Monday, December 8

Overloading Communication: Too Much Frequency

"If you have something pertinent to say you neither have to say it to very many people -- only those who you think will be interested -- nor do you have to say it very often . . . if it is interesting, once is enough. If it is dull, once is plenty." — Howard Gossage

Leave it to George Parker to tell it like it is as only he can. While one can never get too much of a good thing, most things aren't good enough so we get too much of it.

For example, some might say Sprint's CEO Dan Hesse has the right tools to fix the company, but few people want to hear him talk about technology with all the depth of a single Twitter Tweet over and over and over again. Yawn. Yes Dan, we call them phones.

Too much dull messaging can be a bad thing on television. And too much dull messaging can be a bad thing online, which seems to be what partly prompted Steven Hodson to write this piece on social media for the Inquisitr. Ho hum. Some people share so much content quantity that they forget about content quality.

But do you know what? As long as social media measurements, much like television, continue to skew toward reach and frequency, it's likely we'll get more of the same.

Friday, December 5

Keeping Clients Engaged: On Blogs

"Once you help a business start a blog, how can you teach the business to sustain it?"

This conversation seems to come up frequently enough. It has come up during my last couple of speaking engagements. Alan Weinkrantz asked it during Gylon Jackson's show. Lee Odden addressed it among five reasons business blogs fail. And Seth Godin included it in his e-book Flipping The Funnel.

"Faced with a semi-blank page, most people write stuff that is either boring, selfish, or indecipherable. Most bloggers quickly lose interest and their blogs wither away," says Godin. "But if you give people a template, you’ll discover that they can thrive. Give them a hole to fill, and fill it they will."

Godin's right, and it goes beyond blogging. Many employers and clients appreciate communicators who help them keep up on industry news and trends. (It's also a good practice, ensuring that we, as practitioners, look beyond the communication industry and invest time in the industry or industries we serve). In many cases, doing so will also provide the author or authors some fresh content to source, share, or offer up with an opinion. Of course, I also like and have employed Odden's idea to assign multiple authors to a business blog, thereby ensuring that no one person is tasked too much.

Every communication tactic deserves a contingency plan.

One contingency we've implemented successfully for several clients is to allow for one "generic" author account identified by "staff" or some other moniker. While it won't work for everyone (eg. it wouldn't work on this blog), it does work elsewhere.

A staff account allows for non-attributed postings, guest posts, or a communication specialist to write a post based on multiple sources within the company that is not clearly associated with anyone specific. Sometimes, such an account can even be used to help guide other company authors as they become familiar with communication or simply to ensure the company can maintain a consistent publishing date when no other posts are available.

The end result is a sustainable blog, primarily because this contingency prevents one missed week turning into two weeks and then three missed weeks from turning into "we haven't updated in so long, it's not worth saving." In fact, from what we've seen, it also removes any obligation from the client, making them much more inclined to contribute content without a set deadline.

I appreciate not everyone gets excited by the idea of "unattributed" postings. However, it seems to work well as a contingency or as an alternative when a definitive single author isn't warranted (eg. does the CEO really have to author a post about a workshop or a roundup of ten news articles?). Besides, while there is demonstrated value to helping some executives engage in social media, the set objective should never be to transform them into full-time "bloggers."

They have other responsibilities too.

Thursday, December 4

Tooting Too Much: And Other Nonsense

Say what you will about the so-called social media blunder of Matt Bacak, the "powerful" promoter, who posted some self-puffery on a social media newswire service. Some of the run downs are pretty revealing too.

Consider the implications of Dan Schawbel's otherwise fine overview on Bacak. Schawbel writes "Let this be a lesson to all of you: You gain the privilege to promote yourself, after you’ve promote everyone else."

Egad Dan! That's no strategy, it's a Genesis song.

I will follow you will you follow me
All the days and nights that we know will be...

Consider the Media Pirate echoing what so many around the Web are saying … "This morning we were shown how social media in the wrong hands can create a backlash go viral and destroy a reputation."

Geesh Pirate! One search shows this is his reputation.

Never mind the scam accusations, there are scores of results that show Bacak's communication is consistent. He creates hype and controversy that gets a lot of coverage and sometimes sympathy. Good posts. Bad posts. It doesn't matter. Or does it?

Specifically, the Twitter release "accident" mirrors most of his communication, including breaking through "the 5,000 followers on Facebook threshold" earlier in 2008. Right on. Just before he ... woosh ... found cause to retire. What's the difference?

For David Fisher and Tris Hussey, there doesn't seem to be much difference at all. Does that make it evil? I dunno. Assuming he isn't a scam artist, probably not. And the only way I can think to explain that thought is by example.

A couple of years ago, a few of my ad friends were joking about the local low-budget in-your-face rent-to-own commercials that had become infamous over the years in Las Vegas. I knew who produced the commercials so I introduced them.

"We tried creative, stylized, and professionally produced commercials," he told them. "But they just don't drive store traffic. This junk works."

Right on. Know your audience. But for most, don't try it at home.

Wednesday, December 3

Slashing PR: Dennis Howlett

He may have been a few weeks too late to match the launch date of the perfect sequel to Chris Anderson's original Halloween: The Night He Banned PR Flacks, but Dennis Howlett, who has provided comment and analysis for publications such as CFO Magazine, The Economist, and Information Week, still promises to cut a few to the bone. BOO! YOU’RE DEAD TO ME!

And who can blame him? Sure, there are plenty of good public relations professionals out there. But as industry growth seems to outpace industry education, one might wonder how many journalists it will take before the entire profession becomes ignored.

"In any one day I field up to 20 PR requests. I can guarantee that 90+% of them have done zero research to find out what I’m interested in," writes Howlett. "In the worst cases they won’t have done a basic Google search to find out who I am or where my interests lay. In 2008, that’s beyond unacceptable, it’s criminal."

It's also not public relations. It's media relations. But it's not really media relations. It's message placement services. In fact, it might even be message placement 2.0. And, right now, for a limited time, the hottest thing on the table seems to be that message placement 2.0 is looking past media to target the untapped masses of renewable social media participants as opposed to the shrinking pool of objective journalists. Do you still wonder why Howlett thinks the industry is regressing? He continues...

"In the 1990’s, good PRs could write a half reasonable press release that would at least be engaging. You would have thought that with the tsunami of material about social media that in 2008 the situation would have moved on. Sadly, no. If anything, the industry has regressed."

You see, Dennis, today's message placement 2.0 professionals already know it's all about the math. By following each other to inflate rankings, they can very easily demonstrate to an unsuspecting client just how successfully they can reach a greater readership online than the total combined circulation of the top five newspapers, with more "hits" to boot. Cool, eh?

How do they do it? Easy! Message placement 2.0 doesn't require any story writing skills whatsoever. Just replace journalists with other public relations pals and followers. After all, if everyone in your echo chamber is an ally, then you may never have to worry about the surprisingly few pros who sometimes serve as industry foils:

PR Watch
Valley Wag
Bad Pitch Blog
Collateral Damage

Sure, I know what some might be thinking. Message placement 2.0 doesn't do a thing for clients if flacks are simply passing pitches around to other flacks. However, let's face facts. It's a whole lot of fun to hang out with friends for $2,000 to $10,000 a month. The client will be even happier living in ignorant bliss. And the latest mantra "just be, online" can thrive as the advice du jour. Scared yet?

You will be. Come back tomorrow for a "no chills, just trauma" take on Matt Bacak!


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 — 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.


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