Friday, July 29

Flipping Influence: Asking Earns Attention

influencers
After reading the two-part post on Sharing: It's Not Influence (Part 1, Part 2), a few people asked for alternatives. There are several, but one stands out among the rest.

Stop looking for influencers. Start making influencers.

Earlier this year, I wrote a post about how influencers tend to be the most influenced. Some mistook that post, Flipping The Scale: Influencers Are The Most Influenced, as influencer bashing. Maybe it was, but just a little bit. There was a bigger intent within the topic.

First, let's define "influencers" for what they really are to avoid any confusion. Online, the most common definition is "active people with big networks that seem reasonably engaged." That's it. There is nothing more to it. There doesn't even have to be any evidence to suggest that they have influenced anyone. It's about numbers.

With that understanding, the most common trait among these influencers is that they are always asking for advice, help, opinions, and ideas. Sure, sometimes it's a ruse. I recently read a thread from one who asked for advice on writing bios and then praised some pretty paltry advice that wasn't worth the bandwidth. I don't suspect the influencer had any intention of ever using any of it, but that's not the point.

Asking attracts more attention in less time than pitching egos.

I'm not suggesting that all "influencers" use the tactic for mass deception nor am I suggesting they be devalued. Some are sincere when they ask questions and then reflect crowd-sourced answers back at the people who provide them.

Other times, they listen to what people are asking elsewhere and then provide an answer, creating the impression of clairvoyance. (And yes, a few borrow what other people are saying and claim it as their own idea.) But despite the less desirable attributes, there are a few who are more authentic. It all depends on the person, not groups of people with the same moniker.

influencerThat said, the real work that needs to be done is to identify, ask, and engage people who are passionate about a topic. Those people, in turn, provide the answers. The "influencer" then has an opportunity to praise the network, collate the material, and maybe piggyback their message onto the whole mashup (sometimes with credit and sometimes without).

Everyone asked, especially those included in any answer, are now engaged, vested, and likely to promote the outcome.

Ergo, the influencer isn't really influencing anyone. The influencer is making a network of passionately engaged influencers, people who hope to have an impact on the person, place, or project. That's all there is to it. Be the influencee, not the influencer (even if it is in perception and not reality).

Stop looking for influencers. Start making influencers.

Anybody can become an influencer, at least by the standards of the current obscure and erroneous definition, because anyone can be an influencee. It's not even a new idea. This has been occurring offline since the beginning of time — everyone is all ears for the person compiling the report that they contributed to.

It's also why most "influencers" fall in and out of favor over time. It's human nature to overreach and, sooner or later, most of them overreach. They stop asking and start talking, or even more inexplicably, start charging people to hold up the mirror.

To be clear, I don't mean to make it sound as dubious as it can be. There are authentic uses for this technique. As long as a company is willing to accept some ideas from a growing network, support passionate advocates, and make it easier for those with an interest to make contributions and be elevated as an "influencer," it's all good.

It takes a significant amount of time, energy, and empathy. But it's also a key component of every successful campaign I've ever worked on. I shared a partial case study a couple years back when I retired the deck Shaping Public Opinion. If you look at the deck, you won't find what I really hope you come away with.

I didn't influence 250,000 bloggers and 15,000 journalists to cover AIDS and reach 62.5 million readers (it was even bigger for human rights). They convinced themselves.

My job, along with my teammates on that campaign, was to make it easier for them to do it. So we never wasted time begging "influencers." We made it easier for passionate people to do what they wanted to do, making them influencers.

Wednesday, July 27

Sharing: It's Not Influence, Part 2

Dental InfluenceAs a continuation of Sharing: It's Not Influence, Part 1, it may be worthwhile to begin where we left off, with a parent of a child. Children are wild cards.

The relationship between a parent and child, in terms of how influence works, ebbs and flows over the course of a lifetime. It is not defined by any single action. It is not patently obvious when it occurs. It is not even necessarily predictable by any measure.

A parent, for example, might be able to order a child to brush their teeth one night, and some people might argue that is a form of influence. However, real influence takes shape over the long term and not by a single action. Real influence might manifest in a child becoming someone who has exceptional dental practices, assuming we could isolate the influences (which we cannot).

Even a persistent parent — one who insists on dental hygiene, one who provides proper role modeling, one who nurtures and educates — may not be the most influential in person in terms of dental hygiene. It could just as easily be the dentist, dental hygienist, grandparent, sibling, friend, associate, television program, personal experience, education, or more than likely — some collective of all these people and things, with each contributing some unknown percentage of influence.

On the other hand, a persistent parent — one who does everything mentioned above — is equally likely to produce a child who does not exhibit exceptional dental practices. In fact, they are just as likely to produce a child who hates dentists, seldom brushes their teeth, and consumes more than their healthy share of snacks, sweets, and soda pop. What's that about?

In this case, the parent may have no real influence, despite their proximity to the child. Or, conversely, everything that the parent contributed could have influenced the child after all, but in the opposite direction. Or, you never know, the parent may have had influence during a certain period of time, but then this influence lost out to other people or experiences.

decisionsConfused yet? You ought to be. Outside of providing a definition of influence, no one knows how influence works. Most of the time, people do not even fully understand what influences them — let alone other people as a temporal contributor to someone's decision-making process. Sure, we have some broad brush notions — reciprocity, commitment, social morals, preference, authority, scarcity — but none of those include mere persistence. The truth is we really know next to nothing about influence, which is why it makes life interesting.

Three factors that make influence infinitely complex.

1. Attention. Marketers invest most of their time on attention. There is some truth to the notion that you cannot form an opinion about something you don't know exists. This is where reach (eyeballs), frequency (impressions), and authority (perceived expertise) count somewhat.

The challenge, however, is to remind marketers that every impression doesn't count as 100 percent attention; most impressions capture a mere fraction of our attention, especially online. There are so many things competing for our attention, all of which are being filtered by arbitrary and random conditionals. And even then, this assumes we are online as our streams chug along.

2. Receptiveness. Marketers don't seem to care much about receptiveness. Most assume that everyone is interested in their product, service, or position. They assume their message is important. And they assume you care, doubly so if chance and circumstance have happened to bring you together for some reason.

