Showing posts with label consumer marketing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label consumer marketing. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 28

How Social Connections Helped Save The Town Of Neptune

Veronica Mars
When Rob Thomas and Kristen Bell succeeded in raising an astonishing $5.7 million from more than 90,000 donors to produce a movie centered on the one-time teen private detective Veronica Mars, most people called it one of the greatest Kickstarter successes of all time. But much more than a crowd-funding platform success, the Veronica Mars movie marks a much bigger milestone.

As Kickstarter CEO Yancey Strickler called it, the Veronica Mars movie is one of the greatest fan stories of all time. He's mostly right. Kickstarter provided the platform, but it was the dedicated fan base of the cancelled television series that convinced Thomas and the cast to consider a revival.

Fans stuck with Veronica Mars for six years.

The fans didn't just promote the cancelled television series online. They promoted it offline too. And even after rumors that Thomas was making a movie in 2009 fell apart, few of them gave up hope. They continued to promote the series with contests, events, book clubs, and social networks.

"We were told that we made a difference in the decision to even launch the Kickstarter campaign," says Mark Thompson for Neptune Rising. "But once the the Kickstarter launched, we were just a pebble in the storm that represents the true fandom of Veronica Mars."

According to Thompson, he heard about the Kickstarter campaign in its seventh hour and Thomas had already raised his first $1 million for the film. Within 24 hours, the campaign raised $2 million.

At the same time, the entire campaign proved what the Neptune Rising team had said all along. The fan base behind Veronica Mars was much bigger than any social media metrics might demonstrate.

Even on the last day of the Kickstarter campaign, Thomas asked fans to meet him at an Austin bar. He anticipated 30-40 people. More than 700 fans showed up, including Jason Dohring.

Rob Thomas
"I always had high hopes," said Thomas at the campaign party. "And yet there was this little bit of doubt in my mind ... what if the people telling us to make a movie are the same 20 people?"

His one little worry is now long put to rest. Not only are there thousands of fans behind Veronica Mars, but they also represent the first wave of a shifting paradigm for television and film production that started in 2007. The size of an audience isn't the only consideration. Its passion is just as important.

Even after fans invested $5.7 million into what became a $6 million film, they also turned out to see it in theaters. The movie went on to earn another $2 million during its opening weekend. After earning its top ten release spot, it slowly tapered off and settled somewhere around $3.3 million.

Although it would likely take about $12 million for Warner Brothers to really consider a second movie, the fans who helped make the first one possible are doing everything to ensure their neo-noir detective won't slip away again. They're promoting DVD sales as well as a Veronica Mars novel.

You can stay up to date on the progress of the film via By The Numbers. While many fans already own a copy of the Veronica Mars DVD, it's not uncommon for fan bases to spike sales by purchasing an additional DVD and gifting it to a friend. They've also spiked reviews, giving the movie higher ratings on iTunes and Amazon than most mid-level releases (although critics genuinely liked it too).

If you haven't seen the film, suffice to say that diehard fans will love it as Veronica Mars resurrected. It takes place immediately after she finishes law school with Thomas and the cast planting plenty of insider tidbits and cameos to thank the fans for their long, hard fight. Unfortunately, everyone was so caught up in this as a labor of love, it wasn't as good as it could have been for a true introduction.

And this is the reason it didn't do even better at the box office. It felt too much like a reunion.

Fans are ready to stick with Veronica Mars for another six. 

Even so, does it matter? Warner Brothers could easily take the information it gleaned from this release and adjust for the next budget accordingly. Thomas could also pen a script that stays away from the reunion obligations and fights to make Mars into the neo-noir thriller she can be.

The fans, it seems, are already working to support such an effort. Not only are fans from sites like Neptune Rising promoting DVD sales, but they are also coordinating book readings for the first official Veronica Mars book, Veronica Mars: An Original Mystery by Rob Thomas: The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line (Vintage) with Jennifer Graham.

"As far as what's next, we'll have to see," Thompson told me. "But the fans of Neptune Rising plan on seeing even more of our favorite sleuth on either the big screen or the small screen."

There isn't any reason to doubt them. Years ago, when an entire season of cancellations happened to decent shows (The Black Donnellys, Jericho, Journeyman, and Veronica Mars), Veronica Mars landed in the uncomfortable position of being on the near-abandoned bubble. It looked like fan efforts were going to fail. Seven year later, there are more diehard fans today than there were then.

It's something to think about. In one form or another, Veronica Mars seems a long way off from solving her last case. And likewise, the movie proves that how networks and studios size up potential franchises is still evolving into smaller but increasingly loyal pools of viewers. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 24

Changing Creative: Did Fans Dictate Days Of Our Lives?

Ken Corday, son of the late Ted and Betty Corday (co-creators of Days Of Our Lives), recently allowed something he vowed would never happen. Characters Elvis J. (“EJ”) Dimera (formerly Wells) and Samantha Gene (“Sami”) Brady will have a second chance at romance.

Once considered a top daytime couple, the writers created an impasse that few ever thought could be overcome. Soap Opera Weekly even wrote an opinion in 2007 that largely condemned any reconnection by including them as an example of how soap opera writers treat rape as too casual.

Many fans saw it differently, specifically those who belong to the Forbidden Love EJami fan site, which has actively supported the power couple being reunited for the better part of six years. Two years ago, some of them asked me what I thought it would take for Corday to hear them out. I suggested five elements for the fan campaign. And while it might have taken two years to achieve success, the ratings have changed.

Days Of Our Lives sees its ratings rise on a storyline shift.

Despite being in an entertainment segment that some people considered in critical condition, Days Of Our Lives (Days) has recently generated a year-to-year growth rate of 14 percent among women 18-49 and 18 percent in women 25-54. More importantly, the show's ratings are up overall. It might not slow.

EJami fans are quick to attribute the ratings increase as a direct outcome from renewed interest in their favorite couple. They have every right to do so. The producers and publicity teams for the show have done everything they can to capitalize on their re-found star power. When actors James Scott and Alison Sweeney take to social media platforms like Twitter, #Days and #EJami start to trend.

The coordinated effort between fans, stars, and marketers are suddenly making soaps feel more accessible again. Maybe among specific demographics, they are more accessible than they ever could have been without social media. Some actors and actresses are not much more than a tweet away.

If the ratings hold, this could be a good case study in how one network is discovering that fan campaigns don't have to be a single-edged sword. Ergo, fan campaigns don't have to end badly.

They can transform cancellations into impossible success stories as Veronica Mars recently proved by raising $5.7 million for a fan-backed movie (stay tuned). Or, in the case of Days, they can create a sharable storyline that fans can promote and entice new viewers. As I suggested in 2007, passive viewers are now active consumers. It might have taken a few additional years for full fruition, but networks can't ignore it anymore. Fans want to be supportive of the right story lines, online and off.

The roses that Sweeney and Scott have in the hero shot above are real. EJami fans sent them to the network to celebrate what they consider a long overdue engagement. They have also been instrumental in writing the network, urging them to renew the contract. The network estimated the show had 2.3 million viewers at the time. Today, the show seems to be gaining with 2.5 million viewers. Time will tell.

