Friday, April 13

Making Stuff Up: The Six Word Stump

While many people wonder about the power of words, sometimes questioning the importance in their ability to turn ideas into action, many presidential hopefuls knew better. It's not uncommon for them to include concise, memorable six-word phrases during stump speeches delivered on the campaign trail.

"Federal government is overgrown and overweight." – Ronald Reagan

The National Constitution Center is planning to expand upon the concept of a six-word stump speech phrase by asking Americans to create their own — six words that would adequately convey the direction that people want to take America. The contest, Address America: Your Six-Word Stump Speech, will begin on April 24.

Entries may be submitted during the center's Primary Palooza Party as it unveils new exhibits and programs on the same day five states will hold primaries, or online at Address America, presented in partnership with Smith Magazine, which hosts the Six-Word Memoir project.

"Restore America to its own people." – Franklin D. Roosevelt 

"The Address America initiative is a unique and accessible way for people across the country to engage in the pivotal 2012 election," said National Constitution Center President and CEO David Eisner. "We hope visitors of all ages will join us to share in the excitement and make their voices heard through a six-word stump speech."

The event in not affiliated with any party. Admission to the Philadelphia event is free with the favor of a reservation (call 215.409.6700) and includes access to the Center's main exhibition: The Story of We the People, and the award-winning theatrical production Freedom Rising. The center will also enable participants to experience From Asbury Park to the Promised Land: The Life and Music of Bruce Springsteen for a special rate of $5. The Address America micro site will go live on April 24.

Why participate in Address America: Your Six-Word Stump Speech?

The National Constitution Center will be testing its new iPad touch screens, which enable museum visitors to submit their phrases and see them projected on displays in the Center's main exhibition. The online submissions will also be displayed in dynamic charts, maps, and word clouds that reveal information about election priorities across geography and party affiliation.

With enough participants, the National Constitution Center hopes to capture the sentiment of Americans using socially-engaged technology. It also challenges participants to write concise, well-thought out, and meaning messages that convey their ideas.

The center has other plans related to the Address America project, including giving participants the opportunity to "remix" their submissions and the submissions of others. Along with the interactive program, there will be objective information about election issues, the candidates, and the U.S. Constitution.

Some other upcoming plans include turning Address America into a road show, with stops in Tampa Bay, Fla., and Charlotte, N.C., for the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. Appearances will also be made in the four cities hosting presidential and vice presidential candidate debates.

In all locations, participants will be asked to share their six-word stump speeches on video, to be featured on the Center's website, social media channels, and Constitution Daily blog. Following the election on Nov. 6, 2012, the Center will continue to engage audiences by inviting six-word submissions of what Americans hope to hear expressed on inauguration day 2013.

It's a clever idea that encourages everyone to express views and opinions in a real-time setting. I also like it because it encourages people to think and write, carefully crafting words to make a statement.

Wednesday, April 11

Shaping Experiences: Why Every Contact Counts

If you want to appreciate how important the customer experience can be, consider the airlines industry. Despite noticeable improvements in overall airline quality performance as measured in the 2012 Airline Quality Rating, consumer impressions of the airlines industry continue to lag and even falter.

The reason is evident. The global view of the industry is shaped by the collective past experiences of all customers.

"Consumer perceptions are shaped by past experiences," said Dr. Dean E. Headley, associate professor of marketing in the Department of Marketing at the W. Frank Barton School of Business, Wichita State University, and one of two co-researchers who head the project. "Small, often unnoticeable, outcome improvements do not get included into consumers' mindset very quickly."

Specifically, every time a customer has a negative experience related to an airline, it reinforces their personal negative perception of the airline and potentially the industry. In turn, disenfranchised customers share their experiences with friends and family, who immediately remember their own negative experiences or become hypersensitive to negativity if they will be traveling soon.

That's too bad, especially because there are countless stories and studies to confirm that negative experiences tend to be shared more often and remembered much longer. And while this phenomenon is not confined to the airlines industry, the industry is unique in being one of a handful of industries with an abundance of indistinguishable brands.

