Showing posts with label Politics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Politics. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 18

Playing With Fire: Ron Paul And Public Relations

Part of the art of public relations is always appreciating that you are communicating to more than one public at a time. Some candidates participating in the South Carolina debate forgot that on Monday.

Much like mainstream candidates mistakenly did during the 2008 Republican primary, they largely ignored Ron Paul. When they did acknowledge him, it sometimes included backhanded comments designed to label Paul as a little bit kooky. That is a mistake, much bigger than most people realize.

Note: This is not an endorsement of any candidate nor political analysis beyond the often unseen impact of public relations in the field. For companies, it is a worthwhile observation on brand loyalist reaction, especially as it relates to aggressive jabs at the competition and dares people to take sides. 

The Potential For A Ron Paul Public Relations Backlash. 

Although many mainstream campaign strategists (national and state) dismiss and distance themselves from unflappable Paul supporters, many of them need Paul supporters to win, whether it be the primary or general election. They don't like to admit it. But they do.

So when candidates such as Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, and Rick Santorum attack Ron Paul with characterizations that allude to the idea that Paul is from another planet or perhaps irrational, they are playing with fire. Paul supporters are not like any other base in the bid for president. 

Paul supporters are better organized than any other base (especially on the Internet), regardless of any direct involvement by their candidate. Paul supporters remember every rub, rib, and rude comment aimed at their candidate or their ideas. And Paul supporters are unafraid to make it their mission to make someone lose, even if it means tossing the election to someone who they politically disagree with on every level and even if someone eventually earned a Paul endorsement.

I know. I listened to Paul supporters take delight in damaging campaign signs (among other things) in several state races four years ago. Never mind that the candidates they attacked were ideologically closer to their views than the opponents who won. They were out to teach lessons. Even after accepting apologies, it didn't matter. They are quick to forgive, never forget, and always extract retribution.

In fact, it doesn't even matter that Paul was booed at various points during the debate by the audience, which no doubt fueled a few of the more brazen comments from his rivals. His supporters still took note of how each candidate reacted to and responded to Paul in turn. And that's why Paul won Twitter, even if Gingrich won the debate (according to most analysts). 

Always Pull Publics Toward You; Never Push Them Away. 

There seems to be little doubt that Paul has the ear of the nation when it comes to many domestic policy points. He tends to attract and empower younger voters and, according to a recent poll, older voters.

Analysts can pinpoint any number of specific issues that rally people around Paul (they especially like to draw out his stance on drugs, leanings toward isolationism, and abolishment of income tax), but the overarching message that resonates more than any other is that Paul sees things differently and will not back down from what many say is the hopeless cause to restore a Constitutional government.

This platform raises two questions. Can he really deliver a Constitutional government and are Americans ready for one? The answers are why many people wonder about his electability.

However, even if some of his ideas are so surprisingly foreign to most Americans that mainstream voters cannot even grasp the basic tenets of his platform and Paul cannot always articulate those tenets in a way that makes sense to the mainstream, whoever wins the nomination cannot afford to push Paul supporters away (about 20-25 percent of primary voters). Already, some of those who used to say anyone but Obama are now saying Ron Paul or no one.

The same holds true for companies and organizations. For example, consider what AT&T did when it started targeting heavy data users by penalizing them. They have turned people who used to be AT&T loyalists into people who may choose anyone but AT&T on their next contract.

In both cases, the decisions being made have short-term solutions. But over the long term, both strategies could backfire. Not everyone who is pushed away for short-term gains will come back.

Monday, January 9

Crunching Numbers: Why CNN Couldn't Predict Iowa

The CNN article comparing the Republican presidential primary candidate online scorecards just prior to the Iowa caucus last Tuesday (hat tip: Geoff Livingston), demonstrates just how little the network understands social media.

While the lead line — a strong Web presence must be part of every political hopeful's strategy — is right, CNN doesn't really understand what it all means. The online scorecard, as they called it, doesn't mean anything, especially with the number they cherry picked from a handful of social networks.

Sure, CNN qualified it, saying "these numbers may have no bearing on how the candidates actually fare with Iowa caucus goers." May? Show some backbone. They have no bearing on the outcome and they won't in any other state either.

Why online scorecards mean virtually nothing to political campaigns, especially primaries. 

A quick recap of the presidential nominee hopefuls showed Ron Paul winning Twitter, Rick Perry winning Facebook, Ron Paul winning YouTube, and Newt Gingrich in a dead heat with Mitt Romney on Klout.

(Klout? You've got to be kidding me, CNN. Here's the scoop on Klout. Quit pimping it for a score.)

In the end, the Iowa caucus goers returned a decidedly different verdict, placing Mitt Romney (who was dead last on YouTube) and Rick Santorum (who was dead last on Twitter and has the worst possible top Google search result) in first and second (or second and first or perhaps tied, depending on how you see the caucus counting snafu). So what happened?

The social media numbers CNN chose to report don't consider proximity (there was no analysis of how many lived in Iowa), candidate preferences (some people likely follow more than one or all), degree of influence (which way they leaned), the sentiment of the interest (sometimes people follow candidates for comic relief), or the greater body of communication (offline) that bombard people on a daily basis (likely 100 to 1). And about a hundred or a thousand other things.

Heck, those numbers didn't even consider the most rudimentary question — who is registered to vote and for which party, if any. And there was no way to count the closeness of the communication (e.g., one visit by a candidate at your home carries more weight than a gazillion tweets). 

And there is the rub. Not even the silly mention machine that the Washington Post runs on the bottom of its website can account for anything. It counts "tweet" mentions in the last week, with Gingrich capturing 56,000 and Huntsman picking up 23,000. (Huntsman is worth following for the entertainment value lent to his campaign by his daughters, but that's about it.) And yet, more and more media outlets reward candidates for capturing buzz ups by placing their faces on the page, like online advertisements.

The real social media numbers that matter aren't the social media numbers you can find.

None of this is to suggest that an online presence doesn't count. It counts. But no one can really measure what you need to know to have a semblance of an accurate prediction.

