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.

Sunday, January 16

Ranking Content: Fresh Content Providers, Fourth Quarter

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

We tracked more than 250 blogs, daily, and picked a single standout post per day (with weekend posts spilling into Monday). There is no algorithm. It's a human decision-making process, one that considers content and context.

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

There were 36 Fresh Content providers in the first quarter; 38 Fresh Content providers in the second quarter; 39 Fresh Content providers in the third quarter; and 38 in the fourth.

If there was any noteworthy trend in the fourth quarter of the Fresh Content Project, it was the number of guest contributors chosen, some even writing a blog post for the first time. This may even be one of the lessons you can take away from the project. On any given day, almost anyone can provide some insights that are better than those at the top of any list.

Following are 38 communication-related professionals who wrote Fresh Content picks. While some are suited for specific tastes, the top of this list (those who were picked more than once) demonstrated unwavering consistency in writing something fresh. The comments are yours.

38 Fresh Content Communicators By Quality Of Content

1. Valeria Maltoni consistently provides topical articles about business and communication, which often translates into useful and applicable information. Recently, her content has taken a more conversational tone, but even with the shift in presentation the conversation opens more doors for consideration.

2. Nowadays Ike Pigott splits his posts between Occam's RazR and Social Media Explorer, which recently adopted a funky home landing page. No matter where you find his analogies and insights, expect crisp writing across a variety of topics.

3. Especially in December, Geoff Livingston excelled at turning popular communication topics on their head, sometimes blowing holes in concepts that are poorly constructed despite nagging popularity. Reading Geoff Livingston is one of a handful of places you can find a foil.

4. After following popular topics for months, Danny Brown broke away from the trappings of sameness to deliver several biting commentaries on the state of social media. Doing so helped us appreciate that reading Danny Brown can be educational and insightful anytime he rubs against the grain.

5. Ian Lurie is an independent thinker when it comes to choosing topics related to Internet marketing in that he doesn't seem to belong to or follow any social media-communication-marketing bubbles that exist. Personally, we found his blog, Conversation Marketing, one of the best discoveries since the Fresh Content project started.

6. Adam Singer blends web markering and public relations at The Future Buzz, including well-thought analysis on topics such as why independent bloggers have better blogs than their corporate blog counterparts. What you'll like best about his blog is his consistent approach to multi-discipline thinking.

7. Shel Holtz has been a mainstay in communication for as long as I can remember. His blog, A Shel Of My Former Self, remains a must-include among the communication offerings out there because he often provides a thoughtful commentary on what could be done better from a strategic standpoint. The only time he raises a cautionary flag is when he leans too heavily on "should" instead of could.

8. Louis Gray, author of,
leans toward the technological side of communication, frequently infusing hardware along with the software and social networks that everyone else seems to cover. Add him to your reader to round out what communicators need to know to keep pace with change.

9. Jay Baer's Convince & Convert may be running a bit thinner since the release of his book, but there still is value to be found from time to time. Among his best thoughts in the fourth quarter is why Facebook could be hurting company web sites and why public relations firms are still struggling with social media. Conversely, Baer sometimes writes from both sides of the fence.

10. You would see much more from Bob Conrad if he didn't have a day job. But that is also why The Good, The Bad, The Spin is one of the best examples of why not all great communication blogs peak in popularity. He's too busy doing to be overly concerned with the promotion of it all.

11. If you haven't discovered that some understanding of psychology and sociology has become increasingly important in communication, spend more time with Neuromarketing by Roger Dooley. He's tapped one of the least understood aspects of communication and marketing, stuff we only cover occasionally around here.

12. It's great to see Beth Harte adding more content to the communication conversation again. The Harte Of Marketing nearly slipped from the radar for nothing more than time management, but Harte has recently added more worthwhile content, with an emphasis on strategy.

13. Didi Lutz is one of the newer voices we were introduced to in the fourth quarter for a contribution to Spin Sucks. She is one of several people in the fourth quarter who prove you don't necessarily have to have a blog to have great ideas.

14. John Bell works on the public relations side at Ogilvy, but consistently provides public relations pros with a taste of advertising. Digital Influence Mapping Project delivers on the promise of 360-degree thinking, which will likely be one of the lessons learned from this year-long experiment.

15. Heather Rast, writing for Social Media Explorer, seems to have been inspired to write deeper and more meaningful content than when we were first introduced to her in the third quarter. On her own blog, Insights & Ingenuity, there is a greater emphasis on marketing and branding from an operational perspective that we found even richer and more enjoyable.

16. Gini Dietrich and Spin Sucks deserve props for two reasons this quarter. In addition to providing several worthwhile contributions to the field, Spin Sucks introduced more hard-hitting guest authors than any other multi-author site this time around. While it sometimes waffles back and forth between idle and instructional, you can always count on good content.

17. Based in New York, Peter Himler doesn't provide nearly as much content as he used to on The Flack, sharing short content and video embeds instead. However, every few months he writes a post that resonates in helping people understand some of the changes taking place in the profession.

18. Doug Davidoff, CEO of Imagine Business Development, is another Spin Sucks contributor who demonstrates why communicators need to pay attention not only to what their peers say but also their employers. If you are not thinking about business, then you're not really thinking is one bit of advice that could be pulled from his contributions there.

