Showing posts with label basic communication. Show all posts
Showing posts with label basic communication. Show all posts

Friday, August 24

Being Quotable: Akin To Politics

"The interesting thing here is that this is an individual who sits on the House Committee on Science and Technology but somehow missed science class." — President Obama 

That is the most recent quotable from President Obama, shared during a fundraiser in New York City. Expect more of them. The President and his campaign team believe that running against select members of the Republican Party is easier than their opponents. It also distracts from real issues.

The outrageous quote from Senate challenger and Congressman Todd Akin won't last as long as the President would like. It's flash in the pan, especially since most members of the GOP (along with the Romney/Ryan campaign) readily denounced it and asked Akin to step aside. After Akin apologized, he says he won't step down despite his high profile quote being published everywhere.

“If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” Rep. Akin said.

With one poorly thought-out quote (and questionable science sourcing), Akin proved that proverbial campaign killing silver bullets may exist, provided they are self-inflicted. Rasmussen noted he dropped in the polls to 38-48 percent of the vote, down from leading 47-44 percent. The reversal is so strong that even his opponent, Claire McCaskill, has said that the Republican leadership should leave him alone and let him run. She sees a win ahead. She's not alone.

As Rasmussen pointed out: most Missouri Republicans want Akin to quit the race while most Missouri Democrats want him to stay. Without any doubt, Akin is still hurting himself while continuing his apology tour too. He might be apologizing without proper explanation, but it's for the wrong thing.

Breaking down the Akin blunder from a communication perspective. 

People really focused in on the word "legitimate" as the catalyst for the crunch. It's also the word Akin has taken to in framing an apology. There is no such thing as a "legitimate" rape, he has said.

But the real problem with his statements was something else (beyond demonstrating an almost unforgivable lack of empathy). It's this idea that women can prevent themselves from becoming pregnant. It was such an odd statement that I had to look it up.

The Los Angeles Times believes it comes from a book published in 1971. Mostly, it notes that the trauma associated with rape makes pregnancy less likely. There are other unrelated fertility studies that can be misused to bolster the concept beyond trauma. But none of it is as conscious as one could infer from Akin's quote. Likewise, even if people assume the occurrence is rape, then exceptions still exist.

The reality is that while the GOP party is seen as largely pro life, the majority of its members fall somewhere along a very broad spectrum (much like Democrats do along pro choice) of what that means. So there is no question Akin bungled it. After all, abortion is a hard enough topic to address without picking up on the even harder and more extreme issues that revolve around it.

Akin would have been better off considering former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's position, a carefully weighed opinion that separates his personal belief from what is politically manageable. Akin makes it unmanageable because before you start addressing exceptions, you have to reach an agreement on more basic principles, e.g., when does life begin. Until that question is answered in the political conscience of the U.S., it's nearly impossible to discuss fringe issues.

In a nutshell, the Akin's personal position is that life begins at conception and therefore, any new life ought to be protected regardless of circumstance. That is what he meant. It's an extreme pro life position, because it also extends the psychological and physical damage (which is horrendous enough) from a single event to a minimum 9-month ordeal.

I get that he brought it up because he wanted to paint himself as someone who doesn't run from his convictions. But he omits another fact. It's unlikely, if not impossible, to think one congressman or future senator could readily enforce such a belief. Even if he could muster enough bipartisan support to make this into a law, it would still face legal challenges from laws like Roe v. Wade.

The dilemma of dangerous issues. 

Having previously worked in politics, I know discussing pro life/pro choice issues is difficult for candidates. It forces them to take a position, even though most people haven't made up their minds across every nuance. Why would they? Most people cannot muster an authentic soul-searching response until they face the choice.

In some of the less usual circumstances that surround abortion, none of us really knows what we would do or could do. On this issue, many people also experience an opinion shift as they are confronted by those experiences. Yet, there are many voters who demand an answer (with some being single issue on this point) despite the fact it is a personal issue and always subject to change.

The law on the other hand is less subject to change. Most proposed laws are pinned to funding and time. Generally, the debate around funding is a question of whether it is fair to use taxpayer money to fund projects they are morally opposed to or whether limiting any such funds unfairly limits choice to those who cannot afford to make such a choice on their own.

All of this is important to consider before making any communication observations, especially because it underpins what Akin says he wants to do but never did. He said he wanted to have adult discussion.

Should Akin drop out of the race? It depends on who you are.

At the end of the day, Akin bungled it more than he realizes. He chose a topic that requires empathy and demonstrated none of it because empathy isn't exclusive to one party but all parties.

Does that mean he should step aside? Given the race is under 90 days away, there is time for him to recover even without party support (short of his party organizing a write-in candidate that might split the ticket). His electability is up to the people of Missouri and their priorities. Someone on the outside can only guess whether his personal position and careless comment outweighs whatever else he is running on.

If he wanted to pursue a long-shot recovery, it seems to me that he would need to demonstrate he learned something about being human (beyond semantics), demonstrate he can have adult conversations about abortion (arguing a fringe position is not a discussion), look into the science that made his argument sound so ignorant (unless it's a conscious choice, it doesn't count), and learn how to address the issue and then shift away from it toward issues that are important to the people of Missouri (which he hasn't really done) so it's not all about him.

That and, even if he has lost the support of his party, he ought not whine about it. He needs to accept their rebuke and find his funding elsewhere. Like it or not, some people share his views.

Naturally, his party would be better off without him for the short term and maybe the long term as Akin will likely remain the poster child for ... what? Politicians who confuse 'having values' with 'wanting to legislate values.' Sigh. Maybe we'll learn that no one can really legislate 'values' in either direction one day. I somehow doubt it.

At the same time, it seems that some Democrats are relishing what Akin said too much. It may or may not be a campaign killer for him, but it's still a pretty thin case to act like he's a rule and not an exception. If they keep pursuing the easy potshots, it only solidifies their overemphasis on vilification.

Friday, June 22

Being Candid: It's Easier Than You Think

How well do people communicate when faced with a face-to-face communication dilemma? According to a questionnaire created by the Travel Leaders Group, not so well. The research found that many air travelers do not know how to react in uncomfortable situations.

The questionnaire presented a series of scenarios and asked participants how likely they were to handle a situation based on the response offered. The Travel Leaders Group said that airline passengers aren't sure of proper etiquette while traveling. However, given the questions relate to broad scenarios, it might mean that people aren't sure how to communicate in many circumstances, whether they are traveling or not.

Highlights From The Travel Leaders Group Survey. 

1. If another airline passenger seated near you won't turn off his/her cell phone while in flight, what would you do?

34.5 percent would call a flight attendant.
27.1 percent would say something to the person.
23.9 percent would sit quietly and do nothing.

2. If another passenger seated near you is using headphones to listen to music or a movie and the sound is so loud that everyone around him/her can also hear, what would you do?

47.5 percent would say something to the person.
26.5 percent would call a flight attendant.
17.3 percent would sit quietly and do nothing.

3. If a child was seated behind you on an airplane and constantly kicked your seat, what would you do?

62.8 percent would turnaround and say something directly to the parent or child.
10.2 percent would call a flight attendant.
9.7 percent would sit quietly and hope the parent will stop it.
6.7 percent would ignore it because children will be children.
6.1 percent would turn around and glare at the parent or child.

