Monday, January 5

Beginning 2009: The Year Of Communication


Happy New Year! Yes, again.

It's the second time I've written it because it seems to be worth writing again. It's a happy New Year because about half of Americans polled by NBC News/Wall Street Journal believe 2008 was the worst year in American history. As Rich Lowery, writing for The Washington Times pointed out, it wasn't.

But nonetheless, it's a happy New Year because Americans seem to need one. Consumer confidence has a nasty habit of following what the leaders communicate. And for the good part of two years, very few leaders can say they stood up to be counted among those who had a positive message to deliver. This is what must change.

Politics aside, in 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt demonstrated he understood this by delivering one of the most remembered inaugural addresses of the 20th century. His speech led the way by changing the candor of communication and calling for a time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. And in doing so, he reminded the American people (and people all over the world) that the "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."

"Nothing changes and yet everything is completely different." — Aldous Huxley

Last year, we rang in the New Year by calling 2008 The Year of New Media. In many ways, it was exactly that, with more companies recognizing that social media was viable. They rushed to embrace it.

This year, companies that rushed headlong into social media will begin to adjust, recognizing that social media is a tactic and, as a tactic, only one portion of a well-thought strategic communication plan. Some will understand and appreciate that although there is merit in the prevailing thought of joining the conversation, there is also a need for people to lead those conversations with hope, innovation, and a focus on being able to meet the needs of the people they want to reach.

For all our talk about ROI, companies will do well to remember that the mere possession of a healthy profit margin is less paramount to the long-term bottom line than are achievements gained through innovation and the shared outcomes that come from the creative efforts by consumers and companies. This year, I'll infuse the concept into classes and speaking engagements because it seems to be needed out of necessity.

The way I see it, if there is one question to be asked in 2009, it will be whether or not your companies are ready to improve, innovate, and then communicate those improvements and innovations without motivating people by fear for short-term gains. The focus needs to be positive. The contract with consumers needs to be long term.

Speaking Schedule & UNLV Classes — Richard Becker

Writing For Public Relations — 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., Jan. 15 – March 12

Writing For Public Relations is a skills development class that focuses on the application of strategic communication into public relations with an emphasis on practical writing skills. Students learn a variety of writing styles and how to best apply them to: news releases, fact sheets, biographical sketches, feature stories, media kits, and social media/new media. (CEUs: 1.80)

Breakfast of Champions: Build Public Opinion Online — 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m., Feb. 6

Presented by Community Service Consultants at Regis University, Build Public Opinion Online will focus on how non-profit organizations and business community relations managers can develop effective public outreach programs online, employing social media tools such as blogging, social networks, and other resources.

Social Media For Communication Strategy — 9 a.m. to noon, Feb. 28

Social Media for Communication Strategy focuses on increasing the use of online technologies to share content, opinion, insight, and experience. Collectively, these technologies shape more opinion than all other media combined and have dramatically changed the communication landscape. (CEUs: .3)

Editing and Proofreading Your Work — 9 a.m. to noon, April 4

Editing And Proofreading Your Work is half-day day session that focuses on improving clarity, consistency, and correct usage in personal and business correspondence. It includes essentials such as language, mechanics of style, spelling, and punctuation.

Of course, you'll find some information shared here from time to time, as this blog was initially created as a supplement for classes and speaking engagements. Copywrite, Ink. also provides an analysis for the potential of new media in our proposals, backed by experience on more than 1,000 accounts across all industries.

Friday, January 2

Delivering Service: AmeriCorps Benefits Nevada


Given economic growth in the United States is still near an all-time low and given the current economic crisis in Nevada, it's not surprising to learn Nevada Volunteers (formerly the Nevada Commission For National & Community Service), will not be included in the governor's budget. The decision will require the commission to seek legislative funding for the next biennium, which is no easy task given that most state budgets are being cut.

This will require state legislators to look long term rather than short term. The cost of losing AmeriCorps in Nevada is far greater than the modest matching funds required to keep the commission operational for the next two years.

The return on investment is $19 in funding for every $1 the state invests.

With a $19 to $1 rate of return and a President-Elect looking to expand AmeriCorps, common sense suggests that the state legislature needs to consider Nevada Volunteers a priority program.

