Showing posts with label internet. Show all posts
Showing posts with label internet. Show all posts

Monday, August 20

Emerging Markets: Will Shift Social Scores

A recent study by eMarketer pinpoints something marketers may need to consider in the near future. Emerging markets lead the world in social networking growth. And these markets are very likely to eclipse North America (China already did).

This simple but important truth could change the way people look at online measurement. With the fastest growth rates in the Middle East, Africa and Asia-Pacific, places like North America will represent a smaller and smaller portion of the global audience.

Specifically, some estimates suggest 78 percent of the U.S. population is connected to the Internet, but it only represents between 10 and 11 percent of the global online population. Conversely, 38 percent of China's population already represents 22 percent of the global online population. India already represents 5 percent of the global online population, with only 10 percent of its population.

It also means marketers have to erase some of their previous preconceptions in terms of influence or importance. Looking at Alexa rankings or influence measurements might not mean what social media experts told them they meant. Some search engines will likely be impacted too.

There are several ways to think about the global population shift.

One old rule of thumb (although it was as erroneous then as is it today) was to ignore anyone who didn't meet a specific global threshold. Nowadays, it's even less true. Unless a site or social network account is attempting to cater to a global audience, it's not likely to have a global rank as high as its country, regional, or local rank.

Ranking or popularity doesn't have anything to do with content quality. It has everything to do with potential reach. If the potential readership has a smaller audience, then it likely won't perform at higher levels. It's a lesson I wish some communicators would have considered before dropping their communication blogs.

Some thought they were losing their audience, but the reality was that they were catering to an ever shrinking reach against the total population. Ergo, as online demographics diversified, a smaller percentage of people were interested in communication-related topics. Likewise, as time goes on, fewer people may be interested sites with English content or Western-style visuals or even hot topics.

Mashable scratched the surface of how global participation can shape a network. It compared participants in the U.S. and participants in the U.K. on Pinterest and discovered some very different statistics. In fact, the interests of U.K. participants looked vaguely familiar to me. They were similar to the online interests of U.S. participants five years ago (but on different networks).

What seems to be happening on the small scale is similar to what happens on a global scale. In this case, U.K. small businesses and consultancies are moving into Pinterest ahead of consumers. In the U.S., the migration patterns were flipped. Small businesses mostly stayed away until public relations and social media specialists began taking an interest, based on independent blogger traffic spikes.

It's a small example, but one worth considering. If your content or connection isn't geared for a global audience, you'll either have to accept your company's smaller global reach or begin altering the content in consideration of other cultural expectations and influences. The latter isn't necessarily the best idea. It all depends on what your companies does, who it serves, and where those people might live.

Monday, June 18

Retiring A Deck: Social For Strategic Communication

Since my first presentation on social media in 2005 (not counting blogs), I've always considered it a moving target. The average deck lasts six months (or a year with ongoing updates).

The deck I am retiring today served as the framework for two classes at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and five presentations (each customized for a specific industry). The intent of the deck was to get students with diverse and varied backgrounds (some with social experience and some without) to rethink social media.

Rather than simply focus on tips, tricks, and tactics, the 3-hour class is meant to inspire students and working professionals to ask better questions before developing their programs. Personally, I don't think the future of social media lies in social software as much as it lies in understanding people, which ought to be the goal of any social media program attached to strategic communication. In other words, understand what people want you to communicate and then find the right tool to help you do it.

Anyone who has seen other social media presentations that I've made in the past will recognize a few items that never seem to change such as defining social media as an environment where people use social technologies to communicate. For me, that is what it has always been about.

Some people can make great cases that social media is about sales, impressions, influence, or whatever. But sooner or later the ones that have the greatest successes change their thinking. It doesn't make any sense to teach people how to adapt a social network without considering the organization's purpose or needs.

Instead, communicators and related professionals need to ask what do the people they serve really need as it relates to their product and then deliver it. While a restaurant might share some cooking tips or their latest culinary creation, a motorcycle dealer might feature customization tips, rider profiles, and area club events.

Or, as you will see at the end of the deck, a youth sports program might offer real-time score updates via text messaging and Twitter, team stories, coach tips, game photos, and any number content ideas across any number of social networks. All the while, everything needs to be developed with the organization's purpose in mind. And with that in mind, I hope you can find something useful in the deck too.

Friday, February 11

Cheapening Content: How Amateurs Feed Content Farms

"We need six to seven articles a day with 200 words each. $15 per story. ... Ten articles, 400 to 600 words each, three key word links, and level one and two "spun" versions. Less than $500. ... Ten articles, 300 words per article, $200. ... 100 short customer review submissions, $50. ... Ghost articles, 100 words, $3 per article for content farms submissions."

These are actual freelance writer solicitations, taken from several freelance markets online. Consider it a welcome to the world of digital content, where amateurs are writing for as a little as $10 per story or a few cents a blurb. Some of them make nothing at all. Many of them will never see a byline. And even for those that do receive a byline, their stories appear nowhere in particular.

Worse, the majority of offerings aren't about original writing anymore. Almost half of the proposed work is for "spinning content," which is the catch-all term for rearranging paragraphs and using a thesaurus to make the same articles sound like different articles. Right. Some publishers want to automate the process so they receive ten stories for the price of a fraction of one. They'll get plenty of takers too. The amateurs are desperate enough to outbid each other to oblivion.

Expertise is nonessential. Proficiency is in the eye of the beholder, sort of.

Content mills, or content farms as they are called, are not just about little companies or shady operators anymore. It's becoming a standard practice.

AOL asks its writers to produce as many as seven articles a day to drive its hit-and-run visits primarily from organic search engines and others try to eek out $15 for 100 words that make it past the black hole. Yet, AOL had $315 million laying around to buy the Huffington Post. Yahoo too. It recently bought a content mill, hoping to cash in on Google traffic.

At the same time, these rates can be considered generous. Plenty of e-zines and news sites convince writers to work for free, offering the favor of exposure, appeasement of their vanity, and the promise of future "influence." All of these terms are nothing more than the newest carrots in the marketplace of quick content, inflated opinion, and illusionary traffic.

No one is exempt from receiving these offers either. I recently had someone I thought was a friend ask if I wanted "to be considered" to volunteer time for their upcoming paid subscription e-zine. It wasn't the first time. It likely won't be the last.

I sent them a video of Harlan Ellison. The context might be different, but the sentiment is the same. If the publisher can make a living off what the writer writes, then the writer can make a living too.

What Ellison doesn't consider in the modern age is the effect on unsuspecting readers. People assume the content they are reading has some sort of vetting process, especially when it comes from big brands. A growing percentage of it has very little. The content is nothing more than people plunking on keyboards in a virtual sweat shop.

The cheap content has another side effect too. The goal is to generate an ever-increasing mountain of slush that can be spammed across social networks and capture search traffic. You can see it everywhere in the news today. Half of everything reported is speculative, designed to capture our attention long enough to click on a link that refutes its own headline.

Of course. In many cases, some amatuer-publisher arrangements make pay-per-post writing and Twitter perks look like gravy trains. And yet, the companies adopting content farm approaches are the same ones that question the ethics of pay-per-post schemes. Can you imagine? They paid a writer $3 to question the ethics of another writer who accepted $150.

