Friday, February 22

Blogging For Kindness: My Den


Sometimes the old saying that “children are a reflection of their parents” holds some truth. At least that seems to be the case for Dan, a hobby blogger who writes My Den.

After learning about the Bloggers Unite social awareness campaign Acts of Kindness, which asked bloggers from around the world to perform an act of kindness and share a post, picture, or video about it, Dan turned to his daughter. They set out to do something together.

“One of the first considerations when I got involved in Bloggers Unite: Acts of Kindness, was to involve my daughter in the campaign,” says Dan. “I wanted to inculcate a sense of compassion for the less fortunate, especially important, to me anyway, in a society almost obsessed with materialistic wealth.”

Dan, who says he is innately thrifty, had an idea. Why not find something that could benefit the environment and the less fortunate. Together, that’s what they did. After borrowing a van from a friend, they visited 100 to 120 households over a three-day period, asking neighbors for their recyclables.

Once collected, the recyclables raised almost $200; enough money to buy rice, canned food, beverages, and milk powder (and one Barbie doll, a Christmas gift for a 9-year-old girl). Although Dan posted about what they did, like many bloggers, their gift remains anonymous.

“Our donations, like many others, were anonymous and were left at the collection boxes located at a major supermarket chain,” says Dan. “I was at a loss as to who to donate the money to until my daughter saw a television commercial about The Boys’ Brigade Sharity Gift Box project.”

The Boys’ Brigade’s mission is to bring cheer to the less fortunate by collecting food items and fulfilling Christmas wishes through The Boys’ Brigade Sharity Gift Box. The gift items reach out to more than 3,000 individuals at 180 organizations in Singapore.

But more than that, Dan and his daughter have since committed to do at least one social project together every month. In January, they visited a seniors facility for a day, bringing food along with their kindness. All of it began with social media. Dan began participating in Bloggers Unite shortly after getting involved with Blog Action Day, another program inspired by previous BlogCatalog campaigns.

“Participation in the last Blog Action Day as a platform for change impressed me tremendously,” said Dan. “Bloggers Unite: Acts of Kindness was my first with BlogCatalog, and I am more than willing to participate in future campaigns, having seen the benefits and ability to do some good.”

Dan joined BlogCatalog approximately six months ago, but has been blogging for almost two years. My Den, which focuses on his love for literature, was his first hobby blog. He also publishes Third Rock From The Sun, which is an environmental awareness blog, and Freebies & Stuff, which reviews free software, desktop utilities, and Web services.

“My Den has definitely gone through many changes since I first started it,” says Dan. “It was a platform for my involvement in joining social campaigns and as my main blog to strike friendships with fellow bloggers. One of the posts that I’ve always derived tremendous satisfaction from was the first publication of a short story that I had written — A Live Unlive — which talks about the plight of the mentally ill.”

It’s an interesting story. One that touches on a subject easily overlooked, but so are a lot of things, like recycling, making a small donation, or sharing an act of kindness with your daughter. It’s nice to know some people don’t overlook these things. People like Dan. Congratulations again!

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Thursday, February 21

Taking Leaps: NBC Blinks, Sees The Future

The Bionic Woman will not be rebuilt, but NBC Universal wants to rebuild television. On Tuesday, the network announced it would move to a year-round schedule of staggered program introduction.

According to The New York Times, NBC will be committing to a new lineup of shows earlier than any of its competitors, while also inviting advertisers to build marketing plans around specific shows and perhaps to integrate brands and products into the plots of the shows themselves.

“We absolutely think this is going to change the industry,” said Michael Pilot, head of sales for NBC.

The departure places a real question mark on the viability and importance of the Nielsen rating system. Nielsen is not prepared to measure a 52-week season; the bulk of its measure is based on traditional sweeps. Tradition, it seems, is dead.

“The ultimate decision is going to be made by program executives who believe in the shows,” Marc Graboff, the co-chairman of NBC Entertainment, who said that they are looking to have a two-way conversation with advertisers.

That makes sense, given more advertisers want a two-way conversations with customers. And customers want to be heard.

Whether this decision plays well for the fans of recently cancelled shows, or those on the bubble, has yet to be seen. For NBC, the show is Journeyman. So far, despite the inventive Rice-A-Roni campaign, the best outcome for fans seems to be based on a rumor that a few more episodes of season one might see the light of day.

For CBS, everyone knows the show is Jericho. With season 2, episode 2 ratings being called a virtual disaster, even sympathetic critics seem to think there is little hope left.

It’s not because fans don’t watch the show (on TiVo, Jericho ranks as the 11th most recorded show on television). It was also the network's second most downloaded show after CSI. And leaked episodes were downloaded in droves. One hold up: Nielsen families don’t watch Jericho live.

And that might be enough. Nina Tassler, president of CBS Entertainment, warned fans early on that she wanted more live viewers before committing to a third season. It’s something I kept drawing attention to when some fans insisted CBS wanted them to hang out in the CBS forum instead of out and about recruiting new fans. No matter, it wasn’t the only mistake made by fans or CBS.

The best hope for fans is that this "live viewers" condition was made on a network-decision model that doesn’t exist anymore. Every show is being considered on a case-by-case basis. It’s a new era of network decision-making; the kind that shocks the system as cable shows like Dexter make the jump from cable to mainstream despite growing protest.

At the end of the day, the decision will all depend on how CBS decides to crunch the numbers. If the old model is applied to Jericho, it will die. If the new model is applied, there might be a chance.

The same can be said for other shows too. The future model will allow shows like Journeyman or even Veronica Mars to avoid current ratings system and time slot traps. But that does not mean the networks have to apply this thinking today.

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Wednesday, February 20

Making Friends: Social Networks, Much Like Life


Discussions about what constitutes online “friendship” abound about places like Twitter, Facebook, BlogCatalog, whatever.

Some people, it seems, are criticizing groups of friends that develop over time as if they are somehow an exclusive club, which Geoff Livingston rebutted yesterday. Ho hum. As if social media doesn’t somehow mirror real life. It’s mostly the same.

It’s much ado about nothing. Friends are what you make them.

At least that is what I’m going to say next week when I speak about social networks at the Recruiting Roadshow. Social networks are just like any face-to-face network, with two distinctions that don’t add up too much.

The two distinctions between online and offline friends.

The first is simple. Online friends are those people you happened to meet in a "public" online setting before you met them in person. That might seem like a fairly thin distinction, but it holds up.

You might notice that I add emphasis to “public. “ I did because I’ve been introduced to people through email long before I met them in person, and nobody would ever think to give them the “online friend” moniker.

Second, online friendships tend to “seem” more fragile than face-to-face friendships. But that’s not really true either. People follow the same social patterns in life that they do online.

They get a new job, make friends at work, leave the job, and never look back with the exception of staying in touch with one or two people, maybe. They join an association, become involved, make friends, drop out, and never look back with the exception of staying in touch with one or two people, maybe. Where's the difference?

There isn't one, but I do appreciate that fickle friendships are new for most people. It’s not so new to me. I live in a city with such a high transient rate that the chances my son will retain even one friend from kindergarten through the sixth grade is zero.

People move in and out and around Las Vegas at an extremely high rate. There are very, very few constants. So few that making new friends all the time is part of survival in this city. However, much like online, it also makes new friendships commonplace, and even replaceable to the growing number of people who live here.

There are degrees of friendships online, much like life.

Maybe you know the drill and maybe you do not. But if you attend a luncheon, especially as a speaker, people will ask for your business card. Giving them one is not all that different than “friending them back” on a social network.

The only thing that seems to stand in the way of connecting online for some people is the word “friend,” because that tends to be the term that many social networks employ as the connection designation. As a result, people really over think the term. Get over it.

