Wednesday, March 31

Traveling With Colleagues: How Twitter Works

There is not much to be seen near Valley Wells Station along I-15 in California. The closest exit is an unincorporated community called Cima, but so few people live there that has been classified as a ghost town.

It was also along this unpopulated stretch of desert highway where we experienced a blowout. The initial impact was jarring, as the back mud flap scraped along the highway at slightly more than 70 miles per hour, enough to wake me up from a light nap. I immediately hit the hazard lights and helped guide Kim from the fast lane over to the shoulder.

Once we made it, I wasn't too worried. Even after surveying the damage and discovering I couldn't do the job alone (the tread had lodged itself between the tire and back bumper and the spare was too low on air to use safely), I was confident enough. Having recently renewed our AAA membership, the best would be a short wait with two travel-weary children (unless the car was deemed inoperable).

The unintended benefits of Twitter.

Before deciding on the best way to divert their attention, I mentioned our situation on Twitter (and Facebook via Twitter). "Whoa, we just had blow out on I-15 headed home," I wrote. And then, something unexpected happened.

One of our clients, Jay Shubel, CEO of a credit card processing company, gave me a call. He offered more than words of concern. He asked if we needed a rescue, saying they were more than willing to drive two hours or so to pick us up. (His executive vice president added on Twitter that I was too valuable to leave stranded in the Mojave Desert.)

While this wasn't the first time Twitter has proven itself useful during a personal crisis, the gesture touched us. It didn't matter that AAA delivered on its promise when the mechanic from Baker arrived well under the 45-minute expectation set by the dispatcher. It was still nice to know that people do more than listen on Twitter. They're willing to be proactive in offering help.

Crisis communication plays out in personal life too.

Naturally, we could have called other family or friends if we needed a rescue too. But Twitter also proves to be a useful tool, allowing you to travel with a unique connection to colleagues. In this case, it was especially nice to know that if we had any additional problems during the remaining 90 miles, everything I say about Twitter would be proven true. You get out of it exactly what you put into it.

There was another lesson to be learned too. Technology aside, crisis communication doesn't have to exist exclusively in corporate settings. Communication plays out daily. Here's how we managed ours:

1. Assess the situation. Emotional reactions are useless and detrimental. Stick to situation analysis, with an emphasis on gathering facts. You need to know where you are in order to plan a course of action.

2. Determine the impacts. In this situation, the best case scenario was having a mechanic assist and then slowly returning home on the spare. However, alternative plans could have included another night away or asking friends for help. While we had to wait for all the facts, we had already narrowed our options.

3. Synchronize messages for the audience. Make no mistake that almost every situation has an audience. And for my wife and me, our audience was our children. If we couldn't agree on a course of action and communicate to them based on their needs, even 15 minutes could be a disaster. They needed assurance that the situation was under control and there were multiple solutions.

4. Designate spokespeople. Sometimes the messenger is the message. While my wife is a seasoned communicator, the kids tend to turn to me when there is uncertainty and her when they are injured. So, instead of allowing them to become impatient, I set their focus on the raw video footage of their vacation while we waited. It didn't matter that I shot more stills than footage. I had just enough to make the wait a positive experience.

5. Collect feedback and adjust. Since the kids were satisfied watching the footage, there wasn't any need to adjust. But there could have been. I had alternative ideas in the works (just in case) to keep them engaged.

Crisis communication doesn't have to be elaborate to be effective. In most cases, it amounts to a series of steps and situational decisions, with enough flexibility to allow for those moments when things do not go as planned. Even better, relying on these five simple steps helps to ensure that life doesn't happen to you. You're an active participant who makes reasoned choices.

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Tuesday, March 30

Fighting Words: Dish Network vs. DirecTV


If anybody is wondering whether the Dish Network or DirecTV will win their respective legal fights, the answer seems obvious. Only cable stands to win as the two satellite companies tie each other up in court.

The allegations erupted last month when DirecTV sued Dish Network for claiming it was cheaper. The Dish Network filed suit last week alleging DirecTV is misleading consumers by claiming it offers more HD channels than it actually carries.

This fight seems a little bit meaner than the tug of war between AT&T and Verizon. But ironically, neither of these companies have too much to gain, given that most cable networks have accused satellite of misleading customers for as long as I can remember.

DirecTV has gone as far as devoting an entire section of its Web site to the kertuffle, asking "Who do you believe?" before dashing off a paragraph with more footnotes than copy points. Meanwhile, Dish is sticking with its commercial that DiretTV costs a much as cable whereas Dish Network offers virtually the same package for approximately $20 less (although newer commercials have changed up the price point comparison). None of it is as ugly as the comparisons outlined on a Web site run by a Dish Network authorized retailer.

The weakest part of the new Dish Network argument is that it overreaches. One of its complaints is that the new DirecTV advertisements "mimic look and feel of certain ads in Dish Network's Why Would You Ever Pay More For TV campaign." They do not. Not by a long shot.

Two years ago, Campbell's and General Mills taught each other a similar lesson after launching a battle over which soup line contained more MSG. No one won, except the agencies asked to produce the ads.

I'm fond of reminding advertisers that the first rule in advertising is that there are no rules. However, there are some general principles that have have stood the test of time — never overreach in your advertising. In order to develop an effective contrast, it's always smarter to stick with a competitive comparison you can accurately win. Case study on Thursday, with an emphasis on how to develop a better product contrast.

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Monday, March 29

Trusting Ourselves: We Know Best?


While the economic climate is still on shaky ground, American investors are becoming more optimistic about 2010. Forty-three percent of young investors (ages 21-29) and 33 percent of older investors (40-65) plan to invest more in 2010. One in four expect returns between 10 and 20 percent.

The study, conducted by ShareBuilder from ING DIRECT USA, indicates fewer investors are relying on brokers, financial advisors, or planners for advice. Most are relying on their own ability to research companies and rely on public sources of information.

Where Are Investors Turning For Advice?

• 49 percent of investors are reading financial Web sites and blogs.
• 39 percent of investors read financial print publications.
• 35 percent of investors rely on advice from financial planners.
• 18 percent of investors listen to brokers.

Interestingly enough, not all of the results mesh well with Edleman Trust Barometer released in February. According to the Edleman assessment, analysts and experts were among the most credible sources of information, but according to the ING DIRECT study, another informant seems to pull ahead of the pack — people trust themselves.

Almost half of those ages 40-65 have reduced or eliminated their reliance on financial professionals, while 37 percent of investors ages 21-39 have done so. However, despite increasing self-reliance, the majority of respondents believe it requires hundreds or thousands of dollars to begin investing. It doesn't.

When combined with other surveys and studies conducted over the last few years, consumers are increasingly self-reliant on everything from medical care to marketing. Young musical artists believe they can get more mileage from social media than labels. Investors believe they can capture returns as high as 30 percent on their own. And social media experts frequently advise that business owners abandon marketing firms in favor of establishing a personal presence within social networks.

While the increased personal responsibility is admirable, one might wonder where it all ends. Becoming a quasi-expert in every subject seems to be tenuous in that, as Ike Pigott likes to point out, individuals are not scalable. At some point, we have to rely on others in order to get things done.