They could not be more wrong. To be open to a message, people generally have to meet a select number of conditions that vary from person to person. They have to be interested, attentive, in a good mood, open to a new opinion, and in the market for whatever you're peddling. Most have a hard time comprehending that such periods of openness are subject to varied and limited amounts of time.

3. Collectiveness. Influence doesn't happen in a vacuum. Most marketers and measurement systems treat actions as if they happen in an isolated one-on-one setting, without ever considering that multiple messages, people, and experiences all contribute to our world view. Equally important, any one of them could support or detract from anything.

Consider the composite of almost any decision you make. Even when we don't consciously consider it, our brains have created a complex composite of stuff that we apply to any number of circumstances: subconscious memories, past experiences, personal values, personality types, current events, advice from authors, opinions from family, preferences of friends, insights from opinion leaders, etc., etc., etc. Depending on the person and their individual relationship to all of these people and things and perceptions, the whole of it will weigh on any decision. And chances are, we aren't even aware of it.

Claiming to understand influence is the biggest snake oil game ever.

This isn't an attack on marketing or measures. It's more of a testament to human social intelligence, for all its strengths and weaknesses. We cannot be read so easily, even in various groupings. This also doesn't necessarily preclude marketers from making educated guesses. We do that all the time.

But for anyone to say they understand influence so thoroughly that they can entice people to do anything online is a different kind of disposition. It also shows significant shortsightedness, because surely if you could read people down to the click predictability and purchase probabilities, the financial sector — specifically the stock market — would be a better match. At minimum, such talents would preclude asking for hourly rates or retainers. A mere fraction of a percent of the profits would be enough.

Monday, July 25

Sharing: It's Not Influence, Part 1

InfluenceThere isn't any question that the current trends in marketing, especially online marketing, are centered around "influence." And most marketing, advertising, and social media firms (and certainly online influence algorithms) are all looking at the same measure — that influence can somehow be tied to reach (the number of people exposed to a message), which is directly dependent upon how willing people are to share it.

A recent study by The New York Times paints a different picture. Sharing is not as tied to influence as marketers think. There are a gambit of reasons, and influence and/or persuasion is one of the least important. Maybe marketers have it wrong.

Highlights from The New York Times Study.

• 94 percent carefully consider if the information they share will be useful to the recipient.
• 84 percent share information any time it supports a cause or an issue they care about.
• 83 percent say reading other people's responses helps them understand and process better.
• 73 percent share information because it helps them connect to people with similar interests.
• 69 percent say they share because it helps them feel more connected to the world around them.
• 68 percent share because they want to give others a better sense of who they are.
• 49 percent say that sharing allows them to potentially change opinions and encourage action.

While 49 percent is still significant, promoting action (which marketers have defined as a key component of influence) is a low priority in terms of what people choose to share. It makes sense. Nobody is trying to influence the world by sharing cat videos and bacon jokes. And those who share such things are generally not working to become "influential."

More than likely, they like cats or bacon or the humor often associated with pics and videos about those subjects. Sometimes, people share for other reasons too. It could be something even simpler; they want to associate with or get the attention of the person sharing the content.

In communication circles, the latter is especially true. Many communicators operating in social media are keen on praising and thanking each other for sharing each other's content. It sometimes goes beyond reciprocity and more toward reward. But even more importantly than that, they might share a post, even unread, to create an association with a keynote speaker and therefore have a chance to connect with other people within that stream. (Conversely, sometimes they share a link to poke someone.)

In The New York Times study, they miss the point of their own research by tying sharing to influence (specifically, how to influence sharing) despite discovering the varied reasons for sharing in the first place. And it seems to me that attempting to turn sharing into a tactical game really misses the point.

Specifically, the study suggests appealing to audience motivations, keeping it simple, appealing to humor, earning trust, and making it urgent all increas the likelihood of shared content. However, at the same time, we have to wonder if consumers are misapplying their trust in marketers attempting to piggyback their message on what people really do care about. Maybe. But more importantly, is a masquerade true influence?

Influence is especially complicated; much more than marketers think.

One recent image that caught some attention was the new Google brand shoes. Their colorful, creative, shoe image generated a significant amount of interest. In looking at the people who shared the same visual, however, it became clear why the shoe pic was being shared.

• Some people thought they were cool.
• Some people thought they were ugly.
• Some people like or have an interest in Nike.
• Some people like or have an interest in Google.
• Some people liked the last person to share them.
• Some people have an interest in fashion stories.
• Some people just like shoes; they could have had any logo.
• Some people wanted to capitalize on the fact Google+ was trending.
• Some people have an expressed interest in search, social media, and technology.

Google ShoesThe list goes on. There are more than two dozens other reasons for the shoe pic being shared, which begs the question: how does any of it tie to influence?

And even if it did tie to influence, is that influence related to the shoe? Google? Nike? High-tops in general? Or maybe the person who shared it, without any consideration of why they shared it? What about other factors? Does it matter what kind of mood they are in when they first saw the image? What they had for breakfast? How their love life is working out? What kind of personality they have? Because they set some quota about sharing X number of a things at noon, every day? And to what end does any of this even matter?

Sometimes if you want to move forward you have to look back. Since the adoption of social media, generally, and social networks, specifically, people started sharing much more than they ever had before. And as the study revealed, they share more because their audience has expanded from the five people who used to gather around the water cooler.

And yet, it's the water cooler that marketers need to think about about when it comes to sharing, because none of what was shared around that watering hole ever made anyone appear influential. Not really; maybe sometimes.

The simple truth of the matter is that real influence doesn't take place at the sharing stage. It happens on a much deeper level, much like real advertising happens at a much deeper level. Anyone can create an advertisement that entices people to notice it, but not everyone can create an advertisement that resonates with people.

Likewise, you can share anything you want and convince people to share it. But actually having them adopt your view, lock step with no questions asked, is real influence. And when you consider everything that has to be just right to make that happen, it becomes pretty clear that even true influence is subject to hundreds of different things beyond the control of the influencer.

