Tuesday, April 21

Squeezing SM Pros: Bloggers And Celebrities

According to Mark Penn with E. Kinney Zalesne, writing for The Wall Street Journal, the concept that blogging is passing fad might finally be put to rest. The United States is a nation with more than 20 million bloggers, with 1.7 million profiting from the work, and 452,000 of those using blogging as their primary source of income, he writes.

"Pros who work for companies are typically paid $45,000 to $90,000 a year for their blogging," he wrote. "One percent make over $200,000. And they report long hours -- 50 to 60 hours a week."

Beyond the stats, demographics, and several key observations, there is something else that these numbers might mean. Not only is social media mainstream, it's changing and some of the old guard leaders are being supplanted by newcomers.

In some cases, reasonably well-paid professionals that blog, tweet, and chat across the Internet have outpaced early adapters with brand boosts from big companies. While it always happened before (one wonders if there would be Scoble without a Microsoft or a Kawasaki without an Apple), the brand boosts are starting to come from smaller and much more traditional companies. (We predicted it was inevitable several years ago.)

At the same time, coupled with the addition of celebrities like Oprah and Ashton Kutcher on Twitter, several social media types that used to lead the way say they feel like part of the crowd. Leo Laporte even said with only 100,000 followers, he could go back to being a normal Joe. It almost begs the question. When wasn't Laporte a normal Joe?

In a recent interview, Kutcher revealed his secret. Despite the billboards and already high number of followers, he just wants to be a normal Joe connecting with people using an online message service. And you know what? That's pretty much what he does. He is not alone either.

So, as some top social media pros eventually find themselves as part of a shrinking middle between a growing number newcomers and celebrities at the top, it seems to me the best advice isn't to call new folks carpetbaggers as much as it might be to welcome them along. I've seen several thousands of bloggers rise and disappear over the years; the good ones always stick around without labeling others simply for fear of giving up turf. There is no turf online, except the astro kind.

Equally important, having managed several hefty brands over the years, I always known that brands provide amazing boosts for individuals. Big deal. It's better not to worry about positive brand associations as much as your ability to be true to your company, your client, or yourself (depending on why you spend your time online). That's not online advice; it's advice for life.

Monday, April 20

Measuring Communication: Five Steps To Action

While it is not part of the ROC measurement abstract, communicators might be best served to consider five basic steps before developing a communication stream, using social media, or an integrated communication strategy, which may or may not include social media. These five steps aren't what the communicator ought to do. They are what an intended public does.

Step One: Awareness. The public has to know the communication stream exists. Communication that happens in a vacuum isn't heard.

Step Two: Interest. The public has to have a reason to take an interest. The channel usually needs to offer added value, incentives, unique insights, or original content.

Step Three: Engagement. The public has to have a mechanism to engage, which means the channel needs to continually deliver on its promise to add value, incentives, unique insights, and original content. Often, with an opportunity to engage in two-way communication.

Step Four: Conviction. The public has to have a reason to become committed beyond engagement by either accepting a belief (the product/company is good) or intending to take an action (attend an event, purchase a product, etc.). The point here is that engagement, while important, might not be enough.

Step Five: Action. The public has to take action beyond engagement to become true customers or advocates. In social media, this might mean referring others or, in some cases, purchasing a product (online or off) or producing some other outcome.

It seems to me that one of the most overlooked aspects of online organizational communication is that some communicators forget that not every member of the public will begin at step one. Often times, existing customers or advocates are already aware and have an interest, which is why they are searching for the company or product or service online to begin with.

So the question to answer is always much simpler than it seems. Did the organization make it easy for these customers and advocates to engage, become convicted, and take action?

Download The Abstract: Measure: I | O = ROC

The ROC is an abstract method of measuring the value of business communication by recognizing that the return on communication — advertising, marketing, public relations, internal communication, and social media — is related to the intent of the communication and the outcome it produces. Every Monday, the ROC series explores portions of the abstract, with exception of today.

