Showing posts with label ceo blogs. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ceo blogs. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 9

How Simple Decisions In Social Media Make Big Differences.

social media
Social media can be a mean sport in some arenas. It can be so mean that sometimes the media overreacts, like Popular Science. The publication will abandon comments, claiming that a politically motivated war on expertise has eroded the popular consensus on "scientifically validated topics."

They don't want to be part of that, even if they still will be (whether they have comments or not). They might even have it wrong. The whole of science is not to continually reinforce "scientifically validated topics" but to investigate the known and unknown. After all, more than one scientifically validated topic has been turned on its head. There are things we don't know. But that's a topic for another time.

Do comment sections really make a difference? 

My interest in this topic was inspired in part by Mitch Joel, who suggested websites could turn comments off, at least until someone develops better technology to keep them free and clean. His point was that online conversations have evolved. Comments are anywhere and everywhere nowadays.

Specifically, people are more likely to share a link and/or add their thoughts elsewhere — Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Medium, or some other platform — than they ever will be to leave a comment at the source. Let's face it. Websites and blogs haven't been the center of the social universe for some time.

Today, social media requires significantly more elasticity and adaptability and the conversations that revolve around content are much more hyper-extended. They are smaller, shorter, less formal and more fragmented discussions about articles and posts. It's as if all of social traded sharing for substance.

This is vastly different from the days when bloggers used to covet comments as a measurement (despite never being able to explain why Seth Godin could succeed without them). Years ago, there were primarily three ways to respond to an article or post — you left a comment, wrote a rebuttal (on your own blog), or shared it as a thread in a niche forum. It made things orderly but also exclusionary.

Fragmentation
That is not the case anymore. Now, some articles can sport a dozen mini-conversations within the same platform, initiated by people who might have little or no connection to each other. It's fascinating and fragmented stuff, which is why some pros like Danny Brown look to close the loop on fragmentation.

Livefyre sounds like a decent solution, but not everyone cares for it despite going a bit beyond what Disqus "reactions" used to offer before they discontinued them. Other emergent comment solutions worth exploring include Google+ comments or Facebook comments. They draw mixed reactions too.

For me, I think the issue is something else beyond nuts and bolts. Errant comments, like those that Popular Science complained about, are manageable. Moderating comments by setting permissions isn't as hard as some people make it sound. And if fragmentation is a concern, Livefyre might mitigate it.

All that sounds fine, but it never gets to the root issue. You see, there is only one fundamental difference between comments at the source and comments away from the source.

Do you want comments to be part of the article or about the article?

Comments made at the source become part of the article. Comments made away from the source, even if they are ported in by a program, might relate to but are largely independent of the article. The difference is that simple, and this simplicity is deceiving.

science and faithIt's deceiving because when someone comments, where someone comments and to whom they comment to all have a bearing on the content, context, and character of that comment. It's deceiving because people tend to write to the author at the source (or other commenters) while they tend to write about the author or source material (sometimes slanting the intent to serve their purpose) away from the source. And it's deceiving because comments away from the source will never have the same kind of physical attachment or quasi permanence that those comments closer to source seem to achieve.

Right. Most people do not search for reactions when an article is older than a week. Few have the appetite to scroll long lists of link shares that aren't really comments, whether they are ported in or not. And, unless there is historical or outlandish content, even fewer read comments bumped to page 2.

So when Popular Science made the decision to abandon comments, they didn't just make a decision to suspend spammers and people they fundamentally disagree with on topics like climate change and evolution. They made a decision to disallow different viewpoints from becoming part of an article. And they more or less told told readers to write about the content but not to the authors of that content.

In a few weeks' time, their decision will likely be sized up for its pros and cons. But make no mistake, it was still the wrong decision. Silence is no friend of science.

You see, neither science nor faith need to shirk at a politically motivated war on their mutual expertise. The truth is that they are not nearly as polarizing as some would have you believe. Science and faith are like brothers in attempting to understand the unknown, often inspiring the other to stop and think.

What Popular Science could have done instead was create a white list of commenters better suited to scientific discussion, perhaps with differing but conscientious viewpoints. Such an approach might have moved their content forward, leading to breakthroughs or a better understanding of science.

But what do I know? I've adopted a different outlook altogether. Comments, I think, work best when they are treated like someone who calls into a radio talk show. If you could talk about anything you want, what do you want to talk about today? The comments are yours or we can chat in person at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas on October 19 during a 3-hour social media session.

Friday, March 11

Commenting On Chrysler: Farcical From The Start

ChryslerIt's almost impossible to classify the recent communication focus surrounding Chrysler. Crisis Communication? Overreaction? PR lesson? Damage control? Best practice? PR disaster? Obscene tweet? Social media failure?

Are you kidding me? It's farcical.

All of it. It's especially farcical that less than 140 characters can create a global reaction. But to really appreciate how farcical it is, you need a broader context. The post (that some people have called a best practice) from Chrysler CEO Ed Garsten nails it. (His words in italics).

The hurtful tweet that sparked a firestorm. Oh my.

When a reporter called yesterday snarkily asking, “seen any good tweets lately,” I knew exactly what was coming next -- a firestorm across the web regarding an errant tweet by a now-former employee of Chrysler’s social media agency.

The tweet denigrated drivers in Detroit and used the fully spelled-out F-word. It was obviously meant to be posted on the person’s personal twitter account, and not the Chrysler Brand account where it appeared.


The tweet, reportedly written by Scott Bartosiewicz, account supervisor at New Media Strategies, on Chryslar's Twitter stream, read "I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to fucking drive."

tweetHe worked for the agency for eight months. He's a long-time Michigan resident, maybe a native. He made a mistake. It wasn't even a big mistake.

A big mistake might be having to recall 248,000 crossover wagons and minivans or 20,459 Jeep Wranglers. A tiny mistake is saying the wrong thing to 7,000 people who happened to follow Chrysler at the time ... minus spam accounts, minus people who weren't on Twitter, minus people who don't pay attention but follow the brand anyway.