After all, not everyone is happy with the EJami win. There have been plenty of other men on the show to solicit support for a renewed relationship with Sami. But so far, the numbers suggest this isn't murky.

The symbiotic relationship between series and supporters. 

While I'm someone who watches the program, I am familiar with soaps from years ago. They were a part of the culture as much as anything else on television. My parents were All My Children fans.

But my point is that you don't have to be a soap opera fan to see a bigger picture emerging for entertainment. Stories that can win supporters — people who share the show beyond a network site, who support the actors and actresses outside their roles, who are interested in different storytelling formats, and who are even willing to pony up production dollars — will eventually rewrite creator-producer-network-fan contracts. If one network doesn't want a show, creators will have more options. (If I can watch the Vikings via The History Channel app, why not any app?)

It's already happening in the book publishing world, with more writers (those with marketing savvy) willing to accept some publishing risks. While the results are still mixed, some of them have wins. In fact, there are enough wins that book revenue is up and e-books have captured 23 percent of the market.

Who is to say what the next generation of soap operas might be like? Chances are it will vary by audience. Some fans enjoy the unpredictability of shows like The Walking Dead, where leading characters are unceremoniously written off on a whim. Others, like Days, might deserve a second-chance romance like the one EJami fans have wanted for years. Interesting times, indeed. The comments are yours.

Friday, January 28

Considering Fan Campaigns: Days Of Our Lives

As the concept of "anything, anytime, any device" has taken hold, not all television programming has fared very well. Daytime soap operas were among the hardest hit.

The average ratings have fallen from a 6.2 million viewer average in 1990 to about 2 million in 2010. In fact, not a single new soap opera has been created since 1999 and the six that remained at the end of last year consistently live on the bubble. Even Disney, which owned the decade-old cable channel SOAPnet, will be discontinuing reruns in 2012.

However, in recent months, soap operas have been a surprise. The six remaining shows are up among women ages 18-49 despite most networks cutting back on the concept of the daily dramatic serial. If their numbers continue to grow, some executives might find themselves asking a question that they haven't asked lately.

What's the value of an audience?

According to some fans of the daily soap opera Days Of Our Lives, which ranks third in the ratings, they want the audience to be worth more than most producers and networks believe. The fans don't want to write the show, but they would like to help set a direction.

Specifically, this group, called Ejami (a mashup of character names), primarily tunes in to see a single storyline revolving around the relationship of Elvis J. (“EJ”) Dimera (formerly Wells) and Samantha Gene (“Sami”) Brady. And, according to one fan, Ruthie, they are not keen on what seems to be ahead.

Following a plot mechanism relatively consistent with soaps, it seems the show introduced an improbable romantic story where the dashing male character EJ (James Scott) accepts the unlucky Sami (Alison Sweeney) for who she is. Then, as a matter of practicality, the two unlikely lovers get their wish. Ever since, the writers have been destructing the relationship and characters. The fans aren't having it anymore.

A snapshot of Ejami fans' vested interest in Days Of Our Lives.

My understanding is that for fans, the initial relationship was hot enough that an entire forum dedicated to the "Forbidden Love" was created the same year the romance was introduced in 2006. It has approximately 5,600 registered members who promote the show as much as they talk about the "Ejami" storyline. They average 25,000 to 42,000 conversations a month.

Many of the conversations are about the show, but there is also a considerable investment in fan fiction, artwork, video montages, and — as fan forums sometimes develop — personal accounts and milestones. They are a community and they want an enduring Ejami love story.

Days Of Our LivesTo do it, they have been emailing and sending postcards to the studio, executives, writers, actors, and soap magazines. They also raise money and send holiday and birthday gifts to actors Sweeney and Scott. And they've even reached out to companies, thanking them for product placements. All together, there are approximately 35 separate and distinct campaigns.

More recently, they have added Twitter campaigns and charity fundraisers ($15,000 raised for 26 nonprofit organizations). Suffice to say, they have developed a community not dissimilar to what most communicators hope to create online, every day.

For all their efforts, however, many of them were disheartened to learn that executive producer Ken Corday is steadfast that Ejami is not the path. Another person will be thrust into the mix to disrupt an already complicated affair of four characters. The primary two characters of concern have already suffered a laundry list of tragedies. Only Job, from the Bible, beats them.

Who really owns a soap opera?

In an age where even books, for better or worse, have become the subject of social interjection, there might be something here that is more than meets the eye.

Unlike some creative works that have author ownership, it sometimes feels as if the script writers, actors, actresses, executives, characters, and audiences tend to change after 46 years. Certainly, Days Of Our Lives is not the same show it was when it started. However, when you trace the original concept, Ken Corday, son of the late Ted and Betty Corday (co-creators of Days Of Our Lives) is clearly the owner. It's his story to guide, along with Gary Tomlin, who joined him as executive producer in 2008.

Ken CordayThis simple fact makes the preservation of a singular story line an interesting twist despite how fans might feel, different from show cancellation protests like Jericho or Veronica Mars. Personally, I tend to lean toward leaving creative calls to the authors/owners, with the exception of those stories that begin as a socially infused storyline. There is no obligation to fulfill the expectation of the audience for an outcome. In fact, it is the anticipation of not knowing that makes us appreciate any story all the more.

However, I also see that I'm in a shrinking minority and Corday might be too. When the creative expression no longer holds the interest of an audience, an artist has to ask themselves which is more valuable — ownership, fans, or the chance to hit 50 years. It's Corday's call to make as long as he has a contract with NBC.

Friendly campaigns are not enough to sway networks, let alone producers.

It almost seems a shame to say, but after watching the aforementioned television cancellation (Jericho, Veronica Mars) protests, niceness doesn't often make for a compelling campaign. Jericho fought a war. Veronica Mars fans kept it cool.

Jericho earned a truncated second season. Veronica Mars did not. Both sets of fans were teased with the promise of a potential movie. Both were disappointed.

Nowadays, a smaller group of Jericho fans still promotes comic books (a very messy affair) and reruns. But Veronica Mars fans are mostly on their own, with only Kristen Bell actively campaigning for a Veronica Mars movie. Based on results, even though it is not be what fans of EJami want to hear, bold campaigns sometimes disrupt friendly communities and generate attention.

Five elements for a "chance" to change a producer's mind.

1. Numbers. Ejami fans already have a central forum where they can coordinate ideas and activities online. Based on the various campaigns and media mentions, it seems proof positive that the group is practiced. What it lacks are numbers. Five thousand might seem like a lot, but something closer to one percent of the viewership would have a bigger impact.

2. Symbols. Fan-based campaigns need a clear message and easily identifiable symbols that can be recognized by people other than fans. For Jericho, it was peanuts and then the historic Don't Tread On Me flag. Veronica Mars never really took off with the Mars bars idea. It cannot be too myopic or generic; something in the middle like heart-shaped soap might do.

3. Headline Grabs. Getting attention in soap-releated blogs and publications is a great start, but fan-based campaigns have to build into movements that capture mainstream media attention. While they can be civil, they still have to meet the full measure of what makes news. The more bullet points you hit, the better your chances. Make it bold and original.

