Monday, December 27

Looking Back: Top Ten Communication Stories In 2010

Good Bye 2010This past year has been an interesting one for Copywrite, Ink., especially as it relates to this collection of communication observations. In addition to adopting a different design in early 2010, adding the Disquis comment system, we also changed to a dedicated address.

The dedicated address change, specifically, led to some interesting behind-the-scenes changes. While both addresses lead to the same destination (and there was no interruption for subscribers), traffic is counted separately on some external measurement systems and many well-read posts appear as if they were never read at all (because of the tweet share button).

I only mention it because it fits with some of the content themes written about in 2010. Looks can be deceiving. What isn't deceiving, however, is which stories seemed to resonate with readers. And to close out 2010, I thought I'd share this with you.

Top Ten Communication Stories 2010.

1. TSA Policies Are Not A Privacy Issue.

Some things are not a simple matter of semantics, liberty among them. So while the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Department Of Homeland Security continually make the case that current and future security measures are a choice between security and privacy, liberty remains the real issue we ought to be talking about. This was the most read story of 2010 and probably the most important, given the far reaching consequences of those who will choose the illusion of security over liberty.

2. Unteaching Social Media: Communication First, With A Deck.

While some people were surprised to learn that I spend more time teaching communication as opposed to social media in social media classes, the deck attached to this post generated more than its fair share of interest among communicators, hailing from public relations, marketing, and advertising. I tend to keep social media simple. It's a singular environment where broadcasters and receivers cannot be distinguished and communicators must learn to simultaneously communicate on a scale of one to one, one to niche, and one to many. This post included a link to the deck I used in class.

3. Fresh Content Providers, Quarterly Updates.

What began as a relatively simple question became a year-long experiment of sorts. The Fresh Content Project tasked Copywrite, Ink. with picking a single post per day from a growing field of 250 communication-related bloggers. The intent was to discover whether or not popularity could be an indication of quality content. The experiment will conclude on December 31, with some reveals and loose ends to tie up in 2011. At its close, we'll begin working on the next experiment — the anti-influence project (for lack of a better name).

Interestingly enough, it wasn't the weekly content recaps that attracted the most attention. It was the quarterly rankings, which featured every author chosen during any given quarter. You can also find every post chosen on Facebook.

4. Managing Crisis: Bad PR Is Only A Symptom.

Without question, one of the most captivating live crisis communication case studies that took place in 2010 was the BP oil spill. Of all the posts related to the case study across multiple companies, the initial story that recognized that the BP oil spill was not a single crisis communication event, but rather several across the weeks and months, resonated the most with communicators. I'm glad it did because if there is one thing public relations professionals need to learn about crisis management it's that almost all crises have independent events within them that must be handled on a situational case-by-case basis.

5. Saving Wildlife: Dawn Responds To Oil Spill Crisis.

While there were many stories written around the Gulf Coast oil spill, there was a related/unrelated story that also captured some interest. What made this story important, in terms of reader interest, is that it proves people aren't always keen on simply gravitating to bad news. There was good news to be found in the field of bad news stories. One of them came from Procter & Gamble (P&G) and its product, Dawn, which gently removes oil and helps save wildlife affected by oil spills. Although Dawn has been used for more than 30 years in the field, P&G doesn't push public relations related to saving wildlife. Rather, like most good public relations stories, it allows people to discover it on their own.

6. Pushing Pies: Pizza Hut, Domino's, Papa John's.

While pizza doesn't seem like a captivating communication topic, there is a lot to learn about big companies marketing virtually the same product. The comparison between the marketing efforts of the big three — Pizza Hut, Domino's, and Papa John's — pinpointed how important it can be to find a product contrast that resonates and then stick with it. For Pizza Hut that meant unbeatable value and quick order convenience. Contrast that with Domino's and Papa John's. The former took to attempting to punish the Pizza Hut and Papa John's brands while failing to deliver on its own promise. The latter celebrated everyone's love for pizza, but failed to communicate the distinction that made it one of the big three to begin with.