The bottom line is some percentage of all their followers, friends, subscribers, and viewers do count. They are registered loyalists who either have influence over caucus goers or are caucus goers — people who will actually share the messages with other people who will listen or, more importantly, vote. In other words ... each candidate had about three peeps in Iowa who fit this description except Santorum and Romney who obviously had four and five, er, five and four, er, four-and-a-half and four-and-a-half each.

In realizing this, it might even one day make us pity any politician who actually takes online advice, never appreciating that it was started by a few hundred people from a foreign country. Oh wait, this already happened. Never mind.

The best online analysis on political campaigns has nothing to do with politics.

Seriously. Because politics tends to be overtly pronounced — bigger success and bigger blunders — this is an excellent opportunity to watch the ebb and flow of the net, immediate reactions that buffet the candidates around like Ping-Pong balls. And while you watch it, don't be overly amused (even if it is amusing) because the same thing can happen to a business any time.

Decent social media people can understand the numbers of any social media program. Good social media people can understand the marketing and public relations ramifications. And great social media people can feel whether or not something is sticky or slippery. There is an art to it, specifically one that appreciates the human behavior of individuals, groups, and the masses.

And, at the same time, if you are interested in this political cycle as it pertains to some future outcome, keep in mind that the Internet has undergone some dramatic changes since the last presidential campaign. The mass adoption that has taken place, along with less scrupulous non-voting outsiders masquerading as concerned voters, will make predictability impossible. And that is the only thing you can count on in all future elections.

Monday, September 5

Revisiting PR Moments: From Mr. Media Training

Every month, Brad Phillips, president of Phillips Media Relations, picks five video media disasters and highlights them at Mr. Media Training. I've read his blog before (worth subscribing to), but was new to his media disaster series.

It's a great concept. And yet, his five worst video media disasters (all of which are political) merit deeper discussion, at least for the month of August.

Here's a recap of his picks and some additional commentary on what he might have hit and missed. And, I've included a few suggestions that could easily have bumped out some of his other contenders.

Brad Phillips' Five Worst Video Media Disasters: August 2011

5. Christine O’Donnell Walks Off Piers Morgan

O'DonnellChristine O’Donnell certainly deserved to be on the list. In fact, I had previously written some commentary about the walk off. While I agree with Phillips in his assessment that the interview was predictable and O’Donnell ought to have been more prepared, the entire event becomes a wash. Piers Morgan's line of questioning for every candidate has become boorish. And Phillips also missed the line of questioning that led up to the walk off. The sound bite that made the rounds was only part of the story.

4. Charlie Rangel’s “Pretty Girl”

RangelI agree with Phillips, and would probably move this up. While Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) was growing frustrated with the interruptions from Laura Ingraham, sitting in for Bill O’Reilly, he crossed the line with a quip that she was a just a "pretty girl." Like O’Donnell, Rangel ought to have better prepared for the format. Even when O’Reilly is on, it's not uncommon for hosts and interviewees to talk over the guest. And, for the life of me, I can't think of a single reason to elevate a gender comment.

3. Mitt Romney: Corporations are People, My Friend

RomneyThere has been plenty of discussion over Mitt Romney's recent response to hecklers. When Romney mentioned he didn't want to raise taxes on people, someone yelled out "corporations." Romney addressed it by saying corporations are people (meaning: corporations employ people, fund 401ks and pensions, and aren't all big business). It wasn't well received. Phillips might be right to include it on the list, but only as a bonus. Romney can overcome the quip as long as he can craft a more palatable way to explain the truth behind it. He also has to understand why people feel that way: big corporate executive bonuses and largely abused tax incentives.

2. Joe Biden Endorses China’s One Child Policy

BidenMost people know know that Vice President Joe Biden was sent abroad to placate China. It has led to several embarrassments, including one where journalists were literally forced out of a room before he had finished speaking. This off-script comment was another because Biden found common ground by comparing America's retirement challenges to those that China may face with their "one child" policy. This media moment is easily number one because it comes nowhere close to America's sentiment and further illustrates how agreeable this administration has become. Some things are better left unsaid.

1. Rick Perry Threatens a Public Official

PerryRick Perry's remarks about Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke were largely blown out of proportion, especially given there are plenty of respected people who said the best service Bernanke could do for our country is to resign. Steve Forbes even said Bernanke must go. Most reasonable people also know that Perry was just talking tough and not necessarily calling for acts of violence or charges of treason. More than that, I disagree with Phillips that we have entered a post-Giffords world. On the contrary, listening to Rep. Andre Carson (D-Ind.) and others, including the president at times, such rhetoric is alive and well (sadly).

Bonus. Al Sharpton Will Much About That Will Be Committed. Or Something.

Long story short, the bonus is amusing but hardly a worst media moment. While it might be worth a chuckle, Al Sharpton was obviously teleprompter tongue tied in the worst possible way. It's forgettable despite being funny. There were better picks.

For replacements, consider Al Gore's odd comparison of civil rights leaders and climate change proponents, especially because he prepared it. Look to Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) for several more prepared gaffes, including one that suggested the Soviet Union was rising along with China and India. And last but not least, Rep. Andre Carson being the newest citizen vilifier to make headlines.

All in all, Phillips did a fine job. From my perspective, he was three for five as long as we swap some rankings and recognize Morgan as boorish. Those three also have the best lessons of the bunch too: prepare for the obvious questions, trying to discredit someone over gender only discredits you, and sacrificing pride is forgettable as long as you stand firm on values.

Friday, August 26

Shocking Civil Rights: Congressman Steve Chabot

Congressman ChobatU.S. Congressman Steve Chabot, his staff, and Cincinnati police officers recently surprised constituents in Ohio by preventing them from filming a town hall meeting where the congressman was speaking (with threat of force). Eric Odom, who recently outlined everything wrong with the incident, rightly points out that the town hall meeting was a public event and held in a public place.

Apparently, Congressman Chabot forgot the oath he took upon entering office. Every congressman is required to take it.

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.

Neither Congressman Chabot nor his staff ought to have asked police officers to bar phones that may record events. On the contrary, they should have defended the right of those in the audience to film the event. Likewise, the police officer ought to have considered his oath as they usually include "I will preserve the dignity and respect the rights of all individuals."

