Wednesday, October 29

Shifting Concepts: Newspapers Need To Look At TV

And so it begins. The Christian Science Monitor has become the first national newspaper to abandon print and move its daily content online. While the publication will print a weekend magazine, the move represents a shift that many other national dailies will eventually follow.

“Everybody’s talking about new models,” John Yemma, editor of The Monitor said. “This is a new model.”

According to The New York Times, smaller papers have already made the transition, including The Capital Times in Madison, Wis. and The Daily Telegram in Superior, Wis., which will only publish a print edition two days a week.

The downside, as most newspapers know, is that such moves cannot replace the revenue gap between print and online ads. It will not, at least not as long as newspapers continue to look at the new space like print. Instead, they might consider entirely new constructs.

One of the better examples some newspapers might follow is Hulu, which offers free, ad-supported videos of TV shows and movies from NBC, FOX, and other networks. The joint project has been successful enough to beat YouTube hands down.

Within a few months, Hulu has grown to 142 million streams with 6.3 million unique viewers, according to Nielsen Online. It is now the sixth-most-popular online video brand in the United States, surpassing ESPN, CNN, MTV, and Disney.

Part of the success is related to its advertising approach. Fewer advertisements means fewer program interruptions for viewers and less competition for advertisers. It's a win-win, with some additional twists that include viewer rated commercials, ad selection, and interactive games.

“The notion that less is more is absolutely playing out on Hulu,” Jason Kilar, the chief executive of Hulu, told The New York Times. “This is benefiting advertisers as much as it is benefiting users.”

It only makes sense that broadcast would weather convergence a little easier than print, which is why it might be time for print to give up traditional modeling all together. It needs to think more like broadcast and I don't just mean arming journalists with video cameras.

What I mean is: newspapers that are migrating more content online need to quickly develop better advertising vehicles than banner ads to stay viable. The only alternative is to continually cut staff to match shrinking circulations, which no one can really afford to do anymore. Why?

Journalists are already overtaxed on time. The result is that many newspapers have given up on digging deeper and vetting facts in favor of "he said, she said" reporting. "He said, she said" reporting only resembles objective reporting in that it leaves readers to sort out which "he" or "she" might be right or telling the truth. Unless newspapers hold a higher standard and provide trusted content, it seems to me they will risk losing even more readers in a space where content is still king.


Tuesday, October 28

Killing Blogs: Wired Likes Linkbait

Ever since Wired magazine saw some success by declaring newspapers dead, it seems to have developed an appetite for declaring everything dead. The latest victims? Blogs. Yep, Paul Boutin says blogs are dead.

"The blogosphere, once a freshwater oasis of folksy self-expression and clever thought, has been flooded by a tsunami of paid bilge," wrote Boutin, who also writes for Valleywag. "Cut-rate journalists and underground marketing campaigns now drown out the authentic voices of amateur wordsmiths. It's almost impossible to get noticed, except by hecklers."

Hecklers like, um, Paul Boutin? (Joke.) Come on, the linkbait has never been so obvious. So here's one study Wired didn't consider:

Blog influence on consumer purchases eclipses social networks

BuzzLogic, a social media analysis company, recently released a study that suggests frequent blog readers (defined as consumers who read blogs more than once per month) use blogs as the top online navigation tool to discover other blog content, ranking higher than general searches on search engines. Here are some other findings after surveying 2,000 online consumers in the United States:

• 38 percent said blog links were the top tool for discovering new blog content, edging out 34 percent who said search engines.
• 39 percent said blog links appear to have similar impact as a trusted recommendation from a person.
• 40 percent of blog readers have taken action as a result of viewing an ad on a blog (50 percent for frequent readers).
• 50 percent said blogs influence purchases and that they find blogs useful for purchase information.
• 56 percent said blogs with a niche focus and topical expertise were key sources, making consumer useful.

"For a portion of Web users, blogs rival search as a navigation tool, which has really interesting implications for advertisers," said Rob Crumpler, CEO of BuzzLogic. "Blogs are becoming trusted guides, steering users who are seeking very specific information to places of interest online."

Crumpler is right, of course. But what makes the difference? Boutin seems to have fallen for the buzz of blog generalization. As I continue to tell my friends in the media, blog credibility doesn't come from the tool; it comes from the individuals who share insights, experiences, and knowledge. How they share information is of little consequence.

Each "blogger" has an opportunity to establish themselves as a trusted source among their readers. And, one way to damage that credibility is to rely too heavily on linkbait that declares things dead too much (like blogs from a blog, no less). Oh well, at least it's not as scary as what they put out last Halloween. Boo hoo.

A few other posts on the topic of blogs being dead, including the blog that Boutin also writes for:
Pulse 2.0


Monday, October 27

Talking About Social Media: Solutions Stars Video

Geoff Livingston released a sneak peak of NetworkSolutions' upcoming Solutions Stars Video, a 45-minute video that compiles an overview of social media for small businesses from the viewpoint of several pros across nine different topics:

• Building Web Presence
• The Social Opportunity
• Start with Listening
• Strategy Drives Outreach
• You Need Social Networks
• To Blog or Not to Blog
• Visibility Through Search
• Rising Above the Noise
• Time Demands

The video will be released online at 1 p.m. this Wednesday, Oct. 29. It will also be available on Facebook and Yahoo Events, and includes a chat session with some participants.

The sneak peak includes sound bites from Brian Solis, Rohit Bhargava, Tim Ferriss, Steve Hall, Toby Bloomberg, Ryan Anderson, Darren Rowse, David Alston, Mari Smith, Liz Strauss, and Paul Chaney.

Standing On Grammar: Sacramento, Calif.

A recent post by Asylum, which features 50 signs with errors, reminded me of the photo I took in Sacramento a few weeks ago. The sign was posted in several areas inside an airport shuttle.

No Standees In Raised Area

I couldn't help but wonder if that made me a "sittee" since there was plenty of seating. Or maybe it was meant to segregate select breakfast diners from Chicago. Or maybe the mass transit system in California has a problem with cut-outs crowding buses. I really don't know.

Sure, Wiktionary has revived the relatively arcane word that seemed to fall out of favor in the early 1900s after playhouses were ordered to make people sit. But if people are really being forced to stand on a shuttle, they can hardly abide by the rule anyway. So what's the point?

Lesson for today: simple makes sense. "No Standing In Raised Area" could add clarity, with the same number of letters.


Friday, October 24

Spotting Convergence: Wall Street Journal

With the Newspaper Association of America (NNA) expecting newspaper advertising to drop another 11 percent this year, The Wall Street Journal and Washington Post are already looking to evolve. Both publications are training journalists to shoot video while reporting.

"We've put dozens of cameras out in the hands of reporters," Alan Murray, deputy managing editor of the The Wall Street Journal, said in a brief online interview with "By putting video cameras in their hands, it gives them another way to tell their stories."

Both publications began recruiting and training reporters since June, which was part of their restructuring in July. They are also actively recruiting talented video journalists worldwide to shoot and edit video on a freelance basis through recruiters. Meanwhile, the Washington Post has trained more than 185 reporters.

To illustrate how rapidly convergence is taking place, consider this post from August 2006 or this post from March 2007. Both were written at a time when new media still seemed far far away. But nowadays, it's old media that seems a distant memory.

