of curation beating creation is a well thought-out post by Jason Falls. His one line Twitter strategy is "share good shit." There are several reasons this approach succeeds for many people online. Most notably, the prevailing social media tactic that you have to give to get. And the secondary point, you have to provide value (which is another way of reminding people it's about them and not you). Falls also practices what he preaches. He implemented a new addition to how he shares, publishing the links he shares every day.

• Which Half Of The Ad Spend Is Wasted?
John Bell shares an old advertising adage that suggests half of advertising is a waste, but nobody knows which half. He then applies it to social media in that measuring against ROI alone is a dangerous game online. It is especially dangerous because people do not necessarily follow links through in a specific order. They might search for the company, product, or service instead. They might click on an organic search result. Thus, he suggests that people consider the combined influence of more trusted third-party sources for information, the compound effect of social media on the performance of highly measurable and targeted paid media, and the increasing performance of social as a preferred referral engine. Better than warm.

Information Streams Accelerating the Attention Crisis.
Louis Gray points out the obvious in a post that helps clarify that sharing quantity is not the same thing as sharing quality. People are already overwhelmed by the amount of data being thrown at them. So, Gray says, it might make more sense to be relevant in the selection. And, he also smartly points out, that once the content is delivered, the click doesn't necessarily mean that we'll read the piece let alone be engage by it. He suggests that the people most likely to be the most followed in the future aren't those who blast away, but rather those who continually get it right in terms of sharing relevant information.

Friday, October 29

Treating Halloween: The Seven Deadly Sins Of Social Media

Seven Deadly Sins Of Social MediaThere is no question that social media can work as an important segment of any marketing or communication plan, but it also has a dark side. Why wouldn't it? Almost everything humans do has a cause, effect, and sometimes consequence. And what better way to lead into a Halloween weekend than by taking a quick look at the spooky side of human nature.

Although today's seven sins bear little resemblance to original as found in the Book of Proverbs and are considerably shorter than Epistle to the Galatians (Galatians 5:19-21), the seven deadly sins or vices held onto by modern society do ward people away from thoughts that often produce evil deeds, internally and externally. Online, offline, there really isn't much difference. Boo!

The Seven Deadly Sins Of Social Media.

Lust — Pandering influencers. If you are pandering to influencers by hanging on every word and lusting after their attention, you need a life. And if you're only lusting after them to leverage a faux relationship so they'll promote substandard content, then it's time to revisit your values. Manipulation is an empty outcome.

Greed — Chasing sales. If your only concern in social media is sales, traffic, and assembling a mob of would-be buyers, then your intent isn't grounded in customer concern. Sure, everyone needs money to keep the doors open, but that's not the secret to success. Success almost never chases money; money follows success.

Gluttony — Broadcasting. If you blast a steady stream of links, retweets, and reposts in an automated or near automated fashion, making consumption virtually impossible, you might be overindulging. Sharing is caring, much like cooking. Making too much is too much.

Sloth — Faking fame. If you open a social network account and never answer anyone's questions or engage anyone because you don't have time, consider the other person's perspective. If you don't have time for them, why would they have time for you? Don't buy followers either. Shortcuts don't work.

Wrath — Angry for attention. If your only goal in life is to be continually cast as a David taking on Goliath, pelting big guys with stones for all the wrongs they allegedly did to you, their customers, and the rest of the world, consider forgiveness. Criticism is welcome, but it usually comes with some sort of solution.

Pride — Boasting. If you find yourself celebrating your thousandth follower, publishing traffic stats to prove your worth, or checking your social network "score," your program is all in jeopardy. It's not really about you. It's about the relationships you create. Besides, self-worth works better from the inside out, and people tend to gravitate to it.

Envy — Misdirected attention. There is a flip side to pride that can be just as ugly. If you assume every popular person must be gaming the system or you're overly concerned with how many people read their content, you're looking in the wrong direction. Chances are you have a few dozen or hundred or thousand people who deserve more attention.

There is a flip side to all this evil thinking, of course. The seven virtues include valor (courage and knowledge), generosity, liberality, diligence (ethics), patience, kindness, and humility. It's a much better list of attributes. And it begins by asking yourself who you want to be rather than what you want to have. Happy Halloween.

Thursday, October 28

Setting Example: How Ethics Plays Out, And Pays Out

While I would never encourage someone to seek a position to be a whistleblower, Cheryl Eckard, the former global quality assurance manager of GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), demonstrated a near perfect example of how ethics ought to play out.

It's a lesson more public relations professionals and communicators might learn. As an industry, I sense many are still struggling to get it right. Well, it's more than a sense. I see exams that demonstrate ethics is approaching a crisis stage.

Eckard received $96 million of the settlement paid by the London-based company, which included $150 million in criminal fines and $600 million in civil penalties. The entire story makes an interesting case study in public relations. But for the purposes of the this post, the best lesson is how to approach ethical dilemmas inside a company.

How Eckard Approached Ethics Inside GlaxoSmithKline.

1. Eckard went to the Puerto Rico plant in August 2002 to correct manufacturing violations.
2. She discovered numerous violations, and suggested how those violations might be fixed.
3. She reported the problems to her superiors and the company's compliance department.
4. According to reports, neither the company nor the plant did anything to address the problems.
5. Eckard was eventually terminated, one year later, allegedly because of continuing to report problems.
6. Eckard turned whistleblower out of concern for consumer safety and public health.

The only area for improvement, keeping in mind it isn't clear if the company fired her prior to her realizing the company did not intend to take action, is Eckard could have resigned and still turned whistleblower. Any member of any company has an obligation to warn the public when all efforts to correct a problem internally have failed.

"We regret that we operated the Cidra facility in a manner that was inconsistent with current Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP) requirements and with GSK's commitment to manufacturing quality," said PD Villarreal, senior vice president and head of global litigation. "GSK worked hard to resolve fully the manufacturing issues at the Cidra facility prior to its closure in 2009 and we are committed to continuous improvement in our manufacturing processes."

Most reports indicate the plant was in violation of safety standards through 2005. The settlement statement reinforces that the company has not received any additional FDA warning letters since 2005. The plant continued to operate until 2009.

Where Public Relations Professionals And Communicators Tend To Trip Up.

From what I have noted, public relations professionals and communicators tend to fall on the opposite extremes of ethics. Either they pounce, reporting and making public any problems (even if there are none) without giving anyone the opportunity to do the right thing. Or, they don't go far enough, following most steps correctly until it becomes time to resign.

Only about 50 percent say they would be prepared to resign. Only about two percent say they would go public after resigning, potentially allowing public safety problems to occur. This concerns me. It ought to concern you too.

While situations might call for variations, ethical dilemmas are best handled by raising the issue with the guilty party, allowing them to correct the mistake and report the problem on their own. If they do not, then the discovering party should report it up to supervisors until one of them takes action. If no one is willing to, then the next appropriate step is to resign, letting the company know you intend to go public. What else is there?

Wednesday, October 27

Making Snowmen: Two Social Media Views

social media snowman
While it is true I live in Las Vegas, I wasn't born here. I was born in the Midwest, where winters were always white and building snowmen is considered a skill set. It might not be a bad skill set for social media experts to learn too. Making even one snowman can teach you a little bit about social media.

How To Build A Social Media Program, Using Snow.

1. Test the snow. Some snow clumps better than other snow.
2. Shape a small handful, slowly adding to it over time.
3. Accumulate more snow, pressing each layer to keep it firm.
4. Repeat for each section, considering which might be a foundation and head.
5. Link your various sections together. Snowmen fall apart without proper links.
6. Be creative because content matters. A banana might make an unexpected nose.
7. Add a hat, scarf, or other apparel to give it an authentic and unique personality.
8. Snowmen aren't uncommon, but people still take time to see an amazing snowman.