So maybe, just maybe, there is only one question you need to ask any marketer or social media expert who claims to be able to influence the masses online. Ask them about parenting. If they struggle with getting their children to watch an hour less of television, to eat their spinach, to get straight As, to brush their teeth between meals, etc. — then they know as much about influence as you do — almost nothing. Much like The New York Times study, which has some interesting findings but equally silly conclusions.

Friday, July 22

Emerging Markets: Ogilvy & Mather Bank On Video

videoAccording to Ogilvy & Mather, digital video is emerging as the fastest-growing form of interactive content distributed and consumed online. They are so bullish about it, they've launched a specialty video practice that will be led by Robert John Davis, a veteran of Rainbow Media and MTV Networks.

What makes it different than their full-service offerings? The agency is hoping Ogilvy's Advanced Video Practice will take engagement beyond the "viral" view, which is largely defined as number of views or impressions. Specifically, they are looking to track measurable engagements that place viewers directly into the sales funnel. In other words, outcomes.

"We created a unique offering at a time when even the major online video sites had not yet started thinking about how to maximize the value of their own content for marketers," said John Seifert, CEO of Ogilvy & Mather North America. "Our results with clients using the Ogilvy Advanced Video practice are impressive and we are now making it a distinct practice area to reflect the changes and opportunities in our business."

The practice focuses on several key aspects of online video: the creation of strategic content, video search engine optimization (VSEO), the production/distribution of video across multiple digital platforms, and measurement. None of that is exceptionally special, but it does demonstrate one of the first formalized approaches to move away from defining impressions and activity as "influence" and toward measurements that produce outcomes, including sales.

Robert John DavisBeyond that, Davis says that the practice is unique in that it will optimize clients' work from the very start before a frame of video is shot rather than attempt to optimize content after it has been created. While Davis and company believe this is a completely new approach to content creation, they are really borrowing the most common model employed by some publishers who determine "interest" before seeking stories.

However, they may be one of the few agencies thinking about this approach. And, interestingly enough, they are one of the few thinking about outcomes, especially as they happen online.

Where Ogilvy & Mather is right and where this thinking might lead.

The best part of the practice is clearly moving away from eyeball measures and considering what people are interested in before developing content. The latter is tried and true among publishers (although sometimes I wish publishers wouldn't do it), and will certainly give an uplift to advertising campaigns. The former is a concept relatively few agencies seem to embrace these days.

Where Ogilvy & Mather might do even better is to rethink what medium means online. Digital video is clearly engaging for audiences, even if it is limited by its linear presentation. But marketers need to shift their thinking away from medium all together.

There is no singular medium online, but rather a convergence of all media. Few, if any, agencies have fully realized that, leaving most to continually force content into a medium as opposed to determining the best format for the content and then assigning how various media might support that.

The Internet is everything. It's textual, visual, audible, conversational, portable, mobile, and interactive all at the same time. The best campaign practices that will emerge in the future will be those that recognize the environment, knowing what people are looking for and then delivering it without forcing them into a specific medium.

Still, the real takeaway today is that one of the largest marketing communications companies in the world is growing weary of impression counts and is committing to a new direction. That's great news for anyone tired of people who like to primp followers, viewer counts, and page views.

Wednesday, July 20

Making G+uru: Get Certified Now!

Google+ CertificationYou know it and so do I. Google+ represents a windfall for social media unlike any other social network before it. But even better than a windfall for social media, it could be a windfall for you too, my dear friend, because it's all happening right now!

Facebook? Forgetaboutit. Twitter? Grounded. MySpace? Neverheardofit. Quora? Flashinthepan. Google+ represents the promised land whereas all other social networks before it were merely practice lands.

How To Become A Social Network Expert, Overnight.

Just imagine if you could lock in all the juicy blog headlines about Google+ before Brian Clark. Or maybe host the first, er, second online training session before Chris Brogan. Or maybe you could find the holy grail of marketing (a true influence measure) before Brian Solis. Or maybe that is only the tip of the iceberg.

Somebody is going to become an expert. And the only question you need to be asking right now is ... is it going to be you? Can you write the most SEO threaded posts about G+? Can you deliver more technobabble about your feelings regarding the G+ network? Can you draw beautiful graphics that convince people you've learned to read minds using G+? What about a book? A specialized G+ blog? A dedicated presence on a different social network that only talks about G+?

The ideas we will give you are limitless. All you need to do is strike fast, strike first, and strike fancy. Did you get that? Those are three very powerful words.

Fast. First. Fancy.

Write them down. I'll wait while you do and then you can read why our Google+ program will change your life.

How Google+ Could Change Your Life, Forever.

Imagine what would have happened if you purchased land when the New World was discovered. You would own Manhattan — all of it! Imagine what might have happened if you were smart enough to stop in Nevada on your way to California in the 1800s. You would have discovered the Comstock Lode — all of it! Imagine if you were on the ground floor of development with Steve Jobs. You would be Bill Gates — all of it, er, him! Or just imagine what would have happened if you started a blog three months earlier than anyone else. You would be a social media guru!

It's true. Google+ represents the biggest, baddest, and most significant discovery since ... forever. And right now, every social media pro on the planet is jockeying for the lead position. Whomever gets there first — first workshops, first classes, first books, first anything — wins!

They know it. I know it. And now you know it too.

G+uruBut what they don't know is that we've developed an entire program that will be the biggest spoiler in social media history. Sure, with their imported networks, weak links, and seemingly endless amounts of time, they have the upper hand. But it's all for naught.

They might be very good at what they do, but one thing they don't have — and will never have — is an authentic Google+ certification. That's right. You can earn a Google+ certification in a few short days or perhaps hours if you are an overachiever.

Why is that important? Because all the other other guys that top lists and get the good rankings might be able to claim that they are social media gurus, but this certification will make you a social media G+uru. See the difference? It sends chills down my spine.

We're Absolutely Crazy To Offer You A G+uru Certification, Nuts.

This is your one and only chance to lay the groundwork to become a world-class resource to your customers, colleagues, and company. And, you really, really, really have to do it right now. Our program will catapult you ahead of the curve to be the expert that you deserve to be.