As predicted, old media is dead. There is only media, aging new and adapting old, sharing the same space online. In other words, it no longer pays to ride a horse in a world of automobiles.


Thursday, October 23

Twittering Works: And Then Things Spread

Ryan Anderson recently did something remarkable. He wrote a post, but it wasn't just any post to me.

He wrote a post a few days after sending me a check for $60, money that was never meant to be paid back. Since the check was unexpected and unnecessary, I donated it in his name to the Arthritis Foundation where it will do the most good.

After I did that, he wrote a post that talks about how this $60 will go a long way to help children like my daughter, who was diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis just before her second birthday. On Saturday, she will be walking with Team Beers. You can see her donation page here.

“I don't let it get me down, but JRA is tough. Since there are no doctors in Las Vegas who can treat JRA, Dr. Lisa Majlessi travels here from California a few days each month to treat children like me. We need more doctors like her," it reads. “I will be in my stroller at the Arthritis Walk, but I hope you might sign up and walk next to me. Or, if you would like, please make a small donation to help me and my friends at Team Beers raise funds for arthritis research.”

You know, I didn't think much about helping Ryan after his wallet turned up missing, perhaps stolen, in Las Vegas. But I do now.

Sometimes social networks are social. And sometimes they just work.

Ryan Anderson didn't have to write the post or mail me a check or send a "thank you" basket. And I suppose he might argue that I didn't have to respond to his tweet or give him a ride or give him enough money to eat or donate his unexpected payback to charity. But that's the point, isn't it?

Neither one of us had to do anything, except we did. And it's this kind of simple, often neglected, never talked about, every day stuff that reminds me how kindness can spread well beyond two people without any other third-party intervention whatsoever. Governments, companies, and social networks are all merely tools; it's up to us to decide how we might use them rather than allow them to find ways to use us.

Give people a chance to use them right and they will work. After that, you never know what might just happen. Except, I can probably say with quiet certitude that Ryan and I won't think each other strangers next time nor wonder how Twitter works.


Wednesday, October 22

Branding Inside Out: Ketchum's Global Food & Nutrition

"A brand isn't what you say about it, it's what other people say about it." — Linda Eatherton, partner and director of Ketchum's Global Food & Nutrition Practice.

At least that is what Eatherton told Marketing Daily on the heels of a study that reveals: branding lags well behind taste, quality, and price when consumers choose food. While there is no doubt that Eatherton's statement might be music to some people's ears — as it is what many social media experts have been saying for some time — it's also misleading.

Brands are not only built by what others say about them.

Brands are built by many factors, including what the company says about itself and others, what the competition says about themselves and others, and what other stakeholders, including consumers, say about all of them.

In the food industry, branding tends to play last for several reasons. First, many companies invest in product branding over company branding. Second, food branding tends to include the qualities and properties of the product, such as taste, quality, and price. Third, grocery store branding, locality, and stock also plays a fundamental role, at least in the United States.

In other words, people tend to think they need "bread crumbs," drive to their preferred grocer, and choose from the available selection based on those qualities mentioned. There are some exceptions. Rather than think "cereal," someone might think "Cheerios" because they already associate some qualities with that brand (enough to pass on any imitations, anyway). But "General Mills," the company that makes Cheerios, may never even enter their mind.

Highlights from the Ketchum's Global Food & Nutrition Practice survey.

• 74 percent cited taste as a key consideration, except China, where 78 said health benefits were more important.
• 66 percent said that where the food comes from is important, but 60 percent said taste still always trumps food sourcing.
• 63 percent said they want to recognize all of the ingredients on a food label, with Argentina being the most concerned.
• Only 33 percent said that “brand name” is among the most important factors when buying food, with brand slightly more important in China and Argentina at 45 percent.

The survey polled 1,000 consumers in the U.S., the U.K., Germany, Argentina and China. It included 200 respondents from each country. For additional details, you can find the release here.

The Global Food & Nutrition Practice survey reminds companies to think.

In my opinion, the survey is interesting and useful in that it reminds companies to think in terms of the obvious. If the food does not taste good, people won't buy it. If too many foods from the same manufacturer do not taste good, or if a crisis occurs, then consumers might avoid it. In extreme cases, the entire product line, regardless of manufacturer, might also be avoided (think bagged spinach last year).

So the bottom line is that if manufacturers hope to build a brand that people remember, then the branding is best built from those qualities that consumers are looking for. And once a brand is established, then the brand needs to vigilantly demonstrate that the qualities associated with it are true.

Hmmm ... isn't this the very lesson we recently learned in the soup war between Campbell and General Mills? They both concluded that the back of the can has become more important than the front of the can. And, in a classic case of how brands are shaped by what companies say about their competition, Campbell learned it's never a good idea to throw stones at MSG-laced soups if consumers might discover that the pot was calling the kettle black.


Tuesday, October 21

Astroturfing: Las Vegas Police Protective Association

In one of the most fierce and costly state senate races in the history of Nevada, dishonesty has reached epic proportions as The Las Vegas Police Protective Agency (LVPPA) risks losing all credibility as an endorser.

In the LVPPA's latest mailing to discredit Sen. Bob Beers, the association calls the state senator's law enforcement endorsement false, even though it is undeniably true. Sen. Bob Beers posted a copy of the endorsement letter from the Peace Officers Research Association of Nevada (PORAN) on his Web site.

It's not the first erroneous attack by the LVPPA, but it does demonstrate why one local retired police sergeant, David A. Freeman, was prompted to write a letter:

"During my 30 years with the Las Vegas Protective Police Association, I can't remember a time when they ever polled members and asked for their opinions; most decisions were made by a select few who never sought the approval or disapproval from the men and women who guard and defend our communities," he said.

Given that fact, it seems to me that this might be a good time for rank and file officers to review the charter. When organizational leaders resort to mailing blatantly false accusations, they do more to damage the credibility of the people they serve than anyone else. But that tends to be the way it is with short-term smear campaigns and emboldened rhetoric: Any short-term gains tend to have long-term consequences.

The same holds true in the national races. I've seen several bloggers jump the shark this election cycle, never appreciating that their short-term fervor for one candidate or another could have long-term consequences in how people perceive them. And from a communication standpoint, that is always something to think about.


Monday, October 20

Blogging Right: Bloggers Unite

About six months ago, BlogCatalog members, together with Amnesty International USA and Copywrite, Ink., asked bloggers from around the world to Blog for Human Rights. On May 15, they did.

Although BlogCatalog has been the epicenter for several such events, no one expected what happened next. By 6 a.m., CNN had tracked 1.2 million blog posts ranging from heartfelt posts about Darfur to Myanmar. And then?

If you read some critics, it lost momentum.

I suppose you could make the case if you read a recent report from a United Nations official that 40,000 more civilians have been displaced in Darfur. Or perhaps, you might conclude it indirectly touched a team of Brazilian footballers who are now playing in charity matches to raise funds for the cyclone victims in Myanmar, which left 138,000 people dead or missing.

Or maybe it's simpler than all that. Maybe people who never thought about Amnesty International USA before thought about it on May 15. Or maybe the additional coverage from CNN gave people who never think about human rights their first thought about human rights.

