Thursday, November 13

Playing With Puppets: Coppola And Scion


Scion, created by Toyota to target Generation Y consumers, is about to enter into a living case study that may help answer the question: is Internet buzz enough? The answer is all but predetermined.

While Adrian Si, interactive manager for Scion, told AdvertisingAge that Roman Coppola’s kung-fu-fighting puppets will "resonate with our audience and stay true to the culture of the brand," it’s much more likely the guerrilla marketing-only campaign will be exactly what it sounds like — the “fist of oblivion.” Emphasis on “oblivion.”

As much as brand entertainment might be a boon in the future, Scion has an uphill battle. Its sales are down almost 40 percent in October, compared to the 32 percent plummet across the entire industry. It’s difficult to think that kung-fu puppets, devoid of any value proposition, can change that trend.

It also demonstrates one of the money pitfalls associated with Internet marketing, advertainment, and social media as Scion seems to be promoting a show instead of its product. (I thought we already learned that lesson with Bud.tv, but it seems more people want to learn the hard way.)

The Scion Challenge

According to the article, Jesse Toprak, executive director of industry analysis for Edmunds.com, empty-niche syndrome is the biggest problem. He told AdAge the “fundamental issue facing Scion is that it is perceived as a niche brand, not a household name." While he is partly right, he's also wrong.

The fundamental problem with Scion is that it is devoid of promoting its unique selling point (even though it has several) and something much worse. Toyota dealerships are reluctant to back the brand.

I know because I was commissioned on a work on a Toyota dealership when Scion was first coming onto the scene in 2003. After presenting an 80-20 budget split, the dealership owner developed a twitch.

“We’re a Toyota dealership,” he told us. “Why on earth would we want to dilute our local marketing budget with another brand, especially one without national brand backing? No, no, if they [consumers] happen to come in looking for one, we’ll sell them one ... but only if we can't covert them to a Toyota.”

Never mind that it was our job to introduce Scion to the local market, much like we introduced the Convertible Beetle and Touareg for Volkswagen. Looking back, I personally thought the local campaign budget needed to be flipped, at least on the front end introduction.

Saturating the local market with Scion advertising would have broken through while the national Toyota campaigns could have taken care of that brand. It wasn't all that different from the model we employed for Volkswagen: push the Convertible Beetle and Touareg because Jetta and Passat buyers were already coming in to buy.

Then again, why bother with logic when you can present kung-fu puppets by Coppola? Why bother when you can force consumers to sit through one full minute introduction only to discover that the puppets don’t even drive Scions? They drive motorcycles.

Add it all up and this campaign may generate a little bit of buzz about the advertainment series and perhaps the overproduced Web site that is a little harder to navigate and sports the same droning car descriptions that you can find from any dealer on the planet. But sell a car? Um, we'll see.

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Wednesday, November 12

Applying Twitter: How It Works For Business


Twitter — an online presence application that has been called anything and everything from microblog and social network to the ultimate time waster — describes itself a "real-time short messaging service that works over multiple networks and devices." The latter is about right.

Of course, I've also likened this presence application to non-linear chat (in that you can respond to people in real-time or several hours after the fact) across multiple networks. It's not the perfect definition. But as Web producer Eric Berlin, frames it up better: "the 'best thing' about twitter is that there are a lot of best things, remarkably flexible service."

Is it so flexible that it translates into a business communication tactic?

Hmmm ... it depends. It can, because it already does. But if you simply use it to as a tool to inflate the illusion of popularity as Guy Kawasaki of all people recently advised, you'll likely end up spinning your wheels and wasting your time. (Pretend to have relationships with people you don't know? Come on Guy ... that suggestion truly flies in the face of operating with authenticity).

Aaron Uhrmacher does a much better job keeping it real. Twitter can be applied as a tactic to the communication strategy of a business, 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 for real time reporting, there seems to be six prevailing external communication approaches.

1. Individual Participation. The most common participation is simple enough: an individual from an organization, but not necessarily representing the organization, happens to participate on Twitter. People like Geoff Livingston, Ike Pigott, Bill Sledzik, Christy Season, myself, and many others, would all fall into this category. If there is any business benefit, it's accidental and ancillary to another intent. For businesses, it's always smart to have some semblance of a social media policy when employees are engaged online.

