Showing posts with label authenticity. Show all posts
Showing posts with label authenticity. Show all posts

Monday, October 17

Guessing At Authenticity: 3 Tips For Better Reputations

After reading Jennifer Leggio's Forbes article "The Battle For Social Media Authenticity," one might wonder whether it is possible for brands (companies) to be authentic. It's a good question to ponder. They mostly can't.

This holds doubly true for the most dubious of brands — solo practitioners — people who spend all day developing a personal brand with surgical precision. From the clothes they wear to what they share, everything is orchestrated to create a persona that appeals to their tribe (a social media term meant to replace "audience" because it sounded so mass media). But the polish ought to be the tip off too.

How can you be authentic if everything is premeditated?

If authenticity is used to describe real people behind a content marketing program, then how can the program resolve its intent to drive sales and or engage people? That is, after all, the priority of most marketers online. In fact, according to the B2B Marketing Trends 2011 Survey, about 82 percent of marketers want to increase engagement* and 55 percent want to drive sales.

The irony is that if the primary objective is sales, searches, and shares, then the program is already one off authenticity. The objective alone tells the story. The intent isn't about the customer or prospect, it's about the company and the content strategist.

How To Flip The Content Funnel For More Sales And Engagement. 

There has been considerable pressure over the years for social media to prove its merit. In most cases, marketers and public relations practitioners have leaned toward visibility measurements to prove their mettle: number of followers, website hits, search rankings, etc. They also mistake engagement for shareability (or the number of times someone else shares content), which also lends to those scores.

All of those metrics can be useful. But focusing on these metrics does not bode well for anyone concerned with authenticity and reputation. Consider point 13 on 15 Ways To Avoid Bad Online Reviews for example. It suggests creating a nest of brand evangelists that "you can count on when a sticky situation arises."

Can you imagine how this might play out in a physical location like a restaurant? It would feel much more awkward than it does online: One customer complains that there is a fly in their soup so 15 other patrons pounce on them to say their soup is fine. Maybe some will even accuse the complainer that the flies came in with her or him.

There is a better way and none of it needs to be contrived. You don't have to develop a social media program that elevates shares and sales as primary objectives because shares and sales work better as outcomes. The better objective ought to be severing prospects and/or customers.

1. Rather than using tactics to drive traffic, develop content that benefits an audience.

Companies that develop content that benefits or is interesting to an audience generally perform better than those that use social media to sell products and services. They outperform by earning a smaller audience's trust over the long term, which indirectly increases real engagement and sales.

It's not much different than the products or services themselves. Companies that develop better, innovative products or services earn sales. Companies that cater to specific online audiences — beyond news about the company — attract a larger audience.

2. Rather than ask social media spokespeople to be actors, ask them to be themselves. 

There is nothing wrong with having a company account that shares content, specials, and company news. But there is more to managing a social network account than broadcasting the latest marketing message with a few jokes interspersed between the daily deals.

Authenticity is a trait exhibited by individuals, not companies. And in order to be authentic, employees need to have the freedom to be themselves more than a sales agent. After all, social networks are more akin to walking a convention room floor than a television channel. If your product or service doesn't meet the prospect's needs, let your employees tell them who might be the better fit.

3. Rather than play at reciprocity, consider your audience every step of the way.

Toss out all the rules and tips and tricks related to sharing. Sure, there are some surface benefits to sharing information at a rate of about 10 to 1 (ten links from others for every one link of yours) and people who tend to share (and follow) tend to share (and follow) back.

However, those surface tactics designed to make someone or something more popular don't further a well-defined strategy designed to benefit prospects and customers. Every shared link ought to benefit those who might be receiving the link rather than benefiting the account sharing the link.

How those three tips will improve your and your company's online reputation. 

All three of these tips can be summed up quite easily. Make it about them instead of you or your company's social media tactics.

While doing so won't make your company authentic, it will go a long way in helping it establish a better reputation. It will also help you too, assuming people know the names behind the brand. Authenticity is demonstrated, not stated. And over the long term, it will always win out over something that is shallow and contrived like Ragu did. Make it about them, not you.

Wednesday, February 2

Sizing Us And Them: A Lesson In Transparency

Trust
In 1972, prolific British dramatist David Campton wrote a seemingly simple one act play called Us And Them. If you've never heard of Campton, think of him as a playwright much like Arthur Miller, except leaning more toward the absurd.

His play, Us And Them, begins innocently enough with two groups of wanderers looking for a place to settle. And once they each find a plot of land stage left and stage right, both groups agree to mark a line between their two territories. Over time, the line becomes a fence and a fence becomes a wall and the wall grows in size until neither side knows what the other is doing.

Eventually, both sides begin to wonder what the other side might be doing. They wonder long enough that their thoughts turn to suspicion and suspicion to mistrust and mistrust to fear, with each side believing that the other is plotting against them. As fear takes hold, both sides unknowingly make preparations for ensuing conflict until eventually it explodes. In the end, two survivors, looking at the waste they have inflicted on one other, come to the conclusion that the wall was to blame.

The lesson about walls was never about walls.

Edleman TrustThe irony about the play is that the lesson left by Campton was never about walls despite the interpretation of some high school theater teachers. The lack of transparency did nothing; only people and their obsession with the wall and fear of the unknown were to blame for mutual paranoid destruction.

If the recent publishing of the annual Edelman Trust Barometer is any indication of direction, the tone of U.S. politics with its incessant finger pointing at itself and other institutions has become a wall for the modern era. In fact, the U.S. was the only country in which trust in all institutions has declined.

As trust has declined overall, with growing frequency, the public has demanded more transparency. They demand it from businesses and business owners, politicians and government, executives and corporations, reporters and the media, themselves and each other. Tear down the walls, they exclaim with increased regularity.

It isn't only about institutions either. As Valeria Maltoni pointed out, trust in our own peers seems to have fallen in comparison to teachers, analysts, individual executives, and certain experts, where it has risen. While there are many theories as to why, it seems clear enough. Those capturing increased trust are perceived to have less power and cause for agenda or, in the case of individual executives, have already been forced to exhibit more transparency.

Forced transparency is a function of mistrust.

There is a reason the writers of the Constitution built in checks, balances, and transparency. Looking back in history, the founding fathers could find no evidence of a trustworthy government. Right. They mistrusted government or, more exactly, the agenda of men who might abuse its power.

"There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty." — John Adams.

wallsEven James Madison warned that any nation which reposed too much on the pillow of political confidence would sooner or later see the end of its existence. Plainly speaking, we weren't supposed to trust our government or, more exactly, any men who might abuse its power. Even Patrick Henry pointed out that the Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government. And Adams himself later lamented some moments where he overreached as President.

But what about each other? For the age, the founding fathers placed more trust in citizens to self-govern. Their only fear was that the public might fall prey to believing in promises of "necessity," aptly described as the plea for every infringement of human freedom. But other than that, they placed their trust in individuals and upheld the individual's right to be considered innocent (trustworthy) until evidence proved that they were not.

My primary point is that Americans are supposed to be suspicious not of government or hammers, but of those who are entrusted to manage its power. Our suspicions of everything else, with exception to those who have broken trust, are often made up. In other words, we obsess too much about the other side of the wall.

Authenticity is the measure by which we all benefit.

Although Maltoni cautioned me against using the term authenticity, favoring honesty, I still prefer it. Authenticity means being trustworthy, honest, and genuine. Contrary, transparency is a remedy of mistrust.

To help appreciate the difference, consider the micro view. A spouse who trusts their partner may never need ask any details if the partner has to meet someone for dinner. The trust is based on the authenticity their partner, specifically their resolve to never have an affair. It is only when the partner breaks that trust by having an affair that a trusting spouse might require transparency.

