Monday, July 9

Marketing Affiliates: Are They Worth The Time?

Rakuten LinkShare released the results of its June 2012 Forrester Consulting study. The study was commissioned to determine the direct and indirect value of affiliate marketing, but its importance reveals compelling data for social media and online advertising as well.

Specially, the report demonstrates why social media and similar marketing efforts cannot be measured like direct response, with definitive paths to product purchases. This is especially interesting because affiliate marketing pays publishers based on direct clicks to the point of purchase.

Key findings about affiliate marketing from Forrester.

• Affiliate marketing spending is on the rise and will keep pace with digital marketing through 2016. Total marketing spending will increase from about $2.5 billion to $4.5 billion in four years.

• Affiliate making channels produce more new-to-file customers and generates incremental customer acquisition. Some brands report 50 percent of the traffic received by affiliate marketers are new buyers.

• Affiliate marketing channels attract consumers that spend more than the average online shopper. The difference is approximately $500 more per year, with average shoppers spending about $1,300 per year. 

• Affiliate marketing channels trigger brand recognition and can close the sale for online shoppers. Online shoppers typically visit four sites before making a purchasing decision. 

• Affiliate promotions have a positive impact on an advertiser's brand reputation and loyalty. Almost half of all consumers report a positive feeling when they see special offers on multi-brand sites and blogs.

"The study reflects how the affiliate marketing industry is strongly aligned with today's value-driven, always connected consumer who typically visits multiple sites before making a purchase," said Scott Allan, senior vice president of global marketing, Rakuten LinkShare. "As interactive marketing budgets grow and evolve, affiliate marketing will continue to be a key, measurable tactic for brands and retailers to attract and acquire new customers."

Considering the crossover as it relates to social media. 

• Investments in digital advertising, online marketing, and social media are continuing to rise whereas other mediums have flattened or demonstrated a loss in the last ten years.

• Third-party introductions and endorsements have become increasingly important to prospects before they consider new products and services as opposed to direct path purchases. 

• Shoppers may visit multiple sources to learn about products and services, even when they already have a connection to the brand, which makes outreach as important as direct communication. 

• Shoppers who visit more than one source for promotions, coupons, and reviews online are much more likely to make a purchase and spend more than people who are dedicated to a channel. 

• While some people question third-party endorsements and agendas, the majority of consumers are unconcerned because they are visiting more than one source of information.  

One of the more interesting aspects of the study is that consumers have a general presumption that brands will offer better deals on multi-brand sites and blogs than they will on their own sites. The study also hints at the influence of review sites frequently visited by consumers. They are nearly four times more likely than average buyers to try a new brand after seeing and receiving a new offer.

The study has been made available online. If you would like to read the study, find it here. The download does require several content fields, including an email address and phone number. 

Friday, July 6

Branding Online: Do We Need People To Act?

Anytime I read an article with a steep promise it never delivers — How To Be Unforgettable Online — it makes me wonder. Do we want to make every interaction emotional? Is that really the end goal?

The premise isn't new. Advertisers have long maintained that consumers act on emotion more than logic. When the ideology is confined to advertising, it makes sense. An advertisement either generates an impression about a brand or makes the case for a specific call to action.

After repetition (assuming it reaches a viable prospect), the general idea is that you will eventually adopt some notion about the brand (doubly quick if others say the same thing) and test the presumption with a purchase. The point of purchase is also the moment that the brand will sink or swim.

So when I read the article that conveyed branding works much the same way, it made me wonder.

Can branding be boiled down into a series of emotional responses too?

If it can be boiled down in that way, then I think the relationship must be shockingly shallow. In fact, you might equate it to some of those acquaintances you follow on Facebook or Twitter or even offline.

You know the folks — the people you really don't know but are connected with them for any number of reasons. Maybe you met them in a conversation. Maybe you accepted a friend request because of their relation to someone you know. Maybe you thought they were a possible prospect. Maybe you liked their profile or something they did that someone shared. Whatever. They're trial connections.

Does that connection have anything to do with branding? Not really. The brand relationship between you and the connection will likely occur in the days and weeks that follow. It will not be based on your emotional reaction to each interaction, but their overall ability to prove there could be a relationship.

If they don't, you'll likely server the connection in time, doubly fast if they spam you, have polarizing opinions, or don't offer any particular value. It doesn't hurt to do it. There are no tears. You move on.

But now think of the people you do know. Maybe they are family or long-time friends. And maybe they don't always live up to your expectations either: soliciting an argument, sharing something inappropriate, or even spamming you with all sorts of nonsense that you never expected.

Even so, it might not be as easy to sever the ties. Why? Because unlike the other folks who solicited an action from you, you have a relationship with them that transcends any action. The sum of that relationship generally trumps the emotion they might generate with any statement or share.

Brands need to stop thinking short term and start thinking long term. 

Did you ever visit the Aol front page? Most of its news stories are teased in a way to generate an emotional response and action much like the authors of How To Be Unforgettable Online subscribe.

The one-line quips promise you something important, shocking, surprising, unbelievable, dangerous, and fantastic. Spend some time there and you will eventually find one article that will tug at you to click the link. When you do, there is an 80 percent chance that the tease doesn't match the draw.

So the question becomes ... how many times will you click those links for less than was promised?

If you are like most people, you will dump the page for a better source of news. And therein lies the takeaway. Branding is much more than generating high exposure and an emotional tug to get people to act. It's about developing a relationship strong enough to survive the hiccups, bumps, and other stuff that happens along the way. It's not all that different than a real relationship. Don't get dumped.

Wednesday, July 4

Hanging Shingles: Public Relations As A Practice

You can define it, but it doesn't mean you can regulate the practice. That is what the public relations industry is learning the hard way. The industry doubts its credibility, but the problem is credulity.

Anybody can start a public relations firm tomorrow. There is no license. There is no mandatory accreditation. There is no oversight. In my city, some politicians have adopted the title in the past (a few who later served jail time) in order to make it all the more murky on why exactly someone paid them consultation fees. And when bad things like that happen, most will quickly turn a blind eye.

In fact, even when firms attempt to police their own, other public relations vets will fret that negative public relations stories hurt the industry as a whole. They say the bad apples don't change, but everyone remembers the industry stories. And then beyond that, there are some bad apples that the industry exempts because of their size, contracts, or connections.

The public relations industry is at the heart of its own calamities. 

The root of the problem is simple. The practice calls for generalists, but fills itself with specialists.

Right. In attempting to own media relations, social media, strategic communication, publicity campaigns (an offshoot of advertising), event planing, and so on, the industry has forced itself to gobble up tactical work instead of promoting more strategic tenets.

Never mind that it is easy to tell who is who. It's all the objectives they set. Ergo, how many column inches or blog posts that a company earns in a month is a publicity measure. What is the public perception of the company in relation to its competition among specific publics, on the other hand, is strategic.

Recognize the difference? One might impact sales like direct marketing (maybe). The other acts as a bolster or booster for anything else done. It's also significantly harder to measure, which is a thorn in the side of specialists who act like generalists in order to grab up more of the monthly marketing budget.