2. Representative Participation. The second most common participation is similar to the first: an individual from an organization, who is present and primarily represents the organization. Allan Sabo, Shashi Bellamkonda, Ann Handley, David Meerman Scott, and Robert Scoble might fall into this category. While some participate just like individuals, they also represent their companies or themselves as authors and consultants. For businesses beyond the individual professional or personality, representatives are best chosen much like spokespeople — with extreme care.

3. Group Participation. While there are many examples, Zappos, Forrester, and Cisco have all established a company hub with several representative participants, each with their own voice. For some businesses, it seems to work. However, organizations that employ group participation (many employee accounts) need to remember that it only works when the tactic is backed by a strong internal communication plan. Without one, the company could dilute its message or even contradict its position.

4. Brand Characters. Not all characters are always representative of the organization, but some are, like Ms. Green. Others have been assumed by loosely related sites like Captain Picard and, perhaps, Mia Cross. While it might be an entertaining way to establish presence, it's hard to imagine someone developing a real relationship with a fictional character or every company developing a fictional spokesperson to represent the organization.

5. Brand Presence. The media was one of the first to adopt a push communication model on Twitter, with The New York Times and CNN being among the first. Primarily, news organizations feed headlines and breaking news, sometimes with links, which does add value for people who want an easy way to track the news. Some organizations do it too, including Woot, Engadget, and the Los Angeles Fire Department.

While the model dispels the myth that all social media is about a conversation, brand presence works well enough, provided the organization is large enough to have its own following (or maybe open to internal communication made public).

6. Brand Participation. Other companies and organizations attempt to blend representative participation and brand presence like Jet Blue, Q1Labs, GM, and Starbucks. While it works, it's also kind of weird. The basic concept is that the company brand is monitored by any number of faceless online team members who push communication and engage the community.

Weirder, some social media "experts" praise companies for the practice because it proves to them that companies take Twitter seriously despite the fact that these same "experts" denounce the concept daily with theoretical rhetoric that everyone needs to be genuine online. (I'm not speaking against the brand participation idea. I'm just pointing out one of the growing number of irritating inconsistencies among some "experts.")

So what it the bottom line for business on Twitter?

Like all social media tools, it's best to put the communication strategy before the tactics. Assuming a social media tool like Twitter has some value to the business, organizations are best served when they balance their objectives with an ability to lend valuable insights or information to conversations that are already taking place on that service. A real estate agent or broker with inside industry or market knowledge, for example, fits the bill.

In most cases however, it starts with an individual or company blog and then expands to include any number of social networks where the people they want to reach already participate. For example, Twitter participants drink Starbucks coffee so it makes sense for Starbucks to be there. While my communication colleagues sometimes cringe when I mention business objectives and outcomes, there has to be some tactical measure or the company will simply be investing time and money that is best spent elsewhere like within the communities they operate. Seriously, a shotgun "join every social network" approach will fail.

Here are some other voices on the subject of Twitter for business. Just be careful not to drink not the "Kool-Aid," or "Cool-Aid" as I like to call it.

Twitter With A Testimonial From 37 Signals
Twitter: The Next Small Thing for Business?
11 Reasons To Use Twitter For Business

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Tuesday, November 11

Understanding ROI: U.S. Vets


While many social media experts and communicators tend to think "sales" anytime someone mentions return on investment (ROI), serving as a state commissioner for Nevada Volunteers (formerly Nevada Commission for National & Community Service, Inc.), provides a different perspective. Return on investment doesn't always mean profit margins; it means outcomes.

U.S. Vets On Veterans Day

U.S. Vets, one of several AmeriCorps-supported programs administered by this commission in Nevada, provides safe, sober, clinically supported housing and employment assistance to help rehabilitate homeless veterans. Here in Nevada, U.S. Vets helps more than 750 veterans transition from being homeless to self-sufficient every year.

They accomplish this by initiating contact with homeless veterans; providing a needs assessment; relocating them to transitionary housing, offering legal services, life skills, family support, job training, and full-time employment. I've spoken with and interviewed many graduates of the U.S. Vets over the last six years I've served as a commissioner.

From Nevada's perspective, every dollar the state invests is matched with the equivalent of about $10 in federal funding, one of the highest returns on investment for any non-profit organization in the state. Amazingly, although it would be enough, U.S. Vets is not the only AmeriCorps program to benefit.