It's also unique because the industry invites (or is required to invite) third-party interruptions into the experience, which is exacerbated by fragmented teams who are more departmentally loyal (and sometimes location loyal) than company loyal.

There are about 16 points of contact, of which the airline can only manage half.

• The airline's individual marketing efforts and online presence.*
• Online booking agents that sell price-based fares.
• Reservationists and customers service phone lines in lieu of third parties.*
• Airport parking and traffic flow for arriving/departing flights.
• Self-serve kiosks that present new fees beyond the ticket price.*
• Ticketing agents, with less empowerment because of self-check in.*
• Airport security, interrupting the experience between ticketing and gates.
• Gate seating and a new team of passenger service agents to assist.*
• Airport and weather conditions that may or may not impact the flight.
• Baggage handlers, working to load the bags on the plane.*
• Flight attendants, who sometimes serve less and push product more.*
• Flight crews, with pilots who have varied degrees of styles and experience.*
• Other customers, who are extremely varied in how they interact.
• Destination airport, which presents new conditions into the mix.
• Baggage claim, which introduces any number of new experiences.*
• Airport parking, traffic flow, and car rental companies, indirectly.

Again, the oddity here is they are only responsible for little more than half of the experience in reality. But from the perception of a customer, the airline and the airlines industry experience begins the moment they arrive at the airport and ends with when they leave the destination airport.

One would assume that any company knowing this would work that much harder to ensure the areas they are responsible for create pockets of positive experiences where customers feel protected. But the truth is that most do not, with a few exceptions.

Specifically, Southwest Airlines continues to promote a service-oriented message and consistently scores the highest in passenger friendliness for consumers as a result (it is ranked fifth overall). AirTran, JetBlue, Hawaiian, Alaska make up the top four airlines in terms of quality, overall. (Virgin was not included in the Airline Quality Report, but would probably make the top five if it was included too.) Conversely, most airlines are not so cohesive.

Many set themselves up for negative experiences on the front end. 

Among some of the most common complaints from customers are delays at ticketing, hidden fees, extra charges for bags, and agents who forward standard service questions (like seating changes) to gate agents. All of these prime the customer for a bad experience before they ever reach airport security, which most consider unpleasant.

By the time people arrive at the gate, any additional negative experience can create an overall negative experience: a lost bag, flight attendant having a bad day, delays, missed connections, uncomfortable flight, etc. Generally, such experiences are only salvageable when customers stumble into one of those employees who genuinely champion customer causes or concerns. But even if these employees can salvage the moment, most cannot transform a soured experience into a positive experience.

Instead, the abundance of negative experiences only set expectations to be a negative experience, which is almost always easily confirmed and never suitably addressed. Until every individual airline elects to make changes, the industry will continue to falter — which is good news for the few that have brands that transcend being lumped into the industry.

A little more about the Airline Quality Rating survey.

The Airline Quality Rating survey measures on-time arrival and departures, denied boardings, mishandled baggage, and customer complaints to score each airline. Before the Airline Quality Rating, there was effectively no consistent method for monitoring the quality of airlines on a timely, objective, and comparable basis. Anyone can participate online.

The research is headed by Headley and Dr. Brent Bowen, professor and head of the Department of Aviation Technology within the Purdue University College of Technology. Their body of research is recognized as the most comprehensive within the airlines industry by the American Marketing Association, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, the Travel and Transportation Research Association and others.

The most interesting aspect of the research right now is that "more than 50 percent of frequent fliers say air travel has gotten worse for them in the past year, despite the fact that overall airline quality performance has risen as measured in the recently released Airline Quality Rating."

Monday, April 9

Questioning Perception: Psychology And Communication

Every now and again, someone asks me why I decided to include psychology among the topics I cover on a communication blog. Part of it had to do with missing a field I was interested in several years ago (I'm about 6 credits shy of having degree in psychology). But that's only part of the reason.