It also creates an interesting challenge for both experts and marketers. In a world where individuals always know better themselves, trust becomes an illusion in that people trust your opinion and insight but not your ability to execute the plan.

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Sunday, March 28

Asking Questions: Fresh Content


One of the most critical components of strategic communication is situation analysis. Simply put, you cannot move forward unless you have an understanding of where you are (and sometimes where you have been). To gain insight into the present, someone has to ask the right questions.

We found five fresh content posts that accomplish this goal by asking that people ask the right questions. Sometimes they lead to the right answers. Other times, they scratch the surface, leaving others to share their varied thoughts and opinions. Take a look for yourself. There is something compelling about reading questions (even when they are written as statements) that not enough communicators ask.

Best Fresh Content In Review, Week of March 15

The Dichotomy Issue: “Social Media Marketing” Vs. Classic Marketing.
Beth Harte pinpoints the truth about social media. Some elements are not as new as most might think, but many have been given the "wrong impression or direction when it comes to social media." All too often marketers think of social media as an either/or proposition when it really is a question of inclusion and integration. Social media needs to be integrated as opposed to being treated as a replacement. Perfectly said.

Social Media Isn’t Conversation, It’s Publication.
While I might have chosen the words presentation over publication, the point Joel Postman makes is pointed. Conversations are face to face between a limited number of people, without regulation or permanent record. Sure, we can point out that telephone conversations are not face to face, but the reality is that social media shares much more in common with publishing and sometimes people might lose sight of that.

10 Dead Dudes Every Entrepreneur Should Follow (But, Not On Twitter).
Generally, lists of people wouldn't qualify for inclusion in a fresh content, but Jonathan Fields' list is very different. He picks ten former industry leaders that many people in the industry have never heard of. It's an excellent reminder that just because social media "feels" new there is much to be learned by the people who came before social media. This one hit all the right notes, including Stevie Ray Vaughn.

Are You Getting Typecast?
At what point does the pursuit of personal branding or identity leave online personas wanting to be more than the role they play online? People tend to be more dynamic than the brands they surround themselves with, which sometimes requires that they explore new options without necessarily wiping away the old. Interestingly enough, Valeria Maltoni only misses that most people typecast themselves.

Hotels and Social Media – The 5 Most Common Mistakes.
Callan Paola offers up his list of the five most common mistakes made by hotels in social media, but he may as well have posed them as questions. With the exception of assigning strategic value to a tactical approach in number three, these are the right quetions that most hotels, and companies, ought to be asking more often about their social media programs.

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Saturday, March 27

Writing For Public Relations: Seven Decks For PR


With next week marking the conclusion to my nine-week course in Writing for Public Relations at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, it seemed only fitting to recap seven decks that were included as in-class presentations and after-class supplements. While the decks only represent a small portion of what is covered in class, the entire set helps define some of the finer points related to public relations and the spirit of the instruction.

What's next? While the class ends next Thursday, there was plenty of content that was only covered in passing. So while the frequency won't be at a pace of one deck a week, there are more weekend presentations planned in the near future.

Seven Decks For Public Relations

Introduction: Writing For Public Relations
Originally meant as an introduction to writing for public relations, this deck provides an overview of almost everything that goes into public relations beyond pitching stories and writing news releases.

On Writing And Editing
In addition to 18 key elements for great writing, this deck draws parallels to my five most cited techniques and five amazingly masterful writers: Oscar Wilde, Robert Louis Stevenson, Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, and Andy Warhol.

What Makes News?
With the help of a little fish with a big story, this deck presents the ten most common traits of news stories that editors tend to love. I learned them as a journalist.

On Spreading Messages
After a brief overview of communication, this deck covers modern communication challenges that are produced as a result of shrinking newspapers and an over-reliance of word-of-mouth marketing.

The Importance Of Planning
By overlaying a Toyota case study on top of a strategic communication outline, the importance of planned communication becomes all the more apparent while introducing various elements within any plan.

Simplifying Messages
Beyond a simplified approach to understanding the strategic planning process of SWOT and a CORE message system, this deck reveals why not all unique selling points are unique at all.

On Advertising
The concept that copy is a direct conversation with consumers didn't originate with social media is the final thought after ten lessons from some of the greatest advertising minds that impacted the industry.

Aside from Writing For Public Relations, I have signed on to teach a half-day Writing and Proofreading class in the summer and a full-day social media class late next fall. Until then, I would like to thank everyone, online and off, who helped get my tenth year as an instructor off to a very memorable start. Thank you.

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Friday, March 26

Craving Emotions: Do People Need Negative And Positive Interactions?


Every now and again, someone strikes up a study that is just too interesting to simply bookmark for later. Dr. Imam Saqib of the National Institute of Psychology at Quaid-i-Azam University in Pakistan is starting a Web-based psychology experiment to investigate whether or not human beings have a daily requirement for certain kinds of emotions.

His hypothesis is that human emotions may need to be balanced much in same way the body has a proven requirement for certain nutrients. Or, in other words, is it optimally healthy for a person to experience a certain amount of love, creativity, connection, competition, or even aggression as part of their daily routine.

The study is sponsored by the World Mind Network and is co-moderated by Irina Higgins of the Oxford Foundation for Theoretical Neuroscience and Artificial Intelligence and Melissa Mendoza of the University of La Verne. For more information, visit Daily Emotional Balance. (The public may join the discussion.)

What It Might Mean For Marketers

Given that some secular and spiritual practices have found that serenity improves the human condition, it seems unlikely that an emotional balance is required. However, there seems to be ample evidence to support that while the need may not be there, people do learn to crave oxytocin, cortisol, adrenaline, and other chemical releases that occur with emotions.

Where this study could be interesting, if not important, for marketers is that it could dispel the belief that positive advertising always plays better to audiences. On the contrary, it could illustrate how emotionally-driven advertising could appeal to specific demographics, depending on environmental conditions.

For example, lighter and more nostalgic advertising played better during the most recent Super Bowl, but more aggressive and darker advertising was well-received during better economic times (much like musical trends). Such understanding could become a critical component in communication. Cool stuff.

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Thursday, March 25

Studying Influence: Epsilon Targeting


Last year, we suggested what real influence might mean. This year, ICOM, a division of Epsilon Targeting, conducted a study that reveals much the same: there is no universal influencer and there are few commonalities exist within demographics for influencers.

Really? Well, there are some characteristics. Influencers, online or offline, tend to make recommendations more often. Forty-five percent of influencers will always recommend brands they like compared to only 36 percent of consumers. Fifty-six percent of influencers believe people follow their advice compared to 45 percent of consumers. The summary concludes that the primary difference is that influencers are talkers, primarily propped up by the frequency they talk.

Key Points From The ICOM Influencer Study.

• Consumers are influencers strictly within product categories, not across them all.
• Few commonalities exist with influencers across gender, age, income and channel.
• Influencers have a tendency to talk a lot in person — at the table, in the aisle, and on the phone.
• Marketers need to understand influencer behaviors as much as demographics or channels.
• Influencers are best engaged across multiple channels (online and off), not just one.
• Influencers are highly motivated to provide feedback to brands and manufacturers.
• Influencers like to be the first to try new products so they can give their opinions.

