Friday, November 21

Gaming Perception: Don't Mind The Masses


It wasn't long after TechCrunch reported that the Google SearchWiki would employ a "Digg-like voting feature to search results (which also changes the ranking) as well as user comments" that there was a need to clarify that the SearchWiki would allow members to customize search results when they are signed in to their Google accounts (like bookmarking) but that would not influence the greater search engine. Good.

“I much prefer the sharpest criticism of a single intelligent man to the thoughtless approval of the masses.” — Johannes Kepler

But what if it did? There seems to be plenty of people who would celebrate the day despite that the following month would come with a hangover. For all the celebration of groundswell, the masses are sometimes susceptible to becoming entranced by deliberately gamed popularity.

It's also becoming an increasingly contentious concern for companies applying social media to their communication plans. In an effort to be more responsive to customers, some may fall victim to following the advice of the so-called masses while actually following only a few who have the ability to mesmerize a majority.

"The broad masses of a population are more amenable to the appeal of rhetoric than to any other force.” — Adolf Hitler

Just prior to Apple announcing native applications to the iPhone, Web-based applications and games were all the rage. One of the first html-based multiple-player games, KingdomGame, was an immediate hit. It was fast, fun, and engaging enough that small pockets of forum-based communities began to evolve.

Today, the traffic has tapered off to a fraction of what it once was as the developer began infusing a few beta tester ideas — beta testers who were backed by their perceived popularity among the masses. By listening to them, the average play time has grown from five minutes per session to more than an hour, with the most engaged players signing in three, four, or more times a day. The actual majority, on the other hand, were either driven away by the diatribe of the few or quietly quit as the game became too time-intensive for the average iPhone user. In other words, the buzz did not support the outcome.

The phenomenon is not limited to games of chance and entertainment. Social media elite sometimes knowingly and sometimes unwittingly back the masses without so much as a second thought. For most, it makes sense. For some, they establish a "tribe" of followers who will help push some of the most preposterous ideas in exchange for a little attention from the most popular person they know.

It's not limited to the social media elite either. Many companies, from small startups to the Fortune 500, are running an increased risk of fooling themselves into listening to the echo chambers they create. They toss out ideas to their readership or extended networks, and those "tribes" almost overwhelmingly support the predetermined direction already established by a few within the company or the few who invest enough time in the network or group to hold sway over the rest. It's surprisingly easy to do.

“A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority.” — Henry David Thoreau

None of this is meant to discount the validity of social media, but only to remind companies engaging in social media that the pursuit of popularity and the outcomes of popularity will not always meet. Sure, there are valid benefits to social media when it is applied strategically, but diving right in without a plan or becoming too entangled in what the presumed masses might be saying can kill a company just like most hit-or-miss work-by-committee outcomes might produce.

Or, in other words, while the masses might be right sometimes, they can also be very wrong, especially when they are led by a few favored personalities. When you look at history, the masses are usually well-suited to expressing a need. But it still takes individuals who can innovate solutions and balance the needs of the many with the virtues of the few (and I don't mean those few who claim credibility has been redefined to mean the he or she with the biggest tribe).

Or, in other words, if Google ever did flip yet another switch and make voted search results public, which one day it might (because you know it can), we can all expect that the entire infrastructure of content will be gamed from the start, perhaps with one persistent 12-year-old stealing a Shakespeare sonnet to promote a personal haiku or, more seriously, a presidential candidate staffing hundreds to vote down an underfunded opponent. Heh. Don't drink the Kool-Aid.

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Thursday, November 20

Understanding Motrin: Without The Headache


The message on front page of Motrin has changed, but the original message speaks volumes. Motrin might have missed the mark on targeting moms, but they do understand crisis communication reasonably well and have made some effort to start making amends with some individuals direct.

"With regard to the recent Motrin advertisement, we have heard you. On behalf of McNeil Consumer Healthcare and all of us who work on the Motrin Brand, please accept our apology. ... We are in the process of removing this ad from all media."

The advertisement, if you did not see it, was a snarky play on the idea that moms who use baby carriers and slings are making a fashion statement that "totally makes me look like an official mom." The adverse response — that many moms, most writing on Twitter, were upset by the advertisement — was driven home when the first rebuttal YouTube video went up over the weekend. In sum, Motrin offended a large segment of moms who use baby carriers.

The Motrin Ad Reaction

Not everyone sees it that way. With just more than 1,000 votes in a USA Today blog, only 31 percent of the respondents said that the ad went too far. A few people, claiming to be moms, say they do wear their baby as a fashion statement. Steve Hall at AdRants speculated that America has lost its sense of humor. Dave Winer, who helped pioneer weblogs and was offended by Sarah Palin praising the patriotism of small towns, seemed offended by those offended, saying "Advice for the angry mob: Pick your battles. This is stupid."