Now, if you had some of the same experiences I had growing up, there always seemed to one or two kids who enjoyed taking credit for building snowmen, but didn't necessarily have any passion to do the work. It seemed silly to them to start out with a snowball, when snow covering a ball might do the trick just as nicely. All that air in the ball will add volume and save time.

How Not To Build A Social Media Program, Using Snow.

1. Find a ball or make a cutout to inflate your sections.
2. Pile snow around balls, hiding the artificial surface.
3. Don't skimp on linking. Links are the most important part.
4. Don't worry about being creative. People expect snowmen to look the same.
5. Steal someone else's hat, scarf, and apparel, turning it inside out to make it look real.
6. People will still stop by, and if they take a snapshot, nobody will be the wiser.

For the first couple of days, not everyone will be able to tell the snowman apart from the real thing (especially if the original had time to replace the stolen clothes). But eventually, they will.

Artificial snowmen don't hold up as well in bad weather (or if the days turn warmer). An errant snowball might fracture the poorly constructed surface. And someone might notice the name tag in the hat doesn't belong to the owner.

Social media is only as complicated as you make it, assuming you don't fake it. The general idea is to find the right flakes and help them stick together. That takes time.

You can cut the time significantly by skipping some steps. But if you aim to capture attention with spam links, faux followers, and other tricks, then it might be time to face facts. The crowd that is gathering isn't visiting to join a community. They are visiting to shake their heads at a mess. Sometimes, they might even shake their fists. It's no fun linking to a detour.

Tuesday, October 26

Causing Havoc: NPR's Whack-A-Juan Game

Vivian Schiller
When Bob Conrad first posted his take on the Juan Williams vs. NPR shakeup, I was quick to disagree. Too quick? Yes and no.

Conrad's position is better crafted if you read his take on the dust up, but the summarized version, simply put, is that NPR was within its rights to fire Williams. There is no dispute there.

Conrad also goes on to show the documentation, including the memo sent to everyone who works for NPR and the posting that outlines an entire history for consideration. Within the post is the real reason: NPR didn't like Williams working as both a "balanced news analyst on NPR; more opinionated pundit on Fox." (Minor point: He has been asked to give opinions across multiple outlets for years.)

The postscript might make some more sympathetic to NPR. And for others, the explanation leaves even less to be desired.

That is my contention. NPR may have been within its rights to fire Williams, but the fact that it wasn't satisfied with being within its rights was a mistake. It wants to be right too. And in being right, it wants the public to say it was right too. Too bad.

Being right is often a matter of opinion. And the initial case laid, that Williams made allegedly bigoted remarks, is open for debate.

Were Williams' Remarks Bigoted Or A Mechanism For Discussion?

They were not. You have to watch the entire clip to understand it. I did several times, but I only found a partial clip. He shared a personal experience, qualified on the front end and expanded upon it beyond this video, talking about how Americans must learn to distinguish between radical extremists and non-radical muslims. He also tried to reiterate this in his reaction to the firing.

My first thought for this post was to place this in a different context, mentioning the Confederate flag, which became (to some people) a symbol of slavery and racism. Or maybe it is like the swastika, often considered a symbol of hate.

In this case, Williams taps into the same thinking about "full muslim garb." He is not alone. Many Americans have taken such dress to represent something that it may or may not be. I don't share this feeling (or any feelings like that). But I do understand feelings like that. So perhaps it is better to explain from a personal experience.

Years ago, at the urging of one of my closest friends, I joined the NAACP (which seemed to have a milder platform then than it does today). My intent was to help the NAACP carry a broader and more inclusive message. My supporters in this pursuit were my friend, Nev. State Sen. Joel Neal, and Rev. Jesse Scott.

The first time I had the floor at an NAACP meeting, I was nervous. Rev. Scott had even told me I had every right to be nervous, because many people within the room would look on a caucasian NAACP member with suspicion, especially in a community that had recently been likened to the Mississippi of the West (whatever that means). Sen. Neal had even quipped that I had every right to join, given that the "C" in the NAACP stood for colored. My color just happened to be white. (If I was translucent, he also joked, I would not be allowed to join.)

So, does sharing this public speaking experience, and the fact it made me nervous, make me a bigot? Although I would be hard pressed to feel nervous speaking anywhere today, I think not. At worst, I was ignorant. But ignorance is readily cured with open dialogue, assuming people are open with their feelings. (As a side note, I was also nervous speaking to my first class at UNLV, with a mixed audience.)

Looking back, I never did as much as I wanted to do for the chapter then. But there were several other people that I enjoyed and appreciated meaningful friendships with from that point on.

I would like to think that is where Williams was coming from in his commentary. But, I can understand why those who might have had a much more sheltered set of experiences might not see where he was coming from. His commentary was a bridge to mutual understanding that humanized the story and helped people relate. At the other end of this bridge, was compassion.

The NRP Public Relations Debacle.

NPR has already admitted it handled the situation poorly, especially in that NPR President Vivian Schiller saw no trouble in sharing her personal views of Williams. She has since publicly apologized, which begs the question why the network didn't extend the same opportunity to Williams.

There were dozens of ways NPR could have kept itself out of the spotlight or handled the mess, including not renewing his contract or insisting he apologize (which might have convinced him to resign). But regardless of all of these other options, there is a bigger issue.

NPR is still insisting not that it was within in rights, but that it was right in its decision. This insistence comes well after all its admissions of mistakes and apologies and regrets. And yet, they persist.

What they don't understand is this: Whether NPR is right or not, the network chose to pursue a court of public opinion for validation over the firing. If you pursue public opinion for affirmation of anything, you might expect to be grossly disappointed. And, once disappointed, don't make the mistake of arguing to be right or continuing to whack someone you already fired.

NPR was within its rights to fire Williams, but it fired Williams for the wrong reasons. Period. And until NPR accepts that, all it will do is fan the fire of those who disagree.

If they do it enough, then it is very likely they will be fired too, losing one to three percent of income that comes from taxpayer funding (or perhaps that figure is more). But even if they keep their funding, this is one of the stories that will make it difficult to see NPR the same way again. The New York Times included.

Monday, October 25

Charging Brands: Latino Bloggers Want To Be Paid

Although the national survey was limited to Hispanic bloggers, the same could be said about bloggers in general. Most of them want to be compensated.

According to the survey, monetary compensation isn't the only form of compensation (although some are only interested in monetary compensation). Free products, event passes, and insider opportunities are all attractive offers. It was also interesting to note that survey respondents placed significantly higher value on writing a post for someone as opposed to accepting payment for a sponsored post.

Highlights From the National Hispanic Blogger Survey

• 88 percent of Latino bloggers surveyed felt compensation was important to them.
• 61 percent of Latino bloggers are currently running Google and other ad networks.
• 52 percent of Latino bloggers said they wanted standardized rates for sponsored posts.
• 40 percent of Latino bloggers say they never perform work for brands without compensation.

Additional Insights From The Limited Survey Group.

• 41 percent post a few times per week and 26 percent post daily.
• 26 percent invest 5 hours or less to develop content; 30 percent invest 6-10 hours.
• 38 percent promote on Facebook; 35 percent promote on Twitter.
• 29 percent started for the journalism experience; 18 percent to develop connections.
• 38 percent valued posts at $250; 19 percent at $500; 24 percent at more than $500.
• Tweets were valued at $25 or more, with some placing 2-3 tweets at $100 or more.

"We know the topic of compensation is a sensitive one and at times controversial for bloggers," said Lourdes Rodriguez, president of HPRA Los Angeles. "But at the same time this information is invaluable to brand marketers and agencies."

