Friday, May 15

Releasing Indies: What Goes Up

When you're working against the clock on a theatrical release of an indie film, anything can happen and usually does. That was how James Hoke, executive producer with Three Kings Productions, described it last April.

One month later, I can attest to the fact that he is right. Much like life, it's filled with hits, misses, and unknowns.

The Three Kings film, What Goes Up, wasn't really known as 'What Goes Up' five weeks ago. And for the most part — despite Steve Coogan, Hilary Duff, Josh Peck, Olivia Thirlby, and Molly Shannon — it wasn't even known. Today, the film that will open in select cities on May 29 is known mostly through its growing groundswell.

The original model was different. Social media was meant to serve as a supporting mechanism for media engagement. And, right now, there are no less than 40 requests for interviews on the table being fielded by ten different public relations and marketing firms divided by region and product (film and soundtrack).

The bottleneck for success has become a function of scheduling (with Coogan wrapping his world tour; Duff walking for AIDS, which is close to our hearts; etc.) and possibly the earliest reviews.

Variety wasn't kind to the movie, making the film into some sort of statement against journalism. It isn't. But the review from Pete Hammond, at, isn't up yet to provide a contrast.

'''What Goes Up' is a 2009 sleeper, a complete original, and definitely not your typical teen comedy. It's a darkly funny, wonderfully twisted story that marches to its own surprising beat. The entire cast is superb. Steve Coogan is perfect. Hilary Duff's seductive presence proves she's an actress to watch. Olivia Thirlby is a real find." — Pete Hammond,

One of many fan comments we've read reinforces the idea. Teresa Reile from Buffalo, New York, where the film debuted at a film festival, called it "The Breakfast Club meets Mulholland Drive. It will become a cult classic!!" She nailed it.

As such, not every critic or moviegoer will get it or like it. Entertainment is like that. It's something I've known all too well after covering fan campaigns to save Jericho and Veronica Mars. The net result is the same. When traditional communication slows down, social media speeds up. Since fans are in the balance, we wanted to avoid making any them feel like Jericho or Veronica Mars fans did. It makes a difference.

Where social media has been hitting, missing, and providing unknowns.

If Geoff Livingston's post isn't enough evidence that social media is fluid, then 'What Goes Up' drives the point home. While the production blog provides a diary of sorts, the real interest remains on existing fan forums, Flickr, and YouTube. YouTube, specifically, delivered 200,000 views (building to 20,000 to 30,000 per day) before one of the unknowns happened.

The YouTube account was mistakenly suspended by an automated process. While one of the studios involved is making inquiries, there is no time to sort it out. So, in the interim, we shifted the cast interviews to Revver while setting up a new direct channel for the producer. It's a good thing we have a blog, which has helped facilitate the transition.

What can't be saved is the viral nature of the interviews, which were shared by several popular media sites, nor the basic nature of content that spreads. Much like Twitter followers, videos with 40,000 views attract more attention than videos with 40 views. No matter. Social media is situational. Each program is different. Yet, all of them require that you manage and move with it. You cannot control it (not that communication was ever controlled anyway).

For this program, some elements have worked better than others. Despite high engagement, Twitter is comparatively time intensive. Facebook much less so, because of the variety of communication methods, allowing us to message, post, share, and chat with fans on their terms. Like all of our components, we chose every network based on where fans wanted us to be and not where we wanted to be. And, if this was a long-term program, I would likely shed some components along the way.

When communication changes, the seven Fs still apply.

Yesterday, I mentioned the seven Fs. They apply to indie films. Perhaps they do even more so because we balance what we can share and what we cannot share about the soundtrack and the film every single day. We don't do it for us; we do it to prevent confusion.

While we would love to be transparent, transparency would have killed any sense of community long ago. Things change all the time, sometimes on an hourly basis given the intricacies and interests of many different stakeholders. Instead, we rely on authenticity, which means minimizing the steady state of changing communication and settling on those items that are least likely to change.

Sometimes things change after we report them, but minimizing any communication that changes and impacts people seems better than changing up the communication every five minutes or so. Even more important, when we do change the communication, we consider the obvious. They aren't just users, customers, consumers, or participants (even if we use those words as descriptors) — they are stakeholders, and some of them already "feel like family."

A couple of my colleagues told me they don't "get" everything we're doing. That's okay. We're not writing for them. We're working for our stakeholders, which in this case are fans. As Valeria Maltoni might say, we always were. And, we always will be.

Thursday, May 14

Managing Messages: Seven Fs

One of the best contributions Joanna Blockey, ABC, a communication specialist for Southwest Gas Corporation, lends to my class every year is the seven Fs of employee communication. I found myself thinking about them yesterday as they related to the Twitter misfire and other communication failures in social media.