Explanations offered by the police officer included that he was doing what he was told and that freedom of the press does not include citizens. It is equally disturbing to think that any police officer, whose duty it is to protect and serve, would not have elected to protect the rights of the those filming the events as opposed to the request of the congressman or his staff.

After all, freedom of the press is not confined to journalists but to anyone who publishes, including citizens who attend public events.

Sure, there is always debate over what constitutes "the press" in the courts. And some people, newspapers included at times, have tried to distinguish themselves above citizens. However, there are several cases where the Supreme Court has already made it clear.

“...necessary to define those categories of newsmen who qualify for the privilege, a questionable procedure in light of the traditional doctrine that liberty of the press is the right of the lonely pamphleteer who uses carbon paper or a mimeograph just as much as of the large metropolitan publisher who utilizes the latest photocomposition methods.” (408 U.S. at 704)

Further, as noted by JRPOF, the Supreme Court went on to observe that “freedom of the press is a ‘fundamental personal right . . . not confined to newspapers and periodicals. It necessarily embraces pamphlets and leaflets . . . . The press in its historic connotation comprehends every sort of publication which affords a vehicle of information and opinion.’” (quoting Lovell v. Griffin, 304 U.S. 444, 450, 452 (1938)

Without question, it seems to me, this easily extends to anyone who would film such an event and potentially publish it on YouTube despite dissenters who argue that freedom of the press extends only to a privileged few. In fact, what concerns me about such opinions is that when rights are limited, they cease to become rights. They become privileges, which are significantly different.

Ergo, privileges are granted and subject to being taken away. Whereas rights are different. They are inalienable. Had the founding fathers intended something different, they might have called the first 10 amendments the "Bill Of Privileges." On the contrary, the U.S. Constitution would not have been ratified had individual rights not been enumerated.

Public criticism convinces Congressman Chabot to rethink video.

According to Chabot spokesperson Jamie Schwartz, cameras will be allowed in the future. However, the spokesperson also defended the action, saying that the cameras were taken to protect the privacy of constituents. Using such flawed logic, no public discourse would be allowed to be recorded by anyone.

Likewise, anyone who thinks the blunder is a Republican one ought to think again. Ignorant elected officials from both parties (and other parties for that matter) demonstrated lapses of memory and common sense in the face of criticism. It wasn't long ago that Democratic leaders thought to censor Twitter.

But this is also why it remains vital that people are vigilant to protect their rights over their party affiliations. If we don't, then politicians will likely burn up individual rights from both ends. Good night, good luck, and have a great weekend.

Friday, August 19

Walking Off: Christine O'Donnell Bails On CNN

Christine O'DonnellAs difficult as it is to put politics aside on political topics, they still make for great public relations puzzles. This one is offered up by Christine O'Donnell, who bailed on her CNN book interview after Piers Morgan asked the former Delaware Senate candidate her views about gay marriage.

To be fair to O'Donnell, despite Morgan's apparent politeness in the clip, the interview was more aggressive than most people know. Morgan had previously played clips from O'Donnell's past, including one where she once said she dabbled in witchcraft. He also brought up the MTV "masturbation sin" episode, priming her to become more emotional before moving in for a kill.

From CNN's point of view, raising questions about witchcraft, masturbation, and gay marriage, are "fair" because O'Donnell discusses religion in her book. (Besides, Morgan asks every Republican that question, recently Gov. Chris Christie and Mitt Romney.) On the other hand, it also suggests an agenda. Discrediting O'Donnell and others makes for great entertainment.

The real life reactions to this clip are generally mixed. In reading the comments piled on various media outlets covering the story, people are all over the map. Some will misconstrue this as a win for O'Donnell because enough conservatives and independents give her a majority on the walk off. Here's a rough summation of where people landed.

People with liberal leanings say it reinforces their belief that the Tea Party favorites are nut jobs. People with fiscally conservative leanings say that it's indicative of a liberal media afraid to talk about fiscal policy. And neocon Republicans, which are different from Tea Partiers, mostly lament that this illustrates why such personalities embarrass them.

Independents on the other hand are largely split, with varied opinions that are all underscored by a message that the media and politicians might wake up to — they actually want to talk about fiscal policy and the economy as opposed to fringe topics. Ergo, they are growing increasingly restless over polarizing social issues when the economy is in the foreground.

Still, that only provides background for the story and a thumbnail sketch on how people are reacting. Let's talk about the truth.

Is there ever a good time to walk off an interview?

Yes, but this wasn't one of those times. The public relations handlers botched it. O'Donnell obviously wasn't prepared, given that the line of questions Morgan had prepared were exactly what ought to have been anticipated by her publicist.

More importantly, there was a better counterpoint for O'Donnell, one that I think might have resonated with all parties. It goes something like this ...

"With all respect, Mr. Morgan, I think you just touched on exactly what is wrong with the state of our country today. People are unemployed, many are losing their homes, and the declining stock market is threatening retirement for millions. Yet, you want to talk about religion, masturbation, and sexual orientation. I think your priorities are confused. I wrote a book that is largely about fiscal policy and I think your viewers might agree that religion, masturbation, and sexual orientation — while important at times — take a back seat to knowing whether you are going to put food on the table tomorrow."

Anything Morgan would have pressed on after a statement like that, would have seemed foolish and trivial. But instead, her handlers prompted her to end the interview, with one of them even stepping in front of the camera. It's hard to take seriously.

The state of media relations and on-air interviews today.

The facts of media engagement are among the simplest, yet amazingly difficult, to master. While the media is allowed to ask any questions they want (even if some pretend agreement was reached prior to the show), interviewees are also allowed to circle back to whatever they want to talk about, provided they do so with tact. Obviously, no one has taught O'Donnell how to do it.

Likewise, while media personalities are allowed to ask the same question over and over, every interviewee ought to know that media personalities look foolish each time they ask the same question. In other words, let them ask and ask, at their own peril.

