Friday, December 30

Trending Technology: The Deloitte Study, Part 2

For the last three years, Deloitte has published its annual "Tech Trends" report to identify what areas will have the most impact on CIOs in the coming year and beyond. The predictions are based on insights from Deloitte's technology subject matter specialists. 

This year, Deloitte split its list into two parts, "(re)emerging enablers" and "disruptive deployments." We discussed their five "(re)emerging enablers" in part 1. This post focuses in on the "disruptive deployments," which may even be more important in the year ahead.

Deloitte defines disruptive deployments as trends that showcase new business models and transformative ways to operate. In many cases, I believe that Deloitte is right that these will be among the leading trends in 2012. But, at the same time, I think most of them send organizations in the wrong direction.

Five Areas Deloitte Predicts Businesses Will Focus On In 2012.

Social Business. The emergence of boomers as digital natives and the rise of social media in daily life have paved the way for social business in the enterprise. This is leading organizations to apply social technologies on social networks, amplified by social media, to fundamentally reshape how business gets done.  Some of the initial successful use cases are consumer-centric, but business value is available — and should be realized — across the enterprise. 

The concept of a social business has always been a bit of a misnomer. Successful businesses were often social until technology made it possible for them to be less social — replacing human interaction with automated phone systems and online shopping carts. Social networks merely bring people back into the equation with a twist on how we define social interaction (but there is no guarantee it is social, given how many automate their social media presence). Being a social business isn't the real answer. It's being an empathetic business that will deliver the edge. You have to understand and care about people.

Hyper-hybrid Cloud. Cloud-based and cloud-aware integration offerings are expected to continue to evolve, and many organizations face a hybrid reality with a mix of on-premise solutions and multiple cloud offerings. The challenge becomes integration, identity management and data translation between the core and multitenant public cloud offerings, and offering lightweight orchestration for processes traversing enterprise and cloud assets. 

The concept of a hyper-hybrid cloud is intriguing and perhaps not as difficult to program as one might think. Layering the public and internal cloud systems, provided the programmers have strategic direction to identify the right data as well as the ability to categorize that data, seems like a workable solution. But beyond that, as I mentioned in the earlier post, the data needs to be visually dynamic and accessible across the entire business. Currently, most businesses have too many gatekeepers between the information and the people who need it.

Enterprise Mobility Unleashed. Mobility is helping many organizations rethink their business models. Consumer-facing mobile applications are only the beginning. With the explosion of mobile use cases, organizations should make sure solutions are enterprise class – secure, reliable, maintainable and integrated to critical back-off systems and data. 

Everybody loves to talk about mobile and how it is changing everything. But mobile isn't what businesses ought to think about for 2012 (even though most of them will). Executives need to appreciate that there is no longer a barrier between mobile and non-mobile, broadcast and digital, etc. and etc. Where the trend is right, however, is that organizations need to be even more careful in developing secure, reliable, maintainable and critical back-off systems. Maybe the real question to ask is why there needed to be a so-called mobile migration to convince an organization to think of this stuff.

Gamification. Serious gaming simulations and game mechanics such as leaderboards, achievements and skill-based learning are becoming embedded in day-to-day business processes, driving adoption, performance and engagement.

Gamification has become a bigger buzzword than social business this year. Expect the trend to continue, even if it is a short-term solution that will eventually fade away. Chasing carrots is fun for awhile until people eventually grow tired of it and give up all together. Ask the people who know: game designers. Unless you are continually committed to upgrading the game, people will lose interest in what has become the most shallow level of participatory praise ever conceived.

User Empowerment. User engagement remains a key doctrine for enterprise IT with consumerization setting expectations for solutions built from the user down, not the system up.  Compounding the need, IT is becoming increasingly democratized, with empowered end users able to directly source solutions from the cloud or app stores -- on a mobile device and increasingly on the desktop. 

There is certainly a trend in this direction, even though most organizations would be better served by finding the balance between system and user solutions. The best businesses will provide a baseline operating model (based in part on existing user interface knowledge) and then allow participantd to provide feedback that can be vetted for inclusion (or not). The concept isn't limited to systems. It means everything. Recently, I reviewed a steady cam innovator that did this brilliantly. Consumers asked for a different color and the ability to use the steady cam with an iPhone, but the developers came up with the solution based on their existing design.

Deloitte did an excellent job pinpointing what are all likely trends next year (even if most of them were introduced this year). So there are two ways to look at the research: these are the topics you will need to be up to speed on in 2012 if you aren't already. Or, if you are charged with making CIO decisions for your company, you might consider leapfrogging to what comes next.

Those are summaries of the first five predictions from Deloitte, along with our field notes. If you are interested in seeing their 64-page study, you can find it here. If you would like to discuss some of our observations in depth, drop a note in the comments or reach out direct any time. Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 28

Trending Technology: The Deloitte Study, Part 1

For the last three years, Deloitte has published its annual "Tech Trends" report to identify what areas will have the most impact on CIOs in the coming year and beyond. The predictions are based on insights from Deloitte's technology subject matter specialists.

This year, Deloitte split its list into two parts, "(re)emerging enablers" and "disruptive deployments." It defines emerging enablers as trends that have been vested in but deserve another look, and it defines disruptive deployments as trends that showcase new business models and transformative ways to operate.

Using Deloitte's predictions as an outline, we've included some additional notes based on observations that our team has made in the last 12 months, beginning with the first five trends that fall under the "(re)emerging enablers" topic heading. On Friday, we'll follow up with the second set of five trends that Deloitte identifies as "disruptive deployments."

Five Areas Businesses May Want To Revisit In 2012.

Geo-spatial Visualization. Geospatial visualization takes advantage of geographical, location-aware data and provides semi-structured data from mobile devices such as geo-tagging and new streams of location-aware unstructured data. 

We're bullish on geo-spatial visualization, but mobile geo-tagging tends to elevate privacy concerns even when people opt in to these services. Several geo-tagging enterprises exploded and then dropped off in 2011 as people found out that sharing too much information isn't always a good thing.  If businesses can develop semi-private geo-tagging solutions (where consumers can check in with the option of private and public sharing as opposed to making all information public), then businesses can benefit from such data. Of course, this assumes they give consumers a very good reason to participate.

The challenge in geo-spatial visualization is that the elective nature of participatory location-aware data frequently skews measurements because not all consumers have a desire to participate and those who do might make up a unique group in terms of their psychographics. Where businesses can boost the relevance of the data they collect is in tracking more tangible outcomes tied to weakly linked data that doesn't infringe on individual privacy, e.g., proximity marketing campaigns and specific location sales.

Digital Identities. The digital expression of identity is growing more complex every day. Digital identities should be unique, verifiable, able to be federated and non-repudiable. As individuals take a more active hand in managing their own digital identities, organizations are attempting to create single digital identities that retain the appropriate context across the range of credentials that an individual carries. 

While the thought is a good one, especially in light of Google's effort to improve the Web by minimizing anonymity, there is always that looming question of privacy. More and more people don't feel comfortable with the prying nature of the net or the continued push to create singular online identities that link everything about their lives together. Part of the reason is that people are more complex than businesses think, and tend to keep various aspects of their lives relatively separate.

Organizations, on the other hand, are clearly trying to manage their online presence, but still struggle with an old school mentality that information can be controlled. Instead of attempting to control information through reputation management, organizations would be better off appreciating that they have blemishes and imperfections. Consumers tend to be very tolerant of most mistakes, but are less forgiving of how companies mitigate them.

Data Goes to Work. Organizations are finding ways to turn the explosion in size, volume and complexity of data into insight and value. This is occurring across structured and unstructured content from internal and external sources.  This is expected to complement but not replace long-standing information management programs and investments in data warehouses, business intelligence suites, reporting platforms and relational database experience. 

There is no doubt that organizations have a greater need to employ insightful data analysts who can turn bulk data into quickly understandable and visually stimulating information. More than any other trend, information management provides a definitive edge over the competition.

