Saturday, June 30

Embracing Jericho Fans: CBS

Watching the CBS-produced fan video featuring BlogTalkRadio radio host Shaun O Mac, it's almost hard to imagine any ill words spoken during the show cancellation protest a few weeks ago. CBS seems to have embraced the fans.

"Seems" might be the operative word. Jericho fans are learning that passion-infused protests are much easier to orchestrate (if they catch fire) than an organized fan base for reruns. It's also one of the reasons I advocated for the creation of an association of sorts, back on June 10, to keep people engaged.

Some Jericho fans have hinted that the fan club is something they would love to do, but aren't sure how to do it (some insist anything beyond an individual "uncollective" is unwelcome). Others hope CBS will take the lead, but I'm unconvinced this will happen until the network officially goes beyond seven new episodes. Regardless, the longer it takes to create an engaging organization, the more difficult it will be to retain active participation and capture media interest, which has long tapered off (no surprise; there is no new "big" news).

As a somewhat related side note, I want to highlight that the three different fan bases I've covered, all have very different structures. Veronica Mars fans are interconnected groups of individuals that come together not unlike Tinker Toys, with hubs and spokes that branch out forever; fans of The Black Donnellys are generally centralized as a single body with a few offshoots; and Jericho fans operate like a donut, with various equal bodies but no clear center. Each structure has its advantages and disadvantages.

Specific to Jericho fans, however, is the need to add a centralized body in the center of their donut, which might provide CBS the direction it needs to endorse, if not support, some representative body. How can this be done?

Organize A Delegation. Last week, Jericho fans clearly demonstrated that unless they become sidetracked, they are people with principles (not just passion). Given this, it seems to make sense that a fan club might be created by having each group nominate an equal number of individuals (1-3) to represent their various forums and collectives. (These individuals may or many not serve on the board once the club is ratified. I recommend picking those who have consensus-building skills, not necessarily leadership skills, at this stage.)

Create A Name And By-Laws. Having written and revised several organizationd' bylaws, I know finding the right example is not difficult. Although unrelated, The Winnepeg Goldeyes have excellent bylaws that could serve as a starting point. Here are a few other points to consider:

• Keep the focus large and fill in details (like member dues) later.
• Draft bylaws within the delegation, outside input is not needed.
• Create an executive body that is elected by the populous.
• Allow the board to consist of representatives from each group.
• Keep it simple. Four traditional executive roles could be enough.

Upon completion (again, without some details in place), give each group an opportunity to ratify the document (so to speak). Send along a courtesy copy to CBS so they are aware of your intent, but don't be overly concerned with an endorsement at this stage.

Elect Interim Officers/Board. Officers could be elected by the entire populous (all groups) and other board members elected from their representative groups (I appreciate there is crossover; but you have to start somewhere ... ask people to vote in only one group). This interim body will be charged wih taking care of the details.

Consolidate Resources. Most fan clubs have to determine overhead and cost of operation at startup. Jericho fans will also, to some degree, but they seem to have more flexibility in being able to adopt/endorse existing projects that have already seen some success (merchandise, newsletters, blogs, etc.). This will help defray any initial costs and communicate ongoing progress.

Legal Requirements. One of the responsibilities for this central body will be to take care of the details: establishing membership dues (even token dues), sponsorship/donation opportunities, filing bylaws, opening an account, setting up an Amazon affiliate program to sell DVDs, etc. Keep CBS apprised of all activities; encouraging them to eventually endorse the group by demonstrating solidarity.

Create A Community. While the last thing Jericho fans seem to need is another forum, there is the possibility of creating a social network on a platform like Ning, linking to and/or adding RSS feeds to the various represented bodies. Promote the launch of the community, keeping in mind that the goal is not so much to create a new group as much as it would be to provide a neutral community to conduct business, etc. (Various groups/forums are free to pursue their own efforts as they currently do, with the only added task of enrolling members in the fan club.)

The benefits of a central organization for the promotion of the show, various represented group activities, and eventually its own endeavors, would provide a long-term strategy that will help ensure the success of Jericho. And, even in a worse case scenario, provide a mechanism to expand the Jericho Universe in the event CBS abandons the show.