4. If you were flying alone and a couple asked you to switch seats to that they could sit together, what would you do? 

44.7 percent would gladly move, regardless of the seat.
27.2 percent would move if the new seat was not a middle seat.
13.6 percent would move if the new seat was an aisle seat.
6.4 percent were not sure what to do.
4.4 percent would move if the new seat was a window seat.

5. If you were traveling with a companion on a vacation and you received an upgrade to first class, you would... 

38.4 percent said it depends on who they're traveling with.
29.9 percent said they would pass on the opportunity.
11.8 percent weren't sure what they would do.
7.8 percent would give it to their traveling companion.
6.3 percent said it depends on the length of the flight.

6. If you placed a small bag in the overhead bin and were asked to place it under the seat in front of you so someone else could put a very large roller bag above, would you... 

54.6 percent would do so without a second thought.
22.1 percent would do so, but grudgingly.
9.9 percent would politely decline.

7. While passing through a TSA security checkpoint, if a traveler in front of you is taking too long removing shoes, etc., would you... 

51.3 percent said they would patiently wait.
37.8 percent said they would wait, but be frustrated.
9 percent said they would jump in front of them.

While the survey did not seem to include the best possible responses, it is an interesting statement on communication. In most scenarios, the best possible answer is to say something directly to the person.

The hesitation is largely the result that many people don't know how to communicate directly, honestly, and politely. For example, if someone is using their cell phone, asking if she or he heard the announcement to turn off the cell phone might suffice. Or, if a child is kicking the seat, politely asking the child to stop first will usually be enough. Or, if someone is taking a long time in the security line, asking if she or he if needs help might be appreciated. Maybe they'll suggest you skip ahead.

Allowing yourself to become quietly frustrated or immediately resorting to rude behavior only hurts you. Likewise, the questions revolving around courtesy are equally solvable. Unless you have a physical reason for not taking the middle seat, you move. And if someone needs you to move your bag, you move it (perhaps mentioning that they might consider checking such a large bag next time).

This applies to business too. People are frequently afraid to be candid, causing them to accept deadlines that impact quality, make deals that aren't win-win, etc. Most of the time, open and honest communication will suffice and everyone will be better for it. Don't assume, ask questions and find out  if more flexibility is available (assuming you need it). It's very much like flying on a plane. Fly right.

Friday, December 2

Writing Santa Claus: When Mail Really Works

In one of the best programs ever conceived by the United States Postal Service (USPS), yesterday marked the first day of its annual "Letters to Santa" program. The campaign has helped fulfill holiday wishes of children and their families for nearly a century.

Through the annual letter-writing program, members of the public and charitable organizations respond to children's letters addressed to Santa Claus, the North Pole and other seasonal characters. The program is especially meaningful given how much people rely primarily on electronic communication. Receiving a letter, especially from Santa or Rudolph, can be an unforgettable experience for anyone.

"We are delighted to once again kick off the holiday mailing season with the start of our annual 'Letters to Santa' program," said Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe. "The Postal Service is gearing up for a huge mail delivery to the North Pole to help Santa and his elves get ready for the big day."

The tradition started in 1912 when then Postmaster General Frank Hitchcock allowed postal employees and citizens to respond to the letters in the program that became known as Operation Santa. In 1940, mail volume for Santa increased so much the Postal Service invited charitable organizations and corporations to participate and provide written responses to the letters and small gifts to the children who wrote them.

While the exact number of Operation Santa letters is unknown, the USPS estimates it reaches into the millions (New York City handles 500,000 letters alone). The program works because postal workers sort the letters between those that wish Santa a happy birthday and those children who are in need. Those from children in need are then adopted by individuals and organizations, who respond to the children and often mail them a gift based on the letter (volunteers are responsible for the gift and return address).

All names (except the first name) and location references are blacked out before volunteers and organizations adopt the letters to protect the identity of the senders. If you would like to participate in helping fulfill some of the wishes of children in need, please read the USPS letter adoption guidelines.

In lieu of having a letter sent in for adoption, the USPS also allows parents (and others) to mail self-addressed stamped letters (presumably written as Santa Claus) in larger envelopes to a specific address in Alaska. The postal service will send the letter back with a North Pole postmark. For more information, refer to the USPS Fact Sheet. To receive the North Pole postmark, letters must be sent prior to Dec. 10.

There are other commercial enterprises that offer paid Santa letters and gifts, but USPS is not associated with any of those programs and is the oldest Letters From Santa operation in the United States. It is generally managed by local post offices. The USPS has a dedicated page for the program.

Before any questions about whether the program is a wise investment of taxpayer dollars, it's important to note that the Postal Service receives no tax dollars for operating expenses and relies on the sale of postage, products and services to fund its operations. It is a self-supporting government enterprise. Most people are unaware of this fact.

Friday, April 22

Making Commitments: Earth Day Network

One of the most valuable lessons I've ever learned (and shared) is the power of one. I learned this lesson when one advertising great pulled out a palm-sized bed of nails and laid his hand upon it much like art that originated in India. Nothing happened.

"See," he said. "When you have too many points, nothing sticks." It was a very effective visual lesson, and his only point.

Advertising works just like this old street-festival spectacle. It's all about weight distribution. If you place equal emphasis on thousands of points, there is too much information for anyone to make an informed decision. Focus on one point; it sticks.

How To Make One Billion Acts Of Green Stick.

As important as Earth Day can be, it has lost some of its impact as it became more commercialized. Nowadays, some of the biggest supporters are organizations that may or may not even be all that kind to the environment. It's hard to say so let's focus on something that works.

One idea that I really appreciated this year comes from the Earth Day Network. It is asking people to make one pledge, written and posted, that will ultimately help our planet.

Over 100 million people had already participated last week. People are sharing pledges to take small and large actions this year — not just for one day, but for a lifetime. And what I like so much about this idea is that those people who pledge the smallest contributions — one thing — are much more likely to stick with it.

A few highlights: One person pledged to turn off the tap when they brush their teeth and another person pledged to purchase more local food. Another person pledged to plant a garden at school and yet another pledged to change their lightbulbs for more energy conservation. One person pledged to turn off the shower when they shampoo and another pledged to install dual toilet flows.

Sure, there are bigger pledges. But I like the small ones because they are one-time reachable goals that are much more likely to stick. And, even if it doesn't seem like a lot, one billon of those actions (even 100 million) add up to a significant impact.

The Earth Day Network also goes a long way in making suggestions, broken down into categories that include green schools and education, advocacy, energy, transportation, sustainable development, conservation and biodiversity, recycling and waste, and water. People can also join pledges that other people have already created.

It's the power of one point. It's the power of one personal action. And it's magnified by the number of people who participate.

Wednesday, April 13

Targeting Influencers: Dear PR Pro, There Is No Spoon

no spoon, naddaOne of the hardest lessons for many public relations professionals to grasp comes right out of the Matrix. There is no spoon. There is no campaign.

"It is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself." — Potential

It took reading Kary Delaria's PR’s Biggest Mistake When Working With Influencers to fully appreciate it. She rightly suggests too many public relations practitioners approach influencer outreach like media relations instead of community relations.

She's moving in the right direction. And yet, I cannot apply it to anything I've ever worked on in social media, even if they are clearly better than what most public relations professionals want to do in social media. Let's step back.