The ICOM study reminds me of another study conducted by Pollara, a Canadian-based public opinion and research firm. It found nearly 80 percent of people said they were at least somewhat likely to consider buying products based on real-world friends and family, but only 23 percent reported they would at least be somewhat likely to purchase a product by 'well-known bloggers.'

"This shows that popularity doesn't always equate to credibility," said Robert Hutton, executive vice president and general manager at Pollara said then. "Marketers might have to reconsider who the real influencers are out there."

The difference is in the intent. One of the most compelling parts of the study suggests 68 percent of social network participants use tools to connect to friends. The remainder, which includes most influencers, use social media tools to be heard. So much for two-way communication.

Experts and businesses are working too hard to be heard, honestly.

We see the ICOM study differently. Marketers don't necessarily have to find influencers as much as they need to help create them, and not by measuring popularity. As mentioned last week, branding is a function of relationships. Influence is equally reliant on relationships.

An online influencer who is privy to reviewing the latest product releases only maintains any semblance of influence as long as they are privy to being the first source of information. An online influencer who writes for a major publication, such as The New York Times, only has influence as long as they write for The Times. A company that relies on establishing a brand culture, only succeeds as long as it remains unwavering in its support of that culture.

When the relationship shifts, such as a self-proclaimed influencer exchanging dialogue for one-way communication because they cannot keep up, they experience a decline in popularity unless they successfully shift to a new relationship. Some can. Some cannot. (This is the very reason MyBlogLog began to fail shortly after being bought by Yahoo. The relationship changed and participants didn't accept the new paradigm.)

The point to consider here is simple enough. Influencers need to understand the relationship they have with people if they hope to retain the moniker (whether they really influence anything at all). And marketers need to reconsider how they think of influencers because social media "experts" aren't hand soap "experts." In fact, among hand soap consumers, they don't even exist beyond being busy talkers.

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Wednesday, March 24

Marketing Public Relations: Publicity On SM Steroids


Did you ever open a book and want to like it? Gaetan Giannini Jr., chairman of the business, management and economics department at Cedar Crest College in Allentown, Pa., delivers exactly that when he attempts to combine marketing, public relations, and social media into Marketing Public Relations (MPR). It's a book you want to like.

Wanting to like it wasn't always the case for me. A few months ago, I didn't want to like MPR. I alluded to as much when I first mentioned it after listening in on a webinar.

So I have to give Giannini credit for contacting me after that post. He put Marketing Public Relations: A Marketer's Approach to Public Relations and Social Media from Pearson into practice, believing that if I read the book then he might sway me from the light of collaborating professionals and toward the dark of combined disciplines. He was partly right.

When I opened the shipping package and thumbed through it for the first time, I immediately wanted to like Marketing Public Relations. I really did. And I still do.

Why you'll want to like Marketing Public Relations.

Marketing Public Relations is packed with content, skipping across the varied subjects of marketing, public relations, and social media. As a comprehensive textbook, it reads several generations ahead of anecdotal pop trappings that tend to masquerade as marketing and social media books nowadays.

There are ample models, studies, and diagrams. Giannini introduces classic concepts such as The Business Strategy Diamond from Carpenter, Mason, Sanders, Gerry, Strategic Management and Maslow's "A Theory of Human Motivation" alongside studies by PEW Charitable Trusts and the Keller Fay Group.

There are adequate applictions. Some of the suggested assignments would even benefit working professionals, helping them rethink how they apply communication. For example, in one chapter, Giannini suggests that students think of the most expensive purchase they made, track their purchase decision-making process, list all of the connectors (influencers) that contributed to the purchase, and identify what messages they delivered to the student.

There are ample tip lists tucked inside every chapter. In writing press releases, Giannini suggests illustrating real-life examples, sticking to the facts, picking an angle, writing in active voice, and using correct grammar. But then he also advises to never write a release in all uppercase letters, never writing the release online (use a word processor), never include html links, and never write a release that is less than two paragraphs. (I shook my head at a couple of these tips too.)

The case studies that precede each chapter seem fresher than inclusions in most books. He offers up snippets from Ecover, Red Bull, Hannah Montana, and Ben & Jerry's. About Harry Potter, Giannini frames up J.K. Rowling alluding to the demise of two familiar characters on a British talk show. He attributes resulting mainstream and social media frenzy to marketing public relations in action, which departs from what most public relations professors might call it. Most would call it publicity.

But that is the point. All of these elements are used to underpin the premise of Marketing Public Relations. And although Giannini doesn't provide a crisp one or two sentence definition of what MPR really is, you can surmise it is the practice of delivering planned marketing messages to very specific and targeted intermediates (connectors and influencers), with the intent that they will carry a closely aligned message forward to the audience you want to reach.

While I'm not certain how this differs from how communication has always worked, whether marketers recognized it or not, Giannini works diligently to consider this the cornerstone of MPR and then aims to cherry pick principles as valid under the new construct. When it works, different disciplines will benefit from a perspective they may have neverconsidered. When it doesn't work, everyone will be even more confused.

Why Marketing Public Relations is a dangerous book.

While I could write extensively about the sometimes painful organization of Marketing Public Relations, there is more pressing problem. And, unless the reader understands this problem, it could lead to some very dangerous conclusions. You see, for all the excellent material, it's difficult to forgive the initial definition of public relations, which is not public relations. Here is the definition:

"Traditionally, PR is defined as a firm's efforts to build good relations with its various publics by obtaining favorable publicity, building up a good 'corporate image,' and handling or heading off unfavorable rumors, stories, or events."

This disaster of a definition is not Giannini's fault. It belongs to Gary Armstrong and Philip Kotler, from Marketing, An Introduction, 9th edition. That makes sense to me in that Kotler, who is a brilliant marketer, has always aligned public relations under sales promotion. In fact, it is Kotler who originally coined the term Marketing Public Relations, but with very different origins than the one proposed by Giannini.

In Marketing Management: Analysis, Planning, Implementation, and Control, 6th edition, Kotler outlines public relations as handling press relations, product publicity, corporate communications, lobbying, and counseling. Marketing PR, he wrote, is an advent of companies developing departments to set up a special section that directly supported corporate/product promotion and image making.

The old name for Marketing Public Relations, Kotler says, is publicity. And publicity, as we hope all public relations practitioners know, is not public relations at all. What is even more perplexing, however, is that Giannini calls Marketing PR the birth of a new paradigm when it would really be a rebirth with the inclusion of the more publicity-oriented activities of social media.

Where Giannini differs from Kotler, however, is that he assigns some propaganda duties under the the direction of MPR. Specifically: building the identity, increasing the visibility, establishing subject matter expertise, educating stakeholders, shaping public opinion, maintaining the image during a crisis, and stimulating repeat usage.

In sum, these tasks encompass some public relations and advertising duties under the world view of publicity in order to serve marketing. Except, they generally manifest themselves as "the coverage of a story by media or the recommendation of a friend without a paid solicitation." The risk, naturally, is that the intended message can sometimes be altered, such as the reckless Aqua Teen Hunger Force case study from 2007.

