Thursday, October 14

Setting Objectives: The Answer Isn't Always Sales

One of the most daunting prospects for many public relations professionals is measurement. And, for those also working in social media, the measurement issue remains a mystery. (Given how much several of us have written about it, who knows why.)

Don't misunderstand me. Most people are starting to get measurement. It's relatively easy to understand. But where students and some professionals seem to struggle is in setting indirect objectives that mean much more than frequency and reach. In fact, it's indirect objectives that are generally more sustainable and more likely to become deeply entrenched in our psyche.

Setting indirect objectives with public relations and marketing concepts.

Again, when people talk about objectives, especially marketers, they always fall back on sales. But sales do not have to be the objective (even if sales will eventually show up as an outcome). You can change public perception and preference instead.

A recent study by HNTB Corporation underscores this point. According to its findings, almost 9 in 10 (87 percent) Americans who have access to public transportation take advantage of it. Almost 7 in 10 (69 percent) Americans feel there are many times when public transit is a better option than driving. And nearly half (49 percent) think local, state and federal governments don't invest enough money on it (of course, this desire drops dramatically when asked who will pay for it).

How did this happen? Was it because a mass transit company promoted itself with cheap fares? Was it because public transportation gurus tweeted about the bus every day on Twitter? Was it because the researchers only interviewed people who don't own cars? Was it because someone produced a slick ad campaign to make riding the bus cool? Very likely, it was none of the above.

The appeal of public transportation is part of a shift in public perception.

• One in four people believe public transportation reduces traffic congestion.
• One in four people believe public transportation saves individuals money.
• One in seven people believe public transportation benefits the environment.

While I expected these numbers to be higher (given how often people say they use public transportation), the outcome is apparent.

You don't have to push market to generate revenue. Sometimes you only have to change the perception of the public. If more people believed in, preferred, and used public transportation, then demand would increase, regardless of any other factor. As demand increases, so will revenue. Unless, of course, you operate with poor service.

Wednesday, October 13

Enforcing Rules: The Crowd-Sourced Community

social media crowds
For the last several years, when I've taught social media at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, I've warned students away from getting caught up in the duality of the field. In some ways, it's not just the field. Duality is the way people are hardwired.

Just as we have two eyes and two feet, duality is part of life. — Carlos Santana

Ike Pigott mentioned it yesterday, using Hemispheres by Rush as an analogy. But another story that piqued my interest was one by Geoff Livingston, writing for Mashable.

His topic about crowd-sourcing lands within the spectrum of duality. Much like bands, social networks and online communities exist because of crowds. However, crowds are attracted to uniqueness. You have to balance the effort, in being yourself while delivering up what people want.

Livingston penned a solid post, and I encourage you to read it there. The segment I wanted to touch on today is community management, especially rule enforcement (which is his forth point). It's a compelling argument for social media, because it tends to cut against the grain. Community-centric behavior needs to be enforced, he says. Let the community run wild, most say.

Everything you ever needed to know about social media is already written by Dr. Seuss.

ThidwickSeriously. Dr. Seuss covered most social media topics well before social media was even a glimmer in someone's eye. And when it comes to managing communities, he included a warning story of sorts within Thidwick, The Big-Hearted Moose.

Thidwick, being the big-hearted moose that he was, allowed a Bingle Bug to climb on his antlers and enjoy the ride. The Bingle Bug was appreciative and grateful on the front end. But then, over time, he started inviting folks to the party. Namely, he invited a Tree-Spider, a Zinn-a-zu bird (and his wife), a woodpecker, a family of squirrels, a bobcat, a turtle, a fox, some mice, 62 bees, and even a bear. All of them made their home on Thidwick's antlers.

That became rather uncomfortable for the big-hearted moose. And it posed an even bigger problem when Thidwick needed to cross the river. The crowd promptly voted him down, even though that meant Thidwick would not be able to reach the moose-moss on the other side of Lake Winna-Bango.

Fortunately for Thidwick, at a critical juncture in the story (after being chased by hunters), he sheds his antlers as all moose do about once a year and that was that. He was able to join his friends. The ill-mannered guests, on the other hand, were not so lucky. They ended up on the hunting lodge wall, horns and all.

Now, of course, most people operating in social media cannot afford to simply dump their communities like Thidwick did. You have to find a better way than that (although several blogs, communities, and networks have closed their doors when things went out of control).

And that is where community management comes in to play. The day you have to start enforcing rules is the day you know that you already let things get out of control. For Thidwick, that point was exemplified as the woodpecker drilled holes in his horns. It was already too late.

