Showing posts with label pyschology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label pyschology. Show all posts

Friday, September 7

Inspiring Content: Inspire Yourself First

A few months ago, one of my students stopped me mid-sentence when I hit the fourth of five ways to find inspiration for writing. I didn't blame her. Any time a professor tells practicing and future public relations people to experience life, it sounds dangerously close to life coaching over professional instruction.

And yet, it's necessary to mention tips like that because most press releases are pretty boring. Sure, some pretend not to be boring. They force connections to current trends. They smack of snappy marketing copy. Or maybe they rely on exclusively on a big brand name. It doesn't matter.

They're still boring, especially those that were written for the sole purpose of trying to gin up some SEO keywords. It's enough to make you grateful that some folks give up and just send the facts.

You might know what I'm talking about — boilerplate releases that come with an unwritten note that reads "I couldn't find anything remotely interesting about this pitch and gave up. Maybe you'll have better luck. Here are the facts and a few bullet points." Not the best idea, but at least they are honest.

Quit Treating Your Audience Like Second-Class Chumps. 

I didn't really write that subhead. I paraphrased it from an article by Danny Brown. He was writing about how many bloggers start to phone in their posts when they're satisfied with some level of traffic.

For whatever reason, once they capture some kernel of attention, their posts become less thoughtful, their platforms feel dated, and all of their popup ads and ebooks begin to blend together into some thick and sticky formula with an aftertaste. You get the point. Whatever it might be, the lesson is still the same. Don't settle for allowing everything to become mundane. The people who read deserve better.

In looking back, about the only thing Brown didn't cover is where it all starts. It doesn't start with the post or platform or press release or client. It always starts and ends with the writer. Bored writers produce boring stories regardless of the medium. Their words scream "am I done yet?"

Boredom Starts With The Distraction Of Everything Else. 

As a writer, whether writing a blog post or press release, you ought to know the feeling by now. There might even be a little voice in the back of your head whispering "All I need is a lead or maybe a gun."

It's misery and you want out. The reason could be anything. Maybe you already wrote ten releases about the same subject and your eyes are tired. Or maybe you have a half a million other things to do, but the deadline or schedule dictates that the content comes first. Or maybe you just feel a little blue today and are having a hard time fining that elusive hook. Or maybe someone bruised your ego last time.

Whatever. Those are excuses, justifications designed to make you feel better about what you might eventually do to pass on your boredom to your readership or the media as if they deserve to be punished for your problem. The truth is as soon as you hit "schedule" or "post" or "send," you've compounded the original block. Too much boring communication is hard to overcome.

As Brown says in his story, doing the right thing doesn't always come easy. But there are solutions to help you avoid blocks or break out of the mundane and get back on the epic track. I'll save those for next week. But you already know the feeling associated with better content. It's when you look up from your keys and an hour has ticked off, but you could keep writing for another hour if you had the time.

Friday, June 8

Making Milkshakes: Personal And Public Relations

There was plenty of enthusiasm at my daughter's kindergarten class on Wednesday. They graduated.

What makes a kindergarten graduation special is that it's considered their first major step toward education. When they return after the summer, all of them will be in grade school. Their next major transition, of course, will be the fifth grade when they leave grade school and head off to middle or junior high school.

As my daughter was one of the beaming students in this graduating class, there were many memorable moments for me as a proud parent. But those personal moments aren't the ones I want to share today. Something else stuck, and it applies to communication, social media, and relationships.

How making a milkshake can be an effective communication and relationship technique. 

When the principal of the school trotted out with a blender, milk, ice cream and other ingredients, most parents weren't too sure what to think of it. The kids knew what to think. They wanted some.

Except, the lesson she had to share with them wasn't how wonderful milkshakes can be (or maybe it was). The milkshake making is how she captured their attention. She described to them how she never considered herself a good cook, but she was always good at making ice cream.

The ice cream she had was indeed homemade. It was vanilla, made with nothing more than cream, sugar, ice, and a dash of vanilla extract for good measure. She spooned out two generous scoops as she talked, adding them to the milk in her blender.