“It’s annoying when total strangers ask to be your ‘friend’ on a network because they just want a lot of ‘friends’ in their network,” some bloggers have told me. But really, what’s the difference between these people and those that work a room at a conference with a fist full of business cards? Do you withhold your card? Probably not.

This really isn’t that hard to sort out. There are connections, associates, colleagues, friends, best friends, and any number of designations if you’re so inclined to put headers over the people you know. So what if Twitter calls it “followers” and BlogCatalog calls it “friends?” It doesn’t mean beans, except for what you bring to the table.

BlogCatalog adds a new layer of friends via the Social Dashboard.

Andy Beard and Charles McKeever were among the first bloggers to write about it, but BlogCatalog added a layer between “friends.” You see, while many social networks talk about convergence, BlogCatalog went ahead and did it.

"The Social Dashboard will help bloggers streamline networking and stay up to date with friends," said Antony Berkman, president of BlogCatalog. "Bloggers tell us they enjoy making friends on BlogCatalog and then connecting with those friends on other networks. Social Dashboard will make it easier while making member profile pages more dynamic."

The new tool allows friends to share activities with other friends across BlogCatalog and nine other social networks: Delicious, Digg, Facebook, Flickr, Last.fm, MySpace, StumbleUpon, Twitter, and YouTube. It’s easy to operate. All you have to do is subscribe to any friend's feed and all their activities appear on your Dashboard (unless they set change their privacy settings).

What's interesting about the Dashboard beyond the write ups I linked to is that from all your “friends” on BlogCatalog, you subscribe to some not all. Voila. A new layer of connection is created. Those you know; those you follow. That’s not the intent per se, but it does help keep the noise down.

The real deal about friends, online or off.

The real confusion about friendship, online and off, has nothing to do with any of this, of course. Anytime I read about people trying to figure out online friendships, they often start defining qualities that constitute friendship.

Are they nuts? Real friendships are mutually unconditional. There is no definition or expectation. And if you even have one friend like that, then you have more than most.

As for me, I treat online connections much like life. Sometimes it pays to take a chance on a stranger because you really never know whether they will become a real friend unless you give them a chance. Then again, maybe I’m biased because many of my “online friendships” have become “friendships” anyway.

The bottom line is that you can pretend online is somehow different than offline, but the reality is that it is no difference. It only “feels” different because the written word or being center stage has a different impact than casual face-to-face conversations.

It’s the very reason we sometimes feel connected to our favor authors, musicians, actors, whatever. We might feel connected, but they really don’t know us and we really don’t know them. Not really. Then again, we don’t really know the people we think we know anyway. Online, it’s just more obvious.

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Tuesday, February 19

Pitching In The Dark: Click On, Click Off

If you ever wondered why journalists aren’t crazy for public relations, look no further than the misguided few. I was pitched by the outside public relations team for MyClick Media Limited (MyClick). It was a disaster, from start to non-finish.

The pitch came across like spam.

Headline: If you are working Monday, I would like to introduce you to this technology… Body: … and meet the MyClick team. Please let me know.

The release was loaded with marketing puff.

Release: MyClick is a ground breaking and unique photo recognition Mobile Marketing Platform that empowers all mobile users with the chance to enjoy exciting and exclusive infotainment and m-commerce information upon demand. Translation: MyClick employs photo recognition in promotional material, allowing mobile phone users to take pictures of promotional material to win coupons.

The technology was interesting.

The story is Pizza Hut using MyClick technology for a promotion in mainland China. So despite the pitch deficiencies and the release idiosyncrasies, I decided to follow up despite what appeared to be a one-day holiday offer. My mistake.

The responses were irritating.

“What pub do you work for I am sorry to ask you.”

Never mind they pitched me. Ho hum. Sure, I could have mentioned any number of publications that we string for from time to time, a number of accounts who might be interested in MyClick technology, or my position as an instructor. But that seems like disingenuous carrot dangling to me. So I simply mentioned this blog because they pitched this blog and my intent was to write about MyClick on this blog.

"do you want a face to face"

I’m based in Las Vegas. So considering the public relations firm has offices in California and New York and MyClick is based in China, this seemed a bit extreme for a Pizza Hut promotion. Maybe it’s me, but given the pitch, I assumed the public relations firm might have had something in mind for Monday, unless of course, the whole “Meet the MyClick team on Monday” thing was a ploy. You think?

I said it wasn’t necessary, but put the burden of a solution back on them. Other than answering my question whether the Pizza Hut promotion was exclusive to China, nothing. Yeesh. This was starting to feel like too much work so I alluded to pulling the plug.

I decided to pull the plug.

“Okay,” I wrote. “It's still an interesting concept, but I'm starting to sense you were not prepared for someone to respond to the pitch. So, you've really left me at a loss here. Maybe it would be best to skip it, other than to address the dangers of mass pitch emails.”

"fine"

My pleasure, sort of. I don’t really want to embarrass the firm completely so I’m omitting their name. Though, I must admit, I am tempted. Bad handling affects the entire industry. Lesson for today: if you aren’t interested in contact, then don’t send an invitation pitch.

Public relations professionals would be better off following the practices of the public relations team working with Loomia, who pitched us a week or so prior. Their pitch was timely, professional, personalized, and what started out as a singular post has now popped up around the Web. I’d work with them anytime they have news.

This post might pop up around the Web too. But I don’t think it’s the kind of coverage MyClick paid for. As for my take on their technology, it has become just another footnote in how bad public relations practices detract from otherwise interesting news.

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Monday, February 18

Missing The Real Deal: Presidents Day

Last year, President George W. Bush traveled to the Mount Vernon estate of George Washington in honor of Presidents Day, which was chosen as a date to honor the birthday of President Washington.

In truth, Washington’s birthday is Feb. 22 (Feb. 11 if you consider the Julian calendar used when he was alive). Along with Washington’s birthday, many consider it a celebration of President Lincoln’s birthday as well, which is Feb. 12. A few even consider it a celebration of all Presidents.

Of course, nowadays, today is best known for retail advertising campaigns and a growing number of newspapers that lament how Presidents Day lost its meaning.

You see, it was really intended to celebrate Washington’s birthday as the first President of the United States. President Lincoln had earned his own day. That is, until HR 15951 was passed in 1968 in an attempt to simplify federal holidays. But that’s the thing.

Representations don’t always have as much value as the real thing.

We learned it here in Nevada too. Ever since the state moved Nevada Day from Oct. 31 to the last Friday of the month, it too has lost some luster. Lighter events are now scattered throughout the long weekend, which is used by Nevadans to prepare for Halloween as much as anything. I guess it seems fitting that this year’s theme has something to do with aliens. The outer space kind.

This year, President George W. Bush is in Africa. And, when you look at the newspapers, there seems to be much less about a national celebration than some other topics, including political endorsements and recognizing new nations, which has drowned out most mentions, even the laments.

Not so much for me. It still rings true as George Washington’s birthday, honoring the first President of the United States. Even while writing about why Benjamin Franklin would have made a great blogger, it didn’t hit me to post it (maybe sometime in the weeks ahead).

Today belongs to Washington. Another founding father, who despite little formal education, would have likely participated in social media, writing what would one day be public letters to his colleagues from Mount Vernon. Oh right, he did do exactly that.

Maybe that’s why we should remember him today, and our founding fathers more often. These people weren’t trying to be “anything” like we sometimes see in politics today. They were trying to do something. But maybe that’s the point. Representations don’t always have as much value as the real thing.

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Friday, February 15

Blogging For Kindness: Original Me Tees

Not all blogs are cut from the same cloth. Original Me Tees is a good example.