What writers need to know before they jump into the profession.

There is a time and place to write cheap or free, but it's never based on the terms offered by the client or publisher. It's only based on your terms. (The same can be said of pitches from public relations professionals.)

No Experience. While there may come a time when no one asks for clips or samples, amateurs do have to start somewhere. They need about five clips and samples. There is nothing wrong with writing a few for the favor of a byline or, assuming the publisher is reputable, working on speculation for the right acceptance rate. Even so, no one is going to be impressed by poorly edited clips under 200 words. You'd be better off publishing a blog, assuming you have some talent.

Topic Passion. Sometimes you might want to cover a topic that is near and dear to your heart, perhaps even an article that helps generate exposure for a nonprofit. It's an admirable pursuit, even if whatever you are passionate about isn't related to charity. That might even be what you are hoping to achieve — a forum of sorts, now and again, without starting a blog.

Promotional Purposes. You own or work for a company or already have your own blog. Writing the occasional guest post or agreeing to a temporary cross-post endeavor sometimes serves as a nice introduction. But you have to make sure it makes sense for you and your company or your blog. All guest posts ought to be accompanied by a bio and direct link somewhere. Even then, choose carefully. Not every promotional opportunity is worth the time it takes to write something.

Personal Favor. In the same vein as promotional, writing an occasional guest post for another blogger because they don't want their blog to go dark while on vacation is a nice gesture. The relationship exchange rate usually works both ways. Mostly, it only makes sense when you have a commodity or service or blog in the first place. Sometimes you might even help someone start something, but never do it if you expect something in return. It's a favor, nothing more.

Community Passion. Maybe you belong to some community and want to contribute something. There is nothing wrong with it. Sharing between friends and people with similar interests is much like bringing a pot roast to a pot luck. Just keep in mind that every social network has its own rules of content ownership. Be very wary of any network or service that claims all rights, especially if they supersede your own rights.

no calorie contentWhile there might be a few other special cases, there aren't too many good reasons outside of these five. Expect some people to try and convince you otherwise.

Ninety-nine percent of all offers that promise "more work in the future" are lies. Unless it is in writing, no one will ever give you stock in a start-up company or publication (and even if they do write a contract, consider such offers with the skepticism of an investor). Accepting a reduced rate to help someone during a rough patch (or extending excessive credit) is money that you ought to consider lost revenue until proven otherwise.

It might sound cynical, but it's reality. The difference between a professional and an amateur is that the professional can produce something that people want and the amateur has to convince people that they can produce something people want. Having worked on both sides of the fence as the vendor and client, I learned most of it the hard way. Sometimes two or three times. You don't have to.

So what is a fair rate for freelance writers?

When I owned and published a limited subscription international trade publication, we paid $300 per 700-word article, which was 30-50 percent higher than publications with similar circulations at the time, regardless of where the writer lived. More recently, I asked two writers if they would volunteer to write for Liquid [Hip], but haven't given them assignments because it conflicts with my belief that writers deserved to be paid. I don't have a budget.

I ran into the same conflict a few years ago too. I passed on a lucrative offer to become an editor and co-publisher of what seemed to be a well-financed online publication. Negotiations broke down because I wanted to pay writers and they wanted to appeal to the willingness of amateurs to crank out free content. No hard feelings. We're still friends.

writersAt the same time, maybe amateurs need to know that professional freelance rates for copywriting range from $45 to $150 per hour, web content from $40 to $100 per hour, and technical writing from $50 to $100 per hour. Two hours per half-page is a fair estimate of time, with adjustments for research, interviews, and revisions built in to the estimate. Some writers do charge more, but anything less is amateur. Too much amateur work will only keep you there.

By the way, some material, like print ads and outdoor, take more time, regardless of how many words. Ergo, it often takes more time to write less. So expert magazines often pay less than those rates above, with the low approximately $150 for 600-750 words.

Anything less, regardless of praise, should convince you to look at what kind of revenue they generate, how nice their offices might be, and what kind of cars they drive. Why? Because you might be the person who affords them those luxuries.

Related articles on quality content and content farms.

• Content Farms And The Death of Remarkable Content by Lisa Barone.

Four Ways To Improve Content by Geoff Livingston.

Mahalo’s Calacanis: Time To End The Content Farm Arms Race by Danny Sullivan.

I Worked on the AOL Content Farm & It Changed My Life by Marshall Kirkpatrick.

Blekko Bans Content Farms Like Demand Media’s eHow From Its Search Results by Erick Schonfeld.

Friday, January 14

Going Viral: Why Word-Of-Mouth Works Better

viralCompanies still ask on a regular basis, especially as it pertains to online marketing. "Can you make our [blank] go viral?"

The easy answer? YES!

However, it takes a much more practiced hand to explain what the client doesn't want to hear. They don't really want to "go viral" because the intent of viral marketing is nothing more than maximum exposure in the shortest amount of time possible.

It is seldom tied to any other tangible objective, despite people who assign objectives (like sales). It often based on an erroneous notion that anyone who breathes is a potential customer. It is nearly impossible to manage any aspect of the communication, which sometimes spirals into a crisis communication situation. It has a relatively short shelf life for the investment. And, it sometimes carries with it unacceptable and unreasonable risks, including financial and legal liability.

Viral is an outcome, not an objective.

WOMSure, if the right message happens to go viral, it can mean a big boost for a company, especially those with a new innovation. However, when compared to the planning and insight of word-of-mouth marketing — online or off — a viral intent is patently flawed, especially if the innovation or message cannot stand up to mass scrutiny. Simply put, viral can be a product killer too.

The more strategic approach is word-of-mouth marketing that concentrates on reaching select people, with an emphasis on those who have an interest, will likely benefit, and are predisposed to appreciate it. Reaching these people — as opposed to crafting a message that garners everyone's attention — can create the foundation of a powerful brand that lasts longer than the campaign. So who are these people?

Six segments for effective word-of-mouth campaigns.

Find people who are early adopters within the niche. Early adopters are not necessarily the most visible or publicly opinionated people within a niche. However, they are more receptive to trying a new innovation and often willing to provide candid but private feedback to the company. Many early adopters will even purchase innovations, creating early revenues.

Find benefactors who could use the innovation. Benefactors are people who have an expressed need for the innovation or the product/service that the innovation will replace. The outreach usually consists of targeting associations, clubs, and similar organizations and extending the innovation to its members for free or at a steeply discounted rate.

Find loyalists predisposed toward a favorable opinion. Loyalists are people who are already highly engaged customers. They may have loyalty to the company or the designers or the components of a particular innovation. Introducing the new innovation may even be construed as a reward.

Find specific reviewers or other members of the media. This could include people with significant online reach and are predisposed toward objectivity. Assuming the innovation has merit beyond the eye of the creator, traditional and online niche reviewers can expose the innovation to a broader audience.

Find well-known people who can offer testimonials. Celebrities can easily fit within a well-planned word-of-mouth marketing plan, but care has to be taken to ensure the right match. The actions of highly visible individuals can sometimes distract from the innovation as much as they can support it.