No wonder so many firms are focused on pushing stories. It's tactical. It's immediate. It's sort of measurable, even if most measures seldom consider the path to fulfillment. And since social media is frequently treated the same way, many will say it fits right in with likes, comments, and whatnots.

How public relations could heal itself if it were up to the challenge. 

I'm not very big on the idea of government intervention or regulation or degrees or mandatory accreditations. Those have to remain elective. Besides, government involvement would brush up against the First Amendment in the United States and comparable government contracts elsewhere.

So that means it is up to the industry, which must go beyond whatever short and punchy definition it is peddling. It has to outline precisely how any adopted definition applies to the practice. And then it has to have a majority of firms agree to it all.

If that can be done, and I doubt it can, it has to pressure all those who don't adopt the practice to stop stealing the public relations moniker and start embracing the endless number of specializations like social media, publicity, media relations, guru, etc.

If they don't on their own, then the remedy is publicity designed to shake off the pretenders. There is no other way around it. The industry has to out the bad and elevate the good (even if good examples of public relations are often invisible).

And for those who fear too many posts, articles, and finger points might damage the industry? They miss the point. After all, call outs ought not be public relations, but rather those firms that aren't in public relations. Get it? It's not about good public relations vs. bad public relations. It's about public relations vs. something other than public relations, including bad behavior or ignorance.

It would have to happen. Somebody would need to tell those firms (and maybe their clients) that while they might think what they do is public relations, what they really do is practice media relations and publicity or irresponsible and criminal behavior (however the shoe may fit).

Do you think that will ever happen? Probably not in my lifetime or yours, if ever. Public relations doesn't want it. There isn't even enough rope; but I do think we're due for more enlightenment.

Monday, July 2

Getting Twitter: Now What?

There are hundreds of articles that describe how to use Twitter right and thousands that tell people how to do it wrong. One of the newest ways from Buddy Media, statistically, is both right and wrong.

It's right if your company fits the paradigm. It's wrong if your company doesn't. Most companies don't.

That doesn't mean that new study, which tracked 320 top Twitter handles for two months, isn't worthwhile. It can be, but not in the way most people think. It can help you ask better questions.

Reading the takeaways from the Buddy Media study.

• Tweet on the days heaviest for your industry.
• Use Twitter between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m., Facebook between 8 p.m. and 7 a.m.
• Tweet four times per day or less; traction tends to drop off with more tweets.
• Type less than 100 character per Tweet, making it more likely to be shared.
• Links and photos tend to receive more Tweets than straight connect.
• Include hashtags, but never more than two hashtags at a time.
• Use "Retweet" or "RT" as a prompt for retweets. Spell out retweet for increased retweets. 

Asking the right takeaways from the Buddy Media study. 

• Do you know when your followers are online? 
• Do you know what social networks they use?
• What is the optimal number of tweets for you? What are the exceptions (e.g., chat sessions)?
• Are you leaving enough room for people to share your tweets with a comment?
• Are your links to high value content or are they all promotional in nature? What about pictures?
• Are your hashtags well thought out? Did you remember to drop them during one-on-one chats?
• Have you prioritized comments you hope are retweeted? Each degree means something different.

There are hundreds more questions to consider, one in particular. 

What are you trying to do on Twitter? Most small business people usually have one or two answers. They want followers (but don't know why). They want more "awareness" about their brand (but don't know who). 

Most of the time, they want these things because it looks good to gather followers, retweets, etc. But that isn't enough, not really. Every aspect of social media is an opportunity to forward your company's mission or another objective revolving around the mission of your company.

More than anything else, that is what the best brands do online. Southwest Airlines tries to be friendly. Nike tries to tie everything outdoors to your feet. Coca-Cola tries to spread connectivity and happiness. Wal-Mart likes to talk about sales. Ford likes to promote automative technology as an industry leader.

As long as your brand is working toward its mission on social networks, with a healthy respect about adding value, the rest will almost take care of itself. But once you start seeing some traction with your campaign, you can start to refine it — picking the time of day or days when it seems to work its best.

Eventually, unless your mission is out of whack with your message, people will follow, share, engage, and (yes) possibly buy things from you too. Just don't put those things first. People can see through it.

Friday, June 29

Breaking News: Dewey Still Beats Truman

The famously inaccurate banner, Dewey Defeats Truman, lives again as CNN is the first to break the news on the Supreme Court health care story. It was the first outlet to have a story at the ready.

Unfortunately for CNN, it was the wrong news. It was corrected only after 5-10 minutes of commentary on its television programming and thousands of people were prompted to read the headline: "Mandate struck down." Some even received news prompts on their mobile devices, feeling a pang of elation or disgust depending on where they stood on the issue.

But whatever they felt was replaced by a momentary lapse of reason and confusion. Whether they believed the headline or not, they were about to discover it was wrong. And in the weeks that follow, they might consider the broader ramifications of what this means beyond a chuckle.

Accuracy is the first rule of journalism and it just doesn't exist.

Eyeballs matter more, even when the news is reported wrong. In fact, it seems very unlikely the person responsible will be fired. They are likely to get a raise. The traffic, links, and mentions drove more traffic and attention to CNN, not less. And most people will forget about it, much like most don't even know who Dewey might have been.

In fact, technically, the media is calling the Supreme Court decision upheld. However, it wasn't upheld on the grounds the government had argued for. The government cannot may you buy a product you do not want or need. It can, however, tax you for not buying that product or service. Go figure.

This isn't the only time CNN or news organizations have been wrong about their interpretations. Jeffrey Toobin, CNN senior legal analyst, originally surmised it would be a 8-1 decision in favor of the bill. Linda Greenhouse with the New York Times aggressively argued the position that the mandate did not exceed Congressional powers.

It seems pretty clear now that both were wrong. The decision was 5-4 and the the Supreme Court was pointed in saying that the mandate could not be tied to the commerce clause. While the decision still expands the power of government, especially the power held by the Internal Revenue Service (the bureau charged with collecting the fees) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (the bureau that eventually decides what health care you will get).

The problem with the reporting, of course, was the result of reading the first few pages of the decision rather than reading the entire opinion before reporting it. The reporting of speculation, on the other hand, was simply a case of people using the news to support a particular position or idea a.k.a. affirmation media that delivers exactly what people want to hear while swaying others too.

The media has to get a handle on what it wants to be. 

Nowadays, business owners and executives would be better off reading social media sentiment analysis than relying on the news to make decisions. The reason is simple enough. Without objective reporting, you can never be sure of the facts or how people will react to the various biased stories.

I don't mean the single error by CNN and other news outlets. I mean everything leading up to it and everything that will follow. The mistaken headline and knee jerk reaction is just a symptom of a greater problem. When the media can no longer be trusted to tell the truth or get it right, it fails to be relevant.

What this country needs now, perhaps more than ever, is a media outlet that restores objective journalism as its central idea. It might even be the right time, given the existing media outlets people turn to the most are failing to separate what constitutes news and what constitutes political opinion or two sets of talking heads.

Or, borrowing from a different example I shared several years ago, we need reporters who will do the hard work. Instead of talking to two people to get their opinions on whether or not a flag flapping in the wind is loud, we need a reporter to go to the location and report on the truth of it. It's loud. It's not loud.