Please don't misunderstand me. Transparency can be considered an admirable quality, given that when we choose to share our thoughts, beliefs, lives, and stories, it can be considered a gift. But like all gifts, when it is demanded, it loses value.

Of course, someone offering up too much transparency (especially if they demand it of others), can also confound. The magician, for example, makes it a point to prove there is nothing up his or her sleeve before performing magic. The criminal might be the first to ask everyone to empty their pockets (especially if they passed the stolen item or hid it away). The agenda-driven professional may promise transparency but then never deliver after the contract is secure.

Most walls are only illusions and made by people.

In the play Us And Them, the wall was never to blame. Whether the wall was there or not wasn't even relevant. Most mistrust is created from within our imaginations.

securityJust as we've seen in plenty of other stories and in history itself, if we lived without any walls (truly transparent, with cameras in our homes), the level of mistrust would increase exponentially as someone would be charged with deciphering our every motivation. Or, equally correct, one could say there is no trust in a world where people aren't given the freedom to exhibit it.

It seems the solution is not attempting to bind individuals to greater degrees of public scrutiny as some people propose by policy or regulation or declaration, but rather binding people to cooperate in environments built on mutual trust, based on nothing more than "what is" as opposed to "what might be." That is what gave us the strength throughout history to accomplish micro tasks like rock climbing or macro tasks like landing on the moon.

When you think about it, this direction even holds in the earlier micro example that explores jealous spouses. The are four common breakdowns of trust in marriages, with one being functional and three being dysfunctional. Maybe more.

Functional mistrust is an outcome of evidence, which is the only one that warrants transparency as a foothold for restoration. Dysfunctional mistrust, on the other hand, is caused by our own insecurities, misinterpretations, and/or misapplying past experiences with people who don't deserve it. In those instances, we might take a harder look at ourselves more than others.

Three related articles about trust and power.

Distrust in leaders: dimensions, patterns, and emotional intensity.

Poverty is more likely cause of mistrust than race, says study.

Messaging trust and the decline of peers.

Thursday, December 31

Recognizing Reader Picks: Top Posts Of 2009


With the new year upon us tomorrow, we would like to say goodbye to 2009 with a recap of this blog's five most popular communication-related posts, based on the frequency and the immediacy of reader views after posting.

"What Would You Do If You Weren't Afraid?"

It is probably no surprise that our call for business leaders and government officials to change their communication struck a chord with consumers and communicators. After all, if we were to pick one word to summarize a common theme in 2009, it would be fear.

The message behind the post, which was part of a three-post series, was simple: if you want real change, you need hope over helplessness. And since most "leaders" seemed to struggle with the concept, we advised our friends and readers to ignore them and set out to find their own cheese. We're glad some people did because our government continues to push fear.

Related Labels: Psychology, Economy, Leadership

The Candy Gamble That Didn't Pay Off

For all the buzz-up Skittles earned in early March, nobody is really talking about the rainbow colored candies anymore. After the initial drunken rush of excitement generated by a Skittles experiment that turned its Web site into a collection of social media streams written by consumers, most people woke up with a hangover.

Within 48 hours, 44 percent of the public was left with a negative impression of the candy for trying too hard to be "cool" and eventually demonstrating it and the agency behind it were really clueless about social media. Effective branding, marketing, and social media require much more work than simply "turning over" a brand to consumers.

Related Labels: Skittles, Social Media

Communication Measurement For A Return On Investment

With so many conversations revolving around about how to measure a return on investment for social media and communication in general, we decided to share a formula that we've put into practice in order to measure a return on communication.

[(B • I) (m+s • r)/d] / [O/(b + t + e)] = ROC

Since January, more than 10,000 people downloaded the abstract from our Web site. And, after the initial post, the ROC series that followed remains one of the most popular published here.

Related Labels: ROC, Strategic Communication

Peanut Corporation of America Poisons Public Relations

The Peanut Corporation of America's handling of public relations after causing a salmonella outbreak will forever be remembered as one of the worst crisis communication scenarios in history. For almost three months, the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) tried to spin its way out of any responsibility for contaminating as many as 2,100 peanut butter products.

The crisis eventually ended with the company filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, after the FDA and several investigations finally concluded that the PCA acted with gross negligence and was responsible for sickening over 600 people in 44 states and Canada. The contaminants were also linked to nine deaths.

Related Labels: PCA, Crisis Communication

How Publicity, Public Relations, Social Media, Marketing, And Advertising View Publics

Published in two parts, we presented a model of how publicity, public relations, and social media and then marketing and advertising tend to view their publics. Both posts seemed to hit a home run in pinpointing why there are varied views on how to approach social media.

We remain vigilant in our belief that social media is best viewed as a new environment that deserves an integrated methodology incorporating all means of communication. From our viewpoint, integrated communication seems to be the best source to develop effective methodologies.

Related Labels: Social Media, Public Relations, Advertising

Five additional topics that came close in 2009

Where Edleman PR sometimes misses on the finer points.
• How spontaneous online debates can sometimes trip up experts.
• A satirical view covering everything silly in social media.
The ugly truth about some online consumer reviews.
How to demonstrate authenticity without actually saying it.

When I first started this blog in 2005, I used to lament that the biggest mistakes always seemed to overshadow the best practices. That seemed to change in 2008 as we accomplished a healthy mix of both. This year, communication models and theories have helped provide a better blend of communication-related topics. It makes 2010 seem even more promising.

In closing out 2009, I would like to extend a very special thanks to everyone who joined the conversation on this blog or across any number of social networks where the discussion tends to take place more frequently than in the comment section.

If you are one of the 3,500 subscribers or someone who visits on an occasional basis, I cannot thank you enough for making 2009 one of the best yet. It makes a difference to me, it's appreciated, and I'm grateful for having crossed paths with so many people online and in person.

Wednesday, December 2

Being Authentic: Demonstrated, Not Stated


One of the most common bits of advice bandied about social media is for companies entering social media to be authentic. And as a result, many marketers have listened, making the claim that they are practicing authenticity for themselves and their clients or companies. We're authentic, they say.

"What bothers me now is that every time I hear a marketing pro utter the word 'authentic,' I cringe," says Olivier Blanchard, brand strategist behind The BrandBuilder Blog. "It's become dissonant."

Dissonant indeed. Blanchard's point, punctuated by the idea that authenticity is an outcome more than a practice, not only resonates but has research to back it up.

Can companies and marketers practice authenticity?

Sam Goslin, a psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin, suggests the answer might be no. He and his team analyzed 236 profiles of college-age types in the U.S. and Germany (from Facebook and StudiVZ, SchuelerVZ) and then established a baseline personality assessment by sending questionnaires to the owners in order to measure actual traits that individual thought would be ideal for them.

By comparing the social network profiles with the perceived and actual personality types of their owners, Goslin's team was then able to work out if the profiles did a better job of representing the actual or idealized personality traits. According to the Fast Company article, people either weren't trying to idealize their online persona or they were trying and failing.

How to demonstrate authenticity without saying it.

A simple takeaway from the Fast Company article for individuals is that they might learn to be comfortable with who they are. The same can be said about companies, which tends to be at odds with most marketing positions as recently illustrated by Richard Pinder, chief operating officer of Publicis Worldwide in the Guardian.

"Today's marketing imperative is to manage conversations about brands," Pinder said. "We are seeing a switch from being a brand manager to being a brand guardian and influencer. That is a very different place to be sitting."

As much as he is right, he is wrong. Attempting to be a brand guardian and influencer isn't sustainable unless the brand position comes from a place of authenticity. And for most companies, much like some people, they are not as comfortable with who or what they are as they might think.

