Thursday, September 30

Banning Books: Words Want To Be Free


In the last nine years, there were 4,312 challenges to books in libraries and classrooms. The American Library Association defines a challenge as a formal, written complaint filed with a library or school, and requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness. The association estimates five times as many complaints are submitted, but are never made formal.

Most the challenges are due to “sexually explicit” material and “offensive language.” Those challenges do not count material deemed “unsuited to age group,” which has its own subgroup. Violence finishes fourth; homosexuality a distant fifth.

Three Examples Of Censorship.

Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson.

In 2009, some parents complained about several novels containing foul language and cover topics — including sex, child abuse, suicide, and drug abuse — deemed unsuited for discussion in coed high school classes in Kentucky. The result was that several books were withdrawn from classroom use (but remained available in the library and student book club). One of these books was Twisted.

While none of the references in Twisted are graphic in nature, the book mentions erections, sexual fantasies, kissing, petting, and intercourse. None of which are described. There is drunkenness, and mentions of drugs (but no real usage), and the principal character considers suicide after he is jumped and beaten. He goes as far as putting a gun in his mouth. Some might consider this a point of awareness in the resolution to live or consequence of the actions we take against people. But others see it as something best left locked in a closet.

Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway.

Pulled from a Litchfield (N.H.) Campbell High School elective course classroom (2009) after parents voiced their concerns about several short stories in a unit called “Love/Gender/Family Unit” that dealt with subject matters including abortion, cannibalism, homosexuality, and drug use. The parents said the stories promoted bad behavior and a “political agenda.” The Campbell High School English curriculum advisor resigned.

The Hemingway story is about abortion and how an American, fearful of the impending responsibility, attempts to manipulate the principal character, Jig, into having an abortion. His goal is to present the operation as a simple procedure that is in her best interests, a panacea for all that is ailing her and troubling their relationship. The ambiguity leaves a good deal of room for interpretation, including that someone could easily use the story as a platform against abortion.

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou.

Ocean View School District middle school libraries in California now require parental permission for the book, which was simply considered "inappropriate for children.” It was also challenged in the Newman-Crows Landing, Calif. School District on a required reading list after a trustee questioned the qualifications of staff to teach a novel depicting African-American culture.

The book is the first of a six-part coming of age story that shows how strength of character and a love of literature can help overcome racism and trauma. In the course of Caged Bird, Maya transforms from a victim of racism with an inferiority complex into a self-possessed, dignified young woman capable of responding to prejudice. Most guidance sites consider it appropriate for ages 13 and above. The most concerning point of this story is that the trustee, someone well removed from children, was making the decision to remove the book.

The Interpretation Of Words Is Twice As Dangerous Than Words.

In some cases, challenges within schools and classes are sometimes the result of one parent asking for their child to be assigned different material. In such instances, parents are well within their rights. They need to take an interest in what their children are exposed to and when they are mature enough to consider the context.

Unfortunately, in making individual requests, some parents accidently convince teachers or administrators (or other parents) to misapply their concern. Some people honestly believe that what might be inappropriate for one child must be inappropriate for all children. And in extreme cases, they think questioned material is inappropriate for adults too.

And this why Banned Books Week is so important. Words and ideas want to be free, but not for the reasons most people believe. Sometimes the stories present ideas not to glorify their existence but rather to consider the human condition and help us make better choices.

It seems to me that self-assigned gatekeepers (especially those beyond parents) need to be less concerned with the content of any book and more concerned with what is being taught within the context but outside the content. Or, to be clear, more parents ought to read the books that their children are assigned to appreciate what positive discussions might come from them.

More importantly, they might be better prepared to refute or reinforce what children are being taught beyond the pages — in the classroom or by their peers. It is for this reason alone that dialogue, not diatribe, leads to enlightenment. Or, in the words of Henry Steele Commager ...

“The fact is that censorship always defeats its own purpose, for it creates, in the end, the kind of society that is incapable of exercising real discretion.”

Wednesday, September 29

Creating Social Networks: Colonies Before Communities


With increasing regularity, companies that have adopted social media find themselves asking the next most logical question. How do I develop a sense of community? There are plenty of answers, but there is only one right answer. You don't.

Online communities aren't developments. They are evolutions of other social structures, much like corporate cultures.

But unlike corporate cultures, you do not "control" the participants. There is no tangible contract. They don't owe you anything on the promise of a paycheck. They aren't likely to invest eight or more hours a day in your organization. And, as virtual nomads (or tribes if they are connected), they aren't likely to identify with fledgling ideas beyond recognizing common interest.

Colonies Before Communities.

Companies don't create communities. At best, they create colonies on new continents such as Facebook or those of their own design. And very much like the American colonies, they are founded for very different reasons and will have very different outcomes.

In 1585, Sir Walter Raleigh had received a charter to establish a settlement in North America within ten years. The intent, much like many companies that want communities, wasn't much more than to exploit the riches of the new world. How they would do this, beyond raiding Spanish treasure fleets, was unclear in some cases. This colony, Roanoke, disappeared without a trace.

Subsequent colonies were established for different reasons. Virginia was established for trade and profits. Plymouth for religious freedom. New York for trade and profits. New Hampshire for looser economic rules. South Carolina to produce rice. And so on and so forth.

The earliest colonists didn't identify with their location as much as their homeland, but they all recognized they generally shared one or two common interests. One colony, Plymouth, did establish a Mayflower Compact, loosely based on the idea that the colonists would agree to certain rules for mutual benefit beyond their understanding of English law. The point of interest here is that the colonists, not England, wrote and signed the compact.

The Risk Of Colonization.

Some colonies take shape much like the visionaries intend. Others do not. And the reasons are as varied as the American colonies. Sometimes colonies are abandoned for greener pastures. Sometimes neighboring tribes invade and take over. Sometimes charismatic leaders emerge and have more influence than the appointed governance of a community manager.

But more important than any of that is to always remember surviving colonies will eventually not be managed by the people who fund the charter, but rather by the people who populate it. In less than 200 years, even early American colonies would eventually develop a sense of identity so strong, they would rebuff the crown and claim sovereignty in the face of change.

Thus, companies and organizations hoping to build communities, especially those designed for trade and profit, may have a few surprises in store for them. Whatever design they have in mind may not work.

South Carolina, for example, was founded for rice production but the cash crop eventually became tobacco. New York, which was originally a Dutch settlement, was taken over by the English. When puritan leaders became too hard in New Hampshire, the colonists began to spread north and inland. In Connecticut, founder Thomas Hooker was asked to leave. And so on.

You can match any of these stories with various company community efforts or fledgling social networks. Some disappear. Some are taken over. Some have member revolutions. And so on. It's amazing, when you think about it, that some do develop into loyalist communities at all.

The Reward Of A Loyalist Community.

When you think about it, the goal of many companies eventually becomes to own a loyalist community. They want people to participate, buy, and encourage their friends to participate and buy as well. It's possible, but not probable, with rare exception.

• Are you confident that the colony will receive as much support at it needs during bleak seasons?
• Are you prepared to hire a community manager or managers with more experience than an intern?
• Are you certain this representative will reinforce the community vision and not a rock star image?
• Are you up for guiding behaviors that reinforce the vision of the community being created?
• Are you flexible enough to know when the vision won't mesh with the participants you attract?
• Are you resigned to the idea that you may own the technology, but not the culture that develops?
• Are you ready to defend against invaders that disrupt the safety and sense of security people expect?
• Are you restrained enough to avoid sweeping changes that shock the community in the morning?

Then you might be ready to fund a colony, with the hope it will return a loyal community. But if you think a social network (even if it is on Facebook) is a campaign or a technology, then your expectations will not likely be met for any sustainable amount of time. The net is littered with more Roanokes than Facebooks and more New Hampshires than Reddits.

Tuesday, September 28

Faking Fans: The Flawed Netflix Apology


In 2007, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) learned that staging fake news conferences, complete with fake reports, was a bad idea. While the tactic defied common sense, spin remains alive and well in some public relations circles.

