Monday, January 31

Publishing Content: How Much Is Too Little Or Too Much?

not everyone looks good in a derby
Chris Brogan says the more you post, the more traffic you get. Julien Smith sees it differently. He says writing fewer posts can drive more traffic.

Considering they co-authored the book Trust Agents together, some people might assume they'd be on the same page about this topic. But they aren't. They're both a little bit right, and both a whole lot wrong. They're writing about what works for them.

How often should you post on a blog to get more traffic?

It's the wrong question because it depends. It depends on you. It depends on the subject. It depends on the audience. It depends on the field.

It's almost like buying a hat. It depends on you. It depends on the hat. It depends on where you want to wear it. And while you can try on other people's hats as much as you like, none of them will fit until you find one that fits you. Even then, it still won't fit for every occasion or forever. And sometimes, somebody might already be wearing the hat you fancy.

In tracking about 250 blogs, daily, for almost a year, our team had all sorts of reactions sifting through the reader every day. Some daily authors kept our interest. Some daily authors bored us to tears. And some daily authors made us hate social media.

Conversely, some occasional authors made us wish for more. Some we forgot about completely. And others, well, let's just say we wondered what they would write about if they didn't write about what other people had already written about.

Three truths about frequency and blog authors.

blogs1. Consistency. No matter what you decide — daily or weekly or in between — consistency matters. Not only does it matter in terms of frequency, but for quality as well. Daily authors do have an advantage in that readers might forgive a few flat posts as long as they nail at least one a week or every other week. However, consistently posting on the topic du jour or self-promoting drivel becomes maddening to read. Inconsistent bloggers also have it harder; they practically start from square one with every post. Nobody knows them well enough to know whether they wear a hat or not.

2. Clarity. Not all that different than a batting streak in baseball, authors ebb and flow. In looking at the ten authors who made the top five in at least quarter, all of them had short, sustained bursts of high quality content — two or three superior posts within days of each other. After each burst, quality waned as they caught their breath or took a break. The lesson is one of humanity. Nobody is such a genius that they can write a riveting post two or three times a day. Einstein couldn't even fit into a hat like that.

3. Comments. Most social media measures that include comment counts are baloney. Sure, comments give authors insight, but there is context to consider. Asking the same audience to leave insightful, conversational comments day in and day out just isn't going to happen. It would be just like expecting people to compliment your hat every day. Besides, we found even the sloppiest controversial posts consistently outperform high-quality educational posts in comments, especially if they are published daily. We also found popular blogs draw more comments because people want the author's attention or the attention of the author's readers. People who say "best post ever" rarely ever mean it.

A quick look at the top of the scale.

Fresh Content Top ThreeThe top three most picked authors included Valeria Maltoni (red), Geoff Livingston (purple), and Ike Pigott (green). All three have different publishing styles, ranging from daily to semi-consistently, to inconsistently. They also have different writing styles, ranging from strategically educational to timely provocative to wildly well crafted. About the only thing in common outside of a few shared ideas is that they all know what fits them as an author.

Measurements at a glance overwhelmingly favor Maltoni, with Livingston drawing more comments and shares, and Pigott having the smallest bounce rate and longest time on site. However, on any given week, each of them can out "traffic" the other. The same can be said about the quality of the content they provide.

While Maltoni might appear to deliver more quality, the graph doesn't account for the ratio of picks to published. For example, Pigott published significantly less and Livingston took several breaks during the year. More important than trying to decide which offers more quality posts is to note that higher peaks are followed by deeper valleys across all three.

For methodology, the scale awarded five points for each fresh pick post, diminishing them at a rate of one for each week following. In other words, one post would be scored a "5" and then drop to a "4" on the following week. The diminishing number would be added to any fresh pick that it overlapped.

A quick look at another section of the scale.

four bloggers from fresh contentThe next grouping is more indicative of most quality-oriented bloggers. It includes Lee Odden (purple), Jason Falls (blue), Adam Singer (green), and Ian Lurie (red). It uses the same methodology as above.

Basically, whether authors published daily or not, the best authors tended to deliver about one outstanding post every four to five weeks regardless of how often they publish. That doesn't mean the rest of the content is fluff. It simply means that their best content — most original, engaging, and inspired — comes at a pace of once a month. In comparison, about half of the fresh pick authors deliver one exceptional post every three months. The greater majority, including those that weren't tracked by the experiment, only do so once or twice a year.

As an additional point of interest, we began covering Lurie in the second quarter. Odden seemed to publish more in the beginning of the year than at the end of the year. Also, while it was too complicated to show three more bloggers on the graph, these patterns fit the other three as well: Danny Brown, Maria Reyes McDavis, and Bob Conrad.

So what should we consider in deciding content frequency?

hatsIt depends on your ability to deliver consistent high quality content within whatever schedule you set. It depends on the audience, and how much about your area of specialty they can digest. It depends on the subject matter because the more specialized it becomes, there are naturally fewer topics to write about. It may even depend on the saturation of the field.

Conversely, Brogan and Seth Godin are very general in their writing. While that means their groundbreaking posts are even further and fewer between in favor of a high frequency fortune cookie styling, it's the derby that fits for them. What's more important is to determine what hat might be a fit for you.

This is the first lesson from the Fresh Content experiment, which tracked 250 blogs for almost a year. The experiment focused on the quality of the content and not the perceived popularity of the authors.

Friday, January 28

Considering Fan Campaigns: Days Of Our Lives

As the concept of "anything, anytime, any device" has taken hold, not all television programming has fared very well. Daytime soap operas were among the hardest hit.

The average ratings have fallen from a 6.2 million viewer average in 1990 to about 2 million in 2010. In fact, not a single new soap opera has been created since 1999 and the six that remained at the end of last year consistently live on the bubble. Even Disney, which owned the decade-old cable channel SOAPnet, will be discontinuing reruns in 2012.

However, in recent months, soap operas have been a surprise. The six remaining shows are up among women ages 18-49 despite most networks cutting back on the concept of the daily dramatic serial. If their numbers continue to grow, some executives might find themselves asking a question that they haven't asked lately.

What's the value of an audience?

According to some fans of the daily soap opera Days Of Our Lives, which ranks third in the ratings, they want the audience to be worth more than most producers and networks believe. The fans don't want to write the show, but they would like to help set a direction.

Specifically, this group, called Ejami (a mashup of character names), primarily tunes in to see a single storyline revolving around the relationship of Elvis J. (“EJ”) Dimera (formerly Wells) and Samantha Gene (“Sami”) Brady. And, according to one fan, Ruthie, they are not keen on what seems to be ahead.

Following a plot mechanism relatively consistent with soaps, it seems the show introduced an improbable romantic story where the dashing male character EJ (James Scott) accepts the unlucky Sami (Alison Sweeney) for who she is. Then, as a matter of practicality, the two unlikely lovers get their wish. Ever since, the writers have been destructing the relationship and characters. The fans aren't having it anymore.

A snapshot of Ejami fans' vested interest in Days Of Our Lives.

My understanding is that for fans, the initial relationship was hot enough that an entire forum dedicated to the "Forbidden Love" was created the same year the romance was introduced in 2006. It has approximately 5,600 registered members who promote the show as much as they talk about the "Ejami" storyline. They average 25,000 to 42,000 conversations a month.