Right. About seven people saw the tweet, including a "snarky reporter" as characterized by Garsten. Hopefully, the reporter is less sensitive than Detroit drivers are toward being "unfairly criticized."

The mean agency fired the guy before they were fired. Oh my.

First, Chrysler did not fire this person since this wasn’t one of our employees. The agency did. It was their decision. We didn’t demand it.

No, Chrysler did not fire the employee. They fired the entire agency. However, some have suggested the change was already top of mind. The errant tweet was just the final straw.

Let's be honest. Had the employee not been fired, he would have been after Chrysler pulled the account.

The sheer horror and anguish of being powerless to stop it. Oh my.

Second, as the day and night wore on, comments on various social media sites increasingly expressed either dismay that someone would lose their job over an online oops and that Chrysler was acting, as one poster put it, “in a stiff, corporate way.” Some posters even asked why we didn’t make light of an accidental “f-bomb."

Exactly right. The mistake didn't cause any sensationalism. It was the initial lie — our account was compromised — that sparked conversation.

You can even see it in the screen shots. The initial tweet wasn't retweeted even after being up for more than three hours. The correction, however, drew immediate attention.

And then, after the firing, the audience for the "incident" swelled from seven people to seven million. And on. And on.

The insensitivity of people for not recognizing all the hard work. Oh my.

So why were we so sensitive? That commercial featuring the Chrysler 200, Eminem and the City of Detroit wasn’t just an act of salesmanship. This company is committed to promoting Detroit and its hard-working people. The reaction to that commercial, the catchphrase “imported from Detroit,” and the overall positive messages it sent has been volcanic.”

chryslerVolcanic? Chrysler is doing better, but it still has a long, long way to go. U.S. sales might have risen 13 percent, but Chrysler Group sales were already up 17 percent in 2010 compared with 2009.

But even those numbers don't tell the whole story. You have to appreciate how far sales had to drop before the company could have a gain.

The entire future of the town rests right here. Oh my.

Indeed, as an automaker that went through the roughest of times just two years ago, we appreciate the challenges Detroit faces in reclaiming its place as a vibrant, world-class city. Inside Detroit, citizens are becoming even more proud of their town, and outside the region, perception of Detroit is rapidly improving.

With so much goodwill built up over a very short time, we can’t afford to backslide now and jeopardize this progress.

We need to keep the momentum going -- rebuilding a region and an industry, and not let anything slow us down. It’s what we do.


Is he really saying that 140 characters could somehow undermine the entire economic future of the region and erode all the pride that Detroit citizens have in their town? That's crazy talk. If Detroit is a tough town, one accidental tweet would not undermine their spirit. Heck, even if they did care, hurling a few F-words back at Bartosiewicz would have sufficed.

Suck it up. Unless a crisis is catastrophic (e.g., oil spills and product recalls), the organization establishes the severity of the so-called crisis. This wasn't a crisis. It has, however, become a publicity circus. And honestly, it's not even a very good circus.

The farcical commentaries that suggest tweet "recovery" strategies.

SquirrelWhen you consider what constitutes news, the entire incident can be likened to the :15 second clip of a squirrel on water skiis. It's an oddity that we all might chuckle about it instead of trying to frame it within the context of tragedy.

And yet, hundreds of communicators have treated the entire affair like a serious crisis communication case study. The worst of it includes offering up of social media safeguards and running down communication response punch lists. They might as well write a contingency plan for an employee with a hangover. The seriousness of it all just can't be taken seriously.

No one needs a communication strategy for one errant tweet. All anyone needs is common sense. Use common sense and lighten up.

Wednesday, October 7

Shining Starters: 10 Tips For Blogger-People Relations


While there are many top ten lists for bloggers, most seasoned bloggers — independent and organizational alike — will tell you that writing content is only part of the equation for sustainable success. Virtually every successful blog does more than offer good content. Many establish a sense of connection and sometimes community despite a presentation-like format.

The ability to infuse engagement, outreach, and relations into any social media program is the difference between having a successful program vs. one that doesn't seem to work. After all, if anyone can write a post and be successful, then every blog would have better than 200 readers. Most don't.

A few months ago, we performed an evaluation on an internal blog for a government agency. Despite the opportunity to employ it as a strong internal communication tool, the apparent lack of engagement and occasional adversarial tone from employees had left the communicators at a loss. What were they doing wrong?

In addition to providing six primary recommendations and 14 steps to realign the blog to meet its original objectives, there were some additional concepts missing from the program that had nothing to do with the nuts and bolts and writing posts. They had everything to do with people-to-people relations and organizational values. Here are ten tips.

Ten Common Sense Blogging Tips Beyond The Post

• Treat others with respect, even when you disagree with them, and they will respect you.
• Listen to what others have to say, and understand their point of view before being heard.
• Never be afraid of holding a less popular opinion, and people will add more value to your opinions.
• Keep your promises, even if it means making fewer promises, and people will know they can trust you.
• Allow others to share in your work from time to time and they will take responsibility for it.
• When others see justice used in solving problems, it reaffirms their sense of right and wrong.
• Invest one-on-one time with people, answering their questions and joining discussions, and they'll know you value them.
• If you expose yourself to diverse viewpoints and ideas, you'll benefit from improved critical thinking skills.
• Praise efforts, but never be afraid to improve, expand upon, or correct them, and the recognition means more.
• Lead a balanced life because the best posts and stories don't originate from online content.

From time to time, you'll find some of the best read and/or social media experts stumble on these points too, either slipping into diatribe or extending niceties to the point of pushing forward concepts laced with problems. It's okay. We're all human.

More to the point, however, is that observing those ten tips makes all the rest more manageable. Here are some of the better ones that we've collected. Enjoy.

Five More Blogging Tips From Around The Web

10 Simple Productivity Tips for Bloggers>Daily Blogging Tips from DailyBlogTips

10 Tips For Writing Blog Posts That Shine from Top Ten Blog Tips

• Build Upon Your Strengths As A Blogger from ProBlogger

Top 10 Tips for New Bloggers from Wired

• 10 Tips for Becoming a Great Corporate Blogger from Scout

Friday, December 5

Keeping Clients Engaged: On Blogs

"Once you help a business start a blog, how can you teach the business to sustain it?"