Find those who are disenfranchised with the status quo. Almost every market segment includes people who are not satisfied with some aspect of the status quo. Assuming the innovation addresses their specific unmet needs, they will be more receptive to the initial offering. Many companies have reached such groups by creating campaigns with high conversational value.

Word of mouth, done correctly, can lead to a viral outcome.

One video that recently caught some "viral" success was created with repurposed content. And although it's non-commericial, tracking its earliest beginnings sheds some light on the path it took, beginning with space enthusiasts and slowly spiraling outward.

It works, not because it was a viral video but because it wasn't a viral video. It was the right message from the right person that reached the right audience, predisposed to share it with like-minded people. All communication can be created with equal care.

Thursday, December 23

Advertising 2011: A Year Of Confusion?

Advertising 2011
While 2010 may mark the first time marketers put more money into online advertising than newspapers — newspaper spending falls to $25.7 billion and online ad spending rises to $25.8 billion — next year will be one of the most trying for advertising that works.

On one hand, recent analysis from Better Advertising shows few consumers choose to opt out of targeted online advertising programs. On the other hand, consumers will continue to tell marketers, publishers, and pollsters that they don't want targeted advertising.

As if that wasn't challenging enough, some predictions for online advertising are almost too painful to read. Take the six predictions from Jesse Thomas that recently appeared on Mashable. Some are postscript predictions and some will lead to advertising campaign failures.

Why Will 2011 Be A Year Of Confusion?

Earlier this year, I was very optimistic that 2010 would be considered the year of integration. In many ways, this proved to be true. Companies worked diligently to better align various functions of marketing, advertising, and public relations. Those campaigns worked exceptionally well.

Yet, for all the successes, integration has had some unintended consequences as bad practices began to spread from one discipline to the other, creating one wave after another of thinking that is increasingly tactical. The Masahable predictions underscore the problem. Let's highlight some inherent problems with the predictions.

Channel Focus Or Communication Focus?

With increasing frequency, some companies are asking for proven platform strategies like how to get more fans on Facebook or more followers on Twitter. They are asking the wrong question. Or, at least, they are asking questions in the wrong order.

Companies might ask how they can introduce their product to more people or increase sales or become a subject matter expert in the industry. And only then do they need to ask how Facebook and Twitter might fit into that, if they fit in at all.

Global Reach Or Location Based?

This is one of two areas where Thomas contradicts himself in the post. He emphasizes the importance of many, but then provides relevance to smaller segmentations. If the number of Facebook "likes" is so important, why bother with location-oriented ads?

The reason is because location-based advertising isn't new. If a company has a physical location, then it only makes sense that location-based advertising works. Retailers that don't market to the radius around their establishments, whether that includes online advertising or direct mail, are missing what could be their most regular customers. If those people connect to Facebook (and people from the Sudan do not), all the better.

Influencers Or Micro-Networks?

This is another problem with the "many" to "few" networking game. Online influencers are generally considered such because they amass a large following. This seems to contradict an increasing trend where people are scaling back and segmenting the associations they make online.

Riddle me this. If more consumers spend more time in micro networks, then how can "influencers" amass thousands? Simply put, they can't except as a matter of perception. Case in point. I invest almost 40 percent of my Facebook time in one Facebook group. That means even though several dozens of pages count me as a "like," I'm mostly AWOL from their pages.

Predictable Or Professional?

While it is not true in every case, predicting that Silicon Valley could be the next Madison Avenue could have unintended consequences. For one thing, I don't see many creative directors and copywriters lining up to make less money Tweeting blurbs alongside people with two months of customer service experience (one company calls them "web presence professionals").

More likely, if there is a trend to focus more on tactical channel development (social networks) over adding creative into the strategic communication mix, then my guess is creative professionals will jump ship and enter the entertainment, fashion, and product design fields because it seems that consumers appreciate their talents more than some business owners anyway. Once they're gone, you can expect consumers to hate advertising all the more.

Personally, I'm very optimistic about 2011. However, with the influx of contradictory tactics, I anticipate more companies struggling against conflicting tactical ideas and not enough of them developing strategic marketing plans that balance the mix and meet their business objectives. It will be interesting to watch and even more interesting to participate.

Tuesday, August 24

Applying Mechanics: Five Tips For Better Writing

Writing Mechanics
Last week, I wrote a post about crafting better content, which focused on prep work that takes place before writing content. The companion piece is this post that focuses a bit more on mechanics.

After all, great stories can capture reader interest, but it takes a practiced hand to keep them. One standard practice inside many major corporations that publish printed employee newsletters or magazines is the red test. Basically, editors ask a few readers to draw a line under the last paragraph they read in a story. In most cases, the average reader makes up their mind about a piece in three paragraphs, assuming the lead sentence is strong, and skips or skims the rest.

Are there exceptions? Yes. Great stories are read from the lead sentence to the last. And the reason they are is mechanics.

5 Mechanics For Better Writing.

The mechanics of writing are much more than error-free prose or good grammar. The technical craft of writing covers a wide range of subjects. Here are five that I often look for in determining how good a writer might be.

• Provides A Well-Organized Story, From Start To Finish.
The biggest challenge most writers have today is content organization. While various mediums require the content to be organized differently, many writers fall into a cross-medium standardization that doesn't work. You can see it in transitions, with hard, jarring breaks between ideas instead of thoughts that flow from one into the next. The second most missed consideration is the lead, but that deserves its own paragraph.

• Writes Effective Leads, Laced With Facts And Accuracy.
Lead sentences or paragraphs are everything (especially for short-syndicated blog posts). I could write several posts about lead sentences alone (and have). Great leads are more than simply telling readers what the story is about, especially when other people are covering the same story. Mass media is losing sight of this; most publishers are sounding the same. The mosque at Ground Zero is a great example. Some 1,600 magazines led with a waffled opinion from the President of the U.S. I can't imagine a more boring approach to the story. I wonder what some extremists might think.

• Covers The Subject Thoroughly, With An Identifiable Action.
Unless you have specific space constraints, there is no perfect formula for the structure of a blog post or ad copy. (Outdoor is a bit different.) Writers need to provide enough coverage of the subject that it makes sense to the person reading it. The rule of thumb is to answer more questions than you raise, without asking the reader to do their own research. Writing a blog post is a bit different in that writers can cheat. You can sum up a situation in a line and link to another article that provides a back story. In wrapping up a story, always consider a call to action of sorts, even if it only sums up what you hoped they got out of it.

• Looks For New And Interesting Ways To Tell A Story.
As someone who follows several hundred blogs, I can safely say formulaic posts have become readily abused. When every post consists of two lead-in paragraphs, five or ten breakout bullets, and one concluding thought, the brain gets bored. Sure, that approach might be a great search engine magnet online, but it kills subscriptions over time. Mix up the format now and again. Interesting stories tend to reveal whatever structure might work best, assuming the writer is taking the time to think the story through.

• Self-Edits Consistently, Working Toward Crisper Copy.
Time is always a challenge for me on this blog. I often write the posts first thing out of the box in the morning (even if I've been thinking them about for days or weeks). The downside to this approach is I don't always have time to do what I might do with commercial copy or on assignment. What's that? Rewriting, rewriting, and rewriting. In my classes, I often tell students that there are very few great writers; most of us are great rewriters, reworking the copy as long as we can against the pressure of a deadline. If you never rewrite copy, chances are that your readers already know it.