Interestingly enough, O'Donnell ought to have the gay marriage question down, whatever her views are. My guess is that she is soft on the issue because it rubs against four conflicting moral codes among four different types of Tea Party sympathizers and, possibly, two conflicting values of her own — a government that stays out of other people's personal business and preserving the definition of marriage according to religious beliefs.

Personal feelings or thoughts aside, I think the whole gay marriage question ought to be scrubbed. There are civil unions and religious unions. The state can neither bar nor force any church to adopt or prevent same sex marriages without any such law (either way) being an affront to the First Amendment. Maybe O'Donnell should have said that instead of catering to what she "thinks" her crowd wants to hear.

She might be surprised how people would respond if someone would just take the time to apply reason. And the media might be surprised too, if they would stop catering to their own sensational reporting styles and look at it objectively.

Incidentally, I did ask Piers Morgan where he stands on gay marriage via Twitter. And despite making himself part of the story, he declined to answer.

Friday, August 12

Creating Controversy: Sometimes PR Makes Its Own

Public RelationsLike many public relations firms, Kentucky-based Guthrie/Mayes seemed to have sound advice. If your county board of education had suffered a soap operatic firing of a superintendent and less than stellar hiring of a new one, you might consider doing something to manage your public image.

Unfortunately, the public relations firm didn't anticipate that their hiring — at $215 an hour, or up to $20,000 for three months' work — would cause equal friction for the Jefferson County Board of Education, which already staffs communication and public relations professionals with a collective salary of almost $1 million per year, according to WLKY.

So far, the advice — speak with a singular message or not at all — isn't working. WLKY took exception to only one board member answering their call (only to say she wouldn't talk about the issue and hung up). The PIO for the board did try to answer the question. She claimed that the school district communication team has a conflict, working for the board and the district.

The chairman of the board, however, refuted the claim. They work together with the communication department all the time.

This time the public has a point. They needn't fund public relations for elected officials.

The Courier-Journal called it right. Elected board members are obligated to be responsive to the voters and are not entitled to public image makeovers simply to look better for re-election.

What they seem to need is more internal communication among each other, more honesty in the decisions they make, and more appreciation for the people who elect them without fear of "confusing them." At minimum, if they want to have a more unified voice, then they ought to be deferring calls to their chairman unless the issue has individual viewpoints. And if he's not up to the challenge, find someone who is.

In fact, that is what the public relations firm correctly advised. But where the public relations firm was wrong was in advising them to hush up over an issue that area residents seem impassioned about. And considering at least one board member or staff member is leaking the firm's advice to the media, it clearly seems they aren't improving relations as much as they are becoming fodder for controversy.

Some solutions for a fractured board, much more valuable than a muzzle.

Having done considerable work for various public entities as an outside consultant, there are times when overburdened combination staffs need assistance or advice on special projects or in specific situations. However, massaging the messages from the Jefferson County Board of Education doesn't seem to be one of them although the board members might seek independent coaching. As individuals, they obviously know how to undermine their own efforts.

Here's some free advice. Sit down and talk about the issues. When the board decisions are unanimous, let the media know and defer to the chairman. When they are not, meet both obligations by talking to the media about what the board has decided, and why (although in the minority) you felt differently without the rhetoric. Such action might not always result in a quiet and complacent public, but at least you'll be able to sleep at night, knowing that you're being honest.

This is probably the advice the district's communication team could have provided. But given the answer, it seems they could have used that advice themselves. Now, about how much that district ought to be spending on public relations ...

Wednesday, August 10

Studying Psychology: Aversion Training For Kids?

ClockworkAs crazy as it sounds, some psychologists are jumping on the fright makes right band wagon. According to a study published in Health Psychology (as highlighted in a weight loss article), showing kids photos of obese people and arterial diseases for 30 minutes helps reduce the urge to eat sweets and foods that are fattening.

Are you kidding me?

Looking at arterial diseases for 30 minutes will suppress anyone's appetite to eat anything. Besides, some of us saw the movie version of this study. A Clockwork Orange was produced in 1971, starring Malcolm McDowell as a protagonist who is "programmed" to detest violence by being subjected to graphically violent films, eventually conditioning him to suffer crippling bouts of nausea at the mere thought of violence. (The book came out in 1962.)

The study hints at the same thing, except the villain in this case isn't violence as much as it might be a Hostess cupcake.

Teach Reason Over Aversion.

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, David Wessel had some harsh words about where America is today, saying the "deeper issue and root cause of our malaise is the broken U.S. educational model that is producing bloated people with bloated egos and senses of entitlement, broken values, a broken work ethic and an intellectual incompetence with which to think and innovate."

I'm not sharing Wessel's words to give more attention to the blight within his premise, even if some of it touches on truth. I'm including it because it represents the polar opposite of the study. Whereas the study suggests America's woes might be handled though aversion programming, Wessel is taking a (albeit heavy handed) approach that we might teach deductive reasoning, critical thinking skills, and personal responsibility. One looks to curb a symptom; the other looks toward fixing the cause.

Of course, our society doesn't always want reason. Ask any marketer today that is hell-bent on deciphering "influence." They don't want people to make the best decisions; they want go head to head with competitors and let the best "influencer" win. Never mind the facts.

In some cases, it goes well beyond marketers. There are plenty of political parties and institutions and organizations that want to do the same. They don't want people to make educated choices but rather to be comfortable in the leadership's ability to influence its way out of everything. So much so, some people are studying how do it, regardless of the consequence.

What's The Difference?

Aversion programming and fear marketing teach children rote memorization that may lead to equally harmful eating disorders. To avoid those, you have to teach your children to make proper choices about what to eat using reason and responsibility.

cherriesPersonally, I never worry about what my kids eat or don't eat. I guide them toward making healthier choices that will eventually turn into making better choices as adults (I hope). That means before they can have the pudding, they have to eat their meat. Or more specifically, despite how fun it is to drop in a Pink Floyd reference, fruit before some other snack.

By asking them to eat fruit first, they often find the apple or orange or peach or plum satisfies their craving for something sweet or fills the small empty feeling they might have in the late afternoon (without spoiling dinner). This indirectly reminds them that fruit is good, tasty, filling, healthy, and makes you feel good without feeling guilty. At the same time, it does't discourage them from looking at a cookie and feeling guilty or as the inspiring study suggests — aversion.

