Showing posts with label Geoff Livingston. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Geoff Livingston. Show all posts

Friday, August 3

Marketing In The Round: Gini Dietrich And Geoff Livingston

The best thing about Marketing In The Round by Gini Dietrich and Geoff Livingston is it offers up a litany of questions, ideas, and thumbnail case studies. The worst thing about it is that it doesn't always know what kind of book it wants to be or for whom it is intended.

So perhaps that's the best place to begin. Who could benefit from Marketing In The Round?

Small business owners. People who need a crash course in marketing, one with an emphasis on the changes taking place in the market today. While many small business owners will find the details to be overwhelming, the book provides enough insights and ideas to help them ask the right questions.

Middle management marketers. This isn't necessarily the stuff of senior management, but it does provide enough material for middle management to check their work. It could be useful in comparing some of the concepts and constructs that Dietrich and Livingston lay out and making adjustments.

Multi-discipline communicators. Given that the central theme is really about convergence, Marketing In The Round provides a Rosetta stone approach for future advertising, marketing, public relations, and social media professionals. Along with them, it can serve specialists who are finding more and more of their work is falling outside their specialty, whether they working in any of those fields I mentioned.

Those are the people who could most benefit, along with those who find themselves communication curious and don't mind a book that attempts to bridge the gap between anecdotal and textbook. It doesn't quite do the job at finding that elusive middle, but it's a good effort to move conversations about marketing, public relations, and social media into a more mature, professional, and educational discussion.

The three strongest aspects of the book revolve around big concepts. 

As the title suggests, this book is about forming a more integrated approach to marketing. The solution is feasible in that the authors suggest finding someone to champion the construct by drawing in one person from various communication departments to make it work.

Anyone who has worked on campaigns involving a partnership among several specialized firms knows how it will work (even if it sometimes produces mixed results depending the players). It's the right way, even if there isn't enough space dedicated to the plan pitch for bigger organizations.

The other construct introduced in the book is a marketing model based partly on The Book Of The Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi. In this case, the analogy applies the five primary approaches of strategic engagement to marketing, allowing for top-down, direct, groundswell, and two flanks.

While it would be easy to quibble with the idea that advertising is a flank, the analogy isn't far off in providing a means to help various specialists to stop thinking about communication from their specialized perspectives. The goal here is to get everyone to the same table.

There is considerable strength in that Dietrich brings public relations experience to the table while Livingston has a background in marketing. There is some give and take here, rather than an attempt to pit one expertise over another. Also, they both have ample social media experience.

Because of this, they also decided to include some tactile tools into the mix: checklists, questionnaires, forms, and exercises to help move the book from a concept into something concrete. It will be appreciated, especially because the publisher has made them downloadable (negating the need to recreate the lists or scan the pages).

The weakest aspects of the book revolve around the superficial. 

The book is well-written from a technical aspect, but it's not reader friendly. The content pummels, making it impossible to read as a single serving. It's best read no more than one chapter at a sitting with time built in to reflect on how it applies.
Likewise, if you are hoping to bring the ideas into an organization or a classroom, you have to read it with a notebook nearby. While there is a reason why Marketing In The Round is organized like it is, you are precluded from starting any exercises early. For example, if you start writing out "smarter goals" at the end of chapter one, you will certainly rip them up by the time you reach chapter four.

This isn't the only way Marketing In The Round will make you work for it. The book does a great job introducing various thumbnail case studies that are always useful. However, it will require savvy communicators to search for additional resources for anyone not familiar with specific cases.

It's important, because you might draw different conclusions than the ones the authors have laid out. Sometimes they are needed and absent; other times they just feel forced. The Netflix case study is one example of the latter. It felt like affirmation mining — where the author wants to quickly prove a point and plugs in a case study as it fit, but neglecting all the blemishes and bruises that some with it.

All in all, those are relatively minor distractions. The only areas where I thought Dietrich and Livingston fell slightly short was in competitive analysis and measurement. While they succeed in delivering a solution, there just isn't enough content on these subjects. Specifically, there is a difference between knowing your competitors and providing a viable contrast, and benchmarking is always a good idea but it's only the tip of the measurement iceberg.

The net sum of all things related to Marketing In The Round. 

The kinds of people who I think would most benefit aside, Marketing In The Round is an excellent mining book, meaning that there is more here to mine than can be included within the confines of a single review. There is considerable content that can be extracted, adapted, and deployed for the classroom or an organization.

All in all, it makes you appreciate that Dietrich and Livingston wrote a textbook that could have benefited from the space that writing a Marcom textbook would have provided. This in itself is a refreshing change from the anecdotal waste that pretends to be work in the field — books that are best described as a big "business card" or professional "memoir." Instead, the authors of Marketing In The Round actually want to teach you something. You're likely to learn something too.

I received a copy of the book Marketing In The Round for the purposes of review. If you cannot tell, neither receiving a copy nor having prior contact with the authors had any influence. In fact, I am predisposed to review marketing and public relations books exceptionally hard, which is why most people are too afraid to send me marketing or business books for review. You might also like to know that prior to receiving a copy, I had already planned to write an unsolicited review of this book.

Wednesday, June 1

Reading Livingston: Welcome To The Fifth Estate

Welcome To The Fifth EstateIf you conduct a rudimentary search for social media on Amazon, you'll pull up more than 150,000 titles. And so many of them, quite frankly, aren't much more than anecdotal paperweights or maybe fire starters.

Yes, even those that drip with praise from their fellow colleagues. The way I see it, if I'm ever to be accused of doing any favors for any colleagues in social media, let it be said the favor is not reviewing their books. I read them and sigh. It's the same reason I've passed on two invitations to write one.

There are some exceptions. Social Media ROI by Olivier Blanchard is probably one of them. I've only put off reading it because I know Blanchard and he and I see so closely on the subject it feels like volunteering to be the choir. And then there's Welcome To The Fifth Estate by Geoff Livingston.

A Review (of sorts) of Welcome To The Fifth Estate by Geoff Livingston.

One of the reasons I've been looking forward to Livingston's book beyond our longtime friendship, is the subject he chose to tackle. The premise seemed one off from social media. Pulling from history, Livingston notes that if the media might be considered the Fourth Estate then social media has helped give rise to the Fifth Estate (the masses), individuals who use technology to provide their own news, or more than likely, vet the news that is coming at them.

I've had an interest in this subject, citizen journalism, for years. I'm often torn between the those who see it is as good and those who see it as bad — watching firsthand some valiant or obscure individuals attempt to restore objectivity to the news even while so many lazier journalists long for reinstating yellow journalism.

But that isn't really what Welcome To The Fifth State is about. It's really an organizational primer that would help public relations and marketing professionals demonstrate the difference between an organization's traditional marketing efforts and communicating with the various social structures of online communities and social networks.

It’s an important lesson for any organization, even more so when you consider the online medium isn’t mass media as much as it is a media by the masses.

Livingston does a fine job with this, opening up with a warning to companies that advocacy consumers with journalism-like followings are on alert and waiting for them. And, in doing so, he helps recast how organizations might view this environment — especially using a significant number of case studies and references that sort our halo stories or horns — before they dive right in.

Welcome To The Fifth EstateThe best of the book is the call for companies to move away from silos to hives. I might call such a move integrated communication, but the analogy is strong. Designating different non-communicative budget-competative departments (silos) is no longer functional. All of the various communication-related roles need to work together. (Ergo, it doesn't make sense to have a Twitter account offering to assist with customer service problems if they have no direct tie to customer service solutions.)

I'm also happy to give props to Livingston for always being smart in helping organizations move away from thinking of everything in terms of tools and tactical counters. Instead, he rightly tees up considering the organizational strategy as opposed to the piles of tactics they have become.

However, he then drifts into providing tips on developing a social media strategy, which will help organizations refine their programs, but ruffles me up a bit because it's not really strategic communication. It's broader conceptual tactical thinking, which is a step up from what most companies do but still a rung down from strategic communication.

Why Welcome To The Fifth Estates Works As A Primer.

I don't mean to dismiss his central theme. (It might even be a case of semantics.) Contrary, what Livingston is attempting to drive home is that you cannot interrupt a conversation about a baseball with a message to sell someone a baseball bat. Doing so is asking for trouble and dilutes or destroys the brand.