Ergo, if we mistake promotions and publicity as public relations, even under the banner of marketing public relations, it is likely we will further erode the core competencies that public relations could offer today and help it descend back into the ooze of propaganda where it originated. Only this time, it would be supported by social media. Perhaps unfortunately, where Giannini might be right is that is precisely what public relations professionals want to do.

Having a cracked foundation isn't the only issue in the book. There are several other questionable concepts that could mislead practitioners, including the overemphasis of blogger popularity in order to separate top-tier social media outlets from the "chaff," considering "thought-leaders and "influencers" as one in the same, and misdefining promotion as paid messaging.

On those points: never mistake page visits as an indicator because you never know who reads that blog; popular bloggers, influencers, and thought leaders are all very different; and promotion, even from a traditional view, is not confined to paid messages. There is more to vet, but the point is clear. In some cases, Giannini has adopted the mistakes some social media and public relations experts are making because they do not know any better.

What to do about Marketing Public Relations.

There is no denying that there is extensive value in Marketing Public Relations by Gaetan Giannini, Jr. He is a smart researcher, substantive educator, and intelligent practitioner who has presented material proving that the author didn't sit down and write this book on any given Sunday afternoon. Not all marketing, public relations, and social media books are like that nowadays.

As a textbook, it comes with a steep price of admission, retailing at $96. Even the used books are selling at above $60. The price point comes from the inclusion of graphs, charts, and full-color pictures. The three reviews on Amazon all rave about it.

For me, I have to go back to my opening point. I want to like this book. I really do. In a convoluted sort of way, it represents everything that other books on social media miss and leave instructors wanting. And yet, when the very principles contained within would force instructors to vet more than their fair share of material, how can it be sent up with a recommendation? In a word or two or three. It can't be.

Marketing Public Relations is a missing link between the business card books being offered by most publishers and what markers, public relations, and social media experts really need. However, it's only one step in the evolution of the communication chain and, without careful vetting in the classroom, it cannot be certain whether this mutation would lead to what we will one day call modern communication or if it is merely a branch that will see the same fate as the Neanderthal.

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Tuesday, March 23

Advertising With Apps: Sherwin-Williams


Like many people, I held any number of odd jobs to pay for my education. I did a stint as an assistant manager at a 7-Eleven. I set up, tore down, and worked spotlights at concerts, including Pink Floyd in Sacramento. I painted murals along several college dorm walls; they have long since been painted over as the director allowed students to crowd source the concepts.

And, among other things, I worked as a colorologist at Sherwin-Williams every summer. A colorologist, by Sherwin-Williams' definition then, was someone who could match paint by sight to virtually anything and everything that customers brought in.

Nowadays, most clerks attempt to use computers to do the same job with mixed results. However, despite knowing the shortcomings of computer-aided color matching, the new ColorSnap app for the iPhone from Sherwin-Williams caught my attention.

Why it works as an advertisement.

As simple as it sounds, the Sherwin-Williams ColorSnap application is inspiring in that it allows you to match, coordinate, and save more than 1,500 paint colors. It's an advertisement for Sherwin-Williams, but works hard to add value for customers. And when it comes to apps, ads have to be useful.

• You can find some inspiration anywhere and then save those colors.
• You can browse colors, coordinate them, and save them for future paint jobs.
• You can add purchased colors and save them for future reference or the next homeowner.
• You can use the Sherwin-Williams store locator to find the nearest store.
• You can take a snapshot of a photo and match colors to what you see on the screen.*

It's apparent that considerable thought went into the application. Resource Interactive did a fine job with the design as a source of inspiration for customers. It's almost unfortunate the application falls short on practically, not because it doesn't do what it says it will do, but because it failed to set appropriate expectations.

Where it falls short of a success story.

I added an asterisk to the photo snap feature because what would otherwise be the coolest feature (giving customers the ability to match colors by taking a photo) is flawed. It's flawed for several reasons, but most of all because it sets the expectation too high.

• Much like ink, colors act differently as a light source and paint product. In fact, ink and paint act differently too.
• The matching function is matching to a picture on the screen and not whatever the customer takes a picture of.
• Shadow, dirt, and intense light can all affect photos (the same reason some humans beat computers at matching).

In sum, the app falls a bit short because the coolest feature doesn't really do what it says it can do. And while that doesn't mean it fails as an electronic color deck, it is the primary irritation noted by half of the customers who left reviews. That's too bad, because ColorSync is a handy little app for several other uses.

The human workaround, by the way, is as simple as narrowing down the colors with the app and then cross-checking them against the chips in the store. It sure beats attempting to match colors by memory.

How apps and social media make advertising useful again.

There are several people kicking around publishing as the next direction for marketers. Mitch Joel has been kicking the idea around lately. I kicked it around several years ago, with the focus on program development over publishing.

In 2007, the primary disconnect between marketers becoming publishers was that some marketers felt such measures meant managing a dual business, with one foot in manufacturing and another in publishing. While there is some truth to that, you only need to look at history to find where it worked before like the original Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog. It was first published in 1888.

The concept that you can add value to the customer experience isn't as new as some social media experts pretend. It's as old as advertising. What's not so old is "attention-getting" ads that fail to educate, inform, or persuade in favor of selling the cleverness of the creatives more than the product or service. That advent in advertising came along in the 1990s with the rapid adoption of Photoshop and SFX. Advertisers convinced themselves that people didn't read anymore.

It wasn't like that during what many people consider the golden era of advertising. Those folks aimed at having a direct conversation with customers in order to add value (despite some of it being contrived) to the lives of consumers. Social media and apps can work just like that.

Although the ColorSnap app doesn't measure up as a completely practical application, it represents a thinking that more advertisers ought to embrace. Marketers need to be thinking about communication that adds value with a bit of persuasion again.

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Monday, March 22

Searching For Meaning: Prosumers


Euro RSCG Worldwide has completed a new travel study with an emphasis on prosumers, who tend to be influential early adopters. According to Euro RSCG Worldwide, they also adopt a more mindful approach to consumption and incorporate concern for the environment, local communities, and global citizenship similar to the attitudes expressed in A Darwinian Gale.

"For years, people have regarded travel as a way to splurge, an indulgence centered on escapism and fun," said Marian Salzman, president of Euro RSCG Worldwide PR, North America. "Now, we're looking to make our travel experiences more meaningful and better aligned with our personal values and goals."

According to the study, prosumers will lead the way in travel trends. Generally, they consider themselves citizens of the world, believe travel is the key to making people more interesting, and contend that where people travel says a lot about them.

Four elements that are vital to capturing prosumers.

• Accept and embrace "green" as the standard way of doing business.
• Provide more products and services that satisfy the desire to live mindfully.
• Master social media to engage them before, during, and after travel.
• Embrace new models for luxury and customer service.

According to the interpretation of the data, companies need to engage prosumers well before and long after each travel event if they hope to be successful. As an example, the study cites The Pod Hotel in New York City that experienced a 40 percent increase in reservations after developing a site called the PodCulture, which is a closed network in which guests can connect with one another and synchronize their travel plans.

Highlights on what Euro RSCG Worldwide calls prosumers.