7. Integrating Communication: PR-Driven Social Media.

Throughout 2010, we offered up several communication models for consideration, the most popular of which was the PR-Driven Social Media model. I'm not surprised. While we believe that social media is a cross-discipline activity that requires an integrated approach that involves marketing, advertising, public relations, and other fields of expertise, public relations professionals remain the most interested in taking the online communication helm. As long as they continue to embrace social media at a faster pace than other fields, it seems likely social media will increasingly be viewed as a public relations discipline, for better or worse.

8. Understanding Bloggers: Why PR Doesn't Get Them.

Having worked with bloggers for multiple social networks and outreach campaigns over the course of five years, it seemed relatively easy for me to break out a list of considerations related to the predominant types of bloggers. While it's an oversimplification to assign "motivations" behind various bloggers, the lesson to be learned was not to categorize bloggers as much as it was to open up the eyes of public relations professionals, helping them to realize that not all bloggers are motivated by cash incentives or the "privilege" of getting the inside scoop of a company. Contrary, bloggers are as diverse as people, which makes sense as most of them are people. Treat them as such.

9. Changing PR: Customers Are Media; Complaints Are News.

Not all crisis communication scenarios happen to big companies. Once of the most interesting mini-crisis communication challenges that occurred this year happened to a relatively small theater operator in St. Croix Falls, Wis. What started out as a private complaint made by a customer, quickly turned public after the theater's manager sent the complainer an email response without a bit of empathy or remorse for the theater's failings, basically telling the customer to "f*ck off." This runaway email became the subject of scorn as a Facebook boycott page took off and mainstream media started covering the story. Sadly, all the manager had to do was apologize and offer a free popcorn on the next visit.

10. Branding: Personal Branding And Reputation Are Illusions.

Despite the growing number of communicators who are joining the fray to question the validity of personal branding, it remains a controversial topic in that people are generally divided between the two schools of thought (with the third group that attempts to find some middle ground). I contributed several posts to the topic in 2010, but the one that resonated with readers was one that included some cognitive psychology into the mix. People who enjoy discussing this topic might be happy to know that I anticipate the personal branding topic will reoccur several times in 2011. It is also the subject of the book I've been writing, which I limp along with from time to time.

And that brings about some of the changes ahead in 2011. Copywrite, Ink. will be turning 20 years old next year and this educational extension will be turning seven with more than 1,200 posts under its belt. It's time to scale it to three times a week as opposed to five, allowing me more time to focus on additional projects.

Those include working with our growing stable of clientele, finishing the aforementioned book that lands on the back burner too often, accepting the occasional guest post on other blogs (usually declined as I hadn't the time), and nurturing our side project Liquid [Hip], which continues to see some exceptional traction.

Thanks so much for finding time to make the Copywrite, Ink. blog part of your busy week. I'll work even harder to keep the content fresh in 2011. But this post closes out 2010. With the exception of one of the last fresh content recaps landing next Sunday, look for the first post of 2011 on January 3. Happy New Year! Good night, good luck, and good fortunes.

Sunday, December 26

Bending Perception: Best Fresh Content

Fresh Content Project
If there is a trend to content creation online, the leading theme is probably perception. As more marketing and public relations professionals enter the space, they seem to gravitate toward it, given the mistaken (but partly true belief) that perception somehow equals reality. It doesn't. Not really.

Knowing this, is it any surprise that professionals who cannot come up with innovative ideas rely on their company's "authority" to propel them forward? Or that people are clamoring for an "online influence" measurement system even though the very notion is silly? Or that, every year, agencies allow themselves to produce campaigns that fail because they don't recognize the difference between a client and a customer? Or that, despite influence and authority, you can find plenty of people at the top who demonstrated that, for all their popularity and promise and entitlements, they still suck at communication?

In the battle between perception and reality, please remember to keep it real. Consider these five posts as evidence.