On the other end of the spectrum, public relations professionals and communicators were all considering how Motrin might have avoided the crisis all together. Focus groups seem to be a popular choice. But as Frank Martin correctly points out, focus groups only deliver a "maybe."

Monitoring consumers was also a popular solution since it took some time before Motrin knew there was a real problem. Lisa Hoffman and Mack Collier made this case, though it didn't address how the problem could have been avoided. Even with monitoring, the ad was still a keg of gunpowder, playing and waiting for one or two or three voices to spark a social media explosion.

David Armano made some good observations too, including that Motrin's Web site was down for far too long while its communication team coordinated a response. The down time only fueled speculation that the site was either mobbed by traffic, presumably angry moms, or the company was "hiding" (neither was true).

The Reality of the Motrin Case Study.

While it might seem so on the surface, this case study is not at all similar to Mars Inc., Nike, Heinz, or Verizon, all of which were forced to react to varied activist groups that considered their advertisements offensive. On the contrary, Motrin missed the mark on the very target audience it was trying to reach.

In fact, the only thing that may have prevented the advertisement (which ad folks generally loved) from being produced would have been common sense. One person needed to ask the right question. That's right. No focus groups or consumer monitoring would have been needed if even just one person had asked the obvious.

Do these 'baby wearing' moms identify with it being a fashion statement or do they identify it with bonding to their babies?"

Imagine how one simple question may have changed the direction of the entire creative brief. As refreshingly snarky as many (especially ad guys and gals) thought the online ad really was, copywriters must always consider the audience first. If you cannot connect with them, you're dead and your is client too. It's about that simple and it has always been that simple.

"Our business is infested with idiots who try to impress by using pretentious jargon." — David Ogilvy

Sure, any of us who write copy for this ad and that ad, might come up with something funny to push around the office and chuckle about. But the fundamental objective of advertising is not to be self-congratulatory about our ability to amuse and bemuse our peers and spectators. The real work is about balancing the messages that stand out while connecting with the audience we are trying to reach. Usually, that doesn't include poking fun at the qualities the audience holds most dear, like baby bonding in this case.

So am I saying humor doesn't work? Sure it does. Check out the parody ad Ike Piggot found and posted in support of his idea for a Motrin's "spoof our goof" contest. Maybe that is what the doctor ordered. It relaxed me.

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Wednesday, November 19

Removing Customers: They Don't Want You

Ever since Blu-Ray started selling 100 units for every 98.71 units of HD-DVD last year, the writing was on the wall. There was going to be change. And for some, change for the sake of change would be painful.

Earlier this year, Netflix sent some consumers in a tail spin after announcing that it will carry high definition videos in the Blu-Ray format backed by Sony and others, but not in the HD-DVD standard once backed by Toshiba. Today, in what appears to be a licensing deal gone temporarily wrong as opposed to an answer to Microsoft's Xbox Live campaign, the Xbox 360 will not stream Sony Columbia Pictures Films. (Sony Pictures Entertainment movies are still available.) Sony Columbia Pictures Films doesn't want Xbox 360 customers.

Did you get all that? Netflix didn't want Toshiba customers. Now, Sony Columbia Pictures doesn't want Netflix customers, at least not those using an Xbox 360. And, long term, it seems doubtful Netflix will want Blu-Ray customers because the adoption rate is less than stellar.

Sure, Netflix remains vigilant in communicating that the company's current business strategy is still firmly rooted in DVD technology, but most weeks it communicates a growing number of streaming deals. However, when you compare a few choice quotes from Netflix, they don't add up:

"There are 100 million DVD players in U.S. households. If you really think people are going to stop renting DVDs, you need to lie down until that thought passes.” — Barry McCarthy, CFO, Netflix.

"As watching instantly becomes a more prominent part of the Netflix service, our goal is to have all of our streaming content licensed for all of our partner devices. We're doing well in this area, but it will take some time before we fully achieve that goal." — Steve Swasey, vice president of corporate communications, Netflix.

More and more, it seems electronic companies keep asking consumers to replace hardware at a dizzying pace just so they can replace all their media content once again (just in time for the next new hardware) or, perhaps long term, only allow them to borrow content from time to time for a monthly subscription price model that made cable companies profitable.

So what are they really saying? Your children's children won't know what a DVD is (or Blu-Ray for that matter) and they might not know what a book is either. While we keep aiming to make content more portable, the side effect might be that content becomes increasingly controlled and temporary. That will be painful. But as mentioned, change for the sake of change is always painful.

