Friday, August 26

Shocking Civil Rights: Congressman Steve Chabot

Congressman ChobatU.S. Congressman Steve Chabot, his staff, and Cincinnati police officers recently surprised constituents in Ohio by preventing them from filming a town hall meeting where the congressman was speaking (with threat of force). Eric Odom, who recently outlined everything wrong with the incident, rightly points out that the town hall meeting was a public event and held in a public place.

Apparently, Congressman Chabot forgot the oath he took upon entering office. Every congressman is required to take it.

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.

Neither Congressman Chabot nor his staff ought to have asked police officers to bar phones that may record events. On the contrary, they should have defended the right of those in the audience to film the event. Likewise, the police officer ought to have considered his oath as they usually include "I will preserve the dignity and respect the rights of all individuals."

Explanations offered by the police officer included that he was doing what he was told and that freedom of the press does not include citizens. It is equally disturbing to think that any police officer, whose duty it is to protect and serve, would not have elected to protect the rights of the those filming the events as opposed to the request of the congressman or his staff.

After all, freedom of the press is not confined to journalists but to anyone who publishes, including citizens who attend public events.

Sure, there is always debate over what constitutes "the press" in the courts. And some people, newspapers included at times, have tried to distinguish themselves above citizens. However, there are several cases where the Supreme Court has already made it clear.

“...necessary to define those categories of newsmen who qualify for the privilege, a questionable procedure in light of the traditional doctrine that liberty of the press is the right of the lonely pamphleteer who uses carbon paper or a mimeograph just as much as of the large metropolitan publisher who utilizes the latest photocomposition methods.” (408 U.S. at 704)

Further, as noted by JRPOF, the Supreme Court went on to observe that “freedom of the press is a ‘fundamental personal right . . . not confined to newspapers and periodicals. It necessarily embraces pamphlets and leaflets . . . . The press in its historic connotation comprehends every sort of publication which affords a vehicle of information and opinion.’” (quoting Lovell v. Griffin, 304 U.S. 444, 450, 452 (1938)

Without question, it seems to me, this easily extends to anyone who would film such an event and potentially publish it on YouTube despite dissenters who argue that freedom of the press extends only to a privileged few. In fact, what concerns me about such opinions is that when rights are limited, they cease to become rights. They become privileges, which are significantly different.

Ergo, privileges are granted and subject to being taken away. Whereas rights are different. They are inalienable. Had the founding fathers intended something different, they might have called the first 10 amendments the "Bill Of Privileges." On the contrary, the U.S. Constitution would not have been ratified had individual rights not been enumerated.

Public criticism convinces Congressman Chabot to rethink video.

According to Chabot spokesperson Jamie Schwartz, cameras will be allowed in the future. However, the spokesperson also defended the action, saying that the cameras were taken to protect the privacy of constituents. Using such flawed logic, no public discourse would be allowed to be recorded by anyone.

Likewise, anyone who thinks the blunder is a Republican one ought to think again. Ignorant elected officials from both parties (and other parties for that matter) demonstrated lapses of memory and common sense in the face of criticism. It wasn't long ago that Democratic leaders thought to censor Twitter.

But this is also why it remains vital that people are vigilant to protect their rights over their party affiliations. If we don't, then politicians will likely burn up individual rights from both ends. Good night, good luck, and have a great weekend.

Wednesday, August 24

Thinking Divergent: Divergent Education

ShovelsWe've all been there. (Agency people more than most.) You enter a meeting with a brilliant idea and, inexplicably, some people can't see it. In fact, if the thinking is divergent enough, most of them won't be able to see it. They've been programed not to.

In advertising, it's where all those little rules come from — complete nonsense that calls for the company name to always be in the headline, five bullet points to accompany every ad, or never starting a sentence with "And." Of course they can't see a creative concept beyond the rules they've added to their road map of success.

Most of them have had divergent thinking trained out of them years ago. And that's a problem not only for them, but for our children. Right. The same symptom that prevents some clients from buying a campaign or an investor failing to find the next Apple, is the same challenge being faced in education. Most students are being taught reactive regurgitation.