This conversation seems to come up frequently enough. It has come up during my last couple of speaking engagements. Alan Weinkrantz asked it during Gylon Jackson's show. Lee Odden addressed it among five reasons business blogs fail. And Seth Godin included it in his e-book Flipping The Funnel.

"Faced with a semi-blank page, most people write stuff that is either boring, selfish, or indecipherable. Most bloggers quickly lose interest and their blogs wither away," says Godin. "But if you give people a template, you’ll discover that they can thrive. Give them a hole to fill, and fill it they will."

Godin's right, and it goes beyond blogging. Many employers and clients appreciate communicators who help them keep up on industry news and trends. (It's also a good practice, ensuring that we, as practitioners, look beyond the communication industry and invest time in the industry or industries we serve). In many cases, doing so will also provide the author or authors some fresh content to source, share, or offer up with an opinion. Of course, I also like and have employed Odden's idea to assign multiple authors to a business blog, thereby ensuring that no one person is tasked too much.

Every communication tactic deserves a contingency plan.

One contingency we've implemented successfully for several clients is to allow for one "generic" author account identified by "staff" or some other moniker. While it won't work for everyone (eg. it wouldn't work on this blog), it does work elsewhere.

A staff account allows for non-attributed postings, guest posts, or a communication specialist to write a post based on multiple sources within the company that is not clearly associated with anyone specific. Sometimes, such an account can even be used to help guide other company authors as they become familiar with communication or simply to ensure the company can maintain a consistent publishing date when no other posts are available.

The end result is a sustainable blog, primarily because this contingency prevents one missed week turning into two weeks and then three missed weeks from turning into "we haven't updated in so long, it's not worth saving." In fact, from what we've seen, it also removes any obligation from the client, making them much more inclined to contribute content without a set deadline.

I appreciate not everyone gets excited by the idea of "unattributed" postings. However, it seems to work well as a contingency or as an alternative when a definitive single author isn't warranted (eg. does the CEO really have to author a post about a workshop or a roundup of ten news articles?). Besides, while there is demonstrated value to helping some executives engage in social media, the set objective should never be to transform them into full-time "bloggers."

They have other responsibilities too.

Wednesday, September 3

Branding Employees: Chapel vs. Dell

While Tamera Kremer at Wildfire was covering the debate between RichardatDell and the fictional AmandaChapel on the value of making brand ambassadors out of employees, Adweek was covering Zappos.com. Zappos has already moved full steam ahead and is one of many companies that already consider employees brand ambassadors online.

In fact, according to the story, the vast majority of trial and repeat business at Zappos.com is driven by word of mouth and employees. Brian Kalma, director of creative services and brand marketing, employs the term "people planning," arguing that each employee needs to be a great point of contact with customers.

Indeed. So where is the debate?

Based on the comments on Wildfire, it seems Chapel was taking the position that “front-line folks that you’ve assigned to the ‘conversation’ on Dell’s behalf, particularly your Twitter social-media team, are making a complete mess of it.”

Richard has defended the Dell position by saying “We believe that social media helps us foster direct relationships, not just transactions with our customers. Think about your own customer relationships and to what extent they rely on the personal and professional interactions that you have.”

Amazingly, the debate seems to have some social media participants questioning the need to distinguish personal and professional brands online, a notion that seems contradictory to any sense of transparency that social media practitioners claim is critical to success. As I noted on Twitter, "trying to separate personal and professional brands is like arguing that you are a different person when you wear jeans or a suit." We can pretend people are somehow different, but it’s really not true.

Still, that is not to say employees acting as brand ambassadors can enjoy a free-for-all online. Common sense suggests if you wouldn’t say something to a customer offline, it’s probably a good idea to avoid saying it online, where it can be archived forever.

Look offline for online behavior guides.

This isn’t rocket science. The best companies already know that employees tend to be the best brand ambassadors, provided the company benefits from a strong internal communication program.

One of the examples I frequently share in explaining the impact of external public relations on internal audiences is how two different utility rate cases turned out. Without sharing the specifics here, one company started with a proactive internal communication program so by the time the rate case hit the papers, employees could explain the reasons behind the rate increase with friends, family, and neighbors. The other did not. The results were dramatically different, with one rate increase succeeding and other quickly turning into a crisis.

My point is simple enough. Front line employees have always been brand ambassadors. It’s not a new concept. So maybe the real question is: do companies realize blogging is front line communication and are they educating their employees well enough for them to deliver a return? Apparently, Zappos does.

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Friday, December 7

Saving Face, Sort Of: Mark Zuckerberg

Everybody likes talking about Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook. And what’s not to like?

As a Harvard student in 2004, Zuckerberg founded the online social networking Website Facebook. As a young entrepreneur in 2006, he passed on a $1 billion offer from Terry Semel, then CEO of Yahoo! A year later, Microsoft infused $240 million into the social network, putting the 23-year-old on the fast track.

Never mind all that other stuff. Never mind the old ConnectU controversy; it was tossed out, um, for now. Never mind the lawsuit against the Harvard alumni publication for invasion of privacy over an article (irony). Never mind he basically lied to Louise Story of The New York Times about opting in to Beacon, which gathers up information about you on Facebook and away from Facebook.

Never mind. Never mind, because Mark Zuckerberg is sorry.

He’s sorry because “the problem with our initial approach of making it an opt-out system instead of opt-in was that if someone forgot to decline to share something, Beacon still went ahead and shared it with their friends.”

In other words, he’s sorry that you, and me, and probably Louise Story are too stupid to opt-out on his terms and that’s much more important than what he told The New York Times anyway. After all, Facebook, by slurping up our online lives, is only trying to make it easier for us to share with our friends, Facebook, and anyone who might happen to ask. If only we would all see it his way.

Most people do see it his way. Even Brian Solis, who I read regularly, seemed to take one look at Zuckerberg, smile and write “His words, most notably, his apology, humanize the company.”