All communication relies on psychology. In fact, some might argue that communication is just a middle man. Really, what communicators do is "think up" messages that they want other people to "think" too.

Sure, the two-part equation oversimplifies a complex sociological exchange, but it's easier to visualize. In reality, the psychology of several people usually shapes the message and then the communicator (writer, designer, etc.) passes it through their filters (articulate, artistic, etc.) to deliver to other people who form opinions and ideas based on that communication and based on the communication of others.

Think, communicate, think. And success relies on perception.

One of the many blogs I read to keep up on psychology includes Psyblog, which explores scientific research into how the mind works. It has many outstanding posts, columns, and stories worth reading. But one of them reminded me how important it is to understand how different people think in different environments.

All too often on social networks, communicators are instructed to create the community. Ironically, this is sometimes the opposite of what copywriters are taught in advertising (e.g., if you want to sell farm equipment, watching farm movies near Madison Avenue might not cut it). One recent post on Psyblog cuts to the heart of it. You have to understand people before you communicate to them.

• In a small town environment, 72 percent of people will offer to help a lost child. Only 46 percent will help in the city, with some of the non-helpers prone to behave aggressively toward them.

• In general, people are prone to create order out of chaos. As an example, they cite an old Milgram study that found only 10 percent of people who cut in line will be ejected. Most people won't do anything.

• The mind looks for familiarity, with 90 percent of people being able to identify a familiar person. The odds of recognition increase exponentially if those people stand out in some way, e.g., a mohawk will do. People, by the way, are more likely to talk to "familiar strangers" in unfamiliar settings.

• People are more willing to pass along messages that they feel are important or correspond to their own personal preferences. For example, in one experiment, abandoned letters were more likely to be mailed if they were addressed to "Medical Research Associates" as opposed to the "Communist/Nazi Party."

• People are natural joiners. In one study highlighted in the post, they point to another classic Milgram study. People join other people looking at a building where nothing is happening: 4 percent of the time if there is one person; 40 percent of the time if there are more than 15 people.

• Busy people in cities, they point out, are more likely to have superficial interactions, rush business transactions, and practice common social niceties, which Milgram equated to urban overload.

All of these examples represent some of the societal filters that impact or distract people from receiving a message. And the lesson here, while not as directly correlated as I could make it, holds some considerations that communicators might think about while they are coming up with what they want to communicate. Ergo, shocking disruption might not be as effective as being familiar in an odd place, doubly so if a few more familiar strangers happen to be standing around.

Of course, there are plenty of other considerations to make too. And those considerations vary as much as the number of micro-societies we make. Who you speak to can be as important as what you say.

Friday, April 6

Breaking Up: Customers Dump Brands On Networks

"There isn't any question that social media has become an increasingly important part of organizational communication. And although some people still call it a bandwagon, the general conversation about social media has transformed from convincing companies to consider it to teaching them how to implement tips and tactics.

But are tips and tactics really enough? Maybe not. Sometimes trying too hard to "woo" customers can alienate them more than win them over.

Social media can engage or irritate. It's all about communication.

At least that might be the takeaway from a study conducted by Relevation Research. It found that 52 percent of consumers have subscribed to a company or brand via a social network. But of those, one-third of them will dump the organization or brand after a few short weeks or months.

But that's not the worst of it. After those customers dump the brand, they are more likely to distance themselves from the brand online. Many report that they develop a negative impression of the brand. And, as a result, may shop less, spend less, or even turn to competitors.

"At present, marketers are too cavalier, and even abusive, with their approach to social media relationships because it's a powerful tool which can pay off but only if used thoughtfully," said Nan Martin, managing director at Relevation Research. "It's that very thin line between courting and annoying. Right now some brands are effectively drawing people in, but then undermining their equity by what happens next with their social media activity."

So what's the number one reason that fans or friends decide to ditch the brand? According to the research company, most leave because the brand comes on too strong — acting excessively clingy or posting, tweeting, and joking around too often.