However, the real benefits will be made apparent when the fans succeed. It could become a centralized body that works closely with CBS in developing fan-generated marketing and promotional items while drawing attention to each represented group's best practices.

At least, that's the way I see it from a conceptual standpoint (if you need more guidance or I'm not clear, just ask in the comments). But then again, I'm a big fan of the republic.

In closing, here's an update on last week's DVD tracking via Amazon for anyone interested (alpha order)*:

The Black Donnellys
(Reviews: 24; Sales Rank 1,576; Peak Rank: 356)

(Reviews: 58; Sales Rank: TBA; Peak Rank: TBA)

Veronica Mars #3
(Reviews: 32; Sales Rank: 15; Peak Rank: 8)

*represents what we saw; not necessarily an official number. We'll be watching Entertainment Weekly once all three are released.


Friday, June 29

Guessing Intentions: Burger King, McDonald's, Wendy's

As reported by the Associated Press, Burger King, McDonald's and Wendy's are all balking at New York City's new rule that will require them to post calories on menus. Taco Bell and KFC won't talk.

"They are afraid that when people see these eye-popping calorie numbers, they might switch to a smaller size," Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a health advocacy group, told the AP. "They feel it is going to hurt sales."

Jacobson's answer likely comes from a question I usually advise our clients not to play along with. While the wording might be off, it's a good guess the AP reporter asked "Why do you think Burger King, McDonald's and Wendy's are afraid to post the calories?"

Speculation can be a dangerous game, even if you are an advocate of the new rule that covers some 2,000 New York City eateries. More likely, the only reason three chains are taking a harder stand is because the New York State Restaurant Association challenged the rule in court, the city said it won't fine anyone until October, and the "calorie counts" are required to be the same size as the price.

While this story appeared on SpinThicket as a PR Nightmare, I'm wondering if it isn't just good old-fashioned spin and not on the part of the quick service industry (that's the PC term for fast food. Ha!).

True, quick service is not the most nutritional choice for lunch (neither is what most of our children are served for school lunch). But also true is that, sometimes, elected officials overreach in creating regulations that are meant to "protect us from ourselves" because, frankly, it looks bad to serve a term in office without making something up. I think this might apply.

What New York City has going for it is perception: hamburgers are somehow evil. What it has going against it is reality: adults don't need to feel guilty about their choices.

Besides, most of this information is available anyway. As Denny Lynch, spokesman for Wendy's, told the AP, Wendy's has made this information available for 30 years. Indeed, it's been a unique selling point on more than one occasion.

Hmmm ... sometimes business has a tendency to set industry standards without an assist from government. So if Subway, KFC, and Wendy's haven't been able to cut into competitor sales on the selling point they have lower calorie choices by now, then I doubt very much city government regulations will either.


Surviving Social Media: IABC/Las Vegas

A little more than two years ago, I posted my confession that it was my partner (not me) who said Web logs (blogs) were going to have a lasting impact on the communication industry in late 2003.

Fortunately for me, despite my skepticism, I approved what became a yearlong study on the patterns, perceptions, potential, and business application of blogs. The early work led me to speak at an International Association of Business Communicators/Las Vegas (IABC/Las Vegas) luncheon, were I concluded: no matter how you felt about it, social media was influencing the public and the media about products, services, policies, daily operations, and a company's bottom line.

Was I right about social media?

It resulted in the Singapore government paying out S$150 million to about 330,000 low-income workers five days before an election. It underpinned the biggest television show cancellation protest in history with Jericho fans shipping 40,000 pounds of nuts to CBS. It was behind the move by shareholders to oust JetBlue’s founder as president. It thrust the local Towbin Hummer flag controversy into the national spotlight. And, it is the reason behind Wynn Las Vegas becoming the first resort casino to have unionized dealers.

Amazing to me, despite the fact that social media has changed the communication landscape, most communicators (and even some bloggers) remain in denial. They say social media is a fad or not to be taken seriously. But the truth is (much like your message): if you don’t manage social media, social media will manage you.

On Friday, July 13, I've been asked back to speak at IABC/Las Vegas to present on a slightly different topic: what does it take to make social media work for you and not against you. While I'll touch on how to determine which tools — blogs, podcasts, digital media, and even PR Newswire releases — might work best for your company or clients, I'll also provide an inside look at some of the case studies we've covered and why this blog became the top ranked communication blog in Nevada.