Best Fresh Content In Review, Week of December 13

Where Do Business And Social Meet?
Valeria Maltoni raises some interesting questions about the role of communicators and how some people with corporate roles attempt to leverage their title and company brand in order to gain visibility in social media and reap personal benefits. Her thinking touches very well with what I wrote about personal brands earlier this year. Applied here, we might conclude that those who lack ideas or popularity frequently attempt to leverage their "authority." It's neither wrong or right, but certainly reminds us not to follow people blindly.

The Top Ten Best (And Worst) Communicators of 2010.
Most fresh content picks tend to stay away from lists, but this one by Ben and Kelly Decker is worth the read. It's well thought out and all the more alluring because it starts with the best and not the worst. Even better than simply dropping in a few names and calling it a day, the Deckers work hard to share exactly why they felt some people deserved to be on one list or another, making the lesson much more fitting. When you read about these 20 people and their stories, you might ask yourself in 2011 whose company you would rather keep.

How Social Semantic Search Defines People.
Geoff Livingston does an excellent job reminding everyone that search isn't about technologies. It's about people. And just as often, it's about the semantics we type in in order to discover the content we want to cover. One person might type in any number of combination of words to find something. Another could type in something else, even if they want the same content. But even more striking is the next layer of personalization. Worse might be the fact that some of that personalization relies increasingly on popularity.

Clients Aren't Customers: Why Most Agencies Suck At Project Management.
From our perspective, Ian Lurie has had a banner year in writing content that connects. This week was no exception as he pinpointed the difference between clients and customers. Clients, he points out, typically control the fate of an entire project, whether it's a marketing campaign, a new web site or an application. Customers do not. They only purchase based on the final product. What he points out so clearly, is that most agencies get it wrong. They do whatever the client tells them, thinking of them as customers. Except, eventually, when anyone at an agency does that, they set themselves up to fail because they will still be accountable for the results, even if the client made all the decisions.

Five Primary Problems With Klout.
Geoff Livingston has since softened his stance on Klout, but the initial post was still right on the money. Somehow, the service has been embraced as some sort of influence indicator to organizational managers who don't know any better. Livingston points out five reasons you might think twice. And those, from my opinion, are only the tip of the iceberg. At the same time, please do keep in mind that I have nothing personal against Klout (although some people say I sound like I do.) Nah, not at all. I have a problem with the entire concept of online influence measures. There is even a post waiting in the wings to kick off the new year.

Friday, December 24

Wishing Everyone: Happy Holidays

Holiday Card

Dear Santa,

A pint of hope,
a pound of love,
an ounce of faith,
a pinch of wisdom,
a dash of perseverance,
and a lifetime of gratitude.

Please deliver generously to our friends and family; clients and colleagues. It's all anyone needs this year.

All my best,

What else can be said? Thank you for allowing me to be part of your day and you a part of mine. Happy holidays and merry Christmas. Until next week ... good night, good luck, and good fortunes.

Thursday, December 23

Advertising 2011: A Year Of Confusion?

Advertising 2011
While 2010 may mark the first time marketers put more money into online advertising than newspapers — newspaper spending falls to $25.7 billion and online ad spending rises to $25.8 billion — next year will be one of the most trying for advertising that works.

On one hand, recent analysis from Better Advertising shows few consumers choose to opt out of targeted online advertising programs. On the other hand, consumers will continue to tell marketers, publishers, and pollsters that they don't want targeted advertising.

As if that wasn't challenging enough, some predictions for online advertising are almost too painful to read. Take the six predictions from Jesse Thomas that recently appeared on Mashable. Some are postscript predictions and some will lead to advertising campaign failures.

Why Will 2011 Be A Year Of Confusion?

Earlier this year, I was very optimistic that 2010 would be considered the year of integration. In many ways, this proved to be true. Companies worked diligently to better align various functions of marketing, advertising, and public relations. Those campaigns worked exceptionally well.

Yet, for all the successes, integration has had some unintended consequences as bad practices began to spread from one discipline to the other, creating one wave after another of thinking that is increasingly tactical. The Masahable predictions underscore the problem. Let's highlight some inherent problems with the predictions.