Netflix Inc. hired actors to pose as fans in Toronto, including stereotypical roles such as "mothers, film buffs, tech geeks, couch potatoes." The gimmick, according to Netflix, was to use the actors to gin up enthusiasm and attract a crowd.

Misleading the public was bad enough, but the Netflix actors began to offer up even more excitement by accepting media interviews. The gimmick was undone after reporters noticed the actors even had instruction sheets on how to act and how to give a good interview.

"We are embarrassed," spokesperson Steve Swasey said. "We regret that this put a blemish on what should have been a perfect day for Netflix."

While Netflix claims embarrassment, it continued to place spin on the situation. Swasey said they are not sure who decided the actors should give media interviews under false pretenses. However, the deception is in the details. It didn't accidently happen if the actors had media interview scripts to work from.

In fact, as Swasey says it was never the company's attempt to mislead the public or the media, the Globe and Mail published the instructions given to actors. It says very clearly that "EXTRAS are to look really excited, particularly if asked by MEDIA to do any interviews about the prospect of Netflix in Canada."

All of which begs the question whether Netflix is embarrassed because of the actors or simply embarrassed that they were caught. The latter seems obvious, especially for a company in the U.S. where the FTC recently accepted a settlement from Reverb Communications for boasting about fake app reviews.

Faking fans, reporters, and reviews is not public relations.

While the allure of being the star is always tempting for some, public relations professionals are always tasked to do more than represent their clients. The profession asks them to serve both organizational and public interest. This is doubly important, even in marketing, when you consider how much hinges on a company's ability to make a realistic promise.

In this case, Netflix had always accurately conveyed a brand promise and delivered on that promise. It seems to defy logic that the company should attempt to prove it delivers on promises by risking its reputation with a lie and then persisting to lie by attempting to downplay the bad decision.

The takeaway here is pretty obvious. Faking a splash is less effective than not making a splash. And, equally important, companies caught in the act might as well confess it up front before someone releases the script and undermines the sincerity of any apology. At least, I think so.

Monday, September 27

Confusing People: When Creative Is Too Much


A brand new advertising poll conducted for Adweek Media by Harris Interactive puts some agencies on notice. For all the cleverness that some agencies try to jam pack into television, three-quarters of Americans find them confusing.

Highlights From The Harris Interactive Poll.

• 75 percent say that they have found at least one commercial confusing.
• 21 percent say that they often find television commercials confusing.
• 14 percent say they never find television commercials confusing.
• 11 percent say they never watch television commercials anyway (they lie).

The answer seems to correlate with the age. Participants who were over the age of 55 tended to be more confused by commercials than their younger counterparts.

This is indicative of two possibilities. First, the television commercials could be targeting younger and younger viewers. Second, younger viewers have learned not to expect much from television commercials. Either way, the confusion factor is a challenge.

Given that the survey also revealed that the confusion increases with level of education, I'm leaning toward the latter explanation. Educated people are anticipating there is a point. Less educated people are assuming commercials entertain.

Overly Creative Commercials Have No Point.

I touched on this last week in an expose on how companies undermine their own brands. And, I cannot resist picking on the most creative and painfully pointless ad out there.



I've shown the advertisement to countless people. Most of them laugh out loud. What always isn't apparent is whether they are laughing because it's funny or because it's a travesty (on the entertainment side, I think it's funny). What is apparent is they don't get it.

Diesel wants to make the case that it makes street shoes, cool. But having your foot up someone's rump isn't necessarily a point of affection. The real problem here is Diesel, for all its cleverness, doesn't make a brand promise other than these shoes aren't meant for running. They aren't meant for dishwashing either, which could have made an equally funny spot.

Coming up with attention-grabbing creative is the easiest thing in the world. Coming up with attention-grabbing creative that delivers a promise a company can keep, on the other hand, is why some copywriters make a living.

It's also why consumers, despite being excited by an advertisement now and again, have gravitated to social media. It's not that they don't like clever, it's that they prefer clever that celebrates the product (with which they have a relationship) as opposed to those that celebrate the creative director or copywriter. That doesn't mean you can't have fun in the field. It's just means you have to think harder than the first thought that comes into your mind.

Sunday, September 26

Showing Stories: Fresh Content Project


When I pull together stories for the fresh content project, I never have a theme in mind. However, week after week, it seems to me that they share a common theme more often than not. This week happens to hold one of my favorite themes.

In every writing class I teach, I am constantly banging my hand on the table, attempting to teach would-be writers and public relations professionals the merit of "showing" and not "telling." All of these posts have this important ingredient going for them, even though they rely heavily on images over storytelling. Still, the lesson rings true enough. Most could have told these stories without pictures too.

Best Fresh Content In Review, Week of September 13

The Stories Pictures Will Tell (If You Just Listen).
Ike Pigott shares an experimental post with one of the leading rules for great writing: show me, don't tell me. Except, in this case, he uses pictures to share a tribute to a remarkable teen who isn't with us now. It's a compelling treatment of a life that had a precious impact on others. The treatment, which spans series with several pages that reveal small details of the subject one at a time, tells a story. The lesson, is less than the greater sum of its parts, is that sometimes people can see the truth on their own.

Quickstart Guide to Social Media for Business
In an illustration of another kind, we see a different kind of truth from Marta Majewska. While the formula is oversimplified, her infographic on how to start a social media program is the stuff that provides a mountain of information in about the size of a molehill hole. The infographic paints 14 critical steps for social media, from establishing your goals (even better if you establish a strategy) to measuring effectiveness. The infographic, by the way, is from B2Bento.

The New And Improved Twitter.
Brian Solis offers up a little more of what he does best, painting a picture of the "new and improved" Twitter after being asked to take a test drive. Plenty of screenshots make it work. The biggest change borrows embedded video and photo elements much like the upstart Fried Eggs, except Twitter is going with a two fat column approach. There is already some fallout over the anticipated changes, which will be fodder for a fresh pick we'll pull out next week. Personally, I haven't made up my mind. Sometimes more is less than less.

• The ROI of Rotary.
In his first guest post on the Social Media Explorer, Ike Pigott tackles the history of social media ROI by using a Rotary analogy and reminding professionals that not every measurement needs to be marked off with a click, like, follow, or even sale. Social media tends to be more fluid, with an understanding that not all measurements are quantifiable. Often, it's the benefits we don't measure that have the most value.

• Social Media And The Multiplier Effect.
Ian Lurie has been on a roll lately, including this post which shows how the value of an individual actually falls as an individual network (or platform) grows. And he asks: "why is it that someone tweeting to 50,000 people gets me 3 clicks, and someone tweeting to 5,000 gets me 10,000 clicks?" He then places an emphasis on what he calls the multiplier effect, whereas more really is better because the quality of each relationship (and the content) becomes even more important. In his model, the network begins to take the likeness of a community.

How To Use A Writing Frame.
This post by Chris Brogan almost got me in "trouble." In terms of showing his story, Brogan tossed up a basic blog post outline that will inevitably help some people. Personally, I think it might help people visualize how some posts will go. It will help many novice and medium-level writers because the outline is ready mix. However, as anybody who cooks Italian knows, homemade noodles just taste better. And that is why I almost got into trouble with a homemade noodle crowd or, in this case, some of best writers out there. So, while I still think the Brogan post holds value, temper the rules with my qualifier.

Friday, September 24

Keeping Promises: How Companies Disrupt Branding Efforts


In many quarters, branding has almost become synonymous with advertising, marketing, and/or public relations. But as presented a few days ago, branding is a cross-departmental or disciplinary communication and operational function.

Specifically, it relies on the ability to effectively communicate a promise, deliver on that promise, and prove the promise was delivered. This is how companies develop relationships with customers and consumers.

Communicating A Promise.