The second most common reason is that the brand fails to engage, offer any additional value, or otherwise ignore the people who have taken the time to like them. One of the funniest lines pulled out from the research sums how people who break up with brands really feel.

"It's not you, it's me," they say. Or, in other words, they signed up because a friend did, lost interest, or simply decided that they liked too many other brands and somebody had to go.

Wednesday, April 4

Changing Health Care: Mobile Technology

If you want to consider just how much mobile technology could change lives, consider how it might save lives. One company, ER Texting, is already experimenting with one possibility — providing information that can help parents make decisions on which emergency room to visit based on wait times.

The simple information-based service that taps mobile technology tracks current wait times at children's health care facilities. People who use the service merely have to send hospital text codes to 4 ER 411  and instantly receive the current wait times, hours of operation and direct contact information for participating hospitals.

Cincinnati Children's Hospital and Medical Center (CCHMC) and Miami Children's Hospital (MCH) are among some of the most recent hospitals to utilize these services. Since MCH implementation last May, more than 2,000 subscribers have used the service,

"When examining how to reach our patients and families, we knew we would have to meet them in the mobile space," said Kurt Myers, coordinator of community relations at CCHMC. "Providing an option to receive wait times via text was a logical first step into the mobile arena."

Not only does the service provide insight into wait times so parents might consider an alternate medical facility, but it also provides parents with expectations before they arrive. The service benefits the hospital with three locations too, helping control patient flow by increasing transparency.

Communication ought to augment the service, but the potential is limitless. 

Naturally, parents using the service shouldn't take to diagnosing life-threatening situations — adding additional minutes to their commute time to a hospital in life-threatening situations or opting to drive children who would be better off being transported by an ambulance — it still represents how technology can start to be used as a lifeline for medical purposes.

A few years ago, I was working with the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) and we would frequently discuss the far future of emergency medical services. While the iPhone was still in its fledgling phases by comparison, there was always interest in developing a 9-1-1 service that could incorporate mobile into everyday operations — including the use of video technologies to pre-diagnose when patients called (giving first responders a pre-assessment of the scene and giving hospitals more information before arrival).

The wait time text messaging service certainly expands upon that concept, driving future life-saving concepts toward two-way communication models. Perhaps one day, patients will be able to call 9-1-1 and receive emergency medical assessments and direction (including visual aids) before the ambulance arrives. Or, if medical transport isn't needed, which hospital would be best suited given wait times and specialties. Cool stuff.

Sunday, April 1

Writing: How To Write A Social Media Book

Every now and again someone asks me why I don't write a social media book. I've been asked so often, in fact, that I don't have an answer that doesn't feel redundant. So maybe it's time I did it!

After all, the world needs more social media books. There are only 138,243 listed on Amazon and all of them are brilliant. Ninety percent of them have 4-star ratings or better. Some of them, usually those with the word "strategy" in the title, always earn five stars, especially when they are accompanied by at least one reviewer who says "this will be the last social media guide you will ever need."

Never mind that it is always the same guy who says that. The important thing to remember is to find the right untapped title, even if the book is virtually the same thing. So that's how I spent most of yesterday — looking for a title that would drive my content.

It didn't go well. Everything feels taken. Social Media Zen ... taken. How To Be Likeable ... liked.  Social Media Bible ... anointed. Social Media Playbook ... executed. New Rules, Revised ... third edition. Stardom in 30 Days ... out of print. Stardom In 28 Days ... the reason why. Then it happened ...

S.M.U.T. — Social Media for You Too. 
How To Write A Social Media Book.

That's right. Instead of writing a social media book, I've decided that what I really needed to write is a book about how to write a social media book. Not just any social media book — but the kind of social media book that everybody reviews and nobody actually reads!

So, what's inside my new book? Everything that you will ever need to know about social media, book writing, and life in general. I dedicate a good amount of time to writing about life in general because everyone knows the "M" in "SM" really stands for "Memoir."