Many of the conversations are about the show, but there is also a considerable investment in fan fiction, artwork, video montages, and — as fan forums sometimes develop — personal accounts and milestones. They are a community and they want an enduring Ejami love story.

Days Of Our LivesTo do it, they have been emailing and sending postcards to the studio, executives, writers, actors, and soap magazines. They also raise money and send holiday and birthday gifts to actors Sweeney and Scott. And they've even reached out to companies, thanking them for product placements. All together, there are approximately 35 separate and distinct campaigns.

More recently, they have added Twitter campaigns and charity fundraisers ($15,000 raised for 26 nonprofit organizations). Suffice to say, they have developed a community not dissimilar to what most communicators hope to create online, every day.

For all their efforts, however, many of them were disheartened to learn that executive producer Ken Corday is steadfast that Ejami is not the path. Another person will be thrust into the mix to disrupt an already complicated affair of four characters. The primary two characters of concern have already suffered a laundry list of tragedies. Only Job, from the Bible, beats them.

Who really owns a soap opera?

In an age where even books, for better or worse, have become the subject of social interjection, there might be something here that is more than meets the eye.

Unlike some creative works that have author ownership, it sometimes feels as if the script writers, actors, actresses, executives, characters, and audiences tend to change after 46 years. Certainly, Days Of Our Lives is not the same show it was when it started. However, when you trace the original concept, Ken Corday, son of the late Ted and Betty Corday (co-creators of Days Of Our Lives) is clearly the owner. It's his story to guide, along with Gary Tomlin, who joined him as executive producer in 2008.

Ken CordayThis simple fact makes the preservation of a singular story line an interesting twist despite how fans might feel, different from show cancellation protests like Jericho or Veronica Mars. Personally, I tend to lean toward leaving creative calls to the authors/owners, with the exception of those stories that begin as a socially infused storyline. There is no obligation to fulfill the expectation of the audience for an outcome. In fact, it is the anticipation of not knowing that makes us appreciate any story all the more.

However, I also see that I'm in a shrinking minority and Corday might be too. When the creative expression no longer holds the interest of an audience, an artist has to ask themselves which is more valuable — ownership, fans, or the chance to hit 50 years. It's Corday's call to make as long as he has a contract with NBC.

Friendly campaigns are not enough to sway networks, let alone producers.

It almost seems a shame to say, but after watching the aforementioned television cancellation (Jericho, Veronica Mars) protests, niceness doesn't often make for a compelling campaign. Jericho fought a war. Veronica Mars fans kept it cool.

Jericho earned a truncated second season. Veronica Mars did not. Both sets of fans were teased with the promise of a potential movie. Both were disappointed.

Nowadays, a smaller group of Jericho fans still promotes comic books (a very messy affair) and reruns. But Veronica Mars fans are mostly on their own, with only Kristen Bell actively campaigning for a Veronica Mars movie. Based on results, even though it is not be what fans of EJami want to hear, bold campaigns sometimes disrupt friendly communities and generate attention.

Five elements for a "chance" to change a producer's mind.

1. Numbers. Ejami fans already have a central forum where they can coordinate ideas and activities online. Based on the various campaigns and media mentions, it seems proof positive that the group is practiced. What it lacks are numbers. Five thousand might seem like a lot, but something closer to one percent of the viewership would have a bigger impact.

2. Symbols. Fan-based campaigns need a clear message and easily identifiable symbols that can be recognized by people other than fans. For Jericho, it was peanuts and then the historic Don't Tread On Me flag. Veronica Mars never really took off with the Mars bars idea. It cannot be too myopic or generic; something in the middle like heart-shaped soap might do.

3. Headline Grabs. Getting attention in soap-releated blogs and publications is a great start, but fan-based campaigns have to build into movements that capture mainstream media attention. While they can be civil, they still have to meet the full measure of what makes news. The more bullet points you hit, the better your chances. Make it bold and original.

4. Cash. Earned media (as some public relations professionals call it, but I don't much like the term) aside, paid placement can be compelling. Jericho fans bought advertisements. Veronica Mars fans rented airplane ads. Both had social media campaigns as well. Whatever the campaign might be, the message has to be consistent and placed nationally as well as where Corday might see it. Make no mistake, it's his show.

Ejami5. Ultimatum. At the end of the day, you have to ask "so what?" Jericho fans cancelled Showtime, boycotted CBS, flooded CBS phone lines and emails, made the public relations team stamp out many media fires, and countless other efforts. So, fans have to ask themselves if they are willing to boycott Days Of Our Lives, NBC, and the show's advertisers (assuming it will make an impact). If they are not, there isn't any incentive for a producer to listen (unless they are viewer-centric).

There is something else. Always be careful what you wish for. It seems to me the appeal of Ejami is, at least a little bit, based on the notion of something that cannot be. If long-term romance was a sure thing, it might not have as much appeal. Fans of the show The Office know it. While the show is still fun, the forbidden romance of Jim and Pam was priceless.

Special thanks to Ruthie for her in-depth analysis of what the Ejami fan group has accomplished. Keep up the great work. The information you provided is an excellent backgrounder, better than what some pros I know provide.

Wednesday, January 26

Marketing And Innovation: 10 Names To Rethink Marketing

open ideasI'm going to let you in on an ugly truth about business communication. Every time a social media expert claims marketing is dead or a public relations professional says PR should never answer to marketing, another colony of honey bees dies.

That's right. It isn't a mere coincidence that the honey bee problem started sometime in 2004. That was the same year people started making a mess out of communication by sharing their ignorance about marketing, public relations, and advertising.

Some of the worst misfires? Social media "humanizes" business. Marketers don't have to innovate to be influential. Public relations is better than advertising (or vice versa). One. Two. Three. Just like that, some farmer is short on pollen this year. And we probably lose five of them every time a "modern thought leader" spins a yarn about innovating communication.

It has to stop. So, I dusted off an old Phillip Kotler text and picked ten names from his list of great marketers from another era. And perhaps learning a little about these guys might clue a few people in to the idea that marketing has little to do with how much people yap on networks or place articles (even those things might be important). Although some of their companies have ebbed and flowed over the years, there is no mistaking that how they defined marketing is different from how some define it.

Ten marketers who changed the planet, for better or worse.

WexnerLeslie Wexner. In 1963, Wexner borrowed $5,000 from his aunt to start a niche clothing store. Perhaps you've heard of it. It's called The Limited, which originally began as a store focused on clothing for younger women. He understood that there was a growing need to create stores that served a distinct demographic of customers.

Charles Lazarus. In 1948, Lazarus initially started a baby furniture store in Washington D.C. It didn't take long before his customers began asking for him to add baby toys. After he added baby toys, loyal customers asked for him to add mature toys. In ten years, Toys "R" Us became one of the biggest toy retailers in history.

Frank Perdue. Frank Perdue dropped out of college to join his family's farm in 1939. Years later, in 1971, he helped Perdue Farm embark on its first major advertising campaign. But there is a lot more to the story than advertising. Perdue was the first to take an unbranded class of products, chickens, and turn it into a premium brand associated with consistent quality.