Reactive regurgitation, better known as rote memorization, still has mainstream appeal in a world that requires more and more divergent thinking for success. For evidence, you only need to look at some of the most successful companies created in the last 20 years. Almost all of them were created with divergent thinking — user interfaces for computers, touch screen phones, search engines, digital newspapers, expensive coffee, social networks, shoes you can't even try on before you buy them.

There are hundreds of them. And we celebrate most of them. We celebrate them because they are the most unlikely success stories, even if we still apply the same rote rules to dismiss others who have something equally unique all over again.

The model of success is programmed to fail.

Sometimes we can't help it. Most of us have been programmed to approach life much like our education was laid out for us — reactive regurgitation, which is best described as a singular unified reaction to something on sight.

For example, much like the video suggests, baby boomers were educated to believe that a college degree ensured employment. Most of us know it helps, especially with organizations that require them in order to minimize the number of applicants. But degrees are not guarantees. Nothing is guaranteed, even if the political climate sometimes suggests citizens might expect this or that. Besides, given the right circumstances, anyone can pursue a degree. Equally true, anyone can come up with an original idea.

But we don't want to believe that, do we? From the way most people buy and sell stocks (with the rise and fall of the market) and the expectations placed on instructors at a university (kids want bullet lists to memorize) to the way politics is boiled down into two equally unpalatable choices (vote on this or that) and even people's own sense of self-worth as it is attached to various labels (smart or dumb and big company or little company and startup or blue chip) — all of it can be destructed into rote theories that imprison people to constructs from the 1800s.

And for whatever reason, we want to believe them even if history continually proves that the opposite is true. We were programmed, and most of us want to pass this programming on to our kids.

A model for success might is just as likely to be no model.

What I like best from the presentation of Sir Ken Robinson, world-renowned education and creativity expert and recipient of the RSA's Benjamin Franklin Award, is that he suggests we reverse the assembly line mentality of the current system and begin to pay attention to nurturing individual potentials. Maybe, he suggests, instead of teaching kids to see one possible answer, we teach them to see many possible answers — the same kind of thinking that has driven us forward as civilizations.

Ergo, Einstein could have never conceived the theory of relativity by simply following the groundwork laid down before him. Van Gogh would have never become a celebrated artist had he only colored inside the lines. Apple would have never turned a corner if it had believed that the touch screen was an unobtainable dream.

But even more importantly for children, such divergent thinking is vital for future success. Why? Because such thinking provides an opportunity to excel in not only the thing you have learned or done, but anything we happen to approach. It removes the answer "I can't" from our vocabulary.

Where I might add on to Robinson's thinking is that it is not just our education system that abandons divergent thinking. Entertainment choices do much the same. Gamers are rewarded for mastering rote memorization, with success related to perfecting what worked last time. Cable programming might appear to be more diverse with 1,000 channels, but children are equally likely to settle on fewer shows than their predecessors because they can record every episode and watch them all over again and again. The sameness is almost startling; and they are rewarded for it.

If we want to break away from our current trajectory, both teachers and parents might start rethinking education. Rather than pushing children down the path of sameness, we might be better off pulling them up the path they've already chosen (and away from entertainment designed to hypnotize them). But then again, that in itself is probably too divergent for most people. Maybe.

Monday, August 22

Rethinking Engagement: Facebook

FacebookMichael Scissons' recent column about the 22 percent drop in Facebook engagement between consumers and brands ought to be a wake-up call. Brand engagement isn't always sustainable because most brands are thin topics.

And as Scissons points out, the problem isn't very likely to be Facebook. It's the pages themselves.

Most brands are tired, driven by managers who either aren't engaged themselves or try to force engagement on others. Some have told me that they feel like they have to. If they can't demonstrate a steadily increasing number of customers jumping through hoops, their bosses or accounts start to think that they are failing or, more commonly, something else is.

How to maintain engagement without over communicating.

When engagement falters, chances are the people who liked it are suffering from brand fatigue. They might have brand fatigue because of under or over communication. And good network managers ought not to sweat it.

