Thursday, July 12

Calculating Identity: Career Distinction


After visiting Career Distinction and running its Online Identity Calculator on Tom Cruise yesterday (check the comments on the post), we started to wonder what would happen if we plugged in more people, ranging from notable bloggers to CEO bloggers to CEOs with no direct social media presence.

The mix is pretty eclectic, but it provides some interesting results. Keep in mind that our formula is less than scientific: we used the calculator (beta) to establish whether these individuals have an online identity that matches up with what seems to be their desired personal brand. Since the calculator only offers generalized definitions, we summed up the first three pages of a Google search.

Seth Godin — Digitally Distinct, 10
Desired: A bestselling author, entrepreneur, and agent of change.
Online: A leading marketing author and popular business blogger.

We picked Godin mostly because we had a hunch he would set the high water mark and, no surprise, he did. While there seems to be some slight variation between his desired and online brand, it’s only because the Godin brand overshadows the company he founded, Squiddo. In sum, his brand trends toward top online marketing expert/author (rather than entrepreneur and agent of change) and there is nothing wrong with that.

Johnathan Swartz — Digitally Distinct, 10
Desired: An approachable, likeable, creative, and unconventional CEO.
Actual: An approachable, likeable, creative, and unconventional CEO.

Swartz is the top CEO blogger for a reason. There is virtually no distinction between his online identity and his desired brand — he always presents compelling non-techno babble information to help businesses understand that technological advancements mean market opportunities as opposed to business threats. He does a near perfect job setting the cultural tone of Sun Microsystems and his views mirror what we’ve said for two years.

Jeffrey Immelt — Digitally Distinct, 9
Desired: A hardworking strategist who helped turn General Electric around.
Actual: A relentless workaholic whose biggest hope is everyone else can keep up.

Given Immelt devotes 12 weeks to foreign travel as one of our nation’s leading advocates for globalization, we’re not surprised he doesn’t have time to establish a direct social media presence. Still, as a Fortune 500 company CEO (top 10), others present who he is fairly well, with one small caveat — as much as he is admired, skeptics water down his ideas (despite results), leading us to believe he could score a 10 with a direct presence on the Internet.

Alan Meckler — Digitally Distinct, 9
Desired: A serious business executive and aggressive online CEO.
Actual: A straightforward executive who calls it like he sees it.

As one of the top 10 ten CEO bloggers, we’re not to surprised to see Meckler also scores near the top. There are some identity discrepancies, primarily because his writing and interview style come across as a tough-as-nails CEO when he’s much more approachable than that. Also, his view of Jupiterimages is obviously a bit biased when compared to his view of competitors, but we wouldn’t expect otherwise.

Scott Baradell — Digitally Distinct, 9
Desired: Accomplished brand strategist with corporate communications and journalism experience.
Actual: Journalist turned public relations strategist, which might explain why he never takes the industry too seriously.

With Baradell’s emphasis on public relations, media analysis, and blog entertainment, his online identity tends to shift away from brand strategist. But where his online personality works is that he is unquestionably adept at keeping things interesting. For evidence: check Media Orchard’s R Rating and his anagram post plug of Occam’s RazR among others.

Geoff Livingston — Digitally Distinct, 9
• Desired: A leading marketing expert and top-ranked marketing blogger/author.
• Actual: A seasoned marketing pro, social media analyst, and blogging guru.

For the most part, Livingston has achieved his desired online identity, especially since he has already been recognized as an area marketing blog guru by The Washington Post. Without question, he has some great posts that often cross over into legitimate trade journalism. With a book set for release and several post serials worth reading, he’s coming close to the tipping point. If there is one area to improve, it’s remembering that too much focus on others won’t brand you as a leader.

The Recruiting Animal — Digitally Distinct. 8 (7)
• Desired: The most outrageous and entertaining recruiting blogger and online radio host in history.
• Actual: The most outrageous and entertaining recruiting blogger and online radio host in history.

There is little doubt that The Recruiting Animal has achieved his online identity. He is a classic example of being positively infamous, with his stage name often appearing where you least expect it (even in places his peers might have missed). What’s equally interesting to me is that if we plug in The Recruiting Animal’s real name, his score drops to Digitally Dabbling, but all of the information about him remains on target (just slightly more serious).

Les Moonves — Digitally Disastrous, 8
Desired: A seasoned old school programmer who became CEO of a leading mass media company.
Actual: A CEO with a dated programming vision who calls the shots with little explanation.

Given our coverage of the Jericho cancellation protest (and reinstatement), we noticed that Moonves tends to leave people completely confused. On one hand, he wants CBS to lead the digital charge, but then doesn’t give new media much credit. He dumped Imus and dumbed down CBS News despite what ratings say, yet argued that the original cancellation of Jericho was based only on ratings. Given he has no direct social media presence, his brand is shaped almost entirely by mixed messages that paint him up as a CEO who likes to say “because I said so.”

