Wednesday, March 31

Traveling With Colleagues: How Twitter Works

There is not much to be seen near Valley Wells Station along I-15 in California. The closest exit is an unincorporated community called Cima, but so few people live there that has been classified as a ghost town.

It was also along this unpopulated stretch of desert highway where we experienced a blowout. The initial impact was jarring, as the back mud flap scraped along the highway at slightly more than 70 miles per hour, enough to wake me up from a light nap. I immediately hit the hazard lights and helped guide Kim from the fast lane over to the shoulder.

Once we made it, I wasn't too worried. Even after surveying the damage and discovering I couldn't do the job alone (the tread had lodged itself between the tire and back bumper and the spare was too low on air to use safely), I was confident enough. Having recently renewed our AAA membership, the best would be a short wait with two travel-weary children (unless the car was deemed inoperable).

The unintended benefits of Twitter.

Before deciding on the best way to divert their attention, I mentioned our situation on Twitter (and Facebook via Twitter). "Whoa, we just had blow out on I-15 headed home," I wrote. And then, something unexpected happened.

One of our clients, Jay Shubel, CEO of a credit card processing company, gave me a call. He offered more than words of concern. He asked if we needed a rescue, saying they were more than willing to drive two hours or so to pick us up. (His executive vice president added on Twitter that I was too valuable to leave stranded in the Mojave Desert.)

While this wasn't the first time Twitter has proven itself useful during a personal crisis, the gesture touched us. It didn't matter that AAA delivered on its promise when the mechanic from Baker arrived well under the 45-minute expectation set by the dispatcher. It was still nice to know that people do more than listen on Twitter. They're willing to be proactive in offering help.

Crisis communication plays out in personal life too.

Naturally, we could have called other family or friends if we needed a rescue too. But Twitter also proves to be a useful tool, allowing you to travel with a unique connection to colleagues. In this case, it was especially nice to know that if we had any additional problems during the remaining 90 miles, everything I say about Twitter would be proven true. You get out of it exactly what you put into it.

There was another lesson to be learned too. Technology aside, crisis communication doesn't have to exist exclusively in corporate settings. Communication plays out daily. Here's how we managed ours:

1. Assess the situation. Emotional reactions are useless and detrimental. Stick to situation analysis, with an emphasis on gathering facts. You need to know where you are in order to plan a course of action.

2. Determine the impacts. In this situation, the best case scenario was having a mechanic assist and then slowly returning home on the spare. However, alternative plans could have included another night away or asking friends for help. While we had to wait for all the facts, we had already narrowed our options.

3. Synchronize messages for the audience. Make no mistake that almost every situation has an audience. And for my wife and me, our audience was our children. If we couldn't agree on a course of action and communicate to them based on their needs, even 15 minutes could be a disaster. They needed assurance that the situation was under control and there were multiple solutions.

4. Designate spokespeople. Sometimes the messenger is the message. While my wife is a seasoned communicator, the kids tend to turn to me when there is uncertainty and her when they are injured. So, instead of allowing them to become impatient, I set their focus on the raw video footage of their vacation while we waited. It didn't matter that I shot more stills than footage. I had just enough to make the wait a positive experience.

5. Collect feedback and adjust. Since the kids were satisfied watching the footage, there wasn't any need to adjust. But there could have been. I had alternative ideas in the works (just in case) to keep them engaged.

Crisis communication doesn't have to be elaborate to be effective. In most cases, it amounts to a series of steps and situational decisions, with enough flexibility to allow for those moments when things do not go as planned. Even better, relying on these five simple steps helps to ensure that life doesn't happen to you. You're an active participant who makes reasoned choices.

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Tuesday, March 30

Fighting Words: Dish Network vs. DirecTV

If anybody is wondering whether the Dish Network or DirecTV will win their respective legal fights, the answer seems obvious. Only cable stands to win as the two satellite companies tie each other up in court.

The allegations erupted last month when DirecTV sued Dish Network for claiming it was cheaper. The Dish Network filed suit last week alleging DirecTV is misleading consumers by claiming it offers more HD channels than it actually carries.

This fight seems a little bit meaner than the tug of war between AT&T and Verizon. But ironically, neither of these companies have too much to gain, given that most cable networks have accused satellite of misleading customers for as long as I can remember.