Instead, he advocates for participating with the community on their terms. And that's smart. In other words, by talking about the game with the people talking about it, you might just sell a few bats too. Really, it's not unlike the difference between people you chat with at a professional luncheon and those who are too busy pumping their business cards in your hand.

All in all, Livingston does deliver a book several steps above the books littering online shelves. It seems to me the people it would best serve fall into three categories: People who are taking an interest in social media (or being thrust into it), executives who won't be doing it but want their team to start doing it, and a whole lot of "tool strategists" that count how many followers they have.

At the same time, you also expect Livingston to simplify some complex organizational concepts in an increasingly conversational way that anyone can relate to. It's a super fast read and presents several case studies that aren't talked about as often. You can finish it in a weekend afternoon and feel smarter for it on Monday. (And that doesn't even mention the introduction by Adam Ostrow, which I'll save for another day.)

That is not to say there aren't some "devil in the details" issues to watch out for. There are typos, too many. And on occasion, you might want to recheck some references because the stories don't mesh well with how events played out. (The one that stands out the most is JetBlue, but only because I covered it. Their blog only went silent as Neeleman was pushed aside.)

Who Might Be Best Served By A Visit To The Fifth Estate.

Welcome to the Fifth Estate is even stronger for Livingston than Now Is Gone. And it will open up more speaking opportunities for him as a professional who adds more quality to the field than people who "seem" to be more popular.

I can easily recommend it for executives who have less interest in social media but know their company needs to adopt it. There is no doubt it will help them avoid being sold snake oil. I also think it's a very worthwhile read for anyone who isn't up to speed on strategic communication but operating in social media. Livingston will take you half to three-quarters of the way there. And lastly, I appreciate the opportunity to have read an advanced electronic version because it provides a great snapshot of where we are on the path to wherever we might end up.

Tuesday, September 15

Defining People: How Publicity, PR, And SM View The World


The Buzz Bin's Geoff Livingston wrote an open letter to PR execs entering social media that caused a stir among various communication professionals. It's an interesting piece that helps to pinpoint various emerging views on social media.

At the core of the letter, Livingston suggests everyone wants better outcomes, but the methods are different. But for anyone not immersed in communication, the question that remains unanswered is why are the methods so different?

It may have something to do with how publicity, public relations, and social media see the world. Or, more specifically, it might be better to say how they see their audiences or publics, which is not always the customer.

An oversimplified perspective of how professionals see the world.

Publicity.
• World View: Publicity sees the world as its oyster, with every person on the planet as a potential customer or, more correctly, if you reach more people, then you are more likely to reach your customer.
• Method: Do something, anything, that will be covered by as much mainstream media as possible to maximize the exposure. There are bound to be potential customers who see it, somewhere.
• Why It Works: Reach is a powerful, often overemphasized, part of any communication equation.
• Why It Doesn't Always Work: Maximizing exposure for the sake of maximizing exposure is often at odds with branding. It tends to see people as mindless masses whose only purpose in life is to be spammed to death, along with the medium that has readership/viewership.

Public Relations.
• World View: Public relations sees the world as a collection of publics, which the organization attempts to develop a relationship with through various programs.
• Method: Plan immediate and long-term communication programs that strengthen the relationship between various groups and the organization. Bonus if the professional can do it in a mutually beneficial way.
• Why It Works: It's planned, measurable, and can change behavior and public opinion.
• Why It Doesn't Always Work: All too often, the people practicing public relations are really practicing publicity as if they are the same thing. Another common problem is some public relations professionals forget their publics are fluid, which means any message that reaches one public may not be isolated to that public. The result is that some messages work with one public (like consumers), but alienate other publics (like shareholders and employees). (I once even had one pro tell me that shareholders are never considered a public because that's an investor relations function ... as if.)

Social Media.
• World View: People are individuals looking for personal relationships; and customers are kings.
• Method: Make friends with as many people as possible and those people will do things for you like tell all their friends too.
• Why It Works: It creates relationships, sometimes on a scale of one-to-one and develops a deeper sense of trust between the organization's representative and those individuals.
• Why It Doesn't Always Work: It's not easily measured (it is, but many experts claim it isn't or measure the wrong stuff); personalities attract people beyond customers; the organization becomes secondary to the rock stars they fund; lack of leadership (management) leaves brands open for interpretation; and individual blunders reflect on the organization. Too often, some PR pros who really practice publicity attempt to push market people to death in this space. If it can be gamed, it will be gamed.

All three world views can benefit companies, with an integrated approach and minus abuses. Marketing and advertising fit into the equation as well, but there are an equal number of world views in that communication sector as well. (We'll save those for Thursday.)

Unfortunately, an integrated methodology seems to remain in the far off future for most firms as they attempt to transplant their view in an environment where it doesn't belong (or worse, claiming ownership), with publicity crunching numbers, public relations mistaking the Internet as a single public, and social media kissing more BFF butt than Jordon Dizon, according to Eric Cartman. And with this understood, is it any wonder why some executives have a hard time taking communication seriously?

Friday, November 7

Forgetting Image: Reputation Beats Rock Star


When Don King first decided to tease his hair up to make a crown fitting for his infectious smile, booming laugh, and inimitable vocabulary, he quickly became globally recognizable as a universal boxing promoter. But while his flamboyant style is the stuff of legend, he never forgot that he came from a hardcore Cleveland ghetto nor did he mistake his larger-than-life-image for anything other than a recognizable badge that symbolized his personal brand and reputation.

"Nothing makes me happier than to promote a fight card with boxers from 10 different countries: the fighters, the corner men, the media, the business people-all of them," says King. "The thrill comes when these people, who would never normally come into contact with one another, work together on an event. They learn that no matter what color, race, religion or whatever you are, underneath the skin we are all the same on the inside."

It's a lesson that can be easily applied to social media participants. Somewhere along the way, some so-called social media elite seem to be forgetting that it takes more than a flash-in-the-pan rock star image to establish a reputation. And those who covet these sometimes larger-than-life online images wonder how they too might establish a network of fans and followers.

There are no fans or followers. There are only people.

When I first heard Geoff Livingston decided to take on personal branding, I thought we might disagree because personal branding can be important.

However, in reading his post, it quickly became all too clear that while our definitions are different — as I view personal branding as the relationship between the person and other people — we're on the same page about image promotion. The role of the communicator is not about building ego-based images that eclipse the companies and clients they work for.

Social media consultants rely on personal brands,” Livingston writes. "Communicators rely on building value between organizations and their stakeholders.”

I'll go a step further. Consultants who rely on personal image promotion over organization value propositions drive wedges between the organization and stakeholders to such a degree that the organization risks considerable long-term damage despite any short-term gains. Rock star images and other personalities aren't establishing a relationship between organizations and stakeholders; they only establish relationships between the organization's stakeholders and themselves.

Twitter adds to the confusion of people vs. business presence.

During and after yesterday's webinar and the IABC/Las Vegas post discussion, I learned more from the participants than they learned from me as is often the case. Enough so that the material covered deserves its own post next week, but I would be remiss not to mention one point as it relates to this topic.

There seems to be considerable misinterpretation being made when people learn about applying social media, especially presence applications such as Twitter. It isn't what either Aaron Uhrmacher presented during the session and what I discussed with participants in Las Vegas after the webinar or what social media experts tell their clients every day. Rather, it stems from the simple observation that social media lessons are easy to misinterpret.

When session participants hear that the number of followers adds value to Twitter, some translate that into pursuing followers. While the statement is true, the translation is not. In fact, it is such translations that reinforce the notion that there is a "Twitter strategy" with the goal being to get to the top of some list, which reinforces the need to be a rock star.

Yet, when the objective of social media merely becomes presence inflation, it distracts from any communication objective.

Such translation issues are not exclusive to social media. The same misinterpretation occurs in public relations when public relations professionals tell clients that all press is good; therefore the objective becomes pursing press and the measure becomes column inches. It is not true in public relations nor is it true in social media. The measure is not how much press or social media presence can be earned, but rather how capable the company is in communicating a message that reinforces its strategic objectives through various distribution channels such as the press or engagement channels such as social media.