• Learn everything there is to know about Google+.
• Listen to oodles of speculation about what's next.
• Get the skinny on influence algorithms with G+.
• Understand the difference between circles and huddles.
• Frame your certificate to show your ultimate achievement.
• And much, much, much, much more.

In fact, there is so much more — some of it propriety intellectual property (patent pending) — that you will learn 2,397.5 things about Google+ in less than a week ... maybe a few days ... just a couple hours if you are a real go-getter.

That's 2,397.5 things about Google+ that we have learned in the first 250 hours of its launch, along with 158 bonus things that haven't even been introduced yet (but they will, probably, sooner or later). Tempted to enroll? Good! Because my HP Photosmart 8750 is already bustling with activity as we print 10,000 G+uru certificates and the only thing missing is YOUR NAME!

How Much Does It Cost? Much Less Than Its Value, Absolutely.

We are so convinced that the G+uru certification will be so invaluable that we won't even post the price for fear of breaking the Internet as this news gets out. I'm serious. This offer isn't going to go viral — it's going pandemic!

So how much do you think it would be worth if you were on the ground floor as a senior certified G+uru instructor now? Exactly. It's absolutely priceless.

G+uruIt's so priceless that in lieu of a certification enrollment fee, we're going to offer the first 500 people the opportunity of a lifetime. We will waive the enrollment fee in exchange for just two or three percent of your lifetime income after you become a G+uru.

Right. This program is so hot that we're willing to gamble on you. Do any of the other guys do that? No. Do they put their money where their mouths are? No. Do they throw in a free T-shirt? Only sometimes.

That's right. It's always the same song and dance with them. Pay once, pay first, and regret it all later. This dance is better. Pay later, pay forever, and never look back.

So what say you? Are you in to take over the Web? Good, because before I even published this post, three people signed up. It's not a revolution, it's an insurg+ence.

This post is satire, with nothing ill-tempered meant to any good sports mentioned. However, I do hope this rings as a true cautionary tale for some. Google+ is a tool. It seems like a very good tool too, just don't forget to use the one you were born with before reaching for your wallet.

Monday, July 18

Communicating Poorly: Politics Sack Confidence

budgetA new study by TNS, which is one of the world's largest research firms, reveals that 87 percent of Americans with $500,000 or more in investable assets are increasingly concerned about the deficit and its potential impact on retirement funds.

Although about 40 percent said they would pay higher taxes to offset changes to Social Security and Medicare, they are even more concerned about the growing deficit. In fact, 40 percent would accept changes to both Social Security and Medicare if it would help reduce the deficit. Their sentiment is shared by a growing number of Americans.

• 43 percent feel the current state of the economy will jeopardize their retirement plans.
• 40 percent plan to reduce the amount of money they spend compared to last year.
• 56 percent are concerned that the U.S. government may default on its debt obligations.
• 60 percent do not think the U.S. government should increase the federal debt ceiling.

Along with increasing concerns about the long-term prospects, investor confidence has dropped 11 points to its lowest level in about a year. Joe Hagan, senior vice president of TNS, speculates that increased stress and discomfort among investors will continue to cause declines in consumer confidence.

In fact, that has already happened. Confidence is lower than in 2009.

Marketers share similar concerns over the economy.

According to the Financial Times, investors are not alone. A recent IPA/BDO Bellwether survey reveals more companies in the United Kingdom — about one-fifth of those surveyed — were trimming advertising budgets. Even those that are not trimming budgets are looking at the remainder of the year with caution.

“Our view is that the economy may have slipped back into a slight contraction in the second quarter," Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit, told the Financial Times. "This confirms that picture of very little growth in the economy. We expect marketers to remain cautious over the rest of the year.”

cutting budgetsThe United Kingdom is not alone. Marketers are cutting budgets again. This time it seems the decision has less to do with spending cuts as much as it relates to consumer confidence. While some people are attempting to look at the positive side of budget reductions, the more recent economic shakes have less to do with budgets than marketing executives reacting to a marketplace with lower returns on marketing investments.

While it is often prudent to increase marketing during a recession (because ad rates are cheaper and competitors are spending less), marketers are more concerned this time around because consumers seem frozen. Those who have limited or even disposable income are not spending it, believing they will need it in the face of increased taxes and budget deficits or default (both of which weaken the dollar).

What's the best course of action for the balance of 2011?

While cutting marketing budgets may seem like a viable option, it would be more prudent for most companies to re-evaluate their marketing strategies — focusing on long-term brand and relationship building as opposed to immediate hard returns on investment.

Keith Turco wrote a column for Forbes recently, attempting to shock a few readers away from what he attributes to analysis paralysis. He more or less believes that companies are not committing enough of their marketing budgets because they are too busy trying to make every cent trace back to a sale.

Analysis paralysis is certainly part of the culprit, but it is not the only factor. Market research is finding that more and more people aren't ready to buy because the political climate has remained heavily uncertain. This isn't isolated to any segment of the market, but rather the entire world. In terms of changing confidence, some economists see an end to the debt ceiling debate in Washington as the only chance for a reversal. (Others say it is the continued broken promises to ease the burden of unemployment.)

Kurt VonnegutBut even if it doesn't, marketing ought not to care so much. The simple reality is that the economy will eventually climb out of the recent hole it has been forced deeper into and consumer confidence will rise with better leadership. (And if it doesn't climb out, then it hardly matters how anyone plays their cards anyway).

And thus, marketing departments that shift tactics toward long-term strategic models will be able to better position their companies on an economic upswing than those who treat their marketing budgets like yo-yos tied to economic forecasts.

Or, in other words, when economic outlooks improve, any company would be better off with relationships in the wings than those who attempt to restart at the first signs of life with a very different kind of consumer. Changing consumer confidence is psychology.

Friday, July 15

Increasing Rates: Netflix Actions Speak Louder

NetflixThe writing was already on the wall, but it wasn't writing that sent the real message. Netflix doesn't want to be in the DVD shopping and shipping business anymore. If you want to hold a movie in your hands, you are better off visiting your local Redbox.