It's during these slower times that managers can reassess what they are doing and whether it is still aligned with the mission of the company and stated objectives of the network presence. They might also think like humans too.

Social media has an oddity about it in that even those people who play at calling for human businesses tend to forget they too are human. They start thinking of themselves as tribal leaders, experimenters, or even shepherds. They see their jobs like playing a video game, one that requires them to rack up numbers that no longer have names like Bill and Ted and Sally and Hannah. Instead, they have a bunch of followers, fans, or whatever labels happen to be assigned to their circles.

If you've ever worked in social media, you know it's true. But you can see it as a consumer too. If the brand thought of you as Bill and Ted and Sally and Hannah, then they would already know how engaged you may or may not be. They might appreciate that talking about toothpaste isn't an activity you intend to do daily. And you can't bring yourself to like every post or comment and make a purchase during every sales event. It's just not humanly possible.

How to rethink engagement on consumer terms.

Good network managers don't seem to have as many challenges. There are a number of pages that almost always seem like they are on a steady incline in all areas — reach, engagement, and promotion. Generally, these are managers who appreciate engagement and influence aren't measured by the number of likes, shares, or retweets.

Engagement is a two-way street — like real friends with mutual interests. Even if you don't see them for months, you can always pick up where you left off as if nothing ever happened. Ergo, we might "like" the page of a hotel before we stay there but don't need engagement from such a page as much as we just want to know it still exists the next time we fly into the same town. Maybe engagement sometimes simply means you're easy to find when you're needed.

Friday, August 19

Walking Off: Christine O'Donnell Bails On CNN

Christine O'DonnellAs difficult as it is to put politics aside on political topics, they still make for great public relations puzzles. This one is offered up by Christine O'Donnell, who bailed on her CNN book interview after Piers Morgan asked the former Delaware Senate candidate her views about gay marriage.

To be fair to O'Donnell, despite Morgan's apparent politeness in the clip, the interview was more aggressive than most people know. Morgan had previously played clips from O'Donnell's past, including one where she once said she dabbled in witchcraft. He also brought up the MTV "masturbation sin" episode, priming her to become more emotional before moving in for a kill.

From CNN's point of view, raising questions about witchcraft, masturbation, and gay marriage, are "fair" because O'Donnell discusses religion in her book. (Besides, Morgan asks every Republican that question, recently Gov. Chris Christie and Mitt Romney.) On the other hand, it also suggests an agenda. Discrediting O'Donnell and others makes for great entertainment.

The real life reactions to this clip are generally mixed. In reading the comments piled on various media outlets covering the story, people are all over the map. Some will misconstrue this as a win for O'Donnell because enough conservatives and independents give her a majority on the walk off. Here's a rough summation of where people landed.

People with liberal leanings say it reinforces their belief that the Tea Party favorites are nut jobs. People with fiscally conservative leanings say that it's indicative of a liberal media afraid to talk about fiscal policy. And neocon Republicans, which are different from Tea Partiers, mostly lament that this illustrates why such personalities embarrass them.

Independents on the other hand are largely split, with varied opinions that are all underscored by a message that the media and politicians might wake up to — they actually want to talk about fiscal policy and the economy as opposed to fringe topics. Ergo, they are growing increasingly restless over polarizing social issues when the economy is in the foreground.

Still, that only provides background for the story and a thumbnail sketch on how people are reacting. Let's talk about the truth.

Is there ever a good time to walk off an interview?

Yes, but this wasn't one of those times. The public relations handlers botched it. O'Donnell obviously wasn't prepared, given that the line of questions Morgan had prepared were exactly what ought to have been anticipated by her publicist.

More importantly, there was a better counterpoint for O'Donnell, one that I think might have resonated with all parties. It goes something like this ...

"With all respect, Mr. Morgan, I think you just touched on exactly what is wrong with the state of our country today. People are unemployed, many are losing their homes, and the declining stock market is threatening retirement for millions. Yet, you want to talk about religion, masturbation, and sexual orientation. I think your priorities are confused. I wrote a book that is largely about fiscal policy and I think your viewers might agree that religion, masturbation, and sexual orientation — while important at times — take a back seat to knowing whether you are going to put food on the table tomorrow."