• 79 percent of prosumers believe society is too shallow, focusing on things that don't matter.
• 74 percent of prosumers feel good about making environmentally-friendly choices.
• 66 percent are concerned that people are too disconnected from the natural world.
• 63 percent pay attention to environmental and social impacts on the products they buy.
• 53 percent believe that the emphasis on digital communication weakens human bonds.
• 84 percent are making a concerted effort to improve who they are and how they live.

Interestingly enough, prosumer qualities mirror many of the those identified as important by social media enthusiasts. Most no longer see social media as a means to connect with strangers as much as a means to meet people around the world and eventually meet them while vacationing or traveling for business. Simply put, they want to connect with the human experience. Is your business ready for them?

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Sunday, March 21

Getting Glimpses: Fresh Content


While most people are attempting to figure out social media for fun and profit (they never will), the Internet has become an ultimate fish bowl for human behavior. Everything that used to happen offline is happening online, except it comes with a trackable truth meter for anyone who happens to look for the truth.

The five best fresh picks all share a small slice of the human condition. People air their offline laundry in public, attempt to control information, steal ideas from others, mistake buzz for branding, and struggle to distinguish amateur from professional as both roads might lead to the same destination. All of it makes you realize that when people ask what happened on the Web today, the only real answer is that everything offline happened online today. It's just like any other day.

Best Fresh Content In Review, Week of March 8

For Many Families, Facebook Is The Real World Web.
Louis Gray paints an interesting picture of how family connections on Facebook mirror offline relationships, even in his own family. He presents both the good (the ability to disrupt separation in between gatherings) and the bad (when an in-law unfriended everyone on the other side of the family). All of it is presented with sparkling transparency in an accidental life stream.

A Challenge To Open Democracy – Bloggers Excluded From Council’s Twitter Accreditation.
A few weeks I ago, I mentioned how for every leap forward in setting communication free, new measures are made to control and manipulate it just as fast. Carl Haggerty captures one such move north of England, where the Devon County Council applies a rule that only allows accredited journalists to "tweet" live within council meetings. Apparently, accountability is a dangerous thing.

Attribution is the Sincerest Form of Flattery.
On the flip side of the information free-flow control, Ike Pigott shares a cutting case study of how information shared across the Web tends to lose its original source. Sure, sometimes people come up with similar concepts. Other times, the disintegration of attribution is accidental. This time, it's hard to mistake the obvious. One blogger cherry picked content and then promoted it as their own, creating the illusion that they were the original source.

How Much Buzz Do The Top 10 Global Brands Generate On Social Media?
There has always been a big difference between buzz and brand and Jeff Bullas found a clever way to convey it. By tracking the online buzz of top global brands, he verifies that top brands do not necessarily generate the top buzz, which is why Toyota finished much higher than its brand value for the all the wrong reasons. Where is the lesson? Our takeaway is common sense: events generate buzz; brand value is earned.

BBC News - Music Stars 'Still Need Labels.'
While most fresh picks are linked toward original content, this story by Ian Youngs (BBC News) as featured on Jeremy Meyers' "posterous" blog was too good to dismiss. Meyers also offers up his own take on the piece, saying that the music biz remains in denial. Our takeaway is a bit different. Much like daily newspapers, the industry still needs to find a model to make managed artists manageable. Eventually, they'll find it. Expect it to be different.

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Saturday, March 20

Writing For Public Relations: On Advertising

There is always something strange about dedicating one Writing For Public Relations class to the subject of advertising. Sure, public relations professionals need to understand it, especially those who work within the communication or marketing departments of small- to medium-sized companies.

They will no doubt write advertisements, brochures, scripts, and other advertising material. And yet, I cannot help but wonder how well those advertisements will turn out. Writing for public relations is a fundamentally different skill set, and not all writers have enough talent to toggle between the two disciplines.

At the same time, I think, at least they can learn a few things from advertising that they need to know, especially if public relations continues to pursue social media. Many blog posts, after all, are much more similar to an advertisement than an article. They aim to persuade more than they ever hope to inform. And the best ads always aim to have a conversation with the consumer, which means the only difference between ads and some posts is that the consumer is allowed to talk back.


The above is a supplement deck for Writing For Public Relations at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

The intent of this deck is to provide students with an understanding of advertising that goes beyond the "rules" posted on dozens of blogs every day. Because in advertising, anybody who is any good at it will tell you that there are no rules.

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Friday, March 19

Shopping Psychology: How Consumers Connect To Brands


A new study of social media from Chadwick Martin Bailey reinforces what many people already think they know: 60 percent of Facebook fans and 79 percent of Twitter followers are "more likely" to recommend a brand after becoming a fan or follower. And 51 percent of Facebook fans and 67 percent of Twitter followers are "more likely" to buy from brands they connect with.

And yet another study recently conducted by trendwatching.com, a consumer insight firm, revealed that consumers do not identify with brands. In fact, not a single consumer said they believed any brand cared about them, except as a source of profit. And many, according to the study, said they have no love for any brand and found loving a brand to be unnatural.

Can they both be right? How about wrong?

Marketing's Understanding Of The Brand Relationship Is Digressing.

I tend to advocate for the brand definition as proposed by Phil Dusenberry, former chairman and chief creative of BBDO Worldwide. Dusenberry, if you don't know, was responsible for campaigns such as "We bring good things to life," "It's everywhere you want to be," and "The choice of a new generation." Those campaigns belonged to GE, Visa, and Pepsi. He also helped elect Ronald Reagan and co-wrote "The Natural" with Robert Redford.

“Brand is the relationship between a product and its customer,” he said.

Dusenberry was right. (He was right about several things, which you can glean from one of his last interviews. But where we can deepen his thinking is understanding that brand relationships do not always occur because of a direct connection between a brand and a consumer. There are some degrees of separation between the consumer and the brand.

Consumer-to-brand. Some brands do have a direct relationship to the consumer. Most notably, Apple and Coca-Cola have some of the strongest direct relationships. We can see it in psychological studies and intense interest.

Consumer-to-experience, tied to brand. Some brands rely not on a brand relationship, but the consumer experience provided by the brand. Offline, the Four Seasons has mastered the experience. Online, Facebook delivers. On a smaller scale, horseback riding might be the experience people connect to, regardless of who delivers it.

Consumer-to-product/service, tied to brand. Some brands win because they deliver a specific product or service people expect. The concept has propelled McDonald's to the top of quick service restaurants. Amazon demonstrates it online. Or, a consumer might love their car, but not the manufacturer.

Consumer-to-idea, tied to brand. While he might not have framed it up this way, Dusenberry's initial success with the Pepsi Generation concept was directly tied to association of an idea to a brand. The idea of "change" propelled Barack Obama to his presidency (and has also contributed to declining poll numbers as the "idea" has not materialized).

Consumer-to-group identification, tied to brand. One of the most recent success brand stories is undoubtedly Zappos. And although Tony H. was wrong to think the Zappos branding strategy is unique, he created a culture people wanted to belong to. In the 1970s, so did Kiss.

Consumer-to-individual Identification, tied to brand. If you ever wondered why Chris Brogan or Seth Godin are popular, it is because people identify with them. Offline, it's any number of celebrity spokespeople and motivators like Anthony Robbins.