These are among my top five mechanical considerations when I screen writers. It doesn't even matter what they are going to write. But more than that, I try to apply it to my own writing as well. Sometimes looking at a quick list like this can remind us why people bother to read the content. Case in point, while writing this post, I couldn't help but to think that last story I approved could have had a better lead. Thank goodness social media tends to be forgiving. What ought to have been the lead became the tease line across networks.

Wednesday, August 18

Crafting Content: Five Tips For Better Content

According to Pingdom, there are approximately 234 million Websites (47 million are new) and 126 million blogs. This doesn't count the abundance of Facebook pages or other social network platforms that double as content creation sites.

Although some smart businesses don't care as much about total visitors as engaging prospects and customers, most of them are competing for the attention of some of the 1.8 billion people online (about 260 million in North America and 420 million in Europe). And there are many different tactics to do so.

While there are many possibilities, content remains a primary driver. Google, Facebook, YouTube, Yahoo, Live, Baidu, Wikipedia, Blogger, MSN, and Tencent all rely on content. Search engines help us organize global information (usually by ranking for better content). Social networks help us keep up to date on our network of friends (usually by making it easier to share content). Other platforms, like YouTube and Blogger, rely on content from contributors.

5 Tips For Crafting Better Content.

With an increasing number of daily messages from an increasing amount of sources, it stands to reason that the bar for better content will continue to be raised. So the question companies, businesses, public relations, publications, and bloggers need to ask is how to provide better content. Well, the first step isn't presentation as much as it is value identification. And here are five ways to add value...

Recognize and act quickly on story opportunities.
Tracking trends and tying current events often captures more interest than Website content long forgotten. Even stores and e-commerce sites need a steady stream of fresh surplus to keep people coming back. For most Websites and blogs, the easiest tie-in is "news," assuming they understand the definition of news. But news isn't the only opportunity. Topics that people are searching for tend to trend. Or, if you are up for a much more challenging prospect, you can deliver what they never thought to look for and love it when they find it.

Gather facts carefully and accurately.
The quickest way to build credibility online isn't always simply being friendly or being flashy with numbers. Credibility is built on the ability to deliver on promises. If you promise a compelling, interesting, educational, or humorous story, your ability to consistently deliver that content will keep people coming back. If you want to stand out among all the other opinions over the long term, be especially clear about what you know to be facts and what you know are your (or others') opinions.

Provide a variety of sources and ideas (at least one).
There are dozens of different topics where facts alone don't measure up. Generally, people base their decisions on a variety of perspectives. The better content usually provides some insight or understanding of any opposing viewpoints. The mosque near Ground Zero provides a solid example. Every day, I read polarized accounts of why it should be or should not be built there. These varied opinions almost never consider the opposing viewpoint, which diminishes the strength of the argument and turns dozens of posts into nothing more than "I also think" puff pieces. The diatribe on this issue is also why I never covered it.

Add in little known facts and/or fresh quotes.
Every day, journalists and bloggers, with increasing regularity, recap what other people write about. In some cases, it's verbatim. If you want your content to stand out from the pack of recaps, add new insights, perspectives, little known facts, or quotes that haven't been published or are long forgotten. The ability to provide a new perspective on a topic can mean the difference between rehashing or adding value to the content and conversations as opposed to adding to the noise.

Research and explore different story angles.
Sometimes, better content comes from repurposing intent. For example, dozens of people have used Website and blog numbers to demonstrate that online marketing and information is growing at an amazing pace (and to demonstrate why you need to increase your marketing online). But today, I'm using them to illustrate something different. As more people and organizations add to the noise, the bar for what constitutes valuable content is raised. Much in the same way, if I were to write about the mosque (which I'm not), it would be a piece about diatribe in order to drive the topic away from emotions and toward communication.

The takeaway here is simple. Before you concern yourself with techniques and tactics related to presentation, you have to be able to identify the right topics. For organizations and businesses, there is the additional burden that these topics must fall within the strategic communication plan. For individuals, it's simpler still. It's the fundamental difference between being an engaging writer and someone who will bore people away.

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Thursday, August 12

Selling Offsite: Delta Airlines

Delta Ticket WindowWhen it comes to social media, Delta Airlines is ready to go all in. Today, it launched the industry's first social media 'Ticket Window,' which is a fancy way of saying you can now book tickets on the Delta Facebook page.

After the page slurps your Facebook profile data and is able to secure a private connection, a process that takes a considerable amount of time, you'll be able to book flights off Facebook. How long? I started this post while waiting and quit waiting after I finished this post. Clearly, there are some bugs to be worked out.

More importantly, however, the concept kicks dust on the rented land cautions. When there is money to be made, companies don't care.

Facebook is only the beginning. Delta plans to expand its Ticket Window to other sites, including online banner ads to allow full booking capabilities within the airline's advertisements and without requiring you to leave the site you are on. Delta also has plans to provide a fully functional app that does everything its Web site and the Ticket Window can do.

Who Cares? It's An Airline.

This idea is a leap forward, because despite shortcomings, the company is doing something few have thought of — it bypasses the quest to drive visitors somewhere other than where they are. It creates an opportunity to skip the sales funnel and move directly to outcomes.

It's hard to say whether people will book flights while reading an article on The New York Times or playing Farmville, but there is a non-linear quality that can't be ignored. It demonstrates just how far social media will transform not only how we communicate, but how we sell, shop, and share.

That is not to say everything is all roses for the airline industry. Most still struggle with their basic brand promiseds. Added-value on-time flights without additional charges and some assurances nobody is busting up your luggage on the tarmac. The actual flight experience is where some innovation needs to be made and Delta still has some communication rough spots.

Communication Rough Spots.

For as much investment in the concept of a mobile Ticket Window, it's difficult to find the official Delta page on Facebook. Enough so that I had to visit the site to get the Facebook page, which defeats the purpose. Add another problem.

Delta Facebook logoFor creative flair, Delta altered its logo on the Facebook page (pictured left). I didn't recognize it. Sure, the new look launched earlier in the week was a step up over what most airlines offer online. (Most have websites like their service. Lacking.) It's a nice, simplified and streamlined site. However, it didn't include a new logo.

Over time, I suppose people will be able to distinguish the Delta logo no matter how they fly it onto various communication pages. But in the interim, it's disruptive in a negative way. It also assumes the airline has a huge following of fans. Maybe they do. The press release sure made it sound like they are on par with Virgin, Southwest, and JetBlue.

"Our customers are spending more time online and are looking for new ways to connect with us," said Bob Kupbens, Delta's vice president - eCommerce. "We're now delivering technology where our customers are - from our own website to our Facebook page to Internet news sites and beyond."

Like many airlines, they seem a little bit stuck on themselves. It was also a little spooky that they decided to launch on Facebook because "We already know Facebook is the most used website by inflight WiFi users on more than 2,000 Delta flights every day."

Nitpicking aside, the real thrust here should send any marketer's or communicator's head spinning with ideas and applications. While making every ad a storefront could diminish branding applications, there is something to be said for being able to book flights, buy products, or even line up speakers with customized topics wherever your landing page happens to be.