Too many companies chase after digital tribes online, and then adjust their positions based on listening to those tribes in order to maximize their reach. The tactic, and it is a tactic, aims to create a package that appeals to a broad spectrum of prospects without considering that the contents might be more important to the consumer than the packaging.

That's not to say packaging isn't important. Packaging is important, but it requires some self-imposed constraints to ensure the packaging matches or is an extension of the contents. Nobody wants to open a diamond box and discover a rock. And most people would pass on opening a rumpled up newspaper, even if it contains a diamond.

This was the genius behind Gary Dahl's pet rock in the 1970s. It never needed to apologize for what it was. It was a rock and said so right on the outside of the box. It doesn't get more authentic than that.

And, as a result, pet rocks didn't need brand guardians or influencers. Dahl would have only needed those if he was trying to make the pet rock something other than what it was. Brand guardians or influencers, on the other hand, are most often charged with protecting the image of a company against the opinions of others, especially if those opinions are different, which is the opposite of authenticity.

Wasn't that the lesson Southwest Airlines once taught us? They didn't have to convince people or apologize for a boarding system that resembles cattle herding. They simply stated the organized chaos was reflected in the price rather than make claims it was a better boarding solution. Authenticity is demonstrated.

Friday, June 26

Selling You On Twitter: uSocial


“We just signed a contract with a large Fortune 500 company who have invested around $22,000 with us to conduct a continuing Twitter marketing campaign. The package includes some custom-designed tactics for them, as well as some services of ours which are publicly available like our Twitter follower packages." — Leon Hill, CEO of uSocial.net

So what is uSocial’s Twitter follower packages? According to the OfficialWire, its suite of Twitter marketing services includes allowing their clients to buy Twitter followers.

Buy Followers?

Right. uSocial claims for an investment of only $87, "we'll bring you 1,000 brand new Twitter followers to your existing account, or we'll set up a new account for yourself or your business at no charge in order to deliver the followers." If you think that is a bargain, 100,000 Twitter followers is $3,479 (normally charged at $4,970), which makes us all cheap. Cheep.

“Our client has requested anonymity, however I can tell you they’re an organization in the health sector,” Hill told OfficialWire. “I wish I could say more, though I have to respect the wishes of my paying customers.”

We're not surprised. Any decision maker willing to purchase Twitter followers is unlikely to be authentic, externally or internally.

Friday, May 22

Misunderstanding Intent: Communication Today


There is a fascinating post over at The Notorious R.O.B. that discusses some initial reservations with Todd Carpenter becoming the social media manager for the National Association of REALTORS. In the post, Rob Hahn describes those early reservations as associated with what he believed would be an impending shift from open communication to message control.

For the controversy over the MLS data and Google, I highly recommend the read. It's one of the most pressing issues in real estate today. However, this time around, I was reading the post for another reason all together. Hahn goes into some detail regarding message control and openness that seems to be a reoccurring conversation in social media.

"The overwhelming temptation for any company or organization that suddenly finds itself in the middle of a brewing (or full-blown) controversy is to lockdown message control. One person, typically the person in charge of Corporate Communication, speaks for the organization, and all inquiries are referred to that person. Behind the scenes, PR consultants, staff, lawyers, and other executives get into meeting after meeting to work out what will be said, how it will be said, and by whom. Once the message has been polished to a high gloss, it is put out to the world with extreme care."

Message control? Not really.

One of stories I like to share in my public relations class recounts how a local homebuilder initially reacted when a news station called after a handicapped woman complained that the homebuilder had violated the American Disabilities Act (ADA) after removing a ramp near a community mailbox near her home. The owners, who were on vacation, gave very clear instructions to their marketing manager.

"If the media calls, say no comment. If they come by, lock the doors."

Fortunately, the manager asked for support instead. Within a few minutes, all the details of what seemed like a pending news story were laid out on the table. The homebuilder hadn't done anything more than temporarily remove the makeshift ramp at the request of the city to meet municipal codes. The builder had notified the homeowner on three occasions. The homeowner would still be able to get her mail, with an access point just a little further away.

When the marketing manager followed up with the reporter, they agreed there wasn't a story.

"We ran an ADA story the other day, which typically invites call-ins. Most them aren't stories," said the reporter.

There seems to be a lot of confusion these days about what constitutes message control and message management and open communication. The reality is that open communication can be managed. It's just the simple matter of everyone having access to the facts, as they eventually did in the story above. And yes, that did require various professionals to lend their insight.

The point being that open communication can often be successfully managed without control or spin. It doesn't require manipulation as much as it requires all communicating parties have the same facts. In fact, if they did, I doubt management would be so worried about employee communication online.

The reality is that there is no message control and there never really was. Lately, it seems, social media is frequently blamed when otherwise good brands get put in a negative light. But brands were being put in a negative light long before social media. The only difference was that the writers were journalists (and sometimes they still are).

If there is any takeaway today, it's simply that message control almost always consists of hiding the truth or deflecting from the facts. Message management, on the other hand, is a form of open communication that works to ensure the facts are considered in lieu of erroneous opinions. In other words, intent helps sort out the difference between authenticity (which Seth Godin mistakes as consistency) and transparency.

In fact, if more people understood the basic tenets of public relations and communication, there would probably be far fewer social media fails. Well, maybe.

Wednesday, May 6

Changing The Guard: The New Guard?


When Bruce Spotleson, group publisher at Greenspun Media Group, was a guest speaker in my class last March, he said something that I found a little bit haunting. Looking out over the class of almost 20 students and working professionals, he said that as newspapers scale back, looking out for public interest would increasingly fall to public relations professionals.

While I'm still confident journalism will evolve before it's abandoned, social media does provide consumers and representatives an opportunity to have public conversations like never before, with the primary difference between online communication and front line communication being the size of the audience. However, the question I often ask is "are they ready?"

When I read Erica O’Grady's post and others like it, I'm not so sure. Don't get me wrong, I think O’Grady is great. I read her often enough. My friend Geoff Livingston has written about a similar concept before, even co-writing a very funny bit with Beth Harte last year. The conversation is even older than that. And to some extent I agree with them. Emphasize "some."

"The King Is Dead. Long Live The King!"

A few years ago, well before communication professionals began to take social media seriously, back when the extent of social media (when it was almost always called new media, which seemed so silly to me) was a blog, we used to see other names along with Brian Solis' PR 2.0 and Chris Brogan's community and social media, Todd Defren's PR-Squared, and many, many others too.

And all those names, many of which have long stopped blogging and some of which have deleted their earliest work (we even tested a few in 2004), lent quite a bit to the formation of what is commonly called social media today. (Technically, my introduction to what wasn't called a "blog" then dates back to some early work with Nevada Power Company in 1993.) Some people might even remember Bulletin Board Systems and whatnot. A few might even remember Justin Hall.

So what's the point? Carpetbagging and opportunist are relative terms and we ought be careful how we use them. If for no other reason than to give a nod to the generosity of those true pioneers who were much more welcoming and always extremely gracious in allowing others to establish "rules" that they seemed so reluctant to create, we might consider that ALL OF US were once the carpet baggers and opportunists trampling into a turf once defined as a "personal online diary."

There is no entitlement in social media. There are no rules. People will do things differently, and never as so-called early adopters thought to do (which is virtually nobody who is popular today). Sure, there are plenty of hucksters attempting to stake a claim in social media nowadays (the point O’Grady, Harte, and Livingston all rightfully aim to make), but we can all remember that "huckster" status is best defined by what some people do and not when they started to do it, just because they might do it differently.