Specifically, some public relations professionals want people, especially influencers, to push their content to a mass of people who will hopefully visit the destination and perform an action — like a page, subscribe to a reader, purchase a product, or whatever. Most public relations professionals think that by reaching out to influencers, they can increase the mass.

But social media doesn't really work that way, which is the gist of what Delaria was trying to point out. However, overlaying a community relations approach might be scoffed at too, even if it is only because the public relations practitioner abuses it.

"It is not the influencer that bends, it is only yourself."

1. Define goal, content and context. Not exactly. A worthwhile social media approach does consider goals, content, and context as Delaria suggests. But the goals, content, and context should never be bent to the influencers.

It needs to stay true to the community or audience you want to reach. If you can prove yourself worthwhile to a community or attract your own, influencers will be attracted to what you are doing anyway. In fact, they are just as interested in your community as you are (if you have one) — because if they ignore things within their sphere, they won't be influencers for long.

2. Test the theory and the outcome. According to Delaria, panelist David Binkowski suggested that if you had a running influencer campaign, you might run a test on the pool of influencers and then thin the list. But I might suggest that if you are running an influencer test, you're already losing mutual leverage.

As soon as you start testing them, then you've already put yourself outside the sphere where the so-called influencers are and outside any community filled with the people you want to reach. That doesn't make sense at all. You might as well brand "agenda" on your forehead.

3. Manage the community? I'm all for online community managers managing a community from a functional perspective. Someone has to run the advertisements, remove the spam, and provide very loose guidelines for the community to follow (very loose).

But I've grown very weary of community managers who try to manage the people who visit. For very much the same reason above, anytime you take planned actions to "influence" people within a sphere, you've cast yourself as someone outside it.

"It is not people who bend, it is only yourself."

Think of it this way instead. Hopefully if you are representing a company online, you have more than a passing interest or paycheck in the balance. It's probably best for you to like, even better if you love, whatever you are representing online.

If you are passionate about the subject, you already have a common interest with the people you might connect with online, whether or not they are influencers. Thus, they are not people to "target" as much as they are people you get to know.

As for campaigns in general, don't think of them in the traditional sense. They are simply part of whatever you bring to the table. If you have the insider information, unique perspective on a topic, clever idea for entertainment, or some other worthwhile contribution, you are just as much of an influencer as anybody.

The only difference between you and them is that they've probably been at it longer, got lucky one day, or never bothered to implement tactics that position you outside the community that interests you. In other words, there is no spoon.

Wednesday, February 23

Communicating With Youth: Educational Impact

Every few days my son mentions it. He isn't very fond of his computer class, even though he is very fond of computers.

"I have no faith in our future, knowing your generation will one day run this country," his computer science teacher frequently reminds the class. "Things are going to get worse, much worse, and you're not up to the task. I might go live in the wilderness."

Along with these revelations, he frequently loads them up with misinformation. He says Spanish is the most spoken language in the world. (It's not.) He preaches that the Chinese had iPhones twenty years before Apple. (They didn't.) And he claims that most countries are better than this one, despite lamenting that the U.S. ought to provide for them. (A contradictory hyperbole.)

My son is in the sixth grade.

There is a fine line between critical awareness and learned helplessness.

His teacher isn't alone. There are plenty of people who claim everything is broken beyond repair.

Sure, the existing social-economic-political climate could exacerbate the challenges ahead for this country and the world. At its best, people probably expect the continued erosion of the middle class. At its worst, well, it's just the worst.

Then again, in 1970, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient predicted a similar fate, with overpopulation set for 1990 (Lawrence Journal-World). In 1952, Allied commanders were concerned that Japan had already exceeded its carrying capacity by 25 percent (United Press). In 1920, newspapers published articles about overpopulation in Europe and estimated America could only sustain 250 million people (New York Times).

overpopulationOverpopulation isn't alone. You can easily trace all of our current hot topics back for decades and centuries. Education failings to the 1600s. Class warfare to the 1700s. Catastrophic pollution to the 1800s. The end of the world to the 1900s. Climate change to the 1930s. The key word here is "easily." The truth is that these conversations are as old as civilization. The only difference is that some people seem not only inclined to accept it but think we somehow deserve it.

And it is this, more than any measure, that concerns me because the burden is heavy to place on the heads of children. Based on test scores and graduation rates, it might even be that they are starting to believe it.

While my son shrugs it off, mentioning that every day he doesn't have that class is a good day despite having an A, some of his friends do not. Some already exhibit the symptoms of learned helplessness. Not only do they believe the world is getting worse and they aren't up to the task to fix it, but a few of them believe that even if they could afford to go college they won't be able to make ends meet (not in those words, of course).

They're in the sixth grade.

There are critical components to a better life, none of which include cash or status.

When some teachers feel a need to commiserate with sixth graders, I kindly remind my son that while some people would like to see it differently, he is still the master of his destiny. So far, he is the only person that can enslave himself to circumstance.

Education. Most people know that for all the good Leave No Child Behind might have done, it is being misapplied at the local level. Teachers and schools invest too much time attempting to pad tests scores and not enough time making sure that the students can apply what they learn. The socio-economic gap might be tightening, but it is tightening in the wrong direction.

What works better than memorizing math formulas cold is cross-curriculum education that applies math to future occupations like business, engineering, mechanics, and rocket science. What works better than memorizing parts of speech off poorly written study sheets are lessons dialed in to history, world events, and literature. What works better than reward-based programs, "spirit" periods, and teaching kids how to "guesstimate" answers are critical thinking skills and a lifelong love for learning.

Empowerment. No matter how teachers, parents, or role models might perceive the future of this country or the world, the pursuit of happiness only requires people with a passion to be exceptional. It doesn't matter how they define it.

Exceptional comes in many different forms. I would count several youth-managed recording studios among them. Two of the newer studios struck me because one of them was started in New Jersey by a 17-year-old student. The other was started by two teenagers, ages 14 and 15, in Baltimore. The latter reports many participants go on to pursue business degrees.

The challenges some of them will face have little to do with the business climate. There comes a point when even the best intended business regulations simply become barriers that makes it impossible to start one, especially with capital reduced by taxes and labor laws that make every employee cost two-and-a-half times their pay scale.

Self-Worth. I recently read an article that proposed the individual doesn't matter. Martin Luther King Jr. might disagree. Every individual deserves an opportunity to be treated as an equal without any preconception that they might have limitations.

For the people who preach that, I might ask that they walk in and work at any homeless rehabilitation program. What they will find is that the first steps toward rehabilitation are to let go of guilt, recognize they deserve a better life, and then be given the opportunity to regain their confidence to try.

readingBeyond that, they learn there is no dishonor in being an educated janitor. (My father-in-law is a retired educated janitor; my grandfather was an educated painter.) The world needs janitors to be the best janitors they can be, even if they study quantum physics in their spare time. Or, as some authors eventually prove (with Charles Bukowski in mind), there might be more to a person than sorting mail.

This might seem one off from the topic, but it really isn't. The first step is still communication. People, like my son's computer science teacher, aren't very mindful about the impact they might have. So I might offer a few facts for him to consider.

North America is still home to the most millionaires, even though some rapidly-developing countries are starting to produce more than this country does per year (although we still produce some). The United States still logs more international patent filings every year (almost twice as many as the next closest nation). And the United States is responsible for more medical breakthroughs, even though the cost of care drags down global quality ratings.