Edwin Land. While attending college, Land would sneak into into a laboratory at Columbia University late at night to work on an invention. The result was innovating the first inexpensive filters capable of polarizing light. In 1932, he established Land-Wheelwright Laboratories with his Harvard physics instructor to commercialize his polarizing technology and receive financing from Wall Street. The company's name was changed to the Polaroid Corporation.

SchwabCharles Schwab. Shortly after starting an investment newsletter with two partners in 1963, he open a traditional investment firm. But Schwab later decided that wasn't enough so he applied the principles of high volume/low margin to buying and selling stock. In 1981, he became a member of the NYSE with 222,000 client accounts.

Ray Kroc. After taking over a small-scale burger franchise in 1954, Kroc began to implement a food service standardization that he expected all franchisees to follow. His vision was to ensure that McDonald's would be known worldwide as a quick service restaurant focused on quality, cleanliness, service, and value.

Calvin Klein. In 1968, Klein founded a coat shop in the York Hotel in New York City that sold other lines, along with one he designed on his own. In the decades that followed, he had several hits and misses until finally creating a licensing program. The licensing program generated $24,000 in 1974. Ten years later, his royalty income grew to $7.3 million.

August Busch III. Sometimes referred to as "Auggie" or "Three Sticks" by employees, Busch focused on innovating new products and ensuring consistency before becoming company president in 1974. He also helped make changes to improve advertising and distribution efficiency that ensured Anheuser-Busch would remain a global volume brewing leader since 1957.

MarriottJohn Willard Marriott. He started a small root beer stand in Washington D.C., which he grew into a chain of family restaurants and later into hospitality services. His vision was to create a company that would treat both employees and guests with a total dedication to satisfy their needs. By 1985, the Marriott Corporation earned $4.5 billion per year.

David Packard. In 1939, Packard and a partner used $538 to start a company in their garage. Their first sale was a sound oscillator for Walt Disney Studios. Known to shun traditional business hierarchy and formality, Packard was one of the first technology companies to use marketing research to innovate new products.

These marketers didn't waste too much time getting people to like them.

People liked them because the innovations they implemented led to revolutionary ideas and actions to meet the needs of their customers, even when their customers didn't necessarily know they had a need. More importantly, when you read down the list, it becomes even more apparent that these marketers did everything "new marketers" do with the technology of their day.

beesMarriott humanized business. Klein created a prototype for affiliate marketing. Perdue made the CEO visible. Lazarus listened to customers. Wexner understood niche positioning. Packard used marketing research to shape his company. Land innovated technology that crowd sourcing could not uncover. Kroc delivered authenticity. Schwab published the equivalent of a blog.

This doesn't mean there isn't room for others to join the list or create the next billion dollar company (several have already). But what is unique about these individuals is that they understood marketing and innovation go hand in hand.

They worked hard and demonstrated marketing works not as a theory, but by actively implementing their ideas at their own companies. If they hadn't, then there would have been no products or positioning for advertising, public relations, and social media (had it existed then) to wrap their respective innovations around. There would only be a hook or two, like mentioning honey bees, a point that really goes nowhere but, at least, makes you more aware about a real problem while reminding you that buzz isn't marketing.

Monday, January 24

Incentivizing Behavior: How Algorithms Kill Good Ideas

The newest bright and shiny object at the center of social network news is undoubtedly Quora, which is a question and answer network that reached 164,00 unique visitors in December (and likely doubled in January). But all that might be for naught.

According to TechCrunch, Quora wants to develop an algorithm to measure online rank and user quality. Good luck with that. It's a mistake.

While algorithms can be useful, they also diminish the overall quality and value of any network where they are applied. Google understands this about human interaction. It's one of the reasons the popular search engine recently announced a harder look at search engine spam, beyond the changes that took place last May.

Much like photons and electrons in quantum mechanics, people behave differently when they are measured.

If you are familiar with quantum mechanics or wave-particle duality or the uncertainty principle, you already know they behave differently when they are observed and/or measured. People behave differently when they are observed and/or measured too.

And, the more people know about how they are measured, the more likely they will be influenced by the measurement. Even one of the first scoring systems widely adopted by marketers influenced their behavior as participants. As soon as Todd And's Power 150 was adopted, participants focused on improving the measures. Back then, it included things like Google Page Rank, Bloglines, and Technorati.

Since the so-called Power 150 move over to Advertising Age in 2007, it has undergone several overhauls, some good and some not so good. The new measures now include PostRank, Yahoo InLinks, Alexa Points, and Collective Intellect.

hamsterThroughout all those changes, an interesting phenomenon occurred with every addition and deletion: The usual list leaders would tumble down, sometimes as many as 30 places, before rising back up to their relative places. It's no secret why this occurred. It demonstrates a tactical shift in which measurements the list leaders concentrated tactical efforts.

The same phenomenon is occurring on Twitter. As Klout is adopted, participants adjust to accommodate the new measure of incentivized frequency because more tweets equal more Klout.

It also equals more spam, more auto messaging systems, more paid and fake followers, more conformity to popular opinion, and more time on the platform. Mike Judge already predicted the outcome of this path.

Why adding algorithms to networks changes the nature of the networks.

Quora originally started as a network where people ask and answer questions. The primary objective was to create a database of information. As such, the participants mostly attempted to provide the best possible answer to the specific questions being asked.

QuoraAs Quora adopts a ranking system, the objective will fundamentally change. Instead of answering a few questions by providing the best possible answers, many will be predisposed to answer more questions with whatever information is likely to generate the highest number of up votes. These lead to a fundamentally different answer.

As David Armano, senior vice president at Edelman Digital, pointed out after I questioned his post that placed even more qualitative merit on up votes: Quora isn't a database of information. He defines Quora as a marketplace of opinions.

Coincidentally, the supply of opinions outpaced the demand for the action some years ago. Mostly because, as a commodity, opinions are the only limitless product in a world searching for something increasingly rare. One good idea that works.

Friday, January 21

Haunting Professionals: Public Relations Vs. Propaganda

PropagandaA little less than two weeks remain before I begin teaching Writing For Public Relations at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. I've served as an instructor for just over a decade, and I've found that every year brings a new set of challenges for working public relations professionals as well as those intending to enter the field.

This year, more than any other, there is one challenge in particular that haunts me. Bruce Spotleson, group publisher for Greenspun Media, brought it up three years ago and has reinforced the notion every year since. When he joins the class as a guest speaker, he unapologetically considers that today's public relations professionals may be the stewards of tomorrow's truth.

He's touching on, of course, the unintended consequences of social media and social networks. As news continues to decline and people become more reliant on the Internet, they will increasingly lean on public relations professionals for their news.

It is imperative public relations professionals learn the difference between public relations and propaganda.

content flowLong before social media and social networks became a preferred means to disseminate online information, the future of the Internet was already considered a double-edged sword. On one side, it could be the answer to corporate dominance and media concentration by stimulating the free flow of information. On the other, as a medium, it also allowed for an abundance of misinformation to be spread intentionally (by people with agendas) and unintentionally (by sloppy research and source reporting).