Community enforcement begins with guidance.

The problem that some social media programs have is, much like Thidwick, they allow the crowd to grow without any thought whatsoever (other than elation that they are attracting people at a steady clip and cheering social media numbers). And by the time problems start to appear, little cracks in the community, it's already too late.

Since I first starting working with social media, I have had the ugly task of quelling several network conflicts, including a few that were outright rebellions. It wasn't very difficult for me to set things right, but it was for various owners. In every case, the cause was a neglected community. Almost overnight, or so it seemed, they had attracted a crowd — but the wrong crowd.

That is also why, as Livingston pointed out in his post, Pepsi Refresh had to adjust and enforce its rules address fraudulent voting. That is why Digg dumped several features needed to create a sense of community, but also made it super easy to game the system with reciprocal voting. And it is also why none of the Twitter influence algorithms work.

Ergo, if you want to develop a Christian network, attracting an abundance of atheists might not be such a good idea (or vice versa). However, a few, assuming they maintain decorum, could keep things challenging enough to avoid bubble syndrome. And that's my point. Community management is about being proactive in the shaping from the ground up and forever. It requires balance.

Even Thidwick, whom we are supposed to sympathize with (given the story is a lesson for guest behavior), was partly to blame for his predicament. He assumed that the more he catered to his guests (and the more guests there were) somehow equated to having a bigger heart. He was wrong. Sometimes having a bigger heart means enforcement, but all too often enforcement also means that the manager neglected a problem that already existed.

Guidance before problems start is already the remedy. And the same holds true in inner office disputes too. While there is the occasional bad apple hire, most inner office issues are the result of a community operating without proper guidance. Ergo, had Thidwick drew the line with the Bingle Bug and Tree-Spider, the story would have had a happier ending for everyone.

Tuesday, October 12

Retracting Gap: What's In A Logo?

"Ok. We’ve heard loud and clear that you don’t like the new logo." — GAP Facebook

But it's hard to turn off online opinions. And GAP can expect to hear some more after its two-day escapade to introduce a logo that felt like it was served up straight out of an old clip art book.

Helvetica (because that is what everybody uses). And a tiny box behind the GAP (because someone wanted GAP to be, you know, outside the box).

“We’ve learned a lot in this process. And we are clear that we did not go about this in the right way," said Marka Hansen, president of Gap Brand North America. "We recognize that we missed the opportunity to engage with the online community. This wasn’t the right project at the right time for crowd sourcing."

But did they really? Hansen's statement alludes to the idea that they might try again. Just not today. And after the recent GAP debacle, probably not in the foreseeable future. Almost certainly not why Hansen holds the same position.

What Is It About Logos Anyway?

When a company has a readily identifiable brand, like GAP, the logo transcends art. It becomes the symbol of the brand relationship.

When that happens (and you want it to happen), you cannot change the logo any more successfully than you can surprise your spouse with a new wedding ring as the symbol of your relationship. This is especially true true if you trade it down, swapping out the gold band for a twizzler stick or tie wrap.

"Um honey, what's that wrapped around your finger?"

"Oh this? It's a garbage bag tie wrap."

"A what? ... Why?"

"I decided to evolve the symbol of our relationship to be more in line with our everyday down-to-earth domestic bliss."

See? If you think such a stunt would be well received, go ahead and try it.

Of course, that is not to say refreshing a symbol is a bad idea. There are opportunities to evolve it, from time to time, with the mutual consent of both parties. Or, in the case of a company logo, many stakeholders. In some cases, it might not be all that different from deciding when to change a tagline.

When To Change A Logo.

At the end of the relationship. Mergers, acquisitions, and buyouts are all suitable times to change the logo because they represent a change in the relationship. However, marketers must always remember that a new symbol is indicative of change. New relationships have to be proven.

At the end of an era. Some logos, much like architecture, pay too much attention to trends and not the timelessness of their own design. In the 1980s, for example, many companies infused pastels into their designs. The evolution of Nike might be an appropriate example, especially because the changes were mostly subtle.

With a shift in direction. While the Syfy name change is still a mess, the timing was somewhat right. The network wanted to change direction. Whether it really did or not is debatable. (There were some other legal reasons involved too).

Because it sucks. Some companies have logos that suck. There are thousands and thousands. What else can be said about them? Marketers need to be careful though. Mercedes is sometimes called a bad logo design. Maybe so, but the iconic symbol has transcended what doesn't work.

New Products. New companies, new products, and new services can sometimes spark the imagination. Apple used this approach when it dropped the color bars. While the change wasn't as dramatic as the launch of Infiniti by Nissan, it's still a useful illustration.