Nevada Volunteers administers AmeriCorps programs in Nevada and works to link community-building organizations with the public and private resources they need. Specifically, with the modest state funding investment of $365,000 over the biennium, the state receives $4.4 million in AmeriCorps programming and $1 million in additional volunteer services.

During the last biennium, Nevada Volunteers administered critical funding for the Great Basin Institute, U.S. Veterans Initiative, Parasol Tahoe Community Foundation, Family Resource Centers of Northeastern Nevada, and the United Way of Southern Nevada, among others. In addition, after successful completion of service, AmeriCorps members earn an education award that can be used to pay for college or graduate school or repay qualified student loans.

The return in service outcomes far exceeds the monetary gain.

As impressive as the return of investment is for the State of Nevada, the direct outcome from 156,518 hours of service from 139 AmeriCorps members and 27,178 hours of community service from more than 4,100 AmeriCorps volunteers delivers badly needed services across the state of Nevada. A few highlights across AmeriCorps funded programs include:

• Collected and distributed more than 59,000 pounds of food and clothing to 21,000 Nevadans.
• Provided domestic violence prevention and intervention to 154 Nevada women and children.
• Provided outreach to 1,300 homeless persons, including veterans (with an 88 percent transition success rate).
• Provided direct educational assistance to approximately 200 at-risk children across the state.
• Built, restored, and maintained more than 96 miles of wilderness trails and 38 miles of natural habitats.
• Removed hazardous fuels from more than 386 acres, creating firebreaks, and planted 7,800 trees.
• Conducted 411 Red Cross first aid/CPR classes for more than 4,800 Nevadans.

It doesn't take someone like me, who has served as a governor-appointed state commissioner for seven years, including executive positions on the board for five years, to see that preserving AmeriCorps is vital to the State of Nevada. To do it, however, the commission will need more than a proclamation. It needs several state legislators to step forward and champion the required state administrative match during the 2009 legislative session.

The only question that remains is which legislators it will be and how long it will take. During the last legislative session when no line item programs were to be funded, last-minute legislation for AmeriCorps passed almost unanimously (42-0 in the assembly and 19-1-1 in the senate, with only a single dissenting vote by then State Senator Ann O’Connell) just before midnight as part of one of the last bills presented.

State legislators learned then how important AmeriCorps is to Nevada after realizing that our state will lose millions in federal and private support. One can only hope our new legislators are wise enough to see that cutting AmeriCorps doesn't save $182,500 per year. On the contrary, it will cost the state almost $4 million per year in lost funding and services.

Thursday, January 1

Measuring Popular: Social Media Meets Gilligan's Island


Long-time industry analyst Barbara French once wrote (link below) that "we've got some very bright people on both sides of the debate — those advocating that we equate influence with popularity/connectedness, those advising against it. Neither side is ready to blink." Well, for those advocating for it, I suggest they study the work of Sherwood Schwartz and blink.

That's right. You'll find all you need to know about how influence, authority, and popularity interact by watching Gilligan's Island.

Influence

Influence is the capacity or power of persons or things to be a compelling force on or produce effects on the actions, behavior, and opinions of others.

The Professor, AKA Roy Hinkley Jr., Ph.D., had individual influence, even though group think had more. (So did Eunice "Lovey" Wentworth Howell, mostly over her husband but occasionally the younger female castaways.)

In 1958, social psychologist Solomon Asch devised an experiment to examine the extent to which pressure from other people could affect one's perception. Almost 37 of the 50 subjects conformed to the majority at least once, even when the majority had chosen a clearly erroneous answer. (Hat tip for the reminder: HireCentrix).

It didn't require any sense of authority or popularity; only a simple majority. However, perceived authority or popularity can potentially compound the allure of conformity. And sometimes, in the wrong hands, the results can be disastrous.

Authority

Authority is the power to enforce laws, exact obedience, command, determine, judge, or influence by proven knowledge or experience in a field.

The Skipper, AKA Jonas Grumby, had authority. (So did Thurston Howell, III, but his authority did not translate into an admired quality given the situational parameters of the island.)

In 1963, Stanley Milgram gave the world a glimpse into obedience by publishing the results of his experiment, which proved the authority figure in the experiment could convince participants to deliver electric shocks past safety limits, even when the recipient of the shocks protested and expressed life-threatening danger.

It didn't require any popularity, only a blind belief that someone seemed in charge. A simple majority can compound the allure of obedience. And sometimes, when given to the wrong people, it can be disastrous.

