Friday, July 6

Gambling Impressions: Disneyland

Disneyland. It's the happiest place on earth; and the place I'm writing from today.

But is it really the happiest place on earth? Or maybe, Disneyland is simply very, very good at messaging. After all, the welcome packages are sprinkled with pixie dust, and come with a commemorative coin.

If negative impressions are eight times more impactful than positive impressions, then it takes 80 positive impressions to erase a negative impression. So the question is: will I have enough positive park experiences to forget the two hours I waited in the hotel lobby at check-in because my room was not ready? Hmmm... probably. There are a lot of positive impressions to be found; some of which almost seem too good to be true — like being told the wait for breakfast will be up to an hour (it was three minutes).

Don't get me wrong. We're having a great time. And at the end of the day, we will have fond memories of the visit. That's the point. Very few places can gamble impressions like Disneyland and live to talk about it because so very few have 80 positive impressions around every corner or in their red back pocket. But Mickey, well, he's one smart mouse.


Thursday, July 5

Protecting The Net: Network Neutrality

While we were all celebrating the Fourth of July yesterday, it was easy to forget that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has decided to abandon net neutrality and allow telecom companies to charge Web sites for access. It's a clear blow to the principle called "network neutrality" that preserves the free and open Internet.

The are only ten days left for bloggers and other people who use the net to make their case before the FCC. At Save The Internet, you can learn a lot about the importance of network neutrality. And you can add your story to the thousands who believe like I do, that the Internet belongs to the people. Congress might remember its role to protect its people wherever they may be, even online.


Tuesday, July 3

Declaring Independence: United States

We've all heard the saying that a picture paints a thousand words. While often attributed to James Kirke Paulding's phrase "A look, which said as plainly as a thousand words," the aforementioned sometimes falls short as it does with this document, which is often considered the most masterfully written state paper of Western civilization (and under 1,000 words).

United States Declaration of Independence
Introduction & Preamble

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands, which have connected them with another, and to assume, among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

The entire document can be found here. Happy Fourth of July!


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.


Monday, July 2

Supersizing Wingnuts: Ronald McDonald

By now, you might have heard that McDonald's hired six "quality correspondent" mommy bloggers to report on the "world at large" about various McDonald's facilities. And, no surprise, for every friendly blogger found, an equal number of contrary bloggers will magically appear. (Or maybe it's the other way around, I forget.)

It's nothing new. Ever since marketing genius Ray Kroc made a deal with the McDonald brothers in 1954, America has had an odd love-hate relationship with Ronald, or least the product he sells.

On one hand, McDonald's is a great American rag-to-riches story of a businessman who created an American icon and believed in hard work, wholesome idealism, and selfless philanthropy. On the other hand, critics say Kroc cut the McDonald brothers out, exploited teenagers, despoiled the environment, hardened our arteries, and made us fat.

Even Greenpeace showed its split decision back in 2003: "We don't like a lot of what it [McDonald's] does and what it stands for but we have to take a deep breath here, and give them some credit where it is due. They've done something [environmentally friendly refrigeration] to help the planet!"

So what's the truth?

Given the recent New York City quick service regulation story, it points to a cultural trend being blamed on social media even though it didn't originate with social media. The trend is the polarization of, well, everything.

Polarization is a tendency to promote every issue as black and white; for or against; right and wrong. It considers consensus waffling at best and knuckling under at worst. It originated with traditional media, often dominates politics, and has been slowly and steadily creeping its way into almost anything we do.

The irony is most polarized issues, whether it is a big issue like global warming or a little issue like McDonald's, are a battle of wills. Usually, it means wingnuts (people with extreme views) have hijacked an issue in the hope that they can appeal to your emotions while you surrender your ability to reason.

To briefly understand wingnut influences, imagine a bell curve. They are the 10 percent on either side, with the rest of us being in the middle. If the wingnuts succeed in moving the middle just a little bit, they can change the direction of Congress. Sometimes, however, the bell curve gets pressed down in the middle (making it look like an M) or, in extreme cases, the middle is almost obliterated (making it look like a U).

Thus, in the case of McDonald's, anti-McDonald's wingnuts have gained some ground using social media as a mechanism. To help offset this, McDonald's did what bloggers have been asking every company to do: pay more attention to bloggers. So they invited a few seemingly pro-McDonald's mommies to take a peek inside and blog about it.

Well, anti-McDonald's wingnuts can't have this, so they want to discredit the mommy bloggers before they write a single word. Really, it's not all that different from the Nikon blogger outreach program (except these mommy bloggers, I am told, are really on the payroll) and as long as they disclose, who really cares?

The simple truth about McDonald's is that like any indulgence, excess is bad (and we didn't need some fool who ate only McDonald's for a month to prove it); the existence of McDonald's does not make you fat (only eating excess quantities of, well, anything will make you fat); and mommy bloggers are not unethical if they disclose, even if they say something silly like it's part of a balanced meal (assuming they buy that). Of course, if they write that, all it means is that they will diminish their own credibility.