Looking at the continued evolution of social media any other way is simply repeating what helped push it along in the first place. Some people in social media wanted to tear down the old guard of establishment (considering media to be the gatekeepers of information). But, you know, I don't think any of those folks ever envisioned that they were doing so simply to replace the space with a "new guard." And if they did, then its safe to say history is destined to repeat. There is no empire that lasts forever.

Wednesday, March 11

Revealing Weakness: Brian Solis On Authority


Brian Solis, principal of FutureWorks, writing for TechCrunch, asked yesterday if blogs were "losing their authority to the statusphere."

Specifically, he wondered about the relevance of the Technorati Authority Index, which used to be the leading measure for bloggers to benchmark their rank. The theory was that the more blogs that link to your blog, the more authority you had in a subject area to be considered an "expert." However, as Solis alludes to in his post, engagement no longer occurs blog-to-blog or on the Internet.

Conversations are fluid.

While Richard Jalichandra, CEO of Technorati, told Solis the team is actively entrenched in the creation of a modified platform that embraces widespread, distributed linkbacks to blog posts in order to factor them into the overall authority for affected blogs, everyone seems to miss the point. While linkbacks, comment counts, retweets, votes, and all that other stuff is useful, it will never provide an valid indication of influence, authority, or status.

Real measurement doesn't happen according to online measurements. It happens as a function of the customer or reader experience. It's no longer about social media. It's about tangible real life engagement.

Conversations move everywhere. Blog-to-blog, blog-to-social network, social network-to-blog, blog-to-phone, social network-to-presentation, blog-to-physical location or office or classroom, blog-to-text message, and text message-to-whatever. They do not end with the blog nor do they end with the Internet. They continue wherever people may care to take them.

The measurement of these conversations isn't so much about who is talking about something as much as it's about someone taking action like shaving their head or walking the streets of Edinburgh in a bra. Anything else is just an adoption of the erred thinking that led some public relations firms to count column inches as a measure of success. Real measurement doesn't end with the number of "media hits" or column inches, it begins with them.

Or, to put it another way, the measure isn't that the story ran, but rather what people do once the story runs. "Media hits" or column inches are only a function of reach. And while reach can be beneficial, the wrong message still falls on deaf ears, no matter how many ears happen to hear it.

Online measures are interesting, misleading too.

We've been researching this area in public relations for years, but recently saw the same thing after an interesting occurrence on Twitter, after two different people pointed to two different posts.

Based on various online measurement models, one Twitter participant (Tweeter A) — with approximately 14,000 followers, high level of engagement, and significant number of retweets (someone else repeating what they "tweet" with citation) — is generally thought to have more influence than one (Tweeter B) with 300 followers, a lower level of engagement, and fewer retweets. However, when they pointed to posts on this blog, the opposite was proven true.

Twitter A drove 24 people to a post. Twitter B drove 103 people to a post.

So who really has more influence? Twitter A only succeeded in influencing a fraction of 1 percent of their followers while Twitter B influenced a whopping 34 percent of their followers. Ah ha. See that? Perception doesn't always equal reality.

The same can be said about comment counts too. I'm fairly certain that veteran communication and marketing bloggers like Geoff Livingston, Valeria Maltoni, and Lewis Green all shake their heads when they publish an important post and nobody comments. (Meanwhile, other bloggers publish meaningless posts and net 40 or more.)

However, what online measurements may never capture is how those seemingly quiet posts move people to apply new strategies and tactics that they've never considered before. Or maybe the content was simply profound or precise enough that there wasn't anything more to say, and the communities they've nurtured tend to avoid gratuitous exchanges such as "your best post yet."

Ho hum. It just goes to show you that The Skipper might not have been as popular as Ginger Grant, but there was no mistaking his authority.

So if Technorati really wanted to create a measure that would make the service relevant again, they might consider that, despite the fact that I doubt anyone can create an algorithm capable of peering inside the human soul. And even if they could, I suspect we wouldn't want them to.

Monday, December 29

Advertising Pain: Agency Outlook For 2009


As goes mainstream media, ad agencies might follow.

For a little over a year, mainstream media and marketing has continued to tumble. In fact, according to AdAge, Wal-Mart Stores and McDonald's Corp. were the only two of Advertising Age/Bloomberg AdMarket 50 stocks to see gains.

The rest of the 48 marketer, media and agency stocks were all down in 2008, with most dropping double digits in value. Not surprisingly, McClatchy Co. fared the worst of all, down 91 percent.

As for ad agencies, they are struggling too. In October of 2008, AdAge reports agency employment fell to 182,400, a loss of 6,200 jobs from the business-cycle staffing peak. Combined market capitalization of the Big Four agency firms — Omnicom, WPP, Interpublic Group of Cos., Publicis Groupe — in December 2008 was $23.4 billion, not dramatically above the June 2007 market cap of WPP alone ($18.3 billion).

While some of it can easily be traced to the recession, not all of it is a byproduct of tough economic times. Advertising agencies and marketers seem to be struggling because fewer and fewer advertisements are capable of cutting through the clutter. Perhaps it's no coincidence that Wal-Mart won after capturing understated consumer sentiments with its "Save Money. Live Better." campaign.

Ad Agencies Will Have To Listen In 2009

While some pinpoint the problem to the advertising industry's relatively slow embrace of social media as suggested by a promotional video for Age of Conversation 2, another part of the equation is simpler still.

Remember the Matrix? In 1999, the Matrix took audiences by storm and won four Oscars, including Best Visual Effects. Four years later, audiences hadn't had enough, but were already saying that The Matrix Reloaded was a little too much of the same. By the time Revolutions hit theaters, the franchise had long jumped the shark.

The advertising industry has done exactly that. In the early 1990s, many agencies moved away from messaging to focus on Photoshop, Flash, and special effects. The new tools easily caught consumer attention. But by the end of the 1990s, it wasn't really enough.

So some agencies pushed harder with guerrilla marketing to generate buzz. But nowadays, buzz is not enough. Consumers want to relate, which is why a simple Wal-Mart ad can boost sales in a down season and give the company 17.3 percent year-to-date gain for 2008.

Listening to consumers isn't about social media. It's about relating to the audience, regardless of the media. It always has been. And only those agencies that remember that will see any hint of success in 2009.

Thursday, October 23

Twittering Works: And Then Things Spread


Ryan Anderson recently did something remarkable. He wrote a post, but it wasn't just any post to me.

He wrote a post a few days after sending me a check for $60, money that was never meant to be paid back. Since the check was unexpected and unnecessary, I donated it in his name to the Arthritis Foundation where it will do the most good.

After I did that, he wrote a post that talks about how this $60 will go a long way to help children like my daughter, who was diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis just before her second birthday. On Saturday, she will be walking with Team Beers. You can see her donation page here.

“I don't let it get me down, but JRA is tough. Since there are no doctors in Las Vegas who can treat JRA, Dr. Lisa Majlessi travels here from California a few days each month to treat children like me. We need more doctors like her," it reads. “I will be in my stroller at the Arthritis Walk, but I hope you might sign up and walk next to me. Or, if you would like, please make a small donation to help me and my friends at Team Beers raise funds for arthritis research.”

You know, I didn't think much about helping Ryan after his wallet turned up missing, perhaps stolen, in Las Vegas. But I do now.

Sometimes social networks are social. And sometimes they just work.

Ryan Anderson didn't have to write the post or mail me a check or send a "thank you" basket. And I suppose he might argue that I didn't have to respond to his tweet or give him a ride or give him enough money to eat or donate his unexpected payback to charity. But that's the point, isn't it?