Outcomes from various programs include: the reforestation and the reduction of fire hazards across hundreds of acres near rural communities, educational assistance to hundreds of at-risk students who increased their proficiency by two grade levels, and delivering thousands of residents medical case management and badly needed food. There's more, but the point is significant. ROI is about outcomes.

ROI is about a plumber who visited my home a few years ago. As he was passing back and forth from his van to my sink, he noticed President Bush on television and smiled.

"I know a lot of people who don't like him, but I do because he supports AmeriCorps," he said. "Without AmeriCorps, I would still be homeless, but now I have a full-time job and am graduating to move into my own apartment next week."

As you might expect, we talked for some time as he shared how he came to be homeless and how U.S. Vets helped him restart his life. I shared with him how AmeriCorps occasionally becomes a political football, but how it's also one of the most efficient bipartisan programs in the country. Originally, AmeriCorps was brought into existence by President Bill Clinton and later saved by President Bush through his Call To Service (and now highlighted on President-Elect Obama's transitional Web site. Why? Because of individual success stories just like this.

My Son On Veterans Day

His story also reminds me of something else today. The people who serve as AmeriCorps volunteers all over our country are inspiring Americans because they demonstrate how Americans do not have to be "forced to be generous" as I heard one politician recently claim. On the contrary, they only need to be engaged.

Today, my son became engaged after learning about the Adopt A Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine program organized by Soldiers' Angels. For the next six months, he will write a serviceman or servicewoman stationed abroad, sending a card or letter each week and care packages once or twice a month. It might not seem like much, but it's an important self-chosen step for a 9-year-old to take in developing what may one day become a legacy of service, inspired by our veterans and servicemen and women. And that too is ROI.

For our veterans, thank you and bless you.

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Monday, November 10

Communicating Need: Bloggers Unite For Refugees


In Iraq, it’s people like 29-year-old television producer Alaa, who covered the trial of Saddam Hussein and was then forced to flee his country and escape to Stockholm, Sweden. He is one of the more fortunate. More than 2 million Iraqis have left Iraq since 2003 and more than 1.6 million are still displaced in their own country with fears that the United States will pull out too soon.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, it’s the tens of thousands of men, women, and children, some 50,000 of which were even forced to flee refugee camps before they were leveled. Almost none of them has basic needs like food, clean water, or blankets.

In Thailand and Laos, it’s Hmong and Laotian refugees who fled and hid from the government of Laos, which had previously captured them, sent them to jail, or sometimes killed them. Some still struggle after more than 20 years, even if they themselves survived.

All over the world, it’s the estimated 40 million who are not only living without a home, but without a country — many of whom live with the fear of persecution because of race, religion, nationality, or political opinion.

“They beat me every time I made a mistake. They beat me with their hands and feet. They beat me with metal bars …” said Awng Seng, who ran away from the military in Myanmar and became a slave in Thailand. “They would throw pieces of chain at me ... there would be blood all over.”

And others — unlike Seng or Alaa or Lopez Lomong (a refugee who went on to make the U.S. Olympic team) — are people without homes, voices, or even hope. Their stories will never be told.

Bloggers Unite For Refugees: The Butterfly Effect

Almost every time Bloggers Unite encourages bloggers to take action and blog for good based upon input from 150,000 BlogCatalog members around the world, some people surface to question the validity of such calls for action — asking what good it does to ask people to post. Inevitably, a few even take it further and suggest that when people write about a cause, somehow that it endows bloggers with a false sense of making a contribution where more direct and tangible contributions are needed.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Awareness is always the first step toward change; the second is acceptance and the third is action. And often times, what starts as a simple post has an effect that eventually touches hundreds, thousands, or millions of lives in ways that can never be counted or imagined. But even if it only touches one, who are we to dismiss the impact?

“Who helps a cause they have never heard about?” asks Antony Berkman, president of BlogCatalog.com. “The measure isn’t about the length of a post or even the number of posts … it's in the ability to reach people who have never considered the subjects that bloggers want to write about. I say let them.”

Berkman is right. No single person can be asked to save the world any more than one person at a time. And as long as some cause marketers continue to communicate tasks that are devoid of choice, overcomplicated in execution, or seemingly uphill or impossible, they leave the people they touch not inspired but feeling defeated in that they can never give enough.