There have been dozens of compelling examples in the last decade, ranging from George Bush's IQ hoax (which some people still believe) to Kennedy's press secretary, Pierre Salinger, once claiming that a U.S. Navy missile had shot down a commercial flight based on a report by an extreme propagandist. Last year, I also tracked the impact of a single biased release.

Collectively, people do not discriminate for content accuracy as much as they do for content affirmation. So for some bright people, including Randal Martin, who wrote Propaganda & The Ethics Of Persuasion, counting on the fifth estate might not be enough.

The gatekeepers of content and information (public relations professionals) may have to develop a dual allegiance. They must consider the best interest of both the organization and the public. And, they must remember that while effective communication may be designed to change behavior, it does so by providing information and not manipulation.

"That is to say, [manipulation] involves some sort of misleading communication, emotional pressure, appeals to the subconscious, and suchlike," Martin suggested. Or when it aims to infringes on the autonomy of any person.

For example, on the micro level, a blogger may request someone to promote or weigh in with an opinion on a particular post, which represents a fair exchange. But when a blogger attempts to leverage association or favors as a means to coerce promotion or a like opinion, it drifts into propaganda. On the macro level, communicating the disadvantages of a lifestyle choice is fair, but skewing statistical information or capitalizing on an emotional incident to set policy or discredit an unrelated opinion is not.

If you set some recent political exchanges under such a review, you may discover the system is riddled with propaganda. Likewise, some social media participants lean toward accepting propaganda tactics as an accepted, even admired, practice.

Jürgen HabermasPerhaps public relations might consider the definition of German sociologist Jürgen Habermas. He suggested that ethical communication might be subject to being meaningful (understandable), truthful (accurate), sincere (pure intent), and appropriate (valuable given the context). The only dilemma that arises, according to Martin, may be those occasions when the public prefers to surrender its autonomy, placing their trust in representatives. (I might offer up, however, the desire for a simpler life with fewer decisions does not warrant infringing on the autonomy of others.)

What this means for public relations professionals, in particular, is accepting the responsibility to verify sources. Liz Scherer, Jeff Esposito, and Doug Haslam all concur that truth and accuracy are fundamental to the profession.

"Public relations — good public relations — is about getting the message out," reminds Haslam. "Yes, it's advocacy. But the good public relations professionals don't lie."

Esposito adds that public relations professionals can learn from history. He says that major media institutions aren't critical provided professionals are willing to do their homework. It's an important distinction because sometimes even the pros themselves are being subjected to internal propaganda.

It's increasingly important for the public to identify propaganda too.

Spotting propaganda isn't necessarily an easy process. It requires substantial effort to track down originating sources, the ability to decipher primary messages and subtext, an assessment of who might stand to gain, the context of the presentation, the techniques used to share the message, and the infusion of bias (e.g., favoring the well-spoken or ill-spoken spokesperson).

truthOne local example that came to my attention is the reinforcement that Spanish is the "most spoken language in the world." It's not. Mandarin Chinese has more native speakers. Both Mandarin Chinese and English also lead as a first, second, and foreign languages (combined). English is the most learned language in the world, followed by French. Hindu is also widely spoken as are others.

Yet, two area teachers and one television program recently made the claim for Spanish, encouraging children to learn Spanish as a second language without attribution. Interestingly, Virginia Tech recommends French as a more global second language (for English speakers).

I certainly wouldn't want to dissuade someone from learning Spanish. It's especially useful in the southwestern United States and South America. But it does strike me as strange that teachers would spread misinformation, knowingly or not. One even required it as a test answer.

Related Posts About Propaganda.

PR, not Propaganda.

PR Firm Behind Propaganda Videos Wins Stimulus Contract.

Did the Father of Propaganda Convince America that Fluoride Is Safe?

Wednesday, January 19

Motivating Buyers: A Social Media Blind Spot

IBM recently released a study, “Inside the Midmarket: A 2011 Perspective” (PDF), that details the shift of midsized businesses from a recessionary mindset to one of recovery. Specifically, more firms are looking to be innovative and customer focused as opposed to cost-reduction focused.

In 2009, more than half of medium-sized business firms were consumed by reducing costs and increasing efficiencies. Today, customer focus (31 percent), revenue/market growth (30 percent), and innovation (18 percent) represent the most common priorities, with cost reduction tumbling 32 points.

According to the report, enhancing customer service (73 percent) and prospecting for new customers (67 percent) are top priorities among midsize businesses around the world. But while most companies cite customer acquisition as a priority, especially as it relates to adopting social media, one wonders if some of these businesses appreciate the subtle difference between buyer types (one of several social media blind spots).

Ten Types Of Buyers From A Marketing Perspective.

• Loyal Customers. Buyers who make purchases year after year, without any desire to change unless they are actively disenfranchised by the brand. They also tend to be the least likely to provide feedback and most likely to leave when the preferred vendor can no longer solve problems.

• Opportunity Hunters. Buyers who look for vendors that will further their long-term needs. They tend to want to leverage any relationship to further their own agendas and may or may not have an interest in purchasing any products. The time-to-return ratio is exceptionally thin.

• Comparison Shoppers. Buyers who look for the bottom line best price, even if it means accepting a product or service that is inferior in meeting their needs. They are most likely to hold off on making purchases until products are offered at a discount or on sale.

• Creative Influencers. Buyers who feel especially empowered if the seller can give them exactly what they want, even if the company can offer a better alternative. Sometimes creative buyers drive companies toward innovation, but other times they can drive a company away from its core buyer.

• Reward Gatherers. Buyers who continually want to receive something in addition to a purchase. This often takes shape in the form of a discount, coupon, or prize. They tend to have a high expectations to receive rewards on a regular basis, and sometimes expect rewards and perks to feel exclusive.

• Hard Negotiators. Buyers who are never satisfied with any sale, discount, perk, innovation, or any other promise. It is almost more important to them to win an additional concession on the product or service than any other motivator, even if it jeopardizes the relationship.

• Value Shoppers. Buyers who are predisposed to purchasing the best value and the highest quality products. Price is less of a concern and they frequently view discounts, sales, or perks as a distraction. They are the most likely to become loyal shoppers, assuming the company can meet their discriminating demands.

• Interpersonal Buyers. Buyers who resemble loyal shoppers, but hinge their loyalty on a specific person, spokesperson, or group of people within a company. They are the first customers lost when the interpersonal connection is broken. A fraction of interpersonal shoppers (service shoppers) may attach themselves to overall customer experience, but only when every interaction is equally exceptional.

• Consensus Checkers. Buyers who are most influenced by two different subsets, internal and external consensus. They are most predisposed to look at a variety of reviews in making personal choices or are most likely to make choices based on what they believe everyone in their group wants.

• Early Adopters. Whether a product or service solves their problem or not, they are most likely to try new products, proclaimed innovations, and the next bright and shiny object. They tend to shift products and companies frequently because they are motivated by creating an illusion of authority. Occasionally, they become loyal shoppers for innovative companies.

The State Of Social Media And Buyers.

CustomersNaturally, people do not fit into neat and tidy compartments. Do keep in mind that some people fit within several columns while others might fit within different columns depending on the industry. Of course, some might not fit anywhere on this starter list.