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Tuesday, November 18

Bucking The Conversation: Ted McConnell


"I have a reaction to that as a consumer advocate and an advertiser. What in heaven's name made you think you could monetize the real estate in which somebody is breaking up with their girlfriend?" — Ted McConnell

That's right. McConnell, general manager-interactive marketing and innovation at Procter & Gamble Co., is bucking the social media conversation, especially as it pertains to social networks like Facebook. According to AdAge, he doesn't want to invest in advertising dollars where people are trying to talk to someone, saying "we hijack their conversations, their own thoughts and feelings, and try to monetize it.”

He's mostly right. Companies that push and prod their way into personal spaces can be annoying (it became the death knell for AOL chat for those who remember), especially when the intent is to overtly or covertly steal them away to see a sales pitch.

Most don't mind the overt promoters so much (as long as they can be unfollowed on Twitter or assigned to junk mail). It's the covert operations, shrouded in idealism, that makes some people wonder.

Where McConnell might be right.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to read between the lines. More than one social media expert has caused a raised eyebrow after offering up a few runaway comments and quips.

"The critics don't pay my bills."

"By elevating my personal brand, more people will read my blog when I write about my client."

"I engage them in conversations with the hope they click on my signature, which takes them to my client."

"They probably won’t answer you, but that’s okay. All you want to do is appear like you have a relationship with them to enhance your credibility."

Keep in mind, these are the same folks who claim it's not about the money. They generally promote authenticity and transparency, state that their purpose is to shape social media for no other intent than to move their industry forward, and encourage that everyone should engage in social media just like they do.

Yet, if you read between the lines, you learn that the only reason critics (not trolls, mind you) are shunned is because they might hurt the bottom line. Whereas critical review tends to be more welcome in academics because the pursuit is about truth and knowledge over personal brand.

Or, you might learn some public relations professionals are pushing press releases as posts. Or, that online conversationalists really want you to buy a duck. Or, that someone's popularity was contrived from the very start.

This isn't the only area where McConnell may be right. He seems to be right that the infinitely thin targeting is creepy; limitless inventory will dampen publisher profits (until value finally beats reach, assuming it ever does); and that just because it moves, doesn't mean you have to monetize it. Don't misunderstand him. For all the criticisms, Procter & Gamble won't leave Facebook all together, because he does see value in social media. He just seems to see that the value is being applied to the wrong places.

Where McConnell might be wrong.

For all his good points, McConnell questions whether social media is media. Yet, it is a medium, even if it is different from other mediums.

Where he seems most mistaken is that it's not the participation that makes it media as much as it is the platform where that participation occurs. You also can't discount that tremendous number of voyeurs who treat the participation of others as their preferred consumption. And, in order to support these public platforms, someone has to make a nickel sooner or later (people generally accept this, especially when they have the choice of ad supported or premium ad-free services).

Besides, we've monetized almost everything anyway. Take a walk outside sometime and you can see it. People break up under billboards that line our horizon all the time. However, other than that small discrepancy, McConnell seems to touch on a subject that needs to be touched on. You see, while people might break up under billboards, those billboards don't generally shout down that they can help.

Online, they certainly seem to, especially when a marriage counselor, divorce attorney, fashion consultant, and dating service all become part of the break-up conversation between two people. Is that what people really want? I dunno. Maybe. Maybe not.

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Monday, November 17

Scripting Nonsense: CafePress


You won't find an explanation in a CafePress.com news release. You won't find one on its blog. You won't even find it in the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of blast e-mails it recently sent out to select members. But on Nov. 13, CafePress removed designs bearing likenessness of Martin Luther King, Jr. without any attempt to clearly communicate the circumstances whatsoever.

Never mind all the communication vehicles at its disposal, the only attempt to communicate was sending a pre-written generic marketing-laced "Content Usage Policy (CUP)" e-mail. That e-mail communicated nothing:

Dear Shopkeeper,

You can view all the images which have been pended by clicking on the following URL (or copying and pasting this URL into your browser): link

Images Pended: XXXXXXXX

Thank you for using CafePress.com!

As you may know, CafePress.com provides a service to a rich and vibrant community of international users. From time to time, we review the content in our shopkeepers accounts to confirm that the content being used in connection with the sale of products are in compliance with our policies, including our Content Usage Policy (CUP).

We recently learned that your CafePress.com account contains material which may not be in compliance with our policies. Specifically, designing, manufacturing, marketing and/or selling products that may infringe the rights of a third party, including, copyrights (e.g., an image of a television cartoon character), trademarks (e.g., the logo of a company), "rights in gross" (e.g., the exclusive right of the U.S. Olympic Committee to use the "Olympic Rings"), and rights of privacy and publicity (e.g., a photo of a celebrity) are prohibited.