Host: IABC/Las Vegas
Date: Friday, July 13
Time: 11:30 a.m. (networking)
Location: Las Vegas Country Club, 3000 Joe W. Brown Drive
Cost: $26 for IABC members and students, $30 for guests
RSVP: Visit by July 11

While some readers know I have social media experience — contributing to, participating on SpinThicket, assisting on a BlogCatalog project, working to partner with The Buzz Bin to develop something on myRagan, and launching three blogs for various clients — social media is only some of what we do (although some days, I wonder. Ha!)

So, in the hope of promoting this IABC/Las Vegas program to social media skeptics, I'm also an accredited business communicator who has worked on more than 1,000 accounts, written hundreds of magazine articles, contributed to five books, and scripted a documentary for PBS. I currently serve as an examiner for the IABC International Accreditation Board; governor-appointed state commissioner for the Nevada Commission for National & Community Service (AmeriCorps); honorary member of Les Clefs d’Or; and Educational Outreach instructor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Within the past three years, I've also served as an international research committee member for the IABC Research Foundation; director of public service for the Las Vegas Advertising Federation; director of public relations for the Business Community Investment Council; and in several other positions to assist nonprofit professional and community service projects. My work has earned numerous awards, including several Addys, EMAs, and Quills for writing, creative, and strategic direction. I've been honored as IABC/Las Vegas Communicator of the Year, WIC Agency/Production/Public Relations Principal of the Year, with the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce Community Achievement Award, and others.

Prior to Copywrite, Ink., I was creative director at an advertising agency in Reno and worked in the corporate communication department of a major utility. I'm a proud graduate of the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno.

I don't blog in pajamas or bathrobes (not that there is anything wrong with that), but some people might be surprised by the caliber of our clients (small and large) and, even more so, the results we've helped generate for people, products, companies, and even elected officials. So, if you're in Las Vegas on July 13 (and you've RSVPd by July 11), drop by for a few hours. We're even going to give away some quirky Jericho-inspired Copywrite, Ink. "blog promo" T-shirts.


Thursday, June 28

Controlling Community: John Sumser

John Sumser has taken on a mission impossible because there seems to be a desire to transform, which is currently defined as blog community portal, into a niche social network that will be managed like an online magazine with Sumser as editor.

It cannot be done.

Sumser is not alone in making the mistake of combining what are opposing objectives. Many companies are struggling with the same self-created issue, which is what often gives rise to community members screaming unfair criticism, blatant censorship, and/or totalitarian fascist rule. Eventually, it leads to protest, exodus, or even negative public outcry beyond the niche it serves.

You can see it all over the net. It ranges from alleged censorship of The Black Donnellys fans at NBC online and Jericho fans during the cancellation protest at CBS online to the broadest brush strokes and ample examples being advocated by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. All of it, big and small, stems from the same problem: a lack of strategic oversight on the part of the site moderators that often leads to gross confusion over whether or not the First Amendment might apply on the part of the participants (mostly, it doesn't), which I'm inclined to write about another time.

Today, I'll stick to the misconception being applied by some companies: they think "if we build it (a framework for an online community of sorts, whether it be a blog, portal, forum, social network, or some combination), they will come." And, as soon as the "open" sign goes up, sometimes they do come — participants who quickly take up residence and build their community.

Did you catch that? I said "their community" because it's the most important part of the equation. Companies that create online gathering places only own the framework; it's the participants who own the community. Because without them, there is no community.

And that brings us back to Whereas Jason Davis (former management at moderated with a guiding hand, Sumser seems to use the rule of law. After all, as editor, Sumser claims it's his job to ensure the content is worthwhile by some subjective standards only he knows.

While I understand this thinking from someone who often considers social media and blogging as, more or less, immature and brutish (although, mysteriously and magically, not so in many, many places), it represents the direct opposition to developing an online community. You see, the model for editorial control, beyond the loosest guidelines, (eg. no pornography, etc.) is much better suited to running an online magazine or news source like, well, Electronic Recruiting News.