Who knows? Maybe objective reporting could gain a foothold again once people become wary of sensitized stories and hearing what they want to hear at the expense of the truth. Or maybe not.

Wednesday, June 27

Reading Reviews: Do You Trust The Data?

Most marketers know that more and more people are influenced by product reviews, but did you ever wonder who is responsible for setting any downward trends? According to one study, it could be millennials.

Millennials (defined by the study as ages 18 to 34) give more 1-star and 2-star reviews than any other generation, with those in Ireland being among the most critical. Gen Y contributes the most 3-star reviews.

The study also reveals a little more than that. Incidentally, however, boomers (defined by the study as ages 47-65) still contribute the majority of opinions — 45 percent of them online. Boomers are also slightly more positive. And so are parents, regardless of which generation they belong to.

Can generational disposition or other factors alter perception?

Maybe. And if it does, it might explain why some restaurant owners I know have asked me about Yelp. They say Yelp tends to be the most critical. According to Quantcast, the site also happens to skew toward millennials. Is there a correlation? Or are the stiffer reviews the result of the community?

It's a good question that marketers will have to take into account. In general, review communities tend to be all over the map in how they share opinions. If you visit iTunes, for example, you might notice movies have very little middle ground. Most ratings come in at 1 or 5.

Music is different. It generally skews positive. App ratings are also different. Among paid apps, 5-star reviews and 1-star reviews are generally written by people who still haven't learned to reset their iPads if the app keeps crashing. App reviews are largely unreliable.

Even more telling is that iTunes book reviews are frequently rated lower than those on Amazon, but without as much explanation. Goodreads tends to stack up more 5-star reviews than other book review sites.

This isn't necessarily new. Entertainment Weekly frequently publishes roundups of critics' movie reviews, along with online sites like Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes. Even though it pulls from the same sources, Rotten Tomatoes tends to be more critical.

But what stands out for me even more is that there are always one or two reviewers who separate themselves from the pack. Sometimes it makes you wonder if they watched the same movie as the rest of them. And other times you realize that even professional reviewers have no comparable standard for measurement; a bias for particular studios, actors, and genres; and sometimes a desire to be noticed that affects their commentaries.

All reviews need to be vetted before they become meaningful measures. 

Along with the study that suggests millennials are more critical, another bazaarvoice study suggests millennials are more likely to trust the opinions of strangers. In fact, more than half of them trust user-generated content and reviews more than friends and family and many won't complete a transaction before reading reviews.

For business, this means positive customer engagement is even more important. It means establishing better protocols to address erroneous criticism while vetting valid points and making changes. And it means that being a social business is more critical than most think.

Monday, June 25

Shopping Smarter: Smartphone Shoppers

There is an interesting ongoing shopper behavior study being conducted by The Integer Group® and M/A/R/C Research. The latest findings suggest that African-Americans and Hispanics are adopting new shopping technologies at a faster rate than Caucasians.

Currently, 18 percent of African-American shoppers and 16 percent of Hispanic shoppers use their mobile devices to make purchases. Only 10 percent of Caucasians do.

This may be especially significant because, combined, African-Americans and Hispanics make up more than 30 percent of the total population (Hispanic, 20 percent; African-American, 12 percent).

Along with making purchases, one in five African-American shoppers (21 percent) use their phones to read product reviews and maintain shopping lists and one in five Hispanic shoppers (20 percent) use their mobile devices to compare prices on products. Only 13 percent of Caucasians do.

Even more interesting, despite adoption, smartphone penetration skews lower among African-Americans and Hispanics than Caucasians. Currently, it is estimated that as many as 50 percent of the total mobile phone population is using smartphones.

Other Highlights From The Integer Group Study. 

• Almost as many shoppers use email coupons (49 percent) as Sunday paper coupons (57 percent).

• Men might be viewed as tech toy lovers, but women are more apt to use technology to shop.

• Having children in the household drives adoption of digital shopping technologies.

"Digital shoppers are just shoppers," said Ben Kennedy, group director of Mobile Marketing at Integer. "Digital shopping tools are illustrative of the continued blurring of the on- and offline spaces. Today's reality is that shoppers use whatever tools they have on hand to make them smarter, savvier shoppers."

According to the conclusions of the study by The Integer Group, companies and businesses would be smart to consider basic mobile communication through SMS, making mobile websites the points of entry. Mobile marketing to multicultural shoppers is a huge opportunity, said Martin Ferro, senior account planner for Velocidad, a Hispanic promotional, retail and shopper marketing capability of The Integer Group.

It could be, but marketers ought to demonstrate some constraint over segmenting their advertising too thin. With each generation, even cultures resistant to assimilation tend to shift toward multicultural messages that are inclusive as opposed to targeted and/or exclusive. For example, many second generation Hispanics are bilingual, but not necessarily literate in their parents' or grandparents' language.

The best part of the study, however, is that it demonstrates that the old perception of tech adoption is outdated. Like many social media and online marketing pros know, the stereotype that the Internet predominantly consists of white tech guys is largely gone.

The study is by The Integer Group (, one of the world's largest promotional, retail, and shopper marketing agencies, and a key member of Omnicom Group Inc. You can download the study from its site, The Checkout, where it was first published. It requires basic contact information (name, title, business, and email are mandatory).

Friday, June 22

Being Candid: It's Easier Than You Think

How well do people communicate when faced with a face-to-face communication dilemma? According to a questionnaire created by the Travel Leaders Group, not so well. The research found that many air travelers do not know how to react in uncomfortable situations.

The questionnaire presented a series of scenarios and asked participants how likely they were to handle a situation based on the response offered. The Travel Leaders Group said that airline passengers aren't sure of proper etiquette while traveling. However, given the questions relate to broad scenarios, it might mean that people aren't sure how to communicate in many circumstances, whether they are traveling or not.

Highlights From The Travel Leaders Group Survey. 

1. If another airline passenger seated near you won't turn off his/her cell phone while in flight, what would you do?

34.5 percent would call a flight attendant.
27.1 percent would say something to the person.
23.9 percent would sit quietly and do nothing.

2. If another passenger seated near you is using headphones to listen to music or a movie and the sound is so loud that everyone around him/her can also hear, what would you do?

47.5 percent would say something to the person.
26.5 percent would call a flight attendant.
17.3 percent would sit quietly and do nothing.

3. If a child was seated behind you on an airplane and constantly kicked your seat, what would you do?

62.8 percent would turnaround and say something directly to the parent or child.
10.2 percent would call a flight attendant.
9.7 percent would sit quietly and hope the parent will stop it.
6.7 percent would ignore it because children will be children.
6.1 percent would turn around and glare at the parent or child.

4. If you were flying alone and a couple asked you to switch seats to that they could sit together, what would you do? 

44.7 percent would gladly move, regardless of the seat.
27.2 percent would move if the new seat was not a middle seat.
13.6 percent would move if the new seat was an aisle seat.
6.4 percent were not sure what to do.
4.4 percent would move if the new seat was a window seat.

5. If you were traveling with a companion on a vacation and you received an upgrade to first class, you would... 

38.4 percent said it depends on who they're traveling with.
29.9 percent said they would pass on the opportunity.
11.8 percent weren't sure what they would do.
7.8 percent would give it to their traveling companion.
6.3 percent said it depends on the length of the flight.