Have Public Relations Professionals Priced Themselves Out Of Earned Media?

While the survey sampling is small, the study helped clarify something that has been occurring over the last few years. Just two years ago, most bloggers were satisfied with receiving attention from a company. Today, the cost of a single post can be as high as $1,000 (more if it is written by some people) and up to $500 if it is sponsored.

Wouldn't it be something if public relations professionals — working so hard to demonstrate that targeting bloggers is on par (or better) with traditional publications in a quantifiable way — never realized bloggers were listening to their conversations? Or, in other words, as public relations practitioners continued to inflate the value of circulation via blogs, bloggers decided they weren't so willing to give away space as earned media, a luxury major media could afford because of advertising dollars. Imagine that.

Sunday, October 24

Creating Paradoxes: Fresh Content Project

Fresh Content Project
Maybe we can blame politicians for the mix up, but the juxtapositions seem to have seeped into everything lately. People are continually asking us to pick sides. Are customers people we can relate to or mindless herds that click buttons? Does social media represent a more authentic business or a security breach that needs to be plugged? Is the new Facebook Group feature the answer to all our prayers or an opportunity to create illusionary layers of isolation?

I have a better question. Why is it when people offer us two choices, the two choices inevitability suck? Most questions in our life aren't as simple as choosing a cup or a cone. And even if that is the question, we might appease any indecision by flopping the cone on top of the scoop in the cup, making a nifty little crunchy hat.

But, as I said, that is an easy question. Nowadays, we increasingly ask questions that don't makes sense: do we want the ice cream in our hand or just a cone with no filling? All five posts touch the chronic duality of several experiences. Personally, the better choice is not to be the sucker picking between bad and worse (except on election day, I guess).

Best Fresh Content In Review, Week of October 11

Facebook Groups Give Rise To Social Nicheworking.
Brian Solis provides his take on the addition of groups on Facebook. The new tool allows Facebook users to group their friends, allowing users to share some items within select groups or everyone as they might want to. This could solve the challenge of keeping personal information personal and professional information professional. Of course, this assumes people will bother (most won't) and doesn't preclude someone from sharing what you said outside a group. Interesting read, even if it skews toward the way public relations pro would like to see it used.

Us Vs. Them Thinking: You've Been Cookied.
Valeria Maltoni explores the possibilities that exist with having authentic conversations with customers. However, as long as those conversations have a click, like, sale, cookie, or some other agenda, she wonders whether most will simply be manufactured conversations crafted to draw people in. It's certainly possible. As long as the pressure for social media is to prove itself by those likes, clicks, and other symbols of online action, one can only assume someone is crafting what constitutes the best tweet to attract followers.

• Truth in Juxtaposition.
In almost like-minded fashion, Ike Pigott presented two tweets from opposite ends of the bipolar social media debate. On one hand, technology cannot replace human interaction. On the other, people are trying to figure out whether Twitter gets more clicks than Facebook. He offers up the nexus: “You can’t have a relationship with a database, but databases might yield useful information about our relationships.” Besides that, he mentions Rush in his post.

• Getting It.
Ike Pigott tackles the idea of "getting it" when it comes to social media. He's right in that there is a lot of fear in corporate America, with the goal of most companies hoping to carve out their piece of the pie and then protect it at all costs. Such thinking doesn't leave much room for things like blogs and social networks (with the polar extreme being employers who try to order their employees to promote, promote, promote). The irony, Pigott points out, is that the problem has nothing to do with social media. It has to do with employee behavior, and nobody seems to be doing anything about that.

• How To Show Up And Write
I was thinking about an upcoming editing class when this Fresh Pick popped up for consideration. Taylor Lindstrom tackles the question of how people become better writers. The simplicity is also the trip up. If you want be able to write more, write more. Lindstrom then goes on to offer the analogy that running can be approached the same way. If you want to run a marathon, you have to show up and run. So what's the rub? The rub is what I love best. Simplicity doesn't mean easy. It also doesn't guarantee results. Some people will never run marathons because they aren't built to. Some people aren't built to write, either.

Saturday, October 23

Ranking Content: Fresh Content Providers, Third Quarter

Fresh Content ProvidersThis is the third quarter that Copywrite, Ink. has published a snapshot of its year-long experiment called the Fresh Content Project, which puts popularity to the test.

We track more than 250 blogs, daily, and pick a single standout post per day (with weekend posts spilling into Monday). There is no algorithm. It's a human decision-making process, one that considers content and context. And sometimes we promote solid posts beyond the pick of the day because this isn't a contest.

If you have missed any posts along the way, you can find them in one of two places, with weekly recaps of why the posts stood out on this blog under Fresh Content Project or on Facebook, where the links are provided without commentary.

There were 36 Fresh Content providers in the first quarter. There were 38 Fresh Content providers in the second quarter. And this time around, July 1 to Sept. 30, we found 39.

Some names are new. Some names appear with surprising frequency. Some names aren't here this time. There isn't much to speculate about. Likewise, if the ranking has changed or if they were included before, it doesn't mean they are any less of an author. Anyone in any quarter deserved to be included (and there are plenty not listed that deserve to be here too).

So, below are 39 communication-related professionals who wrote Fresh Content picks in the third quarter of 2010. While some are suited for specific tastes, the top of this list (those who were picked more than once) ought to be in your reader.

All of them represent some of the freshest, most relevant content related to communication. And, we look forward to reading more of their fresh content in the next quarter along with even more new and fresh faces. The comments are yours.

39 Fresh Content Communicators By Quality Of Content

1. Valeria Maltoni bills herself as someone who brings people together, but she is much more than that. The Conversation Agent continues to blend business and communication, offering up what communicators and marketers need to know as opposed to what they want to hear. More often than not, Maltoni's post make you think.

2. Ike Pigott consistently demonstrates the difference between quality vs. quantity. He's one of the few people who doesn't write for search engines and social juice. He just writes, making Occam's RazR a well-crated experiment in analogies that stick. Read him if you like to think.

3. Since Geoff Livingston started writing his second book, his personal blog has shifted much more toward a topic he understands better than most. While he has a passion for causes, Livingston cuts through the popularity equations with common sense. He takes his arguments to people rather than waiting for them to come around.

4. Ian Lurie has been doing something few people who understand SEO ever do. He pokes holes in prominent theories that more SEO specialists use to fluff themselves up. Seriously, almost every SEO specialist I've ever met practically smirks and winks when they talk about putting people on the first page. On Conversational Marketing, he uses the same SEO tools to prove why they're wrong.

5. When it comes to subjects nobody else wants to touch, Bob Conrad is quick to deliver. You don't always have to agree with every argument at The Good, The Bad, The Spin, but you will find any conversational topic well considered with a fresh perspective. Conrad first appeared on Fresh Content as a rule breaker, and nowadays you might consider him one of the fearless few too.

6. What marketers sometimes forget is that the more you delve into social connections, the more you're really talking about psychology. Roger Dooley continues to dazzle with some of the best studies that consider human behavior on the one-to-one and one-to-many scale. Neuromarketing needs to be on the must-read list of any student.

7. Not every post tossed up on the Social Media Explorer is written by Jason Falls anymore. In fact, many of his contributing writers have been newly added to the Fresh Content Project. However, make no mistake, any time Falls sets out to write something unpopular, it will shed light on black hat tactics that other people want to quietly take advantage of.

8. Leave It To Weaver is an eclectic mix of art, business, common sense, communication, employment, and anything else that happens to strike Andrew Weaver. Such a mixed bag won't always attract the most usual suspects, but that is what makes the reading fresh. You never know what to expect, but it will almost never be what everyone else is talking about.