Nathania Johnson, an online marketing consultant, uses the Original Me Tees blog as a promotional tool for her online T-shirt store. The idea originated as an extension of a Caf├ęPress store, which she recently switched to another online print on demand service called Printfection, where you can see her designs.

”The idea is that people dress to express themselves,” says Johnson. “And while we all have differences, we can connect through common threads.”

One common thread for bloggers last year was the Bloggers Unite social awareness campaign Acts of Kindness. It asked bloggers from around the world to perform an act of kindness and share a post, picture, or video about it. The campaign interested Johnson because it gave her a strong idea — wearing compassion.

“It was something I really wanted to put time into,” she said. “It’s a great way to contribute to the blogosphere and the world in general.”

Johnson’s post was one of several recognized by judges after she submitted it for contest consideration. Rather than perform an act of kindness specific to the campaign, she highlighted several charities that she frequently contributes to, suggesting that readers “try on one of these charities to see if it fits in with your personal wardrobe.”

“I felt like mentioning all of the non-profits because I was contributing to them,” Johnson said. “Otherwise, I tend not to talk about any specific monetary donations to charities. For me it’s a spiritual thing. It just feels a bit self-gratuitous.”

Johnson is not alone in feeling that way. Several bloggers said they struggled with the last campaign because they were writing about themselves as opposed to a subject. For many, it was only after people left comments or expressed that they were inspired to contribute an act of kindness that the bloggers understood how sharing kindness tends to spread.

In addition to mentioning several charities, Johnson highlighted several simple acts of kindness beyond supporting non-profits — everyday things you can do to “accessorize” giving. Just three examples include: allowing others to go first, giving up the better parking spot, and being generous and sincere with compliments. Providing options was extremely important to her.

“Everyone is different,” says Johnson. “While supporting Brad Pitt's project to rebuild the 9th Ward of New Orleans might appeal to one person, building wells for villages in the Central African Republic might resonate strongly with someone else.”

She says she views blogging the same way. Shee always considered BlogCatalog best for metabloggers — people who blog about blogging — but she sees Bloggers Unite as a great way to trend in new directions. Expanding niches would certainly benefit the blogger network, Johnson said.

“I've only participated in Bloggers Unite one time so far, but I would participate again if they keep it non-political,” she said. “I used to be quite active with my account for my classic movie blog. There are a lot of good conversations that happen on BlogCatalog.”

Johnson said she is a bit less active since losing her classic movie blog, after her hosting service had a server crash. And, until recently, she hadn’t even found the time to update her other two. In addition blogging for companies where she works, she is actively involved with photography and Improv, and spends as much time with her family as she can.

“I have a wonderful husband, two fantastic kids, and two cute cats,” She said. And a big heart. Congrats again Nathania!

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Thursday, February 14

Passing Out Hearts: Valentine’s Day


A few weeks ago, I was asked to name names. And every time someone asks me to, the first thought that comes to mind is “never name names.” But hey, it’s Valentine’s Day. Maybe a little love can go a long way.

Specifically, I was asked who influences me. Ho hum.

First things first. I never much liked the term influence, especially when it’s applied to social media. I prefer to think about that differently: there are people who make me think and there are people who do not. Besides, influence is so very loaded with the notion of blanket agreement. I don’t know anyone like that.

Second, there are too many bloggers who make me think to list in a single post, so the only way to do it is to break them up into niches.

In honor of Valentine’s Day, here are ten folks connected to communication who make me think — five who make me think frequently and five who I expect will make me think. (In other words, add them to your watch lists if you haven’t already).

Five People Who Make Me Think

Geoff Livingston — The Buzz Bin
Whether you catch Geoff Livingston with his team on The Buzz Bin or on Now Is Gone, he always looking to stay ahead of the social media curve. While we might disagree on some communication strategy topics, any back and forth always leads to deepening the discussion to where it needs to be. Thought: If there is a social network or online tool worth a second look, he almost always knows what it is and how to make it work.

Valeria Maltoni — Conversation Agent
If anybody connects the dots between strategic communication and conversation or brick-and-mortar stores and online presence, it’s Valeria Maltoni and the Conversation Agent. I tend to agree with her more often than any other blogger out there.
Thought: If anyone can convince you that cross-blog conversations have more value than the average meme, she’s the one.

Michael Keleman — Recruiting Animal
The Recruiting Animal was one of the first people online to take me to task on my principle that “you can’t control what other people say about you; you can only control how you respond to them” when he introduced himself by calling me a sissy. We’ve been friends ever since. You can catch his hard question approach at Recruiting Animal. Thought: Real online friends don’t need pats on the back; they need authenticity.

Jason Davis — RecruitingBlogs
When I first met Jason Davis, he was heading up Recruiting.com. Now, he administers RecrutingBlogs.com, a niche social network on Ning that has become very popular in the recruiting industry. The reason, in part, is leadership. Davis has an approach that works well in social media, lightly guiding people without ever having to become a police state like some social networks do. Thought: He knows how to make a social networks thrive.

Scott Baradell — Media Orchard
Whether it’s a quip on SpinThicket or pop culture think piece, Scott Baradell delivers. He’s proven on more than one occasion that he knows his “stuff;” he just chooses not to share it all the time because sometimes the “stuff” just isn’t all that fun to write about. Thought: If you’re not having fun online, it’s not worth the effort.

Five More Thinkers In The Mix

Jason Falls at Social Media Explorer has something going on with a unique blend of social media banter and blog business. It’s bit a random at times (as if I’m not), but he’s doing what explorers do. Um, they explore.

Ike Piggot and his Occam’s Razor is a blog to behold. People say he’s someone to watch for all sorts of reasons. I like it because he keeps his blog personal, relevant, and well written. It makes me forgive the occasional self-loathing “nobody reads me” stuff from time to time.

Dane Morgan is a hardcore online marketing guy who understands the tech better than most. He likes to call a duck a duck and never needs to apologize for it. Blog promotion tends to be a favored topic on Dane Morgan Niche Blogger and he gets into the nuts and bolts of programs like Entrecard (more on that next week).

Sterling Hagar is off the social media crowd radar, but no less relevant. And while I don’t read Agency Next every day, I always know I’ll find something interesting there when I visit. He covers topics that others ought to follow and expand upon.

Bill Sledzik probably belongs in the first five, but then it wouldn’t be five. He’s the real deal and takes a no-nonsense public relations talk on ToughSledding, always in the mix for me. My bet is that he would already be an “A-list” blogger if it wasn’t for the lack of a daily post. No matter. There’s something to be said for not doing so.

Naturally, whether you read this blog regularly or from time to time, Happy Valentine’s Day to you too. Emails and comments make me think too, not just other bloggers. It helps keep things interesting.

Jason Davis suggested I consider making a meme out of this. I would, but I’m not very big on memes. So I’ll leave that up to everyone else. Besides, there are many, many more bloggers, social network connections, and people who make me think beyond communication.

For instance, my wife and partner makes me think. Every day, in fact. And today she has me thinking how much I love her, especially because I’ll be teaching public relations when I probably should be doing something with her.

It takes someone special to put personal perks on hold sometimes. Right on, next week it will be the same thing on her birthday. Happy Valentine’s Day, Kim.

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Wednesday, February 13

Opening Hollywood: Writers Strike Ends


The writers strike is over, but the impact is permanent well beyond payment for digital distribution. People want change, and not just the actors who will likely ask for digital distribution compensation as well.

Advertisers are hoping networks adopt a year-round television schedule as opposed to the nine-month schedule currently employed by major networks. Year-round scheduling, which has been tried and tested positive by many cable networks (which purposely avoid sweeps to launch new programming), would allow viewers to consider more new programs.

“There’s a lot of hype in September,” Charlie Rutman, chief executive for the North American operations of MPG, a media agency owned by Havas, told The New York Times. “And by November, half the shows aren’t on anymore.”