6. If you placed a small bag in the overhead bin and were asked to place it under the seat in front of you so someone else could put a very large roller bag above, would you... 

54.6 percent would do so without a second thought.
22.1 percent would do so, but grudgingly.
9.9 percent would politely decline.

7. While passing through a TSA security checkpoint, if a traveler in front of you is taking too long removing shoes, etc., would you... 

51.3 percent said they would patiently wait.
37.8 percent said they would wait, but be frustrated.
9 percent said they would jump in front of them.

While the survey did not seem to include the best possible responses, it is an interesting statement on communication. In most scenarios, the best possible answer is to say something directly to the person.

The hesitation is largely the result that many people don't know how to communicate directly, honestly, and politely. For example, if someone is using their cell phone, asking if she or he heard the announcement to turn off the cell phone might suffice. Or, if a child is kicking the seat, politely asking the child to stop first will usually be enough. Or, if someone is taking a long time in the security line, asking if she or he if needs help might be appreciated. Maybe they'll suggest you skip ahead.

Allowing yourself to become quietly frustrated or immediately resorting to rude behavior only hurts you. Likewise, the questions revolving around courtesy are equally solvable. Unless you have a physical reason for not taking the middle seat, you move. And if someone needs you to move your bag, you move it (perhaps mentioning that they might consider checking such a large bag next time).

This applies to business too. People are frequently afraid to be candid, causing them to accept deadlines that impact quality, make deals that aren't win-win, etc. Most of the time, open and honest communication will suffice and everyone will be better for it. Don't assume, ask questions and find out  if more flexibility is available (assuming you need it). It's very much like flying on a plane. Fly right.

Wednesday, June 20

Facebook Screening: Executive Mistake In The Making

Hat tip to David Svet and Shelly Kramer for sharing Mark Story's rebut to bad career advice from Forbes. The original article, Social Media And The Job Hunt: Squeaky-Clean Profiles Need Not Apply, alludes to an idea that some headhunters and human resources pros want to be psychoanalysts.

Meghan Casserly warns that people who scrub their Facebook pages of unflattering poses or risqué postings run the risk of being labeled as having "no social skills." Her advice runs contrary to the other extreme, which is that every Facebook account ought to be polished, protected, and controlled.

Casserly also tells a story about her friend, a 21-year-old screener, who looks for the right "personality match" as conveyed by Facebook, along with the usual qualifications that might make a candidate shine. Her advice, much like Story concludes, is bad. Maybe even more than he might suspect.

Facebook is not your personality in print. Facebook is merely a crude character sketch. 

The comments are akin to Peter Shankman, who said after he reads a LinkedIn profile, he immediately visits Facebook to see what they are really like. His comment inspired me to write "Why I Stopped Worrying About Being Batman." I was equally inspired by Story's debut, but for the right reasons.

What Shankman and Casserly both fail to realize is two-fold. Facebook does not capture who people "really are." And, more importantly, people don't draw the same conclusions from what might be there. For every company looking for a free-sprited socialite, another wants someone buttoned down. For everyone scratching their head about an old college photo, someone else is holding it in admiration.

Nobody can really guess these things. So it's best not to play games with them. You neither have to scrub your Facebook nor plant an appropriate amount of embarrassing moments or poor judgements. All you really need to do is be comfortable with who you are, share what you are comfortable sharing, and always remember that old adage that eventually creeps up in public relations classes. What's that?

Never do anything you wouldn't want to see on the front page of The New York Times.

In fairness to Casserly, it seems she was mostly trying to vet the other extreme and built an article around people who subscribe to the notion of letting it all hang out. She cites the ugly survey: "One in five executives say that a candidate's social media profile has caused them not to hire that person."

What is less clear, as always, is the reason why. Few surveys delve into the reason that people decide not to hire someone because of a Facebook account. And even fewer delve into the reason some companies have taken to screening them.

Sure, there has always been the "X factor" in job placement. Candidates who do everything right but are ultimately passed over because of intangible gut instincts. And some, although human resources hopes it will never show up, for anything and everything ranging from haircuts to political affiliations.

But my thought on that is pretty clear. If someone won't hire you based on social differences or a social media profile, then be glad they didn't hire you. There is a good chance you weren't a good fit, but for exactly the opposite reason. They weren't a good fit for you.

Better yet, ask if they would be willing to marry someone based on nothing but a Facebook account. And if they say they are already married, then ask for their spouse's Facebook address. When they ask why, tell them his or her account will tell you everything you need to know about their judgement. Ridiculous? Exactly right.

Monday, June 18

Retiring A Deck: Social For Strategic Communication

Since my first presentation on social media in 2005 (not counting blogs), I've always considered it a moving target. The average deck lasts six months (or a year with ongoing updates).

The deck I am retiring today served as the framework for two classes at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and five presentations (each customized for a specific industry). The intent of the deck was to get students with diverse and varied backgrounds (some with social experience and some without) to rethink social media.

Rather than simply focus on tips, tricks, and tactics, the 3-hour class is meant to inspire students and working professionals to ask better questions before developing their programs. Personally, I don't think the future of social media lies in social software as much as it lies in understanding people, which ought to be the goal of any social media program attached to strategic communication. In other words, understand what people want you to communicate and then find the right tool to help you do it.

Anyone who has seen other social media presentations that I've made in the past will recognize a few items that never seem to change such as defining social media as an environment where people use social technologies to communicate. For me, that is what it has always been about.

Some people can make great cases that social media is about sales, impressions, influence, or whatever. But sooner or later the ones that have the greatest successes change their thinking. It doesn't make any sense to teach people how to adapt a social network without considering the organization's purpose or needs.

Instead, communicators and related professionals need to ask what do the people they serve really need as it relates to their product and then deliver it. While a restaurant might share some cooking tips or their latest culinary creation, a motorcycle dealer might feature customization tips, rider profiles, and area club events.

Or, as you will see at the end of the deck, a youth sports program might offer real-time score updates via text messaging and Twitter, team stories, coach tips, game photos, and any number content ideas across any number of social networks. All the while, everything needs to be developed with the organization's purpose in mind. And with that in mind, I hope you can find something useful in the deck too.

Friday, June 15

Advertising: Do You Really Know The Audience?

Huggies understands dads more than it used to. That was one of the lessons learned when one of the brand's advertisements depicted hapless dads in March.

Huggies wasn’t alone. There are plenty of brands that blow it with dads. Ragu blew it by thinking dads don’t know how to cook. Several years ago, it was Verizon that was forced to pull a dumb dad ad. And AskMen has a a top ten list that chronicles some of the worst unintentional attack ads aimed at men.

Are men getting thin skins or did marketers get stupid?

There’s always two ways to look at advertising, especially those that use disparaging humor to be memorable. Either men are thin skinned or the marketers ought to know better. I lean toward the latter while still appreciating that individuals can be less than bright, but not an entire gender.

Sure, one or two generations ago, household roles made men’s ignorance about family issues tragically funny because it was closer to the truth. They weren’t stupid but they did have other responsibilities, which made their cluelessness tragic in a comedic way. But that’s not true anymore. Nowadays, the stereotype has become tragic and that’s not funny.