It's how every social media book starts and ends. You can't be social unless you are transparent. And I'm going to be transparent right now. I haven't written anything. But you'll want to buy it anyway.

You're Only 10 Chapters Away From A Social Media Book!

Chapter 1: Foreword. The first 30 pages will be written by a real social media rock star. A social media rock star is anybody who has already written a book but the book hasn't sold more than five copies. As long as you promise to include their name on the cover "Foreword by the dude (or dudette) who wrote the last social media book nobody read," you are golden. Just remember to pay it forward.

Chapter 2: Talk About You. Who you are and what you did before social media is gold. If you can write about how you were down and out, depressed, going through personal hardship ... all the better. The point is that you have to prove you used a be a schmuck just like they are now, buying all sorts of these books.

Chapter 3: Establish Your Roots. You know the drill. Talk about how you were one of the first people to favorite "Will It Blend" on YouTube. Tell them how you hang out at Starbucks. Chuckle about the Dell Hell campaign. And mention that some Zappos employee once followed you on Twitter. You were there and being there is the same as being an expert.

Chapter 4: Have An Epiphany. Write an entire chapter on how in this weird and wonderful world online, you met some great and interesting people. Make sure to include as many names as possible because these people will be the first to review your book, even if they never see the cover.

Chapter 5: Point Out The Evil. Make a list of all the companies that aren't using social media and give them the face of evil. If evil is too strong a word for you, ignorant or old fashioned works. It doesn't really matter as long as you make the case that it's the little guys against the big guys.

Chapter 6: Talk More About You. Talk about how you started a blog, joined Twitter, jumped on Facebook, etc. This is an especially important chapter because it establishes you as an expert. It doesn't matter how many friends, fans, or followers you have. The formula for an expert is exactly how many friends, fans, or followers you have, minus 10 percent.

Chapter 7: Talk About Everybody Else. Invest a good amount of time distinguishing yourself from other social media gurus, ninjas, and rock stars. Talk about how they game the system and you do not. This establishes immediate credibility, separating you from your fellow snake oil salespeople.

Chapter 8: Make Good On Your Promise. This is where the heavy lifting really comes in to play. You have to make some stuff up that people can do right now to feel like they are making progress.

• Blog Strategy. Leave butt kiss comments on the top ranked blogs and write about them.

• Strategy. Post a whole bunch of junk in other people's topical communities.

• Digg Strategy. Write headlines that people want, linked to the articles people don't want.

• Empire Avenue. Buy shares in people who are active and ignore everybody who isn't playing.

• Facebook Strategy. Bribe people to like you with contests and then blast them with content.

• Google+ Strategy. Post about what you do. People will love you and search engines juice+ you.

• Klout Strategy. Beg for people to give you +K and then brag about your score.

• Pinterest Strategy. Pin pics all day, every day, and repin the pins of people who like them.

• Twitter Strategy. Follow everyone on Thursday and then unfollow them all on Saturday.

• Quora Strategy. Ask your friends to write questions you want to answer and answer them.

Chapter 9: Motivate People. Rehash everything you just told them, except throw in some motivational self-help tips and quotes from famous people. Einstein is always a good one. "Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds," he said. You rock star!

Chapter 10: Wrap It Up. Write about how social media changed your life and how you know it is going to change their lives too (and maybe their companies). Make sure you include all the places they can connect to you and how you now consider them kin — part of your special club and inner circle because you like people like you and they like you too.

See? I told you so. This is the perfect social media book about writing social media books! All you have to do is write 10-20 pages to fill each chapter (with the foreword being 30 pages long) and you can be the next person to have a gold mine of popularity and influence. All the cool kids know it and now you do too! A social media book is, after all, the best business card you will ever have.

April Fools! Hope you enjoy. For past lessons in social media, please see The Mushup Strategy, Bronx Zoo Influencer, SME: 14.0Clout Bellies, or almost anything labeled satire. Have a great day!


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