Friday, November 28

Starting Conversations: About Conversations

Everywhere you look, people say social media is about conversations … conversationsconversationsconversationsconversations … and conversations.

I have a friend who is an artist, and he sometimes takes a view which I don't agree with. He'll hold up a flower and say, "Look how beautiful it is," and I'll agree. But then he'll say, "I, as an artist, can see how beautiful a flower is. But you, as a scientist, take it all apart and it becomes dull." I think he's nutty. — Richard P. Feynman

When it comes to social media, I tend to look at it as a strategic communicator and not as a conversationalist. Sure, I see social media can be used for conversations, but I also see it as an effective communication tool for engagement, which is not unlike how many social media experts got their start.

From their original content, conversations arose. And there seems to be some value in that, especially when those conversations aspire to provide some level of academic review and criticism.

As such, I've had some great conversations with people at every level of the so-called online influ ... er ... popularity scale. But I also recognize that these conversations have a purpose to further the space or fine tune speaking points for educational purposes. These conversations aren't really about business at all. But I wonder if they recognize that too.

I stuck my finger in, and started to read: "Triboluminescence. Triboluminescence is the list emitted when crystals are crushed ..." And there, have you got science? No! You only have what the word means in terms of other words. You haven't told me anything about nature—what crystals produce light when you crush them, why they produce light. Did you see any student go home and try it? He can't. — Richard P. Feynman

It seems to be the same for business. They are told to apply conversations to social media, but they can't. Why not? Because social media is a medium and conversations are only one aspect of it. And more often than not, conversations are not about business.

When you look at almost every study that came out this year, you'll find less than 30 percent of online participants produce original content in the United States. Of course, there are many other ways to participate. Reading a blog is participation. Watching a video is participation. Digging a story is participation. There are hundreds of other ways people participate too.

But are all those activities really conversations? And of those that are conversations, how many are personal? And how many of those conversations have no interest in allowing company representatives into the conversation? And among those conversations that aren't personal, how many of them can the company count as actually occurring with customers?

Or, how many of those conversations will most people never see because they are really taking place away from the originating site … on other blogs, in forums, in social networks, and in real life? And knowing this, then why would comments be a conversation measure, especially when some folks follow a comment for comment rule?

Sure, there are some consultants that have leveraged conversations solely because their primary income is derived from book sales and public speaking. But, for the greater majority of business endeavors, it seems to me that the overemphasis on conversation is only leading to some questionable practices.

Consider Magpie on Twitter or apply any number of common examples such as Direct Messages from new Twitter followers that declare "I like you. You can connect to me here, here, and here." Or more covert, dropping in client names from time to time, without the usual objectivity filter on those client products. Or more covert, screening people to friend and follow based upon keyword searches (e.g. mention divorce and a lawyer might "friend" you for a "conversation").

Social media is not only about conversations. And social media experts might know it if they listened to businesses as much as they tell these businesses to listen to their customers. But most of them won't. They're too busy having conversations with everybody else.

Thursday, November 27

Quoting Five: And Examples That Exemplify

While Thanksgiving might be an American holiday, the value of gratitude seems universal. Even in business, as Dr. Charles Kerns, author of Value-Centered Ethics, writes:

"Effectively applied in the workplace, gratitude may positively impact such factors as job satisfaction, loyalty, and citizenship behavior, while reducing employee turnover and increasing organizational profitability and productivity."

Then why does there seem to be some discrepancy in the application? After all, while approximately 70 percent of businesses intend to thank employees (American Express), only 25 percent of employees feel appreciated (Gallop).

Maybe the reason is simple. True gratitude requires something more than saying "thank you," sending out sentiments of such, or offering incentive programs that are eventually viewed as an extension of salary or an incentive. True gratitude requires someone internally recognizing that they have benefited from someone, and then expressed how that benefit has added specific value.

Five Timeless Ideas And Matching Examples

"Praise the bridge that carried you over." — George Colman

Illustrated by Edinburgh Day by Day

"The roots of all goodness lie in the soil of appreciation for goodness." — Dalai Lama

Discovered at DailyNebraskan

"Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us." — Albert Schweitzer

Demonstrated by Taylor Sloan Presents

"As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them." — John F. Kennedy

Exhibited by Ryan Anderson

"God gave you a gift of 86,400 seconds today. Have you used one to say 'thank you?'" — William A. Ward

Thank you. And Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 26

Breaking Relationships: When PR Is To Blame

While the definitions vary, public relations is basically the practice of managing information between an organization and its publics. If you think like me, it is public relations' job to serve both the organization and the public interest, which is intended to facilitate better relations with various publics, including but not limited to the media. But it's not always so.