Or maybe, for some, these thoughts turned into actions with some joining Amnesty International, some raising money for places like Darfur and Myanmar, and some simply being impacted by stories from around the Web.

If you read some participants, it was just a beginning.

First Place — Montessori Students and the Amman Imman Project

Second Place — I My Me by Id it is

Third Place — Identity Check by Anok

Seven more blogs that made an impact: Nardeeisms; Lord I Want To Be Whole; DrowseyMonkey; One Cool Site: WordPress Bogging Tips; Clio and Me; Pedestrian Observer GB; Blog De Lengua Espanola.

Or maybe one good day deserves another.

Shortly after Bloggers Unite exposed human rights to millions of people and inspired thousands into action, Refugees United contacted BlogCatalog and set a date for a related cause with a very specific mission. Refugees United provides refugees with an anonymous forum to reconnect with missing family members anywhere in the world. As a new service on the Internet, no one knows anything about this organization. You can learn more here.

Bloggers Unite For Refugees on Nov. 10

On Nov. 10, thousands of bloggers will join together again. This time to make a tangible difference by writing about the plight of people like the 40,000 new refugees in Darfur, the thousands still struggling in Myanmar, or several million you can find almost anywhere in the world. Some might even write about the thousands of people who remain displaced in Houston, Texas.

The choice is yours. The impact is permanent. The outcome is measurable, just not in the way we might expect.


Friday, October 17

Allowing Anonymous: Communicators Divided

Ragan recently released the results of a poll that asked a series of questions regarding anonymous comments. More than 1,000 communicators responded.

Highlights: How Organizations View Anonymous Comments

• 46 percent of their organizations do not allow anonymous comments.
• 46 percent of their organizations do not allow comments of any kind.
• 14 percent of their organizations do allow anonymous comments.

Highlights: How Communicators See Anonymous Comments

• 37 percent were undecided whether anonymous comments should be allowed.
• 31 percent said anonymous comments on blogs and article should not be allowed.
• 32 percent believe anon anonymous comments on blogs and articles should be allowed.

“Our company does not appreciate feedback of any kind from employees, not even on a person-to-person basis. Management is averse to following anything to be made publicly available without executive review.” — Anonymous

How Companies Might Come To Cope With Anonymous Comments

Social media — blogs, forums, Internets — is not a cookie cutter operation, internally or externally. And the decision to allow or disallow anonymous comments might be made with that in mind. Take a look around the Internet and you'll see a great variety of conclusions on the subject to guide you.

This blog, for example, allows anonymous comments. The only comments that are ever deleted are spam ads. We made this decision because we wanted a place where people could engage in open, candid discussions about communication.

However, I also believe that there are only two ways that anonymous posters demonstrate credibility: the quality of the comment, which means whether the post provides insights over insults. And, how or if we respond to the comment.

Why Companies Might Consider Moderated Comments

We manage several other blogs that are much more heavily moderated. The National Business Community Blog is not well-suited for unmoderated comments.

It only has one purpose: to share stories about companies that do good. Every now and again, one example or best practice comes from a company with known dissenters and we become privileged to receive a deluge of negative comments about it.

None of these comments are ever published because we feel strongly that it distracts from our intent. Every now and again, people like to visit a blog void of discussion or drama. We do read the comments though, and on one occasion removed the post.

Why Companies Might Consider No Comments At All

The intent is myopic, like using a blog to publish new releases, white papers, and feature stories about the company. Many social media experts disagree with me on this point, but my feeling is that the long tail of social media need not wag the company dog. If a company doesn't want to benefit from any dialogue from employees, customers, and any other stakeholders, then there is no need for us to force them to.

The only other reason I can think of is that the company representatives, whether a CEO or communicator, are not well skilled in dealing with the occasional criticism, call out, or attack. It takes a balanced hand to respond, which is important to consider since most crisis communication situations have very little to do with what happens and everything to do with how we respond.

What I Teach Students About Being Anonymous

There is no black or white and yes or no answer. Each company, hopefully with input from their communication team, can make the right choice.

However, and I cannot stress this enough, I do advise communicators and public relations professionals to never make anonymous comments or, if they do, they need to be prepared to answer for such posts in a world where no communication is really private. Not anymore.


Thursday, October 16

Advertising Negatives: From Soup To Nuts

Almost every editorial on the final debate between U.S. Sen. Barack Obama and U.S. Sen. John McCain leads the same way. It only took 20 minutes before both candidates forgot about the issues and shifted toward political campaign ads.

They were kidding, right?

No, no, I suppose not. While the last reason I would elect a president is based on the prowess of their television production teams, most political talk seems to be all about the ads.

Some are even arguing over which side has more negative advertisements than the other. The University of Wisconsin Advertising Project says Obama airs the larger percentage of negative ads. The Nation says that is not true and McCain ads are much more negative. Has everyone forgotten grade school?

When Billy lies about Sally twice and Sally lies about Billy once … Ms. Clark made them both clean erasers after class.

So let's talk soup.

When it comes to negative advertising, there is no clear winner in another brand battle taking place across America. There are only losers.

For several weeks, Campbell and General Mills have been in engaged in an ongoing soup battle. Cambpell launched the first attack ad in The New York Times, claiming General Mills' Progresso soups are made with MSG. They are. General Mills fired back, saying some Campbell soups have MSG. They do.

So Campbell counted all of its soups to conclude that 124 soups have no MSG.

"The pot can't be calling the kettle black if it has the same problem itself," Laura Ries, president of Ries & Ries, told Brandweek.

So let's talk nuts.

One would think that after noted author Geoff Livingston wrote that astroturf comes in a variety of colors, including blue, someone might get the hint. Not so with Allison Copening and crew. They are dead set to stay the course with a $1 million smear campaign against State Senator Bob Beers — a campaign that almost everyone calls pathetic.

Their solution? Allison Copening's backers, who admit that the negative advertising has backfired because some residents "have stopped opening election mail” are now moving their lies onto television. Some estimate they will spend up to $500,000 on television, splitting the figure between attacking State Sen. Bob Beers and State Sen. Joe Heck, who is another elected official targeted this campaign cycle.

Given the size of the media market in Las Vegas, the television buy is equivalent to tossing a glass of water into a swimming pool and hoping to splash a few people. If it does splash some people, one can only hope that those splashed will know that most messages move beyond distortion and are of the plain old-fashioned lie variety.

As it turns out, it would not be the first time Copening has played a PR spin game. She was once a marketing director at PurchasePro, a company charged with stock fraud. She also worked as a public relations specialist for a homebuilder when it dealt with rat infestations and home fire sales that left new residents with mortgages higher than their assessed value.

She claimed that the rats were part of the allure of the desert. She rebuffed reporters when the homebuilder cut home values by simply saying they were too busy with other things.

Ironically, she claims it is Sen. Bob Beers who makes up stories. For his part, Sen. Beers has remained focused on campaign issues. In one case, he criticized a third party mailer that attacked his opponent's math skills and called them below a fourth grade level. As it turns out, he is not the only one tired of campaign ads that deviate from the truth.

Several states away in Minnesota, U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman recently said his campaign would halt negative advertising in a race recently dominated by it. "I want folks to vote for me, and not against the other folks," he said.

Wednesday, October 15

Discussing Poverty: Blog Action Day

There were blue tickets and there were red tickets.

