Showing posts with label New York Times. Show all posts
Showing posts with label New York Times. Show all posts

Friday, July 29

Flipping Influence: Asking Earns Attention

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, March 4

Questioning PR: Bruce Buschel At Southfork Kitchen

Bruce Buschel on PR
While traveling through Europe, Bruce Buschel, who now owns the Southfork Kitchen (Southfork), was struck by the abundance of restaurants that served food with locally grown or raised ingredients. He believed opening a New York restaurant based on that idea would be a winner in the Hamptons.

The idea isn't as novel as it sounds. Celebrated Houston Chef Clive Berkman always tells me the same thing. If he cooks while traveling, he always leans toward making a menu based on local ingredients. But that's neither here nor there. This is a lesson for PR, especially my students.

A Rehash Of The 'Public Relations' Problem.

What makes Buschel interesting is his New York Times column about opening and managing a restaurant. The last two columns were especially interesting to anyone in communication: The Problem With Public Relations and Do P.R. People Have To Like The Food. They offer an unabashed glimpse inside how the restauranteur views public relations.

Buschel was originally dazzled by a local public relations firm's pitch and just as easily disappointed when they didn't produce a single story before the opening. When he called them on it, they pushed the err on him. His restaurant was "too hip to be square and too fishy to be hip," they said. And specifically, as Buschel lists in his column, these were the firm's primary issues:

• The New York Times blog was a problem, scooping PR or getting in the way.
• Area restaurants were equally sustainable and/or organic (no contrast).
• We have to taste your food in order to get excited about doing our jobs.

SouthforkBuschel really took exception to the third point. He thought it was ridiculous that paid help would have to like the food. So he sacked the first firm and tried a second firm whose principal blogged for the the Huffington Post and appeared as a judge on Iron Chef. Except, go figure, the second PR firm eventually left a bad taste in Buschel's mouth too. He was especially unhappy after receiving a list of everything his restaurant did wrong after the guru/principal dined there with a fellow critic. The guru didn't even like the name anymore. The name?

So Buschel wrote a post about it and criticized PR. Of course, as you might imagine, the mostly neutral story drew the ire of public relations professionals on both sides of the line — those who sided with Buschel and those defending their industry. (It almost always happens that way.) Then, Buschel cherry picked one response for a follow up — a parsed point-by-point rebuttal.

The Real Problem With Public Relations.

The real problem with public relations in this case is that Buschel didn't want public relations and the first PR firm didn't promise public relations. He wanted publicity — high-priced cheerleaders without sexy legs. They promised publicity too, but then couldn't deliver it. So they invented excuses like all faux public relations firms do.

The tell is in the third excuse. The firm promised pre-opening buzz and accepted a check without tasting the food. But then when they failed to deliver results, they wanted samples. Dopes.

The second PR firm wasn't much better. Buschel still wanted publicity and the second PR firm promised publicity. But after what seemed to be a promising start, that PR firm stopped offering publicity and started offering consult beyond public relations.

The tell is in claiming the eatery has the wrong name. It seems likely the name game was stolen from the food critic's notes because if the name was so bad to begin with then why wouldn't the firm had mentioned it before? Baloney.

All this leads me to believe that the real problem is in the definition. It's a common problem too. People say public relations but they really mean publicity. Here are some thumbnail versions of longer definitions to provide the basic context.

Public Relations. The job is to provide counsel on the exchange of mutually beneficial communication between the organization and various publics.

Media Relations. The job is to maximize positive coverage in the mass media without paying for it directly through advertising.

Publicity. The job is the deliberate attempt to manage the public's perception of a subject, which often includes an emphasis on media but is not limited to it.

pr cheerleaderAt a glance, it might seem that the second PR firm was attempting to offer some semblance of public relations. However, the approach in how they passed along conversational notes after dinner with a critic was more confrontational than mutually beneficial. The story sounds more in line with what we might expect a celebrity social media ego to do — act as paid adversaries to their own clients, beating them with customer comments.

All in all, despite the propensity for public relations professionals to jump into one camp or the other, there are no camps. Everyone looks equally foolish, but not everyone looks fraudulent. Buschel might be like hundreds of other clients in that he was hoodwinked by non-performing publicists into accepting an erroneous definition of the trade, but his intent seems pure.

Bolstering Southfork Kitchen Would Benefit From Integration.

It seems to me that there are a variety of real and perceived challenges that the restaurant might want to overcome. First and foremost, forget the babble about the name. You can call a company anything and it will stand the test of time once it earns a reputation. One of the most talked about computer companies in the world is named after a rather generic fruit, after all.

Some of the other conversation threads are clutter too. PR firms can do ground work before tasting any food; most of them assume they will for awhile, especially during a pre-opening period. The New York Times column was not and is not a liability; it is an asset. (Even if there were some cannibalized stories, plenty of other stories remained.) Even most of the opinions pushed back on Buschel could be chalked up to bringing in the wrong audience.

With all of these tidbits out of the way, there is only one potential problem left on the table: the unique selling point. If this argument is valid, then the solution needs to come from marketing more than public relations. Specifically, Buschel might consider re-prioritizing his contrast points. I wouldn't abandon organic, but maybe it's not the number one focus or perhaps some added clarity would help make it distinct.

Other than that, the problem may have nothing to do with the restaurant. The real problem may have to do with the liberal use of terms. Mixing up public relations and publicity always creates a breakdown in client-vendor communication. It's an industry problem.

farmerIf either PR firm really did public relations, the local farmers would be promoting the restaurant, area associations would be booking luncheons, and the sudden interest would have attracted the interest of foodies and faux foodies because those folks hate to be left out.

As for additional media exposure, there are enough stories to sell assuming the firm would work beyond their normal lists. They may need a new one for this unique venue. And, if select critics didn't like the food or service, the firm would be charged with finding common ground and providing feedback. They would not simply bleed the client as if they were the owner.

Then again, I'm not convinced Buschel wanted public relations help. It seems to me that he wants publicity help even though he is doing a fine job on his own. The truth is that he already nailed one surefire way to get publicity — if you want people to write about you in a social media world, write some smack about public relations.

Any time anyone writes smack about public relations, the entire bubble blows up in a public debate between those who claim to know and do not versus those who might know but never do more than communicate tales of industry woe. Buschel said he finds this ironic, but ironic isn't the right word. The right word is pathetic.

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