Friday, April 17

Walking Tall: Aid For AIDS of Nevada

If there is any good news to follow on the heels of Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, which calls U.S. efforts to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS "insufficient," it is that some people are willing to do something about it. This Sunday, April 19, Aid For AIDS of Nevada (AFAN) will be hosting its 19th annual AIDS Walk in Las Vegas.

The event, which is supported by the entertainment industry in Las Vegas, including Penn & Teller and up-and-coming singer/songwriter Jake Walden, is anticipated to break fund-raising records for the local AIDS organization. It's needed.

The State of Nevada Department of Health and Human Services has terminated four Ryan White Part B Programs (RWPB), which totals more than $750,000 of funding. The cuts occurred on April 5 with less than 30 days notification. In addition to directly impacting AFAN, one of the most devastating cuts impacted the University of Nevada School of Medicine’s Nevada Care Program. What makes the cuts so significant is that this program is responsible for treating pregnant women who are diagnosed with HIV/AIDS so their babies are not born with the HIV virus.

“For unborn children especially, this is a life and death decision that will have consequences far greater than the state has obviously considered,” said Dr. Echezona Ezeanolue, director of the University of Nevada School of Medicine’s Nevada Care Program. “These children, who would otherwise have a 98 percent chance to be born without the HIV virus, will more likely be born with the virus.”

Without this critical care, these unborn babies will certainly be born with HIV/AIDS. If they are, their average life expectancy will be a mere 24 years, with the cost of care averaging $25,200 per year. Considering this statistic is consistent across all HIV/AIDS diagnosed people, it represents one of the most short-sighted budget cuts in the history of Nevada. Each newly infected person will cost the state $600,000, which is almost as high as the budget cut.

Is it any wonder people are upset with taxes in the U.S.? It's not so much how much people pay as much as it's about what we're paying for. President Obama's stimulus package included $6.1 million for corporate jet hangars in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and $20 million for a minor league baseball museum in Durham, North Carolina, instead of administrating a program that prevents babies from being born HIV positive for a mere $350,000.

The problem isn't just local. It's national (and global). In the United States, the fastest-growing segment of HIV/AIDS diagnosed people is young adults. How young? Ages 13-24.

While some people might call the recent Tea Parties patrician politics, I can assure you that HIV/AIDS does not discriminate along party lines. The entire spending structure of the national, state, and local government needs to be re-evaluated and re-prioritized.

The solution is in our grasp and it starts with communication.

When people talk about politics, they tend to talk ideologies. I prefer to talk about people and fiscal mismanagement.

I'd rather see people keep more of their money and then invest it in local programs with a proven track record. AFAN qualifies. With almost 3,600 residents living with HIV and 3,000 more are diagnosed with AIDS in the Las Vegas area, AFAN serves a large percentage of those through direct client service programs, food programs, prevention and education programs, and community outreach. You can learn more about AFAN here and the AIDS Walk Las Vegas here.

You can learn more about the national epidemic from Anthony S. Fauci's opinion piece that recently ran in The Washington Post. In it, he points out that Washington, D.C. health officials estimate that 3 percent of city residents had full-blown AIDS or were infected with HIV. At 3 percent of any population, it seems painfully obvious that the virus can no longer be considered an epidemic confined to lifestyle choices. Everybody is at risk.

So this Sunday, I am joining (along with my family) the thousands of people walking in support of AFAN. I'm not big on asking for donations, but if you want to lend any direct contributions, you can find my donation page here. Or, if you want to have twice as much impact, consider adding your name to the Penn & Teller Challenge. They will double their team's contributions.

Since I will be waking for AIDS this Sunday, other than sending out a tweet or two, I probably won't be posting (my Sunday post is today). But you can post something about AIDS if you are so inclined. AIDS Walk Las Vegas has an event page at Bloggers Unite. You don't necessarily have to post about the local event. Write what you want.