Channel Focus Or Communication Focus?

With increasing frequency, some companies are asking for proven platform strategies like how to get more fans on Facebook or more followers on Twitter. They are asking the wrong question. Or, at least, they are asking questions in the wrong order.

Companies might ask how they can introduce their product to more people or increase sales or become a subject matter expert in the industry. And only then do they need to ask how Facebook and Twitter might fit into that, if they fit in at all.

Global Reach Or Location Based?

This is one of two areas where Thomas contradicts himself in the post. He emphasizes the importance of many, but then provides relevance to smaller segmentations. If the number of Facebook "likes" is so important, why bother with location-oriented ads?

The reason is because location-based advertising isn't new. If a company has a physical location, then it only makes sense that location-based advertising works. Retailers that don't market to the radius around their establishments, whether that includes online advertising or direct mail, are missing what could be their most regular customers. If those people connect to Facebook (and people from the Sudan do not), all the better.

Influencers Or Micro-Networks?

This is another problem with the "many" to "few" networking game. Online influencers are generally considered such because they amass a large following. This seems to contradict an increasing trend where people are scaling back and segmenting the associations they make online.

Riddle me this. If more consumers spend more time in micro networks, then how can "influencers" amass thousands? Simply put, they can't except as a matter of perception. Case in point. I invest almost 40 percent of my Facebook time in one Facebook group. That means even though several dozens of pages count me as a "like," I'm mostly AWOL from their pages.

Predictable Or Professional?

While it is not true in every case, predicting that Silicon Valley could be the next Madison Avenue could have unintended consequences. For one thing, I don't see many creative directors and copywriters lining up to make less money Tweeting blurbs alongside people with two months of customer service experience (one company calls them "web presence professionals").

More likely, if there is a trend to focus more on tactical channel development (social networks) over adding creative into the strategic communication mix, then my guess is creative professionals will jump ship and enter the entertainment, fashion, and product design fields because it seems that consumers appreciate their talents more than some business owners anyway. Once they're gone, you can expect consumers to hate advertising all the more.

Personally, I'm very optimistic about 2011. However, with the influx of contradictory tactics, I anticipate more companies struggling against conflicting tactical ideas and not enough of them developing strategic marketing plans that balance the mix and meet their business objectives. It will be interesting to watch and even more interesting to participate.

Wednesday, December 22

Amplifying: Social Media Is Not For Timid Executives

Shel Holtz, principal of Holtz Communication + Technology, recently wrote a thoughtful commentary about why he believes communication consultants (public relations professionals with blogs, for instance) ought to think twice before piling on companies that make mistakes. He alludes to the idea that it turns otherwise savvy professionals into PR ambulance chasers.

There is some truth to this idea. He says there are companies that have been frightened away from social media because of the put-downs and jibes they receive from a growing world of "experts." On that point, Holtz is very right. And yet, I have mixed feelings about the conclusion.

Intent is a powerful ally in the art and science of communication.

Holtz is right in that it is rather unbecoming to create a persona of someone sitting behind a computer screen salivating for companies to get into trouble and then piling on them with links to half a dozen equally verbose colleagues, all hoping to build a mountain of evidence out of cheap shots or colorful prose or campy satire. Do it too much, and it will hurt your business.

Writing about crisis communication to serve up a collection of lessons for students takes much more than a series of fleeting sentences. Even then, there is some risk.

"Did you ever wonder..." asked one of my students at lunch. "...if what you sometimes write about scares away people who might otherwise hire your company?"

I chuckled, telling her that I used to think about it every day. However, despite having the company brand on the banner above, I had to make a decision whether this blog was about attracting business or educating students and discussing concepts and constructs with colleagues. I chose the latter, even if this blog has helped win and lose a few clients (who I never write up).

But not everyone has the same educational intent. I think that is what Holtz is alluding to. If you're thinking about a communication blog, consider the intent. Even then, never leave your readers with a story that ends on some double negative snarky beat down — you have to be thoughtful and do your homework. At some point, you have to provide solutions to the problems. A little bit of empathy doesn't hurt either.