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Monday, July 5

Creating A Social World: Networking 2020

Ask 900 Internet experts about the future of social networks, and its not so surprising that most are bullish on the future. Eighty-five percent say the Internet has mostly been a positive force on their social world in developing personal friendships, marriage and other relationships.

Positive outcomes far outweigh the negative outcomes, according to the new Pew Research Center study: The Future of Online Socializing. The short-term outlook is especially bright, much brighter than the June study that asked the public what they expect to see by the year 2050.

Highlights Show Social Connectivity Makes The World A Better Place.

• The Internet provides a global reach to find people with similar interests.
• Social media has boosted communication, creation, and the cultivation of friendships.
• Many cited personal examples, including meeting their spouses online.
• The continuing press to invent human interfaces, including holographic displays.
• Rapidly expanding bandwidth and security inventions to handle information.
• Trusted storehouses of information that allow for better decision making.

Some of their glimpses into the future are already coming to fruition. Scientists are already to expand their reach through the use of social media. Some nonprofit organizations have increased their ability to raise funds for a fraction of the investment. And in a relatively short time, television will unlikely ever be the same.

Shadows Show Social Connectivity Has An Eventual Dark Side.

Of course, every invention has a darker side, including shallower relationships, time famine, privacy issues, and the self-induced silo effect. On the individual level, they noted a change in how reputations are made, perceived, and remade. On the organizational level, they mean adjusting to the pulse of visible public opinion.

For many experts, privacy tends to be the biggest concern despite their own exhilaration of being able to track public sentiment. Some, not part of the study, freely suggest that paranoia isn't paranoia when someone is attempting to track your every move. Even spookier, perhaps, is the idea that many people willfully give up privacy for the smallest of favors like the moniker of being a virtual mayor.

The Future For The Online Communicator.

We generally lean toward the most optimistic viewpoint, with social media eventually fueling productivity — places that are much more attuned to making mutual progress over mutual popularity. And therein lies the path most firms will be faced with crossing in as little as two years as opposed to ten years.

There are three primary paths currently being employed in social media. One leads toward integrated communication where mass communication is augmented by organic relationships built from mutual respect and validity of ideas.

The second path panders to mutual popularity, which can best be described as a furious back-scratching session of those who hope to propel themselves upward by creating an abundance of shallow relationships based on nothing more than the ownership of cowboy boots.

And the third, of course, is to create the illusion of popularity, buying up friends, followers, and retweets for pennies on the plug.

I don't know about you, but we're stuck on the first one. It takes a little longer to create a following, but the people are real.

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Wednesday, June 23

Going Somewhere: Why Bhakdi's Web 3.0 Feels Like Web 2.1

Johannes Bhakdi, chef knowledge architect of, published an interesting little book earlier this year that has gone largely unnoticed. There many be some good reasons for that.

The book comes across as a fleshed out PowerPoint. The price point is high. And for all his experience working with companies like McDonald's, MasterCard, Microsoft, Siemens, and Unilever for BBDO and J. Walter Thompson, Bhakdi isn't necessarily established in the social media mix where this book might be appreciated (despite the price point).

Like many creative strategists, he tends to be less visible despite his contributions. And with the exception of Slideshare and perhaps a slow loading Klatcher site, his social media presence doesn't seem especially established. There may even be an irony in that Bhakdi wanted to implement his book using a model in the book, which suggests success provided the marketing is right. Unfortunately, I'm not convinced the marketing is right.

Web 3.0 User-Generated Business • and why everyone becomes a media entrepreneur

But where Bhakdi is at the moment hardly matters within the context of the book. The real question is whether or not there is any real value inside the pages of Web 3.0 - User-Generated Business. There is some.

The Historic Context. The opening chapters present a quick history of Web 1.0 and Web 2.0. They are interesting enough for any newcomers to the Web, with an underlying emphasis on why Web 2.0 was a disaster. Specifically, the average online author earns about 25 cents per hour. Yep. That's a disaster for anyone except hobbyists.

The Theoretical Sidebar. One of my favorite portions of Web 3.0 has little to do with the Internet. What Bhakdi does very clearly is define the two faces of capitalism against socialism. The latter, he says, tends to organize people in working for the common good but falls short because then people are less inclined to contribute anything useful.

As for capitalism, he discusses how one facet can be destructive and exploitive, driven by ruthless people looking to earn quick profits for as little value as possible. And he stresses that it doesn't have to be that way. Most business people have a more transformative view of capitalism and add positive value on their terms and then change the world with a win-win construct. It's eloquently explained, certainly worth a follow-up post here someday.

The Visionary Construct. Personally, I was never very fond of the assumption that everybody would become a media entrepreneur, but I've always been comfortable that "anybody" could be. This one word makes a big difference.

Otherwise, I've never understood this ever-present assumption that people want to be media entrepreneurs. From everybody I've spoken with online and off for the last ten years, most people can't be bothered. Sure, some like to create and share content, but most just want to connect with friends, play games, and read the news.

Still, even for that small percentage of people who do want to create content, Bhakdi raises one good point. The current Web 2.0 structure allows platform providers to generate income from content creators who work for free. Ergo, Twitter would be nothing without the flurry of moderately visible pros who put up content and contribute daily.

However, Bhakdi's solution to fix this doesn't necessarily add up as much as he would like. Eventually, he sees Web 3.0 as a place where content is assigned value. In other words, quality content would receive higher compensation over the shareable silliness that tends to drive Web 2.0.

As much as I agree with the idea, I'm not sure it's pragmatic. Intellectual property has variable values that are largely based on perception.

The Blueprint. Bhakdi does a solid job at outlining a social media content business model in the last chapter. For me, I wish it came much earlier. Reading 150 pages of anecdotal conversation when the real content starts on page 151 is troublesome. It's the primary reason I read so few social media books.

By the time you arrive at the last chapter, Bhakdi outlines Web 3.0 into three parts: outreach (social networks), core media assets (a site or blog), and opportunities for monetization (Zazzle, Ad Sense, Lulu.) There is nothing wrong with that except that it's what exists now. So unless I missed something, the blueprint is not so unprecedented.

Final Thoughts About Web 3.0 User-Generated Business

Web 3.0 User-Generated Business has some high points, but it's difficult to consider it a book. It's a PowerPoint conversion with added conversation. There are a few high points and novices might find it worthwhile. But anybody beyond the entry level of monetization concepts will find it anti-climactic.

Simply put, if you are among the relatively small audience who is already dabbling in becoming a media entrepreneur, you aren't likely to find a breakthrough in this book. However, if you are a blogger who is just considering monetization, then Bhakdi's book may help you get up to speed, assuming you haven't connected with people who write about this stuff daily.

Otherwise, Web 3.0 User-Generated Business comes across as what I call a "business card book," which is indicative of most books being introduced in the field. I don't get it. Most social media books are long on attempting to demonstrate thought leadership by sharing what a healthy percentage already know with the shrinking pool of people who don't know anything.