Popularity

Popularity is most simply defined as being commonly liked or approved of, but there's a bit more to it.

Ginger Grant was popular. (But among viewers, people liked Mary Ann more).

In 2008, behavioral geneticist S. Alexandra Burt at Michigan State University found that genes elicit not only specific behaviors but also the social consequences of those behaviors, which means your genes may drive your social experiences and predispose you to popularity in certain social settings. But there is more to it than that. In this study, the 200 male college students were in a unique campus environment where "rule-breaking behaviors" are generally admired. In another social setting, they may not be popular.

In 1993, the Administrative Science Quarterly published "Power, social influence, and sense making: effects of network centrality and proximity on employee perceptions," which explored the relative contributions of individual attributes, formal organizational positions, network centrality, and network proximity in explaining individual variation in perceptions of work-related conditions in an advertising firm. Simply stated, like many studies have found — social settings, structural centrality, perceived leadership, situational timing, and role satisfaction all play a part in making someone popular. And sometimes, when the wrong people become popular, it can be disastrous.

Ergo, exhibiting qualities considered admirable within a specific social network can help someone become popular.

It's also why Gilligan may have been the least popular person on the island, but he was easily the most popular comedic icon among viewers who found the comedy and sometimes accidental genius of the character to be admired qualities.

Influence, Authority, and Popularity Online

Michael Litman, who is equally fascinated by the concept of online authority, touched on part of the equation (and provided a sum up of definitions from people with perceived authority online) by simply stating that authority cannot be measured online. He's mostly right.

When you consider various social psychological studies and what we know about cognitive psychology, everyone started as equal as Litman suggests. But since human beings are human beings, we are generally predisposed to create systems of hierarchy and authority. So, it only stands to reason that people quickly went to work attempting to build such a structure in this new social setting.

Fortunately or unfortunately, much of this hierarchy has been built mostly around popularity measurements or largely "reach" as I mentioned on Tuesday, which is easily summed up by how many links, readers, followers, friends, etc. someone has earned. However, it's always important to consider that these measures might be gamed, blatantly, through mutually reciprocal agreements or, covertly, through sycophant behavior (hit tip for the perfect word: Chapel).

The reason reach has been incorporated into the equation is because it's borrowed from the advertising industry and mainstream media's obsession with eyeballs. But in the end, social media gravitation to reach doesn't mean anything because real influence requires offline measures such as changing behavior or tangible outcomes and real authority comes from something other than popularity (even though all three are sometimes interconnected).

“Popularity is the one insult I have never suffered.” — Oscar Wilde

For anyone who knows anything about Oscar Wilde, there is an irony in his comment that makes it all the more colorful. While he may have never penned a blog or joined a social network, he was one of the greatest celebrities of his day, frequently wearing his hair long and decorating his room with peacock feathers and lilies. And even though his situational timing was perfect (because that is what his world needed at the time), he always backed it up with his biting wit and the pledge not to beg forgiveness for what he thought. And what did he think?

"All that I desire to point out is the general principle that life imitates art far more than art imitates life." - Oscar Wilde

For all the mentions of people drinking the Kool-Aid in regard to social media (backed up by studies from Milgram and Asch), we ought to know by now that Wilde was as right today as he was one hundred years ago. If you're not careful, social media has a greater chance to change individuals than individuals ever do to change social media. And if there is any wisdom to be taken away, perhaps it is that participants would be better off searching for truth rather than the cult of personality.

Why? Read some of the work by Walter Lippman, who believed distorted information is inherent in the human mind and only by seeing through stereotypes can we find partial truths. Or ...

Simply recognize that for all the importance placed on influence, authority, and popularity on Gilligan's Island, they never got off the island (er, special episodes aside).

In other words, even if you could measure all the nuances of influence, authority, and popularity, why would you want to? It seems to me, throughout history, we've proven that chasing after the shadow of perception often leads us away from reality.

Related posts pertaining to influence, authority, and popularity online:

Does Influence Equal Online Popularity by Barbara French
Measuring Influence vs. Popularity by Shel Israel
Influence and Popularity in Social Media by Servant of Chaos
Ego Trap: Influencer Lists by Peter Kim
Twitter Popularity Does Not Equal Business Acumen by Jennifer Leggio

Wednesday, December 31

Recognizing Reader Picks: Top Posts Of 2008


With the new year upon us tomorrow, we would like to say goodbye to 2008 with a recap of this blog's five most popular communication-related posts, based on the frequency and the immediacy of reader views after they were posted.