4. Cash. Earned media (as some public relations professionals call it, but I don't much like the term) aside, paid placement can be compelling. Jericho fans bought advertisements. Veronica Mars fans rented airplane ads. Both had social media campaigns as well. Whatever the campaign might be, the message has to be consistent and placed nationally as well as where Corday might see it. Make no mistake, it's his show.

Ejami5. Ultimatum. At the end of the day, you have to ask "so what?" Jericho fans cancelled Showtime, boycotted CBS, flooded CBS phone lines and emails, made the public relations team stamp out many media fires, and countless other efforts. So, fans have to ask themselves if they are willing to boycott Days Of Our Lives, NBC, and the show's advertisers (assuming it will make an impact). If they are not, there isn't any incentive for a producer to listen (unless they are viewer-centric).

There is something else. Always be careful what you wish for. It seems to me the appeal of Ejami is, at least a little bit, based on the notion of something that cannot be. If long-term romance was a sure thing, it might not have as much appeal. Fans of the show The Office know it. While the show is still fun, the forbidden romance of Jim and Pam was priceless.

Special thanks to Ruthie for her in-depth analysis of what the Ejami fan group has accomplished. Keep up the great work. The information you provided is an excellent backgrounder, better than what some pros I know provide.

Tuesday, November 30

Considering Interventions: Help Friends Kick The Traffic Habit

Porsche hits one million fans on Facebook
It's always easy to tell when your communication team's traffic habit has turned into a chronic addiction. The most common symptom is unabashed boasting — companies that celebrate milestones by issuing releases that they've reached a magical benchmark that consists of people who can't afford to buy their product or are well outside their intent for communication.

Don't laugh. Addiction — defined by psychoactive substances which cross the blood-brain barrier once ingested, temporarily altering the chemical milieu of the brain — can happen to anybody, even some of the most respectable brands. And when it happens, the best thing people can do is host an intervention.

Porsche Needs An Intervention.

"Although we are witness to passionate customers and fans every day, it is neat to set another Porsche milestone by growing to over 1,000,000 strong on Facebook," said Josh Cherfoli, online relationship and marketing manager for Porsche Cars North America. "It's an excellent opportunity to help us connect with our fanbase, and we thank them all for sharing our passion."

That was the quote pulled from an actual news release boasting that more than one million people worldwide have shown their love and support for Porsche by, ahem, liking it on Facebook. They even have a reward program for fans willing to give up their friends list, along with all of its demographics.

"As part of the continued celebration, fans can sign-up via Facebook to have their name inscribed on a special Porsche model. This vehicle will then be displayed as part of a unique exhibit at the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart, Germany," says the release.

And, despite this being such a coup for Porsche, it still doesn't trust social media. Photos of new and historical Porsches are only available to accredited journalists on the Porsche Press Database. Whatever that means.

Obviously, Porsche is drunk on traffic, likes, follows, and friendz. On the news that Porsche reached one million, the fans celebrated by mentioning things like "That bloated SUV shouldn't be in the same photo as that beautiful machine," "hello you will join my group sex and sport," "2011 Cayenne S is 'ridiculous'... test drive one if you can," and "My mom told me about this webpage that lets you test a Macbook Air and keep it at no cost!" Ah, isn't one million fans love grand?

As food for thought, you might contrast all that excitement with another fan group for the manufacturer abandoned Infiniti G20 with 1.5 million posts or on its Facebook page. It's not supported by Infiniti or Nissan (as far as I know), but fans there talk about stuff like "how hard is it to take out a G20 trans auto...," "join us for a toys and tots G20 donation drive," and "looking for a GTIR ECU for a decent price trying to give life to my G20." See the difference?

Sure, G20 net hasn't broken one thousand on Facebook, but it's very clear where the real fan love is at, which is a shame because Porsche was one of my favorite childhood car fantasies in the 1980s. Tears even welled up in my eyes when that poor Porsche 928 landed in the lake. But not today. Porsche needs an intervention.

Friday, June 25

Touching Consumers: The Space Bringing Us Closer Might Keep Us Apart

Researchers at MIT Sloan School of Management seem to have found evidence related to something that used to be second nature to advertisers. Touch matters, right down to the details of a business card.

The paper choice, cut, weight: they all matter. Flimsy cards tend to be taken with a little less enthusiasm. The same holds true with most collateral. I once kept a Cirque du Soleil press kit around for several years, simply because the stock felt much more like silk than paper. My firm's first brochure (when we had brochures) considered touch too. Spot varnish across the cover gave life to near invisible words with a tilt and a texture contrast meant to be felt.

Sure, many advertising professionals still know all this, especially those who work with packaging. But there are an increasing number of creatives who don't consider touch. Why would they? For the most part, collateral is falling out of favor for computers. Maybe there is an unseen impact associated with the shift.

What MIT Discovered About Touch.

Through a series of experiments, Joshua Ackerman, an assistant professor of marketing at MIT Sloan (along with John Bargh, a professor of psychology at Yale University; and Christopher Nocera, a PhD candidate at Harvard University), tested how weight, texture and hardness can unconsciously influence judgments. They suggest that their results have implications for anyone and everyone, ranging from job seekers to marketers.

“What we touch unconsciously influences how we think,” says Ackerman. “In situations where evaluations and decisions really matter, we need to pay attention to our physical surroundings and, in particular, how we engage these surroundings through our sense of touch.”

According to their statement, the researchers suggest that interactions involving touch, from handshakes to cheek kisses, may have critical influences on social interactions. First impressions are especially liable, with control over the entire environment becoming important.

• Heavier clipboards influenced evaluators in choosing job candidates. Judged candidates whose resumes were seen on a heavy clipboard were rated as qualified and more serious about the position.
• Rough puzzle pieces tended to describe a story about social interaction as harsh, when compared to participants handling smooth puzzle pieces.
• Participants holding a hard block while hearing a story about a workplace interaction tended to judge the employee as more rigid when compared those who held a soft blanket.
• Subjects seated in hard chairs while haggling over the price of a car tended to be less willing to negotiate than those who sat in softer and more comfortable chairs.

Electronics May Play A Role In How We Process Information.

While it wasn't part of the study, the clipboard experiment seems particularly applicable to an increasingly tech reliant world. After all, there is a growing reliance on communication where marketers have no control over the environment, which could be influencing online interactions.

Does it make a difference whether the computer is set up in a cubicle, noisy living room, or open office with a window view? Does an expanded keyboard change the perspective of what's being written? Does a mouse feel better than a touch pad? And does ergonomics, which we seldom hear about anymore, change the pace of the interaction?

Who knows? Harsher critics may indeed be sitting at home on uncomfortable chairs in front of old computers. And there may be subtle differences between the communication and correspondence on a Droid vs. an iPhone. For all we know, there might even be an unseen element that will change the way people feel about the iPhone 4 vs. the original titanium-backed models.

The point to consider here might be futile or especially important as we increasingly rely on electronic communication, sacrificing our ability to communicate with touch, texture, and weight. At minimum, thinking about the impact might also be important, at the very least, to gain an understanding of the people sitting at an opposing screen.