While some people might wonder what social networks could possibly learn from employee relations, it seems clear enough to me. Participants engaged in a social network develop a sense of community. And, like any community, they aren't just users, customers, consumers, or participants (even if we use those words as descriptors). They are stakeholders. They are much more closely aligned to employees or residents or investors than loosely connected customers casually using a service. (Even if they use it for free.)

Social network members shape the communities in which they participate.

They invite people to join. They promote the network. They keep people engaged. They drive the conversations. They report the violations. They develop unique ways to expand the intended services. They make investments. And, they deserve the same seven Fs that Blockey prescribes for internal communication.

1. First. Be the source of information for your community. Report any news first.

2. Fast. Respond to feedback quickly, effectively, and in a timely manner. Share information fast.

3. Fair. Not all news is good news, but even bad news can be fair. Empathy remains one of most often missed ingredients in communication.

4. Focused. Attempting to sidestep pressing issues in favor of the frivolous is not much different than AstroTurf. Communication deserves to be prioritized.

5. Friendly. Sarcasm is sometimes warranted, but mean-spirited personal attacks never resonate. It doesn't resonate with those attacked nor anyone watching.

6. Factual. Make sure the information is factual. Sure, sometimes things change, but they tend to change less when facts are reported in the first place.

7. Follow Up. Communication is warranted until the stakeholders are satisfied. If they have more questions, answer them and offer time lines for updates.

This might seem overly simple to some, but the fundamentals are sound. After all, whether you call them tribes or communities or online customers, they don't follow as much as they develop relationships that some even define "like a family."

Wednesday, May 13

Twittering Choices: Social Truths

"We're hearing your feedback and reading through it all. One of the strongest signals is that folks were using this setting to discover and follow new and interesting accounts—this is something we absolutely want to support." — Twitter

That is how it happens with online services. After Twitter went out on a limb and made a fundamental change to its service, specifically the option to receive public messages from people they are not following, the entire community pushed back, many of them rightly calling it a disaster. Some are saying that this might be the change that lifts friendfeed to the forefront or even cause Twitter to fail outright. That leaves only a few who, well, disagree.

After receiving the feedback, Twitter did what it ought to have done in the first place — communicate with its community. However, as Mashable points out, addressing the feedback and returning the function that many participants enjoy are two very different things. Now, Twitter, a service that participants made the poster child for authenticity, looks like it whitewashed the real reason behind the change.

You can track the customer comments right here: #fixreplies. It's a rough critique of a service change and testament to why communication continues to remain a struggle for social networks.

Choice has always been a fundamental part of the online social equation.

What does the change really mean? If you are not familiar with Twitter, you might not understand the service change. Simply put, someone could write to you (probably because you were talking about a subject that interested them) by including the "@" in front of your account name. That message, or tweet, would appear in your thread, making it easy to see and respond to.

Without that service, you may never know someone sent that message to you, unless you followed him or her from the start. Not everybody used the service. People had a choice. For people with thousands or hundreds of thousands of followers, they could choose to see only those messages from those they followed. For anyone looking to meet new people, not so much.

Personally, I've grown to like Twitter. I like it enough that I speak about it from time to time. I especially like it because they've always given their participants choices. And, I hope those feelings don't change since they say they "learned a lot."

But there is something else to learn: Never become too attached to a tool.

Online tools change all the time. And very often, the change is not for the better. Technorati, once the premier place for bloggers to connect, seems to be struggling. MyBlogLog has become fairly flat. Entrecard spiked on the promise of cash, but now that's eroding. Hey! Nielsen is in redesign. And Utterli, after rebranding, just isn't the same. There are hundreds more. Some of them long closed.

All of them have one thing in common. At some point, usually when unduly scared or overly secure, they start making big and rapid changes without communication beyond their inner circles. Jumping on the advice of high profile "experts" instead of regular members, they might even feel smug to make them. But then, after awhile, they notice that the inner circle is all they have left.

Choice has always been a fundamental part of the online social equation. And ultimately, members may choose to go somewhere else.

Tuesday, May 12

Tearing Down Definitions: From Phelps To Prejean

Michael Phelps is an American swimmer. He has won 14 career Olympic gold medals and holds seven world records in swimming.

A few months after his most recent successes, he apologized for "behavior which was regrettable and demonstrated bad judgment" in response to a photo that depicted him using a Bong. The controversy cost Phelps a few sponsorships. And some former sponsors a few sales.

Now, the News of the World, which broke the photo, is trying to spark another scandal. This time the story is based on testimony from lap dancer Theresa White, who alleges Phelps is great at lovemaking but not much of a tipper.

"They were there a couple of hours and asked three of us back," White told News of the World. "Michael was a bad tipper but he was nice to me, although he was kind of mean and cocky to some of the girls."