That's not to say we're perfect. But with the exception of education, we still manage to add value and help fuel economic growth in other countries too. I'm even optimistic to think that some of our greatest accomplishments will be ahead. All we need are more problems and fewer problem protestors.

Thank goodness we have some in the sixth grade. And younger.

Thursday, November 25

Being Thankful: Happy Thanksgiving

Hand Turkey“Don't waste yourself in rejection, nor bark against the bad, but chant the beauty of the good.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

I used this quote a couple years ago as the lead in lesson for my son around Thanksgiving. And in some small way, it made an impact on his life.

The more things change, the more they remain the same. We're both still thankful for many of the items that made that list and those that came after. But this year is different. Rather than be grateful for the abundance of things, I'm happy with one.

The hand turkey.

The first hand turkey on record supposedly dates back to 13,000 B.C. It was included among the paintings discovered in Lascaux. Of course, North American turkeys are not the same as the turkey fowl in Europe, but it's still interesting to think ancient people used the same artistic technique employed primarily by artists, ages 4-6, today. (The above hand turkey was made by my daughter, age 4.)

Hers reminds me how much hand turkeys are like people. We're basically the same, with subtle differences that make us unique and interesting and worth getting to know. Some hand turkeys are fat and others thin. Some are plain and others fancy. Some are embellished like my daughter's creation, breaking away from tradition. And others are familiar, resembling something we might have drawn years ago. See for yourself.

They are all different, but we can't really say one is better than the others. They are all equally creative within the confines of their sameness. And it kind of makes me wonder sometimes why we can't see people much the same way. All those differences of opinion are nothing more than embellishments on the same design. We might celebrate them instead of fretting about them.

You know, like hand turkeys. Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 15

Antiplanning And Disaster: A Real Communication Weakness

Social Media Blind
Two weeks ago, Valeria Maltoni shared insights that ought to make some businesses nervous. A new study from Smart Brief reveals that as many as 86 percent of all people don't know that planning is the first step toward effective communication.

Even more concerning was the size of the study. Smart Brief did not survey a handful of people online. Instead, it surveyed 6,000 business people to uncover eight themes as they pertain to social media. However, the most compelling portion of the study suggested that business people, communicators especially, are all but abandoning communication planning.

What are businesses doing instead of planning communication?

In relation to communication, it seems that advertisers, marketers, and public relations firms are adopting tools but leaving tried and true strategies behind. Instead of drafting strategic communication plans, they are picking social networks and technologies that are currently popular and then adopting a string of "tactical" components to inflate the meaningless measurements.

Ergo, the only "outcome" is to drive more traffic and attract more followers. The approach can be likened to yelling on a street corner or, in some cases, right in the middle of the road, blocking traffic. In fact, yelling on the street corner might even be more effective, considering most agencies don't even bother to check the ZIP codes or business proximity before they put on the costumes.

Is it any wonder most firms lack social media confidence?

Maltoni's post goes on to reveal that while many firms are selling social media services, only 14.2 percent of businesses find their social media strategies to be very effective and only 7.3 percent consider them “revenue generating.” While I might argue that not all social media campaign need to place revenue as a top-tier primary outcome, the very notion that companies are paying for services with no measurable merits is concerning.

The reason there is no confidence in social media has nothing to do with the value of social media. What it has to do with is that social media is being implemented as a line-item service without any real consideration for the overall communication plan. Why not? Well, from what I read here, it's because no communication plan exists.

Wednesday, November 3

Checking It: Five Lessons To Save Your Social Media Program

Brand Worship
Tucked inside a new study from Cone, a strategy and communication company, communication professionals will find some very worthwhile information if they read between the lines. And I do mean read between the lines.

The raw data never tells the whole story. You need a seasoned analyst to help you put the pieces together. And, this newest study demonstrates how important that can be.

An inexperienced communicator would look at this study and deduce customers like frequent engagement, plenty of coupons, interaction on more than one network, and are interested in everything the brand has to share on any given day. But we see the study differently, especially when we put the numbers from various parts to consider very different findings.

1. Incentive Offers Can Cost You Customers.

Finding. 77 percent of consumers say a free product, free service, coupon or discount will attract them to follow or like a new brand. However, in another section of the study, 58 percent of those consumers say that if a brand over communicates or starts to spam them (over saturating content or offers), then they are likely to stop following the brand.

Analysis. Everybody likes a promotion or contest from a brand they support. However, blasting daily discounts eventually erodes the offering, literally driving more people away than those offers might attract. Brands have to balance their tactical approach, keeping incentives in line with relevant content.

2. Consumers Can't Tell The Difference Between Blogs And Websites.

Finding. According to the study, 63 percent of Americans say that they interact with companies via their Websites and only 13 percent interact with or read a company blog, which scored lower than email, social networks, mobile devices, or message boards.

Analysis. The vast majority of links shared on social networks (content that consumers value) direct consumers to new information, articles, or posts. Whatever you call this content, almost all of it is delivered as a blog. In fact, more companies are beginning to replace their Websites with blogs to capitalize on a continuous stream of new content because there is very little reason to visit a static Website.

3. Social Networking Is A High Risk/Reward Medium.

Finding. 46 percent of consumers say that they expect companies to be able to solve their problems and provide customer support via social networks and/or other online engagement tools. 58 percent also say that when brands act irresponsibly toward "me" or other customers, they will stop following it.

Analysis. While many online interactions "feel" like customer service issues, brands must never lose sight of the fact that every interaction, especially with a customer having a problem, is a potential crisis communication situation. Where social media differs from customer service is two-fold. First, consumers are calling in on their own; they bring a percentage of their friends along for the ride. Second, the problem or concern is being addressed in public; the company must always remember it might as well be answering customer questions on a broadcast channel.

4. Engagement Is In The Eye Of The Beholder.

Finding. 28 percent of customers following a brand want the company to develop new ways to engage them online and 36 percent expect communication. However, 53 percent will drop the brand if the information they share isn't relevant enough and 36 percent will drop a brand that doesn't respond or refresh its content.

Analysis. People are different and, generally, behave online much like they do in real life. Think of it like your average high school classroom. Some students want to raise their hands and answer every question. Some students never want to be called on, even if they know the answer. Some leave the class and share information with friends. Some love the lessons, but share them with no one. And so on and so forth. Brands that build in adaptability to their engagement models will be best suited to hit the middle mark.

5. Real-Time Measurements Can Be Misleading.

Finding. Customers vary the number of times that they actively connect with brands. 33 percent visit once or twice a week (not daily), but the greater balance of the visitors only visit between a few times a year or a few times a month. 14 percent never visit again, even if they keep the connection open.

Analysis. The perspectives of a content creator and the consumer is significantly different. Content creators are engaged with their project on a daily basis. Most consumers are not, which changes the experience. For example, consumers are not likely to see each new item on a return visit but three or four or more new items, each time they return. So that post that didn't "seem" to have significant traction on the day it was posted could become your most popular a month from now.

Another quick tip related to experience: Online representatives must always remember that even if they have answered one question 100 times, the consumer is still asking that question for the first time. And no, they aren't searching your stream to see if you answered it already.