19. Although Ben Decker and Kelly Decker are two people, it was their joint post on the top ten best and worst communicators of the year that earned some well-deserved attention in the fourth quarter. In fact, it is the occasional long-format addition to the Decker blog that will convince you to keep it in the reader.

20. Jason Falls has been hard pressed lately while he tries to balance being an author and an editor/manager on Social Media Explorer, but there is little doubt that he understands social media more than most. The transition probably hasn't been easy, and by now Falls has probably learned that multi-author blogs are harder to manage than writing most posts yourself.

21. Kami Huyse continues to offer up the occasional breakthrough post at Communications Overtones. With sixteen years of experience, it's no surprise that her thoughts on outcome-related measurement are among the best in the business, especially while many focus on counts that don't lead anywhere.

22. Erin Greenfield may be a student, but her contribution to Waxing UnLyrical demonstrates how sometimes the best lessons come not from years of experience but rather the single experience of learning the hard way. Her inclusion also proves that on any given day, someone who writes their first blog post can outshine every other contribution.

23. Adam Vincenzini's writing is sometimes a little rough around the edges, but we still consider COMMSCorner to be one of those blogs that we wish we had been tracking longer as part of the Fresh Content lists. His thinking is fresh, not always overburdened by the challenges other communicators seem to struggle with.

24. Jason Keath, who is the founder of a social media education company, offers up his problem-solving insights that tend to be a blend of applying some of the new tools emerging within the space. He also keeps up on several innovations and interesting campaigns that work hard to bridge the gap between online and offline worlds. You can find his blog here.

25. It's hard not to appreciate social media insights from Jeff Bullas and his blog. Lately, however, there has been a bit of a shift as Bullas has become somewhat more enamored by his success and is starting to offer a lot more "me" content than we've seen previously. No worries. He'll likely get back on track this year.

26. Pamela Wilson is one of several contributors to Copyblogger who has expressed some keen insight into myth-busting, especially as it pertains to online design and search engines. What we like best about Wilson is that she thinks beyond design being pretty and more about it enhancing communication and generating outcomes (usually purchases). She's one to watch. We wish she had her own blog.

27. Dave Fleet has hosted Conversations At The Intersection Of Communications, PR And Social Media for some time. And, like many longtime communication bloggers, he has significantly reduced his postings over time. While that isn't necessarily a bad thing, it does make us miss when he was much more active in the space.

28. Priya Ramesh is the director of social media for CRT-tanaka who helps keep the venerable BuzzBin alive by infusing some common sense into social media. Several times in the fourth quarter, Ramesh has offered reminders that the best place to start with social media is by conducting an audit in order to provide a better benchmark.

29. Christina Arno joins one of several dozen guest bloggers who turned our heads in the fourth quarter. Her post on the Jeff Bullas blog resonated in that if companies hope to grow globally, they really ought to start considering translations that help people all over the world understand content.

30. There may be a bit of sensationalized writing at the Blogging Bookshelf sometimes, but Tristan Higbee is a sharp thinker and a seasoned blogger. Like many communication-related bloggers in the fourth quarter, we were happy to discover him as a guest writer for one of more than 250 blogs we were tracking.

31. While Captains of Industry seems to have lost some steam last year, Ted Page, chief creative director, wrote just enough worthwhile content to hold our interest. Among them was an insightful interview with musician Kevin Connolly that demonstrates why communication can stand to learn from a variety of seemingly unrelated disciplines.

32. It's hard to fathom anyone not including ReadWriteWeb in their reader. In the fourth quarter, the one author there that caught our attention was Audrey Watters, who is a little less known than many of her colleagues but no less prolific. Most often she approaches content like a reporter, which is frequently a refreshing change against the backdrop of opinions.

33. Brian Solis continues to do a solid job at leveraging his presence to provide more in-depth analysis and reporting on various social networks that are emerging in the social media space. Having read Brian Solis for so long, the transition from his early roots in social media is as interesting as his best posts.

34. Taylor Lindstrom is another contributing author (and editor) for the well-known Copyblogger. She doesn't write there all that often, but it's always interesting when she does. Among our favorites in the fourth quarter was her take on why writing doesn't need to be difficult (even if it isn't easy). She reminds people that good writing starts by writing something, anything.

35. Jorden Cooper is a professional stand-up comedian, which made it all the more enjoyable to discover that his thoughts on social media made more sense than many thoughts offered up by "social media experts." He sometimes lends welcome wit to Social Media Explorer.

36. The best reason to follow Jeremiah Owyang is the occasional comprehensive report he provides from the archives and analytics being done at the Alimeter Group. It doesn't happen very often, but you can make sure you capture one or two by subscribing to Web Strategy.

37. Lately, David Armano seems a little less like the David Armano that made many people read his work at Logic + Emotion. Part of the challenge seems to be that, much like Edleman, he is chasing the elusive (and nonexistent) influence metrics grail. He's best to read when he writes from his core: how design contributes to communication.

38. Although Mark Smiciklas has his own blog, it was his cross-posted content on Social Media Explorer that created an introduction of sorts. While we don't agree with every facet of his model, there is something to be said for starting to think about how online and offline communication might work better together.

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.

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