Accuracy Matters

When Nevada District Judge Donald Mosley issued a statement through a public relations firm about his son's involvement in a fatal crash, the statement said, "My heart goes out to the William's family." The problem was that no one named William was involved. The public relations firm got the name wrong. But even more telling, Mosley didn't have a hand in the statement.

Relationships Matter

When I was arranging interviews for a business article I was working on, one of the public relations professionals cc'ed all of our e-mail correspondence to the editor of the publication. When I asked why she would do that, her answer was "I have a relationship with them. You are working for them aren't you?" Yes, but I have relationships with people too, including her boss. I sometimes string for national publications too.

Client Relations Matter

When I was working on another story, the public relations professional referred me to the head of the department. But unfortunately, the head of the department was only interested in dissuading me from interviewing them. The entire process took one week to set up and one minute to shoot down because the public relations professional didn't educate the client as to why they wanted to be part of the story.

Efficiency Matters

I received a news release yesterday for inclusion in a publication I owned and managed, um, five years ago. Not surprisingly, the release didn't even consider the publication's readership, which was hospitality executives and professional concierge. They wasted their client's money, and I briefly considered running the release as a bad communication example.

Deadlines Matter

Another public relations professional recently took two days to respond to me, which was forgivable because he was on vacation (although I still don't understand why his office referred me to him while he was on vacation). He was very prompt in setting up the interviews with the appropriate people, er, one of whom was on vacation.

All of these gaffes will be included in my Writing For Public Relations class at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas next spring. The students will chuckle about them, and I will too. But for all the good humor, there is one lesson — when public relations professionals do not serve both the organization and the public interest, they generally aren't serving either one.


Tuesday, November 25

Questioning Measures: MarketingProfs

Odd. Very odd. Those are about the only words I can use to describe what it was like to read two different posts on ROI for social media at MarketingProfs.

Lewis Green, founder and managing principal of L&G Solutions, LLC, shares his post on The Real ROI of Blogging. A few minutes later, Beth Harte, a marketing, communications & social media consultant, posts Want to Figure Out Your Social Media ROI?.

One post points to specific objectives based on measures, such as client engagement, loyalty, referrals, and even sales. The other sets objectives too, but the objectives are all based on reach, such as the number of product mentions on Twitter and blogs. The difference? One sets its objectives to outcomes that represent tangible business returns and the other sets its objectives to measuring the reach of social media marketing.

While I appreciate what Harte is trying to do by asking questions and recommending a plan, communicators always have to be careful not to set the objective of a marketing campaign to be the exposure of a marketing campaign. That's as erroneous as public relations professionals counting column inches and media mentions and calling it a day.

The difference between conversations and outcomes.

When I spoke at G2E, the distinction was made clear by direct example. I had a brief Twitter conversation with Matt of CW Multimedia. But unless I visited his booth as I said I would, it was only a conversation. Simply put, visiting the booth was an outcome.

Since he was at a meeting with Zappos when I arrived, Kevin Stone, chief technical officer, had a conversation instead. His ability to explain their technology as it might pertain to my panel session on social media was an outcome. Mentioning how their mobile marketing technology might apply to social media during the session was a conversation. But whether any of those attendees choose to contact the company is the outcome. (Please note: none of this had anything to do with how many Twitter followers he had.)

The confusion between the two seems to be that various professionals are attempting to separate them. Obviously, assuming the conversation has a purpose (eg. inviting people to the booth), one cannot exist without the other if a company hopes to survive. As Amber Naslund points out: "You cannot calculate a return on anything unless you know whether or not your goals — and your definitions of both Return and Investment — are the right ones."

Or, maybe we can put it another way. If the number of conversations are the only measure, then Wal-Mart has the best communication program on the planet. As provable as that could be, the conversation is frequently skewed negative.

Monday, November 24

Cleaning Slates: CBS and The CW

"What would you do with 22,000 pounds of nuts?"

That was the opening question to what became the longest running living crisis communication and social media case study ever covered here. Nuts were the statement of choice for tens of thousands of fans who protested the cancellation of the television series Jericho and went on to win a truncated second season as a result. In the end, they didn't send 22,000 pounds. They send 20 tons, along with just as much mail, postcards, e-mails, etc.

The answer sounds simpler than it was: CBS sent them to the zoo; they sent out an announcement too. Done. Last week, CBS asked another question. What do you do with several million messages on the fan site of a cancelled show?

The answer sounds simpler than it is: CBS deleted them; no announcement needed. Done.

The decision, which was an expected side effect to some recent Website upgrades at CBS as much as the desire by many to reset the community boards, was an eventual reality. It also reinforces the smart decisions made by the fans who migrated to outside forums like Jericho Rally Point and Jericho Free Radio long ago (no tears were shed there for the loss). It also serves as a fine reminder for anyone fantasizing about immortality on the Web. In a blink, all those little bits of data — jokes, jabs, cheers, jeers, and tears — can be erased.