Nowadays, my kids have even passed on offers of candy in favor of fruit if it's available, not because they have to but because they want to. Imagine that. And I never had to show them pictures of diseases and unhealthy people.

Marketing might learn a lesson here too. If you win the influence game, you win a customer for a day. If you truly have the better product and can deliver on your brand promise, you will win a customer for life. People don't have to be frightened. Let the politicos keep that one to themselves.

Monday, August 8

Recharging: How Self-Engagement Helps

Don't WorryWorry Is Like Interest Paid In Advance On A Debt That Never Comes Due. — The Spanish Prisoner

While also attributed to Will Rogers, the quote was reintroduced in the 1997 suspense film The Spanish Prisoner. We might even go one step further by saying it is interest paid on money you never borrowed. And even so, it's also an increasingly common prognosis for Americans.

The only thing bigger than the American debt is the amount of worry that has been levied on its people by politicians, news media, propaganda shills, and everyone else who wants to attract attention. Fear marketing has become the singular biggest influencer of all time.

Looking at the most popular stories parlayed into major news headlines — child abductions, governmental collapse, pandemics, debt default, stock shocks, climate change, health care crisis, economic ruin — it's a wonder more people aren't depressed. By comparison, the children of the 1950s and 1960s felt safer clamoring under desks in preparation for a nuclear war.

That's not to say all these other issues aren't important. Remaining vigilant against such threats can be prudent. But being paralyzed by them is not. Most of the worries people embrace are issues they can do nothing about on the grand scale.

Sure, they can take steps on a small scale: safeguarding children, living within their means, encouraging companies to be green in practice and not public relations, and so on. But beyond what can be done on the small scale, none of these issues are worth the worry. Most are well beyond our control, with the zombie apocalypse outstripping Y2K in eventual likeness.

One small study that reaches further than its intent.

Last week David H. Rosmarin of the Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital released a study that suggested people who trust in a benevolent God tend to worry less and are more tolerant than those who mistrust an indifferent or punishing God.

At a glance the sampling sizes seemed rather small, but there is something to take away from it regardless. While Rosmarin suggests several applications for his findings, it might be worthwhile to consider something else too. Those people who are more tolerant and less prone to worry are also more comfortable letting the world run and then adapting the best they can.

Whether you accomplish that by placing faith in God or a god or simply recognizing that as individuals we are pretty small specks on a planet hurling itself around a sun that is hurling itself around a galaxy that is hurling itself around a universe, it works out the same. Don't take on worries that you have no control over. Stick to what you can do. Take action, not worrisome non-action.

"What would you do if you weren't afraid?"

For all the emphasis by the media and other interested parties peddling fear, take some time to turn it off and do something you can do. Or, to illustrate with an old proverb Chinese farmers used to say — forget about the emperor and get down to milking cows. You might be surprised to discover how much cooking a challenging dinner, painting miniature figures, working out, or choosing some other engaging activity can do for your head.

For even that brief period of time, as long as you can focus on whatever task you've picked up without distractions from social networks or the outside world, chances are that all those worries — most of which you can only do a little about — will slip away. And, even better, there is no risk of a hangover (although I understand some people pour on to supplant this intent too).

It's especially critical for creative types to unplug or become otherwise self-engaged for a few hours a day. If you allow too many voices and worries and calls for alarm in your head, you won't hear those sparks of inspiration. So let those who took on the debt worry about how to pay it back for awhile. It's their job for as long as we let them keep it.

The comments are yours. If you have any tips and tricks you use to tune out and then tune back into things closer to home, I'd love to know. They might make a worthwhile post all on their own.

Monday, July 18

Communicating Poorly: Politics Sack Confidence

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

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

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

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

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

Marketers share similar concerns over the economy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 4

Writing Independence: How To Write A Social Contract

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

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

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

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

Writing The Declaration Of Independence.

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

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

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

Are We Due For A Second Age Of Enlightenment?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 9

Advertising Obesity: Are Marketers To Blame?

scaleIf you thought that the United States was the only country targeting advertisers and marketers as the cause of childhood obesity, you'd be wrong. Australia has it out for chocolate and junk food too.

As proposed, the national blueprint would join aggressive anti-obsesity legislation shared only by Sweden and Quebec. Not only does the legislation regulate junk food advertising to children, but it kills chocolate-based fundraising drives in schools.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the blueprint would specifically limit television ads during certain times and ban all advertising across email, text messages, movies, magazines, school fundraisers, and public transport.

One study suggested that as much as 84 percent of the public supported the idea that "children should be protected from unhealthy food advertising."

In the United States, there have been similar efforts to curb childhood obesity, with most marketers attempting to make voluntary changes. For example, cereal companies have reduced the amount of sugar in their products.

The CDC reports that approximately 17 percent of children and adolescents, ages 2—19 years, are obese. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) breaks the numbers differently. It says 10.4 percent of American children, ages 2 to 5, are obese; 19.6 percent, ages 6 to 11, are obese; and 18.1 percent, ages 12 to 19, are obese. Three children in five are overweight.

However, almost all studies to determine obesity is based on body mass index (BMI), developed in the 1800s. It tends to overestimate body fat in people with a more muscular build. Ironically, BMI does not actually measure the percentage of body fat despite being used to do so in most government studies. It might even promote malnutrition.

BMI flawsBMI was only adopted as the result of Ancel Keys' efforts to popularize the measure in 1972 (he also marketed a specific type of diet). In recent years, Keys' studies have been criticized. Likewise, it wasn't until 1998 that the U.S. adopted World Health Organization standards and dropped the BMI obesity rating from 27.6 to 25. When that happened, 25 million Americans went from normal/overweight to obese.

A better measure might be a waist-to-height (WHtR) ratio. This measure tends to be more accurate for athletes, especially body builders, who have a higher percentage of muscle and a lower percentage of body fat. It also helps women who have a "pear" rather than an "apple" shape. A WHtR under 50.0 percent is generally considered healthy.