Social media, after all, isn't necessarily one-to-many communication. It's often one-to-one communication, played over several hundred times a day. Except, as noted, we have virtually no perspective of where any of us are at any given moment or what unseen influences might be contributing to how we communicate, with the advantage going to those who know how to make the environment disappear and fade away in to the background.

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Tuesday, April 20

Swirling Communication: A New Ning Taste Test

What's in the promise of a lollipop? Something sweet? Something sour? A little swirl of both?

Messages are often like that. And Jason Rosenthal, chief operating officer at Ning, Inc. (Ning), which is a platform that once allowed people to develop their own social networks for free, provides a near perfect illustration of a candy-coated message that only looks sweet on the surface of a plastic wrapper. Let's open it up.

Hi Everyone,

1. Flavor: Sounds sweet. Tastes sour.
2. Aftertaste: Most networks only post salutations when things are bad. Very, very bad.
3. Verdict: By everyone, Rosenthal means people who pay and 60 percent of employees who still have jobs.

As many of you know, we made a decision yesterday to focus 100% of the company on enhancing the features and services we offer to paying Ning Creators.

1. Flavor: Sounds sour. Tastes like unsweetened cocoa.
2. Aftertaste: Surprisingly bitter about the reaction to date.
3. Verdict: Ning has no empathy for anyone who doesn't pay. It's a brave new network.

The tens of thousands of you who already use our paid service represent over 75% of our traffic, and we’ve heard repeatedly from you ways that we can deliver a killer service to help make your Ning Network more effective.

1. Flavor: Sounds sour. Tastes like orange peel.
2. Aftertaste: Did he really call Ning a killer service after killing the service?
3. Verdict: Ning has/had 2.3 million networks. It intends to keep a small percentage of hundreds of thousands.

Some examples of things we are working on that you’ve asked for include new APIs, a new mobile experience and new advertising and revenue opportunities.

1. Flavor: Sounds sweet. Tastes laced with MSG.
2. Aftertaste: Chemically altered air, with a hint of chalky residue.
3. Verdict: There will be more space for new programming features once the deadbeats who made us popular are gone.

As part of this change, we’ll be phasing out our free service. On May 4, 2010, we will share with you all of the details of our new offering, including features and price points, through a series of blog posts, emails, and conference calls.

1. Flavor: Sounds fresh. Tastes stale.
2. Aftertaste: As dry as coarse sand.
3. Verdict: They've been plotting the demise of freemium services for almost two years; spam to follow.

We recognize that there are many active Ning Networks for teachers, small non-profits, and individuals and it’s our goal to have a set of product and pricing options that will make sense for all of them.

1. Flavor: Sounds sweet. Tastes metallic.
2. Aftertaste: None, beyond utter numbness.
3. Verdict: It's alway pointless to sound altruistic when you plan to squeeze blood from stones.

For Ning Creators using our free service who choose to move to another service, we will offer a migration path and time to make that change. We will still continue to allow free trials and test networks on the Ning Platform.

1. Flavor: Sounds hearty. Tastes like nine parts water.
2. Aftertaste: A hint of ice cold chicken stock.
3. Verdict: The moving truck will be here soon so we can make room for transient renters.

We look forward to talking to you further on May 4th.

1. Flavor: Sounds like peppermint. Tastes like uncrushed pepper.
2. Aftertaste: Acidic, causing indigestion.
3. Verdict: They haven't figured out what to say, but someone is hoping people cool off by then.

Jason Rosenthal

1. Flavor: Sounds savory. Tastes like an imitation.
2. Aftertaste: Sometimes the messenger is the message. And Rothenthal isn't a co-founder.
3. Verdict: Given his experience being on the acquired end of acquisitions, the writing has been on the wall for almost two years. Marc didn't write this one for a reason.

Ning is no more. At least not the Ning you knew.

There is much more to the story, enough to constitute a living case study as it seems pretty clear the company's communication is already past the expiration date. No one seems capable of talking their way past the plastic wrapper. It seems obvious someone wants the company primed up and ready to sell. But there is a good chance all these plans will backfire.

After all, Ning doesn't seem to consider how often paying Ning social networks recruit new network members from non-paying networks. And, in addressing the future migration solutions, they've already set themselves up to break another promise. They know any such move will hardly be seamless. In the meantime, here are five more voices.

Re-Align-Ning: Is “Free” Eroding? by Doug Haslam
Ning and Customer Betrayal by Valeria Maltoni
Ning Reneges On Its Core Promise, Shatters Customer Trust by Shel Holtz
Traffic Isn’t Revenue: Twitter and Ning Reach Different Crossroads by David Crotty
• The Free Internet Loses Another One: Ning by Alexa Salkever

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Wednesday, March 10

Defining Social Media: It's Different For Everyone

The recent Unity Marketing survey — that suggests few affluent consumers connect to brands on social networks, research purchases, or look for coupons — goes well beyond the single demographic. It underpins the problems with most platform strategies, program measurement, and the trappings of crowd-sourced connections.

Highlights From Unity Marking Surveys

• Only 26 percent feel the country is better now than three months ago.
• Affluent consumers spent 50 percent more on luxury items than one year ago.
• As many as 78 percent of affluent consumers have at least one network profile.
• As many as 70 percent of affluent consumer over 40 have at least one network profile.
• Approximately half of affluent consumers view brand pages at times, but do not "friend" them.
• 30 percent of young affluent consumers (under 45) have visited a shopping site in the past three months.
• Only 7 percent sign on to sites to look for special offers; only 6 percent share purchases with friends.

Even among the affluent consumers, Unity Marketing breaks out survey information in subsets, which demonstrate differences by wealth, age, and other social factors. A January 2010 Edelman report produced similar conclusions. Fewer than 25 percent of affluent consumers trust their friends' opinions on purchases. Smart marketers will segment their social marketing efforts, customizing their communications and offers based on the audience.

People are different. They interact differently. They use the Internet differently.

In 2007, we were fortunate in covering a fan-organized outcry over the cancellations of Jericho, Veronica Mars, and The Black Donnellys. It gave our firm evidence that different groups and demographics interact, organize, and share information differently across the Web.

These fan groups weren't the last. Every social media program we've worked on since, including a club for affluent consumers, uses various online technologies and outreach tactics differently. They focus on finite specifics, and not mass generalizations.

For example, volume traffic doesn't apply when a purchase includes a $2,500 to $5,000 membership. Ten thousand fans who cannot afford a membership can be beneficial but never produce outcomes. Even crowd-sourcing window shoppers could be dangerous as their input might not represent the customer, a detail some social media experts seem to forget.

"Social media seem to be experts at attracting each other," noted one of our agency clients. "We're more interested in attracting our customers."

The overanalyzed Motrin case study comes to mind. The majority of the public wasn't offended by the snarky online ad. However, that was a small consolation given that the majority of customers the ad targeted were offended.

The Reality Of Social Media Definitions.

When I present information about social media to classes at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, or any number of associations where I have spoken, I offer a working definition of social media. Mostly, I do it because the definition provides a context.

Social media describes online technologies that people use to share content, opinions, insights, experiences, perspectives, and media.