9. Communications Conversations by Arik Hanson features standout contributions over the last few months that include a case study that recaps what works with proximity online marketing and how not to conduct blogger outreach. He contributes more, much more than that.

10. Social media strategist Mike Schaffer frequently infuses his fascination with pop culture into lessons for social media pros and business communicators alike at The Buzz by Mike Schaffer. He also happens to be one of the shrinking pool of advocates for strategies ahead of tactics. Follow his blog for short, punchy content with a pop culture communication twist and some surprisingly deep insight now and again.

11. Sometimes people cringe when they see picks that include Chris Brogan, especially in that he seems to be opting into a Seth Godin-like approach, with shorter posts spilling out at a higher frequency (sometimes infused with video). However, the flip side of the coin is that he sometimes strikes a chord with simple wisdom on how to do things. Chris Brogan adds value when you look for it.

12. Brian Solis also has a blog I've been told is past prime. And yet, the Brian Solis blog, once or twice every few months, offers up some of the most comprehensive study recaps. He makes it much easier for other people to be able to build upon those results. If there is a downside, it's only that Soils is sometimes caught up in the quantifiable measurement game. Others are welcome to disagree.

13. Rob Reed, the founder of Max Gladwell, doesn't have a personal Twitter account that I know of, but you can follow the agency's stream. Lately, he has been focused mostly on the future of communication as it pertains to mobile. It's smart to read him for this reason alone. One addition to his thinking: While most people think of mobile as phones, it really means the future of all devices.

14. Although John Bell works in public relations, you're likely to find a taste of advertising agency thinking too at his blog, Digital Influence Mapping Project. That stands to reason as Bell is part of the Ogilvy team. But what makes him someone to add to your reader is simpler than that. There are very few people in social media that understand the agency perspective.

15. Beth Harte had temporarily cut back on blogging a few months ago, but has since picked up the pace at The Harte Of Marketing. There you will find someone who shares a belief in the integration of traditional and "modern" communication. Her approach comes from a career of understanding the classical tenets of marketing, which some people still struggle with.

16. Adam Singer continues to expand on his offerings at The Future Buzz, including keen corrections when colleagues offer an analysis that misses the mark. We need more of it. Anything that helps bridge the gap between business and communication is welcome, given tomorrow's communicator will need an increasingly aggressive multi-disciplined approach to everything.

17. You won't find Ann Barcelos writing feverishly at Ten24. But when she does contribute to Spin Sucks, you'll want to take some time to read. The post that caught our eye this cycle touched on behavioral groups. She also co-moderator of #IMCChat on Twitter.

18. Also writing a guest post for Spin Sucks was Len Kendall, who is better known for sharing content from The3Six5's Posterous. There he tends to blend communication with a confessional bent. However, what you might not see is that he is deep in industry insight. Read his guest posts anywhere, and you'll know he's immersed.

19. Heather Rast was another surprise find via the new mutliple-author approach at Social Media Explorer. She also writes her own blog at Insights & Ingenuity. If you follow her blog, expect to find an emphasis on customer service and satisfaction. Given that social media tends to be a one-to-many-to-one conversation, it might make sense to pay attention.

20. Although the new pop-up on the site is a killer, Jeff Bullas continues to infuse plenty of posts with moment-to-moment insights on Internet and social network trends and what they might mean. What makes that work for is the insight. While anyone can recap a report, not everyone can make those reports meaningful. Bullas does.

21. The Social Media Scientist Dan Zerrella always presents some fascinating reads, especially because he tests them. Sometimes they might seem routine, such as when is the best time to share a post on Facebook (although I'm not certain about that one). Other times, they are riveting because they prove that the number of "followers" doesn't mean anything in terms of click-through rates.

22. Rachel Kay doesn't write many posts. But when she does, it's fully thought out, casual, and comfortable. We're still talking about her Twitter Earthquake post. Another post worth mentioning is her take on killer cover letters for job applicants. If you follow her, expect the occasional great read because she only publishes now and again.

23. We caught Mike Cassidy in transition, so we are still getting used to his new digs at Leadership … For Good. There is a much heavier emphasis on nonprofit communication and leadership. We caught some of his best work as a guest blogger for Convince & Convert.

24. Jed Hallam is continuing to offer some worthwhile conversations via Rock Star PR. One of the aspects that makes his writing fresh is Hallam tends to ask the right questions, which also seem to be those that nobody else is asking. He can do it because he successfully blends the data with real life interactions.

25. Lee Odden is best known for TopRank and his ability to focus in on trends and then provide some strategic SEO thinking on why the approach might or might not work. Recently, for example, he tackled the irritating concept of duplicate content sites, a tactic that some believe help them achieve better SEO results. They don't. Much like Hallam, Odden recognizes that it's more important to consider the people using search engines than the search engines themselves.

26. I have to be honest. As much as I enjoy Copyblogger, the tried and true format sometimes wears thin. So, perhaps it is that reason why when someone goes a bit deeper like Sean D’Souza did this cycle, it makes the blog all the more worthwhile. If you are going to follow someone at Copyblogger, make sure he makes the cut.

27. Lately, Francois Gossieaux has been posting link roundups at Emergence Marketing, but when he is a little less busy, he'll knock off some fresh content too. Consider his post talking about community and cautioning people against filling it with shills and shells who will never visit again. Smart stuff.

28. Any time someone gives the baseline communication a wake-up call — that companies are putting up content that is not engaging, participatory, or helpful — like Shane Kinkennon did, we take notice. He's right. The only reasons Websites don't feel relevant has nothing to do with the platform and everything to do with what is on it. You'll find more great content on his blog.

29. If I were handing out medals over who might make me smile with a headline, Jeremy Myers is free to move to the front of the line. Even today, when double checking links, I chuckled when I read "Online advertising isn't the problem. Crappy advertising is the problem." You'll find that post, along with several others that have been kept in the Fresh Content Pick reader, at Jeremy Myers.

30. Lisa Barone is another new addition for her Out Spoken. Originally, she caught our eye because of her hard stand against copy mills. It was needed, given that some people are starting to think that luring consumers to a site is more important than giving them anything of value. Since adding her to the list, we've noted several more good ideas. And you will too.

31. Best known as the quieter coauthor of Trust Agents is Julien Smith's In Over Your Head. Interestingly enough, he landed here for advice given to Mitch Joel. While the advice is solid from a formulaic approach, Smith forgets that people read Joel because he is Joel. As long as Joel doesn't succumb to the pressure of popularity, the advice is sound for people who care about such things. Still, Smith's advice cannot be dismissed outright. He has a point, perhaps not for Joel, but for other people struggling to find a voice.

32. Jay Ehret aka The Marketing Guy on Twitter offers up increasingly bite-sized bits of advice that make sense for the small business owner. His favorite subject at The Marketing Spot is branding, but there is enough diversity beyond that. Occasionally, he writes about our least favorite tactics, like tricks to get your posts in top news on people's Facebook pages, but otherwise we love his big picture stuff.

33. Kami Huyse has been contributing to social media with a public relations perspective via Communications Overtones for some time. Lately, she has been focused on various social media measurement models that include our longstanding view that outcomes matter (and so does brand equity). We picked up one her posts as a fresh pick, after she applied her thinking to a case study centered around CitizenGuif.

34. Duct Tape Marketing has seemed a little sparse lately, but most people know to expect some great advice from John Jantsch now and again. The one we caught this cycle centered in on the content of a "thank you" page and how most companies don't consider that this brief bit of communication could add value for the customer and the company. It might seem obvious, but that is the point.

35. The primary posts to look for on the Web Strategy blog by Jeremiah Owyang are any where he shares matrix maps or comprehensive in-house studies. Beyond that, Owyang does a great job keeping tabs on moves within the industry. It might help you to know.