The new price increase reflects its decision. Never mind those sensational headlines that scream 60 percent increases. The new plans are pretty straightforward. People can choose unlimited streaming (no DVDs) for $7.99 a month, unlimited DVDs one at a time (no streaming), for $7.99 a month (Blu-Ray is $2 more), or both services for $15.98 a month (with a broader selection).

If you're nutty, you can have as many as four DVDs out at one time. The price for that service is $34.99 per month.

Some people are complaining, saying that they will dump the DVDs all together and Netflix will lose money. No they won't. As soon as the company can dump DVDs and Blu-Ray, the better. The entire point of the price fix is to force you to make the choice that Netflix has already made. CEO Reed Hastings has said it.

"We are now primarily a streaming video company," Hastings said.

Initially, Netflix investors couldn't be more thrilled (although some started selling as customers pushed back). They had every reason to be thrilled, because unless you cancel the service, there is a plan. And the plan looks pretty great on paper. In fact, there are more changes that Netflix is looking at, including scrubbing the household model customers are used to and moving everything to an individual member basis.

"When our focus was primarily DVD rental, we talked about our opportunity in terms of households, in particular the number of households with broadband access, which is more than 70 million households. Another way to view our potential opportunity is to consider the number of households that subscribe to home entertainment, which includes cable and satellite subscribers, a market estimated at about $68 billion in annual revenue. In either case, we were describing a very big potential market, giving us a lot of room to grow.

More recently, as streaming has become central to our business, we believe there may be an opportunity to change our focus from a household relationship to an individual relationship, since streaming is viewed on personal devices, such as phones, tablets, and laptops, as well as on shared large screen televisions. As we think about this long-term shift from a household to a personal relationship, we are starting to think internally that our opportunity could be viewed as the number of mobile phone subscribers, a group that both invests in electronic content and can afford $7.99 for home entertainment. Needless to say, that is a large opportunity.

The evolution toward individual memberships will take time, and we are still thinking about how to best do it. One option could be to allow an account to add additional concurrent streams (using the analogy of our DVD business, it would be like choosing a higher-priced plan that allows a subscriber to have more DVDs at home). Or it could be that there is a price point that would encourage multiple accounts in one household. In either case, our long-term goal is to evolve the Netflix service so that it feels more natural to have a personal account. We will also be working on broader Facebook integration which we hope will further the notion of personal accounts." — Netflix, July 14, 2011


Every communication counts when choosing a service provider.

Personally, this is one of the fundamental flaws with most media "rental" agreements. The companies in charge are empowered to rescind their contracts, raise rates, and change services any time they want. This extends to not only Netflix services but cable and satellite companies too.

Netflix ScreenBut where Netflix really stands out is in its blatant mission to not only increase its rates today, but tomorrow too. It has been sharing this news with investors for some time; customers not so much. The Investor FAQ says it all. They want to manipulate customers into streaming only and then divide their accounts among individuals inside the household.

More than likely, customers will do it too. Sure, there will be some grumbling, but entertainment addiction is alive and well. Most of us gave up free broadcast for upwards of $100 or even $200 a month services (plus mobile) and we still purchase DVDs or their digital equivalent anyway.

At the moment, Netflix is hoping you won't notice the above graphs and it expects the colorful commentary to die down. Maybe it will. Maybe it won't. Personally, I'm split. But then again, I'm not a Netflix customer.

Don't get me wrong. The communication was rotten. Netflix could have phased it in much like it plans to phase in personal accounts over household accounts, making it so people don't notice so much and "feel more natural." But at the same time, the only recourse Netflix customers have (short of organizing with stated objectives) is to dump the service en masse.

I don't think they will. I think most will do exactly what Netflix wants. Netflix wants to get out of the mailing business, which costs considerably more than its streaming arrangement. So, if you dump mail, you're not really protesting at all — you're doing Netflix a favor. That favor isn't nearly as big as the favor you will do when everybody in your home wants an individual account, but this is clearly the first step to make it happen.

It's a plan that is, very literally, worth billions for a company that suddenly makes people reminisce about Blockbuster. But for communication pros, the real lesson goes back to not mixing your investor and customer messages. Everything is public nowadays.

Wednesday, July 13

Looking For Roots: Pepsi Skinny To Go Retro

PepsiSo what do you do after your latest campaign riles eating disorder groups because of the skinny can? To borrow from an old Coke tagline, take the pause that refreshes and look back to the days when your brand meant something.

Pepsi recently approved a line of retro T-shirts to bring back memorable Diet Pepsi and Ray Charles' ads for "You Got the Right One Baby, Uh-Huh!" The campaign was launched in the early 1990s and included 11 commercials over the span of three years.

"Mr. Charles stated that the Diet Pepsi campaign was one of the highlights of his career and that 'You've Got The Right One Baby, Uh-Huh!' was one of his most popular songs," said Valerie Ervin, president of the Ray Charles Foundation.''

The nostalgic appeal of the shirts aligns with the current Pepsi Throwback beverage line. It features Pepsi packaging from the 70s and 80s. So much for change.


The campaign, a conservative move compared to its progressive backfires, returns Pepsi to an arena it plays well in — piggybacking on pop culture. At least it did back then.

While it will receive a boost for the retro branding, it might be too late for retro novelty alone. Earlier this year, Diet Coke unseated Pepsi as the second most popular carbonated soft drink.

In fact, since ushering in its new logo and turning to social media, Pepsi endured a 4.8 percent decrease in sales volume. Total volume has been declining since 2004. Some of the decline is related to soft drinks; the rest is consumer choice.

The Curious Casuality Of One-Off Connections.

Pepsi initially launched its first throwback campaign about three years ago. And each time it toys around with the idea, it sees some gains. And then the retro campaigns end, creating another quandary.

The retro campaigns indirectly undermine the decades that Pepsi spent trying to bolster its youthful underdog appeal as a pop culture promoter (a role it seems to have forgotten for almost a decade). That's not to say Pepsi doesn't have any other good ideas. It does from time to time, including Pepsi Refresh.