The only reason some advertisers hadn’t caught on is because they take their cues from Hollywood and network television more often than real research. But what they fail to appreciate is that Hollywood and network television can get away with propping up the stereotype because they make it about an individual character and not a gender.

If advertisers were more in tune, they’d learn something else. 

More than eight in ten (86 percent) fathers today are spending more time with their kids than their own fathers did in the previous generation, according to a new national survey conducted by the Ad Council. So, in cooperation with several organizations, the Ad Council is running a campaign aimed at pushing that message forward, using the men who do as role models for those that don’t for one reason or another after conducting considerable research.

"The survey validates the trend that family dynamics are changing for the best. Amidst their challenges, in general fathers are stepping up and becoming more active than ever in the lives of their children and families," said Kenneth Braswell, director of the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse.

In fact, the national survey not only revealed that dads are spending more time with their families, but they also want to be even more involved. Seven in ten dads feel they could use tips or ideas on being a better parent and eight in ten report feeling financial pressure in their role as a father. Simply put, what most men want for Father’s Day is some time away from the pressures of parenting and economics and the chance to spend time with their children — just being a dad.

It’s an important idea, especially in the wake of another survey by Whaleshark Media that found despite the changes people have made in their households to be equal parents — seventy-seven percent of men and women said that mothers receive a disproportionate amount of attention on Mother’s Day compared to fathers on Father’s Day. Only 35 percent of men, the survey revealed, expected or hoped for a gift. Most just want time with their family.

The lesson for advertisers is simple enough. The fathers some advertisers might have had or the characters portraying dads on the small and big screens aren’t the same ones who are share responsibilities today. Ergo, any particular audience is never what you might expect them to be until you actually take the time to get to know them.

Let’s hope this helps at least one marketer avoid a dumb dad commercial in the future. As one of the 86 percent by a wide margin, I imagine that might make the best Father's Day gift yet, outside of exactly what you might expect. A little no pressure time to play is always welcome. Happy Father’s Day.

Wednesday, June 13

Measuring Facebook: Social Network Ads

The Wall Street Journal reports that 70 percent of Facebook campaigns return three to five times the spending; five times the cost for nearly half. The internal reporting, which was released by Facebook, comes after the "quiet period" after an initial public offering ended.

The study was completed by comScore and included tracking 60 campaigns. What is less understood is how those campaigns were chosen and whether they represent the larger share of ad purchases on the social network. Another interesting hiccup in the study is what is considered a return — mostly, the measurement was based on amplification, showing Facebook extends media exposure between 50 percent and 200 percent.

Why do many marketers still distrust Facebook and social media ad purchases?

The biggest challenge with social media marketing remains the same. Many critics attempt to apply rules to social media advertisements that aren't fair when compared to other reporting measures.

Specifically, they attempt to measure return on investment in a vacuum, as if impressions can be isolated and quantified without considering the "social" portion of the equation. Others fail to measure the right outcomes, thinking about "likes" as the outcome even though it's better to assign an outcome to anything but likes. (They just make you feel good and give you a readership base.)

If you want an analogy to better understand Facebook advertising, think of it in terms as an introduction to publication with "likes" being subscribers. But much like magazine subscribers, it's silly to expect that every subscriber is going to read every stitch of content from cover to cover and see every direct response ad. Results vary and the variance isn't decided by the publication alone. It could be anything, ranging from the content of your advertisement to what people see when they land on the page.

Besides, different advertising works differently on Facebook. While most marketers invest considerable time on prospect advertisements (filtering out people who already like a page), other advertisements could target people who already like the page — you know, people who already gave you a wink and a nod or perhaps a share.

That's part of the problem with social network advertising now. Marketers have become so accustomed to gaining numbers that they forget about the people who are already there, waiting around for something to happen even if it isn't ever going to happen. In many cases, underperforming Facebook ads/pages are often the result of not producing anything valuable (whether content or coupon) for the people there, leaving people with an empty feeling: "Okay, I 'liked' your page, now what?"

Facebook advertising works well enough for hyper-targeting efforts. 

After running Facebook ad campaigns for a number of companies, the only common ground is that there is no common ground. Each presence deserves its own objectives. For example, running a campaign to shore up locals to visit a restaurant is very different than attempting to target tourists.

It doesn't even matter what type of cuisine you are talking about (although there is a way to focus in on those folks too). To drive more locals, the ad needs to target proximities. To drive more out-of-town guests, you might need to target people who love visiting the town.

Conversely, most restaurants only target people who have an expressed interest in a specific kind of food. But the reality, in most cases, is people who have an expressed interest in a specific kind of cuisine are already entrenched with one, two, or three restaurants of that kind. If you want to penetrate that market and cause conversations, then you have to be prepared to offer them something more than their favorite restaurant.

At the same time, looking at outcomes, one also has to appreciate that if your goal is to drive more visitors to your restaurant then it stands to reason that the local targeting is a short-term investment and tourist marketing is a long-term investment, e.g., once-a-month visitors as opposed to once-a-year visitors.

Along with deep thinking, marketers need to appreciate that Facebook advertising works best as part of an add-on campaign element anyway. While there have been a few Facebook-only campaign successes, the majority of companies seeing returns are those that use social networks as an add on. Ergo, if you produce a television advertisement, post it on Facebook and ask for feedback. A percentage of people who have subscribed to the page will likely share it and some of their friends might share it too.

The lowbrow measurement is that if 1,000 of the 10,000 people who like a page see the ad and 100 of them share it, then that return is better for the few seconds it takes to upload the video than the return of not sharing it. If you can increase that outcome by running an advertisement to that video post, all the better.

Likewise, someone finding your Facebook page on a search is probably better than someone not finding your Facebook page on a search (unless your page sucks). And keeping people who do like your restaurant up to date on special events, menus, introductions, etc. is better than not doing it.

Certainly, Facebook is not the end all to a successful marketing campaign. But marketers need to step back a little bit more and consider the bigger picture. When comparing something to nothing, something is always better. The rest is dependent on what you want to do and how you prioritize it.

In other words, the jury might still be out on Facebook in terms of an investment, but it terms of whether their advertising can be a benefit is already decided. What isn't decided is whether or not companies have good enough teams to maximize a return on the effort.

Monday, June 11

Evolving Social Media: Social Business

With the advances in how social media is applied daily, the description of Social Media For Communication Strategy held at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV), has a hard time keeping up even if the class does not. For example, nowhere does it mention social networks specifically, let alone the advent of social business.

But then again, this was always by design. When the three-hour session was first offered at UNLV, it was apparent  that social media had a limited shelf life as it evolved. Everything changes. And only the definition seems to remain a constant.

Social media describes the technologies people use to share content, opinions, insights, experiences, and perspectives by interacting with each other in an environment. 

It's not all that much different from how people are trying to define social business today. A social business, if you are unfamiliar with the term, is much like the one above with an emphasis placed on creating and optimizing a collaborative ecosystem. It isn't different, but there's a reason to go with it.

Social media was always collaborative, but social business helps people think. 

Despite the cosmetic shift with semantics, calling some of the new technologies collaborative helps people move away from the thought that social media was meant to be a broadcast platform. It's not. Broadcast is simply one thing you can do online, and it's not even the most effective thing to be done.