Never. When a logo works, it works. And it doesn't have to be great to work. That is the lesson GAP ought to have learned. While the company might think the mark has become tied to the past, its customers are happy enough with it. And maybe that is the most important lesson of all. When it comes to logos, once established, it's no longer about you.

Related Stories By Others.

What Did It Take To Get The Gap To Reverse Its Logo Redesign?

Dear Gap, I Have Your New Logo.

Calm Down, The New Gap Logo is a PR Stunt.

Monday, October 11

Changing Communication: Front Line Workers Over Leaders

According to a study by CNBC, the communication industry (advertising, public relations, and marketing) may see some more major transitions in the near future. This time around, the changes aren't expected to be external like the advent of social media. It will be internal, driven by changes in workforce positions, which will eventually cause cross-industry changes.

In the next decade, as media continues to consolidate, public relations (those who really worked in media relations) will face increased position competition by journalists. And, given the journalists will have a leg up on demonstrating "inside knowledge," many public relations pros will be absorbed into advertising (if they are creative), marketing (if they are not), or social media (for less money). As each position's exodus occurs, others within the field will likely be forced out or regulated to increasingly task-oriented jobs.

Communication-Related Positions Expected To Decline.

1. Reporters and Correspondents. According to the report, reporters and correspondents at media outlets will decline as much as eight percent in the next decade. This could increase competition in the fields of advertising and public relations as reporters and columnists on the top of the chain compete for better paying public relations jobs while new entrants are likely to consider advertising and public relations a backup.

2. Computer Programmers. While the software segment is expected to increase by as much as 32 percent in the decade, computer programmers (the people who write the instructions for computers to run software) will drop three percent. Either computer programmers will become increasingly independent or find new ways to adapt their work. We think it may impact the communication field as more marketers add tech savvy programmers to their creative teams.

3. Advertising, Marketing, And Public Relations Managers. While the industry is expected to grow 13 percent, communication management is expected to drop by two percent. This could impact the industry two-fold. More people but fewer managers will reduce the entry level positions to a subprofessional level and decrease opportunities for advancement. Beyond that, the industry has been trending toward tactical solutions, requiring more task work and people to fill chairs. And no, this isn't a good thing.

4. Editors. If you're tried of seeing typos in everything from media articles, company Websites, and blogs — get used to it. Editing positions will remain flat, with more of them being contracted as opposed to brought in house. Part of the decline is attributed to problems within the publishing industry, but the bigger picture is that companies want editors who are more than editors. They have to have some tech skills too. Interestingly enough, while there is less demand for the position, there is greater demand for the skill set.

While some of these changes seem insignificant, they represent sweeping changes in the industry. As media outlets continue to trim staff, public relations professionals (there is almost a reporter: public relations ratio of 1:2 already) will be expected to develop more direct-to-public campaigns. Unfortunately, they won't oversee the campaigns as — across the board — management is being diminished, leaving more communication professionals with less room for advancement in a field that was already competitive.

The net result is more tactical and less strategic work. And while this will appeal to number crunchers who believe everything is a formula based on the total number of people vs. the dollars spent, the net result will be weaker brands and a profession that increasingly feels less professional. For all the good social media has done, it is also stripping away some of the significance of the industry as entry-level communicators are much more likely to find their positions much more similar to online customer service than content creation and management.

Sunday, October 10

Changing Paradigms: Fresh Content Project

Last week, I wrote about how important it is to remain teachable. And I didn't realize it at the time, but it fits in nicely enough with the five posts chosen as fresh content picks.

When you look at all of them, perhaps with Ike Pigott striking at a theme, they really speak to the idea that people are having a hard time letting go of what they think they know. The reality is that the world is constantly changing and it's changing at a faster pace. Nothing is going to be the same. So, it really becomes a balance of embracing change without being so foolhardy by thinking that every shiny solution will be the wave you want to ride.

Best Fresh Content In Review, Week of September 20

8 Blogger Outreach No-nos To Avoid At All Costs.
While most of us know the public relations industry still has trouble with blogger outreach (largely, because it's not scalable like mass news release distribution), it was still refreshing to read Arik Hanson's takeaway from a Twitter chat session. For some reason, public relations professionals think they can blast pitch bloggers and then, assuming the blogger has enough reach, attempt to make them part of the messaging team. I don't get it and neither should you. Check out all eight tips from Hanson. There isn't a lemon in the bushel.