The measure is not how many followers it takes to be an "influencer" but rather the consistent quality of content and the relationships established based upon those conversations that result in real engagement. For example, when Ryan Anderson lost his wallet in Las Vegas, we didn't just have a conversation about it. We did something about it. And, when he learned that we were raising money for the Arthritis Foundation, he did something about it.

All the followers in the world could not provide a more suitable solution. Hmmm ... still don't get it? Although he was talking about being charitable, you could swap out "a truly charitable gesture" for "strategic communication" from the king of image promotion and it might just drive the point home. That's right. Say what you will about Don King but he gets it.

"If you do something just to get noticed, then it is not a truly charitable gesture." — Don King

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Monday, October 27

Talking About Social Media: Solutions Stars Video

Geoff Livingston released a sneak peak of NetworkSolutions' upcoming Solutions Stars Video, a 45-minute video that compiles an overview of social media for small businesses from the viewpoint of several pros across nine different topics:

• Building Web Presence
• The Social Opportunity
• Start with Listening
• Strategy Drives Outreach
• You Need Social Networks
• To Blog or Not to Blog
• Visibility Through Search
• Rising Above the Noise
• Time Demands

The video will be released online at 1 p.m. this Wednesday, Oct. 29. It will also be available on Facebook and Yahoo Events, and includes a chat session with some participants.

The sneak peak includes sound bites from Brian Solis, Rohit Bhargava, Tim Ferriss, Steve Hall, Toby Bloomberg, Ryan Anderson, Darren Rowse, David Alston, Mari Smith, Liz Strauss, and Paul Chaney.

Tuesday, July 8

Thinking About Socialprise: Geoff Livingston

Have you ever joined two different forums on the same topic and had different experiences? Most people have, but few ever consider the reason.

Both forums create their own unique cultures, which is largely dependent on preexisting but unwritten guidelines within those forums. You know, the communication that takes place there.

In most cases, it’s defined by the participants. In some cases, it’s defined by volunteer moderators. And in a few cases, it’s defined by the developers who interact with the population. But what most people do not realize is that the forum owners, even if they do not know it, have a choice.

Communication defines cultures, online and off.

It’s not just forums. Walk into two convenience stores with the same name, and you might have two different experiences. Walk into some coffee shops with the same name, and they feel somewhat the same. It has nothing to do with proximity, and everything to do with the communication structure.

Geoff Livingston touches on this in his newest white paper on social enterprises, which is very close to being right. The next step goes well beyond implementing two-way communication models across multiple departments.

The suggested shift swings too far.

It seems to me that the only real challenge is some people apply too much prevailing social media think, which was largely driven by Shel Israel and Doc Searls, on a model that was meant to be two-way communication, but not customer-driven one-way communication. As Livingston points out...

… “Shel believes that companies need their people to act as individuals on behalf of the corporate entity in socialized worlds. Because of the very nature of social media, it will be much harder for companies to diffuse their messages as an entity.”

… “In the “Cluetrain Manifesto,” Doc Searls said there’s no market for messages. Ten years later this still holds true. Canned messages meant to manipulate customers into buying bad product are disregarded.”

Because these ideas are only half right, it’s driven some to conclude that the customers always need to drive the company. And a lack of messages will surely help drive a company in that direction.

Can messaging work in the world of two-way communication?

It’s essential that they do. No, I do not mean “canned messages meant to manipulate customers into buying bad product are disregarded.” But messages that provide a context for the culture they hope to create are vital to a vibrant company. When it’s done right, it’s natural — not necessarily top down, but always from the inside out.

If more companies realized that they can have the best of both worlds — authentic two-way communication between top management, departments, and the company and its customers as well as a manageable (not controllable) message that helps define the company — then social media might not seem so unmanageable. At times, it can seem like a free for all, but it does not have to be.

The challenge isn’t so much controlling the message. It’s defining “what” or, more precisely, “who” the company is to its employees and customers. If a company can get what I call its core message right then the rest is much easier. As authentic messages move from the inside out, it can help create a culture for the company internally and externally.

With such a center — a properly (and accurately) defined company — then the rest is always easier. Ironically, most companies, even Fortune 500 companies, don’t really have one. In fact, it’s one of the very reasons the top five toughest interview questions remain “what does your company do?” and “why should anyone care?”

Don’t believe it? Go around the office today and individually ask several employees those two questions. At most companies, you’ll find as many different answers as the number of employees asked.

Socialprise, as Livingston has adopted it, is worth taking a look at. Yet, until companies have a working definition of “what” or “who” they are, the concept falls flat (but not because the concept is flawed). Why? Because it’s not just the conversation or the engagement alone. It’s also about the context in which they occur.


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Monday, February 11

Going, Going: Now Is Gone


It has been four long months since Now Is Gone by Geoff Livingston with Brian Solis first landed on Amazon and bookstore shelves. That’s a long time in the world of new media, making me wonder whether another review serves any real purpose, especially from someone who was included.

Yeah, about that. When Livingston visited us in Vegas, I told him I would have to ding my informal poll’s inclusion in the book, given how it is presented. I might as well start there. Sure, poll respondents called the Wal-Mart flog the biggest social media transgression to date (36 percent), but only 23 people voted.

Nine opinions is hardly as valid as it seems in print. What’s also missing is that I followed up on the subject, stating that the poll participants were a bit off: John Mackey and Julie Roehm had much larger lapses in ethical judgments. The Wal-Mart flog merely stands out because it was perpetrated by a number of people who knew better, and could have been avoided by the tiniest of disclosures.

This doesn’t really detract from the book; it’s just something to keep in mind. Like all books on new media (and everything else for that matter), sourcing the original content is important because, in understanding the greater context of the conversation, readers may come up with different conclusions than those laid out before them.

Livingston does one of the best jobs in helping people find such content, citing direct links that can be easily tracked back to the source. It makes sense.

Why Now Is Gone Works

Now Is Gone is a book that attempts a daunting task and mostly succeeds. It captures new media conversations by communication leaders as it occurred. It’s something David Meerman Scott did with The New Rules of Marketing and PR. For this reason alone, Now Is Gone is exactly what it says it is: a primer on new media for executives and entrepreneurs, people who are starting to realize they need to catch up on several months or years worth of conversation.

Livingston and the forward by Solis do a good job in presenting this, providing dozens of lessons learned, best practices, and case studies. It is often encapsulated into sound advice bites — “one new thing new media creators can learn from traditional media outlets is the creation of phenomenal content can be targeted toward a particular community” — which rightfully points to an idea that new media doesn’t require trickery as much as honest, targeted content.

Another common theme is how new media often requires active participation. Case in point: Livingston was one of several people who encouraged me to participate across more social networks than I ever intended. He’s very, very good at it (I'm just okay). He may even be one of the best at it, because he practices what he preaches…

“Social Networks that feature opt-in friends or followers can be great ways to engage sub-communities outside of a corporate social media initiative. By building value for these contacts in a participation-oriented, value-building manner, organizations can intelligently build an extended community of brand loyalists.” — Now Is Gone.

While it’s true this is sometimes time-consuming, time management and targeted participation makes the return well worth the effort. Coming away from reading Now Is Gone for the second time, it also reinforces how social networking may even be more important than a blog in that it exposes the participant to a bigger world view. It’s not all that different from participating in a professional organization on a local level. Sure, the lines are blurred and the network is bigger, but the sociology is the same.

Now Is Gone doesn't stop there. It also works hard to prove that social networks and social media cannot be ignored, no matter how much people think they can be. It is in this topic that Livingston and Solis both make their best cases for the idea that new media is changing marketing, advertising, and public relations in ways that no one expected.

They are right, even if some of the changes seem to be taking us back to the golden era of advertising when people like Ogilvy, Polykoff, Manley, and a slew of others knew that effective copywriting was all about engaging consumers in conversation. It’s the conversation, not the art or price point alone, that changes behavior.

A Cautionary Note About New Media Books

In addition to the rush to market, which sometimes leaves communication colleagues miffed by rough writing, there is something to keep in mind when reading any book about new media. And that is... it's new media.

It’s so new that some social media proponents struggle with one critical piece of wisdom: the work they are doing today is important, but it may not be strong enough to make them immortal or any more correct in being among the first. The scientific field is much more versed in working in such an environment. More than one scientist has experienced a moment when their biggest contribution is proven to be slightly flawed on the front end, making an entire volume of work invalid.