Blue tickets for the kids whose families could afford a 30-cent lunch. Red for those who could not.

My ticket was red. And as red ticket holders, usually kids with large patches on secondhand pants, we lined up last as if a class system somehow existed within our public schools. Maybe it did. After lunch, most of us red ticket holders were ushered off to portable classrooms dubbed the "barracks." Education sometimes seemed optional.

Don't get me wrong. I was never afraid of missing a meal or going hungry. My grandparents, survivors of The Great Depression, were poor but understood priorities. Education and values, they said, are two things you can keep with you for life.

They were right. Even being enrolled one year at the Holy Redeemer Christian Academy in Milwaukee lasted a lifetime. It did for several reasons, but mostly because it removed the labels that had begun to become the ties that bind.

Today is Blog Action Day and thousands of bloggers from around the world are taking part to raise awareness about poverty. Blog Action Day, much like BloggersUnite, does a lot of good because it helps you stop and think.

Almost 40 million Americans are living in poverty.

Of course, thinking about it is not always enough. After that, the opportunity to turn words into action is up to you.

Since 1991, Copywrite, Ink. has donated time and resources to more than 60 nonprofit organizations with the hope of empowering people to help others by giving them a hand up. So, as a communicator, I could probably give you about a hundred different reasons for businesses to support their communities. But not today.

Suffice to say I believe that the children we help rise above poverty today will eventually grow to up to be the people who help others rise above poverty tomorrow. At least, I like to think so.


Tuesday, October 14

Campaigning For A Weak Economy: $100 Million

Kearsarge Global Advisors (KGA), a government affairs and communications firm based in Washington D.C., calculates that nearly $100 million has been spent in negative messages about the economy.

To put that number into perspective, it is the same amount Ford spent marketing the 2008 Chevy Malibu, Microsoft spent marketing Windows 2000, and Gillette spent marketing the MACH3 razor. And, of course, none of these products had the benefit of daily earned media and a few million blogs.

"As businesses and government seek to build confidence in the markets, they should also consider the direct affect these ads are having on people throughout the country," said Jim Courtovich, managing partner of KGA. "The trend in spending on these negative messages has no end in sight and could be a continued drag on confidence in the markets."

This isn't to say that current economic challenges aren't real, but it does acknowledge how negative messaging can exacerbate problems. According to the release, KGA says the bulk of these negative messages (51 percent) came from presidential candidates. The balance came from congressional and state races. Why?

Simple. Most people don't want change when the cheese tastes good.

Monday, October 13

Editing: One Class At A Time

"Is it me or does there seem to be an epidemic of illiteracy and/or carelessness in campaign materials this cycle? Candidates who don't know the basic rules of grammar or spelling are legion." — Jon Ralston, Las Vegas Sun

No, Jon, it is not you.

While I cannot preach from the pulpit of good grammar without admitting an error or two or three on this blog or in the comments section where they occur too frequently (especially since the comments section does not have a post edit feature), there is an epidemic of bad writing and it's not limited to campaign materials. In the haste to communicate, candidates and companies are laying waste to the written word.

Newspapers are not exempt either. I don't know any reporters or columnists who profess perfect writing. Not anymore.

It seems all of us are so hardwired to mentally correct mistakes as we read, doubly so if we only proof on the screen. The net result is that more and more errors go missed in everything from government signs to the simplest letters. What I've also noticed occurring with more frequency is the propensity for other people to make additional errors while correcting the author's original errors, sometimes at a rate of three errors for every two corrections. And then, add to all that a whole lot of people who think they know.

Editing And Proofreading Your Work — 9 a.m. to noon, Oct. 18

One of the topics I spend some time on in my half-day Editing And Proofreading Your Work class at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas is undoing the damage that other instructors have laid before me. Amazingly, at least 75 percent of the students (many working professionals) who take the class profess to be above average when it comes to good writing, editing, and proofreading.

It generally takes two exercises to undo this idea that they know. The first is to provide them an in-class editing exercise that usually results in startled expressions when they self-correct the assignment. After five years, I have yet to have a single student catch every error, and that assumes they don't correct what doesn't need to be.

The second is reading fifteen sentences with two word choices, and asking them to make the appropriate choice. Here are five:

1. Damage/Damages from the hurricane totaled more than $1 billion.
2. This is the photographer who/whom I had seen earlier.
3. The family emigrated/immigrated from Russia in 1995.
4. Neither the reporter nor the editor were/was pleased with the article when it was written.
5. The publisher's praise of my article was entirely pretense/pretext.

The last time I read this list, the class was overwhelmingly wrong. Not a single student could profess to have all fifteen right nor did the class ever overwhelmingly support a single correct word choice. Not once.

So that is what I do twice a year. For three hours, I try to help 15 to 20 students improve clarity, consistency, and correct usage. Does it work? Sometimes. But even then, only at the pace of one class at a time.


Friday, October 10

Pushing Vendetta: When Past Clients Go Bad

Yesterday, I received an e-mail from one of our clients with a rather cryptic lead. And, as it turned out, it wouldn’t be the last e-mail I received from other concerned parties.

“I think she got it wrong about which company decided to change.”

Scrolling down, it became all too clear what she was referring to. One of our accounts, an image consultant we resigned several months ago (before sending her to collection), had decided to use an e-mail blast and blog to paint an inaccurate picture.

“… After reconciling for a short period, we decided to go ahead and divorce. On top of that, the company I was using to edit my posts and I decided that our working relationship was no longer working,” wrote the image consultant, making the case that, perhaps, she let us go.

In most cases, I wouldn’t have given it a second thought (just like I didn’t give it a second thought several months ago when she posted it). Except this time, she sent the blog link to a compilation of e-mails from a speaking engagement that our company had arranged for her just prior to resigning the account. In other words, the audience just happened to consist of colleagues and clients. Ho hum.

What I Wish Everyone Would Take Away From Social Media

A few days prior, Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Al Gibes shared what some of my students at the University of Las Vegas, Nevada might take away from my half-day social media class. (You never really know until you see the post commentary.) An excerpt:

"It's not an opportunity to create 'spin,' but rather authentic information. Be real about your communication," [Becker] said. "We're bombarded with so many messages per day that every message has to count. If you don't manage your message, your message will manage you."

Of all the lines and slides, the one above is precisely what I hope students and professionals take away form what I teach. And, it seems to me, such a shame that the image consultant never did. She would have been better off moving forward instead of looking back.

At the same time, I suppose it raises an interesting lesson for future social media consultants who may one day face a former client who decides to use the tool you taught them against you. What can you do?

A Few Tips For Social Media Pros When Past Clients Go Bad

1. Privately address any concerns that exsting clients who brought it your attention and thank them for doing so. Beyond correcting any inaccuracies, do not use that communication to attack back. It’s not worth it.

2. Privately notify the offending party that you are aware of the inaccuracy, providing them an opportunity to correct the error. If there will be additional consequences, outline what those consequences might be.

3. Consider the audience that is receiving the erroneous information, with the knowledge that most people who spin tend to communicate their own ignorance more than they communicate anything about you. Generally, it’s not worth expanding the audience.

4. If the offending party makes the matter more public (our former client resent the e-mail, without any correction, after being notified), then consider your options including whether or not the incident is a foreshadow of a crisis communication to come. (Fortunately, my example is not.)