Anything Morgan would have pressed on after a statement like that, would have seemed foolish and trivial. But instead, her handlers prompted her to end the interview, with one of them even stepping in front of the camera. It's hard to take seriously.

The state of media relations and on-air interviews today.

The facts of media engagement are among the simplest, yet amazingly difficult, to master. While the media is allowed to ask any questions they want (even if some pretend agreement was reached prior to the show), interviewees are also allowed to circle back to whatever they want to talk about, provided they do so with tact. Obviously, no one has taught O'Donnell how to do it.

Likewise, while media personalities are allowed to ask the same question over and over, every interviewee ought to know that media personalities look foolish each time they ask the same question. In other words, let them ask and ask, at their own peril.

Interestingly enough, O'Donnell ought to have the gay marriage question down, whatever her views are. My guess is that she is soft on the issue because it rubs against four conflicting moral codes among four different types of Tea Party sympathizers and, possibly, two conflicting values of her own — a government that stays out of other people's personal business and preserving the definition of marriage according to religious beliefs.

Personal feelings or thoughts aside, I think the whole gay marriage question ought to be scrubbed. There are civil unions and religious unions. The state can neither bar nor force any church to adopt or prevent same sex marriages without any such law (either way) being an affront to the First Amendment. Maybe O'Donnell should have said that instead of catering to what she "thinks" her crowd wants to hear.

She might be surprised how people would respond if someone would just take the time to apply reason. And the media might be surprised too, if they would stop catering to their own sensational reporting styles and look at it objectively.

Incidentally, I did ask Piers Morgan where he stands on gay marriage via Twitter. And despite making himself part of the story, he declined to answer.

Wednesday, August 17

Amending IPOs: Does Groupon Really Work?

GrouponJust hours after the Wall Street Journal was reveling over the Groupon IPO last week, the unexpected happened. The "fastest-growing company in the history of mankind" had some wind knocked out of its sails over odd accounting. There's more to the story than record revenues.

It was also able to sustain its rapid sales growth, bringing in $878 million in net revenue, a quarterly increase of 36 percent. High expenses, however, resulted in an operating loss of $102.5 million in the second quarter. — Forbes

Most people know that the day deal site is big on marketing. It spent $165.2 on online marketing to gain new subscribers last quarter, which is lower than the $179.9 million it spent the previous quarter. Where people need to look under the hood is exactly what marketers talk about on a regular basis — what's the marketing ROI and how many people need to manage it.

Straight math might suggest that the company makes $4 for every $1 of marketing. However, that doesn't necessarily account for everything else — staff, consultants, and time-to-creation. Those are the numbers you might want to look at, and then you might wonder about some other things too. It would be a shame to discover Groupon is a company that loses even $.01 for every dollar it spends. Because if that were true, then the company is only growing by continually spending ahead of itself.

Groupon is a good idea, but advertisers need restraint.

There is plenty of truth to the old adage that everything is okay in moderation. A glass of wine with a meal, for example, can even be healthy. Ten bottles, not so much, but only because it comes with the hangover. And that's the question, isn't it? What happens when the party ends?

Personally, I know many social media pros who are down on Groupon. I'm not one of them, but I have expressed some caution. It's has nothing to do with Groupon as much as it has something to do with marketing.

Companies that rely too much on coupons and fire sales can create some unusual problems unless they know what they are doing. And unfortunately, not all companies know what they are doing. What problems?

Sometimes, wildly successful campaigns can hurt you too.

If you have ever worked with a restaurant (or a retail establishment), you might might be familiar with the story. If a modestly successful business suddenly has a surge that overpowers staff on hand, the experience changes significantly.

Not only does the restaurant suffer in terms of quality food and customer service, but people might also be turned away — except one customer, who happens to be a reviewer ordering the one dish that you're suddenly out of. To make matters worse, if the coupon counts exceed regular patrons, the revenues might look good, but the company could still take a loss.