• PageRank Explained, Without Math (Really).
Ian Lurie helps explain that for all the good some SEO specialists think they are doing, they are sometimes doing the opposite. If you want people to go to a specific place, like a Website, then linking to the site makes sense. But if you add too many links, you could unintentionally divert all the juice somewhere else. Maybe it'll come back. Maybe it won't. It's hard to say. This might also be the reason that people are linking less in general, being a bit more stingy on sharing the water (to borrow from Lurie's analogy). That's fine, except some are forgetting to attribute too. Strike a balance between the two extremes.

Slave to the Packaging.
Any post that includes something about Rush deserves attention. Ike Pigott wrote a post about artificial boundaries created within the music industry with bands jumping off the road to produce albums and then restarting their tours all over again. Fortunately, things change. Music is still undergoing significant change. Some for the better and some for the worse. The better, depending on how you look at it, are bands that produce EPs and then finish albums on the road. That, of course, is only a sliver of Pigott's post. Take a moment to read the comparisons to networks and news releases.

Kent State’s Online PR Master’s Is Set To Launch
While Bill Sledzik intended the post to be a little bit promotional, there is much more there than meets the eye. Kent State is moving in the direction of many universities in offering an online master's degree (many of which require some in-person class time). While the downside to an online degree is that it still has a reputation of being easy, I'm hoping universities like Kent State can help shore the image up. People like me, who missed out on a master's due to location constraints, are much more likely to pursue degrees long distance. If you can hear the teachers, read the books, ask questions, and complete the assignments ... what's the difference anyway?

The Spinning Of A Tragedy (w/video)
When I first noticed that Bob Conrad was going to tackle this tragedy, I didn't know what to think. It was one of those subjects that could prove enlightening or disastrous (much like when I was asked to write disaster response tips after a mining tragedy). Conrad is the perfect person to tackle this one, which hits too close to home. There is an anti-police public relations campaign being lobbied against a police department for what appears to have been unavoidable. Unfortunately, given the facts, this will only prolong the pain felt by everyone. Check it out and then be sure to read the follow up post too.

Friday, October 8

Being Teachable: Better Communication

You can teach a old dog new tricksOne of my friends reminded me of an interesting story yesterday. The story, by John R. Noe, tells how one employee became frustrated by being passed up for promotions despite 20 years at the company.

Charlie was passed up three times in all, each time by people who had been with the company less time. So Charlie decided to confront his boss. He demanded to know why he was being passed up despite "20 years of experience."

"No, Charlie," the boss said. "You have been in the job 20 years, but you do not have 20 years of experience … you have one year of experience twenty times."

The Art Of Being Teachable.

Noe attributed the lack of promotion to making the same mistakes over and over. But mistakes are just reminders that you have plenty to learn. There are many people who never make mistakes, but still never gain experience while they drift along. They simply imitate the actions of the day before, never budging from the complacent comfortability they carve out for themselves.

There are dozens of reasons. Noe cited three: pride (the assumption they already know), skepticism (the doubt that anything can be improved upon), and lack of time (being so busy with the routine, there isn't time to expand horizons).

You have to give these things up to be teachable. And for some people, it isn't easy. Complacency is a drug, more addictive than crack. It might feel good for weeks, months, or years, but eventually it will kill you dead. Maybe not literally. But then again, maybe it will.

Why Being Teachable Is Important For Communicators.

When public relations people or communication folks complain about not getting a seat at the table, I always chuckle. Generally, the only reason they don't have a seat at the table is because they haven't earned it. They bring nothing of value.

Don't get me wrong. I don't mean they are not valuable. I mean that they don't bring anything of value to the executive team, even though they have every tool and skill set at their disposal. They can conduct market research, run competitive analysis, scour industry articles, listen to people within the company, and come up with breakthroughs. But most of them don't.

Most professionals misapply a bad habit they pick up in school. They try to force other people's case studies onto the business or over a situation. So instead of becoming strategic thinkers, they strategically imitate what everyone else does. You can see it online, all the time. The most popular posts are laundry lists of things you can imitate. (That's not to say some lists aren't insightful).

You can turn all that on its head, though. Look outside your profession and listen, observe, read, test, experiment and see what will really work for your situation and circumstance. Some of the best ideas I've learned over the years come from areas one or two steps removed from what most people think I do. It's also a path directly opposite of advice that tells you to specialize.

If you want to be a better anything, the ratio of listening vs. talking (or doing) is about 80:20. That's why things take a little longer for some. Communicating (or writing) is only about 20 percent of the job. But there are plenty of people who can plunk out colorful copy if you prefer. Those are the folks with one year of experience 20 times.

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