On the contrary, throughout history, it has always been when individuals move against the majority of complicity that action takes hold. We saw it last year in America when the Senate passed the Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act, a crucial first step in addressing the needs of millions of Iraqi refugees. We saw it earlier this year when Bloggers Unite and Amnesty International brought attention and inspired action across several Human Rights issues.

And, we see it now from those who write letters to the Prime Minister of Malaysia, asking him to assist the more than 70,000 refugees from Myanmar. Or, perhaps, we can see it now by making a small donation to Refugees International, which is currently focused on the DR Congo. Or perhaps, we can see it today as more than 12,000 bloggers (and counting) make the individual choice to lend their voice and bring awareness to the plight of refugees.

It is in these ways that individual volunteer awareness and action makes a difference. The alternative is silence. Does it work? It works, even if it only works one person at a time.

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Friday, November 7

Forgetting Image: Reputation Beats Rock Star


When Don King first decided to tease his hair up to make a crown fitting for his infectious smile, booming laugh, and inimitable vocabulary, he quickly became globally recognizable as a universal boxing promoter. But while his flamboyant style is the stuff of legend, he never forgot that he came from a hardcore Cleveland ghetto nor did he mistake his larger-than-life-image for anything other than a recognizable badge that symbolized his personal brand and reputation.

"Nothing makes me happier than to promote a fight card with boxers from 10 different countries: the fighters, the corner men, the media, the business people-all of them," says King. "The thrill comes when these people, who would never normally come into contact with one another, work together on an event. They learn that no matter what color, race, religion or whatever you are, underneath the skin we are all the same on the inside."

It's a lesson that can be easily applied to social media participants. Somewhere along the way, some so-called social media elite seem to be forgetting that it takes more than a flash-in-the-pan rock star image to establish a reputation. And those who covet these sometimes larger-than-life online images wonder how they too might establish a network of fans and followers.

There are no fans or followers. There are only people.

When I first heard Geoff Livingston decided to take on personal branding, I thought we might disagree because personal branding can be important.

However, in reading his post, it quickly became all too clear that while our definitions are different — as I view personal branding as the relationship between the person and other people — we're on the same page about image promotion. The role of the communicator is not about building ego-based images that eclipse the companies and clients they work for.

Social media consultants rely on personal brands,” Livingston writes. "Communicators rely on building value between organizations and their stakeholders.”

I'll go a step further. Consultants who rely on personal image promotion over organization value propositions drive wedges between the organization and stakeholders to such a degree that the organization risks considerable long-term damage despite any short-term gains. Rock star images and other personalities aren't establishing a relationship between organizations and stakeholders; they only establish relationships between the organization's stakeholders and themselves.

Twitter adds to the confusion of people vs. business presence.

During and after yesterday's webinar and the IABC/Las Vegas post discussion, I learned more from the participants than they learned from me as is often the case. Enough so that the material covered deserves its own post next week, but I would be remiss not to mention one point as it relates to this topic.

There seems to be considerable misinterpretation being made when people learn about applying social media, especially presence applications such as Twitter. It isn't what either Aaron Uhrmacher presented during the session and what I discussed with participants in Las Vegas after the webinar or what social media experts tell their clients every day. Rather, it stems from the simple observation that social media lessons are easy to misinterpret.

When session participants hear that the number of followers adds value to Twitter, some translate that into pursuing followers. While the statement is true, the translation is not. In fact, it is such translations that reinforce the notion that there is a "Twitter strategy" with the goal being to get to the top of some list, which reinforces the need to be a rock star.

Yet, when the objective of social media merely becomes presence inflation, it distracts from any communication objective.

Such translation issues are not exclusive to social media. The same misinterpretation occurs in public relations when public relations professionals tell clients that all press is good; therefore the objective becomes pursing press and the measure becomes column inches. It is not true in public relations nor is it true in social media. The measure is not how much press or social media presence can be earned, but rather how capable the company is in communicating a message that reinforces its strategic objectives through various distribution channels such as the press or engagement channels such as social media.

The measure is not how many followers it takes to be an "influencer" but rather the consistent quality of content and the relationships established based upon those conversations that result in real engagement. For example, when Ryan Anderson lost his wallet in Las Vegas, we didn't just have a conversation about it. We did something about it. And, when he learned that we were raising money for the Arthritis Foundation, he did something about it.