5. In some cases, a well-thought out response in the comment of a post might be enough. If comments are moderated on that blog, you can always discuss it on your own after conducting the appropriate assessment.

6. Be prepared. On the off chance that the past client aims to escalate the drama, the general principles of crisis communication may apply. In the end, you always have to have faith that truth has a tendency to win.

For additional insight, consider a few past posts, here and here. Hopefully the takeaway from those will be that social media, especially when it is used for professional communication, is no place to seek out a personal vendetta.

As for the example I shared: since any concerns from those on the list were immediately quelled when the consultant resent the e-mail, I’m inclined to forgive it. After all, we cannot control what people say about us, we can only manage what we say about others and ourselves.


Thursday, October 9

Helping Bloggers: PicApp

McCain And Palin Hold Campaign Rally In Pennsylvania
Given one of the most common challenges for bloggers is fresh photography, PicApp seems to be the right online service at the right time. It allows bloggers to access some striking stock and editorial photos from places like Getty and Corbis at no cost.

The search engine is fast (with your choice of creative or editorial searches), the terms fair, and you need never worry about copyright violations again. One setback for some bloggers might be the inability to alter the photos (check the comments for additional problems), but PicApp otherwise allows for sizing. Members can choose from three sizes and set alignment.

“We wanted to help bloggers by giving them the ability to legally use some of the best stock photography out there," Etay Geller, CEO PicApp, told me at BlogWorldExpo. “The companies whose photos we use were interested because it discourages copyright violations and provides advertising revenue [at no cost to the blogger].”

In other words, it might be a win-win.

I used a PicApp photo to illustrate. Since Sarah Palin continues to be a hot topic in the news, a simple search on PicApp pulled several dozen recent photos of Palin, some of which have been used by editorial teams at the local and national newspapers. Then, I added the javascript into the post. Done. (And then, not so done. See the comments.)

Additional Photography Options For Bloggers

Original Photography. While original photography is always best, most of us don't have every shot under the sun nor the time to go out and get it.
Professional Stock Photography. Some of us, especially anyone working in advertising, tend to amass a private library of files and discs over the course of several years. Storage is sometimes an issue, but it works.
Member Generated Sites. Sites like iStockphoto have done a great job at making stock photography accessible for frequent use. There is a cost, but it's nominal compared to owning the disc.
Flickr. Since usage terms are clearly identified, thanks to a partnership with Creative Commons, finding photos on Flickr is easy. Just keep in mind, some folks might not own the rights to what they upload.
Google. It's possible, but a little more time-consuming, to find photos in the public domain on Google and other search engines. Just remember that unless fair use applies, those photos need to be clearly identified in the public domain.
Fair Use. Section 107 of copyright law contains a list of the various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered “fair,” such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. (For example, fair use may allow you to screenshot our Web site and critique it. But you cannot reproduce elements of it and use it for unrelated purposes.) You can learn more about Fair Use here.


Wednesday, October 8

Taking Photos: Brazilian Tourism Portal

While not all U.S. companies understand social media as a viable communication tool to reach American consumers, other countries seem to be on the front end of understanding it well enough. The Brazilian Tourist Board, EMBRATUR, is offering Americans who travel to Brazil the chance to participate in an essay and photo contest.

Entries will be accepted through November 21 and judged by Peter Guttman, a photographer, writer, and author who traveled on assignment to more than 200 countries. He recently returned from assignment in the Brazilian Amazon.

“The wondrous scenes and memories a photo can record -- especially when traveling -- inspire others to try similar adventures and seek out marvels of the planet," says Guttman. “Travelers with just a handful of pictures can collect memories and amazing stories.”

Despite economic worries in the United States, Brazil experienced a 9.6 percent increase in American tourism last year. And, according to the Office of Travel and Tourism Industries, American visitations to South America is still up 5.7 percent, a growth rate that is on pace with the Caribbean for the first time.

While the photo contest Web site interface is notably clunky, the concept still represents a step in the right direction. Most Americans might be passive about creating their own blogs, but an increasing number of them are very interested in participating on platforms managed by someone else.

So what might we do differently? We'd move the consumer marketing concept to the next step by running a photo blog that highlights one photo pick per day. It would give entrants a chance to check the status of their photos and Brazil enthusiasts a reason to return, over and over again.

The top entry will receive an all-expenses-paid return trip for two to Brazil.


Tuesday, October 7

Pushing Print Down: Gloomy Headlines

The Newspaper Association of America (NNA) says newspaper advertising is going to drop another 11 percent this year. Even more troublesome is that the NNA isn't so bullish on online ad revenue growth for newspapers this year, which it sees as low as 1.8 percent. Maybe next year will better, the report says.

Part of the challenge goes beyond the migration pains of moving print to an increasingly digital world. The recession is slowing down local media markets. According to American Express' Open Small Business Monitor as reported by AdvertisingAge, concerns about cash flow have risen since and capital-investment plans are among the lowest since the study first began. Just under half of small-business owners plan to cut back or delay marketing expenditures.

Such cutbacks go much further than impacting newspapers. Local radio and television stations are feeling the pinch. And, along with them, so are the agencies paid to produce the work. Public relations doesn't seem to be exempt, but the idea it owns social media is tenuous at best.

Now everyone wants a piece of any space showing the slightest signs of growth. But trying to crowd ten "social media experts" in a boat built for two seems pretty risky, especially if the pitch sounds even more snake oil than every other Tuesday.

So who will fare well in the communication industry? Like always, companies with diversified interests and relatively few cash cows tend to fare better. Local retail is still very strong and necessary services (like plumbing and electrical) are outpacing others. It's also the reason that some agencies are, so far, content to offer messages of strength.

Why? It's not rocket science. When economic times seem tough, you tend to want to work with those who seem largely unaffected.

You know what I mean? It's hard to buy a newspaper ad when everyone seems to think their money is best spent elsewhere and the industry's decline shows few signs of flattening any time soon. I don't think that's a good thing, but it will not change until newspapers stop forecasting their own demise.

Monday, October 6

Picking Targets: Max Gladwell On PR

“The PR firm pitches your story to their friends in the media, which includes so much schmoozing and schwagging. You get stories written about your company or product, also known as “hits,” which raises your profile. Except that this has never actually been 'public' relations.” — Max Gladwell

Gladwell hits the target in a post that points out blogger relations and media relations need to be handled differently. Too many public relations firms are attempting to apply the weakest media relations 'tactics' to blogger relations, claiming that the same methods will hold true: that massive e-mail lists, non-news social media releases, and "relationships" are more than enough to grab up earned social media. Enough so that some are asking bloggers to place "pitch terms" on blogs, the exact opposite of what would be required to forge a relationship.

If you know a blogger, no public pitch terms are necessary. Right?

At first blush, the post perfectly reminds public relations professionals about the pitfalls in their practice. But after doing well to define blogger relations and separate out media relations from public relations, it also adds to the confusion that has become too typical in the field. Among them: promoting some pretty painful myths like counting column inches and proclaiming that those hits have an advertising equivalent (hopefully more than the retainer, they say).

But alas, not all column inches are created equal. Are they?