As a personal illustration, I score as borderline obese on a BMI scale, but the target waist-to-height (WHtR) ratio matches exactly where I am. If I attempted to reduce my BMI, I would look gaunt and force starvation. One inch off the waist would be a balanced solution. There's a reason for pointing out the discrepancies..

Maybe marketing and advertising isn't as evil as people would have you believe.

While it is clearly good news that manufacturers have reduced the amount of sugar in cereal, the reduction of advertising to children doesn't necessarily correlate to changes in their diet. In fact, Kate Carnell, chief executive of the Australian Food and Grocery Council, pointed out that aggressive bans on advertising junk food in Sweden and in Quebec, Canada, have not worked.

How can that be? Technically, advertising to children has no real effect because children are generally powerless to take action. They need parental assistance to obtain excessive amounts of unhealthy products. In short, advertising is effective only when children do not understand the intent of advertising (to sell product) and parents are incapable of setting effective boundaries.

bikingAdd two more pieces to the puzzle. When Britain faced similar questions about childhood weight issues, it found that children expend about 600 kcal/day less than their counterparts 50 years ago. And, children today are also subjected to more "anti" unhealthy lifestyle choices.

The latter is especially concerning because "anti" campaigns actually undermine their own messages. Take anti-smoking commercials aimed at youth as an example. Every time they are exposed to the advertisement, they are forced to think about smoking. Ergo, when you tell children not to do something or not to eat something, you implant an image in their mind of them doing exactly what you told them not to do. It ought to be part of parenting 101.

If you want to bring about a positive outcome for kids, banning advertising isn't the solution. It might even be just the opposite.

• Appreciate that the studies many governments use to indicate obesity are flawed; avoid labels.
• Educate your children, early on, that the intent of advertising is to sell them something; be skeptical.
• Teach your children that setting boundaries is not a parent-child conflict; say no and mean it.
• Encourage healthy behavior (exercise, activity) over anti-advertising messaging; show them.
• Reduce access to stationary activities, e.g., television time and computer time; stress fitness.

If parents can take these actions, there won't be a need for overreaching regulation. More importantly, your children will remain healthy, and treats as an occasional reward or opportunity to have fun together over dessert won't have any impact whatsoever. Moderation and will power is an effective life lesson whereas focusing on scarcity or sacrifice predisposes misery.

Wednesday, February 16

Causing Revolutions: The Influence Of Nobody

"I, a girl, am going down to Tahrir Square, and I will stand alone. And I'll hold up a banner. Perhaps people will show some honor." —  Asmaa Mahfouz

Jay Rosen has contributed a nice round- up of posts that brings some balance back to the debate of whether or not social media helped topple a dictator, so I won't bother. (Hint: It's not a yes or no answer. It's not even the right question.) There's a better topic, even if some of it overlaps.

This topic comes in the form of 26-year-old Asmaa Mahfouz (and others). While she is a young and reasonably new activist in Egypt, she would be considered by most social media measures as one of the least likely catalysts of an uprising. She might even be considered a nobody. (Me too, I imagine.)

And yet, she is the person who posted a status message on Facebook, not Twitter, saying that she was going to Tahrir Square. It was also her video that resonated with the Egyptian people. And it resonated not because she appeared to be somebody but rather nobody, much like them. Here is the video if you haven't seen it.

You can read one of the earliest stories about her contributions here. You make the call on the source. There are others. Thousands in fact, including The New York Times, which included that her video motivated men even more than women.

Real influence often belongs to nobody at the right moment.

Sure, I understand there is some hubbub about whether social media played a role or not, even if most of it was preemptive push back. I call it "preemptive" because the people Rosen criticized for the push back seemed to be reacting to what they thought people would say. They thought people would say "social media toppled a dictator" because they did say things like that about Tunisia. Mike Masnick addressed it too, perhaps even better than Rosen.

The better question is what can we learn from Mahfouz about influence? And what does her role say about those who cater to somebodies as opposed to nobodies?

I think the answer predates social media. After all, Rosa Parks didn't need Twitter or Facebook or even an Internet to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama.

busRight, there were others before Parks (much like there were others before Mahfouz in Egypt). But unlike the disobedience by Parks in 1955, no other individual action sparked the Montgomery bus boycott. Hers is the story of the right action, the right message, the right time, and the right nobody. Someone who unexpectedly turned out to be one of the most important somebodies in the civil right movement.

I suspect the same could be said about Mahfouz, whether or not she had Twitter or Facebook. The only difference is that the new tools speed things up.

For Parks, it took 24 hours before her story (originally printed and circulated on a flyer to the local black community) reached Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and even longer for the Supreme Court ruling (Browder v. Gayle, 1956). Hundreds of years earlier, it took months before the iconic Paul Revere depiction of the Boston Massacre to circulate before enough people saw it as a rally point that sparked a revolution six years after. Hundreds and hundreds of years before that, Spartacus did not even have the benefit of a printing press.

All told, there have been hundreds of notable and historic revolutions and rebellions all over the world well before social media. And, I suspect there will be hundreds more long after social media is replaced by some other sweeping form of communication.

The tools, no doubt, will continue to change. But what will remain is that revolutions, uprisings, and rebellions are most often sparked by nobodies, regardless of the communication tools at their disposal. They are not sparked by nobodies who turn into somebodies, who then turn their backs on the rank and file of nobodies from which they came.

And this, more than any other lesson, is why we ought to be more cautious about influencers. They are only somebodies under constant threat of losing the authority granted them by the fat and happy mass of nobodies. However, when those nobodies feel less than happy, they are also the ones who may one day unexpectedly change history in ways we can never imagine. In ways that Mubarak never imagined. In ways that George III never imagined. In ways that Roman republic never imagined.

Nobodies define history, even when they are obscured by it.

Not all of it has to be confined by revolution or uprising. Sometimes it can be a simple act of incredible heroics.

Case in point. Ronald Reagan is rightly credited for setting the environment in which the Berlin Wall came down. However, he could have never delivered that speech if not for the action of the nobodies — Jerry Parr, Thomas Delahanty and Tim McCarthy (and others) — who acted heroically and prevented an assassination attempt. Those men, and also the mass of nobodies responsible for the intense East German protest in 1989, made it happen. One of the world's most influential super powers was suddenly powerless.