But good ideas and brand connections are different things. You can like Pepsi Refresh and never drink it. Simply put, the connection is to the cause, not the beverage. So chalk up that good idea to drinking too much social media Kool-Aid.

You cannot simply connect to the current culture by signing on. Lesson learned: People DO NOT connect to social media. They connect via social media. And once there, they connect with some brands, ideas, and people.

A few years ago, some of the people the public connected with were Michael Jackson, Ray Charles, and Cindy Crawford. And, any brand could leverage such notoriety for a price.


What was the price for Pepsi? For about two decades, Pepsi relied so much on other people that it forgot to make a connection between the consumer and the product. So, it continually benefitted from great short-term sales and dour long-term prospects. Unfortunately, it forgot to leapfrog to the next pop hero.

Since nobody really knows what Pepsi stands for anymore, the only way to regain any footing is to give up on introspection. Ergo, they don't need retro as much as they need Justin Bieber.

Unfortunately for Pepsi, they don't have him. Bieber has been spotted on more than one occasion drinking Coke without the need for an endorsement deal.

Monday, July 11

Communicating Too Much: Brand Fatigue

Andrea GodfreyAsk most marketers how to measure the effectiveness of a campaign and, inevitably, most will say reach and frequency. Reach is the total number of people the campaign message reaches. Frequency is the number of times people see the message.

They are not alone. Anywhere else, it's much the same. Many public relations firms measure the number of stories that run and potential readership or viewership of the communication. Social media is keen on the number of followers (and number of followers those follower have) and the frequency of shares and retweets. Entire "influence" scoring systems revolve around that number.

But is there a point when too much of a good thing becomes a bad thing?

Andrea Godfrey, assistant professor of marketing in the School of Business Administration at the University of California, Riverside, thinks so. She co-authored “Enough is Enough! The Fine Line in Executing Multichannel Relational Communication.” The study included almost 1,200 people over the course of three years, with most participants being exposed to communication over a three-month period.

What Godfrey and fellow researchers (Kathleen Seiders, an associate professor of marketing at Boston College, and Glenn B. Voss, an associate professor of marketing at Southern Methodist University) found was that multi-channel communication does not always yield the results marketers might anticipate. In fact, over communication can quickly lead to brand fatigue.

Specifically, the researchers used more intrusive methods of marketing — phone calls, emails and mailings — from an auto dealership to determine optimal effects of multi-channel communication. What they found was that people could only tolerate three phone calls, four emails, and ten mailings before suffering from brand fatigue and reacting toward the brand with a negative response.

Interestingly enough, when the researchers increased frequency in one channel, tolerance for more communication dropped among all channels. For example, when the number of phone calls is increased, the tolerance for email decreases. They also found when there is one mail contact, the ideal number of email contacts is approximately five, but the ideal number of email contacts drops to one when the number of the mail contacts is five.

“We probably need to rethink the idea that to have a strong relationship with customers we need to be communicating with them all the time,” said Godfrey.

The researchers attribute the increased tolerance toward direct mail as "junk mail" numbness as well as the general perception that junk mail is less intrusive than more interruptive communication channels. That probably isn't all there is to it. Direct mail generally is better crafted than phone calls and emails.

The quality of the message, suitability of the message, and sustainability of a message all play a role in the effectiveness of communication. Phone calls are generally the most interruptive and least well crafted. Email is somewhere in between.

SpamAlthough phone calls, emails, and direct mail were the cornerstone of the research, marketers might want to consider the potential impact of other multi-channel communication, especially online. While brands — including individuals who have become quasi-brands in and of themselves — can benefit from having an online presence, too much communication from a single source can backfire.

With the addition of Google+ for example, I noted that more than one person has sworn off adding Chris Brogan, Robert Scoble, and few other active but less prominent voices on other social networks (I'm not one of them, yet). Collectively, you might call it A List fatigue, but there are plenty of louder B-list communicators that are being ignored too.

To help put it all in perspective, remember to take a break and see things from the consumer's point of view. As consumers, we quickly grow tired of television commercials that air with too much frequency during a single program (especially if they accidentally air back to back). We all grow weary of seeing the same automated messages spilling across every network, doubly so if it is shared by multiple people with different headlines (save hefty shares for substance). And, with more direct messaging, you can offer a "sale" only so many times in a week or ask people to "read" a post so many times in a day.

Friday, July 8

Entertaining People: Where Apple Might Be Right

iTunes FestivalApple isn't known for its social network prowess. Ping is marginal as a social network at best. It functions like a network, but doesn't feel like one.

But there is something that Apple is doing right, when compared to the rush of Google+, Facebook, and Twitter to generalize the point of being all things to all people.

And that is, for the most part, simplifying things to a singular or primary purpose. We see it in how it treats apps; and the same concept works for niche social networks.

iTunes Festival 2011 London solidifies broadcast-digital convergence.

Downloading the iTunes Festival 2011 London for review was almost a no-brainer. And if you ask me or the reviewer, it's not perfect but nonetheless brilliant.

It also has a primary purpose. You can watch a festival concert streamed live or (since most are in the afternoon) after work.

Applied to television networks, it could potentially give people the ability to watch a television program on the first run or automatically have it waiting for them. And depending on how networks want to play it, they could provide a permanent collection or limited-time viewing opportunities with the option to purchase an episode or series for download.

There may even be some potential non-intrusive revenue models beyond selling the program. For iTunes, the buy button only appears before and after the concert or anytime you pause it. It's clean. A television broadcaster might include related merchandise and/or sponsors just as easily, and (although it ought to be reflected in the price point) embedded commercials.

The real bonus in terms of the iTunes Festival 2011 London, of course, is that it truly makes the concept of any device, anywhere, anytime a reality. You can play it on your phone, on your tablet, or on your television. And, depending on how cloud services come along, you won't have to worry about storage or (hopefully) safety.

iTunes Festival AppOur reviewer also considered that a social networking function might be welcome too. It could be fun, he concluded, to chat with people who check-in with a live streaming performance. The function could be optional, of course. (Sometimes it's nice to skip the socialization of everything.) Or perhaps a network/app feature could open up afterwards, allowing viewers to chat about the show.