Further, in using his own social media assets as examples, the book seems to miss out on a viable purpose. If the book, using its own blueprint, aims at being the revenue generator, then more care might have been taken to ensure it didn't pitch platforms owned by the author. That said, the book seems less interesting than the impossibly slow-loading Klatcher (the first time anyway) or Bhakdi's posts and presentations. Get to know him in those places first.

Monday, February 22

Revealing Research: The Future of the Internet IV

The Pew Internet & American Life Project released its fourth Internet expert study on Friday. The Future of the Internet IV compiles survey responses from almost 900 prominent scientists, business leaders, consultants, writers, and technology developers around five key Internet related topics.

The five topics included (paraphrased): the value of online content, the impact on the written language, the extent to which innovation can be predicted, the freedom of access and information, and the protection of privacy.

Dominant Themes of Discussion For The Next Decade

The value of online information.
• 76 percent believe more information leads to smarter people who make better choices.
• 21 percent believe the Internet could be lowering the IQs of the people who use it.

The discussion, spurred by Nicholas Carr, is underpinned by the thought that people are moving away from a meditative or contemplative intelligence and toward a utilitarian intelligence. (The price of zipping among lots of bits of information is a loss of depth in our thinking, he says.) There is some truth to the argument, with content being distilled into little nuggets of easily accessed information (sometimes incorrect information). Many arguments against the idea suggest the Internet will change cognitive capacities so people won’t have to remember as much, but will have to have better critical thinking and analytical skills.

It seems that any real direction has yet to be set. With the emphasis on short popular content, the depth and accuracy of information has diminished. However, this seems to be a short-term problem as objective human editors may eventually have a role in vetting information on the net much like yellow journalism gave rise to objective journalism around the 1920s. Of course, Gordon Lightfoot might have a different view.

*Amazingly, many newspaper headlines have actually sold this portion of the study as evidence that the Internet makes us smarter, which makes us wonder if anyone read it.

The Internet enhances reading, writing, and knowledge.
• 65 percent believe the Internet has enhanced reading, writing, and the rendering of knowledge.
• 32 percent believe the Internet has endangered reading, writing, and intelligent rendering of knowledge.

Almost all of the survey respondents seem to agree that the written language is suffering as a result of online communication. However, how the two sides frame the outcome is where they part company. Some suggest language is shifting to be more visual and/or simply different with communication becoming more fluid (but not necessarily better written).

Without question, the acceleration of communication, quantity of communication, and format of communication tend to have consequences. The quality of the communication is often diminished. However, long-time content creators consistently suggest that their writing has improved as a result. It could be that the Internet has simply invited more people who would otherwise not write to write more often, which means the abuse of the language is short term or format related. Time will tell.

The hottest gadgets of the next decade are already evident today.
• 17 percent believe that the applications of tomorrow will not take people by surprise.
• 80 percent believe that the applications of tomorrow cannot be anticipated today.

With rare exception, almost everyone agrees that predicting future technologies beyond broad conceptual thinking is futile. Nobody can accurately guess what the breakout applications and gadgets will be by the year 2020. Only a handful believe that trend spotting provides an accurate glimpse of the future.

Given the advancements over the last 20 years, it seems likely that innovation will follow two paths. There are innovators who enhance existing models, making them more efficient. And then there are innovators who create disruptive leaps forward that undo those enhancements. For example, Photoshop recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. Few predicted the explosive growth of Facebook.

The Internet will be dominated by an end-to-end principle.
• 61 percent believe there will be minimal restrictions over online access and information.
• 33 percent believe there will intermediary institutions that control significant amounts of content.

While most believe that public pressure will keep the Internet mostly free, the public will only succeed if they remain vigilant in guarding against government and network takeovers. Pessimistic views point to China and even the United States. In the U.S., the net neutrality debate has only temporarily restrained cable and telcos from exerting centralized control.

With the exception of government intervention (which varies by country), scalability and scarcity will likely be the deciding factors of whether the Internet remains free as people see it today. Mass content creators, not distributors, will likely be those who determine to what extent information and content remain accessible. With more publications attempting to return to subscriber-based content, this stands to be the more viable threat to limiting communication.

The future of online anonymity will evaporate.
• 41 percent believe there will be tighter, more formal controls over the Internet, including scanning devices.
• 55 percent believe it will be relatively easy to remain anonymous without public disclosure.

There is greater and increasing pressure for authentication online. Ironically, proponents of an authenticated world do not always appreciate the severity of privacy abuses nor how such a move hinders concepts such as freedom of speech. The minor majority believes the Internet is well past a need for authentication.

The reality is that online privacy is collapsing under the weight of uncoordinated, unrelated, and unlikely allies. There is pressure from communicators who chastise anonymity, pressure from governments and businesses to investigate dissent, and a general willingness of the public to surrender privacy for the smallest of carrots. The question is not whether online privacy will no longer exist, but when and to what extent.

The full study, The Future of the Internet IV, can be found at the Pew Internet & American Life Project. The project is supported by the Pew Research Center, which is a nonpartisan "fact tank" that provides information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world.

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Thursday, November 19

Unifying Topics: In An Era Of Infinite Choices

The most blatant mistake being made by public relations and communication professionals focusing on the increasingly crowded space of social media is employing a methodology that can be best described as the last remnant of mass media.

The tactics are as simple as delivering a product, service, or brand message to as many people as possible as many times as possible. The outcomes are sales calls, junk mail, media pitch lists, and spam. The objective is to stand out in the onslaught of useless communication. The measurement of success is confined to playing a game of eroding percentages.

Ten years ago, a 10 percent response rate was the mark of success. Last year, a two precent response rate is the new high water mark. And more recently, some organizations have told me they'll take one percent any day of the week. The fix remains the same. Buy a bigger list to offset the diminishing return. Except...

Mass Media Has Given Way To Infinite Choice

Social media empowered consumers to trade in mass communication in favor of infinite choices. The consequence of this transition was profound, but not in the way most people think.

Mass media, which was largely ushered in by Baby Boomers in the 1950s, has had a much shorter life cycle than objective journalism, which was largely the advent of Walter Lippman attempting to professionalize journalists in the 1920s. As a footnote, it might be important to mention mass communication has a longer life cycle, taking form in the late 1800s.

Although most people conclude the Internet is a new medium within the greater context of mass media (including myself on occasion), it is more appropriately defined as an environment that has accelerated the adoption of infinite choice much faster than cable and satellite television.

Infinite choices are profound in that they move consumer thinking to the era that predates mass media, objective journalism, and mass communication not because of limited accessibility but through a means of self-selected exposure.

For example, if a consumer is faced with a choice of more than 10,000 local and national news outlets, they might pick three or five or ten (depending on their information tolerances). The impact increases the competition exponentially, forces specialization, and fragments audiences to such a degree that the entire mass media model crashes.

The tragedy is that despite knowing this, organizations are attempting to plant various mass media models in an environment of infinite choices. The result is increasing the number of their competitors to include not only direct competitors but every company on the Internet vying for fans (people cannot and will not friend 100,000 product pages), forcing them to amplify their message, and increase the risk of consumer brand fatigue.