DirecTV has gone as far as devoting an entire section of its Web site to the kertuffle, asking "Who do you believe?" before dashing off a paragraph with more footnotes than copy points. Meanwhile, Dish is sticking with its commercial that DiretTV costs a much as cable whereas Dish Network offers virtually the same package for approximately $20 less (although newer commercials have changed up the price point comparison). None of it is as ugly as the comparisons outlined on a Web site run by a Dish Network authorized retailer.

The weakest part of the new Dish Network argument is that it overreaches. One of its complaints is that the new DirecTV advertisements "mimic look and feel of certain ads in Dish Network's Why Would You Ever Pay More For TV campaign." They do not. Not by a long shot.

Two years ago, Campbell's and General Mills taught each other a similar lesson after launching a battle over which soup line contained more MSG. No one won, except the agencies asked to produce the ads.

I'm fond of reminding advertisers that the first rule in advertising is that there are no rules. However, there are some general principles that have have stood the test of time — never overreach in your advertising. In order to develop an effective contrast, it's always smarter to stick with a competitive comparison you can accurately win. Case study on Thursday, with an emphasis on how to develop a better product contrast.

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Monday, March 29

Trusting Ourselves: We Know Best?

While the economic climate is still on shaky ground, American investors are becoming more optimistic about 2010. Forty-three percent of young investors (ages 21-29) and 33 percent of older investors (40-65) plan to invest more in 2010. One in four expect returns between 10 and 20 percent.

The study, conducted by ShareBuilder from ING DIRECT USA, indicates fewer investors are relying on brokers, financial advisors, or planners for advice. Most are relying on their own ability to research companies and rely on public sources of information.

Where Are Investors Turning For Advice?

• 49 percent of investors are reading financial Web sites and blogs.
• 39 percent of investors read financial print publications.
• 35 percent of investors rely on advice from financial planners.
• 18 percent of investors listen to brokers.

Interestingly enough, not all of the results mesh well with Edleman Trust Barometer released in February. According to the Edleman assessment, analysts and experts were among the most credible sources of information, but according to the ING DIRECT study, another informant seems to pull ahead of the pack — people trust themselves.

Almost half of those ages 40-65 have reduced or eliminated their reliance on financial professionals, while 37 percent of investors ages 21-39 have done so. However, despite increasing self-reliance, the majority of respondents believe it requires hundreds or thousands of dollars to begin investing. It doesn't.

When combined with other surveys and studies conducted over the last few years, consumers are increasingly self-reliant on everything from medical care to marketing. Young musical artists believe they can get more mileage from social media than labels. Investors believe they can capture returns as high as 30 percent on their own. And social media experts frequently advise that business owners abandon marketing firms in favor of establishing a personal presence within social networks.

While the increased personal responsibility is admirable, one might wonder where it all ends. Becoming a quasi-expert in every subject seems to be tenuous in that, as Ike Pigott likes to point out, individuals are not scalable. At some point, we have to rely on others in order to get things done.

It also creates an interesting challenge for both experts and marketers. In a world where individuals always know better themselves, trust becomes an illusion in that people trust your opinion and insight but not your ability to execute the plan.

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Sunday, March 28

Asking Questions: Fresh Content

One of the most critical components of strategic communication is situation analysis. Simply put, you cannot move forward unless you have an understanding of where you are (and sometimes where you have been). To gain insight into the present, someone has to ask the right questions.

We found five fresh content posts that accomplish this goal by asking that people ask the right questions. Sometimes they lead to the right answers. Other times, they scratch the surface, leaving others to share their varied thoughts and opinions. Take a look for yourself. There is something compelling about reading questions (even when they are written as statements) that not enough communicators ask.

Best Fresh Content In Review, Week of March 15

The Dichotomy Issue: “Social Media Marketing” Vs. Classic Marketing.
Beth Harte pinpoints the truth about social media. Some elements are not as new as most might think, but many have been given the "wrong impression or direction when it comes to social media." All too often marketers think of social media as an either/or proposition when it really is a question of inclusion and integration. Social media needs to be integrated as opposed to being treated as a replacement. Perfectly said.

Social Media Isn’t Conversation, It’s Publication.
While I might have chosen the words presentation over publication, the point Joel Postman makes is pointed. Conversations are face to face between a limited number of people, without regulation or permanent record. Sure, we can point out that telephone conversations are not face to face, but the reality is that social media shares much more in common with publishing and sometimes people might lose sight of that.