All the followers in the world could not provide a more suitable solution. Hmmm ... still don't get it? Although he was talking about being charitable, you could swap out "a truly charitable gesture" for "strategic communication" from the king of image promotion and it might just drive the point home. That's right. Say what you will about Don King but he gets it.

"If you do something just to get noticed, then it is not a truly charitable gesture." — Don King

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Thursday, November 6

Blending Post Structures: AIDA Additives

Especially for business blogs, modeling posts after an inverted pyramid-structured news story or news release works well enough. The structure is especially useful for search engines and social networks that tend to preview the first few lines of content.

However, there are other structuring methods that writers can blend into their blog posts, including AIDA (or ADICA that I learned years ago) employed by marketers and some copywriters. AIDA is the acronym for Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action — attract their attention, raise their interest with benefits, convince them that they will benefit, and then lead them toward an action.

The benefit over the inverted pyramid (a triangle with its base at the top), with the most substantial information up front and diminishing importance toward the bottom, is that the AIDA model can help punch up the post so the information doesn't become as dry as some boilerplate releases.

Simply put, most blog posts have to work a lot harder than news releases. They have to be authentic. They have to be interesting. And sometimes they have to be entertaining. Boilerplate pyramids don't always convey that in their presentation. And since most bloggers prefer their posts be read in entirety, AIDA helps drive the readers to the end rather than allowing them to stop at any point (like news stories do).

AIDA has plenty of variations. As I mentioned earlier, I was taught the ADICA structure, which simply adds "Commitment" to the equation. Recently, some folks have suggested S be added to the end to convey "Satisfaction" (but I don't really buy that). And even more recently, others have suggested we start over with CAB or Cognition (awareness or learning), Affect (feeling, interest, or desire) and Behavior (action). The latter, if you ask me, is an attempt to repackage the original.

But if you like CAB over AIDA, try that sometime instead (as long as you know how I feel about rules).

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Wednesday, November 5

Losing Truth: When Astroturf Wins


While the nation celebrates the victory of President-elect Barack Obama, Nevada is already lamenting the unintended consequences that came with his victory. Two respected state senators, one of which I worked with this cycle, lost their seats to campaigns best described by the only paper to endorse those who benefited.

“Don’t look to Allison Copening, who defeated Beers, or Shirley Breeden, who defeated Heck, to become a driving force during the next legislative session. The candidates relied on outside expenditures that hammered the incumbent with negative ads, a national Democratic wave, and ducking debates and tough questions,” wrote Cy Ryan with the Las Vegas Sun. “Now, they’ll have to navigate the politics of Carson City. And their positions on the issues, from renewable energy to higher taxes, will be on the record.”

The surrogate smear campaigns against Beers and Heck, which exceeded the early estimates of $1 million against both to be closer to $1 million against each for races that usually require around $100,000 to run a substantive campaign, included lies about their records, their characters, and their professions.

Specifically against Beers, the mailers and television advertisements eventually claimed a fictitious ethics charge and accused him of “making up” a law enforcement endorsement that he had. In one of the television commercials, they included a four-frame fraction-of-a-second image of a gun pointing to his head. The owners of that advertisement said they stood by it.

Where was the media? For the most part, the newspapers were there. The more conservative Las Vegas Review-Journal, the more liberal Las Vegas Sun, and the liberal alternative Las Vegas CityLife all vetted the false claims, damned the smear campaigns, protested the refusals to debate, and demonstrated direct ties from the candidates to the surrogate attacks. The latter of the three papers ultimately joined the more conservative first to endorse Beers.

Yet, with print circulations declining and mostly unanswered anonymous comments attached to those articles online, the weight of independent or even biased journalism is waning; something that needs to concern us all. Even when budget-crunched newspapers are not resorting to "he said, she said" reporting that masquerades as objectivity, fewer people are reading. Instead, they only rely on whatever can be burped out by black hat public relations professionals and political spinsters.

Ultimately, two well-funded Astroturf campaigns carried the day in both races, backed by Obama-led straight-ticket voter turnout and diminished Republican turnout that left even Richard McArthur, candidate for the more conservative Assembly District 4, vulnerable for most of the evening against an opponent who did not campaign at all. McArthur won by a small margin.

