Monday, April 21

Tinkering With Definitions: Social Media Engagement


According to Universal McCann, a full-service media communications company, there is no slowdown in social media adoption.

Globally, 73 percent of Internet users are reading blogs with 48 percent seeking out consumer generated content. In some countries, like South Korea, new media has already edged out old media with 77 percent of Internet users reading blogs and only 58 percent reading the mainstream press.

But here’s the rub. As Adweek pinpointed in the Universal McCann study, consumers in the U.S. and Western Europe are more likely to be passive social media participants — sharing videos and reading blogs — while those in emerging markets are more likely to be content creators.

Social Media Engagement Is Not A Measure

According to the study, more than 60 percent of Internet users in the U.S. read blogs, but only 26 percent are blog content creators. In contrast, more than 70 percent of Internet users blog in South Korea and China.

"By and large, in the U.S. we're a country of voyeurs," said David Cohen, U.S. director of digital communications at Universal McCann, which conducted the study. "We love to watch and consume content created by others, but there's a fairly small group that are doing that creation -- unlike China, which is a country of creators."

This might ruffle some feathers among social media experts that have inflated the “value” of social media engagement (comments, bookmarks, and links from other bloggers) over other forms of engagement (regular readers, tangible actions, and changes in behavior). The reason: companies that create sites reliant on user created content only appeals a fraction of total audience and not necessarily for the right reasons.

It also hints at why the sudden surge in “my” URL Web sites might be the wrong illusion. Simply adding “my” to a Web site does not make it automatically more personal.

Sure, the idea worked for some and there is no dispute that people want to feel connected to the sites they visit. However, one must always take care to remember that the participants they are catering to are most likely the choir and not the parishioners (never mind those who never made it into the service).

Engagement Takes Many Forms, Not Just One

If we consider that there are approximately three passive visitors for every one participant, then the most vocal of the total audience might not always be representative of the total population. In other words, if companies define engagement too narrowly, then they might inadvertently disengage passive participants — people who are engaged and take their actions offline.

It’s something to think about, especially because there is still ample wiggle room between online traffic measures. Enough so that digital-advertising executives have long doubted comScore and Nielsen Online because they already know that there are research gaps. Even less reliable is Alexa, despite being the favorite among bloggers to compare scores and its frequency of use among ranking algorithms.

The bottom line is that engagement takes many forms. Some people might leave a comment or cite what you write on their blogs. But then there are also those who might read a company blog faithfully and only take offline actions.

For example, the last time I had a question about a home repair, I sourced the company and found the information. I didn’t blog about it nor did I leave a comment, but I did use the information to get the job done.

While I might be counted as being engaged by their social media consultant, I most certainly might have been more engaged than the person who had left a comment that disagreed with their solution. You see, unlike the commenter who theorized, I actually did the task and found that it worked.

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Thursday, April 17

Advertising Empty: Recession Creates Cuts


While The Wall Street Journal speculates that the economy might be hurting Google, others are already pointing to across-the-board cuts in advertising and public relations. Even some advertising messages have changed, skewing toward sales and savings, as an admission that times are tough.

“Advertising and the economy seem to go hand in hand,” Bob Liodice, president of the Association of National Advertisers, told Reuters. “Really, the fact that the economy is weakening is going to have an impact on the industry in the short term.”

There is some truth to that. Companies frequently find that advertising budgets are the first to be cut amidst worries of an economic downturn. The reason, which was also attributed to the 9.3 percent drop in Google ad clicks, is because people are more likely to window shop and less likely to buy.

But does that really mean companies need to cut corners on communication? It depends on the company, but not always if one recalls the wisdom of Bruce Barton, co-founder of BDO, which later merged with Batten Co. to become BBDO.

“In good times, people want to advertise; in bad times, they have to,” he said.

This might be especially true when some economic reports remain mixed. But even if the reports weren’t mixed, cutting communication budgets isn’t always the most prudent choice.

Hundreds of companies and products have been successfully launched during recessions, most notably Trader Joe’s, MTV, and the iPod. (Copywrite, Ink. is also a recession-born company, 1991.)

In almost every case, these companies increased their presence in the marketplace while everyone else cut back. Doing so increases market share, especially against larger competitors, strengthening the company’s position when the economy turns around. They also did not resort to distress advertising, sweeping discounts, or “I feel your pain” advertising, recognizing short-term messages sometimes erode long-term brands.

Of course, that is not to say that most communication and advertising plans don’t need some refinement (most do, whether there is a recession or not). And I don’t necessarily think such refinement means jumping on the rally cry of social media. Social media is better used as an augmentation tool rather than a replacement tool as some suggest.

Keep that in mind when reading those who suggest social media is the most viable solution during a downturn, a concept that seems to be largely based on the logic of Forrester Research a few months ago.

Silicon Ally Insider Henry Blodget provides a better balance. Social media remains mixed because it requires more nurturing than traditional communication.

As I mentioned in March, there are two kinds of people who have a higher propensity to get into car accidents: those who never think they will and those who always think they will. The idea is to hit the middle.

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Wednesday, April 16

Blogging For Rights: BlogCatalog.com


“The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only object of good government.” — Thomas Jefferson

About a year ago, Antony Berkman, president of BlogCatalog.com, had an idea. He noted the media attention other social networks received were often based on raising investment capital.

He decided to do something else. He wanted to raise social capital instead.

“We had yet to see an online social community come together to raise funds for a good cause,” said Berkman. “So we saw it as an opportunity to empower and recognize bloggers who collectively focus their blogs for good.”

While Berkman says he wasn’t sure the first campaign would succeed — one that raised funds that directly benefited more than 1,000 students across the United States — he is happy to find Bloggers Unite has come full circle. One year and four campaigns later, BlogCatalog members hopes to inspire again.

This time, on May 15, bloggers are being asked to tackle a topic selected by members — Bloggers Unite For Human Rights. Although no one knew it a few months ago, the timing for a human rights social awareness campaign couldn’t be better. This year is the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

For most of us, human rights — life, liberty, justice, and freedom of expression — seem so commonplace that they are taken for granted. Yet, all over the world and sometimes just out of sight in our own backyards, human rights are tread with utter disregard. This is a great opportunity to speak out for those who cannot.

In Durfar, Sudan, women and children are raped and brutally attacked by government forces and militia. In South America, human trafficking continues to be increasing concern. In Zimbabwe, journalists are being arrested. And all over the world, censorship, from the Internet to everything, is becoming the rule and not the exception.

What can you do about it? Bloggers Unite For Human Rights.

Dedicate a post on any issue related to Human Rights this May 15 and encourage others to do the same. You can find several badges to display on your blog or submit new badges to Bloggers Unite.

Copywrite, Ink. will be recognizing several top bloggers who join the campaign and list their posts on the Bloggers Unite Discussion Group on May 15. Please give it some thought and consider how ten, one hundred, ten thousand, or tens of thousands can make a difference.

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Tuesday, April 15

Preserving The Earth: Earth Day

With Earth Day a mere seven days away, it seemed fitting to devote a post to a date that many consider the birth of a global environmental movement (1970) and that helped usher in the concept of ecotourism.