The Permian-Triassic extinction event about 250 million years ago comes to mind. There were dozens of theories floating around about the extinction for decades, ranging from large and multiple impacts and increased volcanism to methane releases from the sea floor.

However, with a single new discovery, some of these theories (and theories built on top of these theories) were suddenly left behind as entire volumes of research needed to be rewritten. The only difference, it seems to me, is that scientists are a bit more prepared for this to happen. Social media proponents? I'm not always sure they are.

Given how often I see some write that we “don’t need to reinvent the wheel,” I’m unconvinced that they are ready for for sweeping changes that occur when the wheel is reinvented. If there wasn't a need to reinvent wheels, we'd still have giant log rollers under our cars and trucks, Flinstone style. And we certainly wouldn't need new media.

Of course, this isn’t a criticism of the book. This is an area where Livingston always stands out. He allows the conversation to speak for itself, perfectly content to see it disproved, overturned by new ideas, or evolve in ways that early pioneers never intended.

You can see some of this happen in real time on the Now Is Gone blog. It’s a great read, with multiple authors picking up where the book leaves off.

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Thursday, January 17

Catching Buzz: Richard Becker


On Jan. 4, Geoff Livingston tagged me with the popular “eight random things about you” meme, but with all the great questions recently posed by Livingston and Larissa Fair in my interview at The Buzz Bin today, the last thing I want to do is talk about me.

So this time around, I’m going to cheat the meme by directing my response to the first time I was tagged with it. You can find it over at RecruitingBlogs. Yes, that meme is the same “random eight things about me” meme that forced me to defend one of my many stranger than fiction stories.

So what I would like to do instead is to add some additional insight into something I mentioned in the interview.

Welcome, Sweat

Popular Jericho blogger Barbara Sweat (aka Jane Sweat) will be interning with us as an online research assistant, effective Feb. 1. Having watched her skills evolve over the last eight months has been very rewarding, punctuated by her interview with writer Matt Federman today.

We offered the internship to Sweat so she could start getting her feet wet in professional communication beyond social media, which she already has a strong grasp of from the perspective of an independent blogger. (Enough to win Best TV Blogger on the Hey!Nielsen site. She has received ample recognition for her blogs elsewhere too.)

While her blogs remain independent of the work we do, it’s my hope her work with us will turn into some amazing opportunities. In some ways, she herself is becoming an example of parlaying a personal blog into a professional opportunity.

On the surface, this might seem avant garde to a few, but not so much to me. We managed 40 writers around the world for a hospitality trade publication several years ago (and still work with several), much the same way: we sourced their resumes, asked for work samples, and gave them assignments via e-mail. Before that, I would pitch and write articles for magazines by contacting editors through the mail. What’s the difference?

I appreciate that some people will never adopt social media, but I do think the time has come for some to let go of the notion that new technology and tools somehow changes everything.

On the contrary, they don’t change what is done, just the way it is done. That said, I’d like to tag some other people for the “eight random things about you” meme, starting with Jane Sweat.

I’ll also tag three more bloggers who deserve some long overdue recognition for helping me with the BlogStraightTalk group at BlogCatalog: Alan Jobe, Dane Morgan, and Mark Stoneman. I couldn’t do it without them.

Likewise, I'd like to extend an additional thanks to Livingston and Fair. It’s an honor to have been included. I truly appreciate the hospitality.

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Monday, December 10

Digging In: Marketing vs. PR


Can two people be right and wrong at the same time? Bill Sledzik, associate professor in the School of Journalism & Mass Communication at Kent State University, and Geoff Livingston, author and owner of Livingston Communications, beg the question.

Sledzik is distrusting of the integration of public relations under marketing. Livingston believes in the convergence of integrated communication under marketing.

They are neither wrong nor right, or perhaps they are both wrong and right. Take your pick. Both present compelling arguments, although both posts also have points that nearly threw me out of my chair in a twisted grimace caused by the collision of comedy and tragedy — there were several such moments, but I’ll stick with the one that made me chuckle while reaching for the Tums.

Livingston’s erred definition of public relations using an online dictionary brutally misrepresents the function of public relations. And Sledzik, pulling out the dusty classical collegiate definition of marketing as defined by the 4 Ps (product, price, place, and promotion) only reinforces what many modern marketers gave up in favor of sales and profits decades ago.

If there is a convergence crisis, it is only because communication-related industries have become so fragmented and the definitions so misshapen that respected professionals in both disciplines spend more time lobbying to be above each other than they ever do to benefit their companies or clients. And if it was bad before, expect it to get worse as social media has made the battle lines look more like WWI than WWW II.

“But wait,” some might say, scratching their heads. “I thought Richard Becker was an advocate of integrated communication.”

You bet your bippy I am. But not under the condition that marketing or public relations will take the lead. You see, Sledzik is right. They are two very different disciplines. And yet, Livingston is right. We need better communication integration. But neither is right because while marketing and public relations intersect, neither can replace nor lead the other. Arg!

A Letter From Switzerland

As a longtime accreditation examiner for the International Association of Business Communicators, I have the pleasure of grading exams submitted by some very bright people, many of whom have more than a decade of experience in some facet of communication and can be easily considered leaders in their respected fields — marketing, advertising, public relations, internal communication, investor relations, community relations, etc. et al.

Specifically, this rigorous peer review process challenges candidates to demonstrate their ability to think and plan strategically and then manage the skills required to effectively implement tactics that are essential to effective organizational communication, which includes marketing, public relations, media relations, external relations, internal communication, and crisis communication.

You can learn more about the accreditation process here and as an accreditation liaison for the local chapter in Las Vegas (accreditation chair), I’ll be writing more in weeks ahead.

For the purposes of this post, I’ll simply touch on that this is a globally accepted standard of knowledge and proficiency in organizational communication, enough so that some universities recognize it as the equivalent of a master’s degree and some government agencies recognize it as an expertise that precludes certain jobs from being sent out to bid (though, some human resources departments do not). It is denoted by the designation Accredited Business Communicator (ABC), which is not to be confused with the APR, as offered by the Public Relations Society of America. (The tests are different enough that several attempts to combine them since the 1980s have failed.)

I mention the ABC today because, while I cannot share specifics as I am bound by confidentiality, my experience in grading these exams may shed light on the challenges associated with integrating communication from the disciplines of marketing or public relations. Put simply, as an examiner, I can tell which school of thought with which the candidates are most comfortable and, often but not always, razor sharp focus in either leads to communication breakdown.

Observations From The Front

An overly general and probably unfair characterization reveals accreditation candidates with a heavy marketing background tend to lack empathy and seldom consider various publics beyond their target audience, treating the transaction as more important than any long-term relationship and dismissing qualitative research with the wave of a hand. Whereas candidates with a heavy public relations background do not always link their objectives to any sort of measurable outcome, leaving one to wonder if they understand the difference between public relations and publicity (the latter is tied to promotion, folks) or realize that all the positive media in the world won’t change anyone’s mind.

Neither discipline really considers the long-term consequences that communication may have on multiple publics or how to craft a single message that will appeal to publics that have varied and even conflicted opinions about the same subject. Most do not even know how to craft communication about downsizing that will make shareholders cheer without disenfranchising and demoralizing internal stakeholders. And sometimes, in the push to redefine communication, especially with the advent of social media, many neglect the core tenets of their own disciplines, with marketing hijacked by profit seekers and sales, and public relations prowess measured by the size of an electronic media Rolodex.

In truth, both have seemed to give up ground in the areas where they have the most influence in favor of only one P, which is very place they seem to intersect — promotion. In such a world, marketing becomes sales; and public relations becomes publicity. And neither of these two distorted views of communication will have any lasting impact or profound ability to change behavior in such a way that a brand might actually become a cultural statement.

Organizational communication, though I prefer to call it strategic communication, is about much more than marketing or public relations, but values them both more than they value each other. And while some intuitive professionals may at times push above their marketing or public relations background to become a communicator, most will forever be encamped on either side of the “No Man’s Land” they created, machine guns blazing from the trenches.

And that is why Sledzik and Livingston (two people I hold in high regard in case you don’t know that), peering out of their respective foxholes, are both right and wrong. We need to integrate communication, but it will take much more than public relations or marketing to do it. See you in Versailles.