Here's an idea. Write about how the U.S. is long overdue in virtually eradicating an infectious virus like smallpox or polio (although more work needs to be done there too). Or simply ask why is there no AIDS vaccine. Or, more specifically, ask why is $200 million in taxpayer money being used to rehabilitate a national mall when it could be used to develop an AIDS vaccine.

We don't need more taxes to do it. We need a Congress that is capable of realigning its fiscal policy to let taxpayers support programs at their discretion rather than allowing politicians to pad pork projects. At least I think so. What do you think?

Whatever you think, you can be certain all solutions start with communication. Unless people talk about it, nothing gets done.

Thursday, April 16

Killing Community: Graham Langdon, Entrecard

Graham Langdon, self-described as a 23-year-old college drop out intent on making money, has it all figured out. In 2007, he adopted the business model originally developed by BlogRush, which is best described as a defunct throwback to “Web 1.0″ affiliate schemes.

His solution was to develop Entrecard, which was originally a free "business card" ad swap network based on a credit system. The model has recently undergone dramatic changes after several failed attempts to secure venture capitalist funding and no takers when he attempted to dump the company for $100,000. (Several buyers told me the latter was more of a publicity stunt to establish equity than a serious intent to sell.)

The new model attempts to monetize what once was a free service by exchanging the credit system with real currency, and with Entrecard keeping 25 percent on the blogger's side of the transaction. Ever since, not all has been well in the land of Entrecard.

Trading community in for cash.

If there was any reason Entrecard survived BlogRush, it was because, just below the surface of what seemed to be a junk traffic site, there was some semblance of niche communities, especially among mommy bloggers and craft blogs and personal bloggers. No "A list" bloggers, mind you, just regular people who blog.

The new cash model trades down that community, because advertisers do not have to reciprocate with Internet real estate. It is much easier to spend $25 without any participation whatsoever than to participate under the new rules. That is, for now. At the same time Entrecard is opening the network up to advertisers, it is imposing rules on the original community that made Entrecard viable.

Dropping quality ad real estate for fairness.

Originally, the first placement rule was that the Entrecard widget had to be placed "above the fold" until the decision was reversed after push back. Not to be deterred, however, Entrecard launched a variation of the rule based on the pretense of "fairness." Unfortunately, crowd sourcing "fairness" is only as good as the most intelligent participants. In this case, none of placement restrictions consider the obvious; the program can never be "fair."

• Quality sites will always benefit advertisers with more traffic than inferior sites.
• Less ad competitive sites will always benefit advertisers more than ad heavy sites.
• Load time is much more signifiant than where an advertisement is placed.

Ask most media buyers and they'll tell you that it's better to own a page toward the bottom of a fast-loading quality site than for it to appear at the top of a slow-loading low quality site filled with ads. However, some suspect that there is another benefit to imposing the rule all together. Entrecard can now exempt many members from a cashout service, which would allow them to covert old credits into cash.

The service, which is being delayed until after the rule is imposed, presents several logistical nightmares in that Entrecard is attempting to justify exempting members from the service under the old Terms Of Service, while deleting their accounts for violating a rule created in what will be a new Terms Of Service. And, since Entrecard has since placed a cash value on credits, some consider its actions theft or, at minimum, another taxable event to go along with the credit to cash conversion.

Communication breakdown is commonplace.

In terms of communication, the entire conversation continues to be grossly mishandled. Most Entrecard participants had no idea the rules would be changed until they received a warning that they would be suspended if they did not comply within 72 hours. When members complained, the network pointed them to a post on the Entrecard blog, as if it was required reading.

What did not occur, like many network developers forget, is that most members do not read the network blogs. Communication, especially when it involves changes to Terms of Service (TOS), requires being proactive instead. And, in the case of Entrecard, its own TOS states it's required: "Entrecard reserves the right, at its sole discretion, to modify or replace any part of this Agreement. In such an event you will be notified four days prior via the email address associated with your user account."

This is not the only time Entrecard has broken its own rules. Advertisers were recently surprised to see the service arbitrarily double ad rates overnight. The only notification advertisers received was after the fact, with the justification that the network doubled the cash balance listed in everyone's account (and here we thought only the government could create money).