However, organizations that want to benefit from the vast amount of information that is available also need to develop a culture that tolerates analyst findings as opposed to looking for instructing them to find affirmation data. In addition, organizations need researchers who can correctly identify what data is important and then translate the information into visually dynamic reports without manipulating the numbers or misleading management — making research a function of intelligence over information.

Measured Innovation. CIOs can help facilitate the discovery of the next wave of true disruption -- and continuously improve the business of IT and the business of the business. Measured innovation offers an approach to managing both disciplines by providing a pragmatic way to identify, evaluate and launch potential innovations with a focus on aligning opportunities to areas that can fuel disruption and create measurable, attributable value.

Whether related to technology or communication, measurement is the most important and most abused resource available. Organizations will benefit from better measurement systems in the year ahead, but only if they are willing to measure the right outcomes.

For example, more executives need to appreciate that tangible measures such as increased revenue tend to be a side effect of less tangible outcomes, such as innovation, reputation, and market penetration. So instead of investing in tactics designed to increase sales, they would be better served by investing in strategies that improve the company, products, and promotional efforts, which will inevitably increase sales.

Outside-in Architecture. Flexibility in operating and business models is proving more important. As a result, need to share is colliding with need to know and shifting solution architectures away from a siloed, enterprise-out design pattern and into an outside-in approach to delivering business through rapidly evolving ecosystems.

If you can imagine business enterprise software that tracks multiple department activities (from product innovation to promotional activities) to direct geo-location outcomes, you'll find a glimpse of the future. Specifically, businesses need solutions that adequately deliver a near real-time view of their business at every layer and level.

While the analogy is dramatically oversimplified, operational analysis needs a visually dynamic tool not all that dissimilar to a Sims game (or the existing infrastructure that makes OnStar work), whereby multiple department input data that is simoutaneously viewable and reviewable by every department at various levels: the overall marketplace, geographical primality, departmental activities, and anticipated activities.

For example, pulling up a real-time product report could provide, at a glance, the status of product development, packaging progress, promotional development, regional field tests, anticipated market introductions, etc. based on preset percentages of completion that can be drilled down to the individual or team responsible for the execution.

Those are summaries of the first five predictions from Deloitte, along with our field notes. If you are interested in seeing their 64-page study, you can find it here. If you would like to discuss some of our observations in depth, drop a note in the comments or reach out direct any time.

Friday, December 23

Wishing You Happy Holidays: And Merry Christmas

Every once in awhile, I'm asked if I really believe in social media. The question is the outcome of occasional sarcasm and satire.

The answer isn't all that much a mystery. I don't believe in social media beyond the tools that make it possible, namely anything that detracts from the people who make it work. And that means you.

As much as I appreciate the talent of social network architects, engineers, innovators, content creators, and investors, it's the participants who ultimately build them. Try to remember that before allowing any service to make you a slave to standards, scores, or whatnot, especially at the expense of your closest connections.

When you really stop long enough to think about it, we aren't given many holidays. We might see 100 of each, and even that is on the outside and against the odds. Make every one of them count, holding your family and friends a little tighter or longer this year. Those are outcomes you can count on.

The Box by Richard Becker

T'was the night before Christmas
and all seemed a loss.
There are not presents to wrap,
just a big empty box.

Their mum had tried hard
to save a pound and sixpence.
But the landlord had told her,
"You must pay the rent."

And not with her children,
all snug in their best,
Christmas was ruined,
her heart heavy with dread.

But when the dawn broke,
she heard not a tear.
Her children were shouting,
"Come see what's down here!"

The big empty box,
was all festive and wrapped.
"Let's open it together,"
they smiled and clapped.

So they undid the bow,
and then opened the lid.
The box held no surprise,
yet her kids squealed like it did.

"I don't understand,"
she looked down, bewildered.
"There is nothing inside,
not a stitch, not a sliver."

But her children were smiling
with toothy grins.
"They're the best gifts we have:
faith, family, and love, from within."

Merry Christmas and happy holidays from my family to yours. May every moment of this season be filled with what's most important in your life. I'll have something up next week, but not on Monday. Good night and good luck.

Wednesday, December 21

Advertising Time: Real Time Vs. My Time

Louis Gray wrote an interesting post about real time news, especially as it relates to the explosion of interest spurred along by social sharing tools. In truth, it probably started happening before social networks. Most blog posts have a perceived shelf life (even if freshness might not matter).

Most people readily jumped on the bandwagon, with some people saying that delayed news will no long be acceptable. When they don't have enough time to keep up with readers, they reconcile everything at the end of the week, scanning the first two or three before marking the last 50 read. Even Google wants the Web fresh, enough so that it is willing to alter search algorithms to favor freshness over depth.

Gray's point is right on the money. Real time could very well be a temporary trend, fueled by an illusion. Every day, we receive nuggets of real time news a mile wide and an inch deep, when what we usually want is in-depth information on whatever topic might happen to be top of mind.

Good luck finding it. Even something as simple as an album review can be difficult to find under the wash of "fresh" track listings for more popular artists releasing an LP. Don't bother looking for song lyrics for any band with fewer than two million fans. Ringtone companies have that search sewed up. And many companies operating on networks, assuming they respond at all, are more interested in creating the illusion of real time service. Your issue will be resolved just as quickly by picking up the phone, with the only caveat to make it public.

Real time doesn't hold a candle to what people want, and marketers might take notice.

But it's more than that where Gray strikes at the heart of the matter. We don't want freshness. We want on demand content when we want it, much like more and more people expect their entertainment served up.

"Advents in information and content sharing over the last few years have instead made 'on demand' a reality, getting me what I want when I want it, not when someone else decides for me," writes Gray.

This gave me some pause about marketing too. Since the 1950s, advertisers have been attempting to create a false sense of urgency with ever increasing last chance "opportunities." Never mind that your last chance to save 40 percent really means until next Monday when we restart the email.

When you really think about what advertisers are doing (beyond telling you that they mark their products up so high that their profit margin can absorb a 40 percent reduction), they are marketing urgency with the expressed objective to convince you to make a purchase on their time.

Sometimes it works. But just because it works today, doesn't mean it will work tomorrow.

Consumers might be ripe to experience "on demand" marketing much like they enjoy on demand entertainment today and maybe, as Gray suggests, on demand news tomorrow. The best time to offer someone a discount is when they want to buy the product — their time, on demand.

Monday, December 19

Advertising Consolidation: Employment Projections

According to The Creative Group, most advertising executives aren't looking to hire new employees in the near term. But people in the communication industry can still consider this good news because only 4 percent of marketing and advertising agencies are considering layoffs and 18 percent anticipate hiring staff in the next there months.

"Many companies are looking to refresh their branding to reflect new product and service offerings, as well as take their marketing campaigns to the next level in the year ahead," said Donna Farrugia, executive director of The Creative Group.

In other words, most agencies are increasingly interested in diversifying the services they offer and the staff they employ. Based on which professionals they are most interested in hiring, it seems most want to provide full-service communication to their clients, with an emphasis on non-traditional agency functions such as public relations, web design, and social media.

Top five agency positions in demand for first quarter 2012.*

1. Account services (24 percent)
2. Brand/product managers (21 percent)
3. Public relations professionals (17 percent)
4. Web designers (16 percent)
5. Social media professionals (14 percent)

*Based on executive responses to the question: "In which of the following areas do you expect to hire in the first quarter of 2012? Media services and marketing research also scored better than 10 percent. While mobile application developers, interactive media, print design/production, creative/art direction, and copywriting all lagged under 10 percent. 

What this means is that many advertising agencies are not only looking to bring more public relations and social media services in house, but they are also increasingly interested in offering these services as a total package, something many marketing clients have been asking agencies to do for years.

In fact, diversification seems to be one of the primary reasons that most marketing and advertising executives are confident in their growth prospects next year. Eighty-nine percent said they were confident, even among those that were not planning to hire in the first quarter. Others, of course, based on their hiring priorities, are hoping to grow their agencies simply by hiring more account executives.