This is important because the real challenge, especially for social media, is to stop focusing on two primary types while abandoning the rest. Specifically, social media experts lean toward attracting interpersonal buyers (for presumed engagement) and reward gatherers (direct response).

Sure, some strive to reach early adopters (for presumed influence), creative influencers (as the loudest voices), and opportunity hunters (active promotors) as a secondary consideration or because they feel forced. But mostly, social media experts over focus on interpersonal buyers, people they can connect with and then serve as the tie between the consumer and the brand. They might even call it humanizing the business.

The reality is that most companies attract different kinds of buyers (and all of them have neglected loyal customers). For example, WalMart attracts comparison shoppers; The Four Seasons caters to customer service buyers; Starbucks, despite its higher prices, chases after reward shoppers; and Apple tends to reach loyal buyers and early adopters. They are all different companies. They are all different buyers. Get to know them before you assume who they might be.

Monday, January 17

Ending Discrimination: The Remedy Is Education

Martin Luther KingOf all people recognizing, remembering, or rekindling the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. today, most will call up and call upon a single speech, binding his ideas to a singular effort even if his compassion branched out much further than most Americans imagine today. But there are are few, who by chance or acute recollection, will remember other ideas that reached even deeper into his convictions and challenged this nation to be even greater.

"I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a 'thing-oriented' society to a 'person-oriented' society." — Martin Luther King Jr.

For all the progress we have made in the two score and six years since Martin Luther King, Jr. first called for an end to discrimination on a warm summer day in Washington DC, we have unmercifully and unwittingly added to the weight of discriminatory rhetoric until it now transcends the mere color of our skin and aims to shackle all of us for whatever petty differences we might possess. We are not free.

It is true enough so now that in our relentless pursuit to discover some semblance of equality in this nation, we find ourselves increasingly, carelessly, and equally divided until all of us, at one time or another, feel isolated in our heritage, beliefs, and even momentary successes in life. Black or white. Faith based or faithless. Rich or poor. Man or woman. Red or blue. Fat or thin. We are finding equality in only that none of us is free.

And, it seems to me that it might be a tenuous road if we could ever hope to regain our footing as Martin Luther King Jr. did not prescribe "things" as a remedy for inequality but rather compassion for our neighbors, regardless of our invented differences. True compassion, he once said, is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial.

Compassion tests our resolve to treat people equally.

True compassion is in the investment of social uplift programs, which does not necessarily prescribe the equalization of wealth but rather the equalization of potential for men and women to have the freedom to strengthen the content of their character and the chance to pursue reasonable dreams. True compassion does not prescribe handouts that artificially inflate the superiority of those who have the means to provide them nor unjustly hinder those who struggle to maintain their own fragile fortitude while convincing the benefactors that they somehow cannot survive without the generosity of others. True compassion sees no disruption in our resolve for tolerance, even when an offending party might strive to demonstrate their own infuriating ignorance.

King saw the remedy for discrimination as education, specifically an education that provides the ability to think intensively and to think critically. He saw the sole purpose of education as a means to nurture intelligence and content of character. He saw education as an opportunity to better ourselves as people, and not necessarily the amount of things we could afford to purchase nor as a means to preserve our own ignorance by supporting artificial ratios designed to mask our inability to lift people up.

Education provides the first opportunity to prove equality.

Last year, I had a unique opportunity to edit a publication that drew attention to the fact that 68 percent of African-American children drop out of high school in Los Angeles. And yet, after the initial statistical shock, the African-American author did not call for us to give special attention to the disadvantaged but rather pleaded a case that we ought to teach these students early on that they are not disadvantaged. The alternative, he pointed out, is to continually ingrain the notion they are somehow inferior when we know they are not.

While certainly not everyone will agree with his assessment, it did touch me to read his treatment much like many speeches by Martin Luther King, Jr. have touched me. As someone who grew up as a different kind of minority (handicapped and financially disadvantaged), I never wanted people to treat me as deserving of special privileges to compensate me for my so-called limitations. All I wanted or needed then was someone to look past my so-called limitations and likely outcomes based on statistics and demonstrate an unwavering belief that I could be equal if not better despite them.

Friday, January 14

Going Viral: Why Word-Of-Mouth Works Better

viralCompanies still ask on a regular basis, especially as it pertains to online marketing. "Can you make our [blank] go viral?"

The easy answer? YES!

However, it takes a much more practiced hand to explain what the client doesn't want to hear. They don't really want to "go viral" because the intent of viral marketing is nothing more than maximum exposure in the shortest amount of time possible.

It is seldom tied to any other tangible objective, despite people who assign objectives (like sales). It often based on an erroneous notion that anyone who breathes is a potential customer. It is nearly impossible to manage any aspect of the communication, which sometimes spirals into a crisis communication situation. It has a relatively short shelf life for the investment. And, it sometimes carries with it unacceptable and unreasonable risks, including financial and legal liability.

Viral is an outcome, not an objective.

WOMSure, if the right message happens to go viral, it can mean a big boost for a company, especially those with a new innovation. However, when compared to the planning and insight of word-of-mouth marketing — online or off — a viral intent is patently flawed, especially if the innovation or message cannot stand up to mass scrutiny. Simply put, viral can be a product killer too.

The more strategic approach is word-of-mouth marketing that concentrates on reaching select people, with an emphasis on those who have an interest, will likely benefit, and are predisposed to appreciate it. Reaching these people — as opposed to crafting a message that garners everyone's attention — can create the foundation of a powerful brand that lasts longer than the campaign. So who are these people?

Six segments for effective word-of-mouth campaigns.

Find people who are early adopters within the niche. Early adopters are not necessarily the most visible or publicly opinionated people within a niche. However, they are more receptive to trying a new innovation and often willing to provide candid but private feedback to the company. Many early adopters will even purchase innovations, creating early revenues.

Find benefactors who could use the innovation. Benefactors are people who have an expressed need for the innovation or the product/service that the innovation will replace. The outreach usually consists of targeting associations, clubs, and similar organizations and extending the innovation to its members for free or at a steeply discounted rate.

Find loyalists predisposed toward a favorable opinion. Loyalists are people who are already highly engaged customers. They may have loyalty to the company or the designers or the components of a particular innovation. Introducing the new innovation may even be construed as a reward.

Find specific reviewers or other members of the media. This could include people with significant online reach and are predisposed toward objectivity. Assuming the innovation has merit beyond the eye of the creator, traditional and online niche reviewers can expose the innovation to a broader audience.

Find well-known people who can offer testimonials. Celebrities can easily fit within a well-planned word-of-mouth marketing plan, but care has to be taken to ensure the right match. The actions of highly visible individuals can sometimes distract from the innovation as much as they can support it.

Find those who are disenfranchised with the status quo. Almost every market segment includes people who are not satisfied with some aspect of the status quo. Assuming the innovation addresses their specific unmet needs, they will be more receptive to the initial offering. Many companies have reached such groups by creating campaigns with high conversational value.

Word of mouth, done correctly, can lead to a viral outcome.

One video that recently caught some "viral" success was created with repurposed content. And although it's non-commericial, tracking its earliest beginnings sheds some light on the path it took, beginning with space enthusiasts and slowly spiraling outward.