Social media seems like a simple communication tactic and many of my colleagues (myself included) tend to speak about it in simple terms. However, the reality is that social media is exceedingly complex because the people you hope to reach are complex. Sure, some experts will always make the case that there is a herd-like sociology pattern to be found, but don't count on it.

You can find the five-page 2010 Consumer New Media Study on Cone's Website. There is a data form to fill out, but you can limit the contact information to a name and email.

Wednesday, September 1

Embracing Silly: The Seriousness Of Social Media

social media guru meets sink guru
"My words fly up, my thoughts remain below: Words without thoughts never to heaven go." — Hamlet (III, iii, 100-103)

When social media turns serious, it strikes me as silly. It doesn't mean there isn't any value in the communication being offered. Although sometimes, with furled brows and lessons to be taught, that is the way communication plays out as Matt Lawton reminded me yesterday.

"pls enlighten me, what is so 'silly' about the @shelholtz post It’s time for the anti-social media guru meme to die? I think u shld explain or it's rather rude." — Matt Lawton.

If you ever read his posterous blog, you'll occasionally find some funny stuff. Even on his Twitter profile, he shares to "learn and laugh." So, I played along, conveying the seriousness of the silly statement.

Really, Lawton's contribution doesn't matter so much. Shel Holtz had already contrasted my comment with one that called his post "great." Nay, I say, there is no contrast. There are as many valid points in his post as there are layers of silliness, including the notion that one can call for the death of a meme by adding to it, especially one as silly as the great guru debate has become.

Let's step back and focus on that for a moment. What's the big deal?

What's The Big Deal About The Social Media Guru Title Anyway?

As Holtz points out, when people attack the social media guru title, they are generally referring to those who have a propensity to use it — inexperienced folks with inflated egos, sleight-of-hand huskers, and whomever has a Twitter account in a room full of people who do not (they claim to be the resident experts of their little worlds).

Oh, and then there are those who are called a "social media guru" when they are introduced as Holtz says he has been. (Me too, for that matter, leaving me to make the point that I would never call myself a "guru" of anything, for a laugh.) And, of course, there are a few respected communicators who enjoy embracing the guru moniker (or, even more laughable, swami). Personally, they can call themselves lunch pail, for all I care.

However, perhaps along the way, they might enlighten themselves and appreciate that Westerners usurped these spiritual titles from the East. You do know that, right?

Originally, being a guru meant you were a Hindu or Sikh religious teacher and spiritual guide (although it is widely adopted in contemporary India with the universal meaning of the word "teacher"). The title was introduced in the West by some Eastern gurus and/or returning Westerners enlightened by the East and then was snapped up in the United States by the "New Age" movement in the 1970s.

The title "guru" quickly fell out of favor after several self-proclaimed gurus were discovered to be charlatans, cons, or even delusional. So why social media people ever thought to resurrect the soiled Western version of the word is beyond me. And now, in an attempt to be different, some want to usurp "swami" too, which perplexes me given that most Westerners would react to the title of "social media rabbi" or "social media pastor" or "social media priest" with alarmist disdain (unless they really are).

But as I said, this is no judgement of people. To each his own.

Mostly, I do think that some communicators have a distaste for "social media guru" as they do "anything guru," except as it was intended. Case in point, "plumbing guru" might score a few chuckles despite being better equipped to clear away darkness from your drain than a social media guru can light your way toward embracing social media.

"This being the case, just who are these anti-guru posts aimed at? It seems to me they’re mainly written by insecure practitioners trying to bolster their own egos and puffed-up prima donnas lording their superiority over their peers in the echo chamber." — Shel Holtz

Then what about those who pen anti anti-guru posts? Or this post, which I suppose is an anti anti anti-guru post? Can we take any of this seriously? I seriously hope not. There is no hypocrisy, except errant judgment about individuals as opposed to behaviors.

My world is much more simple. People are free to call themselves whatever they want. And, other people are free to respond to all those titles —  mavens, masters, experts, Jedi, rock stars, bards, ninjas, thinkerbells, poodle hoopers — as they feel fit. But, at the same time, if any of these folks were truly enlightened as they claim, they would already know titles are meaningless things.

I learned that long ago, and I am still grateful for the gift. People don't relate to titles, they relate to individual people.

Besides, some communicators need the freedom of pointing out the flawed behaviors from "social media gurus" or "public relations professionals" or "personal branding experts" or "pompous journalists" in order to sometimes avoid citing specific individuals as Holtz did. It doesn't hurt anyone because anyone employing one of the more comical titles with effect already knows that the audiences they attract don't come for random titles. They come to see a person.

So that's why I called the Holtz post silly (which is a far cry from calling Holtz silly for those who embraced diatribe so quickly and DMed me to ask how dare I rub against a guru). Because, the way I see it, if I didn't find his post silly, then it would be soap boxing. I hope not. Soap boxes are ugly, which is why I find this post amazingly silly too.

Except, maybe, for the very foundation of it. There are no rules. Write what you want. Just remember, however, if you choose to call yourself the "cardinal of copywriters," it's a moniker that rightly deserves a snicker or two. All hail, you too, guru.

Tuesday, August 31

Finding The Sweet Spot: The Copywriter's Kitchen

Yesterday, someone asked me how I decide to write about something after I decide to write about something. My immediate thought was to shrug it off, saying it's complicated. Because, well, outside of a classroom it is complicated.

Most copywriters and creative directors say the same thing, but with different words. Many have become skilled at making the answer sound cool and mysterious instead of aloof. Since I also wear the hat of an educator, I'm always looking for ways to communicate the process (even if some of it resides in the subconscious).

The stuff that doesn't reside in the subconscious is much like frosting on a cake. Right. Commercial writing, regardless of format, often involves taking some idea and then squishing it through various icing and piping templates. You need the right ingredients, whipped to the right consistency, and then applied with the right amount of pressure through piping and various templates. If you do it right, it sticks to the surface, looks beautiful, and keeps people coming back for more.

There are many filters; too many for this post. But more often than not, the decorative appeal of great communication begins with conversations that consumers will never hear. It's called client education, because they often have a say in the ingredients used, how long it's whipped, and how much pressure will be applied. Is it any wonder consumers see ugly ad messes?

Balancing Four Spheres Makes For Great Frosting.

Before I continue, I ought to qualify this just a bit. Sometimes clients are right, even though most creatives hate to admit it. But that aside, let's take a look at the initial communication process, which can be broken into four basic conversational zones.

What Clients Want Consumers To Know. Regardless how often clients talk about outcomes, most of them want consumers to know something regardless of the outcome. And, they believe that the more consumers know something, the better. For whatever reason, what they want consumers to know becomes a priority at some point.

What Clients Want Consumers To Do. Secondarily, there are outcomes. Ultimately, clients want consumers to rave about the ads, buy the product, and tell all their friends to buy it too. If at all possible, when those customers tell their friends, the client wants them to include what they want them to know.

What Consumers Want To Know. Consumers like to pretend they loathe advertising. In truth, they loathe bad communication, which unfortunately consists of most of it. The reason they say they hate it so much is that it seldom communicates whatever they want to know, which is usually how it is going to enhance their lives for a reasonable exchange rate.