As she did, you could see every student — from kindergarten to fifth grade — begin to lick their lips in anticipation. They knew it was going to be good. And the room erupted in applause when she asked for volunteers to taste it. Except, before any of the students were picked from the crowd, she stopped.

The milkshake, she said, was pure. But what would happen, she asked, if she added one ingredient that wasn't so pure? Not a lot, she said, holding up a silver bowl with the mystery addition. Just one piece.

The sheer horror on their faces will never be forgotten as the principal dangled a single piece of raw liver over the unspoiled milkshake. Several students even cried out in anguish as she let it fall in with a plunk. Amidst the growing angst and protest, she gave the blender another spin, giving the creamy white ice cream a grayish-pink tint.

Half of the would-be volunteers who wanted to sample the milkshake weren't so interested any more. And just to be sure there were no brave takers, she then dumped half of the contents from the bowl into the blender. With a final whirl, the once white milkshake turned maroon-gray and lumpy with little unground bits of the contaminant floating freely to every corner of the drink.

All relationships start off on a note of natural purity until we alter them. 

Think for a moment about every relationship you might have ever had or will have in your life — acquaintance or friend, classmate or coworker, colleague or partner, reporter or public relations practitioner, employee or employer, contractor or customer, lover or spouse, online connection or offline passerby. It's doesn't matter which ones you think of first. In this story, all of them start out equal. All of them are just like that milkshake.

They start out pure, natural, and delicious. They can remain that way for a long time — filled with nothing but enthusiasm for the next job, next date, next gathering, next opportunity to share, serve, sell, and celebrate. But how long that lasts is up to each pairing.

Relationships are fragile things, like snowmen in spring, I once wrote as part of the prose in a company Christmas card. But even so, I don't think I realized how fragile they were until watching the principal destroy a milkshake at my daughter's school.

It only takes one piece of liver — one white lie, one unreasonable expectation or demand, one broken promise, one unfollow or meaningless connection, one malicious manipulation, one infidelity, one single dose of spam, or one time you need need to be right at all costs — to give it that uncharacteristically grayish-pink tint. And even while most of relationships are anything but pure white over time (because of one party or the other; one mistake or another), one might wonder just how murky someone can make a milkshake before it becomes undrinkable. Most of the time, it seems, people color them up pretty good because we're all human.

Still, the truth is that we don't have to carry around muddied, chunky milkshakes. Since every relationship starts out with the same set of pure ingredients, someone has to be the first to toss in a little piece of liver (or maybe the whole bowl). And while there are plenty of people in the world who are really good at doing it first that doesn't mean we have to beat them to the bullshit finish.

If you want to really change the way you think, work, and live, take a moment to assess all the milkshakes that you have in your life. Are they all white? And if they are not white, how much of the liver did you intentionally or unintentionally dump into them?

Chances are that some of them need to be poured out (those destructive forces in your life), some of them need to be drunk up so you can start over (the ones you messed up all on your own), and a tiny few of them need to be preserved (those lucky few or any that have started new). And then, assuming you are lucky enough to minimize the sludge after the cleanup, maybe you can carry the wisdom in the lesson for the rest of your life — you don't have to ruin your milkshakes. And you don't have to keep the ones that someone else ruins either.

Thursday, January 8

Accepting Temporary: Complacency Is Circular

Last night, I noticed something unusual at my gym. Typically, Gold's Gym is packed with "resolution members," people who made fitness resolutions for the New Year. After two weeks, most of them conclude that it isn't working and slowly fade away into whatever daily routines seem more comfortable. Not this year.

When I shared the observation that my gym was void of resolution members this year, PJ Perez suggested "overweight Americans have accepted their designations."

He's right, but I'm not so sure we're talking about fitness. Eighty-five percent of people voting on a news poll believe that the economy will get worse before it gets better, and only 33 percent have faith that President-elect Barack Obama's administration will be able to turn the economy around.