What agencies seem less interested in hiring are what used to be considered essential services at an advertising agency — creative directors, art directors, and copywriters. In terms of priority, all three lagged well behind non-traditional positions, with copywriters coming in dead last.

Advertising agencies are betting on a very different game.

Believe it or not, there are two reasons that marketing and advertising executives are shifting priorities. While many see public relations and online services as essential for growth, they also say that it is increasingly difficult to find skilled creative professionals. Without having the best creative in house, agencies are becoming more reliant on distinguishing themselves in other areas.

It could also allude to another trend in the industry. More executives are increasingly confident in outsourcing creative services but less confident outsourcing or partnering with public relations and social media firms. Part of the reason might be related to how both services are billed (creative is often outsourced by the project whereas public relations and social media are retained).

All of this is part of an ongoing trend that started several years ago, but was punctuated last year. In the quest to own social media, advertising agencies are bringing social media in house much like many brought web design in house during the 1990s. And for those who see public relations firms as owning social might note, it seems more agencies are simply bringing that service in house too.

Friday, December 16

Teaching Social Media: The Real World Test

While I was walking down the long narrow hallway toward the computer lab where I was scheduled to teach a social media class, I had a revelation. I was marketing myself all wrong offline.

What I really needed to do is use "proven online social media strategies" offline. You know, all those proven strategies, not by the people who know something about communication and marketing but by the people that we know all about. Right, you know who they are. I don't even have to tell you. That's the point. We all owe them a debt of gratitude.

Social Media In The Real World.

I. Increase Followers. 

As I said, I was walking down the narrow hallway, and I started to think about how important the number of followers is in social media. Apparently, it's important. The more people, the better. 

I stopped dead in my tracks. I needed to know how many students were in the class.

I looked rather clumsy, standing there, juggling two water bottles in my left hand, the satchel slipping off my shoulder, and handouts spilling out as I tugged at the flap with my right hand. But I didn't care. Numbers are too important.

It took a little more fumbling, but I found it: The student roster. One ... two ... three ... I stopped, mouth agape. I counted them again. Eight. And then I counted again. Still eight.

Eight isn't so good. The class usually pulls in 20. In truth, I wasn't surprised. The former program director had scheduled the class the weekend between Veterans Day and Thanksgiving. Right. I was a prime time network show being moved to Friday in the hope we could win a weak night. It never works.

So I retraced my steps and started peeking inside the other classrooms to see how many students they had. Six ... five ... seven ... twelve ... hmmm ... now that was more like it. I walked in, and put my satchel on the desk in the front of the room. The other professor looked at me, crinkling her brow. 

II. Troll Management. 

"Can I help you," she said, hands on hips, looking like a sad sack. 

"No, you can go now," I said, feeling better because I had increased my followers from eight to 12. 

She stood there for a minute, obviously shaken, and then made some sort of spitting noise. I was going to ignore her, but she was making the students in the class uncomfortable. So I gave her something to do.

"You know, you can report me to the office if you like," I said. "And while you're there, can you tell them to make me more handouts? I need more. A lot more."

III. Crowd-sourcing. 

I pulled down the overhead screen in front of the white board. It took a few tries, but eventually it stuck. I turned to face the class, and smiled. 

"Today, we're going to talk about social media." 

"Um, this is supposed to be an accounting class," one of the students said. 

"Um, no, this used to be an accounting class," I said, raising my hands to encourage them to show a preference. "Today, it's student choice. Facebook and Twitter or assets and liabilities."

I counted the hands. Five for accounting. Six for social media. One abstained. 

"No hand raised doesn't count," I scolded. "Engagement matters. What do you want to talk about?"


The class groaned. Accounting was now social media. 

IV. Sharing. 

After establishing that this was now social media, I shared a little bit of my background and then looked  out over the class blankly. And they looked back at me, blankly. So I tried to prod them along. 


"You haven't told us anything yet," muttered the Twilight kid. 

"Social media doesn't work that way, Mr. Cullen," I countered, almost glib in my excitement to show I was a real guru. "You can only share information at a rate of one to eight. That means eight of you have to say something first or one of you can say something eight times. I don't care, either way."

"He doesn't care, either way," beamed one of the students. 

"He doesn't care, either way," said another. 

"He doesn't care, either way," added a third.

There's always one or three in every crowd. I squinted my eyes at them. 

"I'd appreciate it if you would wait for us to cover retweets before doing that," I said. "Moving on ..."

V. Quantity. 

Before I could continue, the troll I booted out earlier had come back. She brought some gangling looking office assistant who stood at least a foot taller then me. That's pretty tall. I'm 6 foot.

"Oh good, did you bring the handouts?"

"Handouts?" he said, as if it that was the first he'd ever heard of it. 

"Yes, I specifically asked her to make copies," I said, motioning my hand up like a conductor to the class.

"He did ask for handouts," said one of the students. 

"Yes, she was going to get handouts," said another, grinning, chin in both palms. 

Good, I thought. I was making real progress here. 

"Yes, I need lots of handouts," I said, a few of the students casting the office assistant glances. "It doesn't matter what you bring. Just bring them, lots of them."

Handouts are important. It's what sets most content creators apart from conversationalists. The general concept is simple enough. If you barrage everyone with enough content, they'll be too dazed to notice that you haven't given them anything useful. 

VI. Mob Rules.

The office assistant's phone buzzed. It was his girlfriend. She confirmed it. I needed handouts. 

"And take Debbie downer with you," I said. "I'm trying to teach here."

Two of the students stood up, acting as if they were ready to usher them out. I was impressed. We hadn't covered mob rules, but these kids took to it like coke heads with Pixie Stix. 

"It's cool," he stammered. "I mean, yes sir."

And off they went.

Since I didn't really have anything to hand out yet, I suggested a break. Who knows? The students might even have enough time to come up with the rest of the class content if I waited long enough. But in retrospect, I wish I hadn't told them to take a break. I didn't really need a break. I was on a roll.

VII. Adding Value.

I decided to maximize my time instead. I revisited all the classrooms I passed by earlier and poked my head in to listen in. Eventually, the other professors would sense my presence and invite me into their conversations. It was easy, like playing Farmville on Facebook.

"No, no," I would shake my head. "Except, you know, that one point you made..."


"It's all very wrong," I would pounce, and then launch into a counter argument.

It didn't even matter so much what I was saying. All that mattered is that I offered some semblance of initiative understanding. That was enough. And, of course, it helped when one of the students who was following me everywhere would chime in.

"He's right, you know."

"I'm teaching social media instead of history or whatever this guy is teaching," I concluded. "You're welcome to join me. I'll even cover whatever this subject is when we get to Wikipedia."

VIII. Perks. 

I'm not going to lie and say it worked every time, but it worked well enough. I'd capture or two or sometimes half of their students before pied piper-ring away to the next room. It took 15 minutes.

The results were breathtaking. Even I was surprised when I did a post-break head count. I had 32 students in my class. It wasn't a record by any stretch, but 32 is better than 12 and a million times better than eight, which was the class size I would have had if I was playing by established rules.

"I think I have enough students now to tell you something important," I said.

They all leaned in closer to hear.

"There is a special at Starbucks today," I said. "Right after class. You can join me or go on your own, it doesn't really matter to me as long as you use this code."

I wrote it down on the white board, amused by how low tech teaching can be. Schools need QR codes for this stuff.

"What does that have to do with social media?"

"What does that have to do with social media?" I asked back, but didn't wait for an answer before continuing. "It has everything to do with it. If even ten of you use the code, I get a free T-shirt."

"Free T-shirt," half them chanted, circling the newbie who asked the question like tribes people. It looked like a scene from Lord Of The Flies.


How do I know it was a newbie? It's always the newbie who asks a stupid question like that. What do people think social media experts do, work for free? No. We don't pay for coffee either.

In fact, I was just planning to cover this advanced subject matter when the gangly office assistant showed up again. He had the troll with him and some new guy.

"Did you bring the handouts?" I asked.

"Mr. Clark wanted to speak to you first," he said.