Column inch counts are quite possibly the single biggest contributor to massive e-mail lists, blind pitches, non-news releases, and the idea that "relationships" have become overemphasized in the game to grab up earned media. All of these 'tactics' lend well to capture space, but the quality of the space and the ability to move people to action remain elusive.

There is a cultural attraction here in Las Vegas that claimed to have several million in earned media (column inches). Yet for all that publicity, it still remains well off the Las Vegas visitor "must see" list, is largely ignored by locals, and its number one speaking point remains the public price tag — $250 million in a state with a budget crisis. Effective?

Done correctly, public relations tends to be a bit more involved. So, I'd suggest turning to Bill Sledzik's non-definitions instead.

Sledzik, an associate professor in the School of Journalism & Mass Communication at Kent State University, shared a few definitions from the past. And, he followed them up with what public relations is not.

As for social media, the concept that it's consumer relations as a counterpart of customer service doesn't hold true. In fact, I have yet to see a suitable definition of social media as a communication tool, probably because the publics are just as varied online as they are offline.

Friday, October 3

Walking For Arthritis: Arthritis Walk 2008

My daughter is only two years old, but she wants to walk for arthritis on Saturday, Oct. 25 in support of the Southern Nevada Arthritis Foundation.

How do I know she does?

You’d never know to look at her, but she is one of the 46 million Americans living with arthritis, the nation's leading cause of disability. She has juvenile rheumatoid arthritis in both ankles and one hand, a bitter reminder that underneath her firecracker smile she’s always had to fight a little harder. There are no free rides.

What’s worse for us is that Nevada is only one of nine states in the U.S. that doesn’t have a pediatric rheumatologist. In lieu of seeing the specialist she needs to, we take her to a clinic that specializes in children with cancer. One of the doctors there flies in from Calif. four days a month.

We’re just grateful she was diagnosed. The quick care doctor who initially saw her rejected the obvious: the first ankle had swelled to twice the size of the other. He thought it was a hip infection. (The misdiagnosis might have been worse had some legislators not fought for tort reform.)

Tort reform in Nevada.

A few years ago, Nevada was facing a very real medical crisis. Doctors and nurses were being squeezed out of state as the cost of malpractice insurance continued to rise and health insurance companies added more hurdles than help. (Health care premiums for families here have increased 54.6 percent in the last seven years.)

State Sen. Bob Beers led the fight for tort reform in the state of Nevada and continues to fight for doctors and nurses, which is one of several reasons that the Nevada State Medical Association, the Clark County Medical Society, and Southern Nevada Medical Industry Coalition endorsed him.

It’s very sobering when you can make personal connections between your life and state government. For the three plus months we lived in Summerlin Hospital NICU, rarely did a day go by when I didn’t wonder what might have happened had the doctors and nurses who saved my daughter’s life moved on to greener, more doctor friendly states.

She won’t walk alone.

Two years later, add my daughter to the list of his endorsements.

Sen. Bob Beers told us yesterday he would take a few hours off the campaign trail to help her raise money for arthritis. In fact, since his father also suffers from arthritis, he asked that we set up my daughter’s page under the Team Beers banner. His campaign will be jumpstarting my family’s modest $5,000 fundraising goal with the first $1,000.

For more information about the walk, visit the 2008 Arthritis Walk schedule. And if you’d like to help us reach our goal, you can find the Team Beers page here.


Thursday, October 2

Engaging Fans: Why The NHL Needs Social Media

If there was ever a sport that could benefit from increased social media exposure, it could be hockey.

Sure, the National Hockey League (NHL) has made some striking improvements to its online offerings. The Web site has made marked progress in personalizing the connections to fans, and it’s already seeing momentum with a $15 million advertising campaign being managed by Young & Rubicam.

So why more social media?

While the emphasis about social media tends to be focused on exposure, customer engagement — direct player to fan engagement in this case — is less talked about but easily the strongest counterpart to online communication. For some companies, especially those with limited customer contact points, some social media tactics increase customer contact without being as intrusive as “customer care calls” with additional plus sell incentives.

The concept is not new. One of the best findings in the original Gallup study demonstrated constant contact increased consumer loyalty.

Using the case study of the airline industry, five times the number of Southwest Airlines customers were fully engaged over United. Considering Southwest Airlines was only in the initial phases of developing a viable social media component, it’s very likely they have widened the gap.

For the National Hockey League, it almost seems too easy. Team correspondents augmented by perspective posts from players could add a real element to the sport as it strives for its comeback. The more fans feel they know a player, the more likely they will never miss a game in person, online, or on television.

Hockey might even be one of the best suited sports for it. My partner, who is an avid autograph collector, frequently mentions that NHL players are among the most accessible of any sport. Online engagement would only deepen that relationship among more fans.

On a smaller scale, it works for busy consultants and professionals too. For example, almost every accountant I’ve ever worked with has mentioned there is never enough time in the peak season to develop relationships with clients, and not enough good reasons to contact their customers the rest of the year.

It makes you wonder what would happen if accountants invested time online, providing customers tax tips all year long rather than offering postscript conversations because it’s already time to file.

The same might hold true for hockey. After all, the number one reason for many people to attend sporting events is because they already know someone on the ice. Besides all that, who wouldn't want to read a quick Tweet from the penalty box?


Wednesday, October 1

Answering Questions: Are Teachers Too Old To Know?

Q: What does a digital native, born close to 1990, need to learn from a digital immigrant who graduated before the IBM PC was launched in the UK, and who wrote magazine articles back in the 1980s about how businesses were adopting a new communications device, the fax machine. — Valrossie

A:The capacity for a person to learn, dream, and achieve is not defined or limited by his or her history but rather enhanced by it, provided he or she does not have the propensity to limit themselves by history, regardless of age, birthright, or any other measure.

That understood, the digital immigrant has become experienced by living with rapidly increasing changes in their environment, and is hopefully wiser in understanding which tenets of something like strategic communication might survive under such remarkable pressures. Whereas the digital native may never have the benefit of knowing those tenets nor are they assured to demonstrate their own wherewithal to continuously adopt to the numerous changes ahead of them.

I was part of a strategic communication think tank a few years back. The discussion revolved around the need to address communication issues related to the Blackberry. The solution, some said, was to devise an entire working study around Blackberry text messaging. Net, net, I said, by the time you are finished with your study, the entire world will have changed and the Blackberry as we know it today will be on the verge of extinction under the weight of another emerging technology.

I didn't know it then, but that would be the iPhone.

Better to devise a study on adapting to rapid technological advancements in communication, I offered.

By the way, I know you weren't talking about me specifically in the question left on the previous post, but I would like to point something out anyway. I'm not so old ... just old enough to remember gumballs. ;)


Tuesday, September 30

Teaching Social Media: A Near Dead Deck

Social media is one of those subjects where the life span of a single deck is three months if you're lucky. So, I'm retiring the deck I've used (and updated several times) at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Since it was never intended for slideshare with 62 slides serving as the back drop of a 3-hour open conversation-driven class, I've had to break it up in several smaller parts to share it there. You can find all four here or read the content description each part:

Social Media For Communication Strategy, Part 1 (20 slides)

The first 20 slides provide an overview of social media mass, with an emphasis on the fact that more than 90 percent of adults are online and there is virtually no demographic difference between online people and offline people. Nowadays, there are only people, many of which are passively engaged in social media whether they know it or not.