As for the state senate races, the losers are Nevadans. In Beers, they lost the only accountant in the state legislature, who even his adversaries agreed knew more about the state budget than anyone serving in the state senate and credited with being a champion for the underdogs, even if it meant going against his own party. In Heck, they lost a smart legislator, emergency room doctor, and U.S. Army Reserve colonel.

What is the cost? Considering, before the ink was even dry on the morning newspaper, some of the would be winners who promised no “new taxes at this time” are already saying they feel pressured to raise them, which reminds me of a fitting quote from American writer and economist Thomas Sowell:

“If you have been voting for politicians who promise to give you goodies at someone else's expense, then you have no right to complain when they take your money and give it to someone else, including themselves.” — Thomas Sowell

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Tuesday, November 4

Voting In America: What Matters


It matters less who you vote for than it does that you voted, responsibly. It matters less which party wins than you have chosen the best representative. It matters less what they have promised to do than what The United States Constitution promises they will not do.

“Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority; the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities (and the smallest minority on earth is the individual).” — Ayn Rand

Monday, November 3

Revealing Substance: Bad Communication


The quickest way to kill a good company is bad communication. And if the company is already struggling, you'll kill it twice as fast. Some recent comments on several posts reinforce the fact that spin only provides a short-term win, assuming it does at all.

Steorn

In August 2006, all the buzz was about an Ireland-based company called Steorn after it used an advertisement in The Economist to invite the world's scientists to test what basically amounted to the latest redesign of Tesla's Coil, which would lead us to the creation and production of free energy. Cool? Here is the latest news coverage about Steorn (or at least the last posted on its site). Otherwise, the concept only seems big on YouTube.

Royal Spring Water

Last March, I received a "special report" from Texas-based Royal Spring Water, under the auspices of American Water Stocks, that claimed two billion people will soon be in dire need of drinking water and that is why you should bank on a water stock with potential gains of 220 percent. Pink Sheets, an inter-dealer electronic quotation and trading system in the over-the-counter (OTC) securities market, recently posted a warning on the stock.

Rare Method

It's probably not fair to include this one with the other two, but after they demonstrated a public relations fumble (with the exception of Brian Clegg, who was amazingly sharp and has since moved on) over some mysterious numbers, I couldn't help notice that their financial communication is clear as mud. The current Rare Method "achieves record year" news header carries some questionable subtext: "We experienced a decline in revenues, gross income and EBITDA in Q4 2008 compared to Q4 2007 of 8.6%, 22% and 120%, respectively, as a result of reduced U.S. revenues from $1,076,888 to $596,627 due to postponed marketing programs as our U.S. clients monitor the economic crisis." They also "adjusted our staffing levels to control costs."

Please don't mistake the follow up as anything more than what it is. I'd love to read that Steorn solved the world's energy crisis, Royal Spring Water stocks soared, and Rare Method is to have a record year. But you know, it just isn't so.

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Saturday, November 1

Considering Audience: Speaking On Social Media


I frequently tell people that social media is not a cookie-cutter operation, but it doesn't always resonate without context.

Generally, each business and industry might consider any number of qualities — the strategic objectives of the company, intended publics, corporate culture, and available resources, among other things — to determine the best approach for their business. While this sometimes means the answer to the question "how should my company engage in social media?" becomes "it depends," it's the most genuine. Consider some upcoming speaking engagements:

IABC Las Vegas Chapter - Twitter For Business, Nov. 6

On Thursday, Nov. 6, the International Association of Business Communicators is hosting a webinar on applying Twitter for Business: The Power of Micro-blogging with Aaron Uhrmacher from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. (check the link for other time zones). Immediately following the webinar, I'll provide some human touch for IABC Las Vegas with a short question and answer session. The local chapter tie-in will be held at Imagine Marketing in Las Vegas. The event is open.

U.S. Small Business Administration SCORE - A Social Media Overview, Nov. 11

On Tuesday, Nov. 11 (Veteran's Day), I will be presenting a 20-30 minute overview of social media for the Southern Nevada Chapter of SCORE, which is made up of experienced counselors who provide free business counseling to small business owners who are either just starting out or are already in business. SCORE is a resource partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration. You can learn more about SCORE here. The meeting is closed (for counselors only).