Year-Round Means Better Metrics

Such a move would require a greater overhaul of the Nielsen rating system, which relies primarily on sweep weeks for its largest gathering of ratings. Currently, only a fraction of a few million Nielsen families are counted year round.

The rating system has been a hotly debated topic by consumers since last May, when fans of the Jericho television show (which aired its first episode of the second season last night) criticized questioned its accuracy and dismissal of online DVR viewership, which some estimates put at 58 to 70 percent of all cable households. Eventually, Jericho voices were joined by the fans of virtually every cancelled show.

While Nielsen has made changes since last May, including some semblance of DVR counts and video-on-demand (VOD) analytics, it continues to draw fire from, well, everyone. Enough so that Nielsen apologized for the “systemic problems in the delivery of its national ratings data” since the beginning of the 2007-08 TV season. Enough so that CBS and TiVo have an arrangement. Enough so that everyone is looking for alternative metrics while reporters mention that the rating system is less than perfect.

A year-round season is something that some networks, like NBC, are already working toward. NBC recognizes that it would save money because fewer pilots would need to be produced in the spring for the fall. It might also mean that networks wouldn’t feel pressured to put as many shows on the bubble, simply to take a chance and make a splash with a new show line up every year.

More importantly, it works for consumers because head-to-head show competition is becoming a phenomenon of the past. Consumers simply want great content rather than relying on the old model, which was based on the idea that they would “settle for the best thing on” or spend an hour surfing.

New Media Is All Media

As mentioned in January, old media is dead because the distinction between old and new is fast becoming nonexistent. The graphite is scrawled across the wall …

• Everyone wants a rating system that counts everybody, and breaks out information across various multimedia platforms.
• Everyone wants a fair compensation for actors, creators, and distributors, regardless of how revenue is generated.
• Everyone wants better quality programming that can survive longer than three episodes before being pulled.
• Everyone wants more interaction between fans, cast, and crew because viewers are paying much more attention to their favorite shows.
• Everyone wants engagement beyond passive viewership because, well, because it’s possible.
• Nobody really minds some advertising if the content is free; and advertisers don’t mind paying for programs that people watch.

This is different, but doable. It’s less about reinvention and more about innovation to diminish the difference between what exists and what’s possible.

Even the primary reason for the conclusion of the writers strike is indicative of change. Many people are crediting Peter Chernin, president of the News Corporation, and Robert Iger, chief executive of Walt Disney, for opening sideline talks with Patric Verrone, David Young, and John Bowman. Individual conversations succeeded where group negotiations failed. Sounds almost like a social media solution.

Looking for two more positive outcomes to the writers strike? The United Hollywood blog intends to stick around. It might be a very long time before a network executive ever needs to ask for a pencil. Case closed, well, sort of.

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Tuesday, February 12

Rowing Nowhere: Celebrity Endorsements


Advertising for the Pfizer cholesterol drug Lipitor continues to draw scrutiny from everyone, especially one of its more recent advertisements. The ad features Dr. Robert Jarvick, inventor of the artificial heart, rowing his way to better health with Lipitor. Except, he doesn’t really row.

"He's about as much an outdoorsman as Woody Allen," longtime collaborator Dr. O. H. Frazier of the Texas Heart Institute told The New York Times. "He can't row."

The Pfizer advertising campaign came under question about a month ago after the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce sent a letter of inquiry about the endorsement. The letter didn’t target Jarvick’s rowing as much as it did his qualifications.

The bigger picture is Congress taking an active interest in pharmaceutical advertising since 2004. Advertising drove record sales of Vioxx, just before it was later pulled by Merck after a clinical trial showed that it sharply increased the risk of heart attacks and stroke. In other words, for better or worse, pharmaceutical advertising works. Congress is trying to figure out how much is for worse.

The criticism of the Jarvik campaign raises several interesting questions related to celebrity and creative ethics in a world where Andy Warhol’s quote "In the future everybody will be world famous for fifteen minutes” has morphed into “in the future everybody will be famous to fifteen people at a time,” even journalists.

Although Jarvick insists he is not a celebrity in a statement issued to fend off reporter inquiries about the campaign, he really is, even if it is only of a quasi-celebrity nature.

Endorsing products, paid or unpaid, even if it is under the auspices of having “the training, experience, and medical knowledge to understand the conclusions of the extensive clinical trials that have been conducted to study the safety and effectiveness of Lipitor,” does thrust one into spokesperson-celebrity arena.

If he didn’t have celebrity status to some degree, it seems unlikely Pfizer would have approached him. After all, Jarvick might hold a medical degree, but not as a cardiologist. He also does not hold a license to practice any type of medicine.

From celebrity endorsers, the public generally wants some authenticity if not transparency. Sure, while we’re all used to seeing celebrities promote one product while using another on the side, most cameos are grounded in some semblance of reality. So when celebrities push the envelope on creative license, expressing their passion for a sport they do not engage in (let’s say), there is bound to be backlash that exceeds the obvious body double work.

Endorsement advertising, even by consumers, is all the rage these days. But that doesn’t mean I always get it. Sure, it’s fun to watch Chuck Norris endorse Mike Huckabee on YouTube or any number of social media experts tout “on again, off again” social network promotions, but one wonders if we aren’t stretching the “pile in the party bus with >insert quasi-celebrity<” too often.

Is a Norris endorsement all that’s needed to pick the President of the United States? Does Jarvick trump any advice that your cardiologist might provide? Does a social network that an A-list blogger employs mean it will work for you?

The truth is they seem to matter in perception if not reality. But perception is the operative word. Sooner or later, people wonder what is real. Is the footage real? How about Pfizer’s statement to The Wall Street Journal?

“Dr. Jarvik is a respected health care professional and heart expert. Dr. Jarvik, inventor of the Jarvik artificial heart, knows how imperative it is for patients to do everything they can to keep their heart working well.”

No doubt. Except, I don’t think the ad was a public service announcement.

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Monday, February 11

Going, Going: Now Is Gone


It has been four long months since Now Is Gone by Geoff Livingston with Brian Solis first landed on Amazon and bookstore shelves. That’s a long time in the world of new media, making me wonder whether another review serves any real purpose, especially from someone who was included.

Yeah, about that. When Livingston visited us in Vegas, I told him I would have to ding my informal poll’s inclusion in the book, given how it is presented. I might as well start there. Sure, poll respondents called the Wal-Mart flog the biggest social media transgression to date (36 percent), but only 23 people voted.

Nine opinions is hardly as valid as it seems in print. What’s also missing is that I followed up on the subject, stating that the poll participants were a bit off: John Mackey and Julie Roehm had much larger lapses in ethical judgments. The Wal-Mart flog merely stands out because it was perpetrated by a number of people who knew better, and could have been avoided by the tiniest of disclosures.

This doesn’t really detract from the book; it’s just something to keep in mind. Like all books on new media (and everything else for that matter), sourcing the original content is important because, in understanding the greater context of the conversation, readers may come up with different conclusions than those laid out before them.

Livingston does one of the best jobs in helping people find such content, citing direct links that can be easily tracked back to the source. It makes sense.

Why Now Is Gone Works

Now Is Gone is a book that attempts a daunting task and mostly succeeds. It captures new media conversations by communication leaders as it occurred. It’s something David Meerman Scott did with The New Rules of Marketing and PR. For this reason alone, Now Is Gone is exactly what it says it is: a primer on new media for executives and entrepreneurs, people who are starting to realize they need to catch up on several months or years worth of conversation.