Neither one of us had to do anything, except we did. And it's this kind of simple, often neglected, never talked about, every day stuff that reminds me how kindness can spread well beyond two people without any other third-party intervention whatsoever. Governments, companies, and social networks are all merely tools; it's up to us to decide how we might use them rather than allow them to find ways to use us.

Give people a chance to use them right and they will work. After that, you never know what might just happen. Except, I can probably say with quiet certitude that Ryan and I won't think each other strangers next time nor wonder how Twitter works.

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Friday, October 17

Allowing Anonymous: Communicators Divided


Ragan recently released the results of a poll that asked a series of questions regarding anonymous comments. More than 1,000 communicators responded.

Highlights: How Organizations View Anonymous Comments

• 46 percent of their organizations do not allow anonymous comments.
• 46 percent of their organizations do not allow comments of any kind.
• 14 percent of their organizations do allow anonymous comments.

Highlights: How Communicators See Anonymous Comments

• 37 percent were undecided whether anonymous comments should be allowed.
• 31 percent said anonymous comments on blogs and article should not be allowed.
• 32 percent believe anon anonymous comments on blogs and articles should be allowed.

“Our company does not appreciate feedback of any kind from employees, not even on a person-to-person basis. Management is averse to following anything to be made publicly available without executive review.” — Anonymous

How Companies Might Come To Cope With Anonymous Comments

Social media — blogs, forums, Internets — is not a cookie cutter operation, internally or externally. And the decision to allow or disallow anonymous comments might be made with that in mind. Take a look around the Internet and you'll see a great variety of conclusions on the subject to guide you.

This blog, for example, allows anonymous comments. The only comments that are ever deleted are spam ads. We made this decision because we wanted a place where people could engage in open, candid discussions about communication.

However, I also believe that there are only two ways that anonymous posters demonstrate credibility: the quality of the comment, which means whether the post provides insights over insults. And, how or if we respond to the comment.

Why Companies Might Consider Moderated Comments

We manage several other blogs that are much more heavily moderated. The National Business Community Blog is not well-suited for unmoderated comments.

It only has one purpose: to share stories about companies that do good. Every now and again, one example or best practice comes from a company with known dissenters and we become privileged to receive a deluge of negative comments about it.

None of these comments are ever published because we feel strongly that it distracts from our intent. Every now and again, people like to visit a blog void of discussion or drama. We do read the comments though, and on one occasion removed the post.

Why Companies Might Consider No Comments At All

The intent is myopic, like using a blog to publish new releases, white papers, and feature stories about the company. Many social media experts disagree with me on this point, but my feeling is that the long tail of social media need not wag the company dog. If a company doesn't want to benefit from any dialogue from employees, customers, and any other stakeholders, then there is no need for us to force them to.

The only other reason I can think of is that the company representatives, whether a CEO or communicator, are not well skilled in dealing with the occasional criticism, call out, or attack. It takes a balanced hand to respond, which is important to consider since most crisis communication situations have very little to do with what happens and everything to do with how we respond.

What I Teach Students About Being Anonymous

There is no black or white and yes or no answer. Each company, hopefully with input from their communication team, can make the right choice.

However, and I cannot stress this enough, I do advise communicators and public relations professionals to never make anonymous comments or, if they do, they need to be prepared to answer for such posts in a world where no communication is really private. Not anymore.

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Monday, June 23

Advertising Flattens: Where's The Connection?

According to Advertising Age, the top 100 U.S. advertisers last year increased ad spending by 1.7 percent, while measured media spending rose a negligible 0.3 percent for major marketers. This is the most sluggish growth for advertising since the 2001 recession.

However, a sluggish economy is not only to blame. The entire industry is slowly shifting toward including and incorporating social media. While those who already are engaged in social media don’t always appreciate the notion, advertising seems to be slowly remembering its roots.

“There is no such thing as national advertising. All advertising is local and personal. It’s one man or woman reading one newspaper in the kitchen or watching TV in the den,” Morris Hite, who once oversaw Tracy-Locke-Dawson before it was purchased by BBDO/New York in 1982.

Sure, newspapers might have lost significant ground over the last few years, with Peter S. Appert, an analyst at Goldman Sachs, telling The New York Times “I think the probability is very high that there will be a number of examples of individual newspapers and newspaper companies that fall into a loss position. And I think it’s inevitable that there will be closures in this industry, and maybe bankruptcies.” But if we remain true to Hite’s point, we remain fixed on a single, simple lesson that sometimes seems forgotten.

The emphasis on advertising needs to be message over medium.

Again, the best ads connect to the consumer before demonstrating the cleverness of the advertising team. It’s the kind of thing that Seth Godin touches on now and again, except with a somewhat different conclusion on how we got here. Advertising wasn’t always about slapping innovative ads on top of average products. That’s a relatively new idea that deviated from its golden era.

If you look at the difference between golden era Volkswagen advertising and the most recent campaign, it might make more sense. The 1960s advertising carried the right message for the product. The new campaign attempts to give a nod to that era, but without a tangible connection to the consumer. Maybe that’s why Volkswagen sales are off this month, which goes a bit beyond the price of oil.

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Tuesday, June 17

Making Lazy: Passive Customer Service


When it comes to communication, the most impacting miscommunication almost never appears on the news, in print, or anywhere near the marketing department. It happens on the front line, and the people impacted are customers, one at a time.

The two most common causes of miscommunication for larger companies is trending to be passive communication (eg. expecting customers to stay up to date on the company Web site) and scripted employees (eg. requiring representatives to work from scripts even in non-script circumstances).

There are plenty of examples that we’ve helped several companies resolve recently, but I thought it might be fun to share some personal examples to illustrate the point.

Passive Communication.

Cox Communications Inc. recently implemented a new e-mail filtering program to block a specific Internet port. The only mention of the service change is on their Web site.

The reasoning behind the implementation was a good idea, but they did not notify their customers of the change in service beyond posting to their Web site. In fact, we may have never known there was potential problem had it not been for a small number of clients and contacts using Cox as their primary e-mail provider. For some reason, our Cox service provider was disallowing our POP e-mails to Cox customer clients.

Their customer service representatives are now investing time to research the problem and provide a solution. To their customer service department’s credit (once the script questions were ruled out), they immediately upgraded their level service, even calling back with updates rather than leaving us on hold.

While the person-to-person customer service was great, I’m still wondering if better front-end communication might have prevented any service interruption.

Scripted Employees.

It works in reverse too. Not all companies are so fortunate to have proactive employees willing to research the impact to their customers. Some customer service representatives seem too lazy to move off script. This recently occurred when one of our last payments to Volkswagen Credit disappeared in the mail.

We were notified of the missing payment, first by receiving our next payment coupon, which required a double payment, and then by an automated call from the company on the same day the double payment went out. (Again, these are passive communication solution as opposed to a letter or live person phone call). Regardless, my wife called immediately about her car.

Despite learning the payment was likely lost in the mail, the first customer service representative insisted she answer personal questions, without explanation, including about her employment status. Not only did it seemed overly intrusive for a lost payment call, the representative informed her that the missing payment would be reported because the company had allegedly made numerous calls to notify us. Knowing that was not true, she then asked to speak to a supervisor.

“No, you may not speak to anyone else. I’m handling your account.”

For real? As unbelievable as it sounds, yes. She took his name and number and then promptly ended the call. She called back to speak to someone new. The difference was like night and day.

“I see you’ve never missed a payment. I’ll clear this up right now.”

As for those calls? They never happened. The first representative made it up. As for the general ill-tempered representative? The second representative was left having to apologize. As for the personal questions? Volkswagen Credit has recently created a program to save people who are struggling financially from defaulting on their payments. It’s a great idea, but it didn’t apply to our circumstance nor did the first representative mention “why” he needed to ask.