36. Louis Gray, author of approaches most of his posts more like a reporter. When there is a new study or newsworthy story with a tech/social media focus, you'll likely find some in-depth coverage and commentary. In the last cycle, he picked up on his coverage of real-time states for Blogger. It's no surprise he's already been featured as a Fresh Pick in the fourth quarter.

37. Reading the "final post" on ToughSledding by Bill Sledzik, some people took pause in the realization that Sledzick still has work to do online. The good news is that his final post is a work in progress. What you can expect are plenty of great lessons with long gaps between writings. He brings plenty of common sense to the table, including a healthy reminder that few truths in social media actually originate there.

38. Sometimes, sharing the right information at the right time is enough. And that is how I (heart) SOCIAL MEDIA landed in the Fresh Pick pile this time around, offering up an infographic on how to quick start a social media program for business. It's not perfect, but good enough that I plan to incorporate it in an upcoming class. You can find the blog author, Marta Majewska, on Twitter too. Of course.

39. While her old blog is no more, Amber Naslund is still creating and repurposing on the rebranded Brass Tack Thinking. One of the best of the bunch was in early July, warning people away from the looniness of the Fast Company Influence Project. Brass Tack is still a fine blog, with a little more emphasis on self-development as it pertains to online community managers.

Friday, October 22

Being An Influencer: The Most Dangerous Label

One of the titles on Traackr is a tell-all. "Discover Who Matters." And, the easy inference might be that nobody else does.

I'm not knocking the service, today. There are hundreds out there. All of them claim to have the next quantifiable measure. Traacker is merely an example, another company striving to deliver on a service that is in high demand. It's rather amazing.

Are We Adopting A New Metric Of Human Valuation?

There is no denying that any novice social media or social network participant might be elated the first time one of their ideas or one of their projects catches attention. There is no question it is fun to come back from lunch, check analytics, and discover that a single post or tweet or Facebook addition ticked off a few thousand hits.

I know. I've been there, with 10,000 visits in a few hours. I cannot deny I smiled and told everyone in the office to check it out.

That was before social networks. Now, those numbers might roll in from anywhere: friends, followers, clicks, comments, connections, shares, blips, burps, and who knows what else. It is the ultimate in quantified "value" based on the metric of mass affirmation to determine personal and social regard.

Is this the future of social media? — I have friends. I have followers. I have subscribers. I am a contributer. I am valued. More than him, but less than her. And one day, I will be at the top of the mountain, climbing in rank and position. Is that all there is?

The Dangers Of Following Democratic Affirmation.

Last year, William B. Swann, Jr., writing on a different topic but one with relevant ties to social media, warned people away from too much self-help, especially those with an edict that goes "with enough repetitions, the argument goes, people who suffer from low self-esteem will transform themselves into highly self-confident individuals who will discover that the world is their oyster."

Social media couldn't be a better place to extract some evidence to support the fairy tale. It's one that I've seen cause otherwise savvy professionals to seek shortcuts to success in the effort to somehow actualize on the perception of influence, relevance, and acceptance. They feel they have to. Not enough metrics in one area or the other is developing into a new stereotype.

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” — Martin Luther King

I too have a dream, for social media. That my two children will one day log on to some network and not be judged by the quantity of their connections but the context and content of their ideas. It touches on the subject that my son was learning at school during the anti-bullying campaign. The lesson that stood out most for him was to always be the first to reach out to the new kid on the block.

He has a good point. So does this 106-page paper on Self-Affirmation. I'm still reading it and may feature some finer points next week. But in the meantime, I am thinking about something else.

The original Z-List is long past its prime. Before it was gamed, most of those people either crashed out of the field or climbed the metrics ladder (with a few of those forgetting their roots, I might add). I'd like to resurrect something like it in 2011, with a twist to look for people who are looking for criticism as much as affirmation.

I'd like to get started today, but I need some help. I have to finish my book on a semi-related subject (but not tied to social media). I'm still curating the Fresh Content Project for at least another quarter. I also have Liquid Hip, which shows promise on its own. Naturally, I have a day job as well.

How You Might Help An Anti-Influence Project.

So specifically, I would like to ask for it in three different ways. I'm open to ideas on how to create a qualitative structure (not quantitative) that would emphasize virtual unknowns and potentially track them based exclusively on content/ideas. I'd like some new people in the communication field who have promise but are currently buried under the volume of experts. And, even though I have no idea where this might go in 2011, I'd be especially grateful for anyone who might want to work on such a project.

It's sure to be unpopular. But I am starting to think some disruption might be worthwhile. Of course, you can disagree too.

If you have any ideas, people I should be taking a hard look at, or want to put yourself on a short list to help, add yourself to the comments. Naturally, if no one comments, then I know this idea has even more merit. (That is a joke. Well, sort of.)

Thursday, October 21

Changing The Game: A Conversation About Oil Company Credibility

A few dozen people are claiming the Chevron disaster is the satire launched against it. Not even close.

Companies don't need to worry about or fear satire. They need to learn from it. Characterizations are seldom made of companies that don't deserve a ribbing on some level. After all, the essence of most comedy, especially satire, is finding the middle ground between tragedy and laughter. The tragedy in this case is the Chevron campaign, not the spoof.

The Tragedy Of Green Campaigns By Oil Companies.

Having worked in and with the energy industry, I've met quite a few people. Generally, they are not stupid people. Most of them are smart, like in any industry. However, even some of the smartest have nestled up comfortably inside an industry cocoon.

Most communication conversations tend to revolve around what they can't do as opposed to what they can do. And, their favorite answer for anything is "you don't understand, we can't do that because we are in the [energy] industry." As Ike Pigott said, after I asked how oil companies might gain credibility with the public, "what the oil companies *haven't* done over time is trust the public with their story. [The credibility gap] is self-inflicted."

Exactly right. Oil companies talk too much. So while the new Chevron campaign is aimed at well-researched public sentiment, Chevron seems to have heard but never really listened. If it had listened, it would have come to the realization that public trust has eroded to a point where they cannot tell their own stories anymore, at least not about their pursuit of renewable energy.

You see, when oil companies do talk about renewable energy, it almost always sounds like listening to a fiery-eyed demon promising to show you the way to heaven. "Yes," they hiss. "I might be in the business of dragging souls down here, but look, I really want to help you up because you all seem to be such nice people."

Creating A Basis Of Understanding.

Sometimes the message is the messenger. Unfortunately, for the oil industry, they aren't the right messengers. They have to trust the public with their message. They may even have to trust people they consider the enemy with their message. But even then, a message is not enough. They need to trust these people with reporting on positive oil industry actions.

There is a challenge to that. Most oil companies (much like most energy companies) aren't ready to do it. They've been spoiled by decades of only communicating the end use: brilliant light bulbs, beautifully grilled foods, toasty heaters, nice cars.

The reality is that the energy business is super ugly, smelly, and sometimes hazardous to your health. Like much of the manufacturing industry, they want to hide the ugliness as much as possible. Even when I've worked with manufacturers and energy companies, they don't want anyone to take onsite pictures unless those pictures are carefully screened.

However, proper planning could allow these behemoths to slowly pull back some of the curtain. (Not all of it. Goodness no. Not everybody looks good when they are naked.) How far can they pull it back? As far they need to in order to regain trust.

For most oil companies right now, all we see are toes. And even those toes have been polished up for the photo shoot (and sometimes after the shoot). That's not public relations. It's propaganda.

Opening Dialogues With People.

Any public relations plan by an oil company needs to be approached on two fronts. Big picture, even if they are not the only stakeholder. And specific action, almost like Chevron tried to do with its cherry-picked and polished up campaign.