For a blog portal, like, any sense of community can only be accomplished by applying the simplest of concepts: "it's easier to pull a chain than to push one." That means "editors" must abandon their propensity to manage and attempt to lead.

Real leadership does not work under the rule of law. It requires something else all together. So instead of "editing" and reserving the right to make even the best intended critiques, the moderator who hopes to build a community will see better results if they focus more on making people feel welcome, praising those who provide the best examples, and adding unique value for the residents.

No, it doesn't have to be this way. could just as easily operate as an online content provider or magazine (in which case, it needs more exclusive content) and a blog portal, giving up on the idea that it is somehow a community (it's not). While this means it will rarely be considered home, the model can work just as well while affording the owners control, which they seem to want.

From a more general perspective, any time a company, organization, or group launches a product, service, or online "something" (or applies sweeping changes to such things), it's always best to develop a strategy first. And, if these things already exist, it's never a good idea to remove previous tactics without knowing what you need to replace them with. Ergo, if you blow little things all up without a plan, you might be surprised to find out some of those little things made the big thing work.

Ideally, developing a strategy can be largely accomplished by understanding the environment in which you hope to operate and your true competitors. Then, you offer added values to your product/service/offering or, at minimum, positive communication contrasts between yourself and your competitors.

Apple and AT&T's positioning of the iPhone is a pretty good example. Verizon's new message, which they think will keep customers from switching to an iPhone, is not.

The bottom line. You cannot be all things to all people, especially when you aren't all things.


Wednesday, June 27

Behaving Badly: Jobster CEO

Jason Goldberg, CEO of Jobster, an online career network, has once again succeeded in doing what he seems to do best. Any time the sailing seems too smooth or the skies too blue, he veers his venture capital-funded ship and its shareholders’ money off course to find a storm of his own creation.

This time, apparently prompted by moderately reliable Alexa analytics, he sent former employee and shareholder Jason Davis a cease-and-desist letter to either close down (which I recently reviewed) or force broker a deal to, in Goldberg’s words, “work this out in a way that benefits everyone.”

According to Goldberg’s letter to Michael Arrington at TechCrunch, Davis is in violation of a non-complete clause that Davis signed as part of a contract to manage for a year (after he sold the site to Jobster). After the one year contract was complete, Davis launched Goldberg’s position and the message he thinks he is communicating is this:

“Our overarching intent at Jobster and with our Website remains to foster online community in the recruiting industry — the more the better. At the same time, Jobster needs to ensure that our employees and contractors uphold their commitments.”

It seems to me and others that Goldberg is communicating something else …

• He has not learned that virtually no communication, especially bad communication, will remain private. Sooner or later, it will be made public.

• He is not above attempting to manipulate and intimidate people into giving Jobster and some sort of leverage over others, in this case. It’s laughable at best, unethical at worst.

• He does not have faith in John Sumser’s management of to retain and attract visitors. If he did have faith, there would be no reason for Jobster to threaten legal action to protect a Digg-styled blog portal against a very different offering, which I called an open niche social network on Ning. (Even Sumser, who I enjoy from time to time, doesn't seem to have much faith in his abilities either.)

• He is a rash, impulsive executive without empathy; it sometimes seems like he wants to come across as a hardhearted bully, but in reality, this action seems more like a spoiled child throwing a tantrum because he made a bad decision in not renewing Davis’ contract.

• He comes across, once again, as being disingenuous by saying that “We at Jobster are actually big fans of the Website … we’ve also offered/suggested that there is probably a good way for us to work together going forward.” A cease-and-desist letter is usually the last communication, not the first communication, in fostering positive business relations.

From a communication perspective, legality issues aside, even if Goldberg and the much-loved-by-the-recruiting-industry Davis can reach an amicable agreement as they both suggested they might, Goldberg has already lost. He has created a potential crisis in using the supposed weight of his company to censor a niche social network, that has yet to make any money, just because he feels threatened by even the most indirect competition and comment.

Goldberg’s best course of action, assuming he doesn’t want to become another “laugh piece” for The New York Times, is to admit that he overreacted and retract any hint of taking legal action. If he does not, the potential ramifications will likely be that will continue its decline (caused by its own inability to remain relevant even though it could be), and Goldberg will solidify his personal brand as someone who is either not to be taken seriously or to be avoided at all cost. This would not bode well for Jobster, as mentioned on the Recruiting Animal Show.