When the question had been asked during the election cycle, those numbers were considerably higher. It's one of the reasons he won. So what changed? People aren't certain the Obama administration can turn the economy around because Obama has yet to change campaign criticism into a confident challenge. Consider the following …

"I don't believe it's too late to change course, but it will be if we don't take dramatic action as soon as possible," Obama said in a speech set to be delivered at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., outside Washington.

Most speechwriters know that "but" cancels out everything that precedes it. Then again, I'm not talking about politics. I'm talking about the acceptance of what seems to be and complacency as opposed to acknowledging what is and moving forward.

You see, complacency is circular in that it occurs in companies, countries, and people at two ends of the spectrum — when things are too good or when things are too bad. In either case, complacency is the general acceptance of a temporary situation or state of being as if it is permanent (or who we are). So if you haven't already, right now might be a good time to kick around the concept of complacency as a conversation in your office.

Are you making decisions based on (or complaining about) temporary situations? And if so, what happens if and when those temporary situations change? Will those decisions put you in a position to win or ensure you remain in the same place — at the bottom of the complacency circle (which might be where your company started anyway)?

Or in other words, if your company is waiting it out, you might rethink that. After all, times will change. They always do. It's the only certainty.

Thursday, January 1

Measuring Popular: Social Media Meets Gilligan's Island

Long-time industry analyst Barbara French once wrote (link below) that "we've got some very bright people on both sides of the debate — those advocating that we equate influence with popularity/connectedness, those advising against it. Neither side is ready to blink." Well, for those advocating for it, I suggest they study the work of Sherwood Schwartz and blink.

That's right. You'll find all you need to know about how influence, authority, and popularity interact by watching Gilligan's Island.


Influence is the capacity or power of persons or things to be a compelling force on or produce effects on the actions, behavior, and opinions of others.

The Professor, AKA Roy Hinkley Jr., Ph.D., had individual influence, even though group think had more. (So did Eunice "Lovey" Wentworth Howell, mostly over her husband but occasionally the younger female castaways.)

In 1958, social psychologist Solomon Asch devised an experiment to examine the extent to which pressure from other people could affect one's perception. Almost 37 of the 50 subjects conformed to the majority at least once, even when the majority had chosen a clearly erroneous answer. (Hat tip for the reminder: HireCentrix).

It didn't require any sense of authority or popularity; only a simple majority. However, perceived authority or popularity can potentially compound the allure of conformity. And sometimes, in the wrong hands, the results can be disastrous.


Authority is the power to enforce laws, exact obedience, command, determine, judge, or influence by proven knowledge or experience in a field.

The Skipper, AKA Jonas Grumby, had authority. (So did Thurston Howell, III, but his authority did not translate into an admired quality given the situational parameters of the island.)

In 1963, Stanley Milgram gave the world a glimpse into obedience by publishing the results of his experiment, which proved the authority figure in the experiment could convince participants to deliver electric shocks past safety limits, even when the recipient of the shocks protested and expressed life-threatening danger.

It didn't require any popularity, only a blind belief that someone seemed in charge. A simple majority can compound the allure of obedience. And sometimes, when given to the wrong people, it can be disastrous.


Popularity is most simply defined as being commonly liked or approved of, but there's a bit more to it.

Ginger Grant was popular. (But among viewers, people liked Mary Ann more).

In 2008, behavioral geneticist S. Alexandra Burt at Michigan State University found that genes elicit not only specific behaviors but also the social consequences of those behaviors, which means your genes may drive your social experiences and predispose you to popularity in certain social settings. But there is more to it than that. In this study, the 200 male college students were in a unique campus environment where "rule-breaking behaviors" are generally admired. In another social setting, they may not be popular.

In 1993, the Administrative Science Quarterly published "Power, social influence, and sense making: effects of network centrality and proximity on employee perceptions," which explored the relative contributions of individual attributes, formal organizational positions, network centrality, and network proximity in explaining individual variation in perceptions of work-related conditions in an advertising firm. Simply stated, like many studies have found — social settings, structural centrality, perceived leadership, situational timing, and role satisfaction all play a part in making someone popular. And sometimes, when the wrong people become popular, it can be disastrous.