What Is An All-American Image Anyway?

Who's to say? According to the outrage expressed over Carrie Prejean, Miss California USA, the concept seems open for debate. She told the truth, and it took Donald Trump to set the record straight while smartly avoiding the issue all together.

Perez Hilton, on the other hand, has enjoyed a free ride calling Prejean the “b-word,” rescinding it, and then rescinding what he rescinded, adding that he was thinking of the “c-word.” Why? Because most people didn't hear Prejean's entire answer, which began "Well, I think it’s great that Americans are able to choose one or the other ..."

Is Being All-American An Impossible Image?

Maybe so. After all, the all-American image cannot be lived up to because any number of definitions seem to supposedly disparage one person or another. Just as people are divided on a spectacular number of issues and tolerance just isn't enough, so too are people divided on whether or not anyone deserves praise for greatness.

When and where I grew up, the all-American image was pretty well defined — baseball, apple pie, and the red, white and blue — despite being imaginary. It was pretty simple. If Norman Rockwell might have painted it, you might be in the right ball park, even if such a ball park never existed, not really. Yet, the sentiment was there. We were taught to strive for greatness; not in fame, but simply trying to do our best at whatever it was we did.

Today, it's not always so easy. Baseball is supposedly tainted, apple pies reinforce stereotypes, and the American flag means different things depending on where you fly it or not. And greatness? Sometimes it's frowned upon as a badge you have something more than someone else.

You know, usually, when we talk about the The Fragile Brand Theory, we talk about why it is more important to stick with one image rather than the image one might pick. It's why Trump can be Trump and Hilton can be Hilton. But there is something more at work here than Phelps or Prejean failing to reach the unobtainable image that the public apparently sought for them.

It seems to me that Phelps or Prejean or anyone else who strives for greatness can never live up to an all-American image. Because most Americans no longer want one.

Monday, May 11

Shining Through: Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Last March, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) received more than 1,000 entries for an online Celebrating Urban Light exhibition. The open call centered on the anniversary of artist Chris Burden’s "Urban Light" project, which is a landmark installation that was added to the Wilshire Boulevard entrance last year.

"Throughout the days and nights of the past year, photographers and videographers have made their pilgrimage to Urban Light," writes Charlotte Cotton, curator and department head of photographs for the LACMA, in the forward of the exhibition. "This [online] exhibition celebrates the wealth of creativity that Urban Light has inspired within us."

While the exhibition has received mostly local attention, including the Los Angeles Times, it still represents one of the better uses of new media by allowing citizens to surprise us. The entries can be seen on Flickr, YouTube, and Facebook. The latter was used to chronicle the event.

The Flickr account is especially rewarding in that the LACMA is continuing to accept submissions, making it a living exhibition beyond the print-on-demand book available on Blurb. More than 50 photographs have been contributed since February.

The book, "Celebrating Urban Light," features 150 photos, poems, and video stills chosen by Cotton. The book retails for $29.95 (soft cover) and $44.95 (hard cover). The book also includes a foreword by LACMA CEO and Director Michael Govan, a preface by Cotton, and an excerpt from a conversation between Govan and Chris Burden about the work.

Friday, May 8

Starting Over: Chrysler, Not Campaigning

"When we asked consumers what they wanted to know about Chrysler, they told us to tell them about our products, tell them why they should buy our vehicles and give them a reason why they should be confident in the future of this company," — Steven Landry, executive vice president - North American Sales for Chrysler, told Adweek.

According to the article, that is why the first 30-second ad is a corporate anthem spot called "Bright Future" despite the company's filing for protection under Chapter 11. While the new commercial will air on prime time, it's anybody guess whether consumers will embrace the campaign from Omnicom Group's BBDO in Detroit.

Some of it follows the tone set by its ENVI oriented site. The main site, on the other hand, still leads with a contradictory message that says "Celebrating 25 years of innovation." Whatever happens, we're pretty sure it will be very different than when Chrysler really was a new car company.

Chrysler has plenty of ground to make up. Ford clearly has an advantage, being ranked first in the ability to connect with consumers via social media. One wonders whether the new campaign, apparently grounded in traditional media, can shift sales despite the strong online presence Ford has built.

After all, what Landry says consumers want to know is what they've always wanted to know: what do you sell, why would I buy it, and will you be around if I do? In some circles, that's called a value proposition. But according to the Adweek article, Chysler says it is "part of our continuing mission to build cars and trucks you want to drive."

That would be as opposed to those other car companies. You know, the ones who build cars and trucks we don't want to drive.

Regardless, it will be interesting to watch whether the new partnership with Fiat and a traditional campaign from BBDO will be enough. Based on the partial sneak peek of the television commercial Under The Pentastar and the smart comments made by a handful of consumers on their blog, we're not so sure.

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