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Wednesday, September 19

Changing Times: The New York Times

“The blogosphere is all about Internet links that move faster and more efficiently than the traditional word-of-mouth advertising.” Tracey Clark, May Papers

From Maria Piscopo’s article in Communication Arts, Tracey Clark believes in blog marketing. She's not the only one. And for good reason.

It took me less than a minute to find Clark’s e-mail and congratulate her on a prolific quote. The same day, she wrote me back, thanking me and mentioning that she didn’t know the article was up. I almost e-mailed her back to say I didn’t know if it was up on the net or not; I had read the hard copy version of Communication Arts. (How barbaric of me to say so, but Communication Arts is one of my few hard copy vices.) The assumption though is part of the story. The speed of being able to have a brief communication exchange took hours.

Do you remember how long something like that would take? Weeks? Months? Never?

In the article, Clark also mentions how quickly she understood the potential. Within her first month of blogging, she was featured as the “momtreprenner” of the month by a highly trafficked shopping blog for moms. Another featured blogger in the article, John Janstch, says he can track as much as $500,000 worth of business to his blog. There are more case studies to consider. We have a few here at Copywrite, Ink. too.

Social media works because as Clark’s quote sums, word-of-mouth marketing, one-on-one communication, or frontline communication have always been recognized as the most credible forms of communication. The down side was that it used to be slow – travel, meetings, follow-ups, phone calls, introductions.

Social media, blogs specifically, have a unique ability to create that one-on-one communication link between the blogger and the reader, which is reinforced by open participation in comment sections. It makes sense that individuals and small businesses were the first to employ them because blogs, unless overburdened by puffery, provide a better return on investment than other communication tactics on their own. Sure, it still takes some time and it is better to have someone on board who can write well; but that’s where companies like ours fit into the mix.

Ironically, this blogger-to-reader model is one of several hold backs for most businesses. Most executives don’t have the time nor the inclination to peddle their companies with a blog. And more than that, as I offered up on recruitingblogs.com, is that any trepidation is not because of blogdramas or personal blogs as some claim. It is because of what David Meerman Scott and I pointed out some time ago: there is too much gibberish. When you talk to people who are not immersed in social media, their eyes glaze over if you rattle off traffic, rank, connections, and influence.

In contrast, you can see the lights turn back on when you mention that Southwest Airlines attributes $150 million in ticket sales to its widget, which is part of its social media mix.

So what is really going on? Social media gibberish is beginning to outweigh the significance that social media can add to business strategy which is an opportunity to communicate with the power of one-on-one communication, develop a dedicated online publication (as opposed to e-mail blasts), or whatever 5-in-1 tool you can dream up.

The more businesses hear about these possibilities, the more likely they will engage in social media. But, if you ask me, eventually, they will embrace it anyway. Because, you see, the times are changing.

Right. The New York Times is changing (Hat tip: Jane Sweat). Effective today, The New York Times is ending TimesSelect and opening its content, archives, and other features for free. Why? Take it from the Times.

“Since we launched TimesSelect in 2005, the online landscape has altered significantly. Readers increasingly find news through search, as well as through social networks, blogs and other online sources. In light of this shift, we believe offering unfettered access to New York Times reporting and analysis best serves the interest of our readers, our brand and the long-term vitality of our journalism. We encourage everyone to read our news and opinion – as well as share it, link to it and comment on it.”

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Monday, September 3

Staking Claims: Social Media Borg


The most humorous aspect of staking claims in social media recently came to me from a post made by Jeremy Langhans at RecruitingBlogs.com. It was a sum up of a Pete Cashmore quip about Facebook.

“In light of recent controversies over who exactly invented Facebook, I think now is the time to come clean: I did. Not Mark Zuckerberg, not the ConnectU folks and certainly not the latest claimant to the idea: Aaron Greenspan … I was considering a way to include high school or college photographs in a printed book, and came up with a concept I called Faces Book.”

I saw it again at Geoff Livingston’s Now Is Gone blog as Steven E. Streight attempted to set our discussion — when flogs might work and when they might not — straight. The statements rang loudly, perhaps with a hint of seriousness.

“The core values of blogging, as set by the early bloggers from 1992 to 2004, include Transparency, Authenticity, Passion, Integrity … CEOs and others can have pro writers polish up their blog posts, or suggest topics, even write a few sample posts to get them going … The peer to peer recommendation system of the Trust Web will fall apart when fake blogs, phony Twitter accounts, and PayPerPost type blog whoring invade our realm.”

In other words, sorry but that ground was covered. Please refer to the social media rulebook that it is littered about the Internet in random posts and discussions and cite the appropriate sources.

WARNING. New discussion is futile. You must assimilate.

And yet again by Shel Holtz when he shared his bad pitch experience. Don’t get me wrong, it was a pretty awful pitch from the Washington D.C.-based Adfero Group. It began “I wanted to let you know about an innovative new PR tactic that the readers of the “Shel Holz” blog might find interesting.” (Their misspelling, not mine.)

But then, even Holtz digresses a bit into borg speak while discussing what the Adfero Group calls a new PR tactic: “Funny. That sounds just like the social media press release format I’ve been touting for, what, a year? The same concept that has a home on the web and a working group. It was introduced by SHIFT Communications well over a year ago in response to an appeal by journalist Tom Foremski.”

Yeah, I remember that. I called it a buffet template, meaning no offense to Todd Defren. As I pointed out then, at least Defren had the good sense to do something when everyone else was dragging their respective professional heels. But back then, credit was less important than building upon the social media framework so more people would take it seriously. But now that we have established social media as viable communication tool, and some newcomers are starting to make their own paths, times have changed. Didn’t you get the memo?

WARNING. New tactics are futile. You must assimilate.

Humility. That is one term that the early adapters forget to include in the core values drafted in 1992 to 2004. As professional communicators or others shaping social media, we might remember that much of our early work will go unnoticed by the greater body of people who will eventually employ it in some fashion.

What do I mean? Well, as much as Holtz seemed to chastise the Adfero Group for not knowing the history of social media before making wild claims (and they were wild), nowhere on Holtz’s blog will you find any reference to Jorn Barger or Brian Redman, who were among the earliest bloggers.

For that matter, maybe I should lay some early claim too. I had a daily news update in the 1990s to augment a bi-monthly print and online publication. Does that count too? Technically speaking, minus comments, it was a blog. Or maybe my regular forum postings on AOL before that, as AOL was one of the first social networks (despite everyone claiming social networks are somehow new). No, I'm not that presumptuous. Besides, I have better ideas to hang my hat on.

Funny. There always seems to be predecessors to the predecessors and we all might be well served to remember that. In fact, sometimes similar ideas come from different places with the originator having no knowledge of what the others might be doing. Sometimes they are borrowed upon and made better. Sometimes borrowers give credit. Sometimes they do not. Sometimes they don't even know to do it.

Usually, but not always, the only reason early concepts are stolen away is because the original idea didn’t stick well enough to hold. But that’s the price of progress. I’m so sorry, but nobody really owns social media or the concepts that are being tried and tested here. Much like some caveman’s family isn’t getting paid royalties for the invention and application of the wheel.

To be clear, I’m not against Zuckerberg, Greenspan, Streight, or Holtz reminding us that little pieces of this and that were developed by others first. That’s admirable.

What I am less comfortable with is beating down new ideas and discussions for want of territorial superiority and forced assimilation. When the collective starts doing that, maybe it's time to remember that there is a whole big world out there beyond the insulated cube one can create online. Or, in other words, social media experts invited the world to participate; don't be disappointed if they accept the invitation as explorers and not as loyal subjects.

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Thursday, August 23

Bridging The Gap: Where Social Media Can Miss

Only one question keeps coming to mind when I read about the anti-critic sentiment expressed by the MyRagan team, the lack of communication and customer service that underpins Facebook, and (in contrast) the sending of flowers and the power of forgiveness. Is there any room for ‘high touch’ customer service in the rapid-fire world of the Internet or social media?

A few years ago, when I asked Curtis Nelson, president and CEO of Carlson Hospitality Worldwide, he certainly hoped so. He saw technology as a way to enhance guest expectations and the high touch service provided by hospitality employees.