Social media is no place for a company with unmanageable blemishes.

So, why do I have mixed feelings about Holtz's post? Simply stated, I don't have much sympathy for companies that are "afraid" to enter social media. Executives who think every glimmer will be celebrated and every blemish overlooked have unrealistic expectations not only in social media, but life in general.

I had this conversation almost four years ago. And as I roughly wrote then, if companies seek "attention" then the executives and team leaders have to appreciate that they do not get to choose what others find newsworthy or interesting. And, once you invite bloggers and members of the media to take an interest in the company, you cannot "uninvite" them.

It's one of the lessons a group publisher tells my public relations classes every year. If you invite reporters to give their opinions on "X," they might not agree with you. Equally possible, they might decide to write about "Y," especially if "Y" seems more interesting.

It's the one thing that social media has in common with traditional media. Both communication channels have an equal propensity to amplify organizational vices and virtues. It has always been this way, and always will be this way. If you want your company to be something, you have to accept the risks. Or, if you prefer someone much wiser than me, consider what Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC) said more than two thousand years ago.

“Criticism is something we can avoid easily by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” — Aristotle

Tuesday, December 21

Nurturing Teams: Keep Incentives Simple

Fargo, North Dakota
Many people had a chuckle after learning about a sales team that was given an all-expenses-paid trip to Fargo, North Dakota, for missing their sales goals. Had they hit those goals, the makers of Hot Tamales would have sent them to Hawaii instead.

But some executives might ask whether or not it was smart. Infinitely so.

Just Born, the family-owned candy manufacturer that has been in business for eight decades (three generations), believes in motivating and engaging employees. One of its many philosophies includes that great things happen when everyday courtesy, kindness, and humor are woven into all our personal and professional interactions. And the Fargo team vacation underscores it well.

While some companies create incentive programs that make employees feel like they lost something, this company simply gave them something else. So instead of having an office filled with people who "lost" going nowhere, about two dozen sales people shared an experience that may even be a better team building vacation than had they won the most luxurious team trip.

Case in point. One of the sales associates told the AP, succinctly in good spirits, "Twenty to 30 years down the road, when we see each other, we're going to say, 'Remember Fargo?'" Whereas nobody seems to be dwelling on how they lost a trip to Hawaii, which is what they would have done otherwise. Worse, they might have even second guessed their sales, which increased by two percent (as opposed to the goal of four percent).

Developing Incentive Programs That Work.

Many employers put significant thought into employee reward programs, but sometimes they forger that employees do too. When faced with a rewards program, many employees ask: do I value the reward, can I realistically achieve the results, and is the reward really related to my (or my team's) performance?

Case in point. I worked with one company years ago that gave employees annual bonuses related to individual store sales, with the managers (up to 5 percent), assistant managers (up to 5 percent), and employees (up to 1/2 percent) receiving a scaled percentage of their salary as a bonus. While store managers seemed to be motivated (they received credit for new clients), it didn't connect with many employees — in-store sales people, stock personnel, or delivery drivers.

Why not? Because the bonuses were not related their performance. They were more motivated to excel in areas related to their job descriptions (and semi-annual raises).

In some cases, the program even split the team because as managers left the store to find new clients, employees felt deserted by management. In other cases, managers would aggressively pursue the bonuses as money they already counted on at the end of the year, sometimes wearing their performance emotions on their sleeves.

Even more daunting, store managers were also competing with outside sales reps. What made that especially interesting, however, is that outside reps' sales had to be filled at stores (and stores received credit for those sales). In sum, it was a mess.

Keep It Sweet, Simple, And Equal.

Now take a good look at the Hot Tamales sales incentive. The incentive was simple, sweet, straightforward, and singular in how it was structured. But best of all, even when the team didn't achieve its goal, they received something that fits in nicely with the company's philosophy, sense of humor, and is a memorable team building opportunity (maybe even more so than if they had received a trip to Hawaii).

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