It works, not because it was a viral video but because it wasn't a viral video. It was the right message from the right person that reached the right audience, predisposed to share it with like-minded people. All communication can be created with equal care.

Wednesday, January 12

Flipping The Scale: Influencers Are The Most Influenced

PerksYou've all read about all the gimmicks. Heard all the pitches. And taken in the all the analysis.

Almost everyone points to the same conclusion. If you want to succeed in social media, you need to find influencers. Right?


Most experts, agencies, and scoring systems aren't leading companies to influencers. They are leading companies to people who are among the most influenced. Sure, this might not be true in every case, but it does apply to a growing collective.

How commoditizing influence turns influencers into influencees.

Influenced by cash. Many influencers will spread a message for cash. The rates varies, ranging from a blogger who might drop in a link for $25 per insertion to celebrities asking almost $3,000 per tweet.

• Influenced by perks. If you can convince someone to write something positive about your product or service for nothing more than perks, it speaks volumes about how easily they are prone to be influenced. In some cases, a mere coupon for a cup of java could do it.

Influenced by information. Those pursuing some semblance of a thought leader moniker need the inside scoop to create an illusion of thought leadership without original thoughts. Designating them as the first string of PR-friendly reviewers with every product launch will lift them up.

Influenced by attention. Since social media places a premium on affiliation, the simple process of sharing their opinions, insights, and flatteries could influence future coverage. Reciprocating with even a few mentions and re-tweets pays dividends.

Influenced by comments. While some of the top influencers don't respond to every comment, many respond as quickly as possible because comments are still considered important. So who yields influence: the commenter with a two-second quip or the author dropping everything to pander to the commenter?

Influenced by scores. it seems almost sad that some individuals are so influenced by algorithms, they will change their behavior to accommodate. Even one of these companies recently expressed the danger in overemphasizing such scoring systems.

Influenced by influencers. As social media developed a hierarchy of influence, it also developed bubbles, which Umair Haque recently called relationship inflation. Like soap bubbles, niche influencers tend to gravitate toward each other, stick together, and prop each other up (regardless of merit) by trading influence.

Influenced by criticism. Much like brands, influencers tend to be hypersensitive to criticism. Some so much so that no one even knows where the criticism originated before it is responded to with the force of countless minions.

Companies aren't chasing influencers. They are chasing influencees.

When you take the time to think about it, companies don't seem as interested in influencers as much as the potential to influence. And the agencies, experts, and analytic tool specialists point toward influencers as the answer to everything, they seem to be advocating the exploitation of people who are temporarily popular. This tactic is a descent into propaganda.

influence?If you really want to distinguish true influencers from the rest, they are generally people who are unencumbered by the banner of influence currently embraced by social media. They tend to focus on something else in entirety, such as imagination, creativity, innovation, and truth.

You can't buy their love. You can't ingratiate them with praise. You can't inflate their egos. They don't care what you think.

True influencers are innovators, often (but not always) without mass followings of people until the innovation is proven. You know their names. They include people like Steve Jobs, Kurt Cobain, Paul Gauguin, Martin Luther King Jr., Leonardo da Vinci. Alfred Hitchcock, Galileo Galilei, Confucius, etc.

There are thousands of them. But even so, they share some similarities. Generally, while influenced by other individuals (some obscure and some well known) and experiences, the greater weight of influence in their lives came from the ideas that preceded them, eventually leading them to ideas and innovations that transcended their existence.

Innovation alone leads to tangible influence.

Sure, there is something to be said for popularity, persuasiveness, and punditry. Those mechanisms can help a good idea or innovation spread faster than those that never make it to a drafting table. But social media would be remiss to continually place more emphasis on the mechanism of attention — employing propaganda to persuade people that unoriginal, biased, bought, stolen, or otherwise fictional and inflated ideas — than the innovations themselves.

Bad ideas, after all, can be spread just as fast as good ones. We've known this since the dawn of time. And for every advent in communication, there is always an equally powerful mechanism for information manipulation that follows.

The growing evidence seems to suggest that the "influencers model" is a mechanism for information manipulation that follows the merit of social media. Special thanks to Geoff Livingston, Olivier Blanchard, and a few other punks for the conversation.

Monday, January 10

Manifesting Creativity: Innovative Employees

Foot Prints
“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” — Steve Jobs.

Simply stated, in business, innovation is an idea that translates into a good or service that people value en masse. It does not have to be a new idea. In fact, the original Latin word meant to renew or change the values onto which a system is based.

Businessweek semi-understood the concept when it listed the 20 most important inventions for the next 10 years. It only semi-undersood the concept because many of the inventions exist, but most of them have yet to be innovations.

Innovation is the most sought after and neglected business asset.

When the McKinsey Global Survey asked corporate leaders how important innovation was to their businesses, 70 percent said that it was among their top three priorities for driving growth. However, most companies did not understand how to arrive at it; many of them even said they hinder it.

In the survey, an equal number of leaders felt their corporate culture inhibited innovation or that they didn't have the right people in place to innovate. But as far apart as those answers seem, they could be the same answer.

Whatever culture they have in place is neither attracting nor stimulating imagination and creativity in the workplace. And it is both of these individual traits that eventually lead to innovation.

“Innovation is not the product of logical thought, even though the final product is tied to a logical structure.” — Albert Einstein

Simply put, imagination is the ability to be able to conjure images and thoughts in the mind. Creativity is the ability to find effective ways to share the thought with others.

Where some companies fall short is most performance measures aren't concerned with either. And, for many measures of professional success, such as a comfortable lifestyle, imagination and creativity aren't critical either.

In fact, Joana Johnson once pointed out that only 10 percent of highly creative people are suburban-living, comfortably middle class. That is not to say however, as she does, that the middle class cannot be creative. Rather, the middle class has very little incentive to be creative.

The challenge may even be ingrained in the national psyche.

footprintsI had an interesting side discussion with Carl Sorvino about the human potential for creativity recently. He said he had three children, and could tell before their first birthday which would be and are more creative.

It seems to me that Sorvino's thinking is the essence of what hinders creativity today, twice over. Managers have a tendency to scale the creative assets of their employees, never realizing all of them have the potential under certain circumstances. And, employees tend to scale their own sense of creativity, with most under the delusion that they aren't very creative at all.

I tend to disagree that people are innately not creative, but mostly because I've had the benefit of facilitating several dozen core message sessions that often include a cross section of employees, ranging from receptionists to chief executive officers.

As long as those employees are encouraged to state their ideas, without fear of failure, almost all of them contribute something. In fact, some of the most imaginative answers are from people who often preface them, saying they aren't creative whatsoever. Also interesting is that, for little more than the promise of making their company better, every contribution propels the group to be more creative, even if the group might otherwise classify themselves as noncreative individuals.

Of course, this is only a short-term phenomenon. It takes time to create an innovative corporate culture, mostly because people lean toward complacency. They learn it early on as one of the easiest paths to comfortability.

Manifesting creativity and innovation in the workplace.

Meanwhile, companies that want to become innovative do everything they can to disrupt complacency by adopting different principles, Kaizen among them. If you are unfamiliar with the term, Kaizen means "change for the better" in Japanese.