"Yes, I told Burt to hold off until we had a chance to chat," said Mr. Clark.

"Okay," I said, reaching down to my side to feel for a pistol. It sounded like a showdown, and it wasn't even a western.

"Well, if you take the registration of the original either students in your class, minus the cost of all these handouts for 32 students, then you're providing the university a negative return on investment," he said. "What's worse is you never even showed up at the computer lab, so we'll have to issue those students a refund. And all these students will probably want refunds for the classes they left too."

At first, I thought it was because he was standing next to Burt, but Clark was a very little man.

"You're talking about ROI," I said.

"Yes, yes I am," he said.

At first I was going to dazzle him with outcomes, like how many times the class parroted me, but no one said a word. It was quiet. Too quiet. So I let him have it.

"You silly little man," I chuckled. "There's no ROI in social media for you, but there is for them. And me too. Because I ... well, I'm getting that T-shirt today and there is nothing you can do about it."

As the room burst into applause and students chanted "you silly little man" over and over again, I uploaded the entire confrontation on YouTube. I could already feel it in my bones. The book deal was clinched.

Of course there is an ROI, I mused silently. The only real question is: Who gets it?


Social media can be an extremely powerful component of a communication plan, assuming it remains grounded in communication. And the easiest way for anyone to test a social media program is to imagine how all those tactics, strategies, and secret formulas might look if someone applied them to offline communication. If you do and it sounds silly, it probably is silly. Have a nice weekend.

Wednesday, December 14

Advertising Arts: Poster Design Contest

The Art Institutes and Americans for the Arts, which is the nation's leading nonprofit organization for advancing the arts and arts education, will accept entries for the 2012 Poster Design Competition through Feb. 3, 2012. Winners will earn up to a full tuition scholarship to study at one of the more than 45 Art Institutes schools located in North America.

The theme of the competition is "You Can Create Tomorrow." The competition is broken into two categories: high school seniors and high school graduates/adults (from the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico) to design a poster that best expresses the theme.

"We are inspired by the creativity that students exhibit in the artwork they create for this competition and believe that this scholarship competition helps some of our most talented students achieve their educational goals," said John Mazzoni, president of The Art Institutes. "We, along with our partner, Americans for the Arts, eagerly await submissions to see the innovative and unique ways this year's students express their vision of 'You Can Create Tomorrow'."

Last year, the grand prize winner was Ernest Castillo of Las Vegas. He created a poster that depicts an artist's journey to a magical deep sea environment as he paints his first stroke on a blank canvas. The image exemplified last year's theme "Life Is Better With Art In It." 

As the grand prize winner, he won a full tuition scholarship to study at The Art Institute of Las Vegas. (Had he lived in a different city, the scholarship would have been awarded closer to home.) His work was also showcased along other entries at a Congressional Reception on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. 

Castillo was overcome with the news, never believing that he would have an opportunity to earn a degree in art. Two other winners, Adrianna Simmons and Paulina Zaborny, received half- and quarter-tuition scholarships. Their sentiment matched Castillo's excitement, which is one of the reasons that Americans for the Arts supports the annual competition. 

"We are excited to be part of this scholarship competition," said Robert L. Lynch, president and CEO of Americans for the Arts. "The entries not only highlight the remarkable talent of our nation's youth, but also remind us what a vital role art plays in our everyday lives."

For more information about the competition, visit The Art Institutes Poster Design Competition. Local winners also receive scholarship money, ranging from $1,000 to $3,000.

 The Art Institutes is a system of more than 45 educational institutions located throughout North America. The Art Institutes schools provide an important source for design, media arts, fashion, and culinary arts professionals. Several institutions included in The Art Institutes system are campuses of South University.

Americans for the Arts is the leading nonprofit organization for advancing the arts in America. With offices in Washington, D.C. and New York City, it has a record of more than 50 years of service. Americans for the Arts is dedicated to representing and serving local communities and creating opportunities for every American to participate in and appreciate all forms of the arts.

Monday, December 12

Splitting The Difference: Consumer Confidence

If you are looking for evidence that demonstrates what people think and what people do are two different things, December's Consumer Reports Index tells the tale. Consumer confidence remains extremely low and confidence in job market shaky. Yet, the holiday spending index last month was up 13.9 from 12.4 a year ago, with December looking better than last year.

According to Ed Farrell, director of the Consumer Reports Sentiment Index, consumers are shopping because they are tired of demonstrating restraint year after year. So even if their economic outlook remains unchanged, they are spending more in a stable but negative economy.

The mixed bag of data from the Consumer Reports Sentiment Index. 

What's most interesting about the economic climate and consumer sentiment is how fractured the nation seems to be. Different income groups, different age groups, and different regions are experiencing different economic realities and expressing different consumer sentiment.

For example, people have reported more job losses than job gains in the first time in four months, with the Northeast hardest hit. People living in the West are experiencing the most economic stress, due to the economic uncertainty of jobs and the economy. Consumer confidence among people, ages 18-34 and 65+, has remained unchanged or lost ground (career starters and fixed incomes).

People with a current household income over $100,000 have slightly higher consumer confidence whereas people with a household income under $50,000 have slightly less consumer confidence. But it's middle income families that are under the most economic stress.

The report shows that people are most concerned with medical bills and medications, missing payments on major bills, and health care coverage reductions. Whereas the higher household incomes are seeing more stability, middle income families are barely making ends meet. For households under $50,000, 20 percent could not afford medical treatment or medications, 13.5 percent missed a major bill payment (but not a mortgage), and 12.5 percent lost or reduced their health care coverage in the last 30 days.

Irregular economic climates drag consumer confidence down.

One of the reasons national leaders are struggling in developing a solution is because the current economic climate is not allowing for a one-size fix all for the nation. Specifically, some areas of the country believe taxation is the only way out of the current crisis because they need relief while those in less depressed areas know increased tax burdens may erode their marginal economic foothold.

But avoiding the politicized nature of the economic climate, let's consider what this means for marketers. The three key areas where some companies are winning is by focusing on location, confidence, and relevance.

Location, because some regions of the country are outperforming others. Confidence, because some consumers, even in depressed areas, are making purchases. And relevance, because consumers will purchase meaningful products regardless of their financial situation.

While holiday spending has increased, personal electronics is the only segment of the economy that has successfully demonstrated it can deliver meaningful products. In fact, the increases in spending this year are largely tied to personal electronics, which is up 31.4 percent (up 21.2 percent from last month).

According to the Daily Finance, six of the top ten product purchases are related to electronics. Only Pillow Pets, Australian short boots (that cross a boot with a moccasin look), a Fisher Price dancing Mickey Mouse and indoor remote controlled helicopters can compete (you might notice the latter two rely on electronics).

In fact, even Toys "R" Us reported that the LeapPad Explorer is the most sought-after purchase for young children. It makes sense. The LeapPad Explorer is like a tablet for kids, with an education-entertainment bent.

The long and short of it in making marketing decisions into 2012. 

Unless Farrell's one cautionary concern is right — that strong holiday sales could set the economy up for a weak first quarter — marketers have to do a better a job focusing on proximity (financially stable areas), demographics (select incomes), and psychographics (specific interests and positive outlooks). That means segmenting markets, targeting people who can actually buy the product (instead of blasting everyone), and making meaningful connections to the product or service offering.

Those are the questions to ask. Are you in the right markets? Are you reaching the right people? And are you demonstrating that your product can add tangible value beyond status? Because if anything has changed, status products just don't cut it anymore.

Friday, December 9

Reconditioning Engagement: Not What You Think

During my class last weekend, I said it plainly enough. If you want to create a true online community, you need to look beyond "being on" a social network. You or your organization need to build one.

It doesn't have to be the next Facebook. It might even be tied to the functionality of your site, with differing degrees of community, as not all communities are created equal. And that's all right. Not everyone needs a strong community. Weak communities can produce equally powerful outcomes.

An oversimplified observation between strong and weak communities. 