A brand promise can be easily summed up as a unique position or unique product statement (or contrast point), with advertising usually charged with making sure that promise earns attention, especially when it is placed in front of the intended audience (or a maximum amount of people, which seems to be the general focus nowadays).

The challenge for advertising agencies is to make that promise as clear as possible, as interesting as possible to intended audience, and as confined as possible without overreaching on the company's ability to deliver. When there is no strategic thought behind a campaign, these three points aren't always in alignment.

• Some agencies produce ads that promise nothing. Diesel Shoes.
• Some agencies produce ads that bore us. Infotapes.
• Some agencies produce ads that promise too much. United.

Delivering On A Promise.

Not all companies mean to break their promises. Some of them do. A few even lie so often that we accept lies but do not elevate our expectations (e.g., fast food product shots, airline on-time arrival boasts, up front car salesmen). But for these purposes, it makes more sense to focus on those that are more clear cut.

Simply put, companies destroy their own brands when they don't measure up to the brand promise. Nobody gets upset when their phone camera doesn't measure up to a dedicated camera. But most people get upset when they are asked how they would like a burger cooked, and it comes out rare instead of medium (they don't say as much if they are never asked). And then, of course, there are other ways to undermine a brand promise.

• Promises that are lies. BP.
• Promises that overreach. Sprint.
• Promises that change. American.
• Promises that aren't scalable. Toyota.

As a side note, it might be interesting to consider that with every "improvement" a social network makes, it is changing its original promises. Is it any wonder why every change gets questioned? Or that there have been consequences since Digg launched its makeover? Or that most discounts are bribes, because people who receive them tend to complain less? Or that sometimes people become upset when they find out there are hidden costs (such as damage to the environment)?

Proving That The Promise Is Delivered.

For some companies, delivering proof can be the hardest task of all. Some companies struggle because they attempt to hide or stomp out any evidence of broken promises. They can accomplish this any number of ways.

• They can attempt to appease distractors.
• They can attempt to discredit distractors.
• They can attempt to drown out distractors.

This function used to rest squarely on the shoulders of public relations. The original idea was that public relations could be company cheerleaders who targeted influential people within certain publics (including the media). But now, of course, part of this tactic has fallen over into social media with some companies trying to leverage the number of followers as validation that they can deliver on a promise (even if they cannot).

What concerns me about social media sometimes is that the entire intent becomes to build an army of minions who talk louder, more frequently, and to more people than any number of other distractors. This isn't much different than the model employed in the 1980s. Except, instead of topical boundaries, there used to be geographical ones. It seems more worthwhile to keep promises.

The point here is twofold. For good companies, it's not enough to make good on the right promises. Other people have to find out. And second, the post-sale communication can be just as important as the presale communication, especially when you consider that a happy customer relationship can quickly turn bad if another consumer shows them something of better value.

A Quick Summation.

Every piece of the communication counts. And when companies begin to understand that social media is an online environment, they'll begin to understand that every communication component belongs online, not just one or two of three.

Thursday, September 23

Broadcasting Promises: The Pursuit Of Viral Exposure


Many companies adopting social media have at least one or two executives and managers who dream of one thing: super exposure from social media. They couldn't care less if you like them, their company, or their products.

They might not even care if you make a purchase, because many of them are playing a numbers game. The numbers game was largely born out of direct marketing and, sadly, adopted by many advertising agencies in order to remain competitive. (They thought they had to, in order to prove ROI.)

The general theory is that if a marketer makes 1,000 solicitations, and 100 respond, then the marketer can say with confidence that the campaign led to a 10 percent direct response rate. If you are customer 101, it doesn't matter. If you do buy, then you're a bonus because the marketer can continue to repeat this process over and over again with new lists. The point is: it's anti-social.

Direct Response Advertising/Social Media Is Addictive.

Some people are still pretty excited by the Old Spice Guy campaign, enough to add it into their presentations. After initial reports showed some products dropped off, P&G claimed victory with record sales. Many social media experts that I know looked at this as proof that social media works, neglecting the huge direct response and magazine ad coupon campaign that accompanied the viral video. (The Old Spice Guy didn't play so well in print, by the way.)

"Who cares," some say. "Overall sales for Old Spice body wash rose 105 percent for that period!"

That's what makes the Old Spice Guy viral video campaign concept compelling and addictive. But let's be honest. It was especially clever, but it wasn't social. It might not even be sustainable.

After the newest installment on Facebook featuring Ray Lewis, fans aren't clamoring for Old Spice. They want more Isaiah Mustafa commercials, whether or not they buy the product. So who did that direct response campaign brand? Old Spice or Mustafa?

And, did it successfully change the lingering perception that Old Spice is for old people? I asked my son. He said some of his friends made fun of Old Spice just yesterday. But that's nothing compared to what some companies do. At least P&G is trying (and in come cases innovating) social media. Some companies just piss people off.

Delivering A Brand Promise Is Not Enough.

When companies adopt social media as a mere communication channel, the people behind the program fool themselves into thinking that numbers are everything. Ergo, the more people who hear the brand promise will mean more people will buy the product. But there is an inherent problem with this thinking.

Social media, on the whole, is an environment. And just like any environment, all three topics — promise, delivery, and proof — are fair game for discussion. Generally, after brand promise buzz dies down, customers and consumers stop talking about the brand promise and start talking about product delivery (and the consequence of delivery) and proof of delivery.

So, if the company delivers on the promise and provides proof it delivered, broadcast might be enough. But most companies don't deliver on the promise.* So instead, they play a different numbers game even if they don't know it.

Compounding Can Work Against Marketers Too.

If a marketer makes 1,000 solicitations, 100 are put off, and 100 respond (and 50 feel cheated), the marketer is contributing to a problem that won't materialize for months. But eventually, it will materialize. As the 100 who are put off and 50 who feel cheated (with every cycle) begin to share their stories, they will eventually outpace the company's broadcast efforts.

What does that mean? Sooner or later, the marketer will make 1,000 solicitations only to find 900 of those are wasted because those 900 already received an anti-brand promise message from 100 people put off and 50 who feel cheated (times the number of cycles). Of course, some companies are so arrogant that they will blame the messaging and not their own operations. So, it will go on and on until they eventually die or are bought up.

Delta is providing a great example of this right now. After a big splash to sell offsite and driving people to its Facebook page, it is painfully clear that Delta has adopted a broadcast-only tactic.

The Delta wall is riddled with unanswered complaints. The pace is eclipsing Delta broadcasts by more than 100-to-1. Delta obviously has a delivery challenge, which is compounded by a lack of social proof (they don't deliver and don't make good when they don't). As the numbers grow in the opposite direction, Delta will eventually find that no one will believe their brand promises anymore, except a few wing nuts who are heavily invested with millions of frequent flyer miles.

What Is The Solution?

The best solution is to adopt a social media program that can communicate the promise truthfully (advertising), engage with customer service (marketing), and provide proof (public relations) that something is being done. And, if the company is still unable to deliver, it could lower the expectation or improve the delivery.

Customers are very adaptable to lower expectations. People who buy a Yugo don't expect Porsche performance.

Airlines, for whatever reason, are prone to overpromise. They promise to get you to your destination safely and roughly on time, with your bags, after a reasonably comfortable flight, for the best possible price (sometimes lowest). And if they don't, they have passenger service agents who can help. The reality is that the only promise they can keep is price and lately (with all the add-on fees), they can't even do that.

There is another solution, of course. The broadcast-only model works if you stay away from the numbers game and target the right people. Inevitably, some people will like a specific product no matter what. In the 1970s, people bought pet rocks.

Some people think that the pet rock product was a numbers game. It wasn't. The initial campaign was targeted to people who would find it so stupid that it was a novelty. Its popularity among a certain segment pushed it toward mainstream popularity for about six months. Of course, this product wasn't sustainable. Most companies want to be sustainable.

*I don't believe most companies intentionally break promises or try to cheat people. There are dozens of reasons they break brand promises, but that will have to wait for another day. It's a complex subject, especially among bigger companies.