The only downside is that defining social business in such away detracts from the real meaning of a social business. That definition was crafted by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Prof. Muhammad Yunus as one which also serves humanity's most pressing needs, e.g., hunger, poverty, etc. The person who stole it probably wasn't aware of the definition. They just wanted to move away from the term "media."

Regardless, where the concept of a collaborative (social) business wins is in the intent. Rather than merely promoting something a business might have, it brings everyone (anyone) together to improve the experience. Sure, it sounds remotely convoluted until it's applied so let's apply it to something.

A Sports League Broadcast Model. 

When I presented a social media session for the Nevada Recreation & Park Society, I researched several parks and recreation social media programs across the country and found exactly what you might suspect. Just like most businesses, the bulk of their social media is broadcast based with the same basic steps.

1. Write up the program you want to promote.
2. Post it on the designated blog with an enrollment link.
3. Share the blog post across various social networks.
4. Email/mail people who participated in similar programs before.

There is nothing wrong with the approach, except the interactivity and collaboration that might result is limited to comments, likes, and shares. The experience isn't really immersive. It's mostly promotion.

A Sports League Social Business Model. 

But what would happen if the social media program became more immersive? What if the content wasn't designed around promotion but on skills improvement for players instead? What if the coaches and players could share their various points of view about a game or interesting training tips? What if game highlights were shared on a video channel or all participants could rate their favorite parks?

What if mobile technology provided real-time score broadcasts or weather conditions? What if area businesses could pay to promote their game day specials via the network? What if spectators could text or message someone if they saw any problems, ranging from park damage to unruly teens or suspicious visitors?

What if players could check the scores of all games being played concurrently and track the standings of various teams? What if players were highlighted or featured for making the play of the day? What if outside contractors could be partnered with to provide solutions (such as seat cushions for hard benches)? The steps would be considerably different. Simplified to four steps, it might look like something else.

1. Focus the communication on what people value. 
2. Match this value across most logical technologies. 
3. Develop tools that make the experience participatory and collaborative.
4. Continually build upon the program, focusing on emerging needs and ideas. 

Promotion (and hoping people share the content) would no longer be the emphasis of the online communication. Instead, promotion would be the outcome of a well-defined collaboration. Likewise, the same holds true for applying similar techniques to business.

Almost any time we shift the thinking away from company objectives to customer objectives, participation increases exponentially and opportunities emerge where they never existed before, internally and externally. At least, that is the way I will present it during Social Media For Communication Strategy on June 16. Someone else can help people catch up on Pinterest.

Friday, June 8

Making Milkshakes: Personal And Public Relations

There was plenty of enthusiasm at my daughter's kindergarten class on Wednesday. They graduated.

What makes a kindergarten graduation special is that it's considered their first major step toward education. When they return after the summer, all of them will be in grade school. Their next major transition, of course, will be the fifth grade when they leave grade school and head off to middle or junior high school.

As my daughter was one of the beaming students in this graduating class, there were many memorable moments for me as a proud parent. But those personal moments aren't the ones I want to share today. Something else stuck, and it applies to communication, social media, and relationships.

How making a milkshake can be an effective communication and relationship technique. 

When the principal of the school trotted out with a blender, milk, ice cream and other ingredients, most parents weren't too sure what to think of it. The kids knew what to think. They wanted some.

Except, the lesson she had to share with them wasn't how wonderful milkshakes can be (or maybe it was). The milkshake making is how she captured their attention. She described to them how she never considered herself a good cook, but she was always good at making ice cream.

The ice cream she had was indeed homemade. It was vanilla, made with nothing more than cream, sugar, ice, and a dash of vanilla extract for good measure. She spooned out two generous scoops as she talked, adding them to the milk in her blender.

As she did, you could see every student — from kindergarten to fifth grade — begin to lick their lips in anticipation. They knew it was going to be good. And the room erupted in applause when she asked for volunteers to taste it. Except, before any of the students were picked from the crowd, she stopped.

The milkshake, she said, was pure. But what would happen, she asked, if she added one ingredient that wasn't so pure? Not a lot, she said, holding up a silver bowl with the mystery addition. Just one piece.

The sheer horror on their faces will never be forgotten as the principal dangled a single piece of raw liver over the unspoiled milkshake. Several students even cried out in anguish as she let it fall in with a plunk. Amidst the growing angst and protest, she gave the blender another spin, giving the creamy white ice cream a grayish-pink tint.

Half of the would-be volunteers who wanted to sample the milkshake weren't so interested any more. And just to be sure there were no brave takers, she then dumped half of the contents from the bowl into the blender. With a final whirl, the once white milkshake turned maroon-gray and lumpy with little unground bits of the contaminant floating freely to every corner of the drink.

All relationships start off on a note of natural purity until we alter them. 

Think for a moment about every relationship you might have ever had or will have in your life — acquaintance or friend, classmate or coworker, colleague or partner, reporter or public relations practitioner, employee or employer, contractor or customer, lover or spouse, online connection or offline passerby. It's doesn't matter which ones you think of first. In this story, all of them start out equal. All of them are just like that milkshake.

They start out pure, natural, and delicious. They can remain that way for a long time — filled with nothing but enthusiasm for the next job, next date, next gathering, next opportunity to share, serve, sell, and celebrate. But how long that lasts is up to each pairing.

Relationships are fragile things, like snowmen in spring, I once wrote as part of the prose in a company Christmas card. But even so, I don't think I realized how fragile they were until watching the principal destroy a milkshake at my daughter's school.

It only takes one piece of liver — one white lie, one unreasonable expectation or demand, one broken promise, one unfollow or meaningless connection, one malicious manipulation, one infidelity, one single dose of spam, or one time you need need to be right at all costs — to give it that uncharacteristically grayish-pink tint. And even while most of relationships are anything but pure white over time (because of one party or the other; one mistake or another), one might wonder just how murky someone can make a milkshake before it becomes undrinkable. Most of the time, it seems, people color them up pretty good because we're all human.

Still, the truth is that we don't have to carry around muddied, chunky milkshakes. Since every relationship starts out with the same set of pure ingredients, someone has to be the first to toss in a little piece of liver (or maybe the whole bowl). And while there are plenty of people in the world who are really good at doing it first that doesn't mean we have to beat them to the bullshit finish.

If you want to really change the way you think, work, and live, take a moment to assess all the milkshakes that you have in your life. Are they all white? And if they are not white, how much of the liver did you intentionally or unintentionally dump into them?

Chances are that some of them need to be poured out (those destructive forces in your life), some of them need to be drunk up so you can start over (the ones you messed up all on your own), and a tiny few of them need to be preserved (those lucky few or any that have started new). And then, assuming you are lucky enough to minimize the sludge after the cleanup, maybe you can carry the wisdom in the lesson for the rest of your life — you don't have to ruin your milkshakes. And you don't have to keep the ones that someone else ruins either.

Wednesday, June 6

Managing Conversation: Tips For Business Owners

“Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.” — Gen. George S. Patton (War As I Knew It, 1947)

When most business owners first encounter the quote, many assume it's about innovation. But the quote from Gen. George S. Patton is only part of his overall ideology. Much of it is about communication — when to talk, how much to talk, and what to talk about.