BlogCatalog, for example, has a reasonably strong community. It used to be more robust than it is today, but there is no mistaking it as anything less than a community. People identify with it, invest time in it, connect with other members, develop friendships, and sometimes take action on its behalf. There are others too. As clunky as it can be, Ragan has built a community. So has Recruiting Blogs.

Kickstarter, on the other hand, has a weak community. It's one of my favorite sites, but the structure of the site doesn't necessarily create relationships between members as much as it creates them between backers and creators. People do identify with it and invest time, but connecting with other members is relatively rare and members take action on behalf of the creators more than the site. The same can be said about DonorsChoose, another favorite of mine.

Google+, as it exists today (tomorrow may be different), and Twitter aren't really communities. You can build connections, followings, events, lists, and loosely aligned links. But it doesn't necessarily build a community. And then there is Facebook, which can be used to create some semblance of a community. However, most organizations do not.

The difference is largely in how we define, view, and establish engagement. And today, most organizations define online engagement in terms of likes, clicks, shares, comments, etc. as Richard Millington reminded me the other day on Feverbee.* His argument is both right and wrong. And here's why...

Actions indicate activity, but not engagement or community. 

The cornerstone of Millington's argument is that people who "like" a Facebook page aren't active enough. That is a fair and valid point. However, I know people who live in my city that aren't very active either. Does that make them a non-member of the community? Or our community any less than a community? I don't think so.

That is not to say that Millington is wrong. He is right that Facebook pages aren't the best places to create a community. And he provides several alternatives.

However, that doesn't mean it cannot be done. I manage some pages that have all the elements of a community, even if the actions are not always evident. I also belong to a couple of Facebook groups. One in particular, which is private, is truly a small and vibrant community. Although it lacks the scale of something like BlogCatalog or Ragan, we all contribute and interconnect, from time to time, and have conversations. Some more than others. And that's okay too.

But more importantly, it seems to me, organizations don't necessarily have to build a community to create engagement (unless they want to encourage members to engage with each other). And that leads to another observation. Engagement is not measured by actions (outcomes maybe, but not actions).

This was a direction I moving in when I wrote an article about how word of mouth happens offline more often than online. When I pulled in the Keller Fay study, which looked at online activity as opposed to offline activity, it was to dispel the notion that the number of "likes" somehow means that the page is engaged. The study proves that many users are not even active, let alone engaged.

But there's more. If the same brand enjoys 880 million offline conversations during an average month, including 442 million active recommendations to buy or try it, it is obviously a highly engaged brand despite those people existing independent of any community. Likewise, looking at those numbers again, nobody discounts the half that have nothing to do with a purchase like social media skeptics always want to do with social media (e.g., they think unless it results in a sale, it's a waste).

Beyond that, nobody can really track all those silent conversations and conversions that manifest when we least expect it. I was reminded of one the other day.

I was speaking with my aunt over the holidays and we were talking about education. Before I could tell her what I thought about a specific issue, she told me what she thought, which I recognized as my own thought.

"That's uncanny," I said. "I was just going to offer that up."

"Really?" she said. "I just read an article about it."

"Really?!?" I just wrote an article about it. Where did you read the article you saw?"

"Oh, you know, come to think of it, I think it was on your blog."

We laughed, and my mind whirled at the same time. She is not a member of "my" community. She does not make any measurable "actions" online. And yet, she was obviously engaged by the article when she was reading it, and based upon her response, possibly influenced by it.

Sometimes I think the communication industry is so busy attempting to measure social media that we forget how real engagement works. Ergo, if you read this post (or at least some of it), you were engaged for a period of time. What happens after that — whether you click, comment, or share — has nothing much to do with it, unless you want it to.

*If you read the Feverbee post, which is a good one, please ignore my comment there. I misread his post, which cited repurposed content from my blog, and then made a statement that "this" was misleading. He meant how people define activity is misleading. It happens.

Wednesday, December 7

Overreaching With PR: Communicators Aren't Commanders

Bob Conrad touched on a great topic last week, even if some of the devices didn't fit together neatly. Oversimplified, he asks if public relations practitioners are prone to overstep in analysis and their own ability.

The answer is probably, but not all of them. It really depends on the individual practitioner. In using the UC Davis spray analysis for evidence as he did, however, he was absolutely right. Most public relations practitioners failed at an analysis because they did not understand the event.

What many public relations professionals who wrote about the UC Davis crisis did was enter in the aftermath and liberally apply standard crisis communication steps, ticking them off like a scorecard. Some of them even thought it was an Occupy protest. It really wasn't. It was about tuition increases.

Regardless, what public relations professionals who wanted the opportunity to include that now infamous picture on their blogs needed to do is take a different approach to presenting the real problem. To be a real case study of the UC Davis crisis, they would have to frame it properly, like this:

The Real Crisis Communication Case Study Question For UC Davis.

You're sitting in your plush communication office balancing your checkbook against your recent cost of living and merit raise because of the extra time you have, now that you are satisfied with next season's class schedule catalog that has finally been sent to print. (You're especially fond of the photo you picked for page 2). When, suddenly, your phone rings. It's the chancellor. 

"We have a crisis," she screams. "The kids are protesting about our insane tuition increase ... you know, the one that has driven up tuition 250 percent in the last ten years. It's turning into an Occupy protest down there and could turn violent. It's not even safe to walk into the campus, assuming those thugs let you by. They want to shut us down! What should I do? Or more importantly, what will you do?"

A. Walk out and express empathy with the mob in your new designer suit.
B. Recognize that they are only kids and give them treats and call their moms.
C. Flog yourself for not planning ahead and having the police already dressed in riot gear.
D. All of the above.
E. Mention the photo you picked for page 2 and go to lunch.

With the exception of "E," I framed these multiple choice questions based on the analysis that Conrad was right to criticize. The reality of this situation is that no cookie cutter crisis communication steps were going to help a public relations practitioner who needs disaster response experience.

The Reality Of The UC Davis Disaster.

The UC Davis crisis was largely unavoidable. The California university system is struggling to keep up with increasing employment costs that it cannot control and less funding as their budgets are cut. (Some of it could be fiscal mismanagement. Hard to say.) Sooner or later, these students were going to protest ten years of successive and excessive tuition increases. Call is predestination.

Given the atmosphere of Occupy rallies around the United States, it is even more likely that such protests (because there is no solution) will turn violent. It's just the mood of the moment, even among students who can afford a $24,000 to $54,000 per year for education. (Yeah, for UC Davis. Go figure.)

Students have rallies and protests all the time, at least when I went to school. Generally, unless they are disruptive or likely to turn violent, staff can reason with students to disperse as needed. Most of the time, you let them do their thing. (I worked as a resident assistant for two years.) If they do not disperse, you call the police (some schools have campus police; some private). Once the police arrive, it's their call — even if someone is advising them.

Of course, something else has changed since I went to school. Police protocols have been radically changed since 9-11, with most department training significantly more elective and aggressive than it was in years prior. In short, officers assess whether the protestors need to be subdued prior to removal (as opposed to simply picking up and arresting those passively resisting).

Personally, I think the officer in charge overshot. But the real point here is that the call to shoot pepper spray into the faces of those students was not one to be made by public relations. There were no PR advisors there, and the outcome might have been the same even if PR advisors were there.

So contrary to all the assessment write-ups, all public relations pros can do in this kind of a disaster is help mitigate it. Sometimes that means playing out a losing hand. And if you worked in communication for UC Davis on that day, you had a losing hand. What else can be said? No wonder I skipped it.

Do Communicators Make The Best Commanders?

The real question looming in relation to Conrad's post touches on a bigger question, spurred on by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). Lately, the society has been attempting to make the case that public relations people make great CEOs.

I mostly agree with Conrad, but for a different reason. A profession, in general, does not indicate whether or not someone would make a great CEO. However, PRSA is presumptive in its answer.

They ask: Who who else besides the CEO or chairman has their finger on the pulse of the company like a public relations person? While it varies from organization to organization, I might say "everyone."