What’s ecotourism? A few years ago, I interviewed Klaus Toepfer, then executive to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), who succinctly defined ecotourism as tourism that “promotes the conservation of earth’s biodiversity.” He said that ecotourism was a unique niche because it required increased cooperation among industry, government, local populations, and tourists to ensure sustainability.

While it’s not covered as much today as it was then, ecotourism continues to grow at a rate of 20 to 25 percent annually, especially in countries like Nepal, Madagascar, and Kenya. In 2003, more than 43 million Americans considered themselves ecotourists. Today, as many as 1 in 3 would qualify.

Interestingly enough, most ecotourism is not passive. Some, like those offered by Thrill Seekers Unlimited blend in rock climbing, sand surfing, kayaking, hovercraft racing, and other extreme sports — activities that founder Rich Hopkins recognized as acceptable because people in their 20s to 40s grew up on skateboarding.

Think Globally.

Beyond thinking about ecotourism, Earth Day provides an opportunity to act on a global scale. This year, it is estimated that as many as 500 million people in 175 countries will celebrate Earth Day on April 22.

A few notable events include the free Green Apple Festival in ten cities across the United States; the Green Schools programs across America; and hundreds of other events listed all over the world, from Tokoyo, Japan, to Togo, West Africa.

Act Locally.

In Las Vegas, the fifth annual Summerlin Earthfaire, the largest Earth Day celebration in southern Nevada, runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, April 19. It features an acoustic performance by Anna Nalick at noon.

In Reno, Econet hosts the largest celebration in northern Nevada at Reno Idlewild Park from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday, April 20. It includes several bands, ranging from bluegrass to reggae, performing on a solar powered stage.

Make It Daily.

Earth Day doesn’t have to be confined to a single day. In Las Vegas, the Springs Preserve is one of the city’s first major cultural attractions developed around the environment. Located three miles off the Strip, the site used to be home to palatial artesian springs that nourished the valley’s fragile ecosystem.

Although the springs dried up in 1962, 180 acres of land were preserved after the area was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, the Springs Preserve has been developed into an indoor and outdoor recreational and educational site, with live concerts, artistic and eco-friendly exhibits, several play areas for children, eight acres of indigenous botanical gardens, and 25 acres of recreated desert wetlands.

Every building at the site was developed to maximize green design, including reclaimed timber, recycled building materials, on-site waste water reclamation, and solar power that provides 70 percent of all the facility’s power needs. Eventually, the Springs Preserve will also be home to the Nevada State Museum.

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Monday, April 14

Writing Accidental Books: David Vinjamuri


After reading a few chapters of “Accidental Branding” by David Vinjamuri, I was perplexed. Could it be that a former brand manager at Johnson & Johnson, Coca-Cola and marketing guru for recent Google-acquisition DoubleClick and Save.com, wrote a book that is both gratifying and grasping at the same time? Exactly so.

“Accidental Branding” is gratifying in that the research and interviews are worthwhile; the writing is vivid and engaging; and the case studies — John Peterman, Craig Newmark, and Roxanne Quimby (among them) — timely. The modest cover price of $16.47 for Accidental Branding via Amazon works.

Without question, Vinjamuri succeeds where so many other business writers fail — by bringing passion to pages of businesses. He does it with flair and style, creating case studies that you actually care about. I love that about the book, enough so to recommend it. Chances are that you will love the book, enough so that you might fall in love with it like Diane K. Danielson did.

But there is something troubling too. “Accidental Branding” seems to drift into a trend that is becoming troublesome. In attempting to dispel the myths of what they teach in business school as being wrong or incomplete (which is largely correct), the author presents solutions that are not strong enough to unseat traditional teachings despite finding case studies to back up his argument.

It makes me wonder. What are we doing nowadays, anyway? Social media is becoming the boom and bane for business in ways that very few have ever expected. And when books are written with the Internet communication in mind, they tend to forget their intent and fill pages with more inspirational ideas than concrete solutions in the way that books like In Search of Excellence used to do.

There’s nothing wrong with that, but it makes one wonder if the next wave of entrepreneurs are somehow missing out because the business and marketing books being written today are chock full of case studies designed to prove some clever ideas. For example, Vinjamuri presents six: sweat the small stuff, pick a fight, be your own customer, be unnaturally persistent, build a myth, and be faithful.

The fifth is especially interesting to me because Kevin Goodman recently asked me about how viral marketing myths might mirror the urban legend phenomena, something Chip Heath, associate professor at Stanford University, wrote about four years ago.

“Creating the mythology for your brand means that you have to understand both
the narrative and how it will be spoken and shared…,” writes Vinjamuri. “… By crafting this story carefully, you will make a better case for your business than
any presentation or advertisement possibly could.”

While there is certainly some truth to the concept that storytelling works (better than bullets anyway) because it’s memorable, creating a mythos for your brand can have some unintended consequences that run afoul in what I call the Fragile Brand Theory . Specifically, a mythos can sometimes overtake the sustainability of the brand and when that happens … they risk collapse. And yet another pitfall that can transpire a well-positioned myth comes straight from the urban legend department: over time, the point of origin becomes expectedly fuzzy and may even be stolen away by someone who demonstrates your story better then you do.

“Mary Worth … Mary Worth … Mary …” ... You get the idea. The story variations have overshadowed the point of origin.

Sure, I suspect Vinjamuri might think I’m missing “rule six,” which reminds entrepreneurs to remain faithful to their brands. He’s right, but sometimes brand busting moments are not manageable as several dozen companies can attest. Brands are much more fragile than that.

Even so, and I cannot stress this enough: where I part ways on some conclusions presented by Vinjamuri, I can appreciate excellent storytelling around some very interesting break-the-mold brands. They are often not covered enough, and Vinjamuri presents those as masterfully as one might suspect from someone who works on Starwood Hotels, among others.

Now the only question that remains is whether his “Accidental Brands” can move beyond the moment and capture its own mythos. We shall see. I hope so.

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Thursday, April 10

Failing Forward: Clark County Schools


In 1996, I accepted $50,000 in stock in lieu of cash to help the startup of an amusement park invention. I still have the original stock certificate. It’s worth nothing, except as a reminder that failures are seldom free. I paid for it.

It’s a valuable lesson, but one our school district does not teach.

Last week, I mentioned a Las Vegas Review-Journal story how Clark County School District (which includes Las Vegas) students were failing Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II — approximately 88 percent of all students — according to tests administered in January.

This week, the Clark County School District sent a letter to parents, assuring them that these test results will not be a “deciding factor in awarding or withholding a diploma or promoting or retaining individual students in math classes.” In other words, there is no need for concern.

No need for concern. Students will be moving forward regardless.

The letter goes on to stress that the exams were not mandated by the state or federal government. So, these tests will not be used to determine school status under the No Child Left Behind Act and affect federal school funding.

On the contrary, the school sees these tests as an opportunity to convene a committee of experts — as opposed to the experts supposedly entrusted to teach students — to evaluate “the concerns that have been raised about the exams.”

Parents are also advised to visit their Web site to become acquainted with curriculum overviews. It includes bulleted curriculum items like this:

• Problem Solving: Students will develop their ability to solve problems by engaging in developmentally appropriate opportunities where there is a need to use various approaches to investigate and understand mathematical concepts, (sic)

In reviewing the document, I found less comfort in the ability of our school district, not more. The above sentence, ending with a comma as opposed to a period, not withstanding. In fact, the curriculum overview seems to provide an indication why Nevada scored among the worst in the eighth-grade NAEP writing exam, slightly above New Mexico and Mississippi.