Consumer-to-friend(s), tied to brand. Most recently, Geoff Livingston demonstrated friends will support friends and personal connections, especially to do good, because it brings the degree of separation between the cause and the friend within two degrees. It motivates people to join fan pages on networks like Facebook, even if the friend or follower has no connection to the brand.

Keep in mind, that many brand relationships work across several of these connections. Many of those mentioned above do not rely on one connection exclusively. And, there are several other relationships not listed here.

However, it can also illustrate how some social media and marketing constructs weaken relationships between a brand and the consumer. Ergo, if the only reason a consumer buys a book is because they have a connection with Oprah, the connection to the author is three degrees removed (consumer-to-Oprah-to-book-to-author) and the publisher could be as many as seven degrees removed from the publisher. Or, in considering the primary difference between Coca-Cola and Pepsi, the former has a direct connection and secondary connections whereas the latter has relied on secondary connections.

How does this help us decipher two studies? People do connect to brands, but they often do not connect to them in any way they can or want to articulate. Conversely, the majority of people who follow a brand on Facebook or Twitter are "more likely" to buy from those brands is virtually predetermined. Why else would they follow a brand? Well, we provided several possible reasons above, most of which people would not want to or cannot articulate.

So what is really going on? It seems evident that social media can help companies benefit from secondary connections — individual identification, friend identification, group, experience, idea, and so on — stuff that they never considered before. However, relying too much on social media can also cause interference between the consumer and the brand.

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Thursday, March 18

Choosing Truth: LifeLock, Inc. Settlement

Last week, we shared four different versions of the $11 million settlement LifeLock, Inc. agreed to pay the Federal Trade Commission and $1 million to a group of 35 state attorneys general over deceptive advertising. We then asked readers to compare these truths, choosing the most likely truth.

There wasn't enough data to call this poll scientific, but there was enough to prove a point. When faced with four stories, the truth is often left behind and consumers are baffled.

LifeLock Poll Results

• 28.57 percent said they were most likely to believe the Federal Trade Commission.
• 28.57 percent were not inclined to believe any of the four stories released.
• 14.29 percent said they believed LifeLock worked with the FTC to set new standards.
• 14.29 percent were inclined to believe all of the stories, assuming each had some truth.
• 7.14 percent thought what CEO Todd Davis said in interviews was the most accurate.
• 7.14 percent believed investor David Cowen that the FTC was politically motivated.

Interestingly enough, poll participants do not match the greater online sentiment. Online coverage is overwhelmingly negative, with approximately 85 percent of the conversation centered on the FTC release, and only 15 percent accepting any version of the LifeLock story.

Sentiment is overwhelmingly influenced only by which release mainstream and new media decided to cover. However, based on cursory research, the FTC release, which dominated the conversation on March 7, seems like it will have a much shorter shelf life than LifeLock public relations efforts.

The Public Relations Lesson

With some certainty, LifeLock had an opportunity to move beyond the settlement and return to business as mostly usual, but the public relations message is largely inconsistent and overreaches, undermining its own attempt at damage control. In addition, Cowen would have better served the company if he had not offered his opinion. The best the company can hope for now is that the settlement issue will eventually fade into history.

It's very possible it will, given the company partners with the FBI Law Enforcement Executive Development Association on training programs. And, despite Nevada being one of the settling attorneys general offices, it is also hosting a cooperative identity theft town hall meeting.

Still, LifeLock is probably fortunate so far that the FTC has not sought to penalize the company in its handling of communication regarding the settlement, given the FTC barred LifeLock from overstating protection against all types of identity theft and the risk of identity theft to consumers. After all, LifeLock's settlement release clearly overstates its role in the settlement, which is ironic given the settlement was all about reigning in overstatement.

The Truth Lesson

While truth is not relative, the facts chosen by all parties seem somewhat selective. But most people will only be exposed to one of the four messages, which will shape their opinions about the company. And yet, none of those stories provide a full accounting of the truth.

Chances are that the truth resides somewhere in between everyone telling the truth and nobody telling the truth, depending on how you want to look at it. All of the releases seem to contain some truth and some spin, which prompted some poll participants to conclude all of them were true while others, given that a partial truth is not the truth, all not true.

For instance, Cowens' post is true in that the FTC is under greater scrutiny from the current administration, which may prompt it to pursue some cases that do not warrant it. It is also likely true that LifeLock accepted the settlement even if it felt it could win the case in the court of law because settlements seem cheaper (not always). His opinion, though, overreaches on speculation of a very specific agenda. It seems unlikely the ties are that tight, specific, and planned.

Still, the FTC release is heavy-handed. Usually, settlements come with some sense of resolution between the two parties, but this release is clearly punitive and doesn't provide a timeframe of when the deceptive advertising supposedly occurred. The FTC clearly wanted the settlement to be seen as a win, even if its own disclaimer admits that the settlement is no indication that the defendant violated the law.

Given the heavy-handedness, it seems painfully clear that LifeLock and the FTC were not cuddling up together in order to set new industry standards as LifeLock alleged in its release. And, at least one of the commissioners was not even interested in accepting the settlement. LifeLock also overstates that everything is business as usual as there are tighter guidelines in how it communicates its advertising messages in the future.

The message is further complicated by conflicting interview messages. Those messages seem to be closer to the truth but still overreach in communicating that the settlement did not have an impact on the company. That statement alone contradicts its claim to have set a new industry standard.

Another lesson here is how "he said, she said" journalism does little to get at the truth. When time-strapped reporters increasingly rely on reporting statements as opposed to investigating facts, nobody is served. It's especially par for the course for more complex subjects where topics like health care and TARP money give consumers the choice of believing the person who says the sky is "green" or the one who says the sky is "purple" while leaving "blue" out of the options all together.

In Conclusion

The real trouble spot for the FTC in this story is that there seems to be some dissent over whether such a service is needed. Based on the varied releases from attorneys general offices, identify theft is a problem, nothing is foolproof protection against it, and consumers can take steps to increase protection without such services (and thus companies like LifeLock are not needed).

However, such logic could lead one to conclude all sorts of services are unneeded, including everything from house cleaners and accountants to restaurants and pet groomers. Of course consumers can take measures into their own hands. However, if they want the convenience or peace of mind of having someone do some of it for them, then they might consider a service.

That aside, the FTC was right in taking this case but overzealous about periphery topics on wins that amounts to less than a 10 percent refund per consumer. LifeLock seems to have misrepresented its service by its own admission but seems unlikely to stop spinning the truth. And the decision whether or not a consumer chooses an identity theft protection service or does something on their own (none of which is 100 percent) amounts to nothing more than asking whether they want to clean the house or have someone do it for them. Ergo, everyone tried to be honest, but nobody was truthful. Not really. Case closed.

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Wednesday, March 17

Understanding Bloggers: Why PR Doesn't Get Them

While working with a record label on the release of a movie soundtrack that included a new single from a popular actress/artist with a loyal fan base, it only made sense to reach out to the dozens and dozens of fans who had built blogs in her honor. It made sense, especially since fans saw the star differently than most in the mainstream.

The general thinking was, as fans, who had a loyal following of more fans, they would be receptive to a relationship one step removed. However, had I adopted a common public relations practice, the tactic would have been to collect a list and pitch them, perhaps laced with all those faux personal courtesies too.

