Tuesday, December 2

Writing With Ego: For Jason Falls

Most people like Jason Falls, who pens the Social Media Explorer, and I count myself among them. Recently, he wrote a post inspired by his friend who hosts a blog on MySpace. The post was interesting on the front end, but lost a little steam with the traffic building tactics that have become increasingly pervasive among social media experts. Traffic is easy, but without traction it's meaningless.

Still, traffic tips didn't stop me as much as reading that "blogging is an inherently ego-driven activity." He continued...

"You don’t have a blog if you don’t think your writing is important enough to be heard. As you start to build traffic, you’ll get a little swagger about you. It makes you feel good. It makes you feel important. But the moment you start acting important to your readers is the minute they walk away. I was once a big fan boy of one significant social media blogger. But, in ever-so-subtle ways, he started big-timing folks. I don’t even read his stuff anymore, as good as it might be. So, as good as you are, don’t get cocky thinking you’re some big shot writer person. Continue to participate with the community. That genuine person is what makes people click on your links without hesitation." — Jason Falls

A column called Why write? by Thomas Mitchell, editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, immediately came to mind. Mitchell outlined four primary reasons that people write as it was once defined by George Orwell. It applies well to blogging too:

• Sheer egoism.
• Aesthetic enthusiasm.
• Historical impulse.
• Political purpose.

So Falls is likely right in that some people do blog for sheer egoism, especially as it seems to run rampant among certain echo chambers. But there are certainly other motivations that don't require egoism to drive good content. In fact, in addition to those offered by Mitchell, I might suggest a few more that other bloggers have suggested to me over the years:

• Monetization.
• Peer participation.
• Educational intent.
• Altruistic intention.
• Business and/or product marketing.
• Making interest-related connections (eg. hobbies).

Of course, it might be important to note that the vast majority of bloggers don't really know why they start blogs. Most develop some sense of purpose as they go. As I offered up in a comment on Mitchell's column (truncated and paraphrased) ...

Originally, I started this blog in 2005 (I had another, briefly, in 2004) for the simple purpose of augmenting educational instruction since the class I teach is served up in a truncated 10-week format, which is not enough time to consider the changes taking place within the field of communication. Eventually, it evolved from educational intent (instructional) to experimentation (learning how to apply specific technologies to business for client blogs) and engagement (having conversations to lend some principles of strategic communication to social media).

That's not to say any bloggers are exempt from being bitten by the ego bug as Falls points out, even me. There certainly was a little swagger in my step the first time a single post drew 10,000 hits in one day. However, that little brush with a blog rush wasn't a feel good moment as much as it was a warning not all that dissimilar to winning industry awards.

The first few feel amazing, but then you realize that awards are best left as the sequel to great results. As soon as you forget that they make a poor pilot, you suddenly run the risk of becoming a slave to the pursuit of them. The same holds true for blog traffic. Some of my favorites still remain unpopular and that's fine with me. Not all posts here are written for everyone nor were they egoism driven as described by Orwell...

“Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on the grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc., etc. It is humbug to pretend this is not a motive, and a strong one. Writers share this characteristic with scientists, artists, politicians, lawyers, soldiers, successful businessmen — in short, with the whole top crust of humanity. … Serious writers, I should say, are on the whole more vain and self-centered than journalists, though less interested in money.” — George Orwell

Perhaps I was more serious when I was younger, but nowadays I'm more interested in finding the truth. Besides that, the Internet has no place for permanence as my friends and colleagues perceive.

It's fair, of course, for Falls to disagree with me. We do that from time to time, which is why I value the friendship. Yet, while ego can be part of the equation, and there is nothing wrong with that, none of us can really guess at the motivations behind the men and women who blog. It's better when we ask them. At least I think so.


Monday, December 1

Asking Danny: World AIDS Day

In the early 1990s, I began my first formal research into AIDS and what it meant for the United Way of Southern Nevada. And like so many subjects that I've studied over the years as a communicator and commercial copywriter, I learned that for everything I thought I knew about AIDS, I didn't know anything at all.

Ignorance comes in many colors. And for me at the time, I was already colored by hard facts and cold statistics. I thought I knew a lot, but I didn't know anything at all. Looking around the Web today, many bloggers participating in Bloggers Unite for World AIDS Day say they feel colored too.

Most of them are blogging about the hard facts and statistics provided by AIDS.gov — that there are an estimated one million Americans living with HIV in the United States and an estimated 33 million people worldwide. Some are turning to other sources like the Respect Project — that says approximately 80,000 people are living with HIV in the UK with about one-third not knowing they are infected. And a few might stumble upon some lesser known facts like I recently did after meeting with a local organization, Aid for AIDS of Nevada (AFAN), in southern Nevada — that nearly half of all new AIDS cases are people 13 to 24 years of age in the United States.

It's all useful, relative, and will help increase awareness. But what does it mean?

For me, it means that one person who I interviewed in the early 1990s taught me what I really need to know. His name was Danny Marks. And the copy I wrote for the United Way of Southern Nevada, specifically to increase donations for AFAN, remains a painful reminder that power of the communication doesn't always rely on hard facts and cold statistics as much as it relies the one willing to share a story.

Ask Danny. AIDS Kills.

No. Danny Marks isn't HIV Positive. His brother is.

And when Danny brought the issue home to Nevada Power, employee donations to the United Way increased by 14.7 percent.

Why? Danny told them the truth — without their support, the United Way can't help organizations like AFAN. And without AFAN, his brother would have given up.

What else did he say? You already know someone who is HIV positive. They just haven't told you.

In remembrance of the Marks story.

It saddens me to think that I really don't know what happened to Danny Marks or his brother since then. I fear the worst, but hope for the best.

What I do know though is that one advertisement went on to set record donations for AFAN through the United Way that year. And this year, I hope it encourages more of the same — if not in hard dollar donations to organizations like AFAN then by helping build awareness about AIDS.

The best thing you can do about AIDS is to be tested and practice prevention. If you are not willing to do it for yourself, do it for real people like Danny Marks and his family. They didn't think much about AIDS either until his brother tested positive.

We can make a difference. One person at a time, starting with you.


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.

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