Sure, Solis also noted the apology was less than perfect, but this sentiment represents how badly people want Facebook to be what it could be and not necessarily what it is.

Solis is not the only one. According to Forbes, everyone from MoveOn, which called the change "a big step in the right direction," to Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, who said "Facebook is learning that privacy matters. It's signaling that it does care about how it's viewed and how important trust is to online businesses," has accepted.

But, what did Zuckerberg really do? If he were a pickpocket, the Beacon fiasco might be likened to stealing a Jackson from your wallet and giving you back a Lincoln with a song, dance, and smile. Zuckerberg is one of the few who can get away with it.

Why? Because many people feel that they need Facebook more than Facebook needs them. And as long as this “feeling” remains, and some people treat Facebook as if it is the air we breathe, then we can expect more creepy than cool for a long time to come.

Far, far fewer people have put any real thought into what is actually occurring beyond the apology. Wendy Grossman is one of them. Brian Oberkirch is another. Jack Flack is yet another.

But in the great game of public relations, where perception and reality don’t always intersect, a few voices can often be outweighed by the many. And that means sincerity matters less than presenting yourself as people expect you to.

So when it comes to Zuckerberg, it seems to me that the world expects everything, except for Facebook being a responsible corporate citizen. Thus, as long as the traffic continues to surge for Facebook, “sort of” sorry will be good enough. Hmmm … no wonder Zuckerberg usually sports a boyish smile.

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Monday, September 17

Walking Planks: Social Media Pirates


I first heard about the dreaded black spot while reading Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. It’s a coming of age story about swashbuckling adventures, treasure maps, one-legged seamen with parrots, and the dreaded “Black Spot.”

Hey! That almost sounds like social media when I read Eric Eggerston’s beautifully summed take away of Paull Young’s post, entitled “Young PR’s - Know Your Place.

“Don’t needlessly or carelessly piss all over someone who may be in a position to help or harm your career. Public relations, marketing … the people involved all know each other, talk to each other and compare notes about up-and-comers. They also throw business the way of people they think they can trust. Flame them at your peril,” says Eggerston, who writes one of my favorite blogs.

Arg! If you mess up, we’ll give you the Black Spot and, much like Billy Bones from Treasure Island, you will suffer a social media stroke and your blog will die.

To be certain, there is ample wisdom to be taken away from these posts despite my play on the idea that sometimes social media practitioners sound more like threatening pirates. It is true that if you launch a personal blog, you are making yourself semi-public, if not public. As such, you subject yourself to consequences. Random flames may carry with them some unintended penalties. And sometimes, even the most minor disagreements become the bane of the social media world — blogdramas.

So who knows, perhaps there is some logic in saying that, as Mitch Joel says, the soap opera aspect of social media “is hurting our industry and our ability to convince clients that these channels are excellent for their Marketing and Communications' needs (which it is).”

But at the same time, I don’t blame young professionals like Chris Clarke for mimicking the social media world created before he got here. On more than one occasion, I’ve read seasoned bloggers say “be bold or go home.” Be bold, they mean, but be bold against those who haven’t earned the eye patch. You know, I’m not defending the post, but Clarke was hardly the only one to target Joseph Jaffe.

Of the two posts, which is harsher? And of the two, which seems to have caused more outrage? To me, it seems that maybe Clarke is being singled out because he hasn’t earned his eye patch. Although I can’t call myself a fan, Amanda Chapel seems to have been given at least that much. And, as I have said before, Chapel and others exist because the public relations world seems to need them. It certainly embraces them. So who is to blame a younger professional for capitalizing on similar traffic spike generating content?

Before we get carried away, let me point out that this post isn’t about Jaffe or Chapel or Clarke. Everybody else can write about that.

What this post is about is an idea. And the idea is this: whereas name calling and blatant flame posts don’t lend anything to a discussion (though it happens to drive traffic and garner attention from what I’ve seen), neither does positioning social media into high school-like niches where the price of admission is blind acceptance of equally bold statements being put forth by “experts,” as defined by crazy measures like page rank.

As much as we don’t need a new generation of flamers, neither do we need a pirate-like society where select groups might dole out “Black Spots” to those they don’t like. The way I see it, social handshakes and eye patches might work in the short term, but most will unravel long term. The more exclusionary they become, the more likely they will be swallowed up by some greater group that develops around them.

So let’s not be so serious as to pretend social media is a new world when what it really is for businesses is a powerful communication tool (more about that on Wednesday). While my partner likens it to looking at the world through a magnifying glass — with egos sometimes growing to gigantic propositions — the same rules that apply to social media are the same ones that are always applied to communication: the bolder the statement, the more likely you are to receive attention.

The only difference is that it used to be journalists were the ones to knock down the bolder goofball ideas. Today, it can be anyone with a keyboard. So just like a public relations professional would not blacklist The New York Times, Clarke doesn’t need to be blacklisted either. He only needs to be proven wrong. So, Jaffe, prove him wrong. What can be easier than that?

Ho hum. Looking beyond the confines of this social media boat that seems to sail nowadays, I might point out that today’s collective practitioners face bigger challenges than young bloggers. And if we are being honest, I suspect some “experts” today will be distant memories in two years, eye patches and all.

“Har, har, look there captain! On the horizon... It’s an armada of advertising professionals to the east and a fleet of corporate communication professionals to the west. Darn, it looks as if their boats are bigger too.“

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Thursday, September 13

Resurrecting Porcupines: New Balance


With so many restrictions being floated around about social media, including who can blog and under what conditions and with what support, is it any wonder some spokes figures are making a comeback in social media? They are more manageable than CEOs, less accountable, and in some cases (but not all cases) are fun and entertaining.

Originally I was going to write about a spokes figure we helped develop, but then I came across JD. JD is a porcupine who gets a second lease on life after a driver resurrects him using the positive energy found in New Balance shoes.

An Ontario native living in Massachusetts, JD’s MySpace page has all the vitals, including the :30 second back story, his own song, and about 163 friends. If that and his “chipper” attitude aren’t enough to make you feel good, pop over to the interactive Web site, play around with the signage, and enter the enter the balloon-popping contest to win a Jeep, sports equipment, and cash.