It certainly would on a plane. You see, while a public relations professional might have an understanding of the pilot, co-pilot, navigator, flight crew, passenger service agents, ground crew, mechanics, and even passengers, I think most of us would think twice before letting him or her fly the plane. Unless, of course, he or she happened to be a great pilot.

Monday, December 5

Peeking Inside Their Minds: Shopper Profiles

According to a new study by Integer Group and its research partner Decision Analyst, there are four primary behavioral patterns that consumers adopt when shopping for big ticket items that range from home remodels and furniture to automobiles and vacation packages.

Assuming the study has merit, it may also reveal that recessionary pressures have shifted consumers away from status shopping and more toward being conscientious or frugal. I've parsed some of the study results along with four personality styles that have been identified in previous marketing efforts.

Four Predominant Shopping Behaviors. 

• Fretting Frugals (31 percent). They find shopping as enjoyable as a root canal. They are nervous about making the right and wrong choices, are extremely price conscious, and easily overwhelmed. They are the most likely to delay big purchases, not over price but because they want to make the right decision.

For years in marketing, I was taught to consider this behavior style as consistent with analysts, people who pore over lists and make comparisons based on detailed decisions. Price isn't what holds up the purchase as much as making a decision. They are also the least likely to share purchasing decisions to avoid criticism, preferring to look for information that affirms their choices.

• Experience Lovers (29 percent). They consider shopping a labor of love. They are also the most likely to become brand loyalists, convinced that the decisions they make are the right ones and will always be the right ones. The experience is as important as the products they buy.

This might be a new take on the modernized supporter, people who consider everyone's feelings in the household before making what they believe is the right decision. They value their role as making the decisions, carefully balancing the needs of everyone.

• Passive Purchaser (25 percent). They are the most convenience-driven consumers, looking for quick and easy purchases. They do not waste time researching products and are not loyal to brands, but rather make their purchasing decisions based upon intuition.

This most closely resembles a controller, someone who is especially adept at making decisions not because they enjoy it but rather because it needs to be done. They want to know the bottom-line price and benefits without wasting any time.

• Social Adventurer (15 percent). They believe that everything bought is a reflection of style and personality. They are also most likely to tell others about their purchases, mostly because their purchases reflect who they are as a person.

Based upon previous marketing models, they are most like promotors, people who are always looking for the newest ideas, products, and services. They are not brand loyal, but do take more time shopping to find products that seem to be one step ahead. With social networking only recently earning mass adoption, they are well-experienced in letting others know about positive and negative experiences.

Why The Research Might Matter.

Although I'm never fond of the label approach to marketing, the study could be significant in that shopping behaviors have remained relatively equal as a percentage of the population. This study suggests that the social adventurers (promotors) are diminished, perhaps being driven toward conscious or frugal behaviors due to economic pressures.

Such a shift in behavior would be consistent with other studies. Both frugal and conscientious buyers are more likely to seek stability and security, more likely to embrace a new economy, and more likely to appreciate the shopping experience. However, focusing on these behaviors might not be as useful as considering attitude or other psychographics that can help make marketing decisions.

For too long, marketers have been focused on demographics and reach as the two primary indicators in determining their marketing decisions. While such methods can work, they tend to be subservient to focusing on topical interests and attitudes that transcend age, gender, and other demographic bias.

Friday, December 2

Writing Santa Claus: When Mail Really Works

In one of the best programs ever conceived by the United States Postal Service (USPS), yesterday marked the first day of its annual "Letters to Santa" program. The campaign has helped fulfill holiday wishes of children and their families for nearly a century.

Through the annual letter-writing program, members of the public and charitable organizations respond to children's letters addressed to Santa Claus, the North Pole and other seasonal characters. The program is especially meaningful given how much people rely primarily on electronic communication. Receiving a letter, especially from Santa or Rudolph, can be an unforgettable experience for anyone.

"We are delighted to once again kick off the holiday mailing season with the start of our annual 'Letters to Santa' program," said Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe. "The Postal Service is gearing up for a huge mail delivery to the North Pole to help Santa and his elves get ready for the big day."

The tradition started in 1912 when then Postmaster General Frank Hitchcock allowed postal employees and citizens to respond to the letters in the program that became known as Operation Santa. In 1940, mail volume for Santa increased so much the Postal Service invited charitable organizations and corporations to participate and provide written responses to the letters and small gifts to the children who wrote them.

While the exact number of Operation Santa letters is unknown, the USPS estimates it reaches into the millions (New York City handles 500,000 letters alone). The program works because postal workers sort the letters between those that wish Santa a happy birthday and those children who are in need. Those from children in need are then adopted by individuals and organizations, who respond to the children and often mail them a gift based on the letter (volunteers are responsible for the gift and return address).

All names (except the first name) and location references are blacked out before volunteers and organizations adopt the letters to protect the identity of the senders. If you would like to participate in helping fulfill some of the wishes of children in need, please read the USPS letter adoption guidelines.

In lieu of having a letter sent in for adoption, the USPS also allows parents (and others) to mail self-addressed stamped letters (presumably written as Santa Claus) in larger envelopes to a specific address in Alaska. The postal service will send the letter back with a North Pole postmark. For more information, refer to the USPS Fact Sheet. To receive the North Pole postmark, letters must be sent prior to Dec. 10.

There are other commercial enterprises that offer paid Santa letters and gifts, but USPS is not associated with any of those programs and is the oldest Letters From Santa operation in the United States. It is generally managed by local post offices. The USPS has a dedicated page for the program.

Before any questions about whether the program is a wise investment of taxpayer dollars, it's important to note that the Postal Service receives no tax dollars for operating expenses and relies on the sale of postage, products and services to fund its operations. It is a self-supporting government enterprise. Most people are unaware of this fact.

Wednesday, November 30

Projecting Media: How One Source Becomes Two Stories

Depending the article you read, the next generation of television viewers is either growing or in jeopardy.

The Wall Street Journal reports an average of 5.8 million children between the ages of 2 and 11 watch television (broadcast, cable, and live) at any given moment. It's 1.7 percent higher than last year. The article concentrates on the big losses experienced by Viacom's Nickelodeon (down 15-20 percent) and Time Warner's Cartoon Network (down 11 percent) but cited gains in other channels, including the Disney Channel (up 5.9 percent) and The Hub (up 50 percent). The article alludes to more kids watching adult programs.

Ad Age, using the same data, ran a different story. It reported that Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, and Disney XD all experienced heavy declines, and only hinted at the gains at Disney Channel and The Hub, dismissing the latter channel's gains because the comparisons are drawn against the low-rated Discovery Kids. The article then shifts to television's increasing competition from other media, including social networks and gaming. It also cites a Kaiser Family Foundation study that says children ages 8-18 watch 25 fewer minutes a day.

What is especially interesting about the two stories is that they were prompted by the same research from Nielsen. And yet, the overriding slant of the Wall Street article is that Nickelodeon is in trouble despite growing viewership, underscored by the channel's plea to wait for upcoming fresh episodes. Whereas the overriding slant of the Ad Age article is that the entire youth audience is slipping, with Nickelodeon leading the way, even if Viacom claims a ratings glitch.

Expect both articles will be shared with new slants. The Hollywood Reporter already spun off The Wall Street Journal piece. Ad Age has had fewer takers, but mostly because what might frighten marketers isn't likely to frighten parents. The more compelling observation is how media is shaped and what that means.

The consequence of journalism's time crunch is accelerating different realities. 

I've been fascinated with the changing shape of media for some time, especially as it pertains to perception and reality. And while we can only infer that the journalists have different world views of television, comparing the two stories demonstrates how validation is increasingly prevalent in media, not only for how we consume media but also in how professionals report it.

In fact, there is enough content on the Internet today to prove that children are both watching more and less television than they did 10 or 20 years ago. And for some authors, it is even critical to prove it one way or another. After all, there is no reason to write about the dangers of television to kids (or the benefits of television* before railing on the negatives) unless it constitutes a threat or benefit.