The 3-Deep Leak of Jericho, Season 2

What began as the early coverage of a consumer protest over the cancellation of the television series Jericho last year became the longest running living crisis communication and consumer-driven social media case study ever covered here. While the fans succeeded in reviving the show for a truncated second season after sending 20 tons of nuts to CBS, two of several factors kept the show from achieving a third season: The network never grasped that yesterday's passive viewers had become active participants. Some fans misplaced trust in the network to do the right thing (and they continue to stumble), which resulted in a fractured fan base.

Of those posts, most written earlier this year, speculation of the 3-deep leak of the show online and potential consequences led the pack. Three days later, CBS followed up with a clarification that the leak was unintentional. (The fact that Jericho leads this list is a testament to the fans' vigilance as well as the potential for groups to use social media to organize.)

Related Labels: Jericho, Consumer Marketing

The Nine Rules of Advertising, Inspired By Fred Manley

After referencing my instructional "nine rules" of advertising on more than one occasion, it seemed suitable to share a two-part post. The first post includes highlights from Fred Manley's classic “Nine Ways To Improve An Ad," which forced so-called advertising rules on the 1960 classic “Think Small” Volkswagen ad. The companion post revives advertising as a conversation as seen by Shirley Polykoff, who was the first woman copywriter for Foote Cone & Belding, before presenting Copywrite, Ink.'s The Real Nine Rules Of Advertising. The first rule? There are no rules.

Both posts can be easily applied to social media. And, if three posts make a better set, then consider Valeria Maltoni's bridge post on the topic, using Reader's Digest as the example.

Related Label: Advertising

Why News Releases Might Die From PR Confusion

With public relations seemingly confused with media relations and media relations seemingly confused with spamming journalists, it only made sense to write a somewhat satirical piece on today's most misunderstood profession. After sampling several random releases, we presented the seven deadly sins of the modern public relations professional as told to me by public relations professionals.

As well read as the post was, even being included on a tip sheet by Bad Pitch Blog, not many have learned anything. HWH PR was outed once again. Dennis Howlett banned pitches (except via Twitter). And I was reminded why being a journalist can sometimes suck.

Related Label: Public Relations

Endoscopy Center Demonstrates Crisis Communication Gone Wrong

Following the local crisis that surrounded the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada, which was responsible for the largest hepatitis C scare in the history of the country, became an exercise in evaluating futility. After the initial story — and then the denial, lack of empathy in a newspaper ad apology, refusal to comment on evidence, and alleged plans of the primary owner to flee the country — the center's credibility eroded until there was nothing left to believe. Eventually, the center was closed permanently.

From the series, the most popular post broke down the ill-advised newspaper apology, which opened: "Recent events at the Endoscopy Center of Nevada of Southern Nevada are causing great concern to our patients and the community at large.” Ho hum. Enough said.

Related Label: Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada, Crisis Communication

Applying Twitter And How It Works For Business

In November, after following up as a live speaker to Aaron Uhrmacher's webinar, we had an opportunity to evaluate Twitter as a tactic for business communication (depending on the company and whether or not the people it wants to reach exist there). While there are other ways to use it, including real time reporting, we categorized six prevailing external communication approaches. They are outlined here.

The popularity of the post might reveal the need for social media participants to communicate in a language business people can understand or, perhaps, just the enthusiasm of Twitter participants to read something about, well, Twitter. There is nothing wrong with that.

Related Label: Twitter, Social Media

Five additional topics that came close in 2008

• How Veronica Mars fans continue to demonstrate unity and sustainability.
• How social media almost derailed our Bloggers Unite segment on CNN.
• Why applications like SeenThis? add value and expose trends.
• Our continuing coverage of broadcast-broadband convergence.
• TheLadders and RiseSmart battle for niche placement.

Since starting this blog in 2005, I always hoped that best practice posts would eventually draw more readers than the biggest mishaps. Looking back, 2008 seems to have accomplished a healthy mix, making 2009 more promising than ever. A very special thanks to everyone who joined the conversation to help make these posts relevant. It made a difference and it's appreciated.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 30

Dispelling Myths: Online Authority


In between some satire, there always seems to be some seriousness in conversations about online authority. Some social media participants want to measure this stuff, even if it for the sole purpose of vanity or perhaps selling snake oil.