“Information is an advantage, but informed decisions will depend on how much you know about your customers and how strong of a ‘high touch’ relationship they can establish,” Nelson said. “People make decisions (including purchases) based on emotion,” which is why customer service plays an increasing important role in terms of value and the profit of repeat customers.

In the hospitality industry, he wasn’t the only one who thought so. Virtually every executive I spoke to had the same message and similar warnings despite the fact that the hospitality industry was investing as much as 3.4 percent of its total annual revenue in technology at the time.

“Always remember, no amount of technology can provide guests an informed opinion,” offered Nicholas Mutton, then senior vice president of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts.

Consistently, they all pointed to simultaneously increasing guest services and technology because they viewed such investments as a critical part of their and strategy of the operation. Now, a mere five years later, is it any wonder why hospitality continues to be one of the fastest-growing industries in the world.

Not only did hospitality have an ideal environment—one where more governments assist their tourism industries by consolidating efforts and collecting vertical and geographic buying patterns, trip motivations, and psychographic profiles (information made increasingly available because of technology)—but the best of them always remembered what so few seem to remember in the world of social media.

“Some things must remain very, very human,” said James Brown, then president of Rosewood Hotel & Resorts. “The last thing I would ever want to see at a concierge desk (for example) is a guest asking for a good Italian restaurant and someone looking it up on a computer. A concierge should know it — serving as the buffer between the technology.”

Given the advent of technology with social networks and various social media platforms, I can only imagine that those who remain vigilant in bridging the gap between high tech and high touch will be those left standing two or three years from now. In other words, once the excitement of something new erodes, the rush of new members begins to flatten, and the initial purchase based on emotion gives way to logical review, all that remains is the collective impressions created by the individual, firm, or company.

In the lead above, only one seemed to get it. For the other two, they might remember that as big as some companies or social networks might get, none is exempt from losing ground as fast as they gained it.

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Friday, August 17

Understanding Gumballs: From Trunk To Maltoni

If there is one secret to be learned after conducting hundreds and thousands of interviews, ranging from an emotionally exhausted mother staying at a Ronald McDonald House to billionaire Sheldon Adelson, it is that the success of any interview hinges on effective communication.

And, if there is any prerequisite to ensure effective communication, it is to see the interviewee as a person, regardless of any perceived labels — status, position, gender, whatever. The concept is simple. The execution is not.

For the past few months, one label that seems to have galvanized, if not polarized, online communities and bloggers is the most basic of all — gender. To this ongoing discussion in its numerous forms, I say gumballs.

Right, gumballs. You know what I mean. When we were all kids and could not care less about silly things like gender, most of us claimed certain gumballs were better than others — blue, red, yellow. We were all delusional. The gumballs all tasted the same.

The gender issue is much like that. It doesn't matter where it turns up. Last month it appeared on a post penned by the popular blogger Penelope Trunk when she abandoned career conversations in favor of sharing her perspective on her marriage, which quickly turned into a war of words about gender.

“So I’m going to tell you the truth about stay-at-home dads…” she wrote.

Not surprisingly, most of the discussion quickly descended into non-communication, with some claiming that any man commenter who disagreed was somehow invalid, if not sexist, because, well, they were men. Never mind that not all of them were men.

Ho hum. What most missed was that if there is a "truth" about stay-at-home dads … it is that there is no truth about stay-at-home dads. Just as there is no truth about stay-at-home moms. Just as there is no truth that accurately defines a good marriage, spouse, or parent. Just as there is no truth to any discussion that revolves around a label.

We saw the same descent into non-communication after Valeria Maltoni published her Top 20 PR PowerWomen list, which prompted Lewis Green to write his much discussed post, which questioned the validity of an all-woman list (he has since yielded and agreed to support it).

Before I continue, I might point out that I already commented at the The Buzz Bin and agreed with Geoff Livingston’s decision to support the Top 20 PR PowerWomen. However, I also understand what Green was asking, but think that he asked the wrong question.

In sum, it seems to me that Green asked whether any list segregated by gender, race, or ethnicity was valid. In other words, he may as well have asked if we group our gumballs by size or color, does that place the other gumballs at a disadvantage. Um no, they still taste the same.

But let's say he asked a slightly different question. Does the promotion of a label — status, position, gender, whatever — further erode the ability of people to interact as individuals without regard to labels (such as gender) or does it simply draw more attention to their differences as identified by such a label and breed resentment?

Well now, that depends solely on the gumballs who make up the group. In this case, there is no evidence that the Top 20 PR PowerWomen are promoting that pink gumballs somehow taste better than blue gumballs simply because they are pink, which basically means that the list is no more exclusionary than a Top 20 PR PowerPeople in the Washington D.C. Area list or a Top 20 Bloggers Who Own Red Socks list.

However, Green's question also illustrates why labels are tricky things. On one hand, humans have great cognitive capabilities, which includes processing large amounts of information by categorizing it by labels. On the other hand, if we are not aware of this process, we can become enslaved by it — either by subconsciously taking on stereotyped behaviors that are identified with a specific label or assuming other people will likely act like the labels that they are assigned.

The simplest truth is there are no typical women and there are no typical men. And if you approach either with the preconceived notion that they will react or respond to you as their label suggests they might, you will likely be disappointed. Worse, you could greatly increase the likelihood of label-centric non-communication.

In a different context, freeing us from the trappings of gender: there are no typical mothers to be found at Ronald McDonald House. And there are no typical billionaires. They are all people and each of them deserve to be treated with respect as individuals. Treat them any differently and you may as well argue that one gumball is better than another gumball, when we all know that they taste the same.

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Wednesday, August 15

Savoring Originality: Social Media Patrons

Kerry Simon is not as well known as Wolfgang Puck or Emeril Lagasse. His restaurant at the Hard Rock in Las Vegas, Simon Kitchen and Bar, will never boast a billion served like some fast food chains. And yet, you might find Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, George Clooney, or any number of other stars enjoying what he calls casual American.

Even more astounding, you don’t have to be a star to get great service and enjoy an atmosphere that is similar to the menu — causally gourmet with a twist of modern imagination.

On one visit, Simon even took my surprised son into the kitchen to make cotton candy (gratis). On another, after not visiting for months, one of the servers remembered our drinks.

The food is remarkable; the meatloaf (his mom’s recipe) is the best anywhere; and despite earning the title “celebrity chef,” Simon is as approachable as ever. Is it any wonder, after the restaurant My Way (yes, Paul Anka was a partner) closed years ago, that Simon Kitchen and Bar became my personal favorite in Las Vegas?

Social media, blogs specifically, are much the same way. They are like restaurants, an analogy that came about last week when Geoff Livingston (The Buzz Bin) and I were having an open weekly discussion at BlogStraightTalk about content vs. connections. He referenced Robert Scoble’s post that theorizes blogs are dying.

Scoble’s observation concludes that “my friends who blog are NOT A-Listers are seeing their traffic go down (although Scoble’s is down too) … I theorized that was due to social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Jaiku, and Pownce’s rise.”

Last week, I ran an unscientific poll based on the analogy between restaurants and social media. Fifty-one self-selected respondents (mostly bloggers) revealed enough to hypothesize a new theory.

Considering only 16 percent included Facebook, Twitter, Jaiku, and Pownce as places they go most often, it seems possible that Scoble infused his personal preferences into his theory.

Much more likely, it seems that competition from new and increasingly savvy bloggers as well as content shifts among some established B-List blogs are the reason that some of Scoble’s “B-List” friends are seeing diminished traffic. I’m not surprised.

Increased Competition. People can only keep track of so many blogs so as A-List and established B-List bloggers become more entitled or formulaic, readers find new favorites. There are more new blogs than ever before and some of them, despite being new, are better than the established.

Content Shifts. Once some established B-List bloggers are accepted by A-Listers, there seems to be a propensity to shift their content toward A- and B-List coverage as opposed to new ideas. This is where the term social media “echo chamber” came from and it is not likely to go away anytime soon.

Limited Conversational Service. As bloggers become more established, many have a tendency to hang out in the back room more often (or spend more time as quick service restaurants trying to promote pass through traffic). They become too busy to answer comments, other posts, or make new associates because the weather seems fair.