Patton didn't have much of a choice in this assessment. Unlike many first-time business owners, he wasn't disillusioned in the belief that his business — war — was ever going to be easy. It's exactly the opposite. It's exceptionally hard work with sacrifices and consequences that are hard to live with, weighed against the greater victories that can be achieved.

Business isn't much different, except the consequences aren't usually the loss of lives as much as livelihoods — time, money, and sense of security. Generally, those are the three things you put on the line. But this distinction aside, his ideology has always been fitting for any business.

• When To Talk. The best executives don't invest too much time talking about things. They would rather be doing because doing helps action steamroll ahead toward the objective. Ergo, for as much as some people want to figure out the return on investment of tools like social media, they ought to pause long enough to factor in the return on investment for every meeting or conference call.

No one is suggesting that meetings are worthless when they have a purpose (even if that purpose is to boost morale), but put the cost of meetings into perspective — the hourly value of everyone in the room plus lost revenue by taking those people off the line. If there isn't a purpose, no matter how successful the meeting might feel, then it carries a negative return.

Patton didn't have much patience for purposeless meetings because he understood that many of them were little more than people jockeying for position. He had a quote for that too. "We herd sheep, we drive cattle, we lead people. Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way," he said.

• How Much To Talk. The crux of the initial quote is about ingenuity, innovation, and ideas. Not always, but often, the best ideas come from some semblance of collaborative strength, maximizing the talents of many individuals with different perspectives. In other words, one person sets down the parameters and then other people get to work on it.

In the field of communication and product development for example, creative people are generally given a loose vision of what they are to create (and any mandatories). When they return with a solution, someone reconciles the vision agains their reality. Sometimes it won't reconcile. Other times, people produce something better.

For Patton, his approach was a necessity. He did not have time to map out where every individual might be at any given moment. He didn't expect perfection. "A good solution applied with vigor now is better than a perfect solution applied ten minutes later," he said.

• What To Talk About. When conversations happen, make sure part of their measure of success is to make them progress driven with solutions in sight. Too many businesses invest too much effort in negative speak, focusing in on everything that might be wrong.

Sure, it's always useful to point out errors or realign expectations, but there is an old saying that I once picked up from a fellow political campaign strategist — you will never get anywhere with a negative message that ends on a negative. What the strategist meant by that is no candidate can win by talking about the bad unless they can end with a solution that gives people hope.

The same holds true inside companies. If you always tell the team that they can't do anything right, then there is a very good chance that you will always be right. You might think you win on that point, but there is nothing to gain in proving it. Consider what Patton thought about that too. “I don't measure a man's success by how high he climbs but how high he bounces when he hits bottom,” he said.

And if they don't bounce? Let them go. 

I've never met a successful business owner who ever kept someone around just to berate them. If they do, then they aren't generally successful. They're something else. And all too often, unlike Gen. George Patton, they are the instrument of their own failures, with most of those thinking themselves victims.

Monday, June 4

Fostering Change: Social Business Research

A new research report by the MIT Sloan Management Review in collaboration with Deloitte suggests there might be more to the social business concept than most people think. In addition to a survey, the study includes supplemental case studies from companies like McDonald's, IBM, Salesforce, SAP, and Yammer that are putting the practice to work.

According to the report, 52 percent of survey respondents believe that social business is important to their business today and 86 percent of managers believe social business will be important within the next three years. The only holdback to the enthusiasm is that executives still don't feel comfortable with the metrics that might prove value.

The researchers, on the other hand, make the case that metrics might not be as important as some people believe. While metrics are important to make assessments, the outcomes transcend measurement in improving operations, innovations, and humanization.

The social business movement is being led by media and tech companies. 

Not surprisingly, the businesses that seem to be leading the way in developing a social business structure are media (entertainment, news, and publishing) and technology (IT and tech). Among the media industry, more than 74 percent of managers already rely on social software. Among the tech industries, more than 65 percent already do.

The industries less excited about the social business concept include energy and utilities, manufacturing, and financial services. However, even these industries do not dismiss the concept outright. Almost half the managers in energy and utilities (which are generally conservative and slow to change) say it will be more important in three years.

The downside for all of these businesses is clear enough. Several struggle with defining the terms they apply to their business, developing long-term vision, funding adoption, and prioritization. The overwhelming holdback is fear in various forms, including employee abuse, change, and self-preservation by means of operating in closed silos. Justification of those fears are often verbalized as risk, security, legal liabilities, regulatory concerns, lack of measurable results, and the lack of industry-wide adoption.

There also seems to be an overemphasis on growing revenue (and linking measurements to it) as opposed to pursuits that result in revenue growth, e.g., innovation, cost reduction, and better efficiency. And while social software (including social media) is generally considered the backbone of social business (whether applied internally or externally), the adoption of these tools are largely underfunded.

The study included surveying managers in 115 countries and 24 different industries. The 3,500 respondents represented a cross-section of management roles, ranging from coordinators to those on boards of directors. You can find the report on social business here. It requires the submission of a name and valid email address.

Friday, June 1

Spinning XL: Soda Pop Ban Spins Away Real News

Most major municipalities have so many problems — flattening employment, degrading infrastructure, diminishing revenue, and driving people away with increasing taxation — that it can be difficult for government officials to set priorities. But it wasn't difficult for New York City's mayor to set priorities.

The priority problem is you. You drink too much soda. 

After several failed attempts at fighting soda consumption, Mayor Bloomberg has found a way to curb consumption. Large sugary drinks are nearly all banned in New York City. Fruit juice, even those with more sugar than soda, and diet drinks will be exempt from the ban. Big milkshakes and oversized beers are still okay. As bad as those things are, Bloomberg knows he has to pick and choose his battles.

“Obesity is a nationwide problem, and all over the United States, public health officials are wringing their hands saying, ‘Oh, this is terrible,’” Bloomberg told The New York Times. "New York City is not about wringing your hands; it's about doing something."

With 32-ounce sodas finally outlawed, New York City citizens will have to look for 2-for-1 16-ounce cup sales at their local movie theaters, grocery stores, and convenience stores. The seriousness of this escapade cannot be understated. Bloomberg and others like him are excited to regulate your health, with many cities expected to follow suit.

Bloomberg says that the public wants him to do it. Maybe that makes sense, especially for the portion of the public that apparently does not have the will power to say no. According to the sourced CBS Health Pop story, the city health department says 34 percent of New Yorkers are overweight and 22 percent are obese. One in five school children is also obese. 

You can't tell people to consume less and exercise more, one health professor said. If she is given huge amounts of food, she is going to eat it. Egad. Keep your hands and feet away.

We saw similar attempts to regulate health two years ago, when some people said they don't want Ronald McDonald around either. McDonald's is a frequent target of such bans, including a case where San Francisco banned Happy Meal toys. McDonald's eventually side-stepped the ban, offering the toys for a 10 cent donation to the Ronald McDonald House Charity. 

But that's not where the real story ends. It's where the spin story begins. 