David Neeleman — Digitally Disastrous, 8
Desired: A relentless innovator who challenged the airline industry to do better.
Actual: An ousted CEO trying to prove his relevance after a company crisis.

I read Neeleman’s blog because I admire what he has accomplished. Some people don’t get this in our coverage of the JetBlue crisis. They won’t get it here either as we’ve noticed a dramatic personal brand shift since his departure as CEO of JetBlue. He insists he is comfortable with the change despite several interviews that suggest otherwise. It doesn’t help that "Montgomery Burns" has taken over his flight log. It’s supposed to be funny, but only it reinforces questionable choices in the face of crisis.

Jason Goldberg — Digitally Disastrous, 7
• Desired: A successful entrepreneur who is leading innovator of the online recruiting community.
• Actual: A young, brash executive who gets caught up in online controversies and spins like there is no tomorrow.

There’s a boatload of information on the Web about Goldberg. Unfortunately, most of it doesn’t seem to have any relevance to what he wants to express about himself or his company. Most of it is about blog controversies, blatant spin, and a sometimes questionable management style. Other times, however, Goldberg even departs from this identity too, which makes people wonder how seriously they should take him. The odd attack-feint retreat-attack-retreat tactic doesn’t help.

Amanda Chapel — Digitally Disastrous, 7
• Desired: A mysterious and provocative foil for the online public relations community.
• Actual: A collective of anonymous writers who believe all publicity is good publicity.

There is a lot of information about the collective Chapel on the Web, but more and more of it has little relevance to what they want to express about themselves. As time goes on, it will be nearly impossible to remove all the irrelevant information. Some people have asked about my interest in Chapel, since they come up on my blog every now and again. Truth be told, I’m more interested in why Steve Rubel, Mark Ragan, and even Shel Holtz continue to feed the Chapel credibility. Is the public relations industry that boring or afraid to debate that it needs an anonymous ghost to do it for them?

Add it up and all of this seems to reinforce the most basic premise of my Fragile Brand Theory. You see, in almost every case listed above, without exception, the closer their personal and online brands are to the reality of who they are, the greater their measure of success in maintaining that brand. It also demonstrates, in a couple of instances, how one handles crisis or controversy can also enhance or erode brand credibility almost overnight.

In closing, just to be fair, we ran my identity too. While there is some discrepancy depending on how you type in my name, I came out with a Digitally Distinct 8 and Copywrite, Ink. with a Digitally Distinct 9. This stands to reason: establishing an online identity for the company ahead of me is by design.

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Wednesday, July 11

Branding Public Figures: Tom Cruise


I’ve been working on a mathematically provable brand theory for the last few months and Nicole Sperling’s article on Tom Cruise that appears in the July 13 edition of Entertainment Weekly provided a pretty good public figure example of its most basic (but not complete) premise.

She points out that Cruise’s brand used to be all about his boyish charm turned “rugged good looks, flashy smile, and three Oscar nominations.” But then something happened, starting just prior to the release of Steven Spielberg’s War Of The Worlds (photo above).

Cruise’s increasingly visible dedication to the controversial beliefs that accompany Scientology has produced brand instability and disastrous results. Most recently, on June 25, the German Ministry of Defense announced that “it did not want him to film United Artists’ upcoming WWII movie Valkyrie at the country’s Bendlerblock war memorial” because, according to ministry spokesman Harald Kammerbauer, Tom Cruise is affiliated with a cult.

The ministry has since backtracked, now saying their decision has “nothing to do” with Cruise being a Scientologist. Likewise, Cruise has made the case that he is always an actor first and foremost. Hmmm… neither statement seems very credible and there is a very simple explanation that fits in within the aforementioned theory, which we might call the “Fragile Brand Theory.”

The Fragile Brand Theory accepts the definition that a brand is the net sum of all positive and negative impressions of the subject, Cruise in this case, and then breaks it all down into something that resembles an atom.

Imagine Cruise (the person, not the brand) is like a nucleus that represents the reality of Cruise. It doesn’t really matter what this reality is because people will generally accept realities regardless of what they are, which is why very, very different public figures usually succeed (whether you like them or not): Rush Limbaugh, Paris Hilton, John Edwards, John McCain, Al Gore, etc. Really, it doesn’t matter who any of these people really are because while the nucleus is related to and can be impacted by a brand, it is not the brand.