Accordingly, we have set the content that we believe to be questionable to "pending status" which disables said content from being displayed in your shop or purchased by the public.

You may review the content set to pending status by logging into your CafePress.com account and clicking on the "Media Basket" link. The content set to pending status will be highlighted red.

Please visit our Content Usage Policy (CUP) for additional information regarding your use of the CafePress.com service. Once there, you may access our Copyright, Trademark & Intellectual Property Guidelines and FAQs for more detailed information regarding Intellectual Property Rights.

We apologize for any inconvenience that the removal of your content may have caused you. Please let us know if we can be of further assistance.

Sincerely,

Content Usage Associate


While it would be pretty easy to critique the e-mail point by point, it might be more effective to rewrite it. After all, even instructors sometimes surrender to the idea that guidance might not be enough. Sometimes being explicit is a must.

Dear Shopkeeper,

It has come to our attention that the usage of Dr. Martin Luther’s King Jr.’s likeness on mugs and T-shirts without the consent of his estate may constitute a violation of their right of publicity in Martin Luther King Jr. Center For Social Change v. American Heritage Products, 250 Ga. 135, 296 S.E.2d 697 (Ga. 1982). As a result, we are temporarily placing all merchandise with the image of Dr. King's likeness with a "pending status," which removes such content from being displayed in your shop or purchased by the public.

:::insert links to pending merchandise:::

We also appreciate that some shopkeepers may have already obtained permission for specific usage of Dr. King's likeness on such merchandise. If this is the case with your images, please respond to this message so we may reinstate such content as soon as possible.

If you would like to know more about how we are cooperating with The King Center to preserve the image of Dr. King, please visit our blog or press center. Thank you for your understanding and for continuing to use CafePress.com

Sincerely,

Content Usage Associate


Effective communication is clear, concise, accurate, human, and conspicuous. Had CafePress appreciated effective communication, shopkeepers who had permission (like myself) would have had their images reinstated by end of day.

Instead, CafePress only demonstrated an inability to respond appropriately to its customers and, perhaps, an increasingly common but incorrect interpretation of the DMCA. It might even be worth mentioning on an online radio show this Tuesday night.

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Saturday, November 15

Killing Communication: CafePress

In what can only be described as a panicked reaction to an Associated Press story (and perhaps a cease-and-desist letter), CafePress.com placed a hold on and/or removed all merchandise bearing the likeness of Martin Luther King, Jr.

The AP story, which appeared in hundreds of newspapers, reports how the family of Martin Luther King, Jr. is demanding proceeds from the sudden wave of T-shirts, posters and other merchandise depicting the civil rights leader alongside President-Elect Barack Obama (and not alongside Obama for that matter).

CafePress members weren't notified with such a specific reason. Instead, CafePress simply sent a message with its prewritten policy rhetoric: "We recently learned that your CafePress.com account contains material which may not be in compliance with our policies."

As this wasn't the first time I've had to provide expressed documented permission to CafePress over its "hold first, ask later" policy, I e-mailed a brief message back outlining how we have permission for the usage. Doing so usually generates a ticket code and assigns you a "content usage associate," who tends to be a bit more attentive than a form letter. Not today.

Your use of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s likeness may violate his right of publicity. As outlined in our Intellectual Property Rights FAQ's, the Right of Publicity clause makes it unlawful to use another's identity for commercial advantage without permission.

Except, our use of Dr. King's likeness was not employed without permission. Our use of his likeness was in cooperation with the Corporation for National & Community Service and the Points of Light Foundation for the Volunteer Center of Southern Nevada in celebration of the Martin Luther King, Jr. "Day of Service." Affiliated centers, such as the Volunteer Center of Southern Nevada, were granted rights to use the image as part of a public service campaign, which is posted here. Our company receives no commercial advantage and confined such usage to the "Day Of Service" image.

Thank you for contacting CafePress.com! I apologize but it is not in our power to restore your images and host them on our site at this time. The only way we can do so, is if you obtain an authorization for commercial resale from his family.

When a company ceases two-way communication with a customer, it's time to consider another company. So while we always appreciated better print quality on paper items, it might be time to consider alternatives prior to an upcoming facelift on an experimental blog and on-demand store.

I might be wrong, but I do not believe for one minute that The King Center meant to block an approved national public service campaign that endears a prolific civil rights leader to a people. And if I am wrong, I will reluctantly start finding another Republican to write about every January.

So how could CafePress have handled this crisis communication issue? More on Monday.