What Consumers Need To Know. In addition to what consumers want to know, there is what they need to know (which doesn't necessarily have anything to do with what the client wants them to know). This can be tricky to convey, but can be summed up best as communication they will never ask for, but are glad they received after the fact.

The Sweet Spot For Commercial Communication.

There is a teeny tiny place in the middle of that one logic and three emotive spheres. It only occurs when everything is in harmony. And when that occurs, consumers respond much like the clients want them to. Everybody gets what they want.

Anything less than harmony and the entire process breaks down. And some of it doesn't even have anything to do with marketers or clients. Oversimplified, most messages break down when two conflicting spheres are overemphasized.

What The Client Wants Them To Know/Client Want Them To Do Conflict. Sure, every client says they want specific outcomes (sales) until they see a first draft. Immediately following receipt, they want it to be more aggressive, more informative, more brand-centric, more whatever, regardless of the outcome. In short, they are not content with selling chocolate frosting. They want consumers to know where beans came from, what the mixing process is, what temperature it cooks at, the nifty wrapper selection process, why the font was chosen for the name of the company, who sits on the board, etc. Whew.

What The Client Wants Then To Know/Consumer Wants To Know Conflict. Worse than the internal client conflict, what many clients want consumers to know has nothing to do with what the customer wants to know. So, as the client prattles on about the square footage of their factory, they never hear the consumer ask if it tastes yummy.

What The Client Wants Them To Do/Consumer Logic Conflict. Sometimes, the client might have the right message, but someone else has already won their hearts. In those cases, it doesn't matter if you have the best milk chocolate in the world. Even if they enjoy the message, they could be diehard dark chocolate fans.

What The Consumer Wants To Know/Consumers Logic Conflict. And sometimes, well outside the marketer's control, the consumer has internal conflicts over a purchase. That is just the way it is. For example, the consumer might love milk chocolate, but also know that too much isn't all that good for your teeth or waistline. The client knows it and the consumer knows it.

Imagine. After all this, assuming you do hit the sweet spot, the end result is frosting. On an educated guess, I surmise at least half of the frosting sucks before anyone considers how to apply it. At least half to three-quarters of the good frosting will still be spoiled during the application, whether or not the client has a decent product, service, delivery method, customer representatives, or operations plan. But those are different stories.

Wednesday, July 21

Writing Stronger Leads: Six Variations For Story Openers

The most important paragraph of any story is the lead. So it stands to reason that the opening graph of any post is equally important, with an emphasis for SEO. Doubly so if you only syndicate a fragment of the post to feed readers.

But how important is it?

Let's say you're a journalist looking for a story. You don't have much time. Deadlines are looming. You scan leads (assuming you can get past the headlines)...

"To support the marketing and branding strategies of its wholesale High Speed Internet (HSI) customers, Verizon Global Wholesale is expanding its portfolio of services to include two white-label, or non-branded, HSI options." — Verizon

"RMT, Inc. (RMT), a leading energy and environment company, is expanding its services to the Federal market to offer complex remediation, energy management, and renewable energy solutions." — RMT

"Everyone looks better in butter, and thanks to Midwest Dairy Association a fun new Facebook application brings a popular state fair tradition – butter sculpting -- to life." — Midwest Dairy Association

Nothing, except maybe a blurb about turning your Facebook profile picture into a virtual butter sculpture. I almost tried it, but then remembered I don't look good in animated yellow. That, and unlike the cool Mad Men Yourself app, there is no preview before you opt in.

No matter. At least I read past the first grammatically challenged graph.

The problem, it seems to me, is that while most journalists learn to write several types of leads, most public relations practitioners (many of whom now write posts) are only taught to write one type of lead: "who, what, when, where, how" lead. Unfortunately, the inverted pyramid lead is also the most boring. They tend to be especially boring for posts too.

Six Alternative Leads For Posts And Openers.

1. Immediate Identification Lead. The immediate identification lead relies on subject prominence. This works well for stories, but not so well for posts unless paired with a unique action. Sure, name prominence is important. However, if a popular headline is paired with an action that matches everybody's headline (Lindsay Lohan Goes To Jail), you become one voice in a sea of millions.

2. Delayed Identification Lead. If nobody knows who you are or what you are talking about, it's even more important to place the emphasis on the action. The action will draw the reader into the story, assuming it has some news value. A weak action is what broke the read for RMT. Several prominent bloggers have done this to gain a readership on the front end. It's not "who they are" that attracted people. It's "what they do" or did.

3. Summation Lead. Anytime you have a complicated story, it's best to sum up as much information as possible. I'll probably use this variation when I write about CitizenGulf's Day Of Action next week (on a different site). The event has several talking points so, unless an alternative lead strikes me, a summation lead makes sense.

4. Creative Lead. Unusual leads work best for stories with some element of novelty. They don't always work for news releases, but the Midwest Dairy Association is an adequate example. It's too clunky to be called solid writing and too gimmicky to be very creative, but we did read past the first sentence. Of course, we might not have if that release was a post. It requires sharp writing.

5. Pyramid Lead. Public relations professionals who send out feature releases use them now and again. But mostly, magazine reporters are much more inclined. Rather than invert the pyramid, they lead with a small detail within the story and then expand from there. Pyramid leads tend to work best with imagery: sights, sounds, smells, tastes.

6. Promise Lead. Promise leads usually appear in releases about a study and they work great for posts with an educational slant. People who write about communication frequently use them, prosing up from what you might learn from the post. In this case, I'm merely supporting the promise that I tucked inside the headline, briefly explaining why you might care.

Nowadays, people place significant attention on headlines, but they don't always pay enough attention to the opener. I invest as much as 20-30 percent of my total time into the lead. If I don't invest that much time when I start, I usually revisit the lead when I finish. By that time, a new lead has usually developed.

Where the application of a better leads pays off is on search engines that share one line of content and third-party syndication readers. The latter, which is a choice some bloggers make because they want readers to visit the site, forces the story to live and die based on the lead. My advice is syndicate the full post. Not only will your story have a second chance as they scan subheads, but it will likely increase your subscription rate.

Interestingly enough, copywriters are the only pros who sometimes have the option to skip the lead, assuming the headline is strong enough. For everything else, it's all in the lead.

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Wednesday, June 16

Seizing Leadership: Jamie Hinton Is A Patriot

Although President Obama addressed the nation about the oil spill last night, he neglected to mention one local hero who deserves more attention as a role model for other Gulf Coast community leaders. Jamie Hinton, chief of the Magnolia Springs Volunteer Fire Department, took matters into his own hands to protect his idyllic community off Mobile Bay.

He deployed a combination of barges and oil-blocking booms to keep crude out of the Magnolia River. The Associated Press reported that his solution, which came from the collective ideas of locals hoping to safeguard the Magnolia River and the nearby Fish River, to do something despite being told not to.

"It's illegal to block this waterway. But if the oil comes, we're going to bring a barge in and use it as a gate to block it," said Gib Hixon, friend of Hinton and chief of Fish River/Marlow Fire and Rescue. "They can arrest me and Jamie if they want to."

Unlike many communities on the Gulf Coast, Hinton decided it was his responsibility to do something despite being blocked by red tape and what the Associated Press described as bumbling government and corporate executives. According to the story, Hinton was initially told by county officials that the oil spill was being blown out of proportion. Much of the delay to finally approve the community's plan once it became clear the oil spill was not blown out of proportion, is attributed to a breakdown of who could approve measures to safeguard Magnolia Springs.