But what I especially like about the festival and apps in general is that they keep online experiences tied to how we perceive offline experiences. If you are in the iTunes Festival 2011 London app, you are at a concert. And any behavior, even if you are watching from home, is indicative of a concert hall.

Why apps and niche social networks will have a longer lasting life.

You won't find that on increasingly bloated social networks. You might want to share an article, but your friend wants you to join a video chat. You might want to post a picture, but then get caught up in a barrage of instant messages. You might want to share something funny, but then an associate will send you Farmville requests. And brands, well, they're even worse.

This is quickly becoming one of the problems with bloated social networks. As much as you can dictate your own experience, your friends (and any brands you follow) are being given more and more power to dictate what you will do. (Heck, they are even spilling into search relevance, no thanks to +1.)

iTunesBut all this stands to reason. Big big open generalized networks are like giant rooms with everything going on at the same time and no walls to distinguish anything. The stereo is playing, the television is on, and ten people are trying to perform.

The result is chaos, something I'm always prepared for when I sign on to any of them. One person is talking politics. Another is telling jokes. Some are watching television. Others are playing games. And half of them are screaming "look at me" or "look at my wall."

An app or well-defined niche network, in contrast, is exactly the opposite. If you sign in, you have a reason to be there and everybody else who might be signed on is there for mostly the same purpose too. It feels more than right. It feels like life.

Wednesday, July 6

Developing Networks: Google+, Facebook, Twitter, Mordor, Etc.

NetworkWith everyone else reviewing social networks — spurred on by the introduction of Google+ — I'll pass on any specifics. Suffice to say that Google+ is a crisper version of Facebook with some added features like video chat.

The added features aren't likely to remain exclusive for long. Facebook might already be working on a solution to add it. (Hat tip: Jamie Sanford by way of Ike Pigott). It won't be long before Twitter starts barking up the same tree. And that's what inspired this post, along with a conversation fragment with Geoff Livingston, Dane Morgan, and Tony Berkman.

How Many General Social Networks Can One Endure?

My guess, ultimately, is one to none. Google, Facebook, and Twitter are moving in a peculiar direction. Specifically, it looks like they are moving forward but they are really moving backward. People don't want one social network to do everything. Do they?

One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them...

One RingRings and circles. I can't really trust them, even if I like them. They might be easier than Facebook groups (and less annoying). They might attract much less spam than Twitter, even if that will change as the population explodes. But at the end of the day, Google, Facebook, Twitter and a half a dozen others are looking for the One Ring. And if anyone gets it again, it will end badly.

Again? Yes, again. The original welder was America Online. We just didn't think to call it that at the time, but it was a social network that for several years meant all things to all people (still does, for some, if you can imagine).

Ironically, it was Google, Yahoo, and other search engines that cut the One Ring from the finger of those service providers after Apple relinquished eWorld and the online experience descended into the darkness of Sauron Case. The world was a better place without it, much more colorful and diverse. So why on earth would anyone want a repeat?

As humans, we can't really help it. All of nature is predisposed toward order. We thrive on it, making bigger and bigger systems until the weight of it becomes unsustainable. History is littered with the rise and demise of such empires. And, we often forget, Internet is too.

MyBlogLog and Technorati come to mind. One collapsed and another was greatly diminished as each of them began the quest to operate beyond their spheres. In part, it's because as prone as humans are to order, they are equally prone to seek freedom and the wonderful chaos that accompanies it.

Niche Networks Tend To Better Define Environments.

Much like the historical and fantastical empires, it seems to me that generalized networks become unsustainable. People like to confine their activities to the definitions of their environments: they act one way at work and another way at a concert; this way at a church and that way at a bar; this way on one social network and that way on another.

Follow the same group of people from the bachelor party to the ceremony to the reception to the after-reception party to the gift opening, and the social norms will change. Same people; different behaviors.

Major networks, on the other hand, provide the same environment and then ask you to behave differently based on the people in the room. It's backwards, mostly because any social behavior is established by the first person who blinks but only because we're all grasping at straws.

Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky, Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone ...

Maybe it's because human sociology and adaptability isn't attached to groups of people as much as the environment. We almost can't help it.

This might also explain the primary reasons Facebook (originally a college network) was fast and loose on the front end and slowly became more formal as family members and future employers asked to connect. It's the likely reason quick exchange conversations have taken a back seat to link sharing on Twitter. And it's probably the reason Google Buzz crashed when it failed to establish a culture of what to do there. It wasn't just a matter of who was there, but the purpose of the space.

One of several projects my team is working on right now is a social network of sorts (social network is the closest definition without giving up details). For the last three months, I've been working as one of the principal developers while the board seeks out about $3.5 million in initial funding. (Once we have funding, I'll be allowed to share some alpha invites for a few people.)

RivendellWhat we are doing differently is focusing considerable attention on the environment. And, given it will have a much narrower purpose (with no incentive to pine away your hours looking for conversations to establish presence, eyeballs, or gratuitous activity), it won't compete with any existing network. Instead, it will feel more personal, important, and purposeful — someplace you go for special occasions as opposed to the daily grind.

In some ways, it is what the big networks ought to have been thinking about. Google had some semblance of authority, Facebook had some semblance of social casual, and Twitter eventually became (and then abandoned) a modern version of an AOL chat room.

So does anybody else have it right? There are a few developers who seem like they are on the right track. Of the biggest, it seems to me Apple is one of them. If you want to know why, drop by on Friday when I intend to flesh out why the iTunes Festival 2011 London App represents the future of entertainment.

Monday, July 4

Writing Independence: How To Write A Social Contract

Don't Tred On Me"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." — Declaration of Independence.

While the Fourth of July is a largely American affair, the document that laid the foundation of what would become the United States made a statement that exceeded the confines of a handful of colonies. It set forth a declaration that the governed could alter or abolish any government that usurped the unalienable rights of the people — an idea that was not confined to the colonies but born, in part, from the thinking of John Locke, who believed in a limited government bound by a social contract.