But what that really means, as a marketer or parent, is the emphasis need not be placed on the delivery system (television) as much as the programs being delivered. The same can be said for how we consume information and make informed decisions, with the burden of fact-checking falling less on reporters (citizen or professional) than on consumers.

In the case of the two articles above, the net takeaway might be that Ad Age is correct in that kids spend less time in front of the television but more time with a variety of media, with a heavy emphasis on multitasking. But where The Wall Street Journal is right is in that some channels are losing young viewers to better programs, especially those with more engaging or interesting content. More adult shows included.

Equally important for marketers, they might place more measure on the psychographics of these viewers, asking tough questions like: Which types of kids are watching Spongebob and which aren't, and are those kids more inclined to like this product or that product? Likewise, parents don't have to be passive about programing, but rather take some time to balance what is appropriate while appreciating that kids might not be as corruptible as we think.

Monday, November 28

Scoring Social: The Rise And Fall Of Klout

You all know the story, because it's all very true — there are plenty of marketers who dream of the day that they can give us all scores. It would make their lives easy, terribly easy you see: if they could base who gets what for which price or what fee.

If we only had scores to sort out their big mess. Never mind names or merits or interests or lives, just a list of our scores and a button to click. That would be enough, it's painfully clear. One score to determine who gets what prizes and perks, what service and more.

The Crazy Story Of Blogs And Social Media.

Then one day it happened, some will remember, when Clout-Belly bloggers were sometimes called stars. Everyone else, those without content on thars, were called Plain-Belly people, their reach not so far.

Now, being an online blogger wasn't always so special. Compared to actors and inventors or directors and authors, it was really quite small. In fact, you would think such a thing wouldn't matter at all.

But it did. Because they were stars, all the Clout-Belly bloggers would brag, "We're the best of all people on social media beaches." And with their snoots in the air, some would sniff and they'd snort. "We'll have nothing to do with the Plain-Belly sort."

When Clout-Belly children went out to play ball, could Plain-Belly kids get in the game ... ? Not at all. You could only play if your parents stayed up and blogged through the night. And those Plain-Belly kids had parents without any online might.

So when the Clout-Belly bloggers received their frankfurter perks, or picnics or parties or free root beer floats, marketers never invited the Plain-Belly people. They left them out in the cold, behind the red ropes. They kept them away, dashing their hopes. And that's how things went, year after year.

And then one day, it seems ... while the Plain-Belly people were tweeting and talking, sharing and squawking, some of them daydreaming of the day they might start a blog to earn more clout, a stranger zipped up with this new thing called Klout.

The Brief And Sordid History Of Klout.

"My friends," he announced in a voice clear and keen,"My name is Joe Fernandez. And I've heard you're unhappy, but I can fix that. When my mouth was wired shut, I became the Fix-It-Up Chappie. And I've come here to help you, I have what you need. My price is quite low and I work with great speed. Better than that, my idea is one hundred percent guaranteed."

Then, very quickly, Fernandez did shout. He put up his algorithm and started to tout. "You want to be stars like the Clout-Belly bloggers ...? My friends, you can have them for a price pretty cheap. Just give me access to your data, feeds, and friends when you tweet."

"Just open your accounts and hop right aboad!' So they clamored inside and signed on the line. And the algorithm bonked. And it jerked. And it burped. And then it bopped them about. They didn't mind, because the thing really worked! When the Plain-Belly people popped out they had Klout scores. They actually did. They had Klout upon thars.

And then they yelled at the ones who had clout at the start. "We're exactly like you! You can't tell us apart. We're all just the same, now, you snooty old smarties. We don't even have to write a stitch, you crazy old coots. We just share and type nonsense, and we get all the perks, like new shoes or new boots!"

"Good grief!" said the ones who had worked right from the start. "We're still social medial gurus and they're still just the masses. But, now, how in the world do we know it? If this kind is what kind or that kind is this kind and this kind is what kind then I think we need glasses!"

Just then, up came Fernandez with a very sly wink and he said, "Things are not quite as bad as you think. So you don't know who's who? That is perfectly true. But come with me, friends. Do you know what I'll do? I'll make you, again, the best kinds of tweeps with real social media reach. All I have to do is change my secret formula."

"Clout-Belly bloggers are no longer in style," said Fernandez with a smile. "What you need is a trip through my Clout-to-Klout dumb-it-down kettle. This wondrous contraption will change clout to Klout, and we'll score you the same, but with a nod to your mettle."

And that's what he did, lickity-split. They signed up for Klout with the same conditions and poof. Their once Kloutless accounts suddenly earned scores through the roof!

"Ha ha," they declared, with yell of great triumph. "We know who is who now, and there will be no doubt. The best kind of online gurus are those with high Klout!"

Then, of course, those who had just gotten scores were frightfully mad. To have a lower score was now frightfully bad. But in like a flash, Fernandez was there. He invited them in for a transparency fair. He told them all they needed to know about scoring, or so he said. Keep busy online, today 'til you're dead.

"That's right. It's all very easy," he said with a grin. "I'll change the influence scoring here and there on a whim. You just keep typing and sharing and shouting. I've got the contracts to put you in marketing."

And then, from then on, as you can probably guess, things turned into a terrible mess. All the rest of the day and on through the night, the Fix-It-Up-Chappie played them like a kite. Tweet this, post that, plus this, and add that. And through the networks they charged, opening them all to get better scores. They kept tweeting perks, posting plugs, and adding plus ones; no time for friends or thinking or fun.

And soon, the whole thing was confusion, their heads spun up on a spool: which one was this one or was this one really that one. Or which one was what one ... and what one was who. But none of that mattered. Because all through the night and all through the day, Fernandez was raking it in on the backs of those people who stopped talking to friends. And he laughed and he laughed, from his perch of free perks, "you can teach them new tricks, but you can't teach them about worth."

Now, I would like to say that it all ended that day. That people became just a little bit smarter. But unfortunately for us, humans aren't like Sneetches who learned something new. That the size of your worth is based on the friendships you make, and not your score, status, or hue.

Related Reading From Around The Web. 

Why I Quit Klout by Schmutzie

Why I Quit Klout by Matt LaCasse

Why I quit Klout by David Kaufer

Why I Quit Klout by Ben Loeb

Why I Quit Klout by Botgirl Questi

How To Get Your Profile And Data Completely Disconnected From Klout by Danny Brown

Feel free to add a link to your own "Why I Quit Klout" post in the comments. We'll approve them. Special thanks to Dr. Seuss, whose original story "The Sneetches" inspired this satire about online influence. The Klout story is amazingly just like it, maybe exactly like it if people let the concept get carried away rather than focusing in on what's more important in life.

Then again, a few people won't have it. After quitting Klout, some have even suggested banning marketers who participate. If that ever happens, then Klout will learn about scoreless influence.

Wednesday, November 23

Thanksgiving: How Social Media Is Like A Turkey

Sometimes social media is real time communication, which means the timing of the message is just as important as the message itself. I was reminded of that yesterday as I was finishing up a 1,200-word column that I was going to title Occupy Thanksgiving.

The piece is decent, and perhaps more personal than I usually post on this blog. The topic was just a little reminder that keeping your focus on scarcity can be detrimental whereas being grateful for the little things in life can help you wake up happy every day, even in the face of tragedy. I know. Despite many tragedies and near tragedies, I have a lot to be grateful for. And I hope you do too.

I still think it's an important topic, but the timing isn't right. Nobody needs too much food for thought before a long weekend. So I shelved the column for another day and set to work on something light — a slow burn satire of sorts for all those claims that social media is like one thing or another.

So, in honor of Thanksgiving in America, why not make social media like a turkey? It's not all that different when you really think about it. And in some ways, it's even better because I can chuckle at the absurdity of it and you won't leave feeling bloated.

How Social Media Is Like A Turkey. 

• Decide On A Recipe. There are hundreds of different recipes to make a successful turkey, ranging from maple roast with gravy to honey-brined smoked. It doesn't really matter which one you decide to make, but it's always a good idea to know what else you plan to serve and if your guests have any preferences. Right. Your turkey is part of a bigger plan.