However, I also invest some time in breaking the definition down (it is people and technologies) and then breaking it into pieces. You see, nowadays, if you ask people to define social media, 80 million of them are just as likely to say social media is Farmville as they are to describe it as a "business" or some sort of "collective stream of consciousness." In short, even social media experts have about as much chance of defining what people do on the Internet as they do planet Earth. It's not scalable.

Fortunately, businesses do not have to understand what all people do within any given environment. They only need to know what their customers want (or don't know what they want). And then, they have to deliver it, online or offline.

After all, if every successful communication program could be defined by a list of bullet points, then traditional communication would have deciphered the right mix of bullet points a long time ago. Considering no one did, it might stand to reason that while we'll see an increasing number of cookie-cutter social media programs, we'll only find a few that are relatively tasty.

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Thursday, February 11

Passing For Creative: Butterfinger

There are three ways to look at a brand new Butterfinger television commercial, which will begin to air nationally on Feb. 15 and continue through the third quarter: the celebration of consumer generated creative; the hyperbole of hype and hopeful publicity; or the gradual decline of advertising as we know it.

The celebration of consumer generated creative.

For the cost of $28, David Markus, a graduate of the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts, won $25,000 and a one-year supply of Butterfinger candy bars. His spot is a mostly well-framed, cute, mildly funny iPhone app cliche. We don't want to take away from his win whatsoever. Congratulations.

Customers can be creative. And sometimes they might surprise you, like fans of the television show Jericho, who out-marketed the CBS marketing team. Butterfinger was surprised too. It received 600 entries. Some, like this one or this one, aren't bad. Some are, but you can find those on your own.

The hyperbole of hype and hopeful publicity.

A few decent spots aside, the Butterfinger contest doesn't seem to be the success the company thought it would be.

Of those 600 entries, Markus racked up 11,000 views on YouTube, which is far away ahead of the pack, including the contest promo. Most videos averaged about 100 views. On the Facebook/Yahoo video, views are higher with about 3,000 views as the average, which still seems low given the page has about 480,000 fans.

Yet, to read the release, you would think the contest was entered by everyone on the planet. It's loaded with buzz words, such as allowing "fans to take control of the brand and express themselves in a very real way." Six hundred, anyway.

"This approach essentially allowed consumers to talk to each other about the brand they love," said Daniel Jhung, Butterfinger marketing manager. "As a result, we got hundreds of new ideas with a wide range of creative interpretation and depth. The content laboratory is getting bigger and bigger." Maybe.

The gradual decline of advertising as we know it.

Again, this isn't meant to detract from any of Butterfinger's consumer generated marketing. I tend to be a fan of the general concept, and have managed a few in one form or another. But in reviewing the ads, even the decent ones, it seems to strike at the perception of what the general public thinks advertising is as opposed to what it can be.

Sure, there are plenty of creative spots produced by agencies every year (we saw a handful during the Super Bowl), the concept of what makes advertising great is in steady decline. Even at some top ad shops, divergent thinking has somehow morphed into tossing spaghetti and hoping it sticks to the wall.

Great advertising is hardly coming up with something witty or mildly funny or bizarre and tagging a three-second product shot at the end. It's hard work.

It requires someone who can maximize creativity within the least creative of confines and still manage to produce something that connects with people in such a way that not only do they identify with the communication, recognize it as a conversation about what they were thinking anyway, and feel motivated enough to think about it, find out more about it, and maybe even go out and buy it.

And therein might be why the Butterfinger contest seems one off from a real success story. A limited pool of people picked an advertisement they liked best. But what people "like" and what actually works outside of the context of a consumer contest is something else.

And for students hoping to someday pursue the profession as a career, they might keep that in mind before adding to the pile of spots that leave people saying "I could write that ad" as opposed to "I wish I wrote that ad."

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Monday, January 25

Shopping For Moms: Retail Turns To The Net

A recent analysis of moms in the marketplace, All About Moms: A RAMA/BIGresearch Initiative, solidifies the growing importance of social media among B2C businesses. In some ways, social networks and social media sites are evolving to become the content-connection-catalog-coupon books.

"Retailers who aren’t engaging customers through social media could be missing the boat,” said Mike Gatti, executive director for RAMA. “Twitter, Facebook and blogs are becoming increasingly popular with moms as they search for coupons or deals and keep in touch with loved ones. The web provides efficient, convenient ways for brands to stay in front of their most loyal shoppers and attract new ones.”

According to the survey, surfing the Internet and checking e-mail was was on par with watching television while other media consumption such as listening to the radio, reading a magazine, reading the newspaper ranked considerably lower among weekly media usage. In fact, moms tend to be more engaged online than 18+ adults, outpacing the general population on regularly and occasionally participating on social networks and blogs.

Moms Social Network Preference

• 60 percent of moms use Facebook; 50 percent 18+ adults
• 42 percent use MySpace; 35 percent 18+ adults
• 16.5 percent use Twitter; 15 percent 18+ adults

Moms Read, Post, And Maintain Blogs

• 51 percent read blogs; 46 percent 18+ adults
• 28 percent comment on blogs; 23 percent 18+ adults
• 15 percent maintain their own blogs; 13 percent 18+ adults

More significant than the raw numbers themselves, 97.2 percent of moms said they give advice to others about products or services and are very likely to seek it, with 93.6 percent saying they ask advice before making their final decision. Sharing advice tends to take place on social networks.

While moms tend to be more tech engaged than the general public, it does not mean they welcome intrusive marketing. A large majority (66.5%) consider text message marketing and voicemail marketing an invasion of privacy. They prefer product samples to be mailed, but in-store samples tend to have more influence.

The survey also ranked popular cable networks, magazines, and newspapers. The study was released by The Retail Advertising and Marketing Association, which is a trade association representing over 1,500 retail companies and their advertising and marketing executives. The full study is available from the National Retail Foundation.

Three Related Conversations About Moms And Marketing

Marketing to Moms on Facebook Report by Holly Buchanan

Is Your Marketing On Target For Young Moms by Karen Corrigan

Marketing To Moms, Marketing With Moms by Kim Moldofsky

Thursday, November 5

Crowd-Sourcing Responsibility: Pepsi

As a marketer, PepsiCo appears lost. As a company, it might be in trouble.

While there is something to be said for experimentation, PepsiCo has canned more marketing misses than hits in the last year. In an effort to continually target the next generation, it seems to have forgotten how to be a business. In fact, if it wasn't for its salty snack holdings being considered a staple, we suspect its fizzy drink section might start to dry up.

In some ways, it has. In October, PepsiCo Americas Beverages unit reported a 6 percent drop in volume and a 9 percent revenue decline. According to some analysts, the result reflects a change in buying habits as consumers shifted toward juices and teas and away from soft drinks. That might be true, but 6 percent is twice the drop experienced by Coca-Cola.

Marketing Mistakes Are Clubbing PepsiCo

In most circumstances, we think it's great when companies turn to crowd-sourcing for a single campaign. It helps many of them steer clear of isolated creative ideas that don't resonate with consumers.