Social Media For Communication Strategy, Part 2 (8 slides)

The next eight slides emphasize how the adoption of social media among businesses is accelerating in every industry; how convergence is playing an important role in driving increased Internet usage; how print continues to be impacted by the Internet; and a quick comparison of an Internet footprint left by a static Web site and consistently updated blog.

Social Media For Communication Strategy, Part 3 (18 slides)

The next set touches on analytics, with an emphasis that analytics are useful but not the end all in tracking or determining success in business. For businesses, intent remains the most defining factor in determining ROI. These slides also include some very basic blog orientation content and general theory about citizen journalism.

Social Media For Communication Strategy, Part 4 (16 slides)

For businesses, I generally propose they employ their intent specific blog as their home base before moving into social networks. The last batch plainly provides a social network overview, with an emphasis on the idea that people move through social networks much like they move through various physical social spaces in their daily lives — from the home to the coffee house to their job, etc.

In many cases, I’ve back linked specific slides to source material on this blog and elsewhere (if it was not already linked in an originating post). It might provide some additional insight into the verbal portion of my presentations.

Sure, this might be a little more nuts and bolts than my usual posts. But there are a few people out there that might appreciate a peek into social media beyond the bubble and from the ground. Enjoy.

Next year, I might even make it more slideshare friendly.


Monday, September 29

Writing Wrongs: Haste Makes Waste

Deanna Wright seems to be one of the most recent candidates wounded by the double-edged sword that seems to accompany politics and the Internet. While Web sites and blogs can provide a competitive edge, they can also cut away at credibility if they’re not managed properly.

Last week, the Las Vegas Review-Journal skipped past Wright’s positions and went right for the prose, citing that she wants to play an “active roll in the future of education.” And while the leading daily might not have given the mistake a second thought, it was one of a dozen errors.

It’s bad enough that Wright is running for the Clark County School Board, but to make matters worse, she blamed the mistakes on haste and a bad spell checker.

Blaming spell checkers is a poor excuse, mostly because there is no such thing as a “good” spell checker. More concerning is how the errors are handled.

Anyone who writes with frequency on a blog will find a few errors sometimes slip through the cracks. Most of us correct them as soon as they’re spotted. But what stood out to me about this story is that she said she knew about the problems on her site, but hadn’t had time to correct them.

Ironically, this is precisely what is wrong with our school district. There are too many known problems that no one seems to have time to fix.

But more to the point, the easy accessibility of the Internet and the ability to quickly share information is changing the electoral process in that voters have a real opportunity to learn about various issues from each candidate in almost every race. It also takes a brave candidate to share ideas on blogs, knowing that critics are likely to hang on every word much more than any supporters.

Candidates might keep in mind that while the Internet is a great opportunity, bad writing can kill even the best ideas. Slow down and appreciate that there is something to be said for the idiom “haste makes waste.”

It always takes longer to undo the damage caused by careless errors than it does to make those errors in the first place. Ask anyone.


Wednesday, September 24

Paying $1 Million: Pepsi Banks On Consumers

According to the Wall Street Journal, PepsiCo will be awarding $1 million if anyone can create a Doritos Super Bowl commercial that beats out all other Super Bowl ads based on viewer rankings.

"We've always believed our fans have the talent and passion to compete at the highest level, and we are putting $1 million on the table to demonstrate our confidence and also help our winner fulfill their own destiny," said Ann Mukherjee, group vice president of marketing for Doritos. "Whether it goes toward funding a short film, opening an ad agency or anything in between, we're empowering them with an unmatched stage to compete on and a motivation to make it happen."

Winning the $1 million will not be easy. After consumer-creators submit their entry, it will be up to fans to vote online for five finalists (including the one advertisement that will air during Super Bowl XLIII). All finalists will receive $25,000 and a trip to Tampa Bay, Florida, to attend Super Bowl XLIII.

Additional details for the "Crash The Super Bowl" contest are posted on the Doritos interactive Web site. The contest represents an increasing trend among companies to engage consumers by asking them to create original advertising and marketing.

Related thought: For the all these efforts to turn consumers into brand ambassadors, one wonders why there is ever any debate on employees becoming brand ambassadors too.


Tuesday, September 23

Communicating Change: Where Utterz Went Utterli Wrong

"The initial reaction to the name change is mixed. People don't generally like change, unless things are going really poorly. As a company and community, we've never been better, so I've expected push back on the identity change." — Aaron Burcell

It’s almost cliché to say that change is never easy, especially during an election year when change seems to be the synonymous mantra of every candidate and politician in the running. However, for the multi-media presence application Utterli, formerly Utterz, change — the recent identity change, not necessarily its new interface — is suffering more than push back. It’s a disaster.

Never mind the comments that keep popping up online; consider that any time I mentioned the Utterz identity change at BlogWorld, every communicator and blogger I spoke with rolled their eyes and expressed a complete dismissal of the idea.

Some even wondered who was paid to push that idea through, speculating that such an identity change would carry a mighty price tag. Others suggested it would take months or even years to undo the powerful brand they had established with Bessie, the lovable cow. A couple said they never heard of Utterz anyway.

In fairness to Utterz, while the name change might have been a surprise to most members, it was leaked the same time it started rubbing Aaron Burcell’s head for luck and made him CMO. The leak, however, never made it beyond the whisper stages. And that’s too bad. If it had, I don’t think they would face so much “push back” as they call it today.

How Utterz Could Have Better Communicated Change

• Utterz could have released its interface change without the identity change, ensuring the new features would have been the story. It would have also captured its audience’s attention, providing a better venue to suggest the identity change might be in the near future, opening dialogue.

• Utterz could have remembered that it would need to be responsive to the identity change. For all the claims they expected “push back,” the post communication comes across as dismissive. The “we’ve grown up” message is weak and distances the company from its community because maybe its customers don’t want to grow up.

• Before committing to the change, Utterz could have promoted the idea of a name change, providing a forum for feedback, allowing people who feel vested in the service an opportunity to share their questions, comments, and concerns.

• Open communication is critical during change, but most Utterz members seem to feel that there was no communication by the company until after the fact. The change has left them feeling that any feedback is futile.

• Utterz, like so many Web 2.0 companies, need to consider the length of the change initiative. Communicating change is actually very easy, provided a company can extend the change cycle and adjust during adoption. Steady will always win the race.

• Too many online companies rely exclusively on their blogs to communicate change. Considering how many companies employ push marketing at the wrong time, not enough use it at the right time. When communicating change, one communication vehicle, such as a blog post after the fact, is not enough.

Successfully communicating change, especially when it impacts an identity that customers feel vested in and a part of, requires a controlled pace and deep engagement. For all the praise Utterli has received on being responsive with the interface, it’s always buried under the name change that exemplifies the opposite.

For Utterz, communicating an identity change would have played better after the service changed, especially if it would have been rolled out in several phases.

1. Announcing that an identity change was being considered and clear reasons why the change was being considered.

2. Collecting community feedback on the name change.

3. Announcing decisions based on that feedback, such as keeping a significant portion of name as the brand.

4. Providing some sneak peeks to the spontaneous stakeholders that become interested in the process, which would certainly include the most vocal critics of any change.