"First, the cleanup," said President Obama last night. "From the very beginning of this crisis, the federal government has been in charge of the largest environmental cleanup effort in our nation’s history..."

This single quote from Obama's speech explains the reality and gravity of the situation. It explains why the government attempted to prevent people like Hinton from taking action. It explains why the Norway's offer of eight skimming systems was disapproved. It explains why the Dutch offer of three sets of COSEQ sweeping arms was denied. And Canada's offer of 3,000 meters of containment boom was passed upon too.

In sum, other governments were prepared to respond to this crisis faster than BP and the Obama administration. Why didn't they? Unlike previous administrations, which granted waivers for the Jones Act in the wake of a national crisis, this administration has held fast to the act, which requires vessels working in U.S. waters be built in the U.S. and be crewed by U.S. workers. Meanwhile, other early efforts to clean up the spill were discouraged by environmental policies.

If the oil spill is a "siege," it seems it is a siege of the administration's own making. Fortunately, there are a few communities like Magnolia Springs that have stepped up against the siege to protect themselves while the White House attempts to manage a spill of a different kind. Spin is not enough. We need more Americans like Jamie Hinton. They tend to talk less and then step up.

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Friday, June 11

Considering Intentions: You Can't See Into Another Person's Heart

"Is it because I'm black?"

"Pardon me?"

"You're looking at me funny. Is it because I'm black?"

That was part of an exchange I had at a retail outlet the other day. It really took me by surprise. It's been some time since someone accused me of being racist, given that some of my best friends are black and how I long I'd been an NAACP member.

So, I had to tell the clerk the truth. I was looking at him funny because his breath stunk so bad it burned my eyes. He was pretty embarrassed. I told him to never mind being embarrassed, while wondering why his coworkers were waiting for some random customer to help the guy out.

It's one of the lessons I include in my classes to underscore how it's better to be up front with coworkers. But there is another lesson I wish more people would learn too. How we process information often has much more to do about our own insecurities (if we have them) then anything someone doesn't mean to communicate.

Communication isn't always about you.

It was one of the first lessons I learned about public speaking. While all speakers love the idea of students and audience members leaning forward and hanging on our every word, it's mostly a fantasy. And it has nothing to do with the speaker.

You can't guess intentions. At a conference, some attendees are going to stay out too late the night before. Some might have personal or work-related issues distracting them. Some might be covering your talk on Twitter. And maybe a couple of folks really will be bored.

Who knows? It doesn't matter. Unless, of course, the entire class checks out. It won't be narcissism in that case.

A caution about over-sensitizing issues.

I recall reading a news story a few years ago where the reporter was offended because his coworker invited him over for a barbecue and enthusiastically mentioned there would be fried chicken. The reporter was offended, asking the coworker what made him think he liked fried chicken. The remainder of the story was about subconscious racism.

I couldn't find the article, but I did find an interesting forum discussion about something similar. The discussion may have followed the KFC advertisement that was banned. Some Australians were confused by the banning of the commercial. They were unfamiliar with the stereotype.

The communication challenge that I find interesting, assuming the reporter's coworker had no ill intent, is that the coworker might have enthusiastically mentioned fried chicken to white colleagues too. Suppose he did. Still racist? Or, what if he mentioned it to everyone except the black reporter for fear of offending him. Still racist?

It gets very convoluted. So much so that it seems to me that over-sensitizing issues may inadvertently reinforce them.

It seems to be turning out that way in Arizona. Even officers who would never employ racial profiling have reported that Hispanics have changed their behavior. They say many Hispanics are more elusive around officers because they (the officers) are predisposed to racial profiling. And yet, one has to wonder. Isn't assuming a black or caucasian officer will employ racial profiling racist as well? Given racism stems from fear, maybe so.

One thing is certain. Even if I don't think most of America is racist, it certainly is obsessed by racism. The media knows all too well. Racism headlines attract eyeballs. It's sad, especially for CNN.

The "anger" thing has nothing to do with being black. In 2006, Ken Mehlman, then Republican National Committee chair, said that "I don't think the American people, if you look historically, elect angry candidates." He was referring to Hillary Clinton. Remember Howard Dean? Joe Wilson?? Hmmm ... there may be some truth to that.

To date, I've only found one easy self-test to tell if you're prone toward discrimination. If someone close to you (son, daughter, brother, sister) started dating someone with a different racial origin or religious background, would it bother you? If the answer is yes, you have some work to do.

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Wednesday, April 28

Deciphering Diatribe: Arizona, Alabama, Immigration

diatribe (noun) [dahy-uh-trahyb]. Definition: A bitter, sharply abusive denunciation, attack, or criticism.

That is the definition, but the history of the word tells the real story. It's Greek, derived from the verb diatrībein, made up of the prefix dia-, "completely," and trībein, "to rub," "to wear away, spend, or waste time," "to be busy."

It's a word every American ought to know. And if they knew the word, they might recognize it as the perfect definition of the political climate today, fueled by one of the most divisive administrations in history. When you see it, it's easier to dismiss it.

Diatribe In Arizona

The Arizona law didn't start as diatribe, but it certainly has ended up there.

While national estimates bear out a decline in illegal immigrants (sometimes called unauthorized immigrants), Arizona has seen a 42 percent increase in the number of illegal immigrants from 2000 to 2009.

The intent of Arizona Senate Bill 1070 was to curb illegal immigration apparently propelled by a recovering economy and talk of amnesty (with U.S. Sen. Harry Reid among the biggest supporters of including amnesty in immigration reform). Among the most debated provisions in the law is whether police officers in Arizona can ask for identification based on suspicion or whether such a provision leads to racial profiling and subjects legal citizens to unnecessary scrutiny.

The entire issue has drifted into diatribe after the law has been branded "racist" and "anti-immigration." When the conversation shifts in that direction, it's diatribe. There is nothing left to be discussed because it is a waste of time.

Diatribe In Alabama

In Alabama, the driver's license test is currently offered in twelve languages. The expansion of multiple languages likely came into existence because once the test was offered in an alternative language, the state could hardly discriminate against other alternative languages. The cost to the state is considerable.

For whatever reason, Tim James decided to make the issue one of his platform planks as part of his gubernatorial campaign. He produced a television commercial that has since been called controversial.

The entire discussion has drifted into diatribe, being branded as "racist." On the heels of Arizona Senate Bill 1070, it's now considered another example of "racist" legislation with diatribe thwarting any reasonable discussion.

Immigration And English

When my grandmother immigrated to the United States in the 1960s, she did so legally. Still, she remembers how frightening it was arriving in New York City without being able to speak a stitch of English. Doubly so because the person who was to meet her arrived late. For a few hours, she was on her own and was occasionally asked for identification.

There were no special provisions for her. She had to learn to speak and read English. And even when she did learn, her accent frequently drew derogatory comments like "kraut" from some citizens still reeling from World War II. Over the years, she came to realize that the discrimination she experienced was the same as anyone who was part of any mass migration into any country.

Immigration requires something from everyone. It requires citizens to accept a certain enthusiasm (or, at minimum, tolerance) for cultural differences. And it requires immigrants to accept a certain amount of responsibility to partially assimilate, starting with a respect for the law and language. Until people figure this out, there seems to be little room for discussion.