G2E 2008, Social Networking: Implications for Casinos, Nov. 19

On Thursday, Nov. 19, I will be joining a panel featuring eCommerce/Digital Marketing consultant Joe Wall, JJWall Associates and Michael Corfman, president and CEO of Casino City for a session that aims to explain how gaming can "combine social media and viral marketing without losing control." The session will cover how to best utilize blogs, podcasts, and social networks. The session will be moderated by Craig Border, senior account executive for Marketing Results, Inc. (MRI). G2E is the largest gaming expo in the world. The expo is open.

Leadership Las Vegas - Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, Dec. 12

On Friday, Dec. 12, I will be joining a point-counterpoint panel discussion on Politics and Media: Sculpting Public Opinion for Leadership Las Vegas, which is an intensive, 10-month program devoted to strengthening and educating our community leaders. Leadership Las Vegas provides in-depth insights into a variety of issues impacting residents of Southern Nevada. This is the first time that a panel member will represent social media. Other panelists include: Bruce Spotleson, group publisher for Greenspun Media Group; Flo Rogers, general manager of KNPR Nevada Public Radio; and another member of the media, to be determined, representing television. The panel discussion will be closed (for program participants only).

Is there any possible way to present the same social media information to address varied topics for varied groups and truly provide them a baseline for things to come in their industry? I don't think it's possible. While I can define for them what the "conversation" means, I cannot rely on that as an independent theoretical message and have them leave with confidence.

Instead, much like we all tell early entrants in social media, we have to listen to the audience and adapt our message. In other words, the general idea that is preached — it's always better to pull a chain than to push one — applies to teaching social media as much as it does the application of social media.

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Friday, October 31

Eclipsing Nevada Day: Everything


Today is Nevada Day, but most Nevadans barely know it.

Nevada was the 36th state and admitted to the Union on Oct. 31, 1864, rushed in by President Abraham Lincoln during the American Civil War. It became a state only eight days prior to the presidential election to help ensure Lincoln's reelection on Nov. 8. The only real reminder for some citizens is the phrase "Battle Born," which resides above a single star on our state flag.

Although I'm a native of Wisconsin, my family relocated here after a major airlines moved my stepfather to help open its first route to Las Vegas in the late 1970s. Perhaps it was my Midwest sensibilities or maybe being raised a good part of my life by grandparents, but one little bit of culture shock that still remains with me is the apparent lack of attachment to the state by a large percentage of our population.

What Eclipses Nevada Day?

The most obvious is Halloween. It's even more prevalent today since the population exploded from 250,000 people in southern Nevada in 1980 to about 2 million today; most kids relate to having the day off in celebration of Halloween. (To be fair, northern Nevada has a much better sense of things).

The pitfalls of a democracy. In 1997, voters advised the 1999 legislature they wanted to celebrate Nevada Day on the "last" Friday in October beginning in 2000. However, the few mini celebrations in southern Nevada occur on Saturday. It's more confusing than ever.

The proximity to Election Day. Since Nevada is a battleground state for the presidential election, some celebrations might be trumped by get out the vote efforts.

Why Bother With Nevada Day?

According to Las Vegas Sun, state admission is no big deal to post about. They report Nevada is one of the few states to celebrate its entrance into the Union, and then simply direct people to celebrate by voting on Nov. 4. If that's true, maybe that's something that states could reconsider.

Every four years, voters take an interest in elections because of the one office that probably impacts them the least. This isn't to say voting for President isn't important, but rather a nod to the notion that we don't pay close enough attention to local or state races, where our votes directly impact our daily lives. It's also the reason that other than the occasional communication issue post, I'm mostly quiet about the national races.

You see, unless you are a pundit, personal branding and political posts don't mesh well, which is why I haven't shared too much on the state races in Nevada despite the fact that dishonest campaigning has reached historic proportions. Likewise, all I can say about national campaign messaging is that neither side deserves congratulations.

While the election is still a few days away, most people recognize that Sen. John McCain's campaign has consistently missed the communication mark, that the media has been overwhelmingly quiet on some issues (such as the unfair investigation of Samuel "Joe the Plumber" Wurzelbacher), and that Sen. Barack Obama was named Marketer of the Year.