JD and the campaign is the brainchild of Almighty that aims at influencing culture. You can find out more about the creators at Ad-titude.com. Like many very creative ideas in advertising, we’re not sure if the ads translated into shoe sales.

That question will best be answered if JD has three lives instead of two. New Balance has named five finalists in an ad agency search that includes Arnold, BBDO, BBH, Cramer-Krasselt, and Element 79 to oversee the $15-20 million ad budget of New Balance. The Almighty could easily retain JD’s piece ... or not.

For the sake of feel good social media, we hope JD survives — even if one of the new shops creates a campaign that aims to bring us back to reality. The concept of the spots, by the way, is linked to NB Zip’s “high performance cushioning technology.” Yeah, okay, sure, the defibrillator shoe soles idea was a bit of a stretch in terms of connecting the dots, but we still like many of the campaign elements that came out of that idea.

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Wednesday, August 15

Savoring Originality: Social Media Patrons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, August 10

Targeting Jobs: Daniel Lyons

Originally, I was going to pass on The New York Times outing Daniel Lyons, a senior editor at Forbes magazine, as the infamous fake Steve Jobs blogger. It was already covered ad nauseum and, with John Mackey still in focus, I wondered how many anonymous blogger stories might be too many.

But then, The Buzz Bin highlighted Todd Vanhooser’s comments that cut right to the chase. They clip some of the very best quotes from Lyons during an interview with Sam Whitmore, circa 2005. Back then, Lyons had all but admitted to a bit of a jealousy over bloggers.

"[Bloggers] have a lot of power, and a lot of companies ... live in fear of these guys." Why? Because there are no rules of engagement like there are in the MSM, Vanhooser summed the Lyons interview.

Rules of engagement for mainstream media? If Lyons felt stifled as a reporter, he might have tried a different publication or professional designation (op-ed writers and columnists have more fun). But then again, his plight hints at where mainstream media sometimes goes off the beaten path and leaves the public looking for online content.

You know, originally, there were only supposed to be two rules of engagement for journalists: tell the truth and shame the devil.

Everything else is a much more recent invention, including the need for two sources on every occasion (even when hard evidence is in hand). In fact, most of the new rules — full disclosure, source verification, not really “off the record” solicitations, etc. — were largely overreactions to the few who damaged the reputation of the many, and the overzealous ridiculing of public figures who demanded that journalists abide by the same rules they prescribe.

Fortunately for Lyons, the media is in an anonymous poster joking mood. Hee hee. Ha ha. Mackey, Lyons, Jessica Carter (the anonymous Capitol Hill sex blogger). Aren’t they all cards?

Look, I don’t think Lyons had an agenda against Jobs (like some anonymous bloggers seem to have against their targets). It doesn’t appear he had any malicious intent. And it probably didn’t hurt Jobs or Apple at all. It’s not even really fair to draw a comparison between him and Mackey or Carter.

However, he raises an interesting question. When you can no longer trust the people who were once charged with protecting public interest by telling the truth (as opposed to two sides of the story), who can the public trust?

Monday, August 6

Dining Out: Recipes For Social Media Success

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, August 1

Silencing Crisis: Whole Foods Market, Inc.


There is something to be learned from Whole Foods Market, Inc. (WFMI) beyond its back to school nutritional program. Sometimes silence can be a golden as a July Pippin'.

That's what you'll learn if you visit John Mackey’s blog today. All you will find is silence. The CEO of Whole Foods left his last message, directed to shareholders, on July 17…

“A Special Committee of our Board of Directors' is conducting an independent internal investigation into online financial message board postings related to Whole Foods Market and Wild Oats Markets, Inc. (OATS). In light of this, it is in the best interest of the company to temporarily hold off on posting on my Company blog. The ability to post comments to this blog will be disabled during this time as well. I look forward to resuming our conversations and plan on being in touch with you again soon.”

He will. There is very little doubt. Despite anonymously posting disparaging remarks that may have impacted the stock price of Wild Oats, the company that Whole Foods is now fighting the Federal Trade Commission to acquire; the SEC investigation; the independent internal investigation; and the calls for his resignation by dozens of organizations, including CtW Investment Group, whose members own about 900,000 Whole Foods shares, Mackey will likely retain his position.

Less certain is whether Whole Foods will acquire Wild Oats, but that is another conversation thread all together. Lawyers for Whole Foods and the federal government are set to offer closing arguments today.

More in line with observations in communication is noting: this case study will likely become the bane of public relations professionals because it chips away at what some call the tenets of crisis communication. Maybe that’s a good thing.

For example, against what most PR pros would advise, Whole Foods went silent on the issue after apologizing to stakeholders (never mind Wild Oats shareholders who may have lost money on the advice of the masked Wild Oats stock vandal “rahodeb”). Then, yesterday, earned an extremely rare and generous pass from the media, allowing him to break his company's self-censorship and tout that they beat Wall Street estimates.

"Currently we do not expect the same degree of year-over-year increase in our total pre-opening expenses," Mackey said, as reported by CNN Money. "We are very excited to see the acceleration in our new store openings materialize, as we expect these new stores to drive strong sales and comparable-store sales growth in the not-so-distant future.”

As found in The Wall Street Journal: “I could understand if Mr. Mackey was accused of spreading false rumors about his company to manipulate the stock price, but I have not heard such allegations.” Or perhaps even more telling from The Motley Fool

“Look, I'm not saying that John Mackey should have gone onto the Yahoo! message board for Whole Foods and posted anonymous messages extolling his company while trashing Wild Oats. It was dumb, an activity with almost no hope for upside. But I understand it. I understand why John Mackey would see the nonsense that some random keyboard heroes wrote about him and his company and find the impulse to shoot back irresistible.”

Chip. Chip. Chip. It is any wonder why some public relations professionals have a hard time finding a position at the proverbial “table?” You cannot get there until you understand business let alone the new state of media, which suggests that today’s editors and analysts would rather be right than write about what is right.