It refers to the philosophy or practices that focus upon continuous improvement of processes. But the discipline hardly matters. It has been applied to manufacturing, engineering, and management. Simply stated, it is the true definition of innovation.

It is also the foundation of a weekly chat session hosted by Ellen St. George Godfrey. From the session and our own research, it seems that innovation needs to become a priority at every level of a company before it begins to take hold.

• Leadership generally sets the vision and mission of a company. They prioritize innovation.
• Management directly influences corporate culture. It's up to them to incentivize creativity.
• Supervisors are closest to the employees. It's up to them to identify talent and encourage ideas.
• Employees possess practical knowledge. It's up to them to discover new ways to excel.

In such an environment, where creativity is encouraged and time allocated to enhance it, anyone can be more creative in the workplace. No, that doesn't mean that every employee will necessarily become a creative genius within their section. But it would disrupt the belief that complacency leads to comfortability. Instead, it might lead toward the exit.

Sunday, January 9

Ending An Experiment: Best Fresh Content

Fresh ContentIn 2009, I became increasingly interested in the affect of popularity on the content people choose to read. Specifically, I began to wonder what would happen if popularity was removed from the equation.

The Fresh Content Project became a social media experiment to find out. Every day, staff and I selected one post every day, drawn from a field that grew to 250 blogs written by authors with varied degrees of experience, expertise, and popularity.

These five posts are the final five chosen as part of the experiment. You can find every post listed on Fresh Content Facebook. Next week, we'll list everyone chosen in the fourth quarter, ranked by the frequency their posts were picked. In the weeks that follow, we'll share all the data we discovered along the way.

Best Fresh Content In Review, Week of December 27

The Magic Words.
While most people equate the magic words as the power of please, Ike Pigott offers up that they might mean the power of "no." At least that is what he says as it relates to social shopping, against the grain of those who have propelled the notion forward. For Pigott, that does not mean social shopping won't work eventually, only that he sees several other rungs in the ladder are needed before the idea can really take off, at least until there is clear WIIFM. Of course, the company that can make it happen early (or some facsimile) may profit, the reality is that not every small business needs to be ahead of the curve.

Five Social Media Tips for the Hospitality Industry in 2011.
Although Didi Lutz includes some of the basic tenets of communication in her top five tips for hospitality, the refresher proves worthwhile enough. She suggests that employees know the key messages, are involved in the process, are guided by a professional, evaluate for outcomes, and moderate the conversations. The concepts aren't revolutionary to social media, but they might seem fresh for people in the hospitality industry who were relatively late to adopt social media. They are entering the space now, and most of them are falling short.

The Retail Social Media Model.
Mark Smiciklas offers up a reminder that retail operations might be fundamentally different than B2C companies. In his list of developing a better retail model, Smiciklas places a heavy emphasis on integration. This includes appreciating that national brands might have a very different feel at various locations. It might be worthwhile to consider while developing any program. More than that, what really resonates within the post is the idea that the physical location and the social media program need to be on the same page.

Lessons from 2010 and Finding Focus for 2011.
Danny Brown ended the year (and began the new one) with some personal and professional anecdotes. His lessons from 2010 include removing the myth of invincibility, why letting go of bitterness is healthy, and how friendships can build business. For 2011, he intends to focus on strengths while outsourcing weaknesses, living life more fearlessly, and breaking up redundancies. Meant more for the small business person rather than business executives, several of these tips can be applied anywhere.

Madison Avenue Strikes Back.
Geoff Livingston points out the obvious after reading someone's prediction that Silicon Valley may one day replace Madison Avenue with some day happening this year. His primary argument is that for all the buzz about underdogs unseating the establishment, it hasn't happened yet. One example: individual bloggers that once graced the top of some ranking lists have been replaced by the same media they were supposed to replace. Likewise, advertising agencies will likely buy out or adapt to keep pace with social media or other communication services.

Friday, January 7

Exposing Yourself: Three Applications For Mirror Neurons

can creativity catchYou might have learned it in high school. If you want to be smarter, sit in the front of the class. If you want to have more fun, sit in the back.

Proximity might have only been part of the equation. The other part of the equation might have more to do with who sat around you. Or, more specifically, how you perceived the people you sat next to and interacted with, much like you do today.

The reason has to do with mirror neurons in our brains, which fire both when animals act and when animals observe similar actions performed by another. Humans too. Many neuroscientists believe it's how we learn language, empathy, and inference. It may even be tied to creativity and collaboration, as suggested in Brain Leaders and Learners by Dr. Ellen Weber, who inspired some thinking on this subject. She also sources this PBS short for anyone interested in mirror neurons.

Applying Mirror Principles In Three Everyday Life Scenarios.

1. Creativity. When you look back at history, there are dozens of moments when cultural and artistic expression seemed to leap in unexpected directions, including the Downtown 500 and Harlem Renaissance. Or if you prefer, consider the collective impact of artists like Gauguin, Van Gogh, Picasso, and Matisse or maybe the postwar Beat Generation.

Marketing, advertising, and even public relations might take some lessons from these movements, which might have been inspired in part by mirror neurons — groups of individuals propelling each other forward much like creatives did during the Golden Age of advertising. It pays to expose yourself to creative pursuits, creative people, and creative explorations.

2. Consumer Advocates. Of course, advertising need not be conflated or confused with art. The best of it, which is only a sliver of it, tends to be tempered by the people it hopes to reach.

After all, many advertisements fail when the work becomes an extension or expression of how smugly clever the copywriter, art director, or creative director is in executing the work. Ergo, advertising that merely celebrates itself doesn't reflect something that consumers can identify with on any level. Mirror neurons can be put to work here too.

In fact, in considering mirror neurons, it might even explain why (with the exception of those creating their own bubbles) social media has an impact. Instead of immersing themselves in the ivory towers of ego that are sometimes erected by communication professionals, social media offers up an opportunity for people to become immersed within the daily lives of everyday people, who do things like buy the products that marketers peddle.

neurons3. Leadership. Appreciating neuroscience isn't necessarily confined to the creative process. It works well within the greater scope of leadership too. If you want to produce a team of visionary people, you have to expose those teams to creative and innovative environments. And, if you want to improve your own leadership skill sets, it might be worthwhile to connect with visionary and empathic leaders as opposed to those who focus only on transactions.

Consider last year's most admired companies, according to Forbes. Apple, Google, Berkshire Hathaway, Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble, and Coca-Cola all share some common denominators in their leadership and, even more importantly, their approach to nurturing leadership within their companies. The culture they create is as important to their success as the products they produce or the marketing that introduces it.

There Are Some Limitations To Mirror Neuron Concepts.

Naturally, placing yourself within environments where you can subconsciously mimic or be influenced by others is not the answer to everything. Mirror neurons have limitations, especially in how we interpret the information we process.

Case in point: two children growing up in the same household may develop extremely diverse and distinct personalities that defy any argument that they merely mirror parental behaviors. For example, one child might learn to become assertive and another reclusive despite being raised by assertive (or conversely, reclusive) parents.