Ergo, exhibiting qualities considered admirable within a specific social network can help someone become popular.

It's also why Gilligan may have been the least popular person on the island, but he was easily the most popular comedic icon among viewers who found the comedy and sometimes accidental genius of the character to be admired qualities.

Influence, Authority, and Popularity Online

Michael Litman, who is equally fascinated by the concept of online authority, touched on part of the equation (and provided a sum up of definitions from people with perceived authority online) by simply stating that authority cannot be measured online. He's mostly right.

When you consider various social psychological studies and what we know about cognitive psychology, everyone started as equal as Litman suggests. But since human beings are human beings, we are generally predisposed to create systems of hierarchy and authority. So, it only stands to reason that people quickly went to work attempting to build such a structure in this new social setting.

Fortunately or unfortunately, much of this hierarchy has been built mostly around popularity measurements or largely "reach" as I mentioned on Tuesday, which is easily summed up by how many links, readers, followers, friends, etc. someone has earned. However, it's always important to consider that these measures might be gamed, blatantly, through mutually reciprocal agreements or, covertly, through sycophant behavior (hit tip for the perfect word: Chapel).

The reason reach has been incorporated into the equation is because it's borrowed from the advertising industry and mainstream media's obsession with eyeballs. But in the end, social media gravitation to reach doesn't mean anything because real influence requires offline measures such as changing behavior or tangible outcomes and real authority comes from something other than popularity (even though all three are sometimes interconnected).

“Popularity is the one insult I have never suffered.” — Oscar Wilde

For anyone who knows anything about Oscar Wilde, there is an irony in his comment that makes it all the more colorful. While he may have never penned a blog or joined a social network, he was one of the greatest celebrities of his day, frequently wearing his hair long and decorating his room with peacock feathers and lilies. And even though his situational timing was perfect (because that is what his world needed at the time), he always backed it up with his biting wit and the pledge not to beg forgiveness for what he thought. And what did he think?

"All that I desire to point out is the general principle that life imitates art far more than art imitates life." - Oscar Wilde

For all the mentions of people drinking the Kool-Aid in regard to social media (backed up by studies from Milgram and Asch), we ought to know by now that Wilde was as right today as he was one hundred years ago. If you're not careful, social media has a greater chance to change individuals than individuals ever do to change social media. And if there is any wisdom to be taken away, perhaps it is that participants would be better off searching for truth rather than the cult of personality.

Why? Read some of the work by Walter Lippman, who believed distorted information is inherent in the human mind and only by seeing through stereotypes can we find partial truths. Or ...

Simply recognize that for all the importance placed on influence, authority, and popularity on Gilligan's Island, they never got off the island (er, special episodes aside).

In other words, even if you could measure all the nuances of influence, authority, and popularity, why would you want to? It seems to me, throughout history, we've proven that chasing after the shadow of perception often leads us away from reality.

Related posts pertaining to influence, authority, and popularity online:

Does Influence Equal Online Popularity by Barbara French
Measuring Influence vs. Popularity by Shel Israel
Influence and Popularity in Social Media by Servant of Chaos
Ego Trap: Influencer Lists by Peter Kim
Twitter Popularity Does Not Equal Business Acumen by Jennifer Leggio

Tuesday, September 16

Blaming Sexes: Bad Research Habits

Researchers at the University of Toronto recently compared the stress levels and physical health problems of men and women working in one of three situations: for a lone male supervisor, a lone female supervisor, or for both a male and female supervisor. The report concluded:

• Women working for female bosses reported more psychological distress and physical symptoms than women working for a male boss.
• Women reporting to a mixed-gender pair reported more symptoms than their peers who worked for a single male boss.
• Men who worked for a single supervisor, regardless of the supervisor's gender, had similar levels of distress.
• Men who worked for a mixed-gender pair had fewer symptoms than those working for a lone male supervisor.