"From a Whole Foods perspective we will be glad one way or another to have this situation resolved because it's taken a lot of management time and we spent a lot of money on lawyers," CNN Money reports Mackey said on a call. "It's been incredibly burdensome on us."

Like a fly buzzing in their ears, I imagine. Whether Whole Foods is allowed to acquire Wild Oats or not, Mackey and Whole Foods will not only survive but will also continue to see their stock fare well. Pending some revelation from the internal or SEC investigation of Whole Foods, it also seems unlikely to me that Mackey will be leaving anytime soon, chipping away at the notion that companies have to make a sacrifice in order to emerge from a crisis.

So what makes Mackey so special? As part of what I call my Fragile Brand Theory, Mackey has always been successful in presenting himself as somewhat eccentric thereby putting himself in the position to garner understanding in the wake of what Mackey himself even called his own “lack of judgment.”

That doesn’t make what he did right by any stretch of the imagination. While some people wonder about the Mackey case study “if we are not falling victim to a distorted sense of hubris in the United States: We are offended to the point of threatening legal action over surficial issues that are probably neither unethical or illegal,” I hopefully offer a clearer perspective.

What Mackey did, posing as an anonymous poster with an alleged agenda to damage his competition for future gain, was unethical.

Whether or not it is illegal is up to the SEC to decide. Whether or not the remedy is his resignation is up to the shareholders to decide. Whether or not shareholders are outraged will likely depend on the price of the shares. And whether or not the media decides to give him a pass or not will largely be dictated by the previous three outcomes.

I’m not saying this is right, but it is what it is. And what also “is” is that public relations professionals need to move away from formulaic approaches to crisis communication and consider the thought processes behind those bullet points. (We’ll compare this crisis to traditional crisis communication check lists next week.)

If they do not, executives will be hard pressed to take the profession seriously when good CEOs like David Neeleman at JetBlue play it by the “book” and are pushed aside while CEOs like Mackey, who clearly breached ethics, can break away and be heralded as a wacky egomaniac who, well, make shareholders lots of money.

Then again, I suppose all those who claimed the remedy is resignation still have a shot to be “right” as this case study seems far from over. But when it is over, I can promise you this: I'll probably have to add a warning label. Don't Try This At Home.

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Thursday, July 26

Accepting Leadership: ERE Network

If there is one “most important” lesson to be learned from an ERE Network dispute that became a public dispute, it is that those who begin to assume leadership roles, even within social media, must be willing to embrace the responsibilities of leadership no matter how unpleasant they may seem.

Neither David Manaster nor Karen Mattonen, the two most public parties who have participated in this dispute, perceive themselves to be leaders, yet I keep seeing the term continually attached to their names within the recruiting industry. Manaster is CEO of a network that is comprised of 50,000 members and Mattonen operated four discussion groups within that network.

“A leader is an individual who influences, motivates, and enables others to contribute toward the effectiveness and success of the organizations in which they are members.” — R.J. House

This could include any number of organizations, ranging from families and fan clubs to companies and industries. Based on varied responses and comments from other members, I would say both qualify.

They are not alone. Hundreds and thousands and millions of people all over the world, online and off, proliferate the idea that somehow they are not leaders while assuming roles that clearly have leadership responsibilities. And yet, somehow, they fool themselves into believing that if they exempt themselves from the title, they are somehow excused from the accountability of being effective.

As much as I like both Manaster and Mattonen, it seems to me that their unwillingness to apply some principles of effective leadership stems from being in denial that they were leaders, though perhaps in different ways. Had they seen themselves as leaders, I suspect the outcome would be very different.

Having spoken to both parties, it seems futile for me to attempt to explain the actions, events, and perceptions that led to this point. The simplest but somewhat debated summation is this: Mattonen, who led discussions on difficult topics such as ethics and law on the ERE Network, allowed herself to be baited into a personal dispute by another party or parties. The result of this, since she already received a warning for a similar dispute, was her dismissal from the ERE Network.

Any time a leader is banned from a network, whether that position is in title or by default through opinion or action, there are bound to be questions and disagreements over the decision. There were.

As a result, Manaster attempted to move these questions from the ERE Network to a different forum, his personal blog, where those who disagreed with the outcome could express their grievances rather than infuse their questions into discussion groups where perhaps they did not belong. While he achieved this outcome (to his credit), he misidentified several steps in crisis communication.

The most obvious of these was that he may have been better served by making it clear to Mattonen why the decision was made and then directing concerned members to her. As an alternative, he may have created a thread or group within the network and allowed Mattonen to temporarily participate. He may have benefited by keeping the message and focus on the outcome of the dispute rather than attempting to explain the decision for the ban, which shifted the focus from the original dispute onto Mattonen's ban. This created the appearance that Manaster had taken sides.

Truly, Manaster seems to have had the best intentions, but all too often the best intentions do not produce the desired outcomes. In this case, the impact of the communication made the dispute more public; expanded points of potential dissension about Mattonen’s dismissal; increased the number of participants in what became a perceived debate (those vocal and not vocal); created the perception that Manaster had taken sides (as the piece defends his reasoning for banning Mattonen rather than how he chose to handle the dispute); created consequences for Mattonen that extended beyond the ERE Network; and did not provide her any opportunity to respond (she can no longer post anywhere on the ERE Network). Mattenon did eventually respond on a new blog, elevating the crisis.

Fortunately, as with all crisis communication situations, the last step resets the process: collect feedback and adjust.

• There is an opportunity to recognize where the initial communication did not achieve the greater goal of bringing resolution to an unfortunate situation and unnecessarily focused on one individual in a dispute that involved several members. (All involved members, I am told, received warnings. As not all received a prior warning, not all have been dismissed.)

• There is an opportunity to reinforce the finer points of the initial message that seemed buried by comparison: Mattonen has made contributions within the recruiting industry and on the ERE Network specifically, and Manaster has every confidence that she will continue to make such contributions to the industry. Given the response, he may encourage other groups not to base their relationships with her on this network decision, which is isolated to ERE.