Infinite Choice Requires A Better Model Than Mass Media

While there have been many early attempts to develop infinite choice tactics, most of them are nothing more than an attempt to modify the mass media model. Ergo: influencer targeting is nothing more than replacing one objective journalist with people who are more malleable (Edleman) and crowd sourcing is nothing more than an attempt to convince consumers en masse that they are stakeholders much in the same way vanity poetry press scams made poets out of everyone (Jarvis).

Neither construct breaks away from a mass media model. Neither is sustainable nor scalable as consumers have a finite amount of time. The same can be said for equally flawed models that include leveraging employees or elevating individual quasi-brand celebrities. All of it, not surprisingly, is mass media without the benefit of objectivity.

While not all of it can be solved within the confines of a single post, we do know that organizations operating within an environment of infinite choices have to remove degrees of separation between their products, services, and brands and the consumers they hope to reach. By removing degrees of separation, I do not mean leveraging employees and product fans to monetarily or emotionally blackmail family and friends to peddle products as some sort of multi-level marketing scheme without the benefit of revenue.

What I mean is that organizations have to develop points of communication that consumers can selectively connect to beyond the buzz of 'buy our product,' as illustrated by the top model in the illustration. (You can find a larger image of the Topic Unification Model right here.) Companies developing social media programs have to provide content that gives various publics different reasons to connect.

For example, if we apply the Topic Unification Model to fashion, a fashion designer not only has to talk about the product, but also about industry trends, points of inspiration, the fashion industry as a whole, and so on and so forth. Doing so allows different publics to find self-selected value from the online communication provided, and allows each designer to customize their topical context so that it reinforces the preferred company brand.

Individuals have been very effective applying this as a strategy of sorts (consciously and subconsciously). They attract friends, followers, and readers because those consumers connect with them as parents, photographers, communicators, political viewpoints, type of drinks they prefer, and so on and so forth. These conversations and connections have almost nothing to do with their professions.

Unfortunately, their success in selling personality like this sometimes leads to the mistaken belief that personality can supplant organizational communication. In reality, organizational communication still requires some semblance of an organization. Consumers don't just want to know what Jane Doe thinks about a complaint (despite how empathetic Jane Doe might be). They want to know what the organization will do about it.

To that end, organizations hoping to integrate social media are better served by broadening their communication from a narrowly defined product (can of soda) into a communication model that includes any number of topics that are much more interesting.

While the communication still needs to be managed within a context (soda marketers don't need to offer opinions about toilet tissue makers), broadening the scope of communication to a select number of related topics opens up connections with consumers who might not care about a specific product today. It also provides a better contrast among competitors, ensuring people will become engaged when they are interested as opposed to when it is convenient for a marketing accountability report.

Wednesday, November 18

Retiring A Deck: Social Media For Strategic Communication

Since my first presentation on social media in 2005, it didn't take long to appreciate that the entire communication field is a moving target. So I've made it a point to periodically retire the decks I've used at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in order to avoid having to teach the same class twice.

This version of Social Media For Strategic Communication evolved into 100 slides as the backdrop of a 3-hour open conversation. It was followed with a 3-hour live session, which allowed more flexibility in pinpointing specific applications.

Highlights From A Near Dead Deck

• Slides 1-10: Social Media. Every social media class begins with a working definition of social media, even if the participants are familiar with the term. I prefer the simplest definitions, which makes it easier to understand the complexities of what happens within this environment.

• Slides 11-14: Demographics. This year, more than any other, it seemed important to dispel the myth that Gen Y owns the Internet. The fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population consists of people over the age of 50. Another conversation point that has evolved this year is understanding that while everyone is on the net, not every demographic participates in every network.

• Slides 15-41: Media History. While many participants are surprised how much time I spend on the historic context of media, I've always considered it important to dispel the myth that such a change in communication in new. It's not. The only thing new is the medium and the accelerating speed of adoption.

• Slides 42-47: Declining Media. Some people might consider it stating the obvious, but the rapid uptake of communication on the Internet and decline of traditional distribution models remains a relevant part of the conversation. The additional communication point that has surfaced this year is how increased amounts of information will likely lead to a resurgence of objective content sources.

• Slides 48-64: Applying Tactics. Since almost every class includes people with varied exposure, I do dedicate some time to sharing practical knowledge beyond the conceptual models. This section also included four very different accounts, which allowed me to illustrate how social media is largely situational to each organization.

• Slides 65-73: Social Networks. With the addition of the live session, I didn't include new content within this section, which was originally created in spring. It's important to note that the numbers have changed considerably. BlogCatalog has added 40,000 members since the original slide was created.

• Slides 74-81: Content And Discovery Again, with the ability to offer live session examples, I spent less time on this section, preferring to underscore that the social media environment allows tremendous flexibility in sharing content from the ability to condense our portfolio into a Flickr presentation (and iPhone presentation) to the success story of Does It Blend.

• Slides 82-100: Changing The World While the slides were essentially lifted from our Shaping Public Opinion presentation earlier in the year, walking participants through a Bloggers Unite campaign proves extremely useful in illustrating that communication is fluid and how to better integrate crowd-sourcing (participation input) while providing guidelines that still allow for some sense of a managed communication plan.

What Might The Next Deck Look Like?

Since every deck I develop is tailored to meet the objectives of specific audiences, there might be any number of solutions for 2010. However, it seems increasingly obvious that presentations with case studies and panels, while still important, will be breaking away toward conceptual modeling that spans multiple disciplines and multiple destinations.

I'll be sharing one of those conceptual models tomorrow as an extension of last week's Rushing The Net: Public Relations post. The model illustrates why so many companies are developing limited connections that revolve almost exclusively around their products while the online environment is much more valuable as a means to eliminate degrees of separation.

Other topics I'm especially interested in pursuing in the near future include the loss of content objectiveness in the media, the advent of portable content experiences as they apply to radio, the application of our measurement model on a specific campaign (we're waiting on numbers), and next year's pendulum swing that will place a greater emphasis on expertise over popularity.

The latter will include a comprehensive research study we commissioned with a deliverable on or around SXSW, pending my increased travel schedule that is shaping up to include London, San Francisco, and Washington D.C., among others.

Thursday, November 12

Rushing The Net: Public Relations

According to a new study by Vocus, an overwhelming 80 percent of public relations professionals see social media as a key focus in 2010. And as these professionals move toward social media in 2010, public relations may never be the same.

Why? Because when most public relations professionals think about supplanting public relations with social media relations, all they are really supplanting is media relations. And, as a result, the profession is setting its sights in a more competitive space that takes them further and further away from work that adds value to a comprehensive communication plan.

While there is significant overlap between public relations and social media, the perspective is not the same. In fact, many modern public relations professionals — especially those who tout relationships — tend to confine their relationships to people they perceive as having influence over the public they intend to reach.

Right. This was the same perspective that moved so many of them to overemphasize media relations because the tactic was simple: develop relationships with members of the media who had already captured the interest of a specific public and then add the total number of impressions to excite the client.

That model doesn't work as well anymore, because mainstream media seems to be hemorrhaging. So suddenly, those oh-so-important relationships with influential media as defined by 80 percent of the industry just doesn't seem to matter that much anymore.

Neither will most of those relationships in social media, as popularity tends to wax and wane. It's one of several flaws in the influence construct, made popular in part by Edleman. The irony is that it is also contrary to an effective social media program, which tends to allow people with seemingly no influence to become influential overnight (or vice versa) within specific publics.