No need for concern. Students will be moving forward regardless.

Two years ago, my cousin arranged a meeting with administrators after his stepson brought home a report card with all Ds and Fs. He was concerned.

“No need for concern. He will be moving forward regardless,” he was told.

“You don’t understand. I want you to hold him back.”

“Oh no, we can’t do that. It would be bad for his self-esteem and we really don’t have room anyway.”

No need for concern. Students will be moving forward regardless.

The message is clear, but it’s not the right message. Parents do need to be concerned for the very reason the school district tells them not to be.

The measure of academic success in a school district is not federal funding, number of expert committees, the percentage of correct sentences in a poorly written curriculum overview, how many students are failed forward, or how many receive diplomas. On the contrary, the only measure is whether these students will master certain subjects or not, which will no doubt determine how well they perform as they move forward.

So while there is a perception that “trying” is good enough to move ahead, the reality is that “trying” is not good enough. The truth is that “trying and failing but moving forward anyway” is delusional and detrimental because it deprives students of learning from their mistakes and sets them up for more failures.

Worse, if teachers are continually required to present material suitable for the lowest performing students, it eventually results in entire classrooms receiving a deficient education. That means the paper with the words “diploma” has as much value as the stock I accepted in 1996, except without even providing students the benefit of learning from any of their failures along the way.

Ergo, if there are some faulty math skills, it’s not just students. The school district is operating under a formula that suggests it continually needs more funding while continually producing less educated students, which demonstrates a need for more funding. At the same time, it continually claims to be making progress, with the only proof being the growing number of students who are failed forward.

Right. It doesn’t add up.

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Tuesday, April 8

Going Green: Eco Engagement



Loomstate, a casual fashion brand that aimed at creating a demand for certified organic cotton using socially and environmentally responsible methods of production, was an early entrant in green fashion. The concept by designers Rogan Gregory and Scott Hahn, dates back to 2004. It was a great idea that just got better.

By partnering with the Sundance Channel and Barneys New York, Loomstate is the cornerstone of launching a national T-shirt recycling program from April 13-27. Any old t-shirts at all Barneys' locations throughout the nation will be re-fashioned (re-style, re-dye, re-print, etc.) to create a new, limited edition T-shirt collection.

The T-shirts will be on sale exclusively at Barneys by the holiday season this year. The proceeds from the program will benefit One Percent For The Planet. And Barneys will kick in a 20 percent discount on men's and women's Loomstate merchandise for anyone who participates.

"Recycling t-shirts to create something new and beautiful personifies the evolution and metamorphosis of the Earth," said Rogan Gregory. "We are taking eco fashion to the next level."

They are also taking eco engagement to the next level. Sure, companies have added ample talk of green this and green that for more than a year. But what makes this campaign stand out is it touches on something communication alone so often forgets — you can talk about the environment until your blue in the face, but talking about it doesn't change behavior. This program does.

Add in support for the program from The Sundance Channel, which is promoting the second season of its "The Green" series, and this campaign, along with an incentive from Barneys, touches consumers several times in different ways throughout the year.

To learn more about "The Green" on The Sundance Channel, visit their Web site. While you're there, you can also enter a contest to win $10,000 for an fresh idea that helps the environment. (Hat Tip: Image Empowering.)

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Friday, April 4

Fishing With Prices: Target


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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, April 3

Cooking Up Contests: Chef Clive Berkman


Notable and award-winning chef Clive Berkman may have come to expect cooking for presidents and celebrities at Charley’s 517 and later Clive’s in Houston, but he never expected to cook up an online contest for his upcoming book Cooking With Clive, Creating “Empty Bottle Moments” With Those You Love.

The contest, which runs through June 15, invites participants to pick 20 pictures from more than 250 featured on his Flickr account. Whoever selects the most photos that will appear in the book will win a seven-course meal for 20 people, prepared by Berkman anywhere in the continental United States.

“I am hoping the winner lives in an area that has tons of fresh meat and locally grown vegetables,” says Berkman. “Then I can work with them to make a menu with local products like lobsters in Maine for a sake curry soup or lamb in Colorado with rosemary and corn polenta.”

Originally, Berkman had set up the Flickr account as a way to share the photo shoot with his friends and family. But as other people started to visit, he decided that he might as well share it with more people. So on March 24, Berkman announced the contest on a blog that he started in April.

“I could have started blogging last summer,” Berkman said. “But I did not want to ramble on about nothing for no reason at all. So I started about five weeks ago as a simple way for people who are interested in my book to stay up to date.”

Adding one-minute video segments on YouTube happened much the same way. He originally wanted to produce a 4-minute DVD that he could send to speakers bureaus and the media, but decided to try producing one-minute video segments in order to reduce production and distribution costs instead.

“We filmed 25 one-minute videos that are unrehearsed and definitely not-scripted,” says Berkman. I didn’t want show glitz as much as authenticity. That way people can see me as an author who wants to share his reflection of a book.”

The first video, which is a trial demo, features Berkman sharing his disdain for green peppers. While not as popular as his Flickr images, it does provide a true-to-life glimpse of who this Johannesburg, South Africa, native really is — someone with a passion for life and food that began while watching his mother teach cooking classes in the back of their home.

His mother wasn’t his only inspiration. Berkman also had the pleasure of working under noted chef Victor Broceaux, best known for his work at The Four Seasons, Forum of the XII Caesars, La Fonda del Sol, and Tavern On The Green.

“He pushed me every day to be my best,” says Berkman. “But although I was grounded in classic French, my style cannot be only described in one word.”

Like some seasoned chefs, Berkman prefers to present an eclectic approach to cooking by finding the best ingredients available and then creatively combining them into something special and cooking them with the best techniques.

While he is still motivated and inspired by standards set in New York, the recipes in his book are simpler and more user friendly. The idea is not to simply give people specific recipes, about 100, but to also share his passion by reminding people that every meal is an opportunity to create a unique moment with loved ones.

“I truly believe that if we pursue creating moments with our loved ones, it can strengthen our relationships,” Berkman said. “Eating together is designed to bring people together, which is where the subtitle of my book comes from.”

The subtitle, which references Empty Bottle Moments, refers to how decorative glass bottle collections resemble guests at a dinner party. Every bottle may be unique, but together they create a celebratory visual metaphor for people.

“I tell [people] that in a sense, we’re all in the kitchen because it’s a symbol of life, full of joy and spills, glorious successes and burnt dishes, tender moments and unnerving chaos,” Berkman includes in his book. “We’re all in the process of learning, growing, and laughing with each other. It’s there that we develop our recipes for cooking and for life.”

In addition to New York, some recipes are also influenced by Berkman’s home. He enjoys sharing these recipes because people are often surprised to discover South African food includes hints of Dutch, British, Portuguese, Indian, and Greek cuisine. The 256-page book with approximately 80 full-color photos will retail for $30. For more information about its summer release, visit here.