Jericho fans did receive some good news. Starting Nov. 30, Jericho reruns will return to television at 7 p.m. on The CW as part of a clean-slate strategy on Sunday night. According to CW Chief Operating Officer John Maatta, "Surviving Suburbia," "Valentine," and "Easy Money" weren't working. None of the shows was averaging more than 835,000 viewers. Suddenly, the 6 million viewers that Jericho managed to retain despite one of the worst restarts in the history of cancelled series reinstatement look pretty good.

Unfortunately, it won't be enough, not long term. Now that Jericho can be watched everywhere on the Web, from Hulu and iTunes to YouTube and UHD (and The CW), coordinating a campaign or even quantifying those fragments are futile. It just doesn't makes sense to ask the the most loyal fan to watch every episode wherever it happens to pop up. No one can yell forever.

"This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper." — T.S. Eliot

Of course, that's not to say the book is closed on Jericho. If Jericho has any chance to score a movie, because a second resurrection seems impossibly unlikely despite the existence of the original set, only DVD sales will do (until the day that networks end their denial about paid download counts or enough time passes to start fresh). Otherwise, Jericho fans are simply best served by enjoying each other's company. The show might have brought them together, but only camaraderie will keep them together.

image hat tip: C., Radio Free Jericho


Friday, November 21

Gaming Perception: Don't Mind The Masses

It wasn't long after TechCrunch reported that the Google SearchWiki would employ a "Digg-like voting feature to search results (which also changes the ranking) as well as user comments" that there was a need to clarify that the SearchWiki would allow members to customize search results when they are signed in to their Google accounts (like bookmarking) but that would not influence the greater search engine. Good.

“I much prefer the sharpest criticism of a single intelligent man to the thoughtless approval of the masses.” — Johannes Kepler

But what if it did? There seems to be plenty of people who would celebrate the day despite that the following month would come with a hangover. For all the celebration of groundswell, the masses are sometimes susceptible to becoming entranced by deliberately gamed popularity.

It's also becoming an increasingly contentious concern for companies applying social media to their communication plans. In an effort to be more responsive to customers, some may fall victim to following the advice of the so-called masses while actually following only a few who have the ability to mesmerize a majority.

"The broad masses of a population are more amenable to the appeal of rhetoric than to any other force.” — Adolf Hitler

Just prior to Apple announcing native applications to the iPhone, Web-based applications and games were all the rage. One of the first html-based multiple-player games, KingdomGame, was an immediate hit. It was fast, fun, and engaging enough that small pockets of forum-based communities began to evolve.

Today, the traffic has tapered off to a fraction of what it once was as the developer began infusing a few beta tester ideas — beta testers who were backed by their perceived popularity among the masses. By listening to them, the average play time has grown from five minutes per session to more than an hour, with the most engaged players signing in three, four, or more times a day. The actual majority, on the other hand, were either driven away by the diatribe of the few or quietly quit as the game became too time-intensive for the average iPhone user. In other words, the buzz did not support the outcome.

The phenomenon is not limited to games of chance and entertainment. Social media elite sometimes knowingly and sometimes unwittingly back the masses without so much as a second thought. For most, it makes sense. For some, they establish a "tribe" of followers who will help push some of the most preposterous ideas in exchange for a little attention from the most popular person they know.

It's not limited to the social media elite either. Many companies, from small startups to the Fortune 500, are running an increased risk of fooling themselves into listening to the echo chambers they create. They toss out ideas to their readership or extended networks, and those "tribes" almost overwhelmingly support the predetermined direction already established by a few within the company or the few who invest enough time in the network or group to hold sway over the rest. It's surprisingly easy to do.

“A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority.” — Henry David Thoreau

None of this is meant to discount the validity of social media, but only to remind companies engaging in social media that the pursuit of popularity and the outcomes of popularity will not always meet. Sure, there are valid benefits to social media when it is applied strategically, but diving right in without a plan or becoming too entangled in what the presumed masses might be saying can kill a company just like most hit-or-miss work-by-committee outcomes might produce.

Or, in other words, while the masses might be right sometimes, they can also be very wrong, especially when they are led by a few favored personalities. When you look at history, the masses are usually well-suited to expressing a need. But it still takes individuals who can innovate solutions and balance the needs of the many with the virtues of the few (and I don't mean those few who claim credibility has been redefined to mean the he or she with the biggest tribe).

Or, in other words, if Google ever did flip yet another switch and make voted search results public, which one day it might (because you know it can), we can all expect that the entire infrastructure of content will be gamed from the start, perhaps with one persistent 12-year-old stealing a Shakespeare sonnet to promote a personal haiku or, more seriously, a presidential candidate staffing hundreds to vote down an underfunded opponent. Heh. Don't drink the Kool-Aid.


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