Given these three points, is it any wonder that the vast majority of bloggers and people who read blogs (but do not blog) seem to be looking for up-and-coming Niche Restaurants (B-Listers/67%) and Undiscovered Back Alley Bistros (C-Listers/57%). Is it any wonder that almost half visit places like BlogCatalog.com, StumbleUpon, and YouTube (41%), all of which continue to see increased traffic, to find these non A-List establishments?

What does all this mean? It doesn’t mean blogs are dying. It means that it might take a little more magic than simply serving A-List leftovers or quick fixes in the form of 140 characters. Sure, Facebook, Twitter, Jaiku, and Pownce can be used to serve a purpose, but that doesn’t mean you should abandon your purpose.

If you want a great blog, make your own blog. Whereas companies and professionals are best served by using social media as the 5-in-1 tool to help meet specific strategic objectives (we can help too); independent bloggers might liken it to opening a new niche eatery as original as any chef opening a new restaurant. If people like what’s on the menu, they’ll be back. And if they don’t come back, maybe it’s not because quick service is in fashion. Maybe it's your menu.

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Monday, August 6

Dining Out: Recipes For Social Media Success

After eating a late lunch at Claim Jumper yesterday, neither my son nor I felt all that well. As a former dining reviewer, it wasn’t hard for me to figure out that the food had waited too long on the hot plate before service; the same experience two other guests complained about before departing in a huff.

Social media can make you feel the same way sometimes. Undercooked entrees, poor service, or unrestrained comments leave you wondering why you dropped by to sample the menu (if there is one).

After following a link to Robert Scoble talking about the death of blogging (hat tip to Geoff Livingston’s take on content vs. contacts at BlogStraightTalk), I felt like I did after eating at Claim Jumper.

Sure, I like Scoble’s blog, but lately he seems to be serving up a different dish than what attracted me to begin with. And he hasn't been all that kind to some patrons either. As a “celebrity chef” of blogging, he might know better.

Rather than berate the point, maybe it would be more useful to remind everyone that like restaurants, there are several different culinary styles to social media. Whether you want it served up like fast food (social networks), hole-in-the-wall (undiscovered C-listers), established favorites (B-listers) or something gourmet (A-listers, while they are A-listers anyway), you can always find what you are looking for (and some days you want one more than the other).

But regardless of what kind of blog you have (ancient wisdom, tech and trendy, or fast and frenzied), the best bloggers, no matter what list they are supposedly on, always underpin what they have with some common sense. I could list a hundred or so who do it right. But rather than do that, I’ll share what Julian Serrano, executive chef at Picasso (Bellagio Hotel and Casino), and David Renna, then general manager at Renoir (The Mirage Hotel and Casino) shared with me when their experiences became the first Las Vegas restaurants to earn Mobil Travel Guide’s prestigious five star rating.

Julian Serrano, Picasso (2000)
1. Everyone must work hard and work together as a team. Everyone must think the same.
2. Everything must work together—the service, d├ęcor, and location—in order to give guests the best gastronomic experience possible.
3. You must have the best quality produce and products available. Nothing less will do.
4. Make each guest feel special and important.
5. You must provide good service, good food, and a good overall dining experience.

David Renna, Renoir (2000)
1. Surround yourself and your staff with the most talented people available.
2. You must have commitment from every member of the staff, whether it be the chef, waiter, steward or manager.
3. While it can often be a difficult and expensive task, producing the finest ingredients and wines from around the world makes a tremendous difference in the overall presentation and experience.
4. Service must be professional, and above all, personalized.
5. Every evening, every table, every guests. Create a seamless and hopefully flawless dining experience.

Now that is five-star dining (no wonder why I sometimes miss the assignments). And, not surprisingly, it also happens to be the recipe for social media success — surround yourself with talented contacts, make sure everything is working together, always provide the freshest ingredients, infuse some original content and ideas from around the world, and personalize the experience for guests as much as possible.

It seems to work. So much so that just like most restaurants, the ability to stay on top wth five stars (regardless of seating capacity) has a lot to do with serving substance over flash in the pan.

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Tuesday, July 31

Creating Conversation: BlogStraightTalk

Next Mon. (Aug. 6), Geoff Livingston (The Buzz Bin) will begin to test drive BUMPzee! with a joint community called "BlogStraightTalk."

We were originally going to host BlogStraightTalk on a new closed niche social network that allowed some semblance of group discussions. In fact, it was this closed niche social network that initiated our conversation.

In reviewing the network, I mentioned it might work "if we can only teach social media newcomers what to blog about so the community blog doesn’t die off as a 'promo post' board."

"Well, why don't we do something about that?" Livingston asked.

"Why don't we ... ? Um, social media overload," I offered. "Besides, I'm partial to BlogCatalog.com, RecruitingBloggers.com, and RecruitingBlogs.com, etc., etc.”

Eventually, he persuaded me based on the content model and a modest time commitment (on my part). Besides, it might even be fun to banter about social media somewhere other than our blogs since we do not always agree (but never take those disagreements too seriously).

We were approved and set to launch in early July, but then the term "closed" in the closed niche social network was suddenly taken a bit too seriously for Livingston. It seems that my original definition might have been more accurate if I had said "closed niche commercial network."

Regardless, we found ourselves with a decent concept but no platform for it until settling on BUMPzee, which allows bloggers to develop niche communities around their blogs. I learned about it from Walter Burek and Theresa Hall who host a developing writers community there (I have since joined).

So what's BlogStraightTalk?

BlogStraightTalk is a weekly discussion on the best and worst of blogging content practices, presented in a contrarian format (eg. Ebert & Roper or Kornheiser & Wilbon).

We'll alternate the discussion between best/worst concepts and blogs (or social media) reviews. The basic concept is to open up a discussion among experienced bloggers while allowing those who are newer to social media to gain insights into content development.

Anyone can join as a member of the community and participate in the discussion. Members who have established blogs (with at least 10 posts that positively contribute to the development of social media) may be added to the blog roll.

As Livingston offered up on his blog, "Rich and I do go back and forth on some issues, so it could have a nice Pardon the Interruption “dueling pundits” feel to it."

Does this mean I have to disagree? Find out next Monday.

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Sunday, July 15

Questioning Perception: Geoff Livingston

Geoff Livingston, who pens The Buzz Bin, says the concept of "burying bad news and negative posts with a flurry of good news keeps coming up" again and again. He says it does on New Media Nouveaux and again online via an internal friend’s post at Pownce, which is a presence applicaton that allows you to send messages, links, files, and events to a defined network of friends.

Sure, I've seen this "bury bad news" tactic bantered about plenty: those who promote it (with qualified justifications) and those who do not (see rule 17). Some have even been suggesting that the Online Identity Calculator I employed on Thursday demonstrates why burying bad news and negative posts might work. It does not.

The argument for it is not new. It predates social media and is grounded in the argument that perception is reality. And there really is only one answer to whether that is true, um, sort of: yes and no.

In the world of communication (advertising, marketing, public relations, political consultation, etc.), people, products, and companies live and die by perception every day and all the time. But, to actively live with the mistaken belief that perception is reality is fraught with peril, delusion, and consequence.

For the past 25 years, I've nurtured what once was a .49 cent store-bought spider plant that has followed me from Las Vegas to Los Angeles to Las Vegas to Reno and back again. As you might imagine, after two-and-a-half decades, the plant has grown quite large — around 7 feet in diameter.

Anyone who visits my home is compelled to comment on the spider plant, usually something like "that is the largest spider plant I have ever seen" or "my goodness, your wife must really have a green thumb" (my wife always corrects them) or "you do a beautiful job at taking care of your plants, they are all so healthy."

Although several of these statement grace truths, all of them are really perceptions. Sure, I smile, nod, thank them, but never am I silly enough to believe that their perceptions, as welcome as they are, are grounded in reality. The truth is that my spider plant was in desperate need of a transplant; a pretty big job given the amount of soil and pot size. So despite its rich green color and vibrant leaves, I had been ignoring my plant much like some people ignore their personal brands.

The worst of it occurred while I was on holiday. One missed watering and record aridness (we are now the most arid city in the nation), prompted me to dig a little deeper past all the lush, beautiful green outer leaves to find, um, a crisis. While perception seemed to dictate everything was okay (except some minor bruises), the plant had three major problems: it had created a root layer that was preventing water from reaching the lower layers of the soil; the lower layers of the soil were bone dry as a result; and the plant had literally uprooted itself, with a good 3 inches exposed.