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Wednesday, April 2

Wondering About Funny: Corey Levitan


“For the record, I apologize to all the readers I offended, even those who aren't prominent rabbis. Offense is never my intent,” said Corey Levitan, Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist. Humor always is. And humor is subjective, as proven by the people who somehow find Dane Cook to be hilarious.”

This is part of an unsolicited apology received (I’m part of his e-mail list) from columnist Corey Levitan after he “portrayed” a cantor for his Fear In Loafing column a few days ago. The column features Levitan assuming various occupations and then writing about them. Sometimes he is funny. Sometimes he is not, at least not according to some people.

”Mr. Levitan's glib misrepresentations about Reform Judaism were not just erroneous, but disgusting and hurtful,” wrote Rabbi Kenneth I. Segel in a letter to the editor. “Being a clown and imposter is one thing, but denigrating a religious faith is another.”

If the reader was offended by Levitan’s column, there seems to be little doubt that he would have not appreciated the e-mail apology e-mail, as Levitan states … “Frankly, I just can’t see how anyone can interpret the sarcasm of my condensed Jewish history as anything other than glaringly obvious. (Um, I KNOW that Christmas and Easter are not Jewish high holy days.)”

Levitan also mentions receiving about a dozen phone calls accusing him of hating himself for being Jewish. And later goes on to drop Larry David, Jackie Mason, and Mel Brooks as other humorists he is inspired by as a defense.

Ho hum. While the column was meant to be satirical, it was also obvious, in my opinion, that he held back compared to other articles , hinting that maybe he was less comfortable with this one than others. David, Mason, and Brooks never were, which is why they are funny.

While Levitan is right, people are often too sensitive when humor is presented, one wonders whether his e-mail was the best idea. Certainly it was better than Michael Richards’ attempt to defuse racism but perhaps not so solid as what Chris Rock might have done as mentioned in the Richards post.

It invites others who would never have known to opine, dismisses the complaint in a communication vehicle that generally doesn’t employ sarcasm, and alludes to the notion that Levitan might not be against the idea of using the angst of others as publicity. Of course, that all depends whether the two offended rabbis were privy to knowing that they were the rub of Levitan’s more private correspondence.

If they were not included, then no, not so funny. If they were included, then I hope they’re smiling because that might make it funny.

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Tuesday, April 1

Revealing Secrets: The "Mushup Strategy"


In the last few years, social media has experienced explosive growth. So given today’s date, we thought we would share the five top “proven” theories about social media and what companies really need to know. Here they are!

Five Steps To Powerful Social Influence.

1. Blogs are the new you. Forget personal image, professional skill sets, and products. Those are out. Blogs are in.

It doesn’t matter what you write about, just write about it as often as possible. Pictures, videos, discussion forums, and podcasts are all good to add too. The more technologies you can produce, the better.

In fact, encourage all your co-workers to start their own blogs and join social networks. It’s all about your online footprint.

If they don’t know what to say, remind them that the only real rule is never to write about anything your company does well, but always be personal and transparent about everything else. Personal problems at home, nasty customers, and any internal failings at the company are especially juicy topics that drive traffic. It’s all about the buzz.

Advanced Tip: Mentioning what you wear when you blog, on occasion, is always fun. If you write in the nude, definitely mention it. SEO helps drive traffic and “naked pics” is a powerful search term. Use it often for maximum effect.

2. Links help blogs thrive. Once you have a blog, focus on links. In fact, some people say that links are the single most important thing you can do. It doesn’t really matter who you link to, just link to them. The more the better, but never so many in one post that your link list is overtly obvious.

Five is a good round number, like this: Chris Brogan (Happy birthday, btw), Ike Piggott, Robert Scoble, Antony Berkman, Jason Falls.

See? It does not matter whether or not the links are relevant. Just link to them anyway. It will do two things: First, it encourages them to visit your blog so they know what you said about them. Second, if they are new bloggers, even better, as they will feel obligated to link back to you. Oh, and don’t forget those co-workers!

Advanced Tip: Every co-worker needs to link to every other co-worker. And, if you have more than one blog, don’t forget to link all those together. It all counts! I have 100 more blogs planned to launch tomorrow. Cool, I know.

3. Talk about other bloggers. That’s right. It’s important to encourage a conversation. In fact, if you can convince people to join a meme and “tag” other people to talk about someone else, even better. It’s the single best way to become the center of the conversation without being the conversation.

Again, it does not matter if those people are part of your target audience or not. Besides, everyone knows that companies spend too much time focusing on customers. Online, nobody really cares if anyone buys a product, reads your book, or goes to your movie. The click through is still king.

Just yesterday, Geoff Livingston posted a contrary viewpoint about this very subject, suggesting engagement is more important than conversation. That is complete nonsense.

Everybody knows that everyone talks about Paris Hilton. A few year ago, she won the coveted Razzie award for House of Wax. That award led to even more people talking about her and the movie they never saw! That’s a virtual goldmine if you ask me.

Advanced Tip: Of course, since most of us are not Paris Hilton, we have to work at it. Ask people what they think. Just keep in mind that while comments are good, links are better. Sometimes, you can even post about a comment, which will obligate the commenter to post about your comment post, giving you the comment, a link, and some more comments, which you can post about too, and then crosslink them to your other blogs and social network accounts.

4. Always tout your rank as influence. It is extremely important that you always report how many posts you make, how many comments you receive, what your Alexa score is, what your Google PR is, and where you stand on as many other ranking systems as possible. It makes you look very important.

That’s right. While it might be considered bad form to talk about your company, it’s perfectly okay to talk about anything that makes it look like you have the most talked about blog on the planet. And, if one of your ranks begins to fall, don’t worry about it. There is a solution.

If any social media measure begins to drop, simply denounce it as flawed. For example, if your Technorati rank falls, write about how that does not matter. Add “Boo!” at the end of the post for impact. This is a proven technique and a lot of top bloggers have done this. Technorati is the current favorite to denounce.

Denouncing rating systems does two amazing things. One, it makes you look cool, a virtual bad boy or girl swimming against the stream. Two, other people will link to you if their rank falls, because volume makes something real online. It gets better. In a few weeks, when everyone links to you about how your rank fell, your rank will rise again. So then, you can write another post saying how they fixed the system and you played a role. “Yeah!”

Advanced Tip: If you have some extra time, make your own algorithm of various ranking systems and call it a “Top Something” list. People will write about making your list, even if at least one measure is subjective. Flip a coin if you like. It doesn’t matter what that measure is as long as you never ever share it. People will even write posts about what it might be. Amazing!

5. Recap everything, invent terms, and link to “experts” who agree. Did you get all that? I hope so because details matter. Here they are again:

• Create as many blogs as possible.
• Link to as many other blogs as possible.
• Write about creating and linking, preferably when you are naked.
• Claim your successes but blame other people if it doesn’t work out.
• Recap, rename, and link some more.

I call these five steps the “Mushup Strategy,” mostly because mashup was already taken. And if you don’t believe me, here’s another “expert” opinion.

Advanced Tip: Disclaim everything you said.

April Fool’s. Hope you enjoy. Special thanks to Antony Berkman for the “link to yourself expert” idea and anyone else named for your sense of humor.

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Monday, March 31

Battling For Niche: TheLadders vs. RiseSmart


“Marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department,” once said David Packard, Hewlett-Packard, who worked hard to combine research and development with marketing, with the knowledge that marketing does not end with the marketing department.