Fortunately, I already knew something that most public relations practitioners do not. Pitches are not introductions. They are pitches. And bloggers, well, they are as different as passersby who use the New York City Transit, which serves as many as 1.6 billion riders every year, or perhaps the Tokyo Metro, which serves more than 3 billion. They are all different, and most of them do not see blogging like social media experts or public relations pros do. Their motivation or combination of motivations have little to do with the motivations of public relations practitioners.

Ten Motivations Of Modern Bloggers

Media-Centric. Whether they are journalists who happen to blog or bloggers who aspire to provide content like citizen journalists, these bloggers are the most likely to be interested in a pitch. They are the most likely to consider their audience, have an interest in insider news (even if it is spun up by public relations practitioners), and be most receptive to push content provided in a new release. However, they are also the most likely to make fun of blind pitches and point out erred efforts.

Profit-Centric. They blog purely for the purpose of monetization. They generally pick and choose their subjects based on a pay rates (e.g., pay-per-post, etc.) or, sometimes, are contracted to write stories at rates that range from $25 per post to $250 per hour, depending on the blogger. They are only interested in peddling public relations content for cash.

Popularity-Centric. They are the most likely to look for every traffic tip and tactic imaginable. They are most concerned with creating the illusion that they are popular based on various measures ranging from page rank to link love. They may be interested in public relations pushed ideas if they are reasonably exclusive and they think it will inflate their numbers.

Affiliate-Centric. Whether they are serving a company or are part of an affiliate program makes little difference. The primary purpose of the blog, even if it adds value and is well read, is to market a product, service, or company. It's that simple. They are rarely interested in content unless it directly connects to their business or affiliate program.

Incentive-Centric. They like freebies, coupons, discounts, contests, product samples, and write content around the various incentives offered up regularly by public relations professionals. It's not that different from profit-centric bloggers, except cash isn't king. Gifts, praise, and follow-ups filled with gratitude will win them over.

Education-Centric. It's surprisingly rare, but there are some bloggers whose primary purpose is to educate existing students and anyone who happens to drop by and visit from time to time. Popularity and profit are secondary to education because the motivation sometimes requires them to be unpopular. The only way to connect with them is to deliver something that they think would be useful for formal or informal students.

Cause-Centric. Some bloggers are cause-centric, which doesn't necessarily mean non-profit. While some are related to altruistic causes, others' causes range from political affiliation, fan clubs, television show cancellations, and other pursuits. In the six divisions of modern media, they are the most likely to have an agenda. If the pitch supports the agenda, they may be interested.

Interest-Centric. Special interest bloggers still dominate the greater space of social media. These bloggers are simple enough to understand. They have a hobby and want to share their passion for it. It might be any number of hobbies, ranging from poetry and photography to bead work and being a mom. There is 25-75 split in whether they are interested in a pitch.

Relationship-Centric. Some bloggers are interested in developing deeper relationships with like-minded people online. Generally, traffic is less important than the friendships. Sometimes they'll develop 20 or so friends online and off. If they happen to have any popularity spikes, it's generally by accident. They are usually not interested in pitches, preferring to focus on their own personal topics while making or retaining friends along the way. They don't care about your client.

Ego-Centric. Some bloggers like the sound of their own voices, and there is nothing wrong with that. Any other measure might make them feel validated that their ideas and opinions have merit, but it doesn't really matter. True ego-centric bloggers are just as happy being misunderstood or undiscovered as much as they appreciate the occasional praise. Engage them at your own risk.

If you or your public relations firm don't understand these sometimes subtle and often mashable motivations, you have no business attempting to pitch bloggers or developing a blogger outreach program. Besides, most bloggers do not consider a pitch as being the most acceptable introduction. It basically advertises your aim to use them right from the start. It's best to avoid the pitch, anyway.

When it came to introducing the movie and soundtrack, it was a simple enough. One of the biggest questions about the film was which working title these fans might expect. The introduction was simple enough. We publicly engaged them with the answer. And, once we publicly engaged them the first time, most sought connections with us based on their terms.

The only bloggers we didn't engage were profit-centric bloggers (beyond direct paid advertising). Even with disclosure, pay-for-post arrangements are risky propositions in terms of outreach, credibility, and occasionally ethics. Otherwise, we did not discriminate based on popularity, reach, influence, or any other measure — even when one blogger successfully circumvented our relationship to secure an exclusive clip with the record label (it was the first and last time the label made that mistake).

The results were proof positive. Among some 45 films the studio intended for DVD, the film we worked on moved from last place to first place in terms of receiving more distribution outlets. And, once released, it captured higher than expected sales rankings via online stores, almost all of it driven by social media over mainstream media.

In conclusion, the takeaway is simple enough. Engage bloggers publicly on their terms because most of them will never engage public relations on the terms that those pros are used to nor do they have any interest in learning about advertising or public relations. Think win-win or no deal, without judgment on the outcome because all bloggers are different.

(Hat tip: Jason Falls for the inspiration on this subject.)

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Tuesday, March 16

Helping Publishers: Audit Bureau of Circulations


With the Audit Bureau of Circulations finally modifying its definition of a digital magazine in the U.S. and Canada to accommodate electronic reading devices, print publications and dailies may finally see a footbridge to cross the chasm.

As long as the replica digital edition includes a print edition's full editorial content and advertising under the new rules, digital editions will continue to be included in a magazine's circulation guarantee. The change comes, in part, from the efforts of Wired magazine, which was the first publication to seek review of an Apple iPad version. GQ had also offered an ABC-approved replica app for the iPhone and iPod Touch (December 2009).

What Publishers Are Allowed To Report.

• E-reader distribution averages, such as iPad and Kindle.
• Mobile app purchases, such iPhone or self-produced apps.
• Total paid/verified circulation emanating from multiple newspaper products.
• Comprehensive frequency, delivery platforms, and distribution methods.
• Audience-FAX, which allows the counting of sources used by ABC Interactive.

These new reporting options will be available to U.S. newspapers beginning Oct. 1, 2010. They adopt one of the methods we've backed for several years, which was for publications to discontinue considering print and electronic formats as competing products and to move toward a universal single product publishing strategy that doesn't distinguish from print and electronic.

"A newspaper today is much more than a traditional print product," said Merle Davidson, director of media services at J.C. Penney Co. and chairman of the ABC board. "We now have a roadmap in place to present a myriad of existing and emerging channels to media buyers in a consistent fashion, following industry-established standards, with the full transparency and trust that comes with an ABC audit."

The rules, combined with a pending July decision to allow ABC membership to include publications without a 70 percent paid subscription rate to be included, could reverse the decline of circulation among publishers. This is a promising development.

Why The Ruling Is Promising For Publishers.

By counting print and electronic replicas as part of their total circulation, publishers will be better able to sell advertising at sustainable rates. As a result, while publishers will be participating in an increasingly competitive environment, they will be better equipped to present sustaining ad rates with selling themselves out.

If publishers can regain their financial footing, there will be a greater incentive to increase the accuracy of reporting and return to objective and accurate editorial standards. It could increase the value of some publications to consumers.