PepsiCo has had its fair share of those: identity redesign, election revolution, Tropicana rebrand, iPhone app, and, well, you get the idea. (All of it might not be so bad if it wasn't for its negative publicity, but there has been some of that too.)

So, in an effort to put its product marketing back on track, Pepsi is pushing to try something new. It will put the reigns of creative control in the hands of consumers who will be charged in choosing which advertising agencies will handle three product launches. Say what?

In a contest beginning this month, Mtn Dew (Montain Dew for those unimpressed with the stylized abbreviation) will hand off marketing duties, at least temporarily, for a $100 million-plus business to several potentially unknown players selected by consumers. The concept, if you can call it that, is an extension of DEWmocracy, which allowed consumers to determine the flavor, color, packaging, and names of the new products.

"If we're going to have a dialogue with consumers and have consumers play a role in dictating the future of our brand, they've got to play a role in all aspects of it," Brett O'Brien, Mtn Dew's director of marketing, told AdAge. (One commenter on the article suggested they open up marketing director recruitment to crowd-sourcing too.)

Crowd-sourcing Runs Amuck With Pepsi

While Mtn Dew will retain BBDO Worldwide, which was part of DEWmocracy from the beginning, the agency will not comment on the process. For the efforts of DEWmocracy, Beverage Digest reports Mtn Dew is one of the few soft-drink successes, with a volume increase of 1 percent. However, it's unclear if DEWmocracy had much to do with it despite what's being said.

In some cases, DEWmocracy consumers seem to be experiencing brand fatigue, with drop off at each stage of the contest concept. (Some people even speculate that Pepsi stacked the odds for the company favorite.) On Facebook, every few posts also contain consumer comments that lament over the loss of their top choice. ("Any chance to bring Pitch Black back?"). And like many social media efforts, the fans are mostly left on their own, which is usually a mistake.

That's not to say that outsourcing the creative selection process to consumers is all bad. It clearly makes the marketing department not responsible for the $100 million decision. It truly leaves the consumers in control of the product, which means their relationship to the contest and each other may supersede any relationship with the product. It also places an emphasis on "I like it" advertising, which is best described as a three-second knee jerk reaction, without considering things like, er, sales.

Of course, there is always the chance that the finalists will not only be good, but be better than a one hit wonder. They'll almost have to be better once Pepsi funds the three finalists to produce a :15 TV DEW spot (assuming oversight doesn't dampen their spirits). And, they might also do better than what pushed Mtn Dew to this point before settling on Distortion, WhiteOut, and Typhoon as product names.

Anything is possible, right? We'll see. If nothing else, DEWmocracy makes for an interesting case study in consumer crowd-sourcing despite its similarity to gambling at a roulette wheel. Then again, we suppose it couldn't get any worse compared to some of the other company's marketing mishaps of late.

Friday, October 2

Driving Advertising: IBM Global Business Services Study

Ever since Michael Gass posted highlights from the executive summary of the IBM Global Business Services study on advertising, some people have been wondering what it all means. We broke it down into the reality, rewards, and risks associated with four segments.

Highlights From The IBM Global Study

IBM Study. Attention: Consumers are increasingly in control of how they view, interact with and filter advertising in a multichannel world, as they continue to shift their attention away from linear TV and adopt ad-skipping, sharing and rating tools.
Reality. Companies will have to consider increasing smaller groups of consumers, with increased sensitivity that even similar groups will react very differently to their message.
Reward. It will reinforce the concept that demonstrating a product and service contrast works.
Risk. In a world full of purple cows, no cow is different.

IBM Study. Creativity: Technology is allowing for more user-generated and peer-delivered content, and new ad
revenue-sharing models, allowing amateurs and semi-professionals to create lower-cost advertising content.
Reality. Other studies show that there is already an increasing demand by consumers to have someone help them vet the quality of content from the quantity of the content.
Reward. Some new talents may be discovered, creating unique opportunities for companies to support them.
Risk. It may take considerable time to swing back from popularity- and affirmation-based recommendations to objective consideration. However, over reliance on consumer-generated marketing will fade as companies realize consumers have a finite amount of time to invest in every company with a contest.

IBM Study. Measurement: Advertisers are demanding more individual-specific and involvement-based measurements, putting pressure on the traditional mass market model.
Reality. Shrinking representative tracking measures that skewed toward select demographics died three years ago.
Reward. Companies will be able to better understand the consumer they are trying to reach.
Risk. Over reliance on click measurements produces disastrous decisions; over targeting to smaller groups already creates inconsistent messages for many organizations. Someone has to move beyond group think.

IBM Study. Advertising Inventories: New entrants are making ad space that once was proprietary available through open, efficient exchanges. As a result, more than half of the ad professionals polled expect that open platforms will, within the next five years, take 30 percent of the revenue currently flowing to proprietary incumbents such as broadcasters.
Reality. Broadcasters will either return to creating quality content and maximizing their revenues with non-advertising revenue or they will become indistinguishable and perhaps less entertaining than consumer content.
Risk. Budgets will shrink, advances will disappear, and the best broadcasters once offered will be gone. Bundling could make the auction markets less palatable much like uncontrolled rotates today.

There is little doubt that advertising will change dramatically in the next five years. And while many people consider it an evolution, some change has an equal opportunity to be a digression. What do you think? Did anybody read it? IBM Global Study.

What Others Think

• Follow the leader is a dangerous game, particularly when you follow Hippos… by Mark Allen Roberts

IBM Study: The end of advertising as we know it by DreamGrow Digital

Advertisers becoming more agressive, so what is the ideal relationship? at Zero Degrees

Thursday, July 30

Debating Social Media: Deloitte

Deloitte Consulting LLP has been entering the conversation about social media in some interesting ways for some time, including, most recently, adding a brand new moniker for its online activities. Christine Cutten, principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP, places social media under the banner of collaborative marketing.

Cutten's and other content is available at Deloitte Debates under the banner of customer management (it's not under collaborative marketing as the release stated). It's presented in a point, counterpoint format and includes discussions from several members inside the Deloitte team. For purposes of this post, I'll stick with the release, which includes some of Deloitte's prevailing points and follow up with a few of our own.

• Proactively manage your collaboration strategy. Cutten suggests to be effective, you'll need dedicated resources responsible for managing your collaboration strategy, keeping up with the important trends, and making careful choices about where to engage. Sound advice.

Less sound is the suggestion to invest in building a presence wherever high-impact discussions are happening. The investment needs to be made where your customers are. The concept to consider customers first was reinforced to me the other day when I asked a colleague of mine why their organization chose MySpace over Facebook. The reason was simple enough. Despite national demographics and trends, their localized audience doesn't use Facebook; they use MySpace.

• Get serious about risk management. Cutten writes that there are some critical investments that companies cannot ignore. For employees, they suggest understandable policies, effective training, and continuous monitoring. Doing things on the fly without sufficient resources can do more harm than good. Sound advice.

The only caution in considering the above is in the definitions. Companies seem utterly confused about where monitoring employees might begin and where it might end. Companies and organizations need to be mindful in choosing internal or external spokespeople. Not everyone wants to use their social networks to market the company; and not everyone is well suited for it anyway.