My speculation differs. It seems to me that psychological distress and physical symptoms are more likely caused by poor coping skills; ineffective management and leadership skills; or choice of research.

Friday, April 4

Fishing With Prices: Target

Lisa Thurmond, a college student who pens a sometimes funny, often satirical, and always interesting blog Lisa’s World, recently helped popularize a camera-phone picture posted by Michael Wesch, a professor at Kent State University, on Digital Ethnography, a student work group blog.

The picture? A “2 for $4.98” offer on Archer Farms organic flatbread at Target. The price for one? $2.49. He posted it without comment. She called it manipulation.

Both posts garnered some interesting reactions and responses. Some comments zero in on consumer psychology: if it looks like a sale, our brain reacts like it is a sale, even when it isn’t a sale. Others, they called it patently unethical and misleading.

Only one person defended Target by calling it marketing” that all mass merchants are employing. Her comment was quickly voted to the bottom.

Well, technically, posting “2 for $4.98” as an advertised price is not unethical. It would require Target to imply that there is a sale as opposed to the consumer inferring that it is a sale. However, resting on that point is about genuine as attempting to redefine what the definition of “is” really is.

The bottom line for marketers? It doesn’t really matter whether “2 for $4.98” is ethical or not. If your price point offer is irritating customers, being technically right could cost you more than being theoretically wrong.


Tuesday, September 4

Exploring Social Media: Semi-Public Youth

“… just as science reveals how crucially important nourishing relationships are, human connections seem increasingly under siege. Social corruption has many faces.” — Daniel Goleman, author of Social Intelligence

When most people think of consequences associated to youth and social media (MySpace, Facebook, and blogs), the first thought that comes to mind is sexual predators infiltrating the Web. Yet, most consequences seem more subtle, despite growing out of a spoof about society’s fascination with addictive behaviors.

Sure, Dr. Ivan Goldberg may have coined the phrase “Internet Addiction Disorder” as satire but other researchers like clinical psychologist Kimberly Young, Psy.D. used it to set a new pace in launching exploratory studies that looked at online addiction (read a sum up here). In one such study, she concluded as many as 396 of the 496 Internet users could be classified as dependent.

More recently however, John Grohol, Psy.D. pointed out that most of these studies are less than reliable. In fact, many skew toward proving a threat to modern society. And others, such as the impact of Internet harassment, seem too thin to draw any real conclusions.

So maybe we need better questions: What are the long-term personal ramifications of participation in these networks, particularly among youth, as Marc Aniballi, managing director at Crack Method, offered up to me on Linkedin as one question we don't ask enough about social media.

Although I am not deep enough into the book Social Intelligence to provide a proper review, I do believe Goleman has set the stage to answer questions like the one proposed by Aniballi. Some paraphrased highlights from the book include: substituting daily interactions with online activities may not provide children enough experience to cope with face-to-face interactions; constant digital connectivity may inadvertently disconnect them from the world around them; greater connections may provide more forums to justify anti-social behavior rather than reinforce moral values being taught at home; and emotional outbursts online that may spill over into their surrounding environment.

They are interesting observations. They make me wonder if some answers are right under our noses. Maybe Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, and Jason Wahler have the answers.

All of them were subjected to an inordinate amount of adult content and choices, a displaced sense of self-worth as it is based on public input, a disproportionate amount of public critique and ridicule, an inappropriately high level of aggressive public outbursts, and a general disconnect from interacting with the world around them; experiences that are indicative of social networks and the Internet.

So where does that leave us? As much as I would like to say that the solution is simply better educating youth before giving them the freedom to engage in social media, I sometimes wonder if most adults understand that one of the personal and professional consequences of engagement means becoming a semi-public or public figure. Nonetheless, here are three observations that youth might benefit from before becoming more immersed in social media:

Balance. Social media is best used to augment education, expand social networks, and create conversations. It was never meant to replace them or infringe upon them. Forget friend counts and get out more.