Likewise, merely hanging out with creative people or successful leaders isn't a surefire way to become one yourself as much as it can enhance any innate talents or leadership qualities that already exist. (My point being that simply hanging out with a modern day Gauguin doesn't necessarily make you as prolific or artistic as Gauguin.) Still, it doesn't hurt either.

At minimum, it could help you from stumbling about this year or help your career by avoiding things you've convinced yourself you can't do. You know, much like high school, when some kids shuffled themselves toward the back of the room, predisposed in their thinking that they couldn't learn anything anyway.

Wednesday, January 5

Rethinking Mobile: The Future Of Advertising Is Portable

There isn't any doubt that mobile will play a big role in the future. And if there was any doubt years ago, there is none now.

Last October, 234 million Americans ages 13 and older used mobile devices; 60.7 million people in the U.S. owned smart phones. After the holidays, you can expect most of these numbers soared even higher, and that doesn't consider the tablet market like the Amazon Kindle or Apple iPad. Communication is everywhere — on the desktop, on the laptop, in the living room, and within the palm of your hand.

Mobile Doesn't Mean Mobile As Much As It Means Portable.

Three years ago, I quoted Rishad Tobaccowala, CEO of Denuo Group, a Publicis Groupe, to underscore the point. He said "the reality of it is that the future does not fit into the containers of the past.”

But when you look at the way the Web has developed since then, it's becoming much more clear that mobile isn't the answer to the future as much as portability. You see, while there might be an emphasis on mobile phones and tablets, plenty of people still sit in front a desktop or plug content into their television sets to consume everything from entertainment to education and from current events to vintage history.

Sometimes they even use two or three devices simultaneously — Tweeting a comment about the show they are watching on television in real time or throwing out ideas related to an article or post they are working on without ever pulling up a new browser. No, not all of it is obvious. Most of it works in layers.

So what is the reality of communication? The reality isn't that the future does not fit into the containers of the past, it's that the future needs to fit in every container of the future. So if you don't consider portability, your marketing is missing out.

Applying Portability To A :30 Television Commercial.

For simplicity of the conceptual model, consider a :30 television commercial.

vintage avTen years ago, most commercials were relatively niche. Thirty seconds aired in between bits of news and entertainment being viewed by people with relatively specific demographics. On a good day, people might even talk about it around the water cooler at work or perhaps a child might recite some jingle to justify the toy making their Christmas list.

Today, as mediums converge, that same 30 seconds can have a much longer shelf life and reach dozens of different audiences and communities. The most obvious placement might be YouTube. But with some adjustments and a willingness to adapt the content to fit any number of segments, the possibilities are as endless as the strategy allows.

People might see the commercial and comment about it on Facebook (using their phones). Or they might see it embedded in a blog post. Or they might see it on a website, while browsing with a tablet. And then they might see it reinforced in front of the television.

If the creative is sustainable enough, they might even share it with their friends, people who may not fit the demographics of the most likely buyer (but might pass it on to people who do). This only scratches the surface when you include email marketing or hundreds of other social networks or (thinking from the public relations perspective) the thousands of people who write about and review products or production.

“Creative without strategy is called 'art.' Creative with strategy is called 'advertising.” — Jef I. Richards

The connector (with) is where advertisers and other communicators need to set their sights. Creative directors and marketing strategists will do more for their clients by considering multiple platforms and devices, not just one. After all, a television commercial isn't only a television commercial anymore much like a 'blog' doesn't always have to be a blog.

Ahead of the pack, it seems to me that Amazon is getting it partly right. Apple is too. It's only some content publishers (especially newspapers) that are still struggling with the concept.

brainWhat makes them different? Apple and Amazon aren't thinking in terms of delivery devices anymore. They are thinking in terms of sensory reception or deeper. And if they are not, they ought to be. Sensory reception is about the person, not the medium.

The two sensory receptors that can be touched online are primarily audio and visual, even if audio is confined to the alliteration of the written word. Everything else — especially the point of delivery — is simply a matter of strategically aligning the content to fit the space, which is why the future is a little less mobile and a lot more portable. Any device, anywhere, anytime.

Sunday, January 2

Running Companies: Best Fresh Content

Fresh Content ProjectThere are five kinds of companies you can run: innovative, protective, flash-in-the-pan, subservient, or a failure. The choice is yours. The world is riddled with them.

While the innovators take risks, the protectionists attempt to preserve those moments when they had one great idea that gave them a foundation that could be sustained longer than a one hit wonder. Almost all of the rest fail, with the exception of subservient companies — businesses that make their money filling some need that innovators and protectionists have.

These five fresh picks (actually four since one was scrapped) help paint a picture of the protectionists, companies that are trying to hold on to something they have while the world closes in on them. Almost all of them act like dying empires that will eventually become failures unless they are lucky enough to find a leader willing to lead them out of the muck.

Best Fresh Content In Review, Week of December 20

Failure To Innovate: Yahoo Loss Someone’s Gain.
Yahoo has had a long tradition of struggling with acquisitions that retain the original brand. MyBlogLog, Delicious, and a host of other social media related sites will be sold or scraped in the weeks ahead. The topics have been covered to death, but Heather Rast pulled something else out of the discussion. The problem wasn't simply treating these services as step-children, but rather a deeper problem tied to innovation. I might go a step further. There seems to be a culture of protectionism.

How Social Media Boutiques Are Winning Deals Over Traditional Digital Agencies.
Some people will have mixed feelings about Jeremiah Owyang's assessment, but how one feels is separate from the battle between large agencies and social media boutiques. I don't agree with the assessment that immature brands rely on traditional agencies, but I do agree that large agencies need to understand where social media fits or they will allow yet another beach head to establish on the shores of their clients. The last time, agencies eventually won, buying up many of the best web designers or, at least, made them servants.

Net Semi-Neutrality: New Rules from the FCC
Sometimes compromise is a good thing. Sometime it's not. Gini Dietrich shares her take on the FCC's decision to adopt “net semi-neutrality,” which is a hybrid of the worst kind in that it pretends to preserve some freedoms by giving up a few of them. Yes. It can be likened to offering up 25 percent (or more) of your neighborhood in order to preserve the majority. On the other hand, it does temporarily sooth the savage beast that really built the Internet, companies that laid the wires and the cell lines only to it cut deeply into their primary revenue streams.

Yuletide Crisis Containment.
Peter Himler covers a just under the radar crisis communication story that was passed over by many, even after it was covered by The Wall Street Journal. The crisis includes a civil suit against Ernst & Young, which has adopted a position of silence. While it is generally acceptable to not comment during a lawsuit (and sometimes prudent), Ernst & Young didn't stop at simply offering one of the few acceptable times to avoid comment. It claims the case has no factual or legal basis, but then refuses to back up the statement. It's hard to say where this might go in the year ahead, but there is no denying they've taken a risky route.

An Open Letter to PR Professionals.
Doug Davidoff begins by saying "There are three gaps that PR and social media professionals must bridge if they want a seat at the table and to be treated with the seriousness they deserve." Those three gaps include: better processes, better prioritization, and better alignment with the goals of the business. It makes sense. All too often the profession finds itself developing industry best practices when the only best practices that ought to matter are those that directly benefit the business and the publics that the business hope to reach. The same can said about social media. All the buzz is nice, but how does it support the mission?

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