Fortunately, I am good with plants so I managed to save it. Of course, now it only measures 5 feet in diameter and will take a couple of days, if not weeks, to fully recover. I even potted all the babies to produce what will be another beautiful plant. So what does my plant have to do with personal brand?

You can bury bad news and negative posts all you want to create the illusion of a huge and beautiful online image, but sooner or later something will need to be done beyond burying damaged roots with big leafy stories.

Now I cannot go as far as Livingston does and say that all "bad news or negative posts" need to be addressed very publicly (every situation is dependent on too many factors to apply a formula), but I do agree that burying anything is an erroneous idea. As I mentioned when I shared the first sliver of my Fragile Brand Theory, brand damage is generally proportiate to the discrepancy between perception and reality.

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Thursday, July 12

Calculating Identity: Career Distinction


After visiting Career Distinction and running its Online Identity Calculator on Tom Cruise yesterday (check the comments on the post), we started to wonder what would happen if we plugged in more people, ranging from notable bloggers to CEO bloggers to CEOs with no direct social media presence.

The mix is pretty eclectic, but it provides some interesting results. Keep in mind that our formula is less than scientific: we used the calculator (beta) to establish whether these individuals have an online identity that matches up with what seems to be their desired personal brand. Since the calculator only offers generalized definitions, we summed up the first three pages of a Google search.

Seth Godin — Digitally Distinct, 10
Desired: A bestselling author, entrepreneur, and agent of change.
Online: A leading marketing author and popular business blogger.

We picked Godin mostly because we had a hunch he would set the high water mark and, no surprise, he did. While there seems to be some slight variation between his desired and online brand, it’s only because the Godin brand overshadows the company he founded, Squiddo. In sum, his brand trends toward top online marketing expert/author (rather than entrepreneur and agent of change) and there is nothing wrong with that.

Johnathan Swartz — Digitally Distinct, 10
Desired: An approachable, likeable, creative, and unconventional CEO.
Actual: An approachable, likeable, creative, and unconventional CEO.

Swartz is the top CEO blogger for a reason. There is virtually no distinction between his online identity and his desired brand — he always presents compelling non-techno babble information to help businesses understand that technological advancements mean market opportunities as opposed to business threats. He does a near perfect job setting the cultural tone of Sun Microsystems and his views mirror what we’ve said for two years.

Jeffrey Immelt — Digitally Distinct, 9
Desired: A hardworking strategist who helped turn General Electric around.
Actual: A relentless workaholic whose biggest hope is everyone else can keep up.

Given Immelt devotes 12 weeks to foreign travel as one of our nation’s leading advocates for globalization, we’re not surprised he doesn’t have time to establish a direct social media presence. Still, as a Fortune 500 company CEO (top 10), others present who he is fairly well, with one small caveat — as much as he is admired, skeptics water down his ideas (despite results), leading us to believe he could score a 10 with a direct presence on the Internet.

Alan Meckler — Digitally Distinct, 9
Desired: A serious business executive and aggressive online CEO.
Actual: A straightforward executive who calls it like he sees it.

As one of the top 10 ten CEO bloggers, we’re not to surprised to see Meckler also scores near the top. There are some identity discrepancies, primarily because his writing and interview style come across as a tough-as-nails CEO when he’s much more approachable than that. Also, his view of Jupiterimages is obviously a bit biased when compared to his view of competitors, but we wouldn’t expect otherwise.

Scott Baradell — Digitally Distinct, 9
Desired: Accomplished brand strategist with corporate communications and journalism experience.
Actual: Journalist turned public relations strategist, which might explain why he never takes the industry too seriously.

With Baradell’s emphasis on public relations, media analysis, and blog entertainment, his online identity tends to shift away from brand strategist. But where his online personality works is that he is unquestionably adept at keeping things interesting. For evidence: check Media Orchard’s R Rating and his anagram post plug of Occam’s RazR among others.

Geoff Livingston — Digitally Distinct, 9
• Desired: A leading marketing expert and top-ranked marketing blogger/author.
• Actual: A seasoned marketing pro, social media analyst, and blogging guru.

For the most part, Livingston has achieved his desired online identity, especially since he has already been recognized as an area marketing blog guru by The Washington Post. Without question, he has some great posts that often cross over into legitimate trade journalism. With a book set for release and several post serials worth reading, he’s coming close to the tipping point. If there is one area to improve, it’s remembering that too much focus on others won’t brand you as a leader.

The Recruiting Animal — Digitally Distinct. 8 (7)
• Desired: The most outrageous and entertaining recruiting blogger and online radio host in history.
• Actual: The most outrageous and entertaining recruiting blogger and online radio host in history.

There is little doubt that The Recruiting Animal has achieved his online identity. He is a classic example of being positively infamous, with his stage name often appearing where you least expect it (even in places his peers might have missed). What’s equally interesting to me is that if we plug in The Recruiting Animal’s real name, his score drops to Digitally Dabbling, but all of the information about him remains on target (just slightly more serious).

Les Moonves — Digitally Disastrous, 8
Desired: A seasoned old school programmer who became CEO of a leading mass media company.
Actual: A CEO with a dated programming vision who calls the shots with little explanation.

Given our coverage of the Jericho cancellation protest (and reinstatement), we noticed that Moonves tends to leave people completely confused. On one hand, he wants CBS to lead the digital charge, but then doesn’t give new media much credit. He dumped Imus and dumbed down CBS News despite what ratings say, yet argued that the original cancellation of Jericho was based only on ratings. Given he has no direct social media presence, his brand is shaped almost entirely by mixed messages that paint him up as a CEO who likes to say “because I said so.”

David Neeleman — Digitally Disastrous, 8
Desired: A relentless innovator who challenged the airline industry to do better.
Actual: An ousted CEO trying to prove his relevance after a company crisis.

I read Neeleman’s blog because I admire what he has accomplished. Some people don’t get this in our coverage of the JetBlue crisis. They won’t get it here either as we’ve noticed a dramatic personal brand shift since his departure as CEO of JetBlue. He insists he is comfortable with the change despite several interviews that suggest otherwise. It doesn’t help that "Montgomery Burns" has taken over his flight log. It’s supposed to be funny, but only it reinforces questionable choices in the face of crisis.

Jason Goldberg — Digitally Disastrous, 7
• Desired: A successful entrepreneur who is leading innovator of the online recruiting community.
• Actual: A young, brash executive who gets caught up in online controversies and spins like there is no tomorrow.

There’s a boatload of information on the Web about Goldberg. Unfortunately, most of it doesn’t seem to have any relevance to what he wants to express about himself or his company. Most of it is about blog controversies, blatant spin, and a sometimes questionable management style. Other times, however, Goldberg even departs from this identity too, which makes people wonder how seriously they should take him. The odd attack-feint retreat-attack-retreat tactic doesn’t help.

Amanda Chapel — Digitally Disastrous, 7
• Desired: A mysterious and provocative foil for the online public relations community.
• Actual: A collective of anonymous writers who believe all publicity is good publicity.

There is a lot of information about the collective Chapel on the Web, but more and more of it has little relevance to what they want to express about themselves. As time goes on, it will be nearly impossible to remove all the irrelevant information. Some people have asked about my interest in Chapel, since they come up on my blog every now and again. Truth be told, I’m more interested in why Steve Rubel, Mark Ragan, and even Shel Holtz continue to feed the Chapel credibility. Is the public relations industry that boring or afraid to debate that it needs an anonymous ghost to do it for them?

Add it up and all of this seems to reinforce the most basic premise of my Fragile Brand Theory. You see, in almost every case listed above, without exception, the closer their personal and online brands are to the reality of who they are, the greater their measure of success in maintaining that brand. It also demonstrates, in a couple of instances, how one handles crisis or controversy can also enhance or erode brand credibility almost overnight.

In closing, just to be fair, we ran my identity too. While there is some discrepancy depending on how you type in my name, I came out with a Digitally Distinct 8 and Copywrite, Ink. with a Digitally Distinct 9. This stands to reason: establishing an online identity for the company ahead of me is by design.

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