• There is an opportunity, it seems to me, that as leaders, both Manaster and Mattonen owe it to any respective followings to discuss, with an arbitrator familiar with the industry as needed and with a very narrow focus, how they may mutually and beneficially conclude the relationship so they may peacefully coexist within the industry. While this may not benefit either party per se, it will benefit those who know them and help prevent further polarization.

While this seems to be an isolated situation, the ERE Network might also review its terms of service, conflict resolution practices, and crisis communication policy. Quantified counts are not an appropriate measure to determine whether the policies that are in place may work or not. On the contrary, if the policies in place worked, there might not be a crisis today.

This leads me to the second “most important” lesson to be learned. There seems to be a trend in social media to push the concept of transparency onto every situation. This is a misconception. Conflict resolution for private matters is best conducted in private, with an arbitrator as needed, because once it is made public, it becomes even more difficult to resolve.

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Tuesday, July 24

Publicizing Bans: ERE Network

Although I've always liked David Manaster, CEO of Electronic Recruiting Exchange (ERE) Network, which is the largest active community of recruiting professionals online, he recently published something on his blog that left me confused. There seems to be little communication logic behind publishing the banishment of a member from his organization.

"To date, I've avoided posting about this decision because I didn't want to needlessly embarrass anyone (which is also why I am not using her name in this post)," he wrote. "However, my lack of explanation and transparency in decision-making has resulted in a number of people publicly speculating about what happened, and that is further disrupting the experience of the silent majority on the ERE site — the exact opposite of the intended effect."

While the most obvious is that silence always leads to speculation, there are several other problems with his post from a communication perspective. Today, I'll share the first two. First, Manaster writes that "the other 49,990 members of the network don't care about these personal disputes." Yet, that didn't stop him from sharing this personal dispute with the rest of the world. Second, since everyone in ERE already knew who he was talking about, how does not mentioning her name make any difference?

Now it seems Karen Mattonen, the person Manaster referenced in his post, wants to know too. She posted several questions along with her side of the story, which includes, among other things, dated e-mails and several other names of those involved. One of the e-mails is from Manaster that says: "We can have any conversations that we need to via email, and they will remain private unless you choose to take our conversations public. What is it that you would like to discuss?"

Regardless of which side (if there are sides) people fall on, one thing is certain. It is never a good idea to publish someone's banishment (or loss of employment) on a blog because it broadens the debate and could potentially lead to other problems. In fact, companies might like to know that even journalists will respect "no comment" if the explanation would force the CEO to share a personal evaluation about a former member or employee. A better answer might have been: ask Ms. Mattonen.

Sooner or later, someone always comes forward with additional information that could cause a communication crisis, one that seems to lend itself to a case study. In this case, the person who came forward was Mattonen herself.

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Thursday, July 12

Calculating Identity: Career Distinction


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 10

Communicating For Success: Social Media

Over the past few weeks, I've infused a few posts on how understanding traditional human capital and internal communication might cross over into social networks. For the most part, it included theory without a proven case study.

When I wrote the article, I turned to Southwest Gas Corporation (Southwest Gas) to provide a case study because I knew it was the fastest-growing natural gas company in the United States and consistently benefited from an exceedingly strong internal brand. What struck me about the company then (as it does today) was that its employee-to-customer ratio had increased from 1:415 in 1994 to 1:537 in 2000, but the average employee had 11 years in with the company despite being largely based in a market where 2-3 years was the norm.

"We've continually asked our employees to do more with less," said Robyn Clayton, then manager of consumer and community affairs. "In return, we work hard to provide a satisfying culture and keep them informed. The result is a motivated, loyal workforce."

When Southwest Gas projected natural gas rates would rise the year before, it launched an internal communication plan months before the rate increase impacted the company. Because its leadership recognized that employees would be asked questions by family, friends, and customers in the field, early internal education proved vital to the success of the company (the model still used today).

"By developing a long-term plan that demonstrated we were forthcoming, employees and customers were mostly positive about the increase," explained Clayton. "It was challenging, but we succeeded in empowering our employees and eventually our customers to understand our rates reflect the market."

In other areas, Clayton said internal communication is consistent across departments and several vehicles are in place to keep employees informed. Each update is tied to a specific medium (print, video, etc.), depending on which best communicates the information. Tracking results is fundamental.

"Several months ago, we evaluated the need for an employee video," Clayton said then. "We found that the employees valued it, but wanted shorter programs. Today, we met those needs instead of cutting the program."

The company, which has maintained a successful volunteer program since 1985, also provides community service opportunities on company time. The investment has been returned tenfold: increased involvement, a stronger brand, and personal/professional development for interested employees.

"We have developed a culture that values service to our community," said Clayton. "It has given many their first experience and nurtured lifetime volunteers. Today, our employees take pride in the program and it attracts people with similar values."

It seems understanding human capital has paid off for the company: long-term employee recruitment, retention, succession, and culture building are as vibrant at the company today as it was when I interviewed Clayton then.

Applied to social media, similar (if not the same) results can be achieved by nurturing online cultures even more effectively than print, video, or other communication devices alone. It doesn't matter if the network is an added function of an Intranet or Internet.

Internally, social networks, assuming the communication is well crafted, can be employed to reinforce corporate culture, encourage isolated departments and remote locations to work better together, provide better access to top decision makers (such as a CEO), and educate employees about upcoming corporate changes in real time, which would help minimize any damage caused by misleading internal or external gossip (assuming the executive team doesn't start the rumor).

Externally or even independently of a company, the same techniques can be applied to an online community. While members of a social network are not employees, they do consist of a structure similar to any organization.

As such, they too have human capital. By increasing communication from key stakeholders and the most active members outward, social network stewards might be better able to manage anything and everything from complete network redesigns to the tone of the participants without enforcing rules or expectations that drive members away. As leaders, the most effective social network stewards set the tone and agenda through example much like the best run companies set the tone and agenda for employees.

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Monday, July 9

Measuring Success: Image Empowering

Updated weekly, it might take months before the Image Empowering blog by Stephanie Bivona ever makes the blogger B list, let alone the mythical A list. But does it really matter?