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Friday, April 9

Finding Purpose: The Trouble With Labels

A Lynn University freshman, pursuing his bachelor's degree in psychology to help veterans transition to civilian life, is quickly becoming a role model in Florida. His purpose, to help reduce the suicide rate among returning servicemen and servicewomen, is only part of the reason.

Slotnick is 84.

I won't invest space on the back story. You can read about it here, here, and here. There is something else that can be learned by Slotnick all together.

Three Lessons To Learn From Slotnick.

1. Labels are meaningless. Slotnick could embrace any number of labels not to do it. He's retired. He worked for vacuum and lawn mowing businesses. He left college almost 60 years ago. He is a World War II purple heart veteran. And yet, none of these labels — whether spun up good or bad — hold Slotnick back while pursuing his degree. He's doing it, with a 3.4 grade point average that he hopes to raise to a 3.5.

2. People wear lenses. Part of it can be attributed to how our brains are wired. People put things in boxes, assign them labels, and see the world through any number of colored lenses. It helps us process information. And yet, most people are unaware that such cognitive conveniences are often wrong. It might convince them to devalue students. Guess at intentions. Or forget that potential equalizes everyone.

3. Purpose is important. We first learned about it detail late last year; 46.5 percent of of soldiers with PTS have suicidal thoughts and 33.5 percent have tried to commit suicide. Many accounts attribute it to the lack of debriefing that was once a necessity as transportation home took weeks and months. Much of it, it seems to me, has to do with lesson one and two. But perhaps even more so, it had to do with rediscovering purpose.

Andrew Weaver addresses how to escape it in his post 8 Ways to Escape the Cult of Mediocrity. Valeria Maltoni warns against it with her post Are You Getting Typecast? And, every now and again, students in my classes and interns at work hear about how the pursuit of potential can be a game changer not only in their lives, but in the lives of people around them.

It's all very simple, but incredibly difficult. Shred your labels. Recognize our lenses cast perception. Find purpose in what you do, even if what you do or enjoy doing doesn't seem as admirable as Slotnick's current endeavor. W. Somerset Maughan once suggested as much.

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Friday, March 26

Craving Emotions: Do People Need Negative And Positive Interactions?

Every now and again, someone strikes up a study that is just too interesting to simply bookmark for later. Dr. Imam Saqib of the National Institute of Psychology at Quaid-i-Azam University in Pakistan is starting a Web-based psychology experiment to investigate whether or not human beings have a daily requirement for certain kinds of emotions.

His hypothesis is that human emotions may need to be balanced much in same way the body has a proven requirement for certain nutrients. Or, in other words, is it optimally healthy for a person to experience a certain amount of love, creativity, connection, competition, or even aggression as part of their daily routine.

The study is sponsored by the World Mind Network and is co-moderated by Irina Higgins of the Oxford Foundation for Theoretical Neuroscience and Artificial Intelligence and Melissa Mendoza of the University of La Verne. For more information, visit Daily Emotional Balance. (The public may join the discussion.)

What It Might Mean For Marketers

Given that some secular and spiritual practices have found that serenity improves the human condition, it seems unlikely that an emotional balance is required. However, there seems to be ample evidence to support that while the need may not be there, people do learn to crave oxytocin, cortisol, adrenaline, and other chemical releases that occur with emotions.

Where this study could be interesting, if not important, for marketers is that it could dispel the belief that positive advertising always plays better to audiences. On the contrary, it could illustrate how emotionally-driven advertising could appeal to specific demographics, depending on environmental conditions.

For example, lighter and more nostalgic advertising played better during the most recent Super Bowl, but more aggressive and darker advertising was well-received during better economic times (much like musical trends). Such understanding could become a critical component in communication. Cool stuff.

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Thursday, February 11

Crafting Reality: Proficiency or Deficiency?

Michael Josephson, president of the Josephson Institute, cited an interesting study that came out of the University of Toronto and the University of California, San Diego, late last year. The study found that while parents say that honesty is the best policy, they lie to their children in order to influence behavior and emotions.

The researchers said they were surprised by how often what they call "parenting by lying" takes place, especially among those who most strongly promote the importance of honesty. I'm not surprised.

In 1996, Bella DePaulo, Ph.D., a psychologist at the University of Virginia, asked 147 people between the ages of 18 and 71 keep a diary of all the falsehoods they told over the course of a week. They found most people lie as much as twice a day. This did not include mindless pleasantries or polite equivocations such as saying "you're fine" when you're obviously not.

DePaulo's study is consistent with another study on lying conducted around 2004. They asked 30 students to keep track of their social communications for seven days, and those students admitted to lying about 1.6 times per day. The study also concluded people are more likely to lie on the phone, but only marginally so.

And yet, another study on lying from the University of Arizona marked increases in children ages 6-8 and 9-11. The study breaks lying down into four categories: pro-social (protecting someone), self-enhancement (avoid embarrassment), selfish (conceal misdeeds at expense of others), and anti-social (hurting someone intentionally). Other studies, by the way, pinpoint that lying begins around three years of age.

You get the point. People lie all the time. And they are obviously well practiced.

So what can we do about it?

What stood out to me in the post from the Josephson Institute, which develops services and materials to increase ethical competence, were three points (paraphrased below) I found useful as a future teaching model.

• Risk Assessment. Is the benefit worth the risk, especially when the risk includes trust?
• Alternative Action. Can you accomplish a goal another way, knowing that necessity isn’t fact but interpretation?
• Long-term Consequences. Have you fully considered the consequences, especially if it puts others at risk or if it is exposed several months or years later.

The reason this list is such an excellent teaching tool is that communicators are sometimes asked to lie for the organizations they serve. My advice, consistently, is not to do it. However, that sometimes leaves students at a loss of how to approach the subject.

The first step in confronting a lie.

Ethics suggest that when communicators become privy to mistruths, they address it with the responsible party first. This allows the responsible party an opportunity to correct it before turning to a higher authority. The imperative becomes helping the responsible party consider several points, much like those laid out by the Josephson Institute.

Long-term consequences tend to be the most overlooked. Cutting corners to meet production demands at the expense of safety might not be noticeable until someone is injured. Padding departmental budget expenses over the course of several years can result in layoffs when the organization faces hard times. Attempting to be noble by padding scores in an awards contest may reinforce the winner's belief that inferior work is acceptable.

Whatever the case, long-term consequences are not always known when people attempt to change perception.

Interestingly enough, fear and narcissism tend to be the driving justifiers for lies. People who lie are afraid of the truth or, in some cases, believe that their direct manipulation of facts are necessary to produce a specific outcome. When you think about it, those traits are also why parents who place a honesty in high regard still lie to their children in order to change behavior.

In closing, I might add that objective assessment and effective communication on the front end is a remedy as well.

For instance, Gail Heyman, professor of psychology at UC San Diego, said telling a 2-year-old that you don't like their drawing is cruel. Therefore, such a pro-social lie is seen as somewhat justifiable.

However, it seems to me that in such a case the error isn't the drawing as much as it assessment of the drawing (considering the artist is two years old) or the inability to communicate effectively, such as offering ways to improve the picture. This way, the parent won't hurt the child's self-esteem but won't enable them either. In other words, choose your words carefully.

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