• Be authentic -- but discreet -- in engagement. Establish clear engagement policies to drive consistency and mitigate your own risk. Always be honest about who you are, provide information that is helpful, and allowing insiders to share the occasional inside scoop can generate goodwill and credibility. Sound advice.

Companies needs to add a healthy dose of internal communication to the mix. In reviewing hundreds of companies with online engagement and in working with several dozen, successfully integrating employees into the communication plan seems to hinge not on external online communication but rather a corporate or organizational trust on the inside.

• Align internal processes. You can't provide fixes to problems if your marketing and engineering departments don't see eye to eye on what the problems are, or how to solve them. Sync up internal processes with virtual teams. Sound advice.

Whereas some people become concerned about controlling messages and corporate speak, we would consider the above point a clear example of message management. If you speak as a team or organization or company, it makes sense to ensure everyone is on the same page or the team will lose credibility over mixed messages.

• Build and evolve capabilities. Companies often mistake their current IT department as the answer for all things Internet: an approach that often comes up short. Roles such as Webmaster, forum monitor, bloggers, Web designers and widget developers may be necessary. Use third parties if you can't build them internally. Sound advice.

What is missing, however, are assets that companies already have on hand, internally or externally. Seasoned communicators with generalized and integrated skill sets that may include marketing, public relations, investor relations, etc. can often be the tie that binds communication functions together.

• Measure interactions. Someday, performance metrics will emerge that demonstrate the full value of collaboration marketing. But until then, it makes sense to start with basics such as site usage, page hits, and the overall tenor of the discussion. Hmmm...

Partly, but not exactly. Outcomes remain the best measure of all communication, not merely traffic or page hits. I was recently reminded of this once again when one of the blogs we administer saw visitation soar to 10,000 visitors. Did one of the posts suddenly resonate with the general public over the intended audience? No. A government worker committed suicide and someone with the same name was featured on the blog several years ago. Several bloggers had taken our interviewee's image and incorrectly assigned it to the deceased. We spent the better part of a day correcting the problem before our interviewee's family and friends heard the inaccurate news.

More to the point, however, is the simple fact that all communication can be measured. While the tenor of discussions can count, traffic and page hits are only an indication of reach. In many cases, like the mistaken identity story, it doesn't count. (Heck, host one chat session on Twitter and popular measures such as followers and re-tweets automatically inflate for no other reason.)

Overall, Deloitte's discussion is worth reading. While not all of the content and conversation demonstrates a deep understanding of the space, the fact that Deloitte considers social media, or what it calls "collaboration marketing," and has adopted it is good. The next step for many people is simply getting it right. And when it comes to social media, "right" is situational.

Tuesday, January 20

Doubling Features: Veronica Mars, Jericho

It took two years, but the entertainment industry is taking action. When audiences are engaged, ratings alone don't measure. Backed by two loyal and impassioned fan bases, two television shows are setting sights on the big screen.

Passive viewers are active consumers.

Rob Thomas, creator of Veronica Mars, recently confirmed rumors: there will be a Veronica Mars movie. He said it will pick up a few days before Veronica Mars' graduation from Hearst College. Kristen Bell is confirmed; Thomas says he has spoken with Jason Dohring and Enrico Colantoni. Why? Fans.

Jon Turteltaub, executive producer of Jericho, broke the news: there will be a big screen treatment for Jericho. While the movie will go beyond the small town setting in Kansas, Turteltaub said that the original cast is all in, including Skeet Ulrich and Ashley Scott. Why? Fans.

The Internet has changed entertainment. Expect surprises.

At a presentation held at the Sundance Film Festival, panelists — Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, YouTube CEO Chad Hurley, and Hulu CEO Jason Kilar — may have shared slightly different visions for the future of entertainment, but all of them agreed on one thing. Fans are in control.

It only makes sense. Ask the next generation when their favorite television shows air, and many of them don't know. The shows are available whenever and wherever they want. It doesn't even matter when they were produced.

New shows benefit from the acceleration of online content delivery and old shows are resurrected as if they were produced last week. Many of them benefit from consumer marketing efforts created by brand evangelists.

Not only do these fans want to see the story lines continue, but they want the depth of material expanded as well. Even if that means picking up where networks and film studios leave off, many of them are more than ready to do it.

Wednesday, December 31

Recognizing Reader Picks: Top Posts Of 2008

With the new year upon us tomorrow, we would like to say goodbye to 2008 with a recap of this blog's five most popular communication-related posts, based on the frequency and the immediacy of reader views after they were posted.

The 3-Deep Leak of Jericho, Season 2

What began as the early coverage of a consumer protest over the cancellation of the television series Jericho last year became the longest running living crisis communication and consumer-driven social media case study ever covered here. While the fans succeeded in reviving the show for a truncated second season after sending 20 tons of nuts to CBS, two of several factors kept the show from achieving a third season: The network never grasped that yesterday's passive viewers had become active participants. Some fans misplaced trust in the network to do the right thing (and they continue to stumble), which resulted in a fractured fan base.

Of those posts, most written earlier this year, speculation of the 3-deep leak of the show online and potential consequences led the pack. Three days later, CBS followed up with a clarification that the leak was unintentional. (The fact that Jericho leads this list is a testament to the fans' vigilance as well as the potential for groups to use social media to organize.)

Related Labels: Jericho, Consumer Marketing

The Nine Rules of Advertising, Inspired By Fred Manley

After referencing my instructional "nine rules" of advertising on more than one occasion, it seemed suitable to share a two-part post. The first post includes highlights from Fred Manley's classic “Nine Ways To Improve An Ad," which forced so-called advertising rules on the 1960 classic “Think Small” Volkswagen ad. The companion post revives advertising as a conversation as seen by Shirley Polykoff, who was the first woman copywriter for Foote Cone & Belding, before presenting Copywrite, Ink.'s The Real Nine Rules Of Advertising. The first rule? There are no rules.

Both posts can be easily applied to social media. And, if three posts make a better set, then consider Valeria Maltoni's bridge post on the topic, using Reader's Digest as the example.

Related Label: Advertising

Why News Releases Might Die From PR Confusion

With public relations seemingly confused with media relations and media relations seemingly confused with spamming journalists, it only made sense to write a somewhat satirical piece on today's most misunderstood profession. After sampling several random releases, we presented the seven deadly sins of the modern public relations professional as told to me by public relations professionals.

As well read as the post was, even being included on a tip sheet by Bad Pitch Blog, not many have learned anything. HWH PR was outed once again. Dennis Howlett banned pitches (except via Twitter). And I was reminded why being a journalist can sometimes suck.

Related Label: Public Relations

Endoscopy Center Demonstrates Crisis Communication Gone Wrong

Following the local crisis that surrounded the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada, which was responsible for the largest hepatitis C scare in the history of the country, became an exercise in evaluating futility. After the initial story — and then the denial, lack of empathy in a newspaper ad apology, refusal to comment on evidence, and alleged plans of the primary owner to flee the country — the center's credibility eroded until there was nothing left to believe. Eventually, the center was closed permanently.