Responsibility. Written communication has significantly more impact than verbal communication. It is often permanent. Despite this, social media dramas are generally more inflammatory than in-person disagreements and discussions. Diffuse it instead of lending to it by insulating yourself against becoming emotionally engaged. In most cases, name callers say more about themselves than the person they attack. In some cases, they aren’t even real people.

Selectivity. Unless we can look at the world as disconnected observers, information can and will influence our behavior. It pays to be selective in what we expose ourselves to, how we interpret that information, and to take care not to project it into our own lives.

To be clear, I think social media is one of the finest communication tools available for any number of individual and business applications. However, the Internet is much like the world: you can find what you look for. So what are you looking for? And your kids?


Tuesday, August 14

Surviving US Airways: Social Connections

“…the surprising ease in which our brains interlock, spreading our emotions like a virus.” — Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence and Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships.

As a writer and creative director, especially in the fast-paced profession of advertising with always urgent deadlines, I've understood the general concept of what Goleman calls social intelligence for some time.

I sometimes use it to remind account executives and others that negative reinforcement might teach mice to press bars for cheese, but it never did anything for creativity or teamwork. The designers will beat the deadline, I tell them, provided you stop asking them if they’ll meet it.

Emotions are like viruses. And communication is the way it spreads.

Being keenly aware of this, long before reading the first page of Goleman’s book (I picked up at the airport, where I was stranded, the morning after), perhaps it was easier for me not to succumb to the plague of negativity — worry, fear, anger, rage — that swept through the terminal the day before.

Instead, I focused on making alliances with like-minded people who seemed unaffected by the social disease caused mostly by US Airways employees. While I could have tuned it out as an observer, I opted for an inoculation of sorts, creating positive social connections that can make all the difference when you are destined to perform a mini-repeat performance of Tom Hanks in the movie The Terminal.

“That’s based on a true story,” insisted Stephan (from Sweden), who was stranded on his way to Dallas. (I didn’t know it, but he was right).

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Christina (from Germany), who was on her way home after studying at Duke University. “I never saw the movie.”

While our group originally numbered five in line, it was the three of us who spent the most time together, passing the evening hours in an airport bar that was packed with marooned passengers. For a few hours, communication was effortless as we traded observations about our respective cultures, ranging from Christina’s choice to study law in America or Latin in Europe and how the Seventies-spun infamy of the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders is ever-present abroad to the growing Swedish presence in American hockey and why some Europeans think Baywatch exemplifies the American experience.

I’m thankful for these spontaneous friendships. It proved helpful when we waited in line together and even more so before heading off to find our respective sleeping arrangements — some empty terminal benches (some passengers flipped them on end to make temporary beds). Sure, there are plenty of tips I could pass out to help people deal with such a crisis, but the best advice is to seek out positive people (not those who want to focus on the horror of it all).

Had the US Airways passenger service agents known this, they too may have been better equipped to face the long line of rightfully concerned passengers who heard that the airline would offer no redemption whatsoever. Hmmm ... imagine how different it could have been had US Airways personnel at least understood that their communication had a greater impact on the passengers than the cancellations. Or that even the simplest service plan could have helped.

Demonstrate Empathy. When you have a 40 percent delay rate and 4 percent cancellation rate like US Airways, it might seem easy to shrug it off as another “here we go again” situation. However, passenger service agents need to appreciate that cancellations are not ordinary to passengers.

Draft Consistent Messages. Even my partner, who attempted to connect with the 1-800 number from home, noted that after speaking with four people, each of them had conflicting messages and none of them were told what I was told on scene (which was different from what other airlines told passengers for that matter). A consistent message — we will get you to your destination and, more importantly, we care — would have went a long way.

Create A Crisis Team. Two or three people serving stranded customers in a bank line model does not work. US Airways could have used personnel who were obviously not checking people in on these flights to assist. Even a 4-person team could have provided a better structure: two on the counter; one to assist off counter (calling for updates, gathering hotel availability, etc.); and the one to handle special needs, eg. parents who needed their baggage, which contained their baby’s formula (baggage could have tracked the bags before the family went down to claim them).