The concept, in part, was tied to an understanding of how marketing can help differentiate products in the marketplace. Specifically, when two companies enter a similar niche, message differentiation can mean the difference between winning and losing. Considering HP was founded with an initial investment of $538 in a garage and later became the first IT company to exceed $104 billion in sales two years ago, there might be something to that.

Two job sites take aim at the $100k+ job niche.

Today, in the recruiting industry, there are two companies attempting to differentiate themselves from other job search sites, but within the same niche: TheLadders and RiseSmart. Each is hoping to dominate a subscription-based job site niche that focuses on jobs starting at $100k.

Based upon marketing messages, they seem to be operating from different sides of the same equation. Don’t let their similar identities fool you. Their communication suggests one is pursuing qualified employers whereas the other is pursuing qualified candidates in a race toward the middle.

Currently, TheLadders benefits from better brand recognition after launching a national ad campaign. The campaign features a championship tennis match in which madness ensues when everyone in the stands attempts to join the game. While clever, the campaign seems to target employers despite being “representative of the challenges job seekers face on other sites.” The distinction is more apparent in print, with one headline saying “Quick, Find The Most Talented Player.”

RiseSmart, which recently called TheLadders campaign elitist, is looking to cater to candidates by offering what they call a “RiseSmart Concierge” program that adds a human presence. The idea is to have someone help the candidate further narrow the job search beyond the algorithm.

The human assist comes at a price. RiseSmart currently offers its services for $54.95 per month (or $43.95 with a new member discount; $109.95 for three months). TheLadders is offering candidates a subscription-based service for $30 per month (or $180 per year). The Ladders also has a free “limited access” to job listings feature, enticing employers with 2 million members. RiseSmart aggregates several other listing sites, enticing candidates with 1 million jobs. So who will win? First one to middle court.

Some other voices taking note of the $100K+ niche market:

The Recruiting Fly
SpringWise
Forbes

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Friday, March 28

Demonstrating High Touch: Veronica Mars Fans


Social media continues to prove high tech communication is an effective means to communicate, organize, and establish a presence. However, one can never underestimate the impact of high touch over high tech. It’s tangible. It’s memorable. And it’s effective long after any online communication has faded from memory.

John Sumser, The Recruiting Roadshow, and Doug Geinzer, Recruiting Nevada, demonstrated they understand the value of high touch communication as well, sending handwritten notes shortly after The Recruiting Roadshow was hosted in Las Vegas. The notes were polite, personal, and remain top of mind.

Fans Add High Touch To Online Campaign.

Yesterday, I received a package from the fans of Veronica Mars. It was somewhat unexpected, and appreciated. The reason I say “somewhat” was because Veronica Mars fans sent me a note last year asking if they could send me a gift for writing about them here and there. While I was flattered, I declined. It was my pleasure. And, old journalist habits die hard.

A couple of days ago, however, Rachel Gerke, one of my original contacts with the Veronica Mars fans, asked if they could send me a “thank you.” Sure, I said.

What I didn’t know was they were sending me the Veronica Mars First Season DVD. It is not a gift. It’s part of their “Loan It Forward” program.

“We are asking you to try watching three or four episodes to see if you like it and decide if you want to watch the rest of the season,” explained Mark Thompson from Neptune Rising. “After you are done with the set, we are asking you to loan it forward to somebody else and give them an opportunity to see if they might like our show.”

Veronica Mars fans convinced me several months ago to give their show a chance. I have, relying on Season 3 episodes that are easily downloaded from iTunes. It's a good show, no question.

However, they sent Season 1 because they felt it better represents their passion. Season 1 and Season 2 are the primary reasons that fans, which saw their show cancelled last year, are campaigning for a movie.

Perhaps even more than a movie, they are campaigning for community. The Neptune Rising forum remains a positive, well-organized fan-generated project with clear objectives. I’m not surprised; some ideas are inspired by Browncoats, fans of the series Firefly.

One of several ideas the Veronica Mars fans have recently adopted is a cruise, which will depart from San Diego on Nov. 28. It includes stops in Cabo San Lucas and Ensenada. Tour sites may include Mars Investigations, The Neptune Grand, Camelot Motel, Dog Beach, and much more.

In Europe, fans are also getting ready for a joint Veronica Mars — Prison Break convention this June 13-15 at the Thistle Hotel, Heathrow, London. It is there they hope to present fan scrapbooks to Kristen Bell and Jason Dhoring. Convention information can be found here.

"We knew about the convention two months ago; they organize events for the fans of TV Series," says Sara Pillitu, who helps with the European Chapter of Neptune Rising. "This is a great chance to meet up with other fans, and maybe have them campaigning with us."

The fans have also remained in contact with Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas, who is currently working hard to become the busiest man in television. Thomas even has a downloadable original pilot script on this personal site.

The “Loan It Forward” program and joint fan collaborations demonstrate a high touch element to online efforts. Enough so that if a well-read blogger hasn’t been introduced to Veronica Mars, I invite them to drop me an e-mail. I’ll be happy to send along the “Loan It Forward” set, er, as soon as I’m finished.

The two Josh Whedon-inspired comics, Serenity 1 by Dark Horse and Angel #1 by IDW, on the other hand ... well, those will stay here. It was a very thoughtful gesture and they will always remind me of Veronica Mars fans at Neptune Rising.

Thank you, though the pleasure has always been mine. I've already thought of a pay them forward too. I'll donate the value (but not the books, since I am both a Firefly and comic fan) to a non-profit, under the name "Veronica Mars." Be cool, Soda Pop.

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Thursday, March 27

Failing Education: Here, There, Everywhere


“How can we do more to encourage young people to pursue careers in science and technology?” — Bill Gates on Linkedin

If there was ever a Linkedin question I wanted to answer but did not have time to answer, this was the one. Never mind the 3,567 people who did provide answers.

The question came to mind again after I opened the Las Vegas Review-Journal today to read that Clark County School District (which includes Las Vegas) students who were tested in January on their grasp of first semester material in high school algebra and geometry did not hit the mark.

• 90.5 percent failed the exam for Algebra I
• 87.8 percent failed the exam for Geometry
• 86.6 percent failed the exam for Algebra 2

The test results mirror some of the early results for writing proficiency on the other side of the country. In Vermont, only 37 percent of the students were proficient writers.

Maybe the answer is simpler than expected. When Richard Feyman, winner of the Nobel Prize in physics, taught abroad, he made an observation that students in some countries were excellent testers. However, if he deviated even slightly from the memorized material, none of the students could produce an answer. All they had been taught, it seems, was memorization.

It’s becoming the same here. Upon learning my son’s school stopped its educational curriculum to dedicate an entire month preparing for tests mandated by the federal government and tied to educational funding, I couldn’t help but wonder if our educational priorities have shifted to be the same. The school’s motivation was to produce test scores that resulted in more funding.

Maybe it’s me, but I thought the priority was to educate students.

Don’t get me wrong. The tests are fine, especially because they seem to be revealing a disconnect between what educators are teaching and what students are learning. The administrative priorities, on the other hand, are not. The more emphasis school administrators place on teaching students to rote memorize material rather than learning to apply it across a variety of circumstances and subjects, the faster the educational system will sink.