The Big Picture Dialogue.

Why big picture? Because, frankly, nobody really knows how oil companies see the future. If you look at a different industry, we very clearly knew how Apple saw the future of smart phones — long before the infrastructure really existed to support them. And even if you didn't like Apple, most people liked the vision (so much so, everyone followed suit to fill demand).

What this means is that if oil companies want to be credible, they have to stop campaigning for themselves and start campaigning for a sustainable new/renewable energy future. They might even have to promote other people who are involved in the solution (much like Apple promoted certain apps). And, they may need to funnel support toward solution-oriented people as opposed to regulation-oriented people, diminishing the need to fend off what are sometimes very unfair attacks.

These big picture campaigns need to be joined too, perhaps by as many stakeholder groups as possible. Such connections might even help ward off politicians from attacking oil companies as the bad guys and painting the ultra green taxpayer subsidized companies as the good guys. That is not always the case, you know.

The Specific Action Dialogue.

Almost every oil company is pursuing varied degrees of research and development of renewable energy. In most cases, it's a very tiny, tiny percentage of their overall business. And that makes sense to some degree. There is no money in it and companies don't exist on good will alone. Likewise, over focus on tiny investments is disingenuous.

In that regard, I personally believe some of the Chevron message. On one of the many campaign threads, Desmond King, president of Chevron Technology Ventures, says ...

"We invest in energy technologies that satisfy, or have the potential to satisfy, four basic criteria: economics, scale, customer expectations and density—that is, the ability to be delivered on demand and in quantity. And we never stop looking."

I believe that. It's how companies operate. They look for innovations that will make them money. For Chevron, geothermal is one of its investments. The downside, at the moment, is that it may be the largest geothermal supplier in the world, but it's still only a speck of the energy we consume.

These are the stories that need to get out. However, Chevron and other companies need other people to tell these stories. And, equally important, the public needs more proof that every advancement fits in with the big picture plan. They want to know what percentage of energy comes from renewables like that now and in the future. Plans are powerful things.

The Reality That The Public Doesn't Want To Hear.

Naturally, oil companies cannot attack the public, even if the public sometimes deserves attacking. Sometimes we collectively act like locusts, complaining that there aren't enough fields to eat after we've already eaten them. And we also complain about the waste we leave behind after we polish them off.

But, they really can't talk about that. The auto industry falls back on this conversation too much as it is. Boo hoo, they say, people don't want to buy our clean cars. It might be true, but some things are better left off the table — you know, it doesn't make sense to tell the girl you want to date that she looks fat. Besides, after decades of being sold on the great wonders of energy we consume, it feels very empty to stress "we're just keeping up with demand." Leave that one to the porn industry.

So what can they do? This is where public relations can also help, with the first step being to stop the endless prattle about how the public (government) needs to help fund the infrastructure. We already do. We fund it with every gallon purchased and every product bought. If you have to kick up gas one or two cents to pay for more renewable energy production, then do it.

When it comes to the public (government) funding renewable energy, the return is always less than private sector investments. It's just the way thing works. Government-funded or mandated projects tend to consume more than they produce (and yes, I have examples). It's why government-funded projects are best confined to things that are not profitable but desperately needed. Energy is not one of these things. It is profitable. And if some portions of it won't be, then it's best that they not be pursued.

This touches on some of the points Tim Walker and Matthew Stokes brought up. Stokes hopes that renewable energy gains more credibility in the marketplace. Walker mentioned how serious capital investments are need to make renewable energy meaningful.

Those are both solid points. Somebody other than oil companies needs to free the topic from politicians. You see, as soon as politicians grab a message, they muck it up into something worthless like kill oil now or forget renewables. Baloney. The only solution is to use our current consumption (despite its ugliness) to fund future solutions. At the same time, we have to admit that the transition isn't going to happen overnight.

Recapping Communication Tips.

Since this post tended to be conversational, I thought it might be worthwhile to recap the general concept. How could an oil industry regain credibility? After they shut up, they might ask people to open a dialogue and really listen (as opposed to hearing). After that, they might even work with people to find solutions. As for the rest, here are seven critical steps.

1. Define the vision and/or promote other people's visions toward a renewable energy future.
2. Highlight actions that prove you are moving in that direction, but let others tell those stories.
3. Make sure you define how those tiny successes fit into the vision, today and tomorrow.
4. Open up a dialogue about the challenges, inspiring entrepreneurs to provide solutions.
5. Don't hide all of the ugly side, but do work to humanize it with real people in the field.
6. Stop whining about government regulations and start dismantling their excuses to make regulations.
7. Stop asking government for money for infrastructure. That's public money. We already invest privately, every day.

People sometimes act like we have never seen technological leaps forward in this country. We do it all the time, and the adoption rate has never been faster. Many of these leaps forward required new infrastructure but that infrastructure always seemed to rise up to meet demand. Ergo, somehow we managed. The government didn't always have to fund it.

In fact, in terms of the auto industry, it couldn't be more simple. If hybrids are the future, better plugin devices need to be developed for the home (and sold with the car). Since they are hybrid cars, gas stations don't have to upgrade unless it is equitable. When it is equitable, and as the cars become less hybrid in nature, the infrastructure will keep up.

And if the government wants to be proactive and meddling heroes too? Allow people to receive a double credit for the sales tax on their income taxes. You can make up the difference by not funding some of those government-funded consumption companies. Of course, other ideas are always welcome here.

Wednesday, October 20

Blogging Tips: Not All Posts Do The Same Thing

blog postsA friend of mine recently asked why some posts on his blog attract attention and others do not. And, he wanted to know if he should skew his posts to the most visited. Absolutely not, I replied. Not all posts are created equal or behave the same way.

It's one of the pitfalls of relying too much on analytics. If you skew toward the most popular arrangements, people will become bored. The truth. You never know how much traction a post might have or when.

Ten Common Variations In Posts.

• Conversations. Probably the most popular among social media pros nowadays, the writers claim that they either don't know or hold back that they do know. Doing so opens the door for readers to leave opinions, suggestions, whatever. They tend to receive comments whether or not they are controversial.

• Dialogues. They're easily recognizable as an exchange, with two or more bloggers toggling back and forth between ideas and building upon the content. These used to be the most popular posts among communicators, with various people contributing their thoughts to a central theme. Unfortunately, they lost some luster when they became memes.

• Thinkers. These are posts that make people think. In fact, they make people think so much that they don't comment, respond, or add any contribution whatsoever. Sure, some people might bookmark them, but the content is rich enough that no one has anything to add, or at least, not without significant thought in composing a reply. Bloggers who write these posts tend to have discipline because there isn't much reward in terms of attention. It's just good information.

• Satisfiers. Another popular intent, lately. They are posts where the blogger already has a pretty good idea of how the audience will respond. Simply put, they are preaching to the choir and the choir offers up resounding applause, sometimes in the comments but more often across various social networks.

• SEOs Not always, but sometimes, they lead with "10 Tips …" and then ramble on about a certain subject. These tend to be popular, especially among publications and businesses looking for search engine traffic. Some people only write SEO posts. It has nothing much to do about anything other than catching some search engine juice.

• Giggles. I know several bloggers that beat this path to death. There is nothing wrong with it, but they don't always lend much value and often take advantage of multimedia. They either create something cool (or funny) or find something cool (or funny) and then offer up the briefest of descriptions. When people stumble onto it, they can't help but to say "that's cool" and then share with other people they know. It's the epitome of Does It Blend.

• Bookmarks. Not many bloggers use them (I do from time to time). They compile and curate research that might be used for another time or as benchmarks of where we are in terms of the economy or sustainability of various ideas. The downside for these bloggers is they might be the only people who care no matter how relevant the topic might be.