Offer Pre-Counter Service. Rather than allow a passenger service agent to walk the line and discourage passengers; the employee could have told passengers what to expect, letting them know that they were being booked on the next available flight; that it might be late tonight or tomorrow morning; that if they want to change flight plans, need baggage, or have other needs, fill out a form so they can assist expediently; and for those spending the night, they would receive an updated list of hotels ready to accommodate them.

Provide Real Guidance. Given the frequency of cancellations due to, um, "weather" in Philadelphia, US Airways could have easily produced a working list of area hotels based on rates, proximity, and availability, making it easier for passengers (even if the airline refused to pay for them).

Expedite the Line. Four-and-a-half hours (some waiting even longer) is too long when the "return on wait" is negligible or negative. Studies prove long waits are more bearable only if customers can see superior service ahead of them. Since our plan already provides passengers information before they reach the counter, passenger service agents could have fine-tuned their communication, saying “we have booked you on this flight, which means you may want to stay at this hotel tonight at this rate. If you want to change your plans, need your bags for medical or other reasons, or if you have additional special needs, this agent will assist you over here.” Move them forward. Put them at ease.

Simple. Easy. Effective. Empathetic. At minimum, it would have been better than. Instead, the only communication besides a few discouraging employees was a fifth generation photocopy that began “The entire US Airways team sincerely apologizes for this disruption to your travel plans.” It was disingenuous at best and communicated the exact opposite at worst. Frankly, the letter US Airways passed out last week created more negativity than no letter at all.

If anything, it reinforced the only semblance of a consistent message that US Airways seemed to have for the passengers stranded in Philadelphia: “Ha ha! We’re blaming the weather for the cause of every cancellation tonight. You are on your own and I wish you would just deal with it on your own because I’m going home in an hour, and you're not. We just don't care.”


Wednesday, August 8

Driving Brand: McDonald's Corporation

It seems Coca-Cola has some proven company in breaking through the brand clutter. McDonald's, with more than 30,000 local restaurants serving 52 million people in more than 100 countries each day, has struck the neuroscience nerve.

Carrots, milk, and apple juice all taste better to preschoolers, ages 3-5, when they are wrapped in packaging that sports one of the most familiar brands in the world. At least that is what they found in San Mateo County, Calif. when 63 children were given the same foods. The only difference was the wrapper.

The impact is amazing, but it is the age at which this brand embeds itself that is extraordinary (and perhaps a little bit frightening). The research appeared in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine and funded by Stanford and the Robert Wood Foundation and it was picked up by the Associated Press yesterday.

In a prior experiment, the researchers demonstrated that even a single exposure to a television advertisement affected preschool children's brand preferences. This study found that the frequency of eating at McDonald's was not the only influencer. The number of television sets in the household also played a factor.

This doesn’t surprise me. All of us, but children in particular, respond to visual and audio stimulus as if it were real whether we admit it or not. In other words, what we see on television has an equal chance to impact our decisions on a subconscious, if not conscious, level (assuming the writers and producers know what they are doing).

Founder Ray Kroc knew what he was doing. He not only raised the bar on the principles of quick service standardization, but also forever linked the idea (if not the practice) of quality, cleanliness, service, and value to McDonald’s name.

“If you work just for money, you'll never make it, but if you love what you're doing and you always put the customer first, success will be yours.” — Ray Kroc

Although some may argue not all local franchise owners measure up to Kroc’s vision, it doesn’t matter. McDonald's spends more than $1 billion dollars in advertising per year. That’s a whole lot of positive impressions.

Fun fact: Our first regional television script was written for McDonald’s in the early 1990s. It was part of a regional campaign to determine which of the “Arch” burgers would be introduced nationwide. While the “Arch Deluxe” won, the “California Deluxe” beat out Big Macs in some markets. McDonald’s has one of the strictest shot standards in the quick service industry; no one is allowed to actually “eat and chew” food on camera.


Tuesday, July 3

Demonstrating Leadership: Social Media

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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