Mixed Messages.

Considering how many companies lean toward intrusive marketing to push products and services (I even had a mortgage company come to my door yesterday), it’s equally amazing how many become passive once you become a customer (I hope you know that periodic calls to your credit card and insurance company almost always result in lower rates).

As for the examples above, proactive communication seems like it could have been the best answer to keep everyone happy. And, once we, as customers, were forced to take proactive steps, the outcome was tied to how empowered the representatives were to make decisions.

Sure, some executives think scripting employees helps representatives stay on the same page. In reality, scripting employees only leads to one-way communication, which we already know is no communication at all.

The solution is somewhere in the middle. Proactive post-purchase communication and strong internal communication can help develop a consistent, and not overly scripted, level of service that empowers employees and reinforces to the customer that they have the right company.

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Monday, May 5

Challenging Good Deeds: Fragile Brand Theory


Unilever, maker of several leading consumer products including Dove soap, recently learned that no good deed goes unpunished. They now know better than most: attempting to maintain a brand as a good corporate citizen and environmentally friendly company is a tricky business these days.

Despite scoring at the top of global ethical and sustainability indexes during the last year, and being considered a company that takes environmental issues seriously, Unilever continues to be the target of Greenpeace because it buys palm oil from other companies that are destroying the rainforest, which is also endangering Indonesian orangutans.

Unilever is not alone. According to Greenpeace, the world's largest food, cosmetic, and biofuel companies are driving the wholesale destruction of Indonesia's rainforests and peatlands through growing palm oil consumption. In a report, Greenpeace predicts the demand for palm oil will double by 2030.

For an Advertising Age article, Greenpeace said it did not single out Unilever because of its high-profile environmental and social stances, but added that there “was an element of greenwash there.” In fact, he said, Proctor & Gamble and Nestle may be the next targets.

”Most activists of whatever persuasion on whatever issue tend to believe that they get most traction (and news coverage) by aiming at the biggest name rather than the biggest challenge," a Unilever spokeswoman e-mailed Advertising Age. "In most instances, it seems that the biggest 'name' tends to be the one that has done the most to attack the ... problem."

From a communication perspective, the spokesperson’s e-mail interested us the most because it supports our fragile brand theory, which suggests: the further perception travels from reality or the more unsustainable it might be, the greater the potential for brand damage. Overreach too much and, eventually, the brand might face total collapse.

It doesn't always matter that there are companies with much more environmentally or socially deplorable practices than Unilever. However, those companies do not receive a brand boost from the perception that they might be green.

So maybe it’s not always that activists are after the biggest names. They are after the biggest contrasts between perception and reality.

Our environmental policy sets out our commitment to meet the needs of consumers and customers in an environmentally sound and sustainable manner, through continuous improvements in environmental performance. — Unilever

In reading through the company’s environmental policy, it does seem to achieve some goals (packaging reduction, for example) better than others. Specifically, the policy states that the company aims to “ensure the safety of its products and operations for the environment” and will be “exercising the same concern for the environment wherever we operate.” If they are enabling foreign suppliers to do the opposite, then Unilever is not meeting those standards. That’s a problem, but not only in action.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not making a case against Unilever as much as I am making a case for communicators to resist messages that overreach. The truth is that relatively few companies (and even fewer people) can produce a perfect environmental scorecard.

All I'm suggesting is that we don't claim to be avid recyclers if we’re sharp on putting newspapers in the bin but shoddy on plastic bottles (because they have to be rinsed out). Authenticity simply suggests that we stop at touting our efforts at paper products if that is the case.

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Tuesday, February 26

Canceling Campaigns: Pfizer Says It’s Your Fault


After more than $258 million spent in advertising, the long-running advertising campaign that primarily employed Dr. Robert Jarvik as spokesperson for Lipitor, according to The New York Times today.

Pfizer announced yesterday that it would cancel the advertisements featuring Dr. Jarvick. Pfizer offered up a release that primarily focuses on a 3-paragraph statement from Ian Read, president of worldwide pharmaceutical operations. Here are two...

“Nevertheless, the way in which we presented Dr. Jarvik in these ads has, unfortunately, led to misimpressions and distractions from our primary goal of encouraging patient and physician dialogue on the leading cause of death in the world — cardiovascular disease. We regret this. Going forward, we commit to ensuring there is greater clarity in our advertising regarding the presentation of spokespeople.

“Raising awareness of the dangers of cardiovascular disease in the U.S. remains an urgent public health priority. Only half of all Americans who have high LDL cholesterol are even diagnosed, and just half of those are being treated. Future Lipitor campaigns, to be launched in several weeks, will continue to stress the critical importance of patients talking to their doctors so they can make informed choices about their treatment options.”


In other words, Pfizer regrets that the “misimpressions and distractions” led to the cancellation of the advertisement as opposed the misrepresentation of the spokesperson as an avid rower. Dr. Jarvick does not row and a body double appeared in advertisements.

The release goes on to reinforce the benefits of statins such as Lipitor in treating heart disease are validated in clinical guidelines. Lipitor represents $12.7 billion in sales for Pfizer.

According to The New York Times, the decision to withdraw the advertisements will have no bearing on the investigation led by U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce. The committee is still collecting documents from several sources and plans to meet with Dr. Jarvik.

One of the other complaints about the advertisement came from three former colleagues of Dr. Jarvik. They said the ads erroneously identified Dr. Jarvik as “inventor of the artificial heart” as opposed to the inventor of the “Jarvik artificial heart.” Other medical professionals also complained that Dr. Jarvik does not hold a license to practice any type of medicine.

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Tuesday, February 12

Rowing Nowhere: Celebrity Endorsements


Advertising for the Pfizer cholesterol drug Lipitor continues to draw scrutiny from everyone, especially one of its more recent advertisements. The ad features Dr. Robert Jarvick, inventor of the artificial heart, rowing his way to better health with Lipitor. Except, he doesn’t really row.

"He's about as much an outdoorsman as Woody Allen," longtime collaborator Dr. O. H. Frazier of the Texas Heart Institute told The New York Times. "He can't row."

The Pfizer advertising campaign came under question about a month ago after the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce sent a letter of inquiry about the endorsement. The letter didn’t target Jarvick’s rowing as much as it did his qualifications.

The bigger picture is Congress taking an active interest in pharmaceutical advertising since 2004. Advertising drove record sales of Vioxx, just before it was later pulled by Merck after a clinical trial showed that it sharply increased the risk of heart attacks and stroke. In other words, for better or worse, pharmaceutical advertising works. Congress is trying to figure out how much is for worse.

The criticism of the Jarvik campaign raises several interesting questions related to celebrity and creative ethics in a world where Andy Warhol’s quote "In the future everybody will be world famous for fifteen minutes” has morphed into “in the future everybody will be famous to fifteen people at a time,” even journalists.

Although Jarvick insists he is not a celebrity in a statement issued to fend off reporter inquiries about the campaign, he really is, even if it is only of a quasi-celebrity nature.

Endorsing products, paid or unpaid, even if it is under the auspices of having “the training, experience, and medical knowledge to understand the conclusions of the extensive clinical trials that have been conducted to study the safety and effectiveness of Lipitor,” does thrust one into spokesperson-celebrity arena.

If he didn’t have celebrity status to some degree, it seems unlikely Pfizer would have approached him. After all, Jarvick might hold a medical degree, but not as a cardiologist. He also does not hold a license to practice any type of medicine.

From celebrity endorsers, the public generally wants some authenticity if not transparency. Sure, while we’re all used to seeing celebrities promote one product while using another on the side, most cameos are grounded in some semblance of reality. So when celebrities push the envelope on creative license, expressing their passion for a sport they do not engage in (let’s say), there is bound to be backlash that exceeds the obvious body double work.