Locke, an English philosopher and physician, was one of the most influential contributors to the Age of Enlightenment, a cultural movement in 18th century Europe that sought to promote reason and advance knowledge. Locke was not alone. Baruch Spinoza (Dutch Republic), Pierre Bayle (France), Fran├žois-Marie Arouet a.k.a Voltaire (France), and Isaac Newton (United Kingdom) had advanced elements of the thinking behind it.

Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and other founding fathers were only a few of the people influenced. The intellectual reasoning had spread across Europe, notably England, Scotland, the German states, the Netherlands, Russia, Italy, Austria, and Spain. It's also why the American Declaration of Independence had a profound impact in the world — concisely articulating the statement before outlining a list of grievances against its government (which was the majority of English Parliament despite the document citing the King of England as the primary culprit).

Writing The Declaration Of Independence.

A few years ago, Stephen Lucas wrote The Stylistic Artistry of the Declaration of Independence, which discusses its literary qualities and its rhetorical power. Among the properties that Lucas points out, the most prominent ten include:

Clarity. The entire piece uses the most simple and direct language of the time.
Concise. The document does in 202 words (The Preamble) what it took Locke thousands to do.
Flow. Not only does every sentence flow into the next, but each word follows another.
Rhythm. Every sentence is carefully balanced, with significance placed on alliteration (the ear).
Structure The piece is carefully crafted to deliver a powerful sense of structural unity.
Objectiveness. The focus on empirical reality rather than interpretations of reality.
Imagery. The infusion of descriptive words that show the reader rather than merely tell them.
Emotional. The ability to be human, making an argument for not only the head, but the heart.
Ambiguity. Each grievance presented is tied to specific events, but names and places are omitted.
Conclusion. In the conclusion sentence, it reinforces a trilogy of things worth fighting for.

Rarely do politicians employ such literary purpose in their propositions today. And neither do most writers when they set out to make a case on any number of subjects worth writing about. Incidentally, all of them brush up against the five elements of writing to include within any piece of prose or content: clear, concise, accurate, human, and conspicuous.

Are We Due For A Second Age Of Enlightenment?

One of the most profound details of the Declaration of Independence (that I learned a few years ago), was a significant edit made by Franklin. Originally, Jefferson had borrowed from the more popular trilogy spoke of during the day — life, liberty, and property. It was Franklin who struck down property and inserted the less tangible pursuit of happiness.

While some see the edit as a minor nuisance to provide for more intangible and higher cause, I sometimes wonder if Franklin also intended to avoid the trappings of tangible goods being assigned to government. We can read as much in the Bill of Rights, which was created as a condition to the U.S. Constitution (1787), insisted upon by men who wanted to preserve the influence from the Age of Enlightenment well into the future of the country. With property comes the power to move toward tyranny.

Declaration of IndependenceWe might even see the problem with some governments' increased focus on property today as opposed to providing for the security of life (protection from aggressors), liberty (freedom), and pursuit of happiness (a free marketplace of ideas). As governments borrow against the assets of the people and/or regulate individual financial prowess, it positions such governments not only to enslave a people, but also promises to enslave their descendants as slaves to such debt, thereby making it nearly impossible to pursue happiness, or perhaps enlightenment as intended, without a mountain of preexisting shackles of constraint.

At least, that is what I intend to ask my children consider when they are older. While there are those who believe the happiness of the many outweighs that of the few; there are also those who believe that the insistence any individual — endowed with the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — be forced to relinquish such rights is nothing more than the embodiment of mass selfishness.

And it seems to me that the founding fathers belonged to the latter grouping, shedding obligation from its sovereign, who had apparently forgotten that any government derive their rights from the free people they govern and not the other way around. Leadership, for example, is not the prize for a despot who can override a nation's social contract, but rather an honor to protect and preserve that very social contract that grants that honor. At least, I think so. Good night and good luck.

Have a happy and safe Fourth of July, with at least a sliver of time in between the barbecues and fireworks to contemplate its meaning. And for all my non-American friends, take a moment to consider that while our celebration is American, the foundation of this celebration is truly the collective result of enlightened people across Europe spanning hundreds of years.

Friday, July 1

Treading Water: There Is No Fail

There is no failSocial media adopted the vernacular — FAIL or #FAIL or FAIL! — as a one word sum up on the most heinous communication and customer service gaffes worth sharing. Everyone knows what it means. And everyone wants to avoid it.

In fact, many people want to avoid it so much that they are sometimes paralyzed from pursuing their own dreams, ambitions, and opportunities. What if I fail?

Those are the words that might sputter from between their lips behind the scenes or among casual confidences. And for all those folks who are holding off on trying anything for the fear of failure, I have very good news. You've already FAILED.

Every day you don't do something because you might fail is the only day you do FAIL.

A social media program that does not exist is a failed social media program. A great book that will never be written is a failed book. And a company that never even sees the outline of a business plan is a failed business.

Ergo, just because it never happened doesn't exempt you from the reality of the FAIL. The only saving grace, I suppose, is the number of people who know it.

If you want another term for the phenomenon, call it reckless obscurity. Nobody will ever know you failed, but nobody will ever know you either.

Two years ago, Adam McCaffrey conducted a study on the fear of failure and procrastination. And what he found was people who exhibited traits of autonomy, competence, relatedness, and vitality tended to be less prone to fear of failure and procrastination.

Timothy A. Pychyl, Ph.D., who wrote the aforementioned sum up of the study, suggested one important question might be "how do we foster that sense of competence in our lives that is so essential to our well-being?" And the answer might be easier than you think.

Give yourself permission to fail at smaller tasks so you can learn failure doesn't matter.

A small company starting a blog will eventually learn one failed post isn't the end of the world. One short story that doesn't resonate with friends might provide the backdrop for a better story. One "side project" or solo activity might not lead to a successful business, but it could give you the experience you need for the next project that will.

All the while, keep the original lesson in mind. Do you have a social media program, book, or business before you start? No. That means starting anything, more or less, is assured to be an outcome that is break even or win. There is no fail.
 

Blog Archive

Google+ Followers

by Rich Becker Copyright © 2010 Designed by Bie Blogger Template