Tuesday, June 26

Falling Skies: Daily Mail

The sky is falling! The sky is falling! And the culprits bringing it down are anyone who happens to use the Internet, especially youth.

At least that is what A.N. Wilson with the Daily Mail would have us believe with this article, entitled "The internet is destroying the world as we know it."

It was brought to my attention yesterday, being cited as a discussion point by the collective Amanda Chapel, this time at

"Your child is next door on the computer, destroying the world as we know it and wrecking two of the most fundamental values that underpin society..." leads Wilson.

Yep. Ten-year-olds are the new villains of modern society, responsible for destroying the record industry, the publishing industry, newspapers, and cinema; while amazingly enough, still finding time to become addicts of gambling, pornography, and insidious forms of self-deception.

Fortunately, my son is still two years shy of this now infamous age group when he will be formally indoctrinated into the new axis of evil that is the Internet. Or maybe, something much simpler will prevent him from taking the plunge. What's that? Parental guidance.

So at the risk of sounding like overly cautious parents, we created a hot list of sites that he can visit and put up parental blocks on those he cannot. (And never mind what I think about most shows on Cartoon Network, which he no longer watches.)

To be fair, Wilson starts by thinking through some questions about online privacy (though sadly, no one seems to care). But then, it turns toward good old fashioned doomsday op-eding. You know the kind; the same stuff that sold millions of Y2K books.

For example, Wilson warns us that the Internet is filling our children's heads with blatant propaganda by drawing a comparison between Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Britannica online, but never gets to the real reason Wikipedia is better read (online, at least).

It seems to me that the so-called seductive power of Wikipedia is not the reason it ranks higher than the Encyclopedia Britannica on the Web. It's much simpler than that: Wikipedia is free, void of excessive advertising, easier to navigate, and enjoys the benefit of major consumer marketing. (Despite this, I too caution people against considering Wikipedia the most reliable source on the planet.)

So where does this leave us? Are we to bar our children from all things Internet, starving their development to make independent judgements?

Hardly. Our responsibility lies in guiding our youth (our own children, specifically) who sometimes place too much faith in a single source of information (like television commercials with irresistible toys or Wilson's article for that matter). And, we can educate them so they know that history is being rewritten as we speak, every day, and has been for all of, well, history. Among other things.

Then again, maybe Wison and the collective Strumpette aren't really to blame for this point of view that puts our children at risk. Perhaps it is because they too, it seems, bought a questionable bill of goods. The argument they are forwarding is not original; it comes from author Andrew Keen, who claims to "have invented the model of integrating commerce, community, and content." He's also a F**ked Company Hall of Famer.

Ironically, Keen employs the same tool he chastizes for creating a "grand utopian movement" similar to "communist society" that "worships the creative amateur: the self-taught filmmaker, the dorm-room musician, the unpublished writer," preferring, I imagine, a fascist, snobbish world where an elite class of overmen might dictate who makes the cut into the professional talent pool.

Never mind that almost all of our greatest writers, artists, poets, and filmmakers once belonged to the ranks of this lowly amateur class. (No, Keen, not everybody starts as a child television star, not that there is anything wrong with that; some of us start by mowing lawns and drawing pictures of the neighbor's dog.)

So therein lies the rub. Just because something has a cover doesn't make it any more truthful, credible, or accurate than something you might find online (and vice versa). To find the truth, you have to dig deeper, look at multiple sources, ask the right questions and, if you are able, conduct your own research beyond giving in to citing other people (including polar opposites, which is the trend nowadays).

I think social media is as much the same today as it was when I likened it to the Force a few months ago. How one uses it will make all the difference. How we teach our children to use it will also make all the difference.

There are Sith, Jedi, and everybody in between. But the Internet is largely just a public space that can be used to further a business strategy, for individual or collective good, for entertainment, and, as some people know, to peddle "fear" and polarizing viewpoints as if the world were black and white.

Fortunately, the world is not black and white. The sky is not falling. And our children (though you might want to check up on them) are not ushering forth a world of unparalleled evil because of the Internet. On the contrary, they might just use the Internet to prevent it.


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