Wednesday, September 22

Reinventing Brands: Does Social Media Change Companies?


Jonathan Salem Baskin has an interesting theory about social media. He thinks tools like Twitter aren't some dream of customer empowerment, but rather the nightmare reality of the broken relationships between consumers and brands.

"Responding to online complaints is a tax that companies pay because of the chronic mismatch between what consumers expect from brands and what they ultimately get," he wrote for Ad Age. "An individualized response might momentarily bridge the gap, but it won't fix it. Never will."

His overall theory is that social media is similar to a penalty levied by consumers. It might be partly true, but it depends on the company. It depends on the relationship. It depends on the intent of the communication.

A Quick Brush-Up On Branding And Communication.

The secret of branding isn't found in advertising, marketing, or public relations. It's found in a promise and the ability to effectively communicate a promise, deliver on that promise, and prove the promise was delivered.

This is what all customers base their relationships upon, with all of it being underpinned by communication. Consumers do too, except they base their beliefs on nothing more than their perception.

Communication is powerful for companies in its ability to present the brand promise (advertising), establish transaction guidelines (marketing), and reinforce that the promise was met (public relations). It was that simple, multiplied out by how many people the company could reach.

And then came social media. Consumers could suddenly reach as many people as companies (often more) in a space where the companies weren't communicating (leaving unanswered untruths looking like truths). That presented a problem for some companies because those companies could no longer contain distractors like they did the media* (in some cases) and the Internet provided a wealth of new alternative products and services.

*Side note: media tended to be much more limited in its scope, preferring to promote promises, report on broken promises, and occasionally undertake investigative assignments that revealed delivery flaws or uncovered consequences associated with delivering on a promise (e.g., sweat shops in foreign countries). Most, but not all, tried to remain true.

Social Media Doesn't Change All Brands; Just A Lucky Few.

When many companies adopt social media, they generally focus only on one or two communication areas: promise (advertising), customer service (marketing), and proof (public relations). Few focus on all three.

The net result is a flawed strategy much like Baskin says. Many companies act like they are paying a penalty.

However, some companies are different. When they can broadcast the right promise, deliver on the promise, and provide proof that they delivered, social media becomes an opportunity and not an obligation. The opportunity is that social media provides another environment where companies can adjust the promise, adjust the delivery (or expectation), and share the proof.

In such cases, social media can provide the environment to change the brand, but it's still the people (inside and outside) who shape it. Of course, this only works if the company is open to change (unless they already meet this criteria).

Most companies don't. Many just want you to buy the product and shut up, unless you're convincing other people to buy too.

And that's why I think this topic merits further discussion. So, over the next couple of days, I'll share some insights on what happens when companies only employ advertising, marketing, or public relations in their social media programs as opposed to those companies with a much more integrated approach. I hope you enjoy and join in.

Tuesday, September 21

Moving The Cheese: How Post Frames Fail Over Time


When we chose Chris Brogan's post — How To Use A Writing Frame — as a daily fresh content pick (an experiment of sorts), I anticipated having to qualify it in a future weekly recap. Before having the chance, Ike Pigott had already questioned the framing concept.

"I understand WHY Brogan has a recipe for blogging. But it's not really for me. (My purpose is different.) — Pigott

Indeed. Writing frames are not for advanced writers, meaning roughly the top two percent of all writers. Pigott is an advanced writer. He doesn't adhere well to rules. A few of us don't.

Case in point, Valeria Maltoni, also an advanced writer, added a quip after I filled her in on my brief exchange with Pigott.

"PPT has templates... ;)" — Maltoni

Her quip made me chuckle. So I offered to pen a post about a Tweet template. And then, in rethinking it, decided that a Tweet template might work better in 140 characters. So, I offered the following..

"The best tweets have a beginning, middle, end, call to action, link, and plea for RTs."

Some people liked it, even though it was really meant to be a parody of the Brogan post (and advice I read about all the time). Hmmm ... maybe we need to start over.

Why Writing Frames Work.

When we chose the Brogan post, there was a specific intent on a light content day (not many people published, and the value was thin.) The Brogan post stood out because while he was really a conversational reframing of the ADIA (or ADICA) structure, but it is still helpful for novice writers, causal writers, lazy writers, and business writers (people who have to write posts, but don't necessarily have a love for writing).

Basically, a post framework is nothing more than a template. It's your story's outline, pure and simple. And I use similar models in classes because it helps people who will have to write establish a context of what it is they will write. As they get better, we focus on the exact opposite — breaking the rules.

Why Writing Frames Don't Work.

Coincidently, Sean Williams wrote a post yesterday that brushes up against why frameworks don't really work. For people who originally set out to break the rules of communication, social media pros are notorious for creating them. So many posts burn with the promise of ten things that will do this and five things that will do that, it sometimes makes my head hurt (I've added to the madness myself).

But all of us do it sometimes because people are hungry for frameworks. Or, like Williams points out, they want someone to tell them the easiest way to get the cheese. And once someone does get the cheese, they fall into a routine. That's all fine and good, until someone moves the cheese. Then, all those step-by-step experts start to panic. Google Instant is a good example. It sent shock waves through the SEO community, people who have been trying to perfect their routines for years.

And that is why frameworks don't work. When everybody is doing it, it gets boring. And for writers, when every post follows a framework, it becomes monotonous. It could also be the reason, I suppose, few Brogan posts are fresh picks. And Seth Godin has yet to offer up anything better than everybody else.

The Post I Could Have Written.

There is no formula to great writing other than time and sacrifice. By sacrifice, I mean that three-quarters of the way through this post, I thought of a different approach. It could have been a great post, using a Lego analogy. Summed in one sentence, Brogan offered up instructions on how to build what is on the box whereas Pigott and Maltoni are too busy erecting original works that are on display at Legoland.

Of course, in order to write that post, I would have had to sacrifice everything written and start over. But then again, I like this post in that it shares how social media is supposed to work. Brogan presented something, we thought it was valid, Pigott and Maltoni questioned it, I offered clarification, and brought Williams' thoughts into the mix.

Best of all, it also serves up how disagreement nurtures better ideas (for all those who shy away from it) without any drama. Huh. You can't make a framework for that. At least not one that will you get the cheese for any length of time.

Monday, September 20

Surveying The Public: When People Don't Know


If reality was the same as public perception, we would live in a much scarier world. I might even give up driving all together.

Traffic Perception.

• According to AAA, 52 percent of all surveyed drivers said they feel less safe on the roads now than they did five years ago. The leading reason cited by American drivers was distracted driving, with 88 percent of motorists rating drivers who text and email as a very serious threat to their safety.

• According to State Farm, teens ages 14 to 17 think the chances of getting into an accident are higher when you drink and drive as opposed to text and drive. Sixty- three percent strongly agree they could get into an accident if they text and drive.

• According another AAA announcement, texting by Golden State drivers has nearly doubled since the introduction of a state law 19 months ago. It was designed to prevent distracted driving, but the study said it doubled. It was based on combining three studies.

Traffic Reality.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently released an updated 2009 fatality and injury data report showing that highway deaths fell to the lowest number since 1950 (a 9 percent decline from the year before). The record-breaking decline in traffic fatalities occurred even while estimated vehicle miles increased. Fatalities declined in all categories of vehicles including motorcycles.

There was also a 5 percent decline among people injured. There was a 5.3 percent decline among all accidents, including those with property damage but no injuries.

More recently, the adminstration also released data that suggested distraction-related fatalities represented 16 percent of overall traffic fatalities (the same as 2008). However, there is a bit of a numbers game in play-- 16 percent of less is still less.

The Perceptional Gap.

Traffic safety is important and no one can dispute that distracted driving (especially texting, but also eating or putting on makeup) is stupid and nothing about this post is meant to distract from striving to reduce accidents, and fatalities, even more. To anyone who loses a loved one, numbers don't matter even if the reality is we will never achieve a zero year.