• Defrost Before Cooking. Even if you know what kind of turkey you want to cook, part of your plan requires a defrost period. If you start too cold, your turkey will never be fit for consumption. Slow down, put the bird in the refrigerator, and let it thaw, about 24 hours for every five pounds. For social media, this phase is listening.

• Stuff With Contents. Start combining some of the ingredients you plan to stuff your turkey with, whatever it might be. Maybe you like onions, mushrooms, celery, green pepper, and bread crumbs. Some people like vegetable stuffing, other people like cornbread stuffing. The important part is to pick the contents that complement your turkey.

• Roast Your Turkey. Roasting a turkey takes time. You cannot expect a 20-pound turkey to cook in half an hour, not even if you try to rush it. It takes time and constant care, basting so that neither the turkey nor the contents dry out or, worse, are served undercooked. It's true. Undercooked turkey makes people sick.

• Prep The Meal. It used to be easy because all anyone had to do was take care of the turkey. But nowadays, people want a little bit more. You have to cook the rest of the meal. When the turkey is roasting and just starting to attract attention it is the best time to add corn, cranberry sauce, potatoes, and dinner rolls. You don't have to serve everything. Focus on what other social sides they really enjoy (e.g., if nobody eats cranberry sauce, don't serve it).

• Serve It Hot. Serve everything at precisely the right temperature, usually warm and steamy. In cold weather climates, people will look forward to the meal all the more. Just don't expect everyone to come to the table at the same time. Even though everyone will eat the turkey, it really is the least important part of Thanksgiving. Family members are busy catching up and many people enjoy watching the game.

• Say Grace. When many people hear the word "grace," they immediately think it implies faith. For many people, it does. For other people, not so much. You make the call as appropriate to you and your guests, but the general idea is still valid. If you are lucky enough to have people interested in your turkey dinner (as opposed to all those other turkey dinners out there), be grateful not expectant.

• Enjoy The Company. The bigger the party, the more distractions. There are bound to be tiffs, spills, splatters, and complaints at some Thanksgiving dinners. Take it all in stride. For the moment, these are your people — your family, friends, and acquaintances — and they deserve your respect. Despite the way some experts feel, it's not polite to have people show up for dinner but exclude them from pie.

• Reward The Heroes. While every host takes the time to treat every guest as equals, there are always those times when there just isn't enough of something to go around. Do the best you can. One drumstick might go to grandpa because it's the only part he eats, but giving one to someone under ten can make an impression for life. There are lots of these moments, right down to breaking the wishbone.

• Cleanup And Feedback. Ask your guests how they liked the meal and take notes for next time while cleaning up the mess and pushing a few leftovers out the door. Thanksgiving is just like that. There are always some links to be fixed, comments to approve, and people to thank. You have to love every minute of it because you invited them, remember?

Oh, and one more thing. Measure success based on how well you served everyone who attended and not by the number of footprints you have to vacuum off the carpet. Social media is about quality more than quantity, and some days it's hard enough to just keep up with everyone.

But more important than measurement, smile and be thankful. If you can't remember that, then sooner or later, you're likely to be the only turkey left. Happy Thanksgiving. Enjoy the long weekend. We'll have something up on Monday.

Monday, November 21

Developing Presence: Brand Relevance

You can read about it almost anywhere. Social media has changed marketing forever. Social media has changed marketing campaigns. Social media has changed brand marketing.

There are literally hundreds of articles about the impact of social media. I've written a few posts on the subject, well before before social media became the catch phrase for anything online. But I still find myself asking if it really changed marketing. And if it did, then what did it really change?

Did social media really change anything?

To really understand what social media changed, it might be useful to consider the most significant change to communication prior to the Internet. That change would be the introduction of television.
In 1941, watchmaker Bulova paid $9 for a 20-second television spot before a baseball game. The graphics weren't anything special, but the message was clever: America runs on Bulova time. From that day forward, some people argued that television changed marketing.

After all, television advertising became the most effective mass-market platform on the planet. Companies could buy up local, regional, national, and even international spots to deliver relatively quick memorable messages, ideally, in between segments of programming chosen because of their ability to reach particular audiences based on demographics and psychographics.

But did television advertising really change marketing? 

Those who argue it did, probably don't understand marketing and advertising as much as they think they do. Television did not change marketing as much as some people think it did.

It didn't change the products. It didn't change the mission or vision of the companies that bought spots. It didn't change physical distribution channels. It didn't change the importance of developing strong contrast points or a unique selling proposition between one product and closely aligned competitors.

So what did it really change? Mostly, it changed message delivery.

And social media? Sure, it goes further than television did. After all, some companies exist solely because of the Internet (just like some solely exist because of television). But, by in large, social media didn't change marketing as much as it did message delivery, but one step further than television.

What is social media and why does it fit within marketing? 

Social media describes technologies that people use to share content, opinions, insights, experiences, and perspectives by interacting with each other in an environment. It is one of the few communication vehicles that empowers people and companies with the potential to become broadcasters with the ability to reach people on a one-to-one, one-to-some, and one-to-many basis. So yes, it is a powerful platform.

But there are many things it did not change about marketing. It did not change most products. It did not change most missions and visions. It did not change the need for a strong contrast or unique selling proposition.

What it did, for the first time on a mass scale, was create an environment that allowed marketers to receive near real-time feedback on their various marketing messages. And, it helps to hold them accountable.

When a company changes a logo, people might have an opinion about it. When a company offends prospects, social media can deliver a negative return on investment. When companies fail to deliver on customer service, the complaint doesn't exist in a void.

But even within this context, that doesn't change marketing ideologies. In fact, there are scores of social media companies that neglected traditional marketing. So what does social media really change?

Social media adds brand relevance to the marketing mix. 

Aside from real-time feedback, social media offers a very distinct marketing advantage. But most companies never consider it. In fact, this is why small businesses have mostly stalled with social media and why social media has mostly stalled with big brands.

Most companies invest all of their online activities in broadcasting mass media messages online. But what most companies miss is that social media gives brand relevance equal weight to brand reputation.

Coca-Cola makes for a great example. It might be one of the most celebrated brands online, but the perception does not measure up to reality. Coca-Cola has 36 million fans on Facebook but less than .2 percent are active. Why? Because Coca-Cola puts out a steady stream of product-centric messages, the least interesting messages on the Internet.

"Do you remember your first Coke?" "Rumor has it only two people know the secret ingredients of Coca-Cola." "Make a sour lemon smile - pop it in a Coke." ...

The monotony of it all is almost overbearing. It's like going over to a friend's house to talk about how great they are, every single day. Even the most once loyal friends would eventually burn out.

It's understandable. Brands and small businesses have a hard time talking about anything else. They want to push product. They want to drive sales. They want it to be all about them, every single day.

Except, this thinking runs counter to online communication, with consumers (not companies) dictating which topics they'll talk about online. The burden to prove brand relevance belongs to the company.

How to demonstrate brand relevance within topic spheres. 

For most companies, it need not be difficult. Scanning mission statements or mottos of Fortune 500 companies, some have logical starting points. If Albertsons wants to make life easier for its customers, it could introduce new products, highlight healthy choices, and share recipes. Estee Lauder has no shortage of natural and retail beauty insights, especially those used by celebrities and consultants. Mattel has no shortage of popular and nostalgic content to draw upon. And so on.

But it doesn't have to be this obvious. Social media can further any number of communication goals, ranging from shifting public perception (e.g., environmental issues) to becoming a subject matter expert.

Or, it might be simple. An Italian restaurant in Las Vegas might consider cooking, culture, and proximity as topics. An eco-tourism company could engage in topics like environmental issues, history and culture, or photography and art. Accountants can share insights into wealth management and legacy planning. And so on, all while staying true to their mission and vision.

How to increase brand relevance is instinctively a marketing challenge, especially because the solutions are as varied as the organizations operating within any market segment. In fact, it's the same approach employed by so-called influencers who have risen to have some sway within their subject areas.

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