Livingston and the forward by Solis do a good job in presenting this, providing dozens of lessons learned, best practices, and case studies. It is often encapsulated into sound advice bites — “one new thing new media creators can learn from traditional media outlets is the creation of phenomenal content can be targeted toward a particular community” — which rightfully points to an idea that new media doesn’t require trickery as much as honest, targeted content.

Another common theme is how new media often requires active participation. Case in point: Livingston was one of several people who encouraged me to participate across more social networks than I ever intended. He’s very, very good at it (I'm just okay). He may even be one of the best at it, because he practices what he preaches…

“Social Networks that feature opt-in friends or followers can be great ways to engage sub-communities outside of a corporate social media initiative. By building value for these contacts in a participation-oriented, value-building manner, organizations can intelligently build an extended community of brand loyalists.” — Now Is Gone.

While it’s true this is sometimes time-consuming, time management and targeted participation makes the return well worth the effort. Coming away from reading Now Is Gone for the second time, it also reinforces how social networking may even be more important than a blog in that it exposes the participant to a bigger world view. It’s not all that different from participating in a professional organization on a local level. Sure, the lines are blurred and the network is bigger, but the sociology is the same.

Now Is Gone doesn't stop there. It also works hard to prove that social networks and social media cannot be ignored, no matter how much people think they can be. It is in this topic that Livingston and Solis both make their best cases for the idea that new media is changing marketing, advertising, and public relations in ways that no one expected.

They are right, even if some of the changes seem to be taking us back to the golden era of advertising when people like Ogilvy, Polykoff, Manley, and a slew of others knew that effective copywriting was all about engaging consumers in conversation. It’s the conversation, not the art or price point alone, that changes behavior.

A Cautionary Note About New Media Books

In addition to the rush to market, which sometimes leaves communication colleagues miffed by rough writing, there is something to keep in mind when reading any book about new media. And that is... it's new media.

It’s so new that some social media proponents struggle with one critical piece of wisdom: the work they are doing today is important, but it may not be strong enough to make them immortal or any more correct in being among the first. The scientific field is much more versed in working in such an environment. More than one scientist has experienced a moment when their biggest contribution is proven to be slightly flawed on the front end, making an entire volume of work invalid.

The Permian-Triassic extinction event about 250 million years ago comes to mind. There were dozens of theories floating around about the extinction for decades, ranging from large and multiple impacts and increased volcanism to methane releases from the sea floor.

However, with a single new discovery, some of these theories (and theories built on top of these theories) were suddenly left behind as entire volumes of research needed to be rewritten. The only difference, it seems to me, is that scientists are a bit more prepared for this to happen. Social media proponents? I'm not always sure they are.

Given how often I see some write that we “don’t need to reinvent the wheel,” I’m unconvinced that they are ready for for sweeping changes that occur when the wheel is reinvented. If there wasn't a need to reinvent wheels, we'd still have giant log rollers under our cars and trucks, Flinstone style. And we certainly wouldn't need new media.

Of course, this isn’t a criticism of the book. This is an area where Livingston always stands out. He allows the conversation to speak for itself, perfectly content to see it disproved, overturned by new ideas, or evolve in ways that early pioneers never intended.

You can see some of this happen in real time on the Now Is Gone blog. It’s a great read, with multiple authors picking up where the book leaves off.

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Saturday, February 9

Counting Down Jericho: Tick, Tick, Boom


There are only three full days left before many of the questions surrounding Jericho, the television series given a reprieve last year, begin to shift from speculations and to undeniable facts. Starting Feb. 12 and for the weeks that follow, CBS executives will be considering which of two second season episodes shot will air on week seven.

Will that episode wrap the fan-inspired story forever or usher in a complete unabridged third season?

It’s not the only question, but it is the one that is weighing heavily on the minds of several thousand fans who spent the last nine months talking up the show that they helped save with about 125,000 signatures, 40,000 pounds of nuts, and countless e-mails, postcards, letters, phone calls, blog posts, articles, interviews, forum discussions, YouTube videos, etc. No one really knows the answer, but there are plenty of people hoping for much more than seven installments.

“I was just thinking about those shiny new episodes that everyone has worked SO hard for. There seems to be a buzz about them, but my greatest fear is that this is the beginning of the end. We got CBS to reconsider their decision, but will the public follow?” — Jessielynne73 (fan screen name)

“The one thing that stands out the most to me is how Schumi made sure to stress that everyone’s efforts counted, and how much her daily ‘command orders’ inspired us all." — Maybei (fan screen name)

“What stood out to me were the awesome videos made by the fans to encourage and inspire us in the fight to get Jericho back. I am so glad that CBS is acknowledging them on the Jericho homepage with the fan video of the day." — DBalcer1 (fan screen name)

“I’m in Romania so the show aired here [much later]. I’ve gotten hooked on the show since … and I’ll be hooked for the rest of my life.” — Twister22 (fan screen name)

"What stood out in my mind was the commitment everyone made to make sure Jericho was not forgotten. I love that the actors have said how much they appreciate and love the show (and their fans). That's rare in TV series."— Idyoutlw (fan screen name)

“What stands out to me is what hard work it's been, but it has ultimately been worth it. I've talked to people I would probably never gotten to know otherwise, learned a lot, and made some good friends. Even if (heaven forbid) we don't get any more than these seven episodes, it was all worth it, and I'd do it again." — LisiBee (fan screen name)

For the fans, it must seem like another lifetime when the only question people asked was what would CBS executives do with 22,000 pounds of nuts?, an early estimate that was quickly eclipsed with 18,000 more.

That question was answered: the peanuts were sent to the zoo; the “Jericho nuts” were sent the promise of seven shows.

Jericho "nuts" doesn’t have as much charm as “Jericho Rangers,” as I know them, but Ken Tucker with Entertainment Weekly seems to have some doubts whether season two will have mass appeal. Although temperate in his review, he did see some promise in two performers, who he says bring “some cracked intensity into this grim fantasy.”

We shall see. Much like we’ll see the answers to many other questions even though I suspect some will never really be answered.

“Will CBS, which cancelled 20 projects during the writer’s strike, reconsider how it counts Nielsen ratings?”

“Did the three episode leak help, hurt, or have no bearing on the premiere of the second season?”

“Did the writer’s strike (which just reached a tentative agreement) help attract viewers who are starved for new non-reality show content on television?”

“Would fans have fared even better without the just-below-the-surface in-fighting among the most visible?”

“Did the fans meet those conditions uttered by CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler that they had to 'recruit more fans?'”

“Will CBS ever learn how lightly guided consumer marketing and social media really works?”

“Does Jake fit better with Heather or Emily?”

Doubtful. Almost. Not like it could have. Probably. Maybe. Its online viewing platform certainly looks better. And last but not least, there are some fan debates you learn to stay far away from.

Personally, I just hope the fans are able to punctuate the impossible show cancellation reversal and capture enough ratings to see their efforts stick. Objectively, the ratings of season two episode one will matter less than season two episode three or four.

I also won’t be surprised if NBC or FOX pays some attention to the outcome. With more then 2,600 boxes of Rice-A-Roni (not counting individual shipments) being mailed to Jeff Zucker, NBC might find going back in time and undoing a decision is sometimes better than starting from scratch.

Wouldn’t that be something? I know a girl detective who would think so too. But for now, it’s all about the little town in Kansas that thought it could. Given that I believe consumers matter, I hope it can.

For a behind-the-scenes look at season two and some surprisingly crisp full episodes of season one, visit CBS here.

Special thanks to Jane Sweat who contributed fan comments to this piece.

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Friday, February 8

Blogging For Kindness: Ark Of Hope For Children


Last November, I had the pleasure of getting to know the Corbett family through Bloggers Unite, a social awareness campaign spearheaded by BlogCatalog.