However, the takeaway is that sometimes our perception and reality are different. Specifically, traffic safety is getting better even while the public believes it is getting worse. (While writing this, I recall Ike Pigott made this observation in July.)

There are a number of factors contributing to the perceptional gap. Traffic safety concerns receive two to three times as much coverage as improvements. Local news stations frequently lead with accident recaps. Millions of dollars are spent on fear campaigns every year. And even the administration that announced the "good news" had announced a $13 million ad campaign to target 20 percent of drivers who they say admit to having driven after drinking (just days before).

For communicators, it's always something to keep in mind. Crowd sourcing and surveys are great, but it's the work done after the data has been compiled that makes a real difference. Sometimes statistics lie, but sometimes people who contribute to those statistics lie too. Even if they don't know it.

Sunday, September 19

Engaging Strategic: Fresh Content Project

Fresh Content ProjectIf I had to pick a percentage out of a hat, I might say 98 percent. Right. As hard as it is to imagine, most communicators (advertisers, marketers, public relations professionals) have no concept of strategic communication or how to differentiate strategies and tactics. Many of them resort to treating strategies as objectives (which is very accurate).

As a fresh pick recap post, I won't bore you with the definitions today. What I will do is share five posts that demonstrate strategic thinking as opposed to the typical tactical execution where most people place their focus. Take a look and enjoy.

Best Fresh Content In Review, Week of September 6

Case Study: Tyson Foods Hunger Relief.
Geoff Livingston shares some insights and observations on the Tyson Hunger Relief program, which began in 2007. It was among the first corporate programs to expand using social media with a Wordpress blog, which was later augmented by social networks, including Twitter and Facebook. The program stands out for its sense of purpose as each phase was built out over the course of three years. Tyson also took the campaign offline, engaging people at social media events. Smart stuff.

Crowd Sourcing Means More Work for You, Not Less.
In a guest post by Len Kendall, the Spin Sucks blog establishes some checks and balances to crowd sourcing, including a content calendar (timeline for engagement), visibility, editing submissions, promoting good work (beyond the winners), and establishing a definite end to the program. All of his points are valid and mindful, taking the crowd sourced content of the tactical box and into the strategic box.

• The ROI of Rotary.
In his first guest post on the Social Media Explorer, Ike Pigott tackles the history of social media ROI by using a Rotary analogy and reminding professionals that not every measurement needs to be marked off with a click, like, follow, or even sale. Social media tends to be more fluid, with an understanding that not all measurements are quantifiable. Often, it's the benefits we don't measure that have the most value.

• The Three Dimensions Of Internal Branding.
Another guest post on Social Media Explorer, this time by Heather Rast, hits all the right notes on the topic of internal branding (which is also one of my favorite subjects). Right out of the box, Rast suggests that employers have a tendency to talk in terms of "they" (employees) and "we" (employers), which further diminishes the power of "we" inside every company. After all, if everyone — customers, prospects, and employees — is assigned to the "they" column, it doesn't leave many people on your side. You can read her other great points by reading the post.

Hope for Better Conversations.
Geoff Livingston and Beth Harte cowrote ten topics they would like to see more discussion about as opposed to the written-to-death social media memes that tend to take up everyone's time (and unfortunately still drive traffic). Among the hot topics that are under covered, they stay, are citizen journalism, government data usage, and culture shifts. They have some solid ideas in what they propose, but as someone who has written about most of their suggestions, I can promise few people will read them. But then again, that is the point, isn't it?

Friday, September 17

Preparing To Win: Seven Mental Tips For Professionals


After reading the article by Jim Taylor, Ph.D., in Psychology Today, I couldn't help but wonder if his tips for mental preparation for endurance athletes wouldn't somehow translate into business and communication. I think they do.

Seven Mental Tips For Business Professionals.

1. Endurance. In business, passion tends to dissipate while working on a long-haul project. You can remain passionate if you avoid short-term sprints and continually freshen the project with new people (readers and colleagues) and ideas (from anywhere).

2. Preparation. While many business leaders consider research (and measurement) the heaviest lifting, it's essential to creating better products or crafting better messages. You also have to understand the outcomes and adjust.

3. Contingency. While intuition can help leaders turn companies and industries in a dramatic direction, the better course is a solid strategy with contingency models that allow for spontaneity at key points during a project.

4. Fulfillment. Intrinsic motivation (cash rewards or fame) doesn't hold as much value as some people think. It's also the most common reason people fail (in social media, they disappear from social media or abandon blogs). When doing isn't a reward in and of itself, you're already heading toward failure.

5. Coping. Business is loaded with adversity. So when products fail to catch interest or a message fails to resonate, people tend to stress themselves out of success. Always keep in mind that few failures (unless intentionally unethical) kill companies or communication plans. Over time, repeated exposure to adversity usually reduces the impact of stressful situations.

6. Self-Reflection. Most strong emotions are hardwired into our brains, which means the reaction we have during any given situation could be based more on past experience than present circumstances. When you feel strong emotions, it's time to step back and objectively review the situation.

7. Balance. Many people burn out in business. They try to reach some goal that isn't tangible because unlike a race, there is no real end. Make time for your physical health, life balance, spiritual fulfillment, and happiness. Balanced people never have to put as much effort into success.

These seven tips don't only apply to small business owners, professionals, or executives. You can easily apply them to communication and social media. Instead of businesses, communicators run long-haul plans or campaigns. Bloggers, more or less, are creating a long-haul project.

Ever wonder why so many blogs are abandoned or cut back to once a week? Reread the tips. One of those is the most likely answer despite whatever excuses they cook up. If they truly had a passion for content creation, they wouldn't have any other choice but to carry on with a project. Much like anything.

Thursday, September 16

Preparing For PR: Advice For High School Students


Every now and again, I receive emails from students, asking advice about communication-related fields. I'm honored by the requests. What I don't do very often is make the inquiry public, but I might reconsider if the question is specific enough.

A few days ago, I received the following letter from a high school student (her name is omitted for obvious reasons). And I thought my response might benefit someone else (at least two percent of it, anyway). Enjoy.

Hi Rich,

I saw your twitter on a list of people involved in the PR industry that should be followed. I am a High School student interested in becoming involved in the industry. I would like to be involved specifically in the sports side of the industry, but I know that I might have to start somewhere else before I can get to where I want to be. I currently am the Sports Information Director of my High School football team where I create press releases and encourage people to attend our games. I hope that this will help me when I try to pursue opportunities outside of school. Any advice that you may have about the industry is greatly appreciated.

Than you for your time,
KB


Five Lessons For Public Relations Students.

Dear KB,

Let me begin by saying that I hope you don't mind taking your inquiry public. Doing so could help other high school students and possibly give you something to refer back to from time to time. It makes it a worthwhile exercise for me too, rather than answering privately like I usually do.

Serving as the sports information director of your high school football team is certainly an early step in the right direction. The experience you gain there could be invaluable when you apply for college. Most students, even college students, don't have enough experience by the time they graduate.

I always encourage them to seek out nonprofit organizations, which provides them an opportunity to help their communities while they help themselves. Surprisingly few do it. The ones that do, however, are almost always hired first and at better companies.

1. Start Where You Are.

Most professionals I know are overly focused on where they want to be two years from now as opposed to the present. It's a mistake. Stronger candidates work on where they are, pouring their passion into whatever they are doing right now.

So let's start there. How can you be the best sports information director possible? Here are three ideas. Purchase an Associated Press Stylebook, which will help you know when to capitalize titles, among many other things. Open dialogues with journalists covering the games (asking how you can help them more effectively) and the people who turn out for the games (specifically the various clubs and associations at your school). Measure everything, especially whether or not your efforts did increase attendance at the games and, perhaps, deeper coverage of the players who will one day be vying for college spots.

2. Pursue A Dual Education.

While you might have a change of heart along the way, investing equal amounts of time studying public relations (communication) and your preferred field will give you a leg up in your profession. If you love sports, a degree in communication, journalism, public relations, or related field along with a degree in health education or sports management will make you much more attractive to an employer in that niche.