However, winning Marketer of the Year is not necessarily a feather in the cap of the candidate, in my opinion. Sometimes he spins too much, including his joke the other day in an attempt to dismiss his previous comments on redistributing wealth.

"Y'know, I don't know when they decided they wanted to make a virtue out of selfishness," said Sen. Barack Obama. "Y'know, the next thing I know, they're gonna find evidence of my communistic tendencies because I shared my toys in kindergarten — cause I split my peanut butter and jelly sandwich with my friend in sixth grade."

No matter who you vote for in the upcoming election, framing up tax increases in this manner concerns me because wealth redistribution is not the same as a charitable contribution. When government "pre-collects" contributions, it denies people the opportunity to be selfless and distances them from the direct contributions they make to worthwhile causes every day.

In other words, if Sen. Obama really did split his peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a friend in sixth grade, it might be admirable. But if someone took three quarters of his sandwich, ate half of it, and then stole that selflessness by dividing the rest among three strangers, then all it accomplishes is leaving everyone, except the distributor, largely undernourished.

Yeah, it's Nevada Day. And for all the challenges our state faces, it reminds me why I'm glad we're part of the United States and not the United State or why there are still a few people in this republic who recognize that two foxes will vote to eat the one sheep in a democracy.

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Thursday, October 30

Avoiding Echoes: Beware The Bubble


"My idea is fabulous!"

"Your idea is fabulous!"

"He said her idea is fabulous!"

"She said he said her idea is fabulous!"

"See ... they all said my idea is fabulous!"


Yes, yes, but what if it's not? What if the idea isn't so fabulous as is often the case in politics, public relations, public perception, and social media?

After all, echo chambers sometimes promote the silliest of notions, especially when it starts from its central most people, without much thought to what is said or where those messages might go or how they might be interpreted. It's not just social media. It's everywhere.

The messages, both good and bad, bounce around from one "influencer" to another with no real consideration for the customer, client, intended audience, or outcome. However, some of them are heavily promoted with that sometimes unspoken/spoken rule to "always elevate our peers," as if the world really works according to Warren Buffett.

While sometimes it is easy to miss in the world of social media, we all know it exists. Anyone who has served on a professional or non-profit board can tell you that the world works differently when echo chambers take hold. It goes something like this:

The lead influencer proposes that the organization's luncheon (or whatever) be changed to breakfast, based on a successful case study conducted by another organization about 400 miles away. Once proposed, two or three enablers will quickly support the idea simply because of who proposed it.

Sometimes, there might be one lone dissenter; someone who suggests there is no evidence to support a breakfast will be better attended. The criticism is then quickly slapped down by another influencer, who suddenly and casually proclaims they will be the first to reserve a seat after the meeting, which prompts the remaining six board members to look up from their phones and hypnotically nod in agreement. Meeting adjourned.


Two weeks later, just days before the actual event, the organization learns the horrible truth. Only three people reserved seats: the speaker, the initial influencer, and the dissenter.

Sometimes it happens just like that. In fact, for all we know, echoes might have led Edelman to select 25 bloggers to debut Pepsi’s new can design. It makes sense because Edleman, like many social media experts, tends to overstate the role of influencers (probably because they are one). Yet, for all the limited buzz about the Pepsi identity change, it just doesn't strike me like the real thing.

Conversations have outcomes, but outcomes are not conversations.

Greg Ippolito recently wrote an article for Adweek about something similar. He called it "the psychology of sameness" among creative professionals who start to convince themselves to be part of the herd. The end result is a whole lot of non-thinking that he illustrated with this quick two quote story:

"OK," I started, "explain to me why our customers should go to their dealerships for service. Why would that be good for them?"

The AE stared at me with a deer-in-headlights look. "Bee-cause ... " she searched her brain for an answer, "our clients are looking to increase their parts and service revenue?"


Ho hum.

Look, I'm not saying that there is anything wrong with peer participation (assuming you save time for client industry-specific associations), but it never pays to operate exclusively in any industry bubble or you might get stuck in the rut.

And then, before you even know it, your desire to become a "thought leader" leads you to become a "cheer leader" for someone else who is only guessing at echoes too. That would be too bad. The best innovations occur outside the bubbles.

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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.

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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:

mathewingram.com/work
Valleywag
Pulse 2.0

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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.

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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 Beet.tv. "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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
 

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