The Corbetts are raising 10 children, five of which were adopted from the foster care system (there are 13 family members in all). They are planning to adopt more children as their vision, Ark Of Hope For Children, becomes a reality.

The Ark Of Hope For Children is a planned mini-community that will include 3-6 single family homes on 80 acres of land to provide a nurturing environment for up to 32 children currently sheltered by the Florida foster care system. Even so, the Corbetts are not inwardly focused. They invest time helping others as well.

In fact, their contribution to their community was a perfect match for the last Bloggers Unite campaign, focused on Acts of Kindness, which asked bloggers from around the world to perform an act of kindness and share a post, picture, or video about it. The Corbetts submitted a post about a large-scale event they hosted to help those in need around the holidays.

”My family has always volunteered at Gainesville, Florida’s Bread of The Mighty Food Bank,” said Blair Corbett, who wrote the post. “As the holiday season was approaching several years ago, we were informed of a six story building of welfare recipients that was often overlooked because they weren’t quite homeless.”

Rather than sit on the sidelines, the Corbetts adopted the building six years ago. This year, the family and eight volunteers organized a holiday meal for more than 80 people. The meal, consisting of purchased food from local food banks and supermarkets, included everything you might imagine: six turkeys, 10 pounds of ham, lasagnas, 30 pounds of mashed potatoes (real), ten pounds of stuffing, corn, beans, angel food cakes, Jello, and sweet tea.

“We pre-organized as many volunteers as possible to help cook the food, but our guest kitchen chefs became ill, which left all of the cooking to Verna [his wife] and my family,” says Corbett. “Fortunately, the manager and two employees of a local fast food restaurant pre-cooked some food at their location, which was a blessing.”

The sudden outbreak of bronchitis in their community wasn’t the only challenge, but the Corbetts continued to rely on faith. When the shortage of help became overbearing, they paused to pray. When the front door latch of their fully-loaded van broke at the last minute, they rigged up a rope to keep the door shut. When the electricity suddenly went out in the 6-story building, they spent hours trying to find the right breakers.

Yet, for every problem, Corbett says their “mess became their message.” No matter what, you have to be grateful for what you have. And on Dec. 23, they had each other.

“I learned to appreciate life early, after losing my father when I was 12, and my stepfather when I was 18,” says Corbett. “I began following Christ in my mid 30s. Sure, many of our kids are physically or mentally challenged, it has been an uphill climb for our family as we continue to work toward building the first of six foster homes, and it was a tough decision to leave the normal workplace in 2000 to work full time for Ark of Hope. But if you live humbly and unselfishly, I believe you will live in lavish riches that will last for eternity.”

Sometimes those riches are like those experienced by the residents that night. They knew someone cared enough to serve them and listen, even if it was for a short time. The gift was beneficial to the family too, he said. His children, ranging in ages 3 to 24, learned valuable lessons about the joy of service and from prayer requests.

Some residents asked for prayers to have health problems alleviated. Some asked to be reunited with family, whom they had not seen in some time. Most were simply thankful for the food and people to share it with. The Corbett's granddaughter, Krystal, was grateful for the stuffed animals some residents slipped beside her during her nap. And the Corbetts were thankful they could share their story.

“Both my wife and I love taking part in Bloggers Unite because it's an opportunity to write about something we do that has the potential to multiply our efforts,” says Corbett. “Every day, there is something you can do. No matter how small, you can make a difference. We envision the power of Bloggers Unite to be something that will get a lot more people caring about and for others.”

In addition to organizing, cooking, and serving the meal, the Corbett family distributed more than 2,000 pounds of dry goods to the residents afterward.

Update: Recently, Miss Marion County USA joined with the Corbetts to help raise funds. For more information about their efforts, visit Ark Of Hope For Children.

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Thursday, February 7

Speaking Chinese: Salesgenie.com Pandas

Salesgenie.com was not the only SuperBowl advertisement to attempt “ethnic humor,” but it is among the first ads to be pulled amid growing customer complaints.

The New York Times reported yesterday that the spot will be pulled from the airways, though it hasn’t been pulled from the Salesgenie.com Web site as of this morning.

When I first read the article, I thought to give Vinod Gupta, chairman and chief executive of InfoUSA (parent company of Salesgenie.com), some props in handling the public relations fallout over the ad. It makes good sense to apologize and pull the advertisement. That’s responsive.

But in looking at his explanation, I became more skeptical. Gupta, who wrote the advertisements himself, told The New York Times that “We never thought anyone would be offended. The pandas are Chinese. They don’t speak German.”

Well, pandas don’t really speak so who really knows.

In looking at the ad again, perhaps I can offer some explanation for Gupta why the pandas drew more criticism than Salesgenie.com’s Ramesh spot, which also employed accents. Unlike the Ramesh spot, which also wasn’t very good, the pandas cross the fine line between laughing with people and laughing at people.

If Gupta believed his own explanation, then Salesgenie.com’s “psychic” panda would have a Chinese accent too. She does not. She also adds separation between Salesgenie.com’s apparently ignorant target audience and the wisdom of the company. The spot just isn’t good enough to carry any comedy.

The Ramesh spot, on the other hand, doesn’t drive home such separation, with exception to the quip about “having seven children,” which is why it didn’t draw criticism. However, there’s another reason too. The spot isn’t good enough to generate any emotion. It just lands flat.

I faced a similar call last year when a client asked me to add in ethnic accents on the tail end of a radio spot. Instead, I wrote the scripts two ways, and the one without accents survived. Why? Because accents aren’t funny. Specific people are funny, whether or not they have an accent makes no difference at all.

Case in point, it’s not funny to learn that people have been making fun of Gupta’s accent for years. What might be funny is a CEO laughing at his own wit and having “yes men” follow him around agreeing with whatever comes out of his mouth. You know, as if he just came up with the best SuperBowl commercials of the year. It might not even be that far from the truth, because this is the second year Gupta-written Salesgenie.com commercials were disliked.

The New York Times attributed the backlash to being indicative of increasing consumer sensitivity to marketing messages, particularly when ethnic images are involved. Hmmm … I think it is indicative of increasing consumer sensitivity to dumbed down marketing messages, particularly when the only people who like them are the creators. Right on. When you can’t be funny, shoot for publicity. Yuk, yuk, yuk. Yawn.

For another funny, check out MultiCultClassics, where I read Gupta is ready to pick up his pen next year too. I can hear his staff in back ground right now, “Brilliant idea! You're one funny guy.”

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Wednesday, February 6

Adding Facebook Value: Loomia


It’s true. I’ve never been a Facebook fan. I maintain an account because some people I know like it, but I have never felt “fully migrated” along with the rest of my fellow social network nomads.

Dark cloud coverage every few weeks seems to reaffirm my one toe in approach: the Beacon fiasco, the business bans, the negative cash flow , and on, and on.

However, every now and again, there seems to be a silver lining that comes in the form of a third-party widget. The addition of a Twitter feed was one. And now, SeenThis? by Loomia is another.

SeenThis? by Loomia

The value seems to be much deeper than the launch partners who dominated the early buzz last week. Having The Wall Street Journal Online (WSJ), NBC Universal, and CNET Networks as partners is certainly news, but SeenThis?, which allows social network members to share what they read via Facebook, is a well thought out application that adds real value to the online experience.

The original concept was simple enough. David Marks, co-founder and CTO, along with the rest of the Loomia team, wanted to create a social network tool that mimicked personal social patterns in real life and used recommendation applications they have already provide to many sites.

“When people see a movie or read a good article, they share it with friends and co-workers,” said Marks. “We wanted to bring this online, helping them ‘stay in the know’ with friends, groups and networks.”