Public relations professionals are notorious for whining that they don't have a seat at the executive table. However, more often than not, they haven't earned a place at the table because they invest so much time into public relations and not enough time in the industry in which their company operates. While public relations professionals at firms (as opposed to inside companies) tend to be generalists, a dual education could help there too.

3. Nurture A Network Now.

It's never too early to start nurturing a network. As a high school student actively involved in the field, you have an advantage in nurturing your network. If possible, develop relationships with the coach, journalists, and local public relations professionals.

You might also notice that I intentionally chose the word "nurture" over develop or create. Most public relations professionals develop networks for self-serving agendas (e.g., they befriend "journalists" or "influencers" to get more coverage). You'll be much more effective if the relationships you create are mutually beneficial. The results will be much more powerful than trading favors. The people you seek to help will help you because they want to, not because they owe you. That's priceless.

4. Ask Yourself Who You Want To Be.

Personal branding quacks often advise people to focus on what they want to be. The better question to ask yourself is who you want to be. The difference between those two words are powerful, but most people don't find this out until it is much too late.

It's not all that different from understanding the difference between a strategy or a tactic. Some people insist that objectives and strategies are interchangeable, e.g., that you develop a strategy to get more people to the game. This isn't true. Instead, a strategy might be to make the team more accessible and therefore the players more endearing, which will get more people to the game.

The strategic thinker invests in values that produce long-term outcomes. The tactical thinker invests in tasks that may deliver a short-term benefit but aren't sustainable. By shaping who you want to be (e.g., honest, credible, helpful) will have a lasting impact for life. Developing lists of people, sending out more press releases, offering bribes (free hotdogs), and asking for favors to get ahead will not.

5. Never Accept Advice On Its Face, Including Mine.

Thanks to the Internet, we live in a world where advice has been cheapened to the lowest value in history by allowing everyone to have their turn at the podium. There is nothing wrong with that. I have yet to read an opinion that doesn't lend some value to a conversation, even if the value might be in that you learn the advice stinks.

However, it also creates a world where we must be more vigilant in testing ideas, vetting information, and seeking multiple sources as opposed to assuming that the experts are who they say they are (or their friends for that matter). And even when some of these well-meaning folks are right for themselves, never assume that what was right for them will be right for you. So while there is no harm in trying out advice like you might try on a dress, expect that less than two percent will fit.

That's all I have without giving up the entire book I'm writing in between assignments. I hope some of it fits for you. If it does, I would welcome the occasional update to see how you are doing. You have my direct email.

All my best,
Rich

Wednesday, September 15

Counting Impressions: Twitter Follower Nonsense

"What’s the value of a tweet sent by a person with a million followers? What’s the cost per tweet impression?" — Tom Webster

Marketers keep asking the question. And some, like Webster, appreciate that one million followers doesn't have so much meaning.

Counting impressions like traditional media, especially on platforms like Twitter, is junk math. There are too many variables outside traditional impressions because the reason people follow someone or something is not as finite as listening to a radio show or watching a television program.

We watch and listen to programs because we have a vested interest. Twitter is different. The reasons people follow are more akin to the reason for having a full cable package. We have many cable networks not because we watch them, but because they are there. And unlike cable networks, two-way communication means there is a potential for reciprocal broadcasting. Ergo, if you watch my network, I'll watch your network. But unlike Twitter, nobody counts viewers when their televisions are turned off.

10 Reasons Why Twitter Impressions Never Add Up.

• Not every follower is online at any given time. One million can quickly become a few thousand or a few hundred.
• Not every tweet is read. And, increasing the number of tweets can diminish the impact of each tweet.
• Not every follower is interested in what you have to say. Some follow you because you follow them.
• Not every follower likes your topic du jour. Conversations aren't as consistent as programing.
• Not every follower is a follower. Some follow you because they think you're interested in them.
• Not every follower likes you or your organization. Sometimes they follow you to complain or make fun of you.
• Not every follower has any interest in taking action. You can put up links all day and they'll never click them.
• Not every follower can take action. Sometimes proximity or discretionary income can be issue.
• Not every follower is part of your tribe. Sometimes they follow you (or retweet you) because a friend did.
• Not every follower is even a real person. Autobots, auto follows, and auto responders have thousands of followers.

This quick list of ten is only for starters. It hints at the truth. There is no such thing as a Twitter strategy. Individuals have intent and organizations have tactics, and the uses are as varied as the people who make up the greater Twitter space.

Does that mean I'm down on Twitter as a communication tool? Nope. Personally, I have a very narrow intent. I use Twitter to keep up with colleagues, students, and a few friends. That's about it. I listen more than I talk (when I have time to be there).

Other people use it as a broadcast platform (which is what the owners of Twitter say it is). And others use it as a messaging service among friends (which was its original purpose). And others use it to engage customers. And others use it to get book deals based on the delusion that one million followers means something. And some use it to inflate their ego. Good for them.

The reality is that very few people use it to listen (even those who claim to). And even fewer use it to have dialogue. Don't get me wrong. Some do. Not always, but often, those are the people I follow. More importantly, as much as I like them, they cannot sell me a watch. I own two watches. I like them.

In closing, I might add that a friend of mine recently messaged 380,000 people asking for donations for a good cause. His solicitation earned $75. Had his request had been on Twitter, that means his tweet would have had a value of $75. Two years ago, I messaged about 1,200 people about a different cause. I raised more then $5,000.

Outcomes count, even though the real reward in supporting that cause had nothing to do with the money raised or any numbers. It was about people, pure and simple. As soon as they become numbers, they don't count so much. Keep it real.

Tuesday, September 14

Overemphasizing External: Companies Still Neglect Employees


While a new survey from the CMO Club and Hill & Knowlton reveals 52 percent of companies have yet to align marketing and public relations efforts, the real story is that 70 percent of chief marketing officers (CMOs) do not have an active employee engagement program.

Perhaps worse, 58 percent of CMOs believe marketing spearheads efforts to galvanize employees. Seriously? Having sat in several meetings where advertising agencies have unveiled new logos by giving employees pens and paperweights, I can assure anyone that not only are employees the most important public, but many of them also wear more than one label.

Five Reasons That Employees Matter As A Public.

People are more productive when they enjoy what they are doing. Most entrepreneurs always advise that you have to love a business to make it successful. Employees feel the same. If they feel like their employer is making a difference in their lives, then they will work harder to make a difference in people's lives, especially customers.

People are drawn to building something. Sure, most people are content to let other people set their goals in exchange for security and stable conditions. But great companies empower people more than they employ them. They frequently crowd source from their employees to make improvements on every level.

People want to be proud of where they contribute. One of the most neglected areas of crisis communication is employee communication. Even while companies such as BP spend millions to ease the markets, they forget the residual impact of several thousand employees who are embarrassed to tell people where they work.

People don't wear just one hat. This is especially true for B2C companies, but B2B as well. Employees are frequently customers and shareholders too. And, with the exception of luxury brands, consumers feel comforted knowing that the bank teller keeps her account at the same bank and the car salesman drives the brand he sells. Likewise, employees who have some of their retirement wrapped up in a company are equally sensitive to stock fluctuations.

People don't like surveys all that much. If your only employee feedback is in the form of a survey, they're not engaged. In fact, most employees are afraid to provide honest feedback for fear of being fired. It's much more effective to establish communication through supervisors (whom employees tend to trust) and some direct contact with executives. If your employees aren't comfortable with sharing information direct, it's likely a symptom of bigger problems.

Who Should Lead The Employee Engagement Effort?

Interestingly enough, many companies struggle with the question as much as they struggle with who is best suited to lead social media. Given all companies are different, there seems to be only one right answer. True integrated communication is ongoing, not ad hoc, which leaves the person best suited to the task being the leader.