Unlike the nucleus, brands are reliant on the collective public’s perception about people, products, and companies. As mentioned, they are the net sum of positive and negative impressions. Using the atom illustration, they might look like layers of electrons that circle the nucleus, with the strongest, most authentic electrons being closest to the nucleus, and those that are “made up” or “stretched” being the furthest from it. When too many electrons are too far from the nucleus, the more likely a brand will become unstable, collapse, or be ripped apart.

In a case study of Cruise, the 1995 off-screen Cruise brand came close to mirroring the image of the much-loved character Jerry Maguire (and most characters Cruise portrayed before that). He was a somewhat private but daring actor who, despite being overconfident at times (the classic pride comes before a fall syndrome so many of his characters endure), always managed to better himself and triumph in the face of insurmountable odds.

That is a very different brand than the post-2005 Cruise brand we see today. Now, most of his impressions seem to suggest an arrogant and impulsive actor who frequently uses his fame to argue controversial topics if not create controversy while promoting beliefs grounded in Scientology. Actor first? We think not.

Regardless of how you feel about Cruise, Scientology, his relationship with Katie Holmes (including the Oprah brouhaha), or his war against certain prescription medication (which was at least half right as supported to the extreme by John Travolta), the Fragile Brand Theory suggests whoever the real Cruise is (1995 or 2005) doesn’t matter. What matters is that current public opinion is a reaction to the realization that the 1995 brand they loved is apparently very different from the reality that seems to be.

Generally, if the majority of all electrons remain close to the nucleus, they are more likely to remain in place, creating an extremely strong brand that can withstand anything. But when the majority of all electrons are revealed to be too far away from the nucleus (or in contrast to the existing brand), it becomes unstable.

In other words, if Cruise always acted like he has over the last two years, recent events would hardly be considered controversial let alone impact his career. But, since he has not always acted like this (at least that is the perception), he is suffering from brand instability.

Personally, I don’t really know whether the old Cruise or new Cruise is the real Cruise, but what I do know is that the Fragile Brand Theory demonstrates why a public figure like Britney Spears will always find public sympathy after countless train wrecks and public figures like Mel Gibson will always receive public scorn over a single drunken outburst. En masse, the public does not like it when public figures do not meet brand expectations. (Eg. the Paris Hilton brand can go to jail, but she’s not allowed to cry over it.)

Or perhaps this provides a better example: Rosie O’Donnell can run amok at the mouth because we expect it; Oprah, on the other hand, has to be a bit more cautious as she presents herself to be a grounded and trusted advisor.

In sum, one of the most basic concepts within the Fragile Brand Theory suggests it is more important to stick with your brand choice — whether you choose a halo or horns — than the choice you make.

Of course, you also might want to keep in mind that if your brand is more made up than real, sooner or later, it will collapse under the sheer weight of contrary actions or be pulled apart by unanswered accusations made by more credible sources. It also assumes you or your consultants know how to brand from the inside out; sadly, many say that they can, but most cannot.

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Tuesday, July 10

Communicating For Success: Social Media

Over the past few weeks, I've infused a few posts on how understanding traditional human capital and internal communication might cross over into social networks. For the most part, it included theory without a proven case study.

When I wrote the article, I turned to Southwest Gas Corporation (Southwest Gas) to provide a case study because I knew it was the fastest-growing natural gas company in the United States and consistently benefited from an exceedingly strong internal brand. What struck me about the company then (as it does today) was that its employee-to-customer ratio had increased from 1:415 in 1994 to 1:537 in 2000, but the average employee had 11 years in with the company despite being largely based in a market where 2-3 years was the norm.

"We've continually asked our employees to do more with less," said Robyn Clayton, then manager of consumer and community affairs. "In return, we work hard to provide a satisfying culture and keep them informed. The result is a motivated, loyal workforce."

When Southwest Gas projected natural gas rates would rise the year before, it launched an internal communication plan months before the rate increase impacted the company. Because its leadership recognized that employees would be asked questions by family, friends, and customers in the field, early internal education proved vital to the success of the company (the model still used today).

"By developing a long-term plan that demonstrated we were forthcoming, employees and customers were mostly positive about the increase," explained Clayton. "It was challenging, but we succeeded in empowering our employees and eventually our customers to understand our rates reflect the market."

In other areas, Clayton said internal communication is consistent across departments and several vehicles are in place to keep employees informed. Each update is tied to a specific medium (print, video, etc.), depending on which best communicates the information. Tracking results is fundamental.

"Several months ago, we evaluated the need for an employee video," Clayton said then. "We found that the employees valued it, but wanted shorter programs. Today, we met those needs instead of cutting the program."

The company, which has maintained a successful volunteer program since 1985, also provides community service opportunities on company time. The investment has been returned tenfold: increased involvement, a stronger brand, and personal/professional development for interested employees.

"We have developed a culture that values service to our community," said Clayton. "It has given many their first experience and nurtured lifetime volunteers. Today, our employees take pride in the program and it attracts people with similar values."