Why The Ruling Is Promising For Writers.

There has been increasing pressure on publishers to reduce pay rates and lay off staff. This has contributed to the increasingly fragmented distinction of professional writers, guest "marketing" writers, and amateur writers, resulting in content mills, non-paid content (for the promise of exposure), reduced pay rates (as low as 2 cents per word, if at all), inequity in the caliber of the publishing credits, etc.

If publishers can regain their financial footing, those who seek to exploit writers by asking them to "volunteer" content for the financial gain of the publisher, will begin to wane. It could increase the value of quality content.

Why The Ruling Is Promising For Advertisers.

Media buyers have been pressured to compare advertising rates across a variety of diverse platforms, using an increasingly diverse measure of accounting. The new ABC rules will better equip media buyers to justify mainstream buys, and include alternative buys as supplements (such as buying space on a blog) rather than forgo mainstream vehicles and buy broadly across the net.

If media buyers make better purchasing decisions, print ads and their electronic replica versions could reinvigorate advertising to go beyond interruptive banner ads. It could decrease the number of hack ads that litter the net.

Why The Ruling Is Promising For You And Me.

Not everything about the era of infinite choice has paid off. In a world of information managed by public relations alone, consumers are asked to pick from any number of possible truths.

If publishers can regain their footing, bloggers will be free to publish on their terms as opposed to having public relations professionals dream of the day that bloggers might conform to public relations rules. While the notion of bloggers conforming to public relations rules is popular among those rushing the net, it is also fraught with back door deals, entitlement attitudes, "influencer" perks, and masquerades.

In sum, the evolution of publishers could restore credibility to the content we read. And that would be good for everyone.

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Monday, March 15

Tracking Facebook: Popularity vs. Penetration

Ever wonder whether Facebook is the best choice for business in your market? Statistics from Candytech, a Czech-based developer that specializes in Facebook applications and marketing roll-out, owns a portal that can help provide an answer. (hat tip Dave Courvoisier.)

Its team, led by bakery manager Lukas Maixner and chief baker Martin Homolka, are responsible for collecting and publishing near-real time statistical information on Facebook. The data includes the popularity of applications, developers, pages, groups, participants by country (by state in the United States), and average CPC and CPM in each country.

Understanding The Data At A Glance

The statistical information can help marketers and businesses prioritize when and where Facebook fits into their online social media marketing mix. And, in addition to the total number of participants, Facebakers gives up a glimpse of stated gender and age-related data that might cause some marketers to rethink the message.

For example, a business in Nevada considering Facebook as part of its social media presence will find a relatively small pool of participants, ages 18-44, compared to the state's population. And, as a result, it might not make sense for a proximity-reliant company to invest in a Facebook presence unless California is part of the intended audience.

The same holds true across the country. While it's no surprise that California, Texas, New York, Florida, and Illinois lead the nation in terms of participants, the District of Columbia, Rhode Island, Colorado, Massachusetts, and North Dakota have higher market penetration, with as much as 40 percent of the population participating on Facebook.

In Europe, the story is much the same. The United Kingdom, Turkey, France, Italy, and Spain outpace many neighboring countries in terms of total adoption, but Iceland, Norway, and Denmark lead in penetration. In South America, Argentina and Columbia have more population, but Chile has the highest penetration. In Asia, Indonesia leads in population, but Singapore leads in penetration.

Understanding Usage At A Glance.

In addition to Facebook by the numbers, Facebakers reveals how Facebook is used. Among the top 15 most popular pages, only Facebook, Starbucks, Twilight, I "Heart" Sleep, and Coca-Cola break into the top 15 company pages online. The balance belongs to games, actors, musicians, other personalities. Likewise, games dominate the most utilized applications, with only two Facebook applications and one cause-related group breaking into the top 15.

Even the number of active users tells the story. While some companies clearly benefit from a Facebook presence, Facebook users are mostly interested in personal connections and playing games. And since leading games, such as FarmVille, require participants to stay online while they play, such games dramatically spike the total time that participants stay online.

This doesn't mean that Facebook isn't good for business. However, it might mean that Facebook needs to be prioritized beyond being the brightest and shiniest social network du jour. Sure, anyone can make the case that it is always good for business, that it can be used for crowdsourcing, and why it might one day replace blogs. But that doesn't mean any of it is true for your business.

It might be. And it might not be. Sure, having a Facebook presence can be beneficial. But it takes a better understanding of the population, demographics, psychographics, common sense, and (most importantly) your customers before placing it at the top of an online priority list because it's popular.

After all, even in states where Facebook is widely adopted, the network is still only reaching about 40 percent of a population in a specific geographic region. Consider what kind of crowdsourcing misdirection that could lead to. Or how giving up to 80 percent of your proximity-based customers for lack of a blog might impact growth. Or how focusing too much on one or two specific networks might cause you to miss other online sites where your customers interact on a daily basis.

All this comes back to one simple truth about online marketing. It can work, provided it is part of a more comprehensive communication program. And, with an increasing number of sites like Facebakers.com, more companies will begin to appreciate it.

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Sunday, March 14

Telling Truths: Fresh Content


Sometimes finding the truth is uncomfortable, but that doesn't make it any less important. While it often gets passed over for more popular discussions offered up by communicators sharing their thoughts through social media, the truth tends to have a longer shelf life.

Opening March, we found contrarians, consideration, conversation, consultation, and a case study to start the month. And if these past fresh content picks have anything in common (besides the trivial occurrence of the letter "c"), we might put the truth at the top of the list.

Best Fresh Content In Review, Week of March 1

Panels: Where’s The Contrarian? You’re Boring The Audience.
When it comes to communication professionals, there has always been some pressure for everyone to play nice, nice. There is nothing wrong with that, unless you consider that not every idea, thought, or general concept is right. It also makes for some boring panels at conferences, which is why it was refreshing for Lauren Fernandez to point out the obvious.

Content Strategy: Secret To Writing For Buyers Consideration Phase.
Few people work as hard as Valeria Maltoni to bring more insight into the bridge between social media and strategic communication. In this post, she breaks down three important components to developing a viable online presence: editorial impact, community building, and calls to action.

Understanding Conversion In Online Marketing.
Maria Reyes-McDavis presents her IMPACT Marketing Formula designed to help marketers consider every step in the online sales funnel: target, engage, impact, convert, and then monitor and adjust for feedback. While the process comes from traditional marketing, the emphasis on conversation (which is sometimes missing online) makes the post more than worthwhile.

• The Most Expensive Question.
Few people want to write about it because it's so very easy for some clients to take it the wrong way. Tapping agencies for recommendations tends to be an expensive proposition, unless there is a commitment for the client to proceed. Aaron Brazell keeps it light, recognizes it's part of business, but also helps warn off companies from accepting too much quick, dirty, and "free intelligence."

• Putting People Before Profits: Classic PR Case Study, But Without The Fairytale Ending.
Bill Sledzik's post, which covers the case study of Malden Mills, was strong enough that I used the case study in class to demonstrate why business owners have to find the balance between people and profits given that the two terms are often interlinked. You cannot have one without the other. And even those with big hearts and the best intention over the short term sometimes find that they have undermined their own ability to keep either over the long term.

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