Right. Leaders are best suited to lead whether they come from the public relations, corporate communication, marketing, investor relations, or even human resources department. And in communication, the best leaders tend to be those who are the most experienced across a variety of disciplines. Or, in other words, if you are an entrepreneur making the decision, choose people over professions.

Monday, September 13

Remaining Competitive: Lessons From The U.S.

WEF Global Competitiveness ReportFor the first time in history, the United States fell two positions as a competitive nation, dropping from second to fourth place. This is according to the World Economic Forum's (WEF) competitiveness survey, which analyzes each country's ability to remain competitive in global business.

While the meaning may have political ramifications, I thought it might be more worthwhile to apply some of the broader lessons to organizational and individual success. Among the top ten problematic factors for doing business in the United States, access to financing (regulatory caused), inefficient government bureaucracy, tax rates and regulations, inflation, workforce education, and work ethic round out the top of the list. How do these apply to business?

Five Lessons To Remain Competitive.

1. Avoid Debt. While many small business owners and individuals sometimes take on debt to rapidly improve the scope and size of their financial position, the wrong reason to go into debt is an attempt to maintain operational levels or lifestyle. Not only will access to financing eventually run out, but the interest rates on that financing can overburden long-term goals.

The best bet for businesses attempting to remain competitive (and individuals) is to accept such risks only when there is a clear outcome. For example, when founding Copywrite, Ink. almost 20 years ago, I used credit to purchase my first computer, a monochrome Mac Classic. Increased productivity (over typed assignments) quickly paid for improvements. Avoid any financing that does not produce a higher yield.

2. Remove Restrictions. Too many policies and regulations can thwart proactive thinking. In business, almost every organization that has an excess of regulatory procedures tends to struggle (consider the airline industry). When employees are not allowed to think creatively or make judgement calls, they become demoralized and stifled. Likewise, it always pays to eliminate bureaucracy, which tends to create regulations without relaxing them.

For individuals, the same is true. Overcommitting on favors, plans, and other personal commitments can eventually erode spontaneous free time, which the mind needs to recharge. Learn to say no once in awhile and don't assume working harder or longer hours will increase your productivity. Often, it will not. It also pays to never assume you can't do something.

3. Focus On Innovation. There is an old saying in politics that if you're defending, then you are losing. There is some truth to that. Businesses that invest more into fending off competition as opposed to innovating will eventually collapse.

Likewise, only individuals who subscribe to complacency ever need to "worry" about younger workers rushing to take their places. It's not their youth that gives them an edge; it's their tenacious passion in lieu of time-in entitlement. If you are not willing to think out of the box, you can bet someone else will.

4. Emphasize Education. Persuasion might be valued in the workplace today, but information will win in the long run. Social media pros often advise businesses to listen, and on this point they are right. The person who knows the consumer better will win.

For individuals, not only will the most successful professionals continually learn inside their fields, but outside their fields as well. I've met and worked for dozens of companies that were not the most competitive firms in communication and marketing, but could be easily considered the best in specialized fields (e.g., medical, finance, emergency response, etc.). Never stop learning.

5. Set Your Own Path. Yesterday, I mentioned that there is no singular path through the forest to success. More correctly, there is a forest to success but most successful companies and individuals cut new paths to reach the other side.

In classes, I sometimes joke that Robert Frost was wrong. It is not the path less traveled, but carving out new paths that will make all the difference. It's how this country was founded. It's how most companies excel. And it's why there are so many different stories for individual success. It's not about implementing what everyone else is doing; it's about finding a better way.

Lessons From WEF And Back Again.

Just as individuals and organizations might learn something from how the WEF ranks countries, our government might learn something from those individual and business tips above. If the government wants to play a role in strengthening the economy, it would be prudent to stop overspending, remove restrictions (taxes and regulations), focus on immediate innovation, invest in education, and stop attempting to duplicate what Europe does.

On that last point, I have nothing against European ideas. On the contrary, they have great ideas for Europe. But transplanting those ideas have profound consequences here. Case in point: building a super department store in an urban setting is a good idea, but when that same store is built in a rural community, it kills the economy. One size does not fit all.

You can find the two-page report on the United States here. In addition to citing those problem areas, the survey ranks 15 indicators with subcategories. Some subcategories are surprising, including that we ranked 40th among property rights, 120th in national debt, and 89th in total tax rates.

Sunday, September 12

Being Different: Fresh Content Project

Fresh ContentWhile social media isn't the end all to communication, it did open a conversation that marketers had forgotten. There is no singular path through the forest to success. More correctly, there is a forest to success but it is your willingness to cut a new path that will take you where you want to go.

All fresh posts, three of which are by one author, touch on this fact. Communication is situational in its crafting and delivery. It's never the answer most people want to hear, but it is, without question, one of the most important lessons to learn. Ask any successful marketer and they'll tell you. While some experience can help you plot the course, the course is always different.

Best Fresh Content In Review, Week of August 30

Should You Be Pitching Me?.
"You give me way too much credit if you think your potential customers read my blog," begins a thoughtful post by Valeria Maltoni before going on to explain that new new media is not the same as traditional media. Many professionals have better luck doing something other than pitching something, she says. And she's right. The quantity of the pitch in social media is less than the quality of the pitch to a single blogger. Think about it. Who knows? Maybe you'd be better off talking to customers direct...

• Five Steps to Better Communication With Customers.
Anna Barcelos shares her wisdom with five tips that might help your organization communicate with customers. I'll share a few here. The first, she suggests, is finding out exactly what is going on within your organization. It might be of interest to someone (but perhaps not who you think). Another is to visualize them as real people. And finally, realize that there are no cookie cutter solutions in modern marketing. All of it requires that you test, measure, and adjust on an ongoing basis.

Four Challenges Facing Location-Based Services.
Almost everyone knows that the next step in communication is mobile, especially with continued advancements to location-based services. However, that doesn't mean that the transition is guaranteed. In this post, Mike Schaffer shares what he believes are the greatest challenges facing location-based services: fear, technology, urban-centric, and badge exhaustion. All of them are valid, with only technological penetration being the easiest to overcome.

• Set Your Own Rules.
When Valeria Maltoni writes a quick book review, she frequently lends as much to a conversation as she gets out of it. In this post, she runs down a list of 11 ways to be unremarkably average from The Art of Non-Conformity by Chris Guillebeau and applies it to her own life. At the same time, without asking her readers to do it, it's easy enough to infer that it might be a worthwhile experience. How about you? Are you stuck on rules that make you unremarkable?

See How They Did It: 104 Social Media Case Studies
There really are more than 104 case studies in Valeria Maltoni's notes, but she only shared 12 within the body of a single post. Even better than the case studies, she provides a four-step structure not all that dissimilar to strategic communication case studies: situation or challenge, timeline or complication, solution, and results. Showing how these four fit within a strategic communication outline would take a little longer than a couple of sentences so I'll highlight the best point here. If you understand the true situation or the challenge, you'll be that much more likely to develop a strategic solution as opposed to a tactical one.

Friday, September 10

Pressing Introverts: What Modern Engagement Misses

Extraverts In Communication
With social networks becoming a dominant form of communication, at least in terms of the attention they receive, one might wonder where that leaves introverts. People who respond quickly, comment frequently, and network more efficiently seem to have an upper hand at a glance, especially in communication-related fields.

I was reminded of this while reviewing the very odd Facebook game called poweRBrands developed by Reckitt Benckiser. The game is designed to mirror the real-life experience of being a marketing executive in a cutting-edge company such as RB. No, it's not much fun for people who are marketing executives (the demographics are ages 18-30), but this isn't a review.

What struck me about the game is how much emphasis is placed on creating the illusion of networking. If you receive a call to attend a party (even if there is a research project due), you go. If you're invited to lunch, you go. If something needs to be brainstormed, you call the team together.

The Elevation Of Extroverts In Communication.

The point is that the game, much like the field, is surprisingly extrovert driven (even at the expense of results). So much so it almost seems counter intuitive, doubly so after reading a Psychology Today article by Laurie Helgoe, author and psychologist.