Endorsement advertising, even by consumers, is all the rage these days. But that doesn’t mean I always get it. Sure, it’s fun to watch Chuck Norris endorse Mike Huckabee on YouTube or any number of social media experts tout “on again, off again” social network promotions, but one wonders if we aren’t stretching the “pile in the party bus with >insert quasi-celebrity<” too often.

Is a Norris endorsement all that’s needed to pick the President of the United States? Does Jarvick trump any advice that your cardiologist might provide? Does a social network that an A-list blogger employs mean it will work for you?

The truth is they seem to matter in perception if not reality. But perception is the operative word. Sooner or later, people wonder what is real. Is the footage real? How about Pfizer’s statement to The Wall Street Journal?

“Dr. Jarvik is a respected health care professional and heart expert. Dr. Jarvik, inventor of the Jarvik artificial heart, knows how imperative it is for patients to do everything they can to keep their heart working well.”

No doubt. Except, I don’t think the ad was a public service announcement.

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Monday, January 7

Defusing Perception: Naked Communication


It might seem odd to some people to draw a comparison between Lifetime’s new makeover show, “How To Look Good Naked” with Carson Kressley, and business communication. But the analogy might be compelling for some.

Most business owners and/or executives have a perception about their companies that will never match marketplace realities. Many market themselves based upon what works for competitors, resulting in some disastrous advertising and marketing campaigns, because one size does not fit all.

“We want to do this,” they say. “Because it works for our competitors.”

On the premiere episode of “How To Look Good Naked,” available as a free download at iTunes, Kressley asks his guest, Layla, to identify where she “thinks” she fits in a lineup of women with hip sizes ranging from 40 to 50 inches. She places herself between 47 and 48 inches. In reality, her hips measure 43 inches — the complete opposite end the lineup.

Imagine how this impacted her life. For 20 years, she had been making fashion decisions based on her perception that her hips were 6 inches larger than they were. The result: she looked heavier in clothes she chose than she ever looked naked.

Companies often do the same thing. They apply erroneous perceptions to their communication strategy. Early last year, we were contracted by a water purification company to script three :30 radio station-produced spots because the owner wanted to mimic the market leader’s buy. He had already ordered a 32-spot buy based on the urging of the station’s account representative.

Never mind that the market leader was already running 240 :60 second spots a week on the same station, compete with exclusive endorsements from the most listened to talk show hosts on the station. We did everything we could to convince the company to rethink its decision. But sometimes, people have already made up their minds when they call us.

“You’ll never look good in a size 6 when you’re a size 12 company.”

It’s something you learn working with the best of the best, let alone covering the fashion beat in Las Vegas for several years. Yep, even I know that size 6 women don’t always look good in size 6 outfits. So much depends on the designer, cut, and pattern. (Not to mention how important underwear can be.)

Sure, we did everything we could to convince the company to rethink the decision. But in this case, their minds were made up. Despite being station-produced, one of the spots even won an award. But in terms of results, all they really did was reinforce the need for water purification, prompting listeners to call the competitor whose brand dominated the station.

Sometimes perception is like that. You think your company looks one way, even reinforced by misapplying SWOT. But in reality, it really looks like something else in the marketplace.

Much like Layla, they attempt to mimic the identity of their perceived competition by wearing several sizes too small (because they refuse to wear a size bigger) or settling for cheaper, baggier clothing to hide perception rather than embracing their best qualities in reality.

In terms of Kressley’s show, no doubt some people will have mixed feelings about convincing women to parade around naked for a photography shoot. But if you can get past that little bit of Lifetime novelty, I suspect it stands a good chance of delivering on the promise of a perception revolution for women looking for a self-esteem boost. You can look successful and beautiful at any size.

Of course, the same thing can be said for companies, which brings me to the takeaway. Communication plans don’t work unless you know what you look like naked. And most companies have no idea what they look like because they rely too heavily on looking in the mirror. Don’t they know? Mirrors only show you want you want to see, and almost never what is reality.

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Monday, December 3

Approaching Journalism: Tips For Bloggers


While listening to a panel discussion called “Being Opinionated in America” from the University of Berkeley that featured Maureen Dowd and Thomas L. Friedman (available for free download at iTunes), I noted that Friedman was particularly transparent in his approach to writing foreign affairs columns for The New York Times.

Five Points Gleaned From Thomas L. Friedman

• Writes fact-based commentaries that are reasonably objective
• Does not write to make friends and not doing so has no impact
• Consults with a brain trust of five people; reasonably transparent
• Fact checks for accuracy; seeks outside sources; no oversight
• Does not discriminate between the level of expertise and value of the insight

In drawing comparisons between his approach and that of bloggers, there seem to be some relatively minor distinctions, with most depending on the specific blogger.

Five Common Distinctions With Bloggers

• Some bloggers do write fact-based commentary, but most advocate specific ideas and share or debate points around their area of interest.
• Most bloggers do write to make friends, because nurturing these relationships can potentially increase their presence, reach, and perception of expertise.
• Some bloggers are influenced by select influencers, and the level of transparency is as varied as columnists. Some bloggers are also influenced by others who they never mention.
• Most bloggers do not fact check for accuracy or seek additional sources beyond what they can find available on the Web.
• Many bloggers do discriminate between the level of expertise and value of insights, often giving more weight to those who have a perceived expertise.

From me, these distinctions are especially important when considering the continuous debate whether bloggers can be journalists. I generally feel it truly depends on the blogger, always noting that some journalists are bloggers too (blogging is activity, not usually a professional designation). And, of course, many bloggers have no interest in becoming journalistic, which is fine too.

However, I do believe that bloggers can strengthen their content by adopting some journalistic approaches as outlined by Friedman.

• Never be afraid to seek offline sources to enhance the quality of the content; it’s often refreshing to read blogs that bring in ideas from non-bloggers.
• Never underestimate the value of any insight, regardless of the perceived level of expertise. Experts have an equal opportunity to be wrong.
• Authenticity is more important than transparency; meaning that disclosure is most warranted when it is relevant or directly influences the piece.
• And always be careful in pursuing online friendships for popularity so that these relationships do not hinder your ability to be honest with yourself and your readers.

The last point is often the most difficult for bloggers. For example, I generally encourage disagreement and debate while discouraging the shouting down of opposing viewpoints or diatribe, as sometimes happens when people support popularity over purpose.

I appreciate it sometimes sizes me up as someone who doesn’t much care what people think. At least that is what one of my friends told me last week. But that isn’t exactly so. I care wholeheartedly what people think; I just don’t always care a whole lot about what they might think of me for a certain point of view or working to remain objective.

There’s a big difference. In fact, it provides columnists like Dowd and Friedman the voice they need to make people think through issues without polarizing them along party platforms. Sometimes, this comes at the expense of their own popularity, if not, likeability. And personally, it’s something I hope to see more of in new media.

After all, the true test of any relationship is never when we agree, but when we disagree. Yes, we need some more of that in social media.

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Monday, November 26

Accounting For Anonymity: The License To Kill

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is an international non-profit advocacy and legal organization that is dedicated to preserving free speech rights such as those guaranteed by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

One of the cornerstone arguments is the right to say things online that will not be connected with our offline identities, as we may be concerned about political or economic retribution, harassment, or even threats to our lives. As someone who has long valued free speech, I agree with tempered reservation.

The reservation comes from something that is often missed in discussing anonymity: it is often abused as a license to kill. What is missed is that being anonymous demands even more authenticity, sensitivity, and responsibility than those who operate outside the realm of cloaked avatars and general deflection.