I don't mean this as a rub against Reagan in the least, but there was a time when he was considered a nobody too. Ironically though, what seems to separate him from a some people who climbed up the ranks of social media, I think, is that Reagan never forgot it. Other people do. Companies do. Organizations do.

Organizations needn't bother looking for and empowering influencers, tiny tyrants of their respective spheres. They ought to consider how they can work together with hundreds and thousands of the right nobodies who just might change the world.

Old school media is gone, but that doesn't mean we need to erect new media based on old ideas. It's one of the many reasons Seth Godin was wrong when he wrote about tribes or Shel Israel about villes. Social media is still populated by nomads, hundreds of nobodies with the potential to be somebody (and nobody again) in the blink of an eye. Just like life, offline.

a girlInfluence is a fragile thing, you see. And the tools — a mass following of people you think agree with you or a paid army of one million — change nothing. It all ends the same for those who forget where they came from. The most influential man in Egypt might wake up to find he has nothing more to say because a nobody girl like Asmaa Mahfouz captures the hearts, minds, and sentiment of how people feel.

It's the kind of outcome organizations might think about. It might seem easier to prop up someone who can dictate. But sooner or later, it will be the mass of nobodies beneath them that decide whether to protect your company or buy what you are selling. Because once the influencer is gone — bought out, burnt out, retired, run out, or proven a fraud — you might find yourself asking tough questions like the United States is asking now.

Do these people want our definition of freedom or just freedom from us? Were you listening?

Friday, February 4

Changing Communication: The World Is Round?

Most people have heard of Galileo (1564-1642) and some people have heard of Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543), but I'll provide a quick thumbnail refresher for anyone who might have forgotten. Galileo was an Italian physicist, mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher who played a major role in the Scientific Revolution. One of several reasons included his support of a theory proposed by Copernicus that the Earth not the center of the universe.

It must have seemed a silly notion at the time. It would be several decades before Isaac Newton would formulate the theory of gravity, which basically meant people would fall off this little blue marble we call home. But mostly, it monkeyed up Geocentrism.

Yet, against the tide of popularity, Copernicus must have looked like a simple idiot. Actually, he looked worse than that. He was censored as a heretic and was buried in an unmarked grave beneath the floor of a cathedral. Except, he wasn't a heretic. He was in need of a better telescope, like the one used by Galileo. Not that a telescope helped Galileo. He was persecuted too. What he really needed was a better communication model because most people, at the time, still believed the world to be flat (let alone the center of the universe).

The World Is Flat.

Flat WorldTo appreciate why Galileo needed a better communication model, we must consider what his world must have been like. My guess is that it would have looked grossly disproportionate to the facts.

Looking at a model, Galileo was a mere pebble. I even had to inflate his size so he would show up in a post.

1. Geocentricism loyalists. 2. Undecided and blind followers. 3. Copernicus detractors. 4. And then there is the whole of the greater world that does not care if we live on a disc, pillar, ball, or bouncy house. It's hard enough for them to remember to wash before supper.

Can you imagine how many votes Galileo would earn on Quora? How many people would read his blog? How many people might follow him on Twitter? I doubt anyone would find him on Facebook. People were stoned and barbecued for less. What a dope.

The World Is Objective.

Objective WorldNo matter, many people might say. Modern communication bears these things out nicely today. As mass communication took hold, people began to realize that there were three positions people with awareness could take.

In the 1920s, for example, Walter Lippmann understood that journalism's role served people best when it acted as a mediator or translator between the public and policy making elites. Suffice to say, Lippmann would have read the Geocentricism argument and then read the Galileo argument and objectively reported to the masses that the guy with a telescope had a point.

1. Geocentricism. 2. Undecided. 3. Copernicus. 4. Bouncy house.

For many years, this was the model that politics theorized about. The world is largely made up of people who are unaware. And within that unawareness is a smaller group of aware people with opinions. This made politics obvious, because if you shifted that middle by even a fraction of one percent, you changed everything. All you had to do is present the facts.

The World Is Polarized.

Polarized WorldIn more recent years, there has been a shift in the way politics is handled. During the last couple of decades some strategists concluded that battling over the middle was becoming a bit boorish. It was ever so difficult to get anything done and nobody appreciated the compromise anyway.

So some strategists developed a system to strengthen the conviction of loyalists, discredit the detractors, and shrink the greater pool of the unaware. Applied to Galileo, the two factions would have debated bitterly and nothing would get done, ever.

1. Geocentricism. 2. Undecided. 3. Copernicus. 4. Bouncy house.

Sure, I know what some people are thinking. What about the media? Aren't they supposed to balance this stuff out?

They would have, but the media decided, for several reasons, that balance no longer means being objective. It really just meant giving polarized views attention, and then letting people sort it out for themselves, even if those people had trouble remembering to wash their hands before supper. It didn't take long for this view to change up too, as the middle slowly lost more and more of its buying power.

The World Is Social.

Social WorldWhen nothing gets done, people grow discontent. And sometimes, much like they did more than 200 years ago in this country, they start taking matters into their own hands. About 200 years ago, the tool was the printing press. Today, technology gave us social media.

Unfortunately, the new model is a bit more complicated than a printing press. It makes much more apparent that each layer consists of not one sphere, but several overlapping spheres built on the connectivity of relationships that have nothing to do with the validity of the topic. Oh well, it still looks prettier.

1. Believe in bouncy house theory, but meet a Geocentrist at a bar. 2. Loosely related to a Geocentrist. 3. Geocentricism. 4. Benefit from Geocentricism. 5. Undecided but owe a Geocentrist a favor. 6. Undecided. 7. Undecided but owe a Copernicus a favor. 8. Benefit from Copernicus. 9. Copernicus. 10. Loosely related to a Copernicus. 11. Believe in bouncy house theory, but meet a Copernicus at a bar. 12. Bouncy house.

The advent of social media created an entirely new system based on this model. And as it developed, it wasn't long before some people realized that as their loyalist pools shrank, it was advantageous to connect with more people at a bar. They didn't have to know what you were talking about; they only had to know you. In some cases, it was probably better if they didn't know what you were talking about.