So how can we encourage young people to pursue careers in science and technology? By teaching students to apply basic math skills like Algebra 1, Geometry, and Algebra 2 to equations that are interesting, applicable, and tied to practicality in the fields of science and technology as opposed to the rote memorization of formulas that most cannot connect to any real life application.

It has always been that way. Homer Hickman, who was inspired by the first Sputnik launch to take up rocketry, learned advanced mathematics and physics not for a love of memorizing numbers, but because they were necessary. More educators are speaking to this fact, but the concepts of applied learning need to be introduced much earlier than college. Craig R. Barrett, the chairman of Intel, said the same.

The same holds true for writing. Students who completed my Writing For Public Relations class noted the difference. While I would cover common mistakes on homework assignments over and over, most assignments were structured to reintroduce them to learning how to learn.

Learning how to learn is the single most important skill set for public relations, because the best practitioners tend to learn about companies and industries they serve as opposed to simply counting phone numbers in a Rolodex. Truly, they must learn to work through problems as opposed to blindly applying rules like Michael Scott (Steve Carell) did during one of my favorite episodes of The Office.

The same holds true in just about everything. It’s easy enough to find top ten tips to increase Web traffic, which storylines trigger brain activities, or allow the opinions of 25,000 viewers to dictate network programming. You don’t have to think to apply any of these solutions. Anyone can do it.

Wasn’t that partially the fate of the Roman Empire? The society became so advanced that the population began to promote entertainment over education and popularity over production until one day, their laurels could no longer hold up to the weight of the luxurious lifestyle they inherited.

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Wednesday, March 26

Communicating Everywhere: College of Southern Nevada


Three years ago, I noted that the National Commission On Writing released a study that revealed 33 percent of employees do not meet the minimum writing requirements for the jobs they currently hold. Have we made any progress?

We don’t really know. The next national study, which is confined to students in grades 4,8 and 12, will be released by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) on April 3. There has already been some buzz about the testing in Vermont, which recently discovered only 37 percent of the students were proficient, according to the 2007 New England Common Assessment Program.

The Burlington Free Press surmised that maybe the tests were too hard. Another ray of hope, the article deduced: If Vermont performed poorly, so did New Hampshire and Rhode Island. Amazing.

With logical leaps like these, it seems more and more that the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which requires these tests, is revealing that our students are participating in every child left behind programs. It also makes even more sense why the administration recently wrote off the National Writing Project. And why state governments were estimated to spend about $250 million per year, attempting to improve writing skills among employees.

Why Communicate? Panel Discussion, 10 a.m. to noon, April 5

All the above are among the reasons I recently volunteered to participate on the Third Annual “Why Communicate?” Panel hosted by the College of Southern Nevada, hosted by Tina D. Eliopulos, professor of English. The panel presentation will take place at the Cheyenne Campus, room 247.

Joining me on the panel are: Andrew Kiraly, journalist and managing editor of Las Vegas CityLife; Janice Marie, author of The Goodness Experience; Anne Schultz, special agent for Department of Justice Federal Bureau of Investigation; and Geoff Schumacher, director of community publications for Stephens Media.

The intent of the panel to discuss the importance of effective communication — written and verbal — in the professional world. Well, 70 percent of all jobs in the United States require writing skills. That seems like a good reason.

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Tuesday, March 25

Reading Minds: Neuro Persuasion


At what point does advertising stop being communication? An article in Adweek seems to beg the question as Eleftheria Parpis mentions that more agencies and companies are considering advances in neuroscience to be the final frontier in convincing consumers to buy products and politicians.

Neuroscience is amazing, especially as a tool in post-analysis research. It’s the reason we understand why Coca-Cola is a brand champ or why certain Super Bowl ads, despite what consumers said, outperformed others during the 2006 Super Bowl.

One of the takeaways from the latter study was how the Disney advertisement fired up the brain while a FedEx ad that ended with a funny scene where a caveman is crushed by a dinosaur was perceived as threatening by the brain. Last year, Coke became a client of EmSense to help it decide which two TV ads to place in the Super Bowl. (It was the first time the company used brainwave and biometric data to help select and edit its Super Bowl ads.)

The emphasis on neuroscience is because advertisers and marketers are noticing the steady decline of what was once considered the king of all advertising vehicles — the :30 television spot. As the entertainment industry moves toward on-demand programming with fewer interruptions, the best advertisers already know that gimmicks, tricks, gags, and heavy buys are no longer a formula for success.

Even with a better understanding of consumer engagement on the unseen psychological level, smart advertisers admit: the more they know, the less they know. For example, even a neuroscience-backed advertisement doesn’t stand a chance when it’s fast-forwarded on TiVo. And, the successful Disney advertisement didn’t necessarily sell more vacation packages nor does it consider the decades of branding behind the single tested commercial.

It also doesn’t consider the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. Simply put, the concept is that if you watch something, like an atom, it may respond differently because the observation influences behavior.

Add it all up and while the work is important well beyond selling you a soft drink, it all points to one thing. Everybody wants assurances and, frankly, they just don’t exist.

"When economic times get difficult, clients get nervous, and when they get nervous, they want guarantees," Jeffrey Blish, partner and chief strategic officer at Deutsch/LA, Marina del Rey, Calif, told Adweek. "There has always been an interest in trying to make your marketing efforts more bulletproof. It ebbs and flows depending on the business climate."

He’s right, but it goes even deeper. Consumers want guarantees too. Not only do they want better products, but their expectations also change with engagement. It’s something advertisers might consider as they delve deeper into social media.

As consumers strengthen their connection to advertisers, marketers, programs, and companies, the entire paradigm of how they see brands shifts in sometimes unexpected directions. Add in the idea that as consumers understand that they are being observed, they might behave differently. Or, in other words, sometimes what seems to be is not what is or will be. Social media is very much like that.

Most often, people consider social media to be an “advent” or “evolution.” But I am not always so certain. Maybe it’s much simpler than that. We were watching HBO’s John Adams miniseries yesterday. And as a man on horseback rode by the Adams home announcing the attack on Lexington and Concord, my wife noted the obvious. “Huh,” she said. “Social media.”

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Monday, March 24

Closing A Case Study: Jericho Ends Tomorrow


"Without question, there are passionate viewers watching this program; we simply wish there were more," said Nina Tassler, president of CBS Entertainment. "We have no regrets bringing the show back for a second try."

The statement, which is now circulating throughout the media, demonstrates that CBS has learned something since the first time it issued a cancellation announcement for Jericho last May. Engaged fans expect polished public relations. Her original statement last year demonstrates the difference.

“ … that show would still be on the air if the audience was there. No programmer wants to p.i.s.s. off their audience. When that happens, it's unfortunate. Part of what we try to do is create viewer loyalty, and then build on that ... but we're running a business," she said then.

Along with the original statement, Tassler and CBS are making a sellable case. Given that last fall, Jericho averaged 10.5 million viewers. After an elongated Spring break, which CBS admits was a mistake, it fell to 8.1 million. One year later, the ratings place at 6 million.

The numbers, void of any mention of online viewership that CBS touts in other quarters, creates the illusion that maybe the fans didn’t pony up. “You’ve got to recruit more viewers,” Tassler had said, immediately following the decision that seven episodes were a small price to pay to stop the public relations hemorrhaging.