You know, I'm starting to believe that America's appetite for convenience is not fueling McDonald's as much as it fueling polarization in America. It's convenient to have only two choices. It's convenient to discredit bloggers as having no influence until they write something we don't like. And, it's very, very convenient to blame other people for our own inability to control what we say, do, or eat.


Sunday, July 1

Covering Hot Topics: Second Quarter 2007

Every quarter, we publish a recap of our five most popular communication-related posts, based on the frequency and the immediacy of hits after they were posted. While we base this on individual posts, some are related to larger case studies.

Jericho Fans Make Television History

When CBS executives cancelled Jericho over Nielsen ratings, fans of this post- nuclear terrorist attack/small town survival drama went nuts, literally. Using the Internet and social media as their point of organization, they launched the largest cancellation protest in history: sending 40,000 pounds of nuts (from just one store); rallied almost 120,000 petition signers; cancelled CBS related-cable subscriptions; boycotted network premieres; sold network stock; sent in countless letters, postcards, and e-mails; captured media attention in every major newspaper and tabloid; and flooded the network with phone calls. Within a few weeks, CBS reversed its decision in record time, heading off what was quickly becoming an exercise in crisis communication. Of all the posts, pointing out the error in CBS’ marketing of Jericho took top honors with over 10,000 hits.

Link: Jericho

Wal-Mart Strikes Back Against Julie Roehm

If networks are looking for a new made-for-television docudrama, the ongoing Julie Roehm story continues to turn heads (and maybe stomachs). Filled with twists, turns, sex, back room deals, character defamation, lawsuits, countersuits, media bias, allegories, and more spin than the planet Jupiter (which rotates once every 10 hours), this story demonstrates the pitfalls of second-tier executives becoming public figures and the companies that keep them. In the end, if she has any credibility left, Roehm’s personal brand will always be linked to the short-lived, um, alleged Wal-Mart funded affair with a subordinate, her master-class ability to spin herself into another lawsuit and, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, being more indestructible than a cockroach.

Links: Julie Roehm, Wal-Mart

Digital Media Will Change Everything

While some might say it was the very loose Jericho link, we like to think it is related to the increasing interest in the future of digital media, specifically how old media is becoming new media. When we gave some attention to how News Corporation and NBC Universal are speeding ahead with the addition of FUEL TV, Oxygen, SPEED, Sundance Channel, and TV Guide as content partners committed to bringing programming to Web video consumers, people wanted to know what it might mean. To us, it means that one day very soon, broadcast news and entertainment will be forever fused with the Internet, people will access it all via versatile technologies like the iPhone, independents will have the potential to break into the big leagues overnight, and businesses will fully develop what we sometimes call income marketing.

Links: Digital Media, NBC Universal, FOX

Paris Hilton Splits Public Interest

We don’t know about you, but Mika Brzezinski of MNSBC perfectly captured the public’s sentiment over Paris Hilton. In a YouTube clip, Brzezinski refuses to lead the news with Hilton, but then goes on and on about how she refuses to cover it, making her refusal to cover Hilton carry on probably three times longer than if she would have just read the script. Love her, hate her, love to hate her, or hate to love her, we’re not buying that you’re not interested because if we post about her, we always see spikes even though we generally only cover communication side items like blaming publicists, marketing humor, and overly long media statements from jail. Hmmm… maybe that’s why Hilton took second against Roehm in terms of most read public figure.

Link: Paris Hilton

The Office Parodies A Public Relations Nightmare

Although some follow-up stories to JetBlue and Jobster came close, NBC Universal's 2006 Emmy Award-winning show, The Office, proved fictional crisis communication is sometimes more fun than real life. For our part, we wrote up how The Office episode "Product Recall” mirrors how executives sometimes allow a crisis to run away from them by applying “tried and true” communication strategies. In the show, Michael Scott (Steve Carell), regional manager of Dunder-Mifflin, applies the practice of “always running to the crisis and never away from it” after a disgruntled employee at the paper mill put an obscene watermark on one of their most popular paper products. The operative word in this case is “always.” Crisis communication rules are only guidelines, silly.

Link: The Office

It’s very promising to see non-bad news posts starting to give bad news posts a run for their money. We're still hoping good news and educational posts might one day dominate the top five (admittedly doubtful). For example, when it comes to social media, we’d love to see more attention given to our underpinning concept that strategic communication is best suited to drive social media despite the fact that most companies seems to be trying to do it the other way around.

Anyway, while those were the top five posts (and related case studies) for the second quarter, several others came close (and almost all of them beat out last quarter). Runners up (no order): Fans of the The Black Donnellys lobby for HBO to save the canceled NBC show; PR bloggers made a non-issue into an issue over Nikon; JetBlue proved you really can overapologize in a crisis; Jason Goldberg of Jobster goes a whole week or so before behaving badly again; and our sum-up of Harris Interactive mobile advertising research despite my initial skepticism, mostly fueled by a not-so-great Webinar release.

So there you have it, except for one very, very important ingredient: thank you all for dropping by, adding comments, promoting several stories, and continuing to bring communication issues to our attention so we may offer up our sometimes serious, sometimes silly take on them. Whether you agree or disagree, all of it lends well to the discussion and I appreciate those who remember to target the topic and not each other in providing input.


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