In the article, Helgoe discusses the personality-culture clash that introverts experience in a society that rewards extroversion, and corrects misunderstandings about the 50 percent of the population who prefer an active inner life to a busy social calendar. But this idea also made me wonder. While Helgoe considers the extroverts and introverts in the workplace, I wondered about them in social networks and whether some social media experts consider this as part of their communication equation.

For example, there seems to be a great emphasis placed on verbalized engagement — comment counts, open dialogue, and everything that can be seen (and counted). But what if particular content attracts fewer introverts? And why do social media experts discount their quiet influence?

The Role Of The Introvert In Social Networks.

Last year, Anthony Vultaggio made an interesting observation that connecting online is less social and more solitary than we might think. Publishing content on social networks, he said, gives introverts an advantage because they don't have a need to receive feedback from others.

Like journalists, he said, they reach inward and let others connect to their messages. However, I'm not so sure this is the way it stacks up in terms of capturing greater numbers of followers (if that is the intent for whatever reason). On Twitter, for example, extroverts tend to ask many more questions and have many more conversations because they have generally skip reflection.

Ergo, interaction attracts more interest. And, as I've mentioned before, there is ample evidence that social bloggers — people who speak and attend gatherings — leverage their offline connections to drive traffic to their online content. But more importantly, this still doesn't consider whether the quieter portion of the population is somehow being missed.

They share less, but tend to have more to say about what they share. They come up with great ideas, but don't measure outputs. They tend to be uncounted by social media measures, but are counted when it comes to actual outcomes. They bookmark more, anticipating to revisit ports and articles when they have more time to process the information.

Meanwhile, a social media project manager might be missing the introvert's presence all together, or worse, chase them away by trying to draw them out. (I actually witnessed this on a few occasions on Facebook; introverts fled after a page manager tried to engage them on something they quietly liked.)

The Crazy Thing About Measurements And Labels.

Personally, I don't believe there are such a things as introverts and extroverts as much as I believe there are behavior styles. Then again, I'm about as anti-label as they come with the exception of temporarily adopting labels to keep conversations fluid.

But this conversation starter might also lend itself to different insights for social media managers or whatever they might call themselves. Social media monitoring isn't nearly enough in terms of listening. And, as far as the workplace, I might add that drawing introverts "out of their shells" might be less effective than aligning them to areas where they can be a benefit.

Maybe the truth about what customers think about your product or service cannot be ferreted out by the data that is so readily available. And, depending on the type of people you attract, loud data might even be driving you in the wrong direction.

Thursday, September 9

Advertising Tips: Two From Earnest Elmo Calkins


"Come to the point, and don't draw attention to the advertisement instead of to the goods." — Earnest Elmo Calkins

These two pieces of advice might surprise some, given that Calkins was one of the first advertisers to increase the quality of the art department at his agency. However, Calkins knew what many communicators have been forgetting in the last few decades.

Get To The Point.

Ideally, every advertisement has one point. Sometimes you can slip in up to three points. But any more than that and most people aren't likely to remember anything, let alone one thing that serves as a unique selling point or, preferably, product contrast. If you don't or rely on branding alone, you will eventually lose market share.

Nike provides a fine example. In 2009, most reports placed Nike at controlling 31 percent of the market share . It's clearly the market leader. However, the real story is that Nike controlled almost 50 percent of the market share in 1999. Ouch.

For all the fine advertisements that Nike has produced over the last decade, the company began focusing on branding alone, without any definitive reason to purchase the product. The point? It used to be associated with victory. What about today? Mostly, the company celebrates itself.

Draw Attention To The Product.

Nike isn't alone. Some advertisers have an ego, drawing more attention to the advertisements than the product. People might talk about the ads, but they never have a reason to buy.

Budweiser provides a good example. Bud Light dominates with 28 percent of the market share and Budweiser with 12 percent. In 2000, Budweiser controlled almost 50 percent of the market share collectively. What changed?

The advertising mix used to emphasize one of three creative threads: product quality, social responsibility, and contemporary humor. In the last decade, Budweiser seems to have invested more in contemporary humor, leaving the other two threads behind.

Social Media Presses The Shift.

These two brands are not alone. And part of the shift seems associated with social media. Most people propose social media solutions that do two things: never get to the point and always emphasize everything but the product. It's not sustainable.

There is one exception. Social media speakers can get away with this approach because they are their own product. So unlike goods, their ability to create relationships (indirect sales) and speak to people on their terms (reactive conversation) sells product. Goods and services are different.

People are mostly interested in the organization's ability to meet its core promise. And that is the reason an airline like Spirit Airlines can exist. Its promise is to get you to your destination cheap. All other factors — up-charges, service fees, relationships — are circumvented as long as they can deliver a $10 base fare. (Operationally, I'm not sure it's sustainable.)

Contrast this promise against most airlines that are attempting to sell competitive fares, friendly service, on-time arrivals, reward programs, and customer care for luggage. Multiple promise points tend to water down the message, and leave more room for error. Or, as we see with what could be happening with Nike and Budweiser recently, no point is equally disruptive.

Wednesday, September 8

Keeping House: How Good Housekeeping Connects


Good Housekeeping, the iconic women's service monthly originally founded in 1885, is looking for the next step in creating connections with consumers. According to Mediaweek, the magazine is transforming a 2,000- square-foot space at the Mall of America into an American home.

The home won't be static. It will include activities that include cooking demos, DYI projects, and design consultations by celebrity chefs, local personalities and experts from the Research Institute. With more than 100,000 people visiting Mall of America every day (on average), the concept could pay off, assuming Good Housekeeping can keep consumers it touches at the mall.

Touching Customers Beyond The Printed Page.

If there is an evolution for publications, especially niche publications like Good Housekeeping, it could very well be high touch. In order to relate to consumers and build connections, the magazine needs to redefine what makes it a relevant connection between brands and customers. Using its Research Institute as the reason, Good Housekeeping hopes to provide expert advice to build loyalty.

In recent years, social media has provided a platform that convinced many consumers to move away from publications, preferring advice from friends or people they like online. When not seeking advice from each other, it's easy enough to connect direct to companies for incentives and insights from inside sources. Publications helped pushed them away by insisting on an elitist position. The economic climate didn't help either. Subscriptions and monthly costs are often the first to be cut from budgets.

However, if Good Housekeeping can introduce itself by coordinating offline activities and then keep consumers engaged via social media, then there is a potential for success. Specifically, Good Housekeeping could transform itself into a destination.

What's Missing From The Marketing Mix?

The Mall of America is a good first step. However, Good Housekeeping only has a marginal social media presence (it doesn't even list its social media assets on its front page). Most of the communication consists of plugging articles, even those that are framed as questions. They are not questions as much as as cutlines. The dialogue between the publication and followers is limited.

Despite this, some of its online connections are readily engaged. On Facebook, most plugs average about six responses. It's a good start from the 6,500 or so people who follow along.

With the addition of the physical presence, Good Housekeeping has an opportunity to use the instructional workshops and celebrity visits as an introduction to its online platforms. Once people connect, it can engage them over the long term, even if the intent of the American home is to become mobile. There are plenty of other crossover media opportunities too, including the potential to film and share onsite demonstrations.

Much like Citizen Gulf or publishers and bookstores hosting author signings, the real future of communication points to online marketing that drives consumers to proximity-based events, demonstrations, and high touch opportunities that can be later shared as fresh content.

It's not all that dissimilar to what social media speakers already do. Speaking drives traffic, which can then be converted into sales (books, services, etc.). At the same time, the increased following then makes the speaker more attractive to the next host.

It's not rocket science. It's strategic. And if this is the direction Good Housekeeping goes, then it should be no surprise why Hearst Magazines has successfully adapted to changes in the marketplace with Good Housekeeping for almost 100 years. About the only thing it hasn't done is become more cross-gender friendly. However, looking at online followers, maybe it has.
 

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