In fact, low broadcast ratings have prompted more than one publication to place the blame squarely on fans. The most condescending of the which seems to belong to the article penned by Lisa de Moraes of The Washington Post.

“In fact, while the Jericho Rangers are extremely good at buying peanuts, they proved completely inept at recruiting new Rangers,” she said.

She can make the case, but is that accurate? Are fans to blame? Did consumer marketing and social media prove to be a bust? Partly, for circumstances that exist within the Jericho fan base (but not within the fan base of all cancelled shows), but not in the way de Moraes makes her case.

If Jericho the fan base was inept, it was only because their indecision was nurtured by the network with mixed messages and a few fans who grossly misinterpreted them.

Isolated Fandom. Some fans insisted (and still insist) that all efforts needed to stay close to the CBS site. Ask anyone engaged in social media and they will tell you: social media cannot exist in a vaccum. Ho hum. The “build it and they will come” concept only seems to work for ballparks in cornfields.

It was offsite Jericho blogs, fan forums, Web sites, a few limited fan efforts within the quietest pockets on the CBS site, and face-to-face recruitment efforts that captured new viewers. Despite many of these offsite locales being under supported, discouraged, and targeted for banishment, they still managed to expand the network’s limited net presence. Before turning over the CBS Jericho blog to a fan, one employee did drop a hint, pointing fans here.

Braveheart Revisited. Several times, a few willing and highly qualified fans seemed poised to take a leadership role. Unfortunately, they quickly found the same fate as William Wallace. Their own “countrymen” would periodically draw and quarter them for any criticism aimed at the network. Yes, in public.

"If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn't thinking," the real Gen. George S. Patton once said. The same holds true here. Had the original campaign leaders been left in place, fans would have the direction they need today. Instead, some of the most active supporters are already saying goodbye. Instead, fans got fillers.

Internal Sabotage. Whether it was intentional or unintentional doesn’t matter, but several fans had taken to periodically attack dissenters using a number of anonymous names to further their agenda. Worse, forum board dramas drove hundreds of old and new fans from CBS.

The cause? Without any clear direction, unbelievable arguments over who came up with the idea to send nuts, who had more inroads with the network and production team, and whether the “who” of an idea meant it had had more merit than whether it was a good idea. You know, the kind of stuff that new viewers would take one look at and turn tail. Alas, for want of a crown, these misguided few lost a kingdom.

But the misguided actions of a few still do not support the case presented by The Washington Post. The vast majority of fans sounded more like those I profiled on Feb. 9.

While fans might have misplaced their faith in CBS, it was the lack of network communication that ensured the cancellation of the show a second time.

• The timeslot was contrary to the demographics of the show, which included families. The 10 p.m. timeslot was just too lat for this show.

• The network promoted Jericho on CBS, but that was the extent. While some promos had peak time slots, there simply are not many CBS shows that provide a clear crossover audience. The CW would have been different.

• The second season public relations party brought the show back with a whisper. It was so quiet, even the media was amazed. Fans were left scratching their heads.

• The network never considered that the public might not tune into a show with an insecure future. So, when it made a big deal about two endings being shot, the announcement hurt more than helped.

• While they did not intend to leak the first three episodes, those episodes did leak. The significance? No one knows how many Nielsen families didn’t turn in after that.

• An entire year went by before Jericho returned. For a long time, the fans had no idea when it might come back. If an extended mid-season break hurt viewership the first time, what could anyone expect a year later.

• At one point there was some limited digital media stories as originally promised, but they never progressed in any tangible way. Any thought of CBS merchandising items, like Bailey’s Tavern glasses, was nonexistent.

• The network’s half-action several times split the fans into two groups: those who believed CBS would support the show, and those who did not. Those who placed their faith in CBS won the argument, but those who lost were right.

• The network did virtually nothing substantial to market the DVD. The little it did do, did nothing to attract new viewers.

• The network had rebroadcast Jericho in an odd order over the summer, until pre-empting it with football. Football wasn’t the issue; the issue was it had thousands of Jericho fans asking people to tune into bumped programming.

• The network provided online episodes and clips online, but without much marketing support for the varied platforms where it could be found. It got better, but in the end, those numbers didn’t count anyway except to market future online endeavors.

• The network talked about a partnership that we warned would never exist. Several times they hinted at promotion, causing the fans to hold their breath, and then pulled back with nothing.

And the list goes on, with many posts on this blog and elsewhere pointing out the hits and misses. Sure, CBS did some things right too. The fans even more so.

So who is to blame? The network? The fans? Nielsen? The media? Everyone. No one. It doesn’t matter. Tuesday, March 25 is the last episode. It starts at 10 p.m. Case closed, sort of.

While I’m not sure many of the fractured ideas being discussed by fans today will work, I am sure that some of these fans will develop a standalone fandom. Others will find new shows to fight for. And yet others are already moving on to focus on the bigger picture of ensuring the ratings system captures a better sampling (ideally, everyone). But there is something more important than that.

I made a lot of great friends, both Jericho fans and even a couple folks on the network side. Perhaps not all of them, but many of these friendships will transcend tomorrow night.

You see, Jericho Rangers are pretty great people when you get to know them. And I know for a fact that many of them don’t need one show to be great. They are great regardless. And much like no one can take away that these fans are responsible for the fastest cancellation reversal history or played a role in pushing television in a new direction, no one can take that away from them either. Good night and good luck.

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Friday, March 21

Ending A Series: CBS Cancels Jericho


Mostly because network executives had taken to touting the online success of Jericho for several months, fans still seemed uncertain as the Nielsen-owned Hollywood Reporter broke the news today. CBS is canceling Jericho. The story was confirmed by E! Online.

The ending chosen by CBS next Tuesday will wrap up the season's story line, closing what has been a yearlong challenge with plenty of trials and triumphs for the fan base that convinced CBS to give its show another chance. The outcome, as mentioned on Wednesday, seems to line up lock step with the five reasons being considered to let the show go.

"'Jericho' is unique because the fans saved it — watching it on the Internet and streaming and iTunes downloads, all those things that are not being counted," The Hollywood Reporter cited executive producer Carol Barbee saying in a recent interview. "That's what 'Jericho' will be known for."

She's right. Jericho fans have plenty to be proud of, especially their efforts in doing what most said could not be done — winning a short second season after it was cancelled the first time. While some rumors persist that Jericho may move elsewhere, it seems unlikely that a move would produce a show that resembles the original.

Still, Jericho fans are not ready to give up. They are currently assessing what to do next. One thing they need to avoid, in my opinion, is campaigning other networks like fans of the The Black Donnellys (TBD) did last year.

While the hearts of TBD fans were in the right place, campaigning to move a show from one network to another is a more daunting task, even more unlikely, and further fragments any campaign. If Jericho fans campaign for a move, any campaign needs to be aimed at CBS.

I will give credit to CBS for not waiting until next Thursday to confirm the cancellation, though it might have been better to share the news with fans first. Doing so would have demonstrated that it is starting to understand social media. There is still more work to be done there. Obviously.