Not for Bivona. Her business strategy for Image Empowering drives her blog; her blog does not drive her business or its message. Her post today reflects this thinking — "The Law of Attraction" as popularized by The Secret suggests that our thoughts manifest what we have.

Although The Secret repackages "The Law of Attraction" and gives it a fresh look, the idea is not a new one. It has been around for a very, very long time with the concept interwoven into almost every pearl of wisdom ever written. In fact, it might even be scientifically provable within the context of quantum physics.

Applying “The Law of Attraction" is also pretty good at debunking the myth of how some people measure social media success, especially among blogs. You see, I know Bivona’s blog will achieve all of its objectives despite never chasing traffic or blog rankings for one simple reason.

As one of our new social media clients, Bivona knows that the success of her blog or any future social media project is that traffic or artificially created rankings are myths being pushed by those who benefit from them the most.

The only people who seem to forward such discussions like A-List Bloglebrity, which uses Technorati to determine your standing in the blog community, are those who already have some rank. (Bloglebrity is similar to the equally popular What’s Your Blog Worth or even Alexa traffic ranking for that matter.)

While these measures are fine for virtual water cooler conversations, it’s silly to think they mean much more than that. Case in point: when this blog broke the top 40,000 on Alexa for a few days, we noticed the average length of time our readership stayed on the blog was reduced from 4-5 minutes to a mere 60 seconds. So what did we really achieve? Not much more than what I just mentioned — it’s an interesting water cooler conversation and opportunity to compare the power of one post to a direct mail postcard.

So while we thought it was pretty nifty, we also know that generating traffic and inflating page rank is pretty easy to do. We know all the tricks used by others, ranging from slanted SEO writing (even if the sentence structure makes no sense) and echoing other blogs (by adding gratuitous links) to weighing in on controversial topics (especially if you take a minority view) and being painfully trollish (like calling people names in the comment sections). For our part, we don’t employ these tactics (though SEO writing seems to come natural) because like Bivona, we’re not after traffic for the sake of traffic nor blog rank for the sake of blog rank.

You see, Bivona is not chasing traffic or blog rank; she’s attracting clientele and creating a means to provide constant contact with her existing clients. Thus, her blog becomes a multi-faceted tool that she has employed as a means to that end. Sure, casual visitors might benefit as her weekly posts shed some light on the importance of empowering your personal image.

Yet, her decision to enter social media was not to become an “A-list blogger,” which would require a different strategy all together. Instead, her blog provides an efficient and effective means to brand her full-service image consulting firm, which is her second business (she also owns a successful practice that buys and sells other companies). We’re even retained to play a part in its development; taking care of some details so she can focus on her clients.

Some of this fits in with this blog too. While our strategy is a bit different than Image Empowering, it’s no less dismissive of traffic or blog rank for the sake of traffic and blog rank. We believe, like any successful business does, that it is best to measure results that match your objectives, whether those outcomes are profitability, market share, niche dominance, or any other measure. In other words, it might be tempting to jump on the traffic and blog rank train, but doing so might produce the opposite of what you desire.

But isn’t that the way it is with everything? When you begin to adopt other people’s measures of success — blog ranking, traffic ranking, attractiveness, self-confidence, wealth, whatever — you run the risk eroding your business strategy (or self-confidence) because one size or measure of success does not fit all.

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Tuesday, July 3

Demonstrating Leadership: Social Media

A few days ago, I mentioned a distinction between management and leadership of a social network. But the difference doesn't just apply to social media, it applies anywhere there is human capital.

Much like companies or organizations can apply the concept "human potential is an asset" internally (employees or members), they can apply the same thinking to social networks and online communities, which are made up of seemingly uncontrollable people. These people don't need management like Andrew Keen or the collective Amanda Chapel prescribe, both who fail to see "human potential as an asset" but rather as something that needs to be managed.

No, no, no. Any time the rules of management are applied to people, especially online, things go terribly wrong. Given tomorrow is Independence Day in the United States, it seems almost too fitting to point out our country was founded on the distinction between management and leadership. Oversimplified, but accurate. England had attempted to manage the colonies. John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Robert R. Livingston, and Roger Sherman (among others), offered something else — leadership.

Whether it be the day-to-day operation of any business or social network, if executive and network owners recognize their members as human capital and connect with them, their ability to demonstrate leadership can accomplish great things.

In my study of human capital a few years ago, Geri Travis, senior vice president of Aon, a Fortune 500 consulting company, filled me in. She said that any time management can connect and communicate with employees, it develops credible leadership.

There is no question. Credible, involved leadership—through direct contact, communication, and team leaders (if that applies)—will build employee loyalty, which will translate into loyal customers. In determining the value of an employee, Travis said companies need to look beyond the cost of replacing an employee. Rather, the real hard costs are determined by looking at how many people a disconnected employee impacts every day.

"If employees feel discounted from the company on the job, you have to wonder how much business is at risk," she said. "When companies are in crisis, the consistency and frequency of communication can be just as important as the message. Suspicion and mystery can cause employee disconnect more than the crisis."

At the time, it was apparent that companies were finding ways to do more with less. Travis said that inclusion remained the best solution. Along the way, quantitative (eg. surveys) and qualitative (eg. focus groups) measurements can help create a dialogue between management and employees. (Today, social media can add to the dialogue with employees, and also consumers.)

"Companies spend millions on branding their product, but not their people," Travis said. "Yet, by defining the culture of the company, you would be in a better position to retain, recruit, and build loyalty with the kind of employees you want."

It is sound advice that can be applied anywhere. Much like the best companies, the best social networks are those that lead people. For example, Antony Berkman at BlogCatalog is challenging bloggers to do good by collectively writing about social awareness issues. Or, in a strange sort of odd, loud, and unpredictable way, The Recruiting Animal at RecruitingBloggers.com often skips over the body of an idea and goes for the engine. While their styles are vastly different (which is why I picked them), both are very adept at defining an online culture through leadership, not management.

In sum, if you want to build a successful online community, treat it like a successful business that is sensitive to human capital. Manage the site, widgets, links, etc., but not the people. All people need, much like the greater online community, is a little bit of leadership.

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