Friday, November 14

Entering Social Media: A Book Store Example


Demonstrating the general validity of social media is easy; applying it to small business is case specific.

After coming away from what became an hour-long presentation and discussion about social media with the Southern Nevada Chapter of SCORE, a resource partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration, I believe the above statement has never been more true. The buzz about social media is overshadowing its practicality as a viable communication tool. The remedy is a reminder that simple beats social.

What if an independent book store wanted to add social media to its marketing mix?

The existing mantra — find people who read/sell books online, listen to them, join their conversation, inflate your presence, and become an expert — falls short in terms of answering the most basic of questions … "to what end?" For small business, it's always better to consider social media especially as a communication tool that augments other marketing efforts rather than as a manifesto of magic beans. Using an independent book store as an example, here are ten basic considerations in adding social media, specifically a blog, to the communication mix.

1. Assess the business. On the front end, never mind listening to other people as social media experts recommend. Like any business, the book store needs to determine its value proposition, unique selling point, core message, or whatever else it might employ to help determine how it differentiates itself in the marketplace. While the message will evolve over time, all companies need to start somewhere.

2. Define the marketplace. Unless the book store is considering an overtly lofty goal to knock off Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powell's, or AbeBooks, the marketplace is not defined as the entire world. Most brick and mortar stores need to think about proximity — the radius surrounding any retail establishment. Not only are people who live in close proximity the most likely customers, they are also those people who are critical to achieving brand dominance, which is partly defined by a 90 percent awareness within the establishment's proximity.

3. Determine The Voice(s). Before starting a blog, the book store would need to identify and determine who the voice(s) will be. With the exception of basic communication and announcements, individual voices tend to work best. It could be the owner, manager, or any number of staff as guest posters. Just keep in mind that the voice(s) need to be chosen like any spokesperson — with extreme care.

4. Bring An Audience Online. Never mind looking for people online. Try looking and listening to the people who are already in your store! They are your customers and, very often, the best online promotion is done offline. Even in-store fliers tucked inside book bags as they leave might be all it takes to introduce them to the store's blog, providing an opportunity to engage existing customers when they don't have time to visit in person.

5. Differentiate The Communication. Before starting a blog, determine what communication assets might best lend themselves to the audience without adding to the noise. Almost every company or individual has a unique voice or perspective, but the most successful online communication efforts also find common ground between a value proposition and the conversations already taking place.

6. Original Content Is King. Original content remains the king of online communication. Book reviews (especially those that are missed by the mainstream media), book signings, special promotions, rare titles, and author interviews are just a few content ideas that no other book store could provide. Local, independent stores (or even local stores that belong to the big chains), also have an opportunity to identify and promote lesser known local talents. Over time, this may help develop a secondary audience that exists only online, but never lose sight of those primary customers — those folks who come in once every two weeks or so.

7. Don't Drink The Kool-Aid. The biggest mistake being made in social media today is reinforcing the idea that the bigger the buzz, the better the communication. Almost every online measure reinforces this idea with "reach, reach, reach" being heralded as the new "location, location, location." Baloney. No one needs to reach all the people. They only need to reach the right people. Complementing that misconception is the other mistake that leads people to be trapped by industry bubbles: while it may be beneficial to share ideas with other book store owners, they are not your customers and they don't know your customers. Never forget that.

8. Expand The Online Presence. As a book store establishes its online presence, then it might be worthwhile to explore other social media options. Since there are so many social networks, it becomes critical to pick the right ones where the target audience is most likely to be, not simply the most popular ones. One of several reasons I frequently advise a blog as the most appropriate starting block is because it provides a useful home base, allowing future social media connections an opportunity to learn more about what the individual or the store is about.

9. Evolve With Opportunities. As the book store establishes its presence, other opportunities might present themselves. As long as those opportunities are consistent with the original core services established by the owner, it might make sense to pursue them. Of course, sometimes those opportunities fall outside the boundaries of success. For example, someone contacted me yesterday to discuss writing a pilot for a network television show and we set an appointment. Someone also contacted me yesterday to serve as their literary agent. I understand the work, but I'm not a literary agent so I declined. I also can deliver pizzas, but I'm not likely to add that to our services anytime soon.

10. Outcomes Determine Success. Outcomes do not have to be merely measured by sales alone. Outcomes could be as simple as a book store owner never hearing a customer say wish they had heard about a book signing that took place the week before. It all depends on how you define outcomes on the front end.

See? Demonstrating the general validity of social media is easy; applying it to small business is case specific. Simply put, these considerations were drawn from some basic tenets of strategic communication and not a social media manifesto. The difference might seem subtle at times, but the approaches, objectives, and results are vastly different. Always keep that in mind.

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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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