Simply stated, the new Facebook application tracks articles that you and your friends, group members, and network members read, allowing you to see what articles might be popular. For example, three of my Facebook groups found some interest in the WSJ article “Google Aims to Crack China With Music Push” so I decided to take a look.

Once there, I skimmed the article and also noticed that WSJ’s publisher version of the application lists other related stories, new stories, popular stories, and — which is very cool — other WSJ stories that my friends, groups, or networks found interesting, like the “Mac Ad You Will Never See."

Even better, to make SeenThis? work as combination convergence and recommendation tool, all of the data was collected anonymously. It will remain anonymous unless you specifically choose to share a particular article link with selected Facebook friends (whether they have added the SeenThis? widget or not).

In some ways, it's like having your own mini-Digg site, except it's confined to your networks and much more passive in gaging interest among selected publishers. You and your friends interest in a subject is dependent on what you read, not what you group vote up or down.

SeenThis? Will Move Beyond Facebook

In the near future, SeenThis? will not be confined to a Facebook application. It will be deployable on other social networks. Marks tells me that MySpace (which recently opened its platform to developers) and OpenSocial are likely to be the next.

Facebook was first, primarily because of its very friendly API development platform, he said. But the vision driving SeenThis? goes well beyond a single social network. And that is part of its charm.

As new social networks are added, SeenThis? will compile the data across all of these networks, allowing subscribers to track popular content across as many or as few as they want. Likewise, people using SeenThis? can pick and choose from 18 content providers (and growing), including: partners like CNET, NBC, and WSJ and publishers like TechCrunch, Slate, and The Economist. One of the newest content additions is College Humor, which was added after people already using the widget asked Loomia to do so.

In addition to compiling data as a convergence tool, SeenThis? makes it easy to scan headlines from multiple publications. This seems especially useful for bloggers who want to tailor their posts to media stories that their social networks and friends already find interesting. Bloggers can add a Loomia widget to their blogs as well. While I don't believe it will be included in the SeenThis? feeds (publisher feeds can be), the widget will add recommended articles based on blog content.

The application is free, provided you choose the ad-supported version by Loomia. There are other versions with a tiered pricing structure as well.

SeenThis? And Privacy

Data collection always raises privacy flags, especially when it is related to Facebook. However, SeenThis? has taken several steps to keep any data collected completely anonymous, including expirations on how long this data is stored.

“SeenThis? users have complete control over how they share information,” Marks said. “They remain completely anonymous unless they share a story (send a link) to their friends.”

Marks said that most research, including Loomia’s own, shows that people want to know what their friends, groups, and networks are reading, but no one really wants to share everything they read. By collecting and pooling data among anonymous users who have opted in, SeenThis? networkers will enjoy the best of both worlds.

SeenThis? May Set The Next Wave

According to Marks, SeenThis? will be added to an increasing number of social networks soon, and users will be able to employ it in some interesting ways: discussions can be created around popular content and articles; users will be able to opt in to receive select notifications; and you can always control which publishers appear on your site or social network page.

To me, it really demonstrates that there are widgets, and then there are widgets. Loomia seems to have created the latter, tapping into the growing online social awareness . It’s relevant and useful, perhaps one of the most responsive applications built around the people who will use it.

It is also intuitive in that there is a new social layer being developed as social networks open up their platforms. Developers like Loomia are looking for new ways to manage portable groups and content. Marks says we can expect to see more applications like this in the near future. I think he’s right.

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Tuesday, February 5

Finding Ideas: Live Outside Your Ecosystem


Among the tips I like to provide students taking my “Writing For Public Relations” class is to expand their knowledge and networks well beyond any confined industry ecosystem. Spend too much time within any ecosystem and specialists risk becoming endangered species. Online or off, there is no difference.

This is one of the reasons while I place value on creating relationships with public relations practitioners, advertising gurus, communication specialists, etc., I also work build connections and participate outside of my area of focus.

Mark Stoneman, historian, recently brought this up as a discussion topic in our BlogStraightTalk group. He was prompted by Janet Rae-Dupree’s article in The New York Times. My speaking schedule might provide an example as I'll have to adapt to meet the needs of each group.

Las Vegas Recruiting Roadshow — 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., Feb. 27

Ever since John Sumser organized what he calls an experiment to bring local recruiters into the industry’s larger network infrastructure, the road show has made some impressive gains in helping the industry build bridges and network. Since the show is coming to Las Vegas, Sumser asked if I’d discuss the merits of social networking for about 30-45 minutes. In Vegas? You bet.

So on Feb. 27, I’ll be among the five speakers discussing various topics at the Green Valley Resort • Spa • Casino. It’s free with registration.

What do I get out of discussing topics with recruiters? You might be surprised. They provide an interesting link to personal branding, human resources, labor relations, and executive management to name a few; topics that my industry doesn’t always consider. Tip for communicators: learn more about business.

Editing and Proofreading Your Work — 9 a.m. to noon, March 1

This class is a half-day day session that focuses on improving clarity, consistency, and correct usage in personal and business communication through the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. While the class provides some overlap instruction for the Writing For Public Relations course, it also attracts a diverse group of people ranging from future authors and freelancers to business managers and yes, people within the communication profession.

So on March 1, I’ll be finding new ways to make the nuts and bolts of writing effectively as an editor interesting for a diverse group of people on the campus. The class is $85 and includes handouts.

The diversity of the students always leads to some interesting questions during class. It helps me stay fresh, considering any number of writing questions I never consider on a daily basis, including when to use “whilst.” Tip for writers: different forms and styles open ideas that can be applied to other forms and styles.

IABC/Las Vegas Speed Workshop— 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., March 4

The International Association of Business Communicators Las Vegas (IABC/Las Vegas) is adding speed to speaking as six speakers will play musical tables every ten minutes. I’ll be among them, discussing social media.

Anyone in social media might find the time frame amusing. Just how much information can be gleaned about social media, skewed slightly for non-profits (I’m told), inside of ten minutes? If I’m being honest, I’m just not sure yet, other than needing to write tight, talk fast, and bring handouts.

The program registration has not been added online yet, but I do know it will be held at Maggiano's, which is located at the Fashion Show Mall. The program is $30 for IABC members and students; $35 for guests. It includes lunch. Tip for executives: all the dismissal of social media in the world won’t change the fact that people are talking about your company online.

IABC/Las Vegas generally attracts communicators from a wide variety of industries, including the non-profit sector. Working on various boards and for several organizations, I’ve developed some great relationships, including with members of the media who support some of the same causes.

You never know where good ideas might come from. So if I’m working for a manufacturer, I want to know more about being a machinist. In banking, I want to know how the market affects various business sectors or when to get a loan. In politics, I want to know how to capture, motivate, and retain volunteers for a grass roots campaign. In social media, understanding some technology is as important as knowing something about venture capitalists. And so on, and so forth.

The point: while you might be able to survive in a confined industry ecosystem for awhile, you have to step outside of it sooner or later. Too much specialization, while it might seem to be asset, will eventually limit your ability to survive. Besides all that, the best ideas often come from where you least expect it — people who know little about what you do but are impacted by it often.

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Monday, February 4

Missing Targets: Target PR


Last week, the public relations department at Target learned something about new media: it’s interconnected with old media (if there is such a thing anymore) and the links and lines between the two are not always clear.

The New York Times followed up on a post by ShapingYouth, a blog about the impact of marketing on children. The apparent conflict arose over an advertising campaign that has been criticized, as The New York Times describes it, because it “depicted a woman splayed across a big target pattern — the retailer’s emblem — with the bull’s-eye at her crotch.”

Personally, I never made the connection. But there are plenty of advertising folks and consumers who did.