The same holds true for non-restaurants too. When demand outpaces supply, those turned away may never come back. When discounts become the norm, people stop buying until the next deal. When one-time buyers flood the space, loyalists are accidentally pushed aside. When the experience isn't perfect, that's the day the reviewers show up. And when you have a math error, revenue records can carry a negative profit.

The best coupon campaigns are those with objectives that go beyond immediate sales. Product introductions, short-term, reason-specific campaigns (back to school, for example), or short-term engagements (special guest or limited time product) can help maximize exposure and market penetration, especially while working in conjunction with a public relations and/or social media campaign. And, always anticipate a response greater than expected, even if it never happens, and never take a loss on the offering.

So what about Groupon? It really depends. If Groupon is built on companies taking losses with impossibly attractive offers that are fueled by advertising at a loss for greater reach, there might be a pretty big problem. But if Groupon is everything that it says it is, short of creative accounting, then that might make sense for some. What are your thoughts about Groupon?

Monday, August 15

Publishing Temptations: Three Social Media Content Evils

Content StrategyAlthough some media companies are still struggling with the transition from print to digital, others are doing fine (even if a few might be fine for the wrong reasons). Eventually, the shakedown will leave us with leaner media companies (many specialized in affirmation opinion), probably made up of a mix between transitioned print and digital upstarts.

It's anyone's guess what the quality will be like, but it might be good enough, maybe. That depends on each publisher specifically and when the public eventually learns objective journalism does have value after all. In the meantime, any short term gains by some publishers might be tempered with a long-term outlook. It seems to me media outlets that jump on the most popular publisher trends are borrowing against their future reputations, bloggers too.

Three Content Creator Evils To Avoid As A Publisher.

• Trending Content Stories. While it's always a good idea to track social media trends to discover what topics people are interested in, publishers are better served in being vigilant in balancing their content. After all, publishing is not public relations even if it feels that way at times.

Specifically, some publishers have adapted what it generally considered a marketing or public relations tactic. They check the topical trends and then find something — anything — to write about that matches those trends regardless of how thin those connections might be.

Some publishers even make trend lists and then burp them out to all their writers, screaming that they need more stories on these popular topics. So, for example, if the Bronx Zoo has a lost cobra, they instruct their journalists to pile on stories about snakes — pushing anything important down and elevating the mundane. It's why the media sometimes feels dubbed down.

• Wrapper Content Marketing. While it has always existed, wrapper content has made significant gains in recent years. This technique isn't audience driven as much as it is advertiser driven.

Specifically, some publishers pick up advertisers and then look for content that is loosely or overtly connected to the product that the company wants to peddle. Marketers and social media pros do this all the time, but it begins to become creepy when third-party publishers jump into the space too.

For example, let's say you publish communication content and an advertiser knocks on your door with a new travel bag. So, you drop the story you planned to do about crisis communication and start writing the story about how much you love the bag, wrapped up nicely with five travel tips for busy professionals. Sure, this works well enough for marketing (we expect to see travel tips on an airline's blog from time to time), but one would hope publishers respect their readers more than writing advertorials.

• Automated Content Pushes. While there is nothing wrong with sharing content across multiple networks, it's always a good idea to practice some self-restraint. After all, if exposure is overshadowing quality in terms of priorities, then the content probably isn't worth sharing.

Specifically, some publishers blast everything they say in one place to every place they have a presence. Their Facebook page has the same content as their Twitter page, which now mirrors their Google+ page, etc. While a certain amount of sharing and duplication is expected, not every story, comment, or thought needs to be threaded everywhere.

The reality is that different networks respond differently to different content and almost every network is sensitive to how it is presented. After sharing stories with primary networks, pick and choose what might best fit where and how to present it. (For example, this story would be mostly senseless to share on Reddit, so I won't put it there. But if I did, the title would have to be something like 'hungry dog eats a village.')

Some marketers tell me I'm silly for not sharing every story everywhere, especially those that know my networks consist of mostly different people. I don't worry about that too much. I share where it makes sense, and if someone else (like a reader) thinks it will fit better elsewhere, then they might be willing to share it instead. I think that's cool, because it places engagement over broadcast.

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