You see, effective social media relies on the ability to see the world from varied degrees (e.g., one-to-one, one-to-many, and one-to-all) at the same time. And that often requires different skill sets that are not scalable for public relations firms alone (unless we are destined to see increased automated push communication, which is the worst possible practice being put into play today).

Most public relations professionals misdefine social media as a communication tool.

Social media is not a tool as much as it is a tactic, but there are tools within the space in which it occurs. More than anything, social media (people and technology) is what happens on the Internet, which is an environment in and of itself.

Until communication professionals understand this, their social media programs will be no more than either an extension of everything they did wrong with media relations or, worse, everything marketers do wrong with automated spam messages.

Quick Example: Yesterday, I wrote "Donations made at Who Will Stand screenings today benefit Help USA Las Vegas, which finds housing for homeless vets" on Twitter, to which Uloop replied "here's lots of available housing near CSN on Uloop." Um, right.

Not surprisingly to me, Jennifer Lawson, a non-communication professional, demonstrated to me over dinner that she has a better understanding of how things work more than most of the top communicators currently engaged in social media. Specifically, she understands that she writes for different destinations on the Internet and each content destination attracts a different group of people.

"Very, very few of the people who read what I write read everything I write," she said. "Some of them even have a hard time believing that I'm the same person writing about being a mom and then writing about sex. Whatever. I'm just me. Multidimensional."

When I teach social media, I try to impart a spatial concept to students. I suggest they think of the Internet as an environment. Within that environment, there are destinations much like we see in the physical world (e.g., we wake up at home, go into our car, drive to work, go to lunch, go back to work, head to the gym, attend an event, and go back home).

Online, it's the same. We wake up, check Twitter, connect to Facebook, check our reader, bookmark some pages on Delicious, share our findings on Twitter or Digg, leave comments on a few blogs, spend time on our own blog, etc., etc.

All the while, public relations professionals are now scrambling to drop us messages along the way, even when we are not traveling in the same destination loop or orbit. They don't often pay attention to what we are doing either. Ultimately, they simply deliver the same message over and over.

The message is to add their client's destination to our orbit OR convince someone else (presumably someone with influence) to do so. While they deliver their message, they ignore the obvious. The average blogger already participates in 10 social networks beyond their blog and those networks have multiple destinations too.

Bad news for them. People have a finite amount of destinations they can visit in one day. And, as Lawson seems to know, people don't want to visit them all, especially if you deliver diverse content. (There are a few who will, and those people are your true evangelists or, in some cases, fanatics.)

So how does an organization develop successful relationships on the Web?

I have a great deal of respect for many social media professionals. Please keep that in mind while I point this out: Most social media professionals are attempting to overlay individual communication models on organizational communication. And, frankly, that just doesn't work. They are not the same. Authors, entertainers, speakers, etc. are different.

If you don't believe me, ask Chip Conley who is discovering that his customers might not want to see his pics from Burning Man (not that there is anything wrong with Burning Man.) Go figure. And, as Bill Sledzik called it right: just because they buy your product, it doesn't mean they want to be your buddy.

While every social media model is different because all communication in an expansive environment (just like the physical world) is situational, online organizational communication also needs to be delivered differently depending on the destination in which it occurs. (e.g., you wouldn't put a television spot on highway signage, would you?)

So some social media programs might need banner ads in one destination, conversation in another, and community activities in another. If this is true, then it is also true that different deliverables in different destinations might require different communication professionals or different skill sets. And those skill sets range from direct marketing and advertising to public relations and customer service. Probably more.

As a result, if someone is hoping to develop a relationship via communication in these varied destinations, then focusing on those with perceived influence doesn't hold up. It's just more of the same. It's an attempt to rely on someone else's brand to peddle your stuff.

In reality, genuine relationships occur when you have an opportunity to touch people in various destinations that may or may not be your own destination. You know, just like real life.

If I see someone at work, at lunch, at the gym, and at some event later that night, I'm much more likely to develop a relationship with them (unless I'm constantly pressuring them to go somewhere else). Unfortunately, too many public relations professionals don't understand this (or at least not those who assume every relationship is just another opportunity to add one more body to an event). So before these public relations professionals rush the net, I suggest they change their thinking.

You see, the real challenges in social media is not attracting more followers, friends, fans, or whatever. The real challenge is having the ability to remove degrees of separation between the people you want to reach and the message you are trying to share. But to explain that, I'd need a new post. This one is too long as it is.

Suffice to say for this one, it seems to me that of the overwhelming 80 percent of public relations professionals who are planning to set their sights on social media, a mere 5 percent or less will survive such a transition. And, if they are not careful, they will damage their entire industry.

In some ways, they may have taken the wrong path already. Based on the rest of the survey, the writing is already on the wall.

Monday, October 19

Marketing Content: Mobile Impacts Brand

The next great leap in communication might be mobile, but consumers are overwhelmingly dissatisfied with mobile Web connections and content. Seventy-five percent have experienced slow load times, and more than half reported that the Web site content was either too large or small for the size of their mobile phone's screen.

The survey was published by Gomez, Inc., which specializes in Web application experience management. The study was conducted by Equation Research on behalf of Gomez. It included more than 1,000 mobile Web users and can be found here.

Additional Key Findings About Mobile Content.

• 85 percent of consumers said they are only willing to retry a mobile Web site one, sometimes two, times if it does not work.
• 61 percent of consumers said they are unlikely to return to a Web site if they had trouble accessing it from their phone.
• 40 percent of consumers said they would very likely visit a competitor's Web site in order to find the information they want.

"While mobile users may accept sites that are 'light' on richness and small in form factor, they are evidently not willing to sacrifice performance," said Matt Poepsel, Gomez's VP of performance strategies. "The mobile Web is all about convenience — the Web in your pocket — and slow mobile pages contradict that benefit."

There Is More To The Story About Mobile.

Despite experiences, mobile Web users have exceedingly high expectations with 50 percent willing to wait only 6-10 seconds or less for a Web page to load on their phone before giving up. Only one in five is willing to wait more than 20 seconds.

The high level of expectation has been perpetuated by mobile phone companies, almost all of which market themselves with the pretense that their network is faster and more reliable. Despite the cause of the evaluated expectations, mobile Web users are most likely to blame the site over their providers.

While solutions are largely absent from the study, there are opportunities and alternatives. For the mobile and tech industry, there is an increasing need to deliver faster devices on networks capable of carrying an increased load. For advertising agencies, the solution is to design simpler, faster loading sites rather than robust sites that increase load times. Or, as an alternative, build in mobile counterparts.

There are, of course, other solutions. Companies can augment their Web communication and marketing programs directing consumers to either custom applications on the iPhone or by using any number of social networks to communicate with customers. RSS readers and networks like Facebook and Twitter are well suited for engaging consumers on a desktop, laptop, or mobile device.

Without question, content portability will become a decisive factor in communication over the next two years. As of July 2009, there were more than 56.9 million mobile devices, up from 42.5 million in July 2008. According to the study, eBay is an early success story in providing mobile content. Its iPhone application generated $400 million in sales since its launch in 2008.

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