5. Finalizing the identity change and revealing it from the inside out — employees, hard stakeholders, community stakeholders, the entire community, and then outside interests such as the media.

Instead, now they are playing catch up. As they do, it seems more likely the name change had less to do about this and more to do with the fact that Utterli, formerly Utterz, wants to be acquired.


Friday, September 19

Communicating Disparity: Reuters On Wall Street

There is an interesting communication insight that emerges after reading Reuters collection of public opinions on the recent market drop.

Wall Street workers said:
• People are in misery. You can see it, you can feel it.
• It's at the level of 1929, I'm sure.
• It's mind-blowing. There is no place to hide.

Non-Wall Street workers said:
• Look at this -- it's jam-packed with people and they don't look too stressed.
• If the market dropped 25 percent like it did in '87, I'd be worried, but a 400 point drop isn't that much.
• Today, anyway, the money that the Fed put into the markets seems to have straightened things out.

Communication can be decidedly different depending on vantage point. It's something to keep in mind when deciding whether to run with a campaign based on insider or outsider perspectives. Here's an idea: stick to the truth and manage from a point of authenticity, never minding what either group says. It's your message as long as you manage it.


Thursday, September 18

Uttering New Identity: Utterli

Utterz is dead. Long live Utterli.

Mashable called it an impression of Prince. And another member, Jason, who is bullish on the cross-posting service, says he’s utterly confused. Jason doesn’t seem to be alone. Confused is what most people seem to be.

According to their blog, Utterz has “outgrown” its identity, but Mashable offered a more plausible explanation. After conducting some market research, they learned that many people, especially females, did not like the name Utterz.

That might make sense to folks like Sheryl Altschuler, president of A-Strategies Marketing Consultants, who subscribes to the idea that the “the customer is in control from here on out …

This is also one of several places where I depart from the construct that the “customer is in control” of the identity and the brand. In fact, this thinking might be precisely the reason that Utterli has taken some people aback. What customers are they talking about? By some accounts, including their own, Utterli seems to be relying on input from some people who aren’t customers at all. And, the identity change is barely half and half.

They killed Bessie, but insist members can still “utter” and can continue to use meaningful references to “utterers” and “utts.” They put up the new logo, but any marketing and instructional videos will have to change; it will be a long time before all the directories and databases can be updated; and the new name will forever remind people of what it once was, perhaps using it when feeling sentimental much like they did after trying New Coke.

(I don’t even want to talk about the mark, a generic identity that looks something like a cross between a lemon-lime soda logo and a Partridge Family partridge, other than to say it's utterly unmemorable compared to the cow that pops up all over Flickr and elsewhere.)

Of course, even if everyone liked the new name, you have to wonder about the execution. Social media companies have a nasty tendency to spring change on their communities, which is the opposite of being responsive or responsible. Some customers, women included, are even wondering why they weren't asked and a few are considering a petition to change it back.

While it is too early to say in this case, the social media contract that proposes that the customers are in control, might have led Utterli, formally Utterz, astray. No, customers do not control the brand or the message. No one controls it.

“If you don’t manage the message, the message will manage you.”

Of course, none of this is to say that I don’t hope for their best outcome. I’ve met some of the folks behind Utterli, formally Utterz, and believe they were probably convinced it was the right thing to do. It's still a shame though. The name change keeps drowning out the more important message — they’ve enhanced some services.

Who did? Utterli, formally Utterz.


Wednesday, September 17

Communicating Politics: Has The Bar Dropped?

It’s a good thing I watched the John Adams miniseries this summer because I might otherwise believe it when many news outlets call the 2008 elections the dirtiest, ugliest, and meanest in history.

Somehow, for me, being reminded that Jefferson vilified his longtime friend and colleague Adams in 1800 or that Jefferson himself was later vilified by his political opponents, helps keep things in perspective. Joseph Ellis, in his book The Revolutionary Generation called this rivalry unequalled in terms of “shrill accusatory rhetoric, flamboyant displays of ideological intransigence, intense personal rivalries and hyperbolic claims of imminent catastrophe.”

Although, when you think about it, Ellis really could be writing about 2008, with the only notable difference being that many poorly executed ideas like Obama Waffles or the now debunked claims by the DailyKos that Sarah Palin faked her pregnancy are often beyond either campaign team’s control.

Much more manageable are the messages being put into play by both campaigns. Obama’s claim that McCain votes 88 percent of the time with President Bush is disingenuous at best, given that the reality is Obama and McCain voted together nearly as much. And, I’ve already commented on the McCain team’s silly Obama is like Paris Hilton comparison ad. Both were wrong. Both were ineffective. Both backfired.

The excuse? Everywhere I look, “they’ve” lowered the bar “first” seems to be the prevailing mantra. Yet, nothing could be further from reality. Somebody, eventually, has to be the better person and not expect voters to ferret out the truth on their own, just as I’ve been advising closer to home. As expected, the nasty national tactics have been spilling over into local and state races.

“The Nevada Democratic Party is showing an analogous moral bankruptcy in its effort to oust state Sens. Joe Heck and Bob Beers because it must believe the end — returning the upper house to the Democrats for the first time in 18 years — justifies the execrable means.” — Jon Ralston, Las Vegas Sun

Ralston is referring to a smear campaign being promoted by the Nevada State Democratic Party to help lift up their candidate who professes not to know who is behind the campaign (um, the same people financing her). yet, she is more than happy to benefit from it. You can find one example of the fictitious campaign claims on another local blogger’s site. You can find the truth here or here.

Since the campaign was launched, several communicators have asked me what do you do when the opposition intends to spend $1 million on a mountain of lies? Don’t you hit back?

Sometimes you want to, but that’s no answer. Reactionary communication is not very effective communication. So as much as the media loves to cover such conflict, there is only one remedy for political campaign lies, in my opinion. It requires more and more truth. And that is what Sen. Beers is doing.

Now, only if national campaigners would learn, because they have set the bar lower and some local campaigners seem to have set the bar even lower than that. Enough so, that I’ve already told most of my friends that I’m not making any national election decisions until after the debates and asked some not to subscribe to or promote sound bites from either side until it can be verified as fact.

Otherwise, we risk making liars of ourselves, even if it seems justified by the audacious notion that the sun will not rise on Nov. 5 if the other candidate is elected. On the contrary, the sun will rise.

The sun will rise on Nov. 5 just as it did on July 4, 1826, after two longtime adversaries realized that for all their wanted differences, the rest of the world perceived them to be largely the same. And “Thomas Jefferson survives.”


Tuesday, September 16

Blaming Sexes: Bad Research Habits

Researchers at the University of Toronto recently compared the stress levels and physical health problems of men and women working in one of three situations: for a lone male supervisor, a lone female supervisor, or for both a male and female supervisor. The report concluded:

• Women working for female bosses reported more psychological distress and physical symptoms than women working for a male boss.
• Women reporting to a mixed-gender pair reported more symptoms than their peers who worked for a single male boss.
• Men who worked for a single supervisor, regardless of the supervisor's gender, had similar levels of distress.
• Men who worked for a mixed-gender pair had fewer symptoms than those working for a lone male supervisor.

My speculation differs. It seems to me that psychological distress and physical symptoms are more likely caused by poor coping skills; ineffective management and leadership skills; or choice of research.

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