10 Dead Dudes Every Entrepreneur Should Follow (But, Not On Twitter).
Generally, lists of people wouldn't qualify for inclusion in a fresh content, but Jonathan Fields' list is very different. He picks ten former industry leaders that many people in the industry have never heard of. It's an excellent reminder that just because social media "feels" new there is much to be learned by the people who came before social media. This one hit all the right notes, including Stevie Ray Vaughn.

Are You Getting Typecast?
At what point does the pursuit of personal branding or identity leave online personas wanting to be more than the role they play online? People tend to be more dynamic than the brands they surround themselves with, which sometimes requires that they explore new options without necessarily wiping away the old. Interestingly enough, Valeria Maltoni only misses that most people typecast themselves.

Hotels and Social Media – The 5 Most Common Mistakes.
Callan Paola offers up his list of the five most common mistakes made by hotels in social media, but he may as well have posed them as questions. With the exception of assigning strategic value to a tactical approach in number three, these are the right quetions that most hotels, and companies, ought to be asking more often about their social media programs.

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Saturday, March 27

Writing For Public Relations: Seven Decks For PR

With next week marking the conclusion to my nine-week course in Writing for Public Relations at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, it seemed only fitting to recap seven decks that were included as in-class presentations and after-class supplements. While the decks only represent a small portion of what is covered in class, the entire set helps define some of the finer points related to public relations and the spirit of the instruction.

What's next? While the class ends next Thursday, there was plenty of content that was only covered in passing. So while the frequency won't be at a pace of one deck a week, there are more weekend presentations planned in the near future.

Seven Decks For Public Relations

Introduction: Writing For Public Relations
Originally meant as an introduction to writing for public relations, this deck provides an overview of almost everything that goes into public relations beyond pitching stories and writing news releases.

On Writing And Editing
In addition to 18 key elements for great writing, this deck draws parallels to my five most cited techniques and five amazingly masterful writers: Oscar Wilde, Robert Louis Stevenson, Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, and Andy Warhol.

What Makes News?
With the help of a little fish with a big story, this deck presents the ten most common traits of news stories that editors tend to love. I learned them as a journalist.

On Spreading Messages
After a brief overview of communication, this deck covers modern communication challenges that are produced as a result of shrinking newspapers and an over-reliance of word-of-mouth marketing.

The Importance Of Planning
By overlaying a Toyota case study on top of a strategic communication outline, the importance of planned communication becomes all the more apparent while introducing various elements within any plan.

Simplifying Messages
Beyond a simplified approach to understanding the strategic planning process of SWOT and a CORE message system, this deck reveals why not all unique selling points are unique at all.

On Advertising
The concept that copy is a direct conversation with consumers didn't originate with social media is the final thought after ten lessons from some of the greatest advertising minds that impacted the industry.

Aside from Writing For Public Relations, I have signed on to teach a half-day Writing and Proofreading class in the summer and a full-day social media class late next fall. Until then, I would like to thank everyone, online and off, who helped get my tenth year as an instructor off to a very memorable start. Thank you.

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Friday, March 26

Craving Emotions: Do People Need Negative And Positive Interactions?

Every now and again, someone strikes up a study that is just too interesting to simply bookmark for later. Dr. Imam Saqib of the National Institute of Psychology at Quaid-i-Azam University in Pakistan is starting a Web-based psychology experiment to investigate whether or not human beings have a daily requirement for certain kinds of emotions.

His hypothesis is that human emotions may need to be balanced much in same way the body has a proven requirement for certain nutrients. Or, in other words, is it optimally healthy for a person to experience a certain amount of love, creativity, connection, competition, or even aggression as part of their daily routine.

The study is sponsored by the World Mind Network and is co-moderated by Irina Higgins of the Oxford Foundation for Theoretical Neuroscience and Artificial Intelligence and Melissa Mendoza of the University of La Verne. For more information, visit Daily Emotional Balance. (The public may join the discussion.)

What It Might Mean For Marketers

Given that some secular and spiritual practices have found that serenity improves the human condition, it seems unlikely that an emotional balance is required. However, there seems to be ample evidence to support that while the need may not be there, people do learn to crave oxytocin, cortisol, adrenaline, and other chemical releases that occur with emotions.

Where this study could be interesting, if not important, for marketers is that it could dispel the belief that positive advertising always plays better to audiences. On the contrary, it could illustrate how emotionally-driven advertising could appeal to specific demographics, depending on environmental conditions.

For example, lighter and more nostalgic advertising played better during the most recent Super Bowl, but more aggressive and darker advertising was well-received during better economic times (much like musical trends). Such understanding could become a critical component in communication. Cool stuff.

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