Add to this all the other problems associated with the program, and its anyone's guess what will happen next. One thing for certain: some advertisers are miffed to learn that the promise of targeting a specific category does not work. Currently, if you select a category on Entrecard, the category selection is confirmed, but advertisements are placed network wide.

Sustainability seems to be in question.

The net result of Entrecard's quest for cash seems to be aggravating an exodus of better bloggers. The departures began approximately six months ago.

While Langdon claims traffic has never been better, the truth is that Entrecard is becoming what people labeled it to begin with: a junk traffic site. Except, you have to pay for it. He doesn't mind. After all, bad publicity is good for business he says.

"A lot of people have this crazy misconception that bad publicity is actually bad for internet sites. Why just yesterday, we got a slew of bad publicity when we banned an Entrecard member for harassment and trolling," wrote Langdon. "Everyone was twittering about it and blogging about it, and tons of people were coming to Entrecard. Look at what happened to our blog’s traffic ... It doubled!"

Right. And more people will look at you on the road after an accident. Just ask Domino's.

What other members and former members are saying:

WTF, Entrecard Pt.II at Simply Saying

Entrecard Hoolabaloo at Vinallaseven

They’re Takin Your Booty Mates at Recycled Frockery

Entrecard Announcement at The Dirty Shirt

No More Entrecard at The Sofia Valeria Collection

Wednesday, April 15

Bagging On Taxes: American Taxpayers

April 15, which is the date Americans file their tax returns with the IRS, used to be a day filled with fear for most. Now, it seems to be shaping up as a day of reckoning, as citizens in more than 2,000 locations across the United States are holding "tea parties" to protest higher taxes and out-of-control government spending.

Using the same tool — the Internet — to organize as President Obama did to win the presidential election, ordinary citizens are expressing their apparent dissatisfaction with the "real change" as opposed to the "promised change" that the new administration has taken. By 2010, the estimated national debt, or debt held by the public, will equal approximately $81,000 per U.S. household. That is almost three times as much as it was in 2007.

As if taking a page from the fans of Jericho and others, one of the more creative ideas developed by the GOP is to help people send tea bags to their choice of President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Harry Reid, or Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Each tea bag features an elephant watermark. The effort is duplicated by another organization, without an elephant watermark, here.

Regardless of how one feels about tea parties or the administration, there is an interesting side story playing out today. There seems to be discrepancies between the majority of news organizations and live reporting from everyday people. In short, the public has a clear choice between which reality they want to believe: either Americans are upset with taxes or they are not.

Either you call the original Boston Tea Party "shameful" like Charles Arlinghaus did for the UnionLeader, or you consider it one of the first steps toward independence in America like history does. (While Arlinghaus is right that the tea parties will have to grow into positive action beyond rallies, he's wrong in believing such protests don't mean anything.)

Are Tax Parties Hype Or Hope?

If you believe CBS, the concept of any public outcry is contrary to recent polls that place President Obama's approval rating as high as 67 percent, Americans largely approve of higher taxes, and 74 percent want the "rich," now defined as anyone making more than $250,000 per year, to be taxed more.

Or, you can wonder what President Obama might know about the real numbers behind the movement given he choose to speak about simplifying the tax code at the same time some cities had organized their rallies. This strategy seems to fall in line with what everyday people are reporting — that there is a real grass roots movement at work, and not just among conservatives.

One of the best examples of the extreme reporting that we noticed today comes courtesy of the Washington Post. The Post reported on a Facebook tea party group with 1,800 members. However, when we checked, it had 31,000 members.

The Post story links to a defunct blog as an example. However, CNN chose the National TEA Party, which has 18,000 Facebook members. Among the best non-news reporting seems to be found at Ta Day Tea Party. There are also several localized Facebook accounts, with as many as 500 to 1,000 members each.