There is enough of it that Jennifer Leggio lent a near perfect expose entitled "Twitter popularity does not equal business acumen" on ZDNet. The article mentions several reasons that online popularity doesn't equal much of anything. Her hope was to dissuade executives from considering popularity as a measure.

"My point that [the number of followers] should be a very, very small consideration for enterprises still stands," she concluded.

She's right. Equating online popularity to influence or so-called authority is much like equating real-life popularity to influence or authority. Online, some participants seem to forget that Jerry Seinfeld might make a fun spokesperson for Microsoft, but Bill Gates didn't place him in charge of R&D.

Eric Peterson, a web analytics expert, also poked some fun at the topic, pointing to Twinfluence, which measures velocity, social capital, and centralization. But then asks if “influence” is the best measure of success in social media. Or should people pay closer attention to something like the Twitter Ratio as a measure?

The answer is neither. Social media measures generally consider reach. And reach is, well, reach.

Influence cannot really be measured online because it suggests something that online measures do not account for — changes in behavior or actions that produce outcomes (sometimes offline). Simply having a large number of readers or friends or followers doesn't mean you have influence over them. And even if you did, that influence may be limited in scope.

There are other challenges too. As Shel Israel once pointed out: if someone has three followers, then who those followers are might make all the difference. Or, turning to one example I like to use, there are several social network owners who have less friends than other participants.

This simple fact touches on why authority cannot really be measured online either. Most professionals have friends who are experts in their field that have yet to be concerned with developing an online presence. And, if they were participants in one of a thousand social networks, they may or may not ever be popular. Yet, there is no denying their authority.

What can be measured online is reach. But sometimes, having ample reach isn't all it's cracked up to be. The wrong message communicated to tens of thousands of people instead of a few hundred is still the wrong message.

Monday, December 29

Advertising Pain: Agency Outlook For 2009


As goes mainstream media, ad agencies might follow.

For a little over a year, mainstream media and marketing has continued to tumble. In fact, according to AdAge, Wal-Mart Stores and McDonald's Corp. were the only two of Advertising Age/Bloomberg AdMarket 50 stocks to see gains.

The rest of the 48 marketer, media and agency stocks were all down in 2008, with most dropping double digits in value. Not surprisingly, McClatchy Co. fared the worst of all, down 91 percent.

As for ad agencies, they are struggling too. In October of 2008, AdAge reports agency employment fell to 182,400, a loss of 6,200 jobs from the business-cycle staffing peak. Combined market capitalization of the Big Four agency firms — Omnicom, WPP, Interpublic Group of Cos., Publicis Groupe — in December 2008 was $23.4 billion, not dramatically above the June 2007 market cap of WPP alone ($18.3 billion).

While some of it can easily be traced to the recession, not all of it is a byproduct of tough economic times. Advertising agencies and marketers seem to be struggling because fewer and fewer advertisements are capable of cutting through the clutter. Perhaps it's no coincidence that Wal-Mart won after capturing understated consumer sentiments with its "Save Money. Live Better." campaign.

Ad Agencies Will Have To Listen In 2009

While some pinpoint the problem to the advertising industry's relatively slow embrace of social media as suggested by a promotional video for Age of Conversation 2, another part of the equation is simpler still.

Remember the Matrix? In 1999, the Matrix took audiences by storm and won four Oscars, including Best Visual Effects. Four years later, audiences hadn't had enough, but were already saying that The Matrix Reloaded was a little too much of the same. By the time Revolutions hit theaters, the franchise had long jumped the shark.

The advertising industry has done exactly that. In the early 1990s, many agencies moved away from messaging to focus on Photoshop, Flash, and special effects. The new tools easily caught consumer attention. But by the end of the 1990s, it wasn't really enough.

So some agencies pushed harder with guerrilla marketing to generate buzz. But nowadays, buzz is not enough. Consumers want to relate, which is why a simple Wal-Mart ad can boost sales in a down season and give the company 17.3 percent year-to-date gain for 2008.

Listening to consumers isn't about social media. It's about relating to the audience, regardless of the media. It always has been. And only those agencies that remember that will see any hint of success in 2009.
 

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