But this post really isn’t about that, despite having years of research that relates to sexually suggestive advertising as well as cognitive thinking by consumers. Nor is it really about ShapingYouth author Amy Jussel’s approach to contacting Target or Target’s ill-advised response, given that it wasn’t even true.

“Unfortunately we are unable to respond to your inquiry because Target does not participate with nontraditional media outlets … This practice is in place to allow us to focus on publications that reach our core guest.”

There are a number of public relations and social media-related blogs that have already weighed in on the subject, most of them recognizing that Target may not have needed to respond to Jussel’s aggressively assumptive inquiry, but delivered an inappropriate response. Here’s a sampling:

“So, let the lesson be loud and clear: Bloggers are media too!” — Speak Media

“…despite the ridiculous sentiments of Jussel, Target’s response was even more out-of-line.” — The PR News Blog

“In an ideal world, PR pros should always strive to enter into a conversation with any journalist that submits a reasonably legitimate media query. In reality, however, it's not scalable to offer the same level of responsiveness across the board.” — The Flack

Answering Social Media Inquiries Is A Function Of Public Relations

While scalability to address social media seems to be an issue for many public relations departments (even at larger companies like Target, apparently), it doesn’t make sense to me that any company would dismiss a blogger’s inquiry given that they wouldn’t dismiss the same inquiry by an average customer. And therein lies the real rub.

Companies are becoming too hung up on a definition of “blogger” as a noun and not considering that “blogging” is best described as a verb. Unfortunately, when it is applied as a noun, everyone gets a bit wacky and dismisses all the other nouns that might apply.

Case in point: Jussel is not only a blogger, she is also a consumer advocate and Target customer. I doubt Target would have dismissed either of these definitions as readily as they dismissed Jussel as a blogger, regardless of her approach.

Jussel is not alone. Most “bloggers” have multiple labels that emblazon their name badges. (I have several dozen; take your pick.) Let’s consider that.

Some bloggers are journalists; some are not. Some demonstrate at least some semblance of being one, even if it is more op-ed commentary as opposed to objective reporting; some do not. Some want to be engaged by companies; some do not. Some … well, you get the point. But among all these titles and monikers and definitions and styles, there is one thing every company must consider.

All bloggers are consumers and possibly customers. Period.

Given that most companies would not brush off consumers the same way — “We are unable to respond to your inquiry because we do not address the concerns of customers because it’s not scalable to offer the same level of responsiveness across the board.” EGAD! — it doesn’t make sense that a public relations department would brush off bloggers, consumers who may publicly write about it.

So what’s the solution? Pretty simple, really. At minimum, even if the company has some erroneous anti-blogger policy, public relations departments need to be able to identify who is making the inquiry and then route the call to the appropriate department if the appropriate department is not public relations.

That’s not a social media policy. It’s common sense.

And if Target had applied even some semblance of it, they may looked like heroes instead of something else. It takes far fewer words and follow up to simply send out something along the lines of … “Thank you for your inquiry. The advertisement is not meant to be sexually suggestive. However, we have forwarded your concern to our [insert department].”

Sure, as a 3-second solution, it’s not perfect. But then again, I wasn’t shooting to be interviewed by The New York Times or irritating several thousand customers. I was simply considering what the lowest level of response might be, assuming the company wants to pretend that social media doesn’t exist.

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Friday, February 1

Defining Convergence: Advertising - Entertainment Crossover


"The reality of it is that the future does not fit into the containers of the past.” — Rishad Tobaccowala, CEO of Denuo Group, a Publicis Groupe

According to Ad Age, Tobaccowala said it’s time for marketers to drop the idea that they can authoritatively distribute promotional messages by traditional means and get their heads around the notion that they must create content where audiences can migrate. As an example, he points to Nestle’s Purina, which has moved well beyond the static content that was once associated with a Web site. It includes user-generated content too.

Although I wouldn’t go so far as to say that traditional advertising is dead, social media, interactivity, and consumer participation is becoming part of what will become a very changed communication landscape. And it’s not just about what marketers can do, it’s also about how the entire media landscape is changing.

Broadcast industry growth is mostly flat, enough so that local stations are looking elsewhere for content distribution. (I’ve mentioned several times: local station viewership of truncated segments online is outpacing the broadcast news product.) The New York Times noted today that some stations are not only creating original programming, but also purchasing the online rights to syndicated shows.

“I have seen local broadcasters move from looking at their Web sites as cost centers to looking at them as profit centers,” said Adam Gordon, the chief revenue officer of WorldNow. “It has taken time to get ad agencies to shift their attitudes and habits.”

The article speculates that if it works, local affiliates may play the same role online that they do on television, in which they buy the rights to programming from producers. But what the article does not say is what seems to be — both sides are playing to the middle. Convergence.

Convergence means producers having an equal opportunity to have their shows picked up by a company or distribution channel that may or may not be advertising supported. In some cases, companies might even produce some original content, with the option to syndicate it and/or sell downloads.

Sure, we all know that was along the lines of the lackluster debut of Bud.tv. It was too much too soon and without a clear focus or real understanding of their consumers (um, shows about beer might have worked) with additional damage caused by placing the entire concept in a lock box.

On the contrary, while Bud.tv traffic continues to drop, one of its debut shows, the sci-fi computer generated “Afterworld,” continues to gain a larger audience on its own. Whether you like it or not, a show like this is an asset with the potential to move beyond Google ads — sponsorship, syndication, product placement, pay-per-download, etc.

With such a variety of options available, shows like Journeyman and Jericho will be less likely to face cancellation as much as distribution shifts, provided they have a viable audience. Based on the Jericho’s Feb. 12 download buzz alone, there is obviously an audience. Anywhere there is an audience, there are advertisers.

The only thing missing from the mix is the realization that the past containers don’t work anymore for marketers, for advertisers, for producers, or networks.

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Thursday, January 31

E-Mailing Everybody: Marketers Say Spam Works


Forget Facebook and other online advertising models for a minute. Datran Media released a study that says direct-to-consumer e-mail spam works.

More than 82 percent of the marketers surveyed indicated that they plan to increase e-mail marketing this year. That’s a whole lot of e-mails.

Why? As much as everybody complains about e-mail advertising, it seems to work. The Direct Marketing Association (DMA) even released a report that says e-mail ROI can hit as much as $45.65 on every dollar spent, which is twice as much ROI earned from other mediums.

This study mirrors other industry specific releases sent out by the DMA, including one that predicted e-mail from the insurance industry will increase as much as 23.4 percent in the next few years. The insurance industry is not alone. E-mail advertising has become a red-hot choice among marketers nationwide.

Except. There are some things working against e-mail ROI. There is the increasing pressure on state legislatures by the public. There are the issues that cross over into the Federal Trade Commission’s consideration of online advertising. And, of course, there is the growing problem of over saturation.

Simply put, the more e-mail advertisements that consumers receive, the less effective the medium will become and the more likely it will be prone to stricter regulation. There are other considerations too, including that the DMA study on ROI in terms of dollars does not adequately consider long-term brand consequences or negative impressions. It also doesn’t consider the risks that more consumers associate with it.

Like most advertising and communication, direct e-mail advertising is a tool. It does not work for all companies or products, and can even be detrimental for some. Inc. recently published a great column that helps temper the hype and brings it back into focus.

Personally, before considering an e-mail campaign, I think many companies are better off thinking about a well-executed social media plan. Social media can be equally, if not more, effective because it allows the consumer to receive information when they want it and how they want it: RSS feed, e-mail subscription, social network announcement, Google search, etc.

Sure, social media, such as a blog, is considered passive by comparison. But then again, the communication doesn’t rely exclusively on an e-mail list either. In other words, while more than 70 percent of marketers said they intend to use e-mail to enhance consumer relationships, one wonders if consumers share their point of view.

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