One of Michelle Malkin's posts seems to suggest why there might be so much confusion. She says there are as many as four or six different hashtags to follow tea parties on Twitter. Why is that significant? It demonstrates that the varied reporting is indicative of largely independent groups rallying around a common theme, but very different campaigns. And, contrary to the CBS poll, another poll conducted by Harris Interactive suggested that the majority of Americans think taxes are too high.

The Real Facts Are Being Buried.

In order to find the truth, you have to remove some of the opinions. Polls don't reveal facts as much as much as figures.

Americans will pay more in taxes than they will spend on food, clothing, and housing combined this year. In fact, according to the Tax Foundation, most Americans have to work between 82 and 120 days just to pay their taxes, depending on the state in which they live. Alaskans pay the least and the people in Connecticut pay the most.

The only reason most people feel comfortable taxing the rich more, despite the fact that the top 5 percent of all wage earners already pay 60 percent of all taxes while the bottom 50 percent pay only 3 percent of all taxes, is because, well, it's the other guy. And, the reason some people chose to protest today is not because they are dissatisfied with recent tax cuts, but rather because they know that the mounting national debt will have to be repaid sooner or later, and taxpayers will have to pay it.

Our country's current fiscal policy is best likened to a teenager on a spending spree. It seems like there is progress toward creating a better lifestyle with the recent purchase of a new flat screen television, smart phone, and club clothes. But that progress will quickly come to a halt when the bill comes due, the repo man takes the stuff back, and still charges interest.

Tuesday, April 14

Measuring Communication, Cost Part 3

Another overlooked cost consideration in communication measurement is the human equation. Simply put, not all communication teams — public relations firms or advertising agencies or whatever — are created equal. Some demand more time from their clients than others.

It's the kind of cost consideration you might not find in Geoff Livingston's otherwise fine post on communication measurement. Firms that consider this cost will know which outcomes to measure and which ones to not measure (e.g., number of conversations about, while popular among publicity proponents, is not a measure unto itself in most cases).

Cost Consideration In House.

For example, most CEOs committing to a daily post, written by them, carries a tremendous expense to the company except in circumstances such as but not limited to crisis communication. The average CEO at a Fortune 500 company, for example, makes approximately $500,000, not counting bonuses. With bonuses, the top 20 made $36.4 million in 2006 on average.

Median salaries are much more modest. According to PayScale, the median base is between $150,000 and $200,000. While there has been ample debate about CEO salaries lately, that is not the intent of this post.

While admittedly a steep contrast, the question becomes how many $100,000-$200,000 posts can a top paid CEO afford to write, assuming they are authentic enough to write their own? Likewise, how many public relations meetings can one CEO attend? Or even, how many interviews can one accept? And what could they be doing instead?

While the answer is situational because there is little doubt that CEOs needs to be involved in the communication, in-house departments still need to pay close attention to how much time is being vested by whom.

On a more reasonable scale, the communication manager might ask if they need to write every release or does it need to be written by a less experienced member of the team? And, what could they communication manager be doing instead of hanging out on Twitter? Clearly, there may be benefits to doing so, but only with balance, and only if there are tangible outcomes.

Cost Consideration With Outsourcing.

For the in-house department outsourcing services, the question becomes one of affordability vs. expediency. Does the consultant add more experience for the investment or require more hands-on management than the scope of the project?

As an extreme example, I've seen less experienced team members take days to perform tasks that could have taken someone else a few hours. And, I've seen out-of-house firms require so much handholding that it becomes difficult to tell who was the client. In other cases, some managers complain that they have to significantly rewrite every release submitted by the public relations firm. But what they don't consider is that doing so doubles the cost of the work and distracts from other tasks.

Ideally, the right work needs to be matched with the right experience level, inside or out. While the concept might seem abstract to some, human asset management can have dramatic consequences on the end result.

Download The Abstract: Measure: I | O = ROC

The ROC is an abstract method of measuring the value of business communication by recognizing that the return on communication — advertising, marketing, public relations, internal communication, and social media — is related to the intent of the communication and the outcome it produces. Every Monday, the ROC series explores portions of the abstract, with exception of today.

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