• Linkbaits. More often than not, they are designed to be controversial and aim at attracting attention and rebuttals. This is the reason so many ideas have been declared dead online. Some people take it even further by declaring something dead in the headline, but then leading with a sentence that says "not really." It's a trick, pure and simple.

• Circulators. Not all posts are shared publicly and, very likely, the only person who knows they're being read is the blogger. I've written dozens of these over the years. The posts won't attract visible attention in terms of page rank or comments, but they fly around emails being passed around or pop up on a closed forum for discussion.

• Sleepers. These are my favorite, but only because they tend to be so utterly unpredictable. And it's also why I advised my friend to ignore analytics (other than getting a sense of trends). Sleeper posts are those that are virtually written before their time. They won't be popular today or even this week. But then one day, out of the blue, they become your most popular posts for weeks or longer because something happened that made them relevant or a new group of people stumbled upon them.

Naturally, not all posts have to be limited to these arrangements, and different styles can be blended together. There are even a few more here that I didn't mention, including curators that compile other people's posts (often used to attract the attention of anyone included, but are sometimes employed for other purposes like an experiment). And, of course, cheerleader posts, which offer nothing much more than mindless praise to the original author.

In general, the best blogs mix and match these variations, which keeps their content fresh (or perhaps the author). People who only subscribe to one style tend to lose their passion or push content too aggressively.

However, I have noticed (and some others have too) that more seasoned bloggers abandon certain styles, but not always for the right reasons. They avoid anything that involves sourcing, linking, or attributing so they can stand alone as originators of the idea. I just read one of them yesterday, suggesting that social media is more than a campaign.

That idea popped up around 2008. But it was later popularized by Jeffrey Hayzlett, former Kodak CMO, and is sometimes attributed to Dan Blank (after his marketing firm credited the quote to him, earlier this year). Ho hum. Social media. Hope the above helps.

Tuesday, October 19

Talking Too Much: Chevron

Chevron CampaignOn Monday, Chevron Corporation (NYSE:CVX) launched a new ad campaign entitled “We Agree,” which seeks to establish solidarity with people around the world on key energy issues. It also describes the actions the company takes in producing energy responsibly and in supporting the communities where it operates.

The campaign can best be likened to throwing a family of mongooses—all sporting T-shirts that say "some of my best friends are snakes"—into a cobra pit. I don't know exactly what would happen, but chances are those little guys on either side wouldn't stand around and sing Kumbaya.

And yet, this is the thinking behind Chevron's new campaign, except its T-shirts read "It's time oil companies get behind the development of renewable energy" as an extension of its longer running campaign Will You Join Us.

It also comes at a time when Chevron is embattled with an Ecuadorian lawsuit. Sure, the lawsuit recently lost some credibility as raw footage might suggest collusion to inflate the extent of the Amazon rainforest pollution (that the company may or may not be partly responsible for), but telling the truth requires the right timing. And regardless of where you stand on energy issues, this was not the right time.

Sometimes The Truth Is Reliant On Timing.

Big corporations make easy targets. Oil companies are especially soft. It's difficult for them to hold any defensive position when they produce a product that — despite demand for it — has been singled out as one of the most harmful to the environment.

"We hear what people say about oil companies – that they should develop renewables, support communities, create jobs and protect the environment – and the fact is, we agree,” said Rhonda Zygocki, vice president of policy, government and public affairs at Chevron. “This campaign demonstrates our values as a company and the greater value we provide in meeting the world’s demand for energy. There is a lot of common ground on energy issues if we take the time to find it.”

Zygocki is right. Most oil companies want to embrace renewable energy. It is on the drawing board for any company that hopes to have sustainability. In 2007, Chevron was among the first to admit 10 percent of Americans “hate us and our industry and there’s nothing we can do to change their minds." Since the Gulf Coast oil spill, which involved another oil company campaigning for green, that hate has grown exponentially.

Naturally, Chevron didn't launch the campaign to attempt to clean up ill feelings over the Gulf as some people initially speculated. That wasn't (even though it should have been) a consideration. This campaign hopes to minimize some of the damage caused by the film Crude and the Ecuadorian lawsuit, which is still being played out to determine who might be the biggest villains.

This is also why the timing of the campaign launch couldn't be worse. The situation for Chevron in Ecuador might have improved as new information is being brought to light but the verdict is still out. So instead of coming across as more green or responsible, the only thing the company has succeeded in doing is drawing even more attention to the ugliness of the case.

Chevron Earns Push Back Before The Campaign Is Launched.

Almost immediately, the release sent out by Chevron was parodied. And some publications, unfortunately, ran with this news release, which is tied to this spoof Website. It seems fact-checking is optional these days.

It also wasn't the only parody release. I received a second release yesterday morning, also a spoof, quoting a frothy mad CEO as vowing to take revenge on the "environmental groups" that hijacked their new campaign. While I didn't bother to verify who sent the mock release, I suspect it also belongs to the Yes Men.

I've written about them before. The media generally likes them, except when the media gets punked. The giveaway in the one I received was that it was published under the guise of a shareholder message. I don't own investments in Chevron. I've also read plenty of real shareholder statements.

You Do Have More Than Two Choices.

Barry Silverstein, writing for the brandchannel, tried to sum it up with his lead-in. "When your brand's industry has a major PR problem, you either hide your head in the sand, or get out there and make a statement," he wrote.

And therein lies most of the problems with marketing and public relations today. There aren't two choices. There are a million choices. And the reason Chevron picked one of the worst choices is exactly why its industry has a public relations problem.

They talk too much. They talk so much, I am almost convinced they never listen. There is only one way the oil companies can regain some lost ground. They have to stop telling stories and start having dialogues. Specifically, they must start having dialogues with people who don't like them. And then, those people, will be the ones who tell the stories.

Monday, October 18

Recovering Cautiously: Consumers Test The Waters

Retail StudyAs some companies are slowly thawing pay freezes and even considering the addition of new employees, the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) says retail sales climbed higher in September. This is the third consecutive month, with slight increases spread across nearly all segments.

The uptick is slight, with an increase of 0.6 percent over August sales and 7.3 percent over September 2009. Retail sales (excluding auto sales) were up 0.4 percent over the previous month and 5.4 percent over August 2009. The largest increase over August came from electronics and appliance retailers. Sales increased by 1.5 percent.

Why Electronics And Appliances Continue To Rise.

Unlike clothing stores, which bolstered their sales in August with back-to-school shoppers (and dropped in September), electronics represents an industry where innovation continues to propel the industry forward. In the last few months, technological improvements seem to capture all the attention.

Appliances aren't much different. However, in addition to innovations that promise to be more environmentally friendly, energy conscious, and cause less wear on clothing, the industry and retailers have worked hard on marketing rebates, one-time sales, and extended credit (where customers don't have to pay interest for six or twelve months). These approaches tend to bolster immediate sales without devaluing products.

Consumer Awareness Reveals Which Companies Do Better.

When you look across various industries at market performance, the top performing companies have one thing in common. They appear to be listening to consumers and either evolving the product to add value (innovation) or better communicating what they offer (credibility).

Companies that rely on discounts without added value or expertise will continue to struggle. Even while announcing modestly promising news, RILA was cautious. The economy has been sluggish for the past three years, with many businesses holding off hiring until new rules and regulations are fully understood.

"Every aspect of the economy, particularly those industries reliant on consumer spending, remains challenged by the fact that nearly 15 million Americans are unemployed and millions more are underemployed," said RILA President Sandy Kennedy. "Without a meaningful improvement in the job market, retail sales gains will be sluggish and hard won."