CEO John Mackey Poses As An Average Investor

A few weeks ago, Whole Foods Market Inc.'s board, overreacting to anonymous postings by its chief executive, amended the company's corporate governance to sharply restrict online activities by its officials.

The new code bars top executives and directors from posting messages about Whole Foods, its competitors, or vendors on Internet forums that aren't sponsored by the company. If there was ever a case for attempting to pander to the public and perhaps the Securities Exchange Commission during an investigation, this is it.

It was never about what was posted, but rather the deceptiveness of comments made under a fake persona. In this case, the messenger is the message.

State Investigates Political Blogger After Anonymous Tip

Chuck Muth is president and CEO of Citizen Outreach and a professional political consultant. He is well known for his conservative viewpoints, well-thought arguments, and biting commentary.

In early November, the state’s Children and Family Services (CFS), which acts as child protection services in Nevada, launched an unfounded investigation on Muth based solely on an anonymous tip, possibly to the amusement of his detractors. After reluctantly allowing the sheriff’s deputies to inspect his home and interview his children, Muth was cleared by their inspection.

Or, perhaps not. Despite passing the inspection, the CFS has informed Muth that his file would remain open unless he subjected himself and his family to further investigations. In other words, any previous inspection would not be enough.

This is no longer about the accusation, but rather the deceptiveness of the accusation and a potential agenda for revenge under supposedly sealed files. In this case, the messenger is the message.

Megan Meier Commits Suicide After MySpace 'Hoax'

Meier, a 13-year-old girl, who suffered from depression and thought she made an online friend with a boy named Josh, committed suicide over his accusations that she was cruel person, unkind to her friends, and that the world would be better off without her.

Except Josh was not Josh, but rather the mother of another girl who wanted to gain Meier’s confidence in order to know what she was saying online about her daughter. To date, the woman who created the fake “Josh” profile has not been charged with a crime. The entire story has sparked an online maelstrom of cyber vigilante justice.

This is no longer about protective parenting, but rather the deceptiveness of hateful intent under the fake persona “Josh.” In this case, the messenger is the message.

The Future Of Anonymity

In the Meier story, Wired goes on to point to the work of Daniel Solove, professor of law at George Washington University and author of The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor and Privacy on the Internet.

The work is important, because as we see with Muth’s story, the danger of unrestrained anonymity remains a license to kill and is not confined to the Internet. It has become the new weapon of choice among con men, vengeful accusers, and hateful posers in a world where everyone is a public figure with the burden of proof landing squarely on those accused, regardless of the masked messengers.

We see it too often, accompanied by unjust justifications. The argument made for Mackey is that if anyone was duped into making decisions based on the financial message boards he posted upon, they deserve no less. The argument against Muth is he ought to have nothing to hide from the authorities. And even as the Meier story, which continues to spiral out of control, is being twisted into the idea that the victim got what she deserved. We need an adjustment.

You see, sometimes in our diligence to preserve some rights, we neglect others. And the most neglected today seems to be found within the Sixth Amendment, which includes our right to be …informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against us …

While this may seem to be an argument for complete transparency, living in glass houses is not a remedy as we’ve given up enough civil liberties in the private and public sectors. If there is any solution, the real remedy begins with shedding our apparent ignorance that the credibility of the anonymous posters, posers, and tips extends beyond a well-reasoned and authentic argument.

Simply put, allowing for anonymity preserves one freedom; whereas placing additional burden on the validity of anonymous accusations will preserve another. It’s something to think about.

Freedom was not born out of emotional polarity, but rather well balanced reason. And until those who use anonymity for selfish rather than selfless pursuits are brought to justice for bearing false witness against their neighbors, we are all at risk to become their victims. Or equally disheartening, we will lose our own right to privacy when it matters most.

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Friday, November 23

Filling Canvas: Ten Bloggers


Yesterday, I mentioned being thankful for social networks, especially BlogCatalog, because they connect me with bloggers who help me keep it real.

What I mean by that is that, all too often, the conjecture of social media measures, especially popularity, is promoted as the end all measure. And, as a result, blog readers tend to give more weight to blogs that are “popular,” sometimes overlooking many that have value or even influence influencers, without much credit or thanks.

I am thankful for all of them.

You see, while I mostly write about business communication, I'm often reminded that most definitions surrounding social media are as erroneous as any that have been attempted to define art, except one.

Well, art is art, isn't it? Still, on the other hand, water is water. And east is east and west is west and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does. Now you tell me what you know. — Groucho Marx

Here is an eclectic mix of ten blogs (alpha order), with a Technorati authority under 100, to represent thousands we’re thankful for, many for very different reasons. They also represent why social media is nothing more than a blank canvas until someone fills the space.

Ami G’s Blogspot is billed as his personal page of public consumption. Every day, he captures some of the more poignant thoughts from around the Internet in fields that most marketers would never think to look at. He picks them, he says, because they amuse, interest and engage him. What you’ll find: A collection of everything below the surface.

AntiBarbie isn’t for everyone, but she certainly knows her readers. She presents an unabashed gritty viewpoint, and occasionally short prose and poems. Some of the best of it even touches on blogging with posts like “How Not To Make Friends Blogging.” What you’ll find: A glimpse into what people might really think of popularity pandering.

Sean Unruh’s photoblog, Dust And Rust, presents a candid mix of striking and not-so-striking shots. His most recent additions, Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome, are among my immediate favorites. What you’ll find: Unabashed objective reviews of the photographer’s work along with some brilliant shots.

EXCELER8ion is Julian and Shannon Seery Gube’s take on the world of social media, interactive marketing, and technology. It’s one of the cleanest, visually engaging blogs out there that shapes social media by working it rather than hypothesizing about it. What you’ll find: strategy behind tactics.

Living Zimbabwe is a brand new eye-opening blog focused on Zimbabwe, a landlocked country located on the southern part of Africa, north of South Africa. It’s currently suffering a disastrous humanitarian crisis, plagued by drought, an HIV/AIDS epidemic, and government reform. As of mid-2007, more than a quarter of the population has fled abroad, including its author who is currently living in New Zealand. What you’ll find: whatever you bring with you.

In addition to its movie rating system, Moviecat artistically infuses cats into the movies because author Rob G proclaims “Well, why not!” It’s simple, fun, and visually appealing at a glance, which makes it a fine example to illustrate that blogs are whatever you make them. What you’ll find: imaginative graphic art and something that will make you smile, whether you’re a cat and a movie fan or not.

Jack Payne says he doesn’t have a clue what his Technorati rank for Six Hours Past Thursday might be. Mostly he writes about the art of being a con man in virtually every profession. One of his most recent posts includes common con man language; words employed by, gasp, many of my colleagues. What you’ll find: How to turn a phrase.

Theresa Hall’s Sleeping Kitten Dancing Dog blends blogging, art, photography, and pastry. She was one of the first to re-greet me on BlogCatalog after the new owners made changes that intrigued me several months ago. She occasionally reminds me to keep it light, as light as a buttered croissant. What you’ll find: A few dozen reasons to be hungry.

SU Com is a dual BlogCatalog/Twitter find, which was started to provide hints and tips to optimize StumbleUpon. Since, Teeg has added comments other tools and technologies from time to time. All of it is presented in an engaging conversational style that separates this blog from techno-stiff tips that people have to sift through to find answers. What you’ll find: Tech tips in plain English.

Bill Sledzik says he sometimes feels marooned in between the Cult of the Amateur and The Cluetrain, which makes him one of the more balanced voices about social media. I don’t always agree with him, but I wouldn’t like him if I did. Tough Sledding is one of the most overlooked but relevant public relations/social media blogs out there. What you’ll find: balance.

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