It seems understanding human capital has paid off for the company: long-term employee recruitment, retention, succession, and culture building are as vibrant at the company today as it was when I interviewed Clayton then.

Applied to social media, similar (if not the same) results can be achieved by nurturing online cultures even more effectively than print, video, or other communication devices alone. It doesn't matter if the network is an added function of an Intranet or Internet.

Internally, social networks, assuming the communication is well crafted, can be employed to reinforce corporate culture, encourage isolated departments and remote locations to work better together, provide better access to top decision makers (such as a CEO), and educate employees about upcoming corporate changes in real time, which would help minimize any damage caused by misleading internal or external gossip (assuming the executive team doesn't start the rumor).

Externally or even independently of a company, the same techniques can be applied to an online community. While members of a social network are not employees, they do consist of a structure similar to any organization.

As such, they too have human capital. By increasing communication from key stakeholders and the most active members outward, social network stewards might be better able to manage anything and everything from complete network redesigns to the tone of the participants without enforcing rules or expectations that drive members away. As leaders, the most effective social network stewards set the tone and agenda through example much like the best run companies set the tone and agenda for employees.

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Monday, July 9

Measuring Success: Image Empowering

Updated weekly, it might take months before the Image Empowering blog by Stephanie Bivona ever makes the blogger B list, let alone the mythical A list. But does it really matter?

Not for Bivona. Her business strategy for Image Empowering drives her blog; her blog does not drive her business or its message. Her post today reflects this thinking — "The Law of Attraction" as popularized by The Secret suggests that our thoughts manifest what we have.

Although The Secret repackages "The Law of Attraction" and gives it a fresh look, the idea is not a new one. It has been around for a very, very long time with the concept interwoven into almost every pearl of wisdom ever written. In fact, it might even be scientifically provable within the context of quantum physics.

Applying “The Law of Attraction" is also pretty good at debunking the myth of how some people measure social media success, especially among blogs. You see, I know Bivona’s blog will achieve all of its objectives despite never chasing traffic or blog rankings for one simple reason.

As one of our new social media clients, Bivona knows that the success of her blog or any future social media project is that traffic or artificially created rankings are myths being pushed by those who benefit from them the most.

The only people who seem to forward such discussions like A-List Bloglebrity, which uses Technorati to determine your standing in the blog community, are those who already have some rank. (Bloglebrity is similar to the equally popular What’s Your Blog Worth or even Alexa traffic ranking for that matter.)

While these measures are fine for virtual water cooler conversations, it’s silly to think they mean much more than that. Case in point: when this blog broke the top 40,000 on Alexa for a few days, we noticed the average length of time our readership stayed on the blog was reduced from 4-5 minutes to a mere 60 seconds. So what did we really achieve? Not much more than what I just mentioned — it’s an interesting water cooler conversation and opportunity to compare the power of one post to a direct mail postcard.

So while we thought it was pretty nifty, we also know that generating traffic and inflating page rank is pretty easy to do. We know all the tricks used by others, ranging from slanted SEO writing (even if the sentence structure makes no sense) and echoing other blogs (by adding gratuitous links) to weighing in on controversial topics (especially if you take a minority view) and being painfully trollish (like calling people names in the comment sections). For our part, we don’t employ these tactics (though SEO writing seems to come natural) because like Bivona, we’re not after traffic for the sake of traffic nor blog rank for the sake of blog rank.

You see, Bivona is not chasing traffic or blog rank; she’s attracting clientele and creating a means to provide constant contact with her existing clients. Thus, her blog becomes a multi-faceted tool that she has employed as a means to that end. Sure, casual visitors might benefit as her weekly posts shed some light on the importance of empowering your personal image.

Yet, her decision to enter social media was not to become an “A-list blogger,” which would require a different strategy all together. Instead, her blog provides an efficient and effective means to brand her full-service image consulting firm, which is her second business (she also owns a successful practice that buys and sells other companies). We’re even retained to play a part in its development; taking care of some details so she can focus on her clients.

Some of this fits in with this blog too. While our strategy is a bit different than Image Empowering, it’s no less dismissive of traffic or blog rank for the sake of traffic and blog rank. We believe, like any successful business does, that it is best to measure results that match your objectives, whether those outcomes are profitability, market share, niche dominance, or any other measure. In other words, it might be tempting to jump on the traffic and blog rank train, but doing so might produce the opposite of what you desire.

But isn’t that the way it is with everything? When you begin to adopt other people’s measures of success — blog ranking, traffic ranking, attractiveness, self-confidence, wealth, whatever — you run the risk eroding your business strategy (or self-confidence) because one size or measure of success does not fit all.

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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.

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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.

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