Again, for marketers, those hard won sales seem to be tied to innovations and better services. If you cannot offer a more innovative product, then demonstrating that you care about the consumer (market knowledge) can go a long way. Simply put, beyond innovations, customers are wondering who they can trust.

Sunday, October 17

Breaking Rules: Fresh Content Project

Fresh Content ProjectSocial media was an exceptional step forward because it helped many communication-related industries start thinking out of their increasingly diminished boxes. However, there is an irony at work in that now; many of the recently freed communicators, public relations pros, and agency folks are now working double time to find a new box to climb into.

Right. With almost too many choices at their fingertips, all the previous specialists are finding out that their specialties don't work so well. So almost all of them have set out to break their old rules (only to make up new rules so they can say they are specialists again). These five posts, for the most part, pin down why many of the new rules are just as bad as the old ones.

Best Fresh Content In Review, Week of October 4

Paper Beats Digital For Emotion.
If you think direct mail doesn't work in the digital age, there is a study highlighted by Roger Dooley that might change your mind. Physical media leaves a “deeper footprint” in the brain. However, that is not to say that print is always perfect, Dooley cautions. "Digital ads can do things that print ads can’t match, like this Halo ad from Unicast." In other words, digital has the potential to make a multiple-sensory impact. So can print, with enough imagination. Suffice to say how you use a medium might matter in maximizing its potential.

• Going Direct With PR.
With trust in mass media at an all-time low, more public relations firms are considering direct-to-public tactics and strategies. However, unless public relations can execute these efforts right, the risks might outweigh the rewards. And a good part of what needs to be considered before you forward is becoming (or finding) a credible source. Valeria Maltoni includes several more worthwhile tips in her post, but the most critical of all, in my opinion, is recognizing that individual credibility underscores trust.

Shaping Networks.
More and more people are beginning to see the obvious. The freedom of the social networks, online and off, isn't always scalable. (In nature, all ecosystems move toward order, don't you know.) Ike Pigott shares some past experiences that demonstrate how this has always been case, which means (even online) networks beyond a certain point must have an internal structure and rules. Sure, you can create a network without any rules, but the rub will always be that people who populate it will make them on their own.

Content Curation: A Required Skill For Digital-Era Communicators
Shel Holtz wrote an interesting perspective on the increased need for public relations professionals to become content curators for their companies. He's right. Personally, I think they ought to have been taking care of this long before the digital age (and I don't mean simply cutting out clippings from the paper). Curation requires much more thought. It means finding the most valued information, organizing it, and — something not everyone does once they have it — drawing connections and conclusions. There is more to it than that. The rest can be found on Holtz's blog.

10 Sure-Fire Ways To Alienate Your Brand’s Most Devoted Advocates
Now that Social Media Explorer has several authors, it also added some new names to the Fresh Content Project. One of them is standup comedian Jordan Cooper. While the presentation is purposely twisted, he does an excellent job describing some sure-fire ways to lose an audience, including laying down rules of engagement, passing out ultimatums, attacking people who covered you over SEO, and so on. Truly, if you turn all of it on its head, you have the foundation of creating a real network. Of course, some people will still insist destroying them is more worthwhile.

Friday, October 15

Making Choices: Psychology Marketing Aims At Students

school lunch marketing
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has launched a $2 million initiative to help food behavior scientists find new ways to use psychology to fight childhood obesity and improve school lunches. Ironically, the initiative doesn't necessarily rely on providing healthy meals to students as much as it aims to market healthier foods to children.

For example, the initiative might have cafeteria workers hide chocolate milk behind plain milk, increasing the speed and convenience of the balanced meal choice, hiding ice cream so it cannot be seen, and placing fruit in pretty baskets to improve its appeal. These ideas, of course, are remarkably similar to common sense, assuming the bad choices are available too.

Why Not Eliminate Less Healthy Choices?

According to USDA researcher Joanne Guthrie, changing the menu is not enough, reported the Associated Press. The concern is that when children are not making the menu choices, they leave food uneaten and it is discarded in the trash.

Jenn Savedge, author of green parenting books and blogs, concurs. She writes that bans on soda and junk food have backfired in some places. Some students have abandoned school meal programs that try to force feed healthy choices.

Why The Psychology Marketing Is Smart And Stupid.

The Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics has dozens of convincing studies that these tactics work. Suggesting fruit, they say, will increase consumption by as much as 70 percent. Closing the lid on the ice cream will decrease ice cream orders from 30 percent to 14 percent. Introducing a salad bar will increase salad choices by 21 percent.

The work being done at Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics represents everything that is right about this direction. Some of it is very smart. However, there is plenty of stupid in the mix too.

Many school systems are defeating any progress inside the lunch room because of what they do outside of the lunch room. Educators in some areas are rewarding children with candy and snacks for test performance. Many school programs — ranging from sports to computer labs — peddle candy bars and donuts to raise money. And, at my son's school, they do all that and offer smoothies every Wednesday. They are expensive, generating cash for the school and the private business making them.

In other words, there are enough unhealthy choices being dangled at the kids (and their parents for any parent who has felt obligated to buy up the remaining box of unsold candy) that any improvements in the school program may not be enough. Besides, in many cases, the only reason limiting menu choices failed is because they aimed those limitations at the wrong students.

Daily Choices Aren't The Problem As Much As School Decisions.

Telling high school students that the pizza now has whole grain crust (which even I would probably pass on) after indoctrinating them into an unhealthy lunch program for nine to twelve years should be expectedly met with resistance. The time to make dramatic changes to school lunch programs begins in elementary school, when children haven't had the experience of choosing burgers and fries or a hotdog and tater tots.

In addition to implementing better choices for the wrong students, many public schools continue to have operational problems. Children aren't only eating unhealthy foods, they are eating those foods in an unhealthy way.

“Most of the time it takes the students forever to get their lunch,” Steven Cauthron, a 15-year-old sophmore, told The Augusta Chronicle. “By the time everyone gets through the lunch line they will have 10 minutes at the most to eat their lunch. Most of the time the students usually only have about five minutes to eat their lunch because there are so many students getting a lunch.”

One of the reasons I've become critical of some modern government agencies is the increasing ability to find ways to spend money to fix problems that they helped create. Government created the school lunch problem to increase revenue (e.g., awarding contracts to fast food conglomerates several years ago) and are now funding the solution, which also means the bad food they order will go to waste.

Meanwhile, private schools don't appear to have the same problem. Many of them contract catering companies that make food choices that are healthy and taste good. In fact, earlier this year, one of these schools in Washington D.C. was featured in an article. They make meals from scratch. The kids eat them. Everybody is happy, without pretty fruit baskets.

If Ever There Was An Opportunity For Crowd-Sourcing.

When it comes to school lunch programs, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. However, the key isn't testing in high school as much as it is to introduce healthy foods in elementary school and give up on adding incentives that run counter to healthy eating habits. Kids that age are just as happy with a silly eraser as they are with gummy bears.

In high school, rather than invest $2 million in marketing gimmicks that do not instill brand loyalty (healthy foods, being a brand of sorts), the better bet is to ask the one group of people who haven't been asked — high school students. Much like Cauthron pinpointed one of the problems with his school lunch program, high school students could provide solutions.

In other words, the time to give people a choice isn't when the food is being served up, but before the food is ever prepared. The more participation students have on the front end, the more likely they will be to eat the food, assuming the school districts in charge give students more time to eat right and take sweets away as educational incentives or fundraisers.

If the people making these decisions only understood that "impulse marketing" does not create "brand loyalty" then maybe these problems would already be solved. A healthy lifestyle is not an impulse purchase. It's a way of life, which requires a personal decision. Kids need to know why it's a good decision.

Clear enough? Good, because I'd like my $2 million now. Thank you.

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