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Making Connections & Divides: Social Media Relations

Yesterday, Steve Rubel, author of Micro Persuasion, pointed to a pair of surveys that may be significant to public relations professionals. While both surveys include too few respondents to be considered an accurate measure on their own, they do mirror conversations I've read about the subjects.

Does their public relations firm do a good job identifying the specific interest of individual bloggers and sending them relevant information?

• Only 52 percent of the public relations professionals asked said yes.
• Contrary, 65 percent of the bloggers asked the same question disagreed.

If there is any hint of accuracy to the survey, it suggests that public relations practitioners may be creating the same divide between themselves and bloggers as some have between themselves and journalists. Maybe the division is occurring because public relations practitioners tend to spend more time talking up each other than developing relationships with bloggers. (That, by the way, is what bloggers tell me.)

The second survey, with the same participants, seems to mirror another discussion point that I’ve seen it come up from time to time: Paying for posts.

It is okay to compensate bloggers for writing about my clients, but it is not up to me to tell them to disclose the payment.

• Not one public relations professional thought it was okay to pay for posts.
• Contrary, 48 percent of bloggers thought it was okay; 16 percent were neutral.

What strikes me as odd about these survey results is that public relations practitioners who blog often take a stand against pay per posts, even with disclosure. Yet, some who maintain blogs write reviews about their clients.

The first survey was published in PR Week as part of APCO Worldwide’s new “The State of Blog Relations” blog, which defines itself as a “pioneering Web initiative aimed at capturing and analyzing thought leadership in the blogosphere.”

I don’t know; these questions have been asked for years. However, what I do know is that social media is being applied in some odd places and convincing some to draw odd conclusions.

Also from Rubel, recently, was the addition of advertising social media feedback mechanisms on advertisements. Although many praised the post in the comments, I think it’s one of the most ridiculous ideas ever.

Why? For two simple reasons. The CNET and AOL Network ad platforms allow non-customers to offer feedback on ads. Depending on the advertiser, this non-customer feedback may influence advertising that resonates with customers. That could lead to some dangerous conclusions.

Have we so soon forgotten the lessons learned from Miller when it attempted to target microbrewery beer drinkers with ads aimed at them? Not only did non-customers NOT buy Miller, but the ads alienated Miller’s core blue collar consumer. The net outcome was a lot of awards for the advertising agency, and one of the best ad campaigns, not for Miller, which footed the bill, but for its rival Budweiser, which quickly captured the alienated Miller drinker.

The measure of advertising seems much more simple to me. Did people click on the ad, visit the store, perhaps buy the product? And, if you are really curious how customers feel about your advertising, wouldn’t it be smarter to ask them as opposed to asking everyone, including people who are so outside of your demographic that it just doesn’t matter?

You know, “because we can” doesn’t always measure up as the right answer. Misapplied research can cause more damage than it's worth.

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Thursday, March 20

Skewing Young: Is Advertising Forgetting Audience?


A recent BurstMedia survey reveals that advertisers, especially those trying to reach audiences online, might be missing the boat. The survey alludes to the idea that the majority of Internet users ages 45+ believe online content is focused on younger age segments.

• Only about half of respondents, ages 35-44, believe Web sites are designed for them.
• Only 36.9 percent of respondents, ages 45-54, believe Web sites are designed for them.
• Only 19.9 percent of respondents, ages 55+, believe Web sites are designed for them.

Ya think? Advertising has been trending younger for some time now, online and off. Online it’s evident, mostly because of the mistaken notion that Internet users are all young. Sometimes its because designers are designing in a bubble, with little thought to their audience. Sometimes its because advertisers are skewing too much toward the medium with little or no thought of people.

The reality is that everybody is online; More than 80 percent in the U.S.

One of the most recent polls conducted by Harris Interactive last Nov. estimated that 97 percent of Americans with a computer is online (hat tip: Gary Gerdemann Peritus Public Relations).

In fact, when you compare the online population with the total population in the United States, the columns are proportionate, with the exception to those ages 65+. In addition, Internet usage has increased from seven hours per week in 2002 to more than 11 hours today.

While prevailing social media theory tends to ask companies to bend their message for technology, the BurstMedia survey is a reminder that tools do not dictate messages. Brand relationships exist between the company and the consumer. Technology is only a means of delivery or engagement.

Currently, 12 percent of the population is the 65+ group. By 2050, this age group will comprise 21 percent of the population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

In addition, this demographic will be well versed in online technologies and usage, requiring designers to consider content organization and ease of use much more readily than they do today. It makes sense.

Given the amount of demographic and psychographic information advertisers and marketers are pulling from the net, one would think they would apply it online ads. Or maybe not. We hear the same complaints about broadcast advertising and programming too.

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Wednesday, March 19

Waiting Games: Jericho Season 3?


With no official word from CBS, fans of the cancelled, resuscitated, and now on the bubble show, Jericho, are taking no chances. For several weeks, they have been writing letters and hoisting up banners of the “Don’t Tread On Me” flag that appears in one of the episodes of the second season. No more nuts yet.

Many critics have warmed to the show, but maintain it’s unlikely to see a third season. Some are even campaigning for faith in the rating system and against renewal, despite saying they like it.

The latter criticism came after Patrick Keane, vice president and chief marketing officer for CBS Interactive, speaking Monday at MediaPost's OMMA Global conference in Hollywood, used Jericho as an example of how online audiences can have a positive impact on a show, especially because online viewership doesn’t cannibalize the broadcast audience.

The online video audience for one episode of Jericho boosted the show's TV ratings by almost a full point: from 4.2 to 5.1.

Even for those who have never seen the show, the significance is in that it represents the transition for television. As cross-convergence seems eminent, Jericho provides a glimpse into just how forward-thinking networks can be, if they want to be.

With two different episodes — one that offers closure and another that provides a cliffhanger — CBS can justify a Jericho renewal as easily as a cancellation. Enough so that I wouldn’t want to hazard a guess. See for yourself…

Five Reasons To Keep Jericho

• Fans are engaged, watching episodes and embedded ads over and over.
• The online audience continues to grow, with ample consumer evangelists.
• Even with less-than-stellar ratings, the rating are better than many other shows.
• It’s a leading program among the network’s growing online inventory.
• There were notable flaws in engaging the fan base that saved the show while CBS continues to get up to speed on how to best engage online fans. There is an opportunity to do it right with a third season.

Five Reasons To Let Jericho Go

• The ratings are just not there; no matter how flawed the system.
• The fan base did not meet Nina Tassler’s condition of more live viewers.
• The fans were never able to develop solidarity or sustained buzz.
• The network met its commitment to deliver a wrap-up with seven episodes.
• There are too many financial limitations to give the show the budget it needs.

Of course, there is also the possibility that network executives at CBS have secretly acquired a taste for nuts. But that is purely speculative.

The real questions CBS might ask is what kind of network does it want to be. Is there an opportunity to take the lead position as an online content provider? Is Jericho the right show to help usher in a new era? And can it preserve this fan base to help lift up new original content in the future?

Everything tells me that the network is split on the decision. Rumors suggest that CBS may be answering these questions as early as today. The clock is ticking and the worst thing the network could do is keep its decision a cliffhanger. Maybe part of the answer lies in non-traditional thinking: Jericho has helped boost other CBS and CW programs online and provided more brand recognition for the network than broadcast ever did on its own.

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