The benefit of this model in Galileo's time would have been making decisions quickly and decisively. He would have gathered up everyone he met a bar, bathhouse, and local pond where the women did wash and then perform a head count, maybe even drawing a cow as an illustration to appease a crowd-sourced holdout. The Geocentricists would have done the same.

And what do you know, simple math suggests that the outcome would have been the same as it was more than 400 years ago.

The World Is Round.

Flat WorldHow could that happen? It might be tricky to figure out, but only because the new model looks so much prettier.

The model being employed by social today is the same model that was employed in the flat world. Except instead of an oppressive authority over mindless followers, we have popular authority over mindless followers.

There is only a small benefit between the two. Galileo wouldn't be censored; he would be ridiculed instead. And while some might argue that he would just have to work a little harder to develop a bigger network of bar buddies, it seems like a pretty daunting task to chase down an idea that had a 1,000-year head start.

I am sure Galileo might have given it a go. But nowadays, some experts are preaching the better solution would be to listen to the masses. He should have said we live on a bouncy house, they tell me.

The only tiny little problem with that notion? The world really is round, in case you didn't know.

Related articles on influence.

• What Are Influencers Good For?

Measuring Influence: 4 Learnings.

Influencing Nothing: Social Media Influencers.

Wednesday, November 24

Dumbing Down: TSA Policies Are Not A Privacy Issue

It may take some time, but the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Department Of Homeland Security will eventually lose the argument they have chosen, and their failed public relations program is only part of the reason. The real problem is they have chosen the wrong argument in what seems to be an attempt to dumb down complaints.

“We are constantly evaluating and adapting our security measures, and as we have said from the beginning, we are seeking to strike the right balance between privacy and security,” John Pistole said in a statement.

Except, it's not a privacy issue. It's a liberty issue.

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." — The Fourth Amendment (Amendment IV), United States Constitution

Currently, no matter how you frame it (even claiming that certain transportation methods are privileges, as if), TSA policies are a direct infringement on the fourth amendment. And, even the TSA argument, that 75 to 80 percent of the public supported these measures, we might remember the U.S. Constitution was not written to protect a democratic majority, but the minority.

Heck, I've seen polls over the years that suggest better than half of all Americans would vote to have their homes searched without warrants too (based on the pretense they have nothing to hide). And a certain percentage are in favor of installing videos everywhere to help quell their irrational fears. But that doesn't make it right, just, or even remotely American as Henry Blodget seems to pretend.

The most recent TSA policies, those that were inspired by timing (and despite a bill that barred their use as primary scanners) along with pat-downs, are a threat not to our privacy but to our liberty to travel freely in the United States. Unchecked, you could argue such tactics for anyplace where people congregate (don't laugh). And if that continues to happen, unless Americans speak out against early infringements, we may as well declare the very people we are protecting ourselves from the victors.

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." — Benjamin Franklin

I ought to make it clear, I'm not necessarily a fan of TSA security officer bashing in general, especially after my recent experience with air travel. Not every airport is staffed by overzealous or authoritative agents. Most are decent, respectful people, with the difference between departing from Las Vegas and departing from Providence like night and day.

Granted, one airport is significantly busier than the other. However, the professionalism, demeanor, organization, and courtesy of the agents in Rhode Island was light years ahead of Las Vegas, where it is made abundantly clear that the security check points are to screen for terrorists with every citizen and visitor being a suspect. Management in Las Vegas ought to take note.

Our representatives might take note too. The hypocrisy is deafening. The laughter is disheartening, conjuring images of being subjects as opposed to citizens once again.

The brewing public relations nightmare is a point of contact problem.

In response to the backlash of a situation that the TSA created, Pistole has resorted to begging citizens against opting out of full image scanners and pat downs, especially during Thanksgiving. It wouldn't be fair, he argues, to make it a hassle for those trying to make it home during the holidays, as if the opt-outers are somehow responsible for the decisions the TSA made.

I'm sure many colonists were put off when their tea was tossed into the Boston Harbor too. That's the way it goes sometimes.

The only solution to fix the continued erosion of TSA's reputation is to reverse some invasive policies and, most importantly, understand that for the majority of air traveling Americans, the point of contact — security check points — IS the public relations program. Every TSA security officer IS also a public relations agent. No amount of communication can change this fact; even TSA's mission statement demands it.

The TSA is operating out of alignment with its mission.

"The Transportation Security Administration protects the Nation’s transportation systems to ensure freedom of movement for people and commerce." — TSA Mission Statement

While some people consider the horror stories related to pat-down searches, each infraction need not be excused away as accidental lapses in service. They are in direct violation of the agency's own code of conduct to "respect and care for others and protect the information we handle."

The point is that the administration is causing its own problems, which stems in part from Pistole operating off the TSA mission statement with his own, as provided for in his bio, to "grow as a risk-based, intelligence-driven counterterrorism agency dedicated to protecting our transportation systems."

His approach seems to have nothing to do with respect and care for others or to ensure freedom of movement for people. But, without meaning to disparage his otherwise respectable career, individual visions do not trump an agency's mission. If the TSA truly wants to be on the same side as the public, it will change its policies, adopt less invasive procedures that have resulted in better outcomes elsewhere in the world, and remind officers that their employers are the people in front of them.

Full body imaging is only the beginning, says the TSA website.

Don't expect it to happen soon. The TSA has outlined exactly how aggressive it will become in the near future. In developing what one of my colleagues calls the theater of checkpoint security, the TSA states it has deployed more than 900 X-ray systems and 450 imaging scanners, plans to add biometric identification systems (fingerprints and iris scans), and expand operations to include not only subways and other transportation, but "important facilities" as well. Think about that for a minute. Or two.

Then consider that these videos will become more frequent and the responses less defensive. According to the response, the father removed the shirt of his son to expedite a search, but what remains unclear is why removing the shirt might have expedited it.

All this, and it's still safer to board a plane (1:10.46 MILLION) than to drive a car (1:84). I'm slating the issue as a case study.

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