From the series, the most popular post broke down the ill-advised newspaper apology, which opened: "Recent events at the Endoscopy Center of Nevada of Southern Nevada are causing great concern to our patients and the community at large.” Ho hum. Enough said.

Related Label: Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada, Crisis Communication

Applying Twitter And How It Works For Business

In November, after following up as a live speaker to Aaron Uhrmacher's webinar, we had an opportunity to evaluate Twitter as a tactic for business communication (depending on the company and whether or not the people it wants to reach exist there). While there are other ways to use it, including real time reporting, we categorized six prevailing external communication approaches. They are outlined here.

The popularity of the post might reveal the need for social media participants to communicate in a language business people can understand or, perhaps, just the enthusiasm of Twitter participants to read something about, well, Twitter. There is nothing wrong with that.

Related Label: Twitter, Social Media

Five additional topics that came close in 2008

• How Veronica Mars fans continue to demonstrate unity and sustainability.
• How social media almost derailed our Bloggers Unite segment on CNN.
• Why applications like SeenThis? add value and expose trends.
• Our continuing coverage of broadcast-broadband convergence.
• TheLadders and RiseSmart battle for niche placement.

Since starting this blog in 2005, I always hoped that best practice posts would eventually draw more readers than the biggest mishaps. Looking back, 2008 seems to have accomplished a healthy mix, making 2009 more promising than ever. A very special thanks to everyone who joined the conversation to help make these posts relevant. It made a difference and it's appreciated.

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 1

Asking Danny: World AIDS Day

In the early 1990s, I began my first formal research into AIDS and what it meant for the United Way of Southern Nevada. And like so many subjects that I've studied over the years as a communicator and commercial copywriter, I learned that for everything I thought I knew about AIDS, I didn't know anything at all.

Ignorance comes in many colors. And for me at the time, I was already colored by hard facts and cold statistics. I thought I knew a lot, but I didn't know anything at all. Looking around the Web today, many bloggers participating in Bloggers Unite for World AIDS Day say they feel colored too.

Most of them are blogging about the hard facts and statistics provided by — that there are an estimated one million Americans living with HIV in the United States and an estimated 33 million people worldwide. Some are turning to other sources like the Respect Project — that says approximately 80,000 people are living with HIV in the UK with about one-third not knowing they are infected. And a few might stumble upon some lesser known facts like I recently did after meeting with a local organization, Aid for AIDS of Nevada (AFAN), in southern Nevada — that nearly half of all new AIDS cases are people 13 to 24 years of age in the United States.

It's all useful, relative, and will help increase awareness. But what does it mean?

For me, it means that one person who I interviewed in the early 1990s taught me what I really need to know. His name was Danny Marks. And the copy I wrote for the United Way of Southern Nevada, specifically to increase donations for AFAN, remains a painful reminder that power of the communication doesn't always rely on hard facts and cold statistics as much as it relies the one willing to share a story.

Ask Danny. AIDS Kills.

No. Danny Marks isn't HIV Positive. His brother is.

And when Danny brought the issue home to Nevada Power, employee donations to the United Way increased by 14.7 percent.

Why? Danny told them the truth — without their support, the United Way can't help organizations like AFAN. And without AFAN, his brother would have given up.

What else did he say? You already know someone who is HIV positive. They just haven't told you.

In remembrance of the Marks story.

It saddens me to think that I really don't know what happened to Danny Marks or his brother since then. I fear the worst, but hope for the best.

What I do know though is that one advertisement went on to set record donations for AFAN through the United Way that year. And this year, I hope it encourages more of the same — if not in hard dollar donations to organizations like AFAN then by helping build awareness about AIDS.

The best thing you can do about AIDS is to be tested and practice prevention. If you are not willing to do it for yourself, do it for real people like Danny Marks and his family. They didn't think much about AIDS either until his brother tested positive.

We can make a difference. One person at a time, starting with you.


Wednesday, October 8

Taking Photos: Brazilian Tourism Portal

While not all U.S. companies understand social media as a viable communication tool to reach American consumers, other countries seem to be on the front end of understanding it well enough. The Brazilian Tourist Board, EMBRATUR, is offering Americans who travel to Brazil the chance to participate in an essay and photo contest.

Entries will be accepted through November 21 and judged by Peter Guttman, a photographer, writer, and author who traveled on assignment to more than 200 countries. He recently returned from assignment in the Brazilian Amazon.

“The wondrous scenes and memories a photo can record -- especially when traveling -- inspire others to try similar adventures and seek out marvels of the planet," says Guttman. “Travelers with just a handful of pictures can collect memories and amazing stories.”

Despite economic worries in the United States, Brazil experienced a 9.6 percent increase in American tourism last year. And, according to the Office of Travel and Tourism Industries, American visitations to South America is still up 5.7 percent, a growth rate that is on pace with the Caribbean for the first time.

While the photo contest Web site interface is notably clunky, the concept still represents a step in the right direction. Most Americans might be passive about creating their own blogs, but an increasing number of them are very interested in participating on platforms managed by someone else.

So what might we do differently? We'd move the consumer marketing concept to the next step by running a photo blog that highlights one photo pick per day. It would give entrants a chance to check the status of their photos and Brazil enthusiasts a reason to return, over and over again.

The top entry will receive an all-expenses-paid return trip for two to Brazil.


Thursday, October 2

Engaging Fans: Why The NHL Needs Social Media

If there was ever a sport that could benefit from increased social media exposure, it could be hockey.

Sure, the National Hockey League (NHL) has made some striking improvements to its online offerings. The Web site has made marked progress in personalizing the connections to fans, and it’s already seeing momentum with a $15 million advertising campaign being managed by Young & Rubicam.

So why more social media?

While the emphasis about social media tends to be focused on exposure, customer engagement — direct player to fan engagement in this case — is less talked about but easily the strongest counterpart to online communication. For some companies, especially those with limited customer contact points, some social media tactics increase customer contact without being as intrusive as “customer care calls” with additional plus sell incentives.

The concept is not new. One of the best findings in the original Gallup study demonstrated constant contact increased consumer loyalty.

Using the case study of the airline industry, five times the number of Southwest Airlines customers were fully engaged over United. Considering Southwest Airlines was only in the initial phases of developing a viable social media component, it’s very likely they have widened the gap.

For the National Hockey League, it almost seems too easy. Team correspondents augmented by perspective posts from players could add a real element to the sport as it strives for its comeback. The more fans feel they know a player, the more likely they will never miss a game in person, online, or on television.

Hockey might even be one of the best suited sports for it. My partner, who is an avid autograph collector, frequently mentions that NHL players are among the most accessible of any sport. Online engagement would only deepen that relationship among more fans.

On a smaller scale, it works for busy consultants and professionals too. For example, almost every accountant I’ve ever worked with has mentioned there is never enough time in the peak season to develop relationships with clients, and not enough good reasons to contact their customers the rest of the year.

It makes you wonder what would happen if accountants invested time online, providing customers tax tips all year long rather than offering postscript conversations because it’s already time to file.

The same might hold true for hockey. After all, the number one reason for many people to attend sporting events is because they already know someone on the ice. Besides all that, who wouldn't want to read a quick Tweet from the penalty box?


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