When government officials and politicians embrace headlines that can be likened to the top five ways to get media attention, it almost assuredly means that there is more important but less popular news to consider. What it is in New York is anybody's guess. But the soft drink ban certainly spun away the comptroller's finding that New Yorkers were over-billed by contractors

In fact, on a quick article recap count, the soda pop story beat the comptroller story by a margin of  10:1 because Americans love their news like their soft drinks — full of sugary goodness. Ergo, what's more exciting and sharable: a $2 billion project over budget by $700 million (up to $50 million in erroneous overcharges) or a soda pop ban? The numbers don't lie. Soda pop wins. 

The story swap spin tactic isn't confined to New York City either. With two contestants for the upcoming presidential election clearly defined, trumping real topics like the economy is already pretty commonplace. You know, never mind unemployment or government debt or foreign relations. It's safer to talk about birth certificates, lifestyle choices, and other sound bites. 

Wednesday, May 30

Migrating Profession: The Internet Is A Petri Dish

Five years is a long time on the Internet. In fact, it was five years ago that someone concocted the Online Identity Calculator, which has since migrated to a new address. But what the Online Identity Calculator never considered is the extent to which online identities would be out of our hands.

I'm not talking about professional criticisms, erroneous articles, or discrepancies in how we perceive ourselves compared to what has been posted online. I'm talking about the next generation who will have an online identity before they can talk. Ninety percent of them will have an online history before they are two years old, written by their parents and other relatives.

The next few years will be different too. By the time they are 5, more than 50 percent will interact with a computer or tablet. By the time they are 8, almost all of them will be playing video games and reading (if not participating) with associated forums. By the time they are preteens or early teens, they will open a Facebook account (even though you must be 13 to legally join the site). And by the time they are teens, they will spend more time with media than their parents and teachers combined.

It's improbable to believe that the open, media-driven world that today's children are being born into won't have an impact on them, infinitely greater than television did to the generations before them. In this new world, they aren't just tuning in to find entertainment — they are the entertainment, for better or worse. Along with every triumph posted, some parents delight in sharing tragedies too — unerasable bits of information that establishes our online identity before we even have an identity offline.

As media and technology change people, psychologists will migrate to the space. 

Although psychology ranks relatively high on the list of degrees leaving recent grads unemployed or underemployed, the field is already beginning to add another layer as a viable potential career path. Psychologists don't have to settle for the proverbial choice of listening to people's problems or teaching mice to press bars for cheese.

The subset to watch is media psychology (for lack of a better term), and the directional choices a psychologist might take it in are as diverse as the application. Sure, marketers and advertisers (the good ones anyway) always considered psychology and sociology as assets. But compared to the greater number of psychologists working in the field, relatively few focused on communication and media.

That's not going to be the case anymore, given that media has become so intertwined into our lives that it is somewhat difficult to separate the two — even more so than all those babies who were born into a world that celebrates their arrival with increased exposure to the world, e.g., public Facebook posts have replaced semi-public baby announcements. And that's only the beginning of media psychology.

• Marketing. The primary reason marketers sometimes struggle with determining ROI on the web is because most of them have no scientific or psychological training to boost their understanding of the human experience. Few of them run studies with control groups, preferring to guess at analytics instead of knowing the truth behind the abundance of measurements at their disposal. Expect psychologists and sociologists to be working with marketers and network programmers in the near future.

• Public Perception. Along with marketing, public policy and socio-economics could use a lift. With legislators listening too keenly to the loudest voices online, psychologists would add real research into the mix to determine the "why" behind any outcry. This would be an asset, given many political decisions are knee-jerk responses instead of an attempt to truly understand where people might be on any given topic. (Ergo, people are more likely to sacrifice liberties after a highly visible threat, but then push back as the threat becomes less immediate.)

• Societal Change. Some psychologists have already noted that media and social media shape our perception of reality (accidentally, purposefully, and cohesively). Psychologists can treat entire populations as their petri dish. They know it too. Some are already starting to study why types of individuals use social networks for what purposes and how — much like some dedicated significant time studying whether or not violent television programs make the world a meaner place.

• Real-time Psychology. Sooner or later, we might anticipate some psychologists who work with individuals to consider the Internet as a tool to provide greater insight into the social interactions their clients have with others online. One can only imagine what this might look like 20 years from now, when psychologists look online to not only track social interactions but also scroll back to early family photos and random posts. Who knows too, what kind of psychological stigmas might be created as some parents not only reinforce a child's potential to be one way or another, but also post semi-permanent evidence in the process.

Personally, I have always seen psychology and sociology as critical components of communication planning and message development. But it seems to me that those professions might see a boost in relevance in the years ahead. After all, if social media has changed anything it is that we've given permission to let people study us as a public. You might be surprised by what they find.

To illustrate (although it might make its own post someday), I remember an old sociology project in college that asked us to team with a partner and then study three or four of their high school yearbooks. Based on the information those yearbooks contained, the best students (with surprising accuracy) could outline various niche groups within the school, what they liked, and how they behaved toward others.

Now imagine the same thing online, except without the confines of a few years and a handful of pictures. If a narrow field of information could reveal so much about people, then the vastness of the net could open up almost anything.

Monday, May 28

Honoring Sacrifices: Memorial Day

"We come, not to mourn our dead soldiers, but to praise them." — Francis A. Walker

Last year, on Memorial Day, I included a list of nonprofit organizations working to preserve the memories of fallen soldiers who served in the United States Armed Forces. These men and women, who served their country and gave the ultimate sacrifice, have earned our admiration as all those who serve do.

This year, I wanted to draw attention to something else. Often times the sacrifices they make in service to our country are not exclusively their own. As sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, they are other people who also bare these sacrifices in life.

Among the best known survivors are American War Mothers, especially those distinguished as Gold Star Mothers, women who have lost a son or daughter in service to their county. And it is their stories that help put the sacrifices of our soldiers into perspective.

And along with these women who carry on in the face of tragedy, are the men and women who served alongside them. There are more than 23 million of them, veterans of the Armed Forces who live, work, and play in your hometown. They remember, unable to forget the sacrifices made for and by others.

And along with them, there are hundreds and thousands of children who made sacrifices too. To help them cope and learn to live with loss is the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), which provides an immediate connection; and Children Of Fallen Soldiers, which is dedicated to helping mentor these children to help them achieve their dreams. Here is a clip that helps explain TAPS, the first programs mentioned.

These videos, whether viewed independently or alone, hopefully convey a different message about Memorial Day. Many people from around the world have the mistaken notion that Memorial Day is an extension of national pride in the United States. In reality, when it is observed, it a somber reminder of a people who value peace, appreciate the cost of conflict, and understand the sacrifice of too many.

A Brief Perspective On Memorial Day.

Even its establishment, originally as Decoration Day, was not a celebration of war but rather the efforts of formerly enslaved African-Americans to honor Union soldiers of the American Civil War who died for their freedom. Later, Southern states held their own Memorial Days, helping rebind the common cause of this country and by 1866, both Union and Confederate casualties were commemorated.

Later still, the holiday began to include the casualties of other conflicts, servicemen and women who may not have died in the country's internal conflict over freedom but rather in conflicts related to freedom all over the world.

While many American observe this day differently, the least people are asked to do is to pause for minutes at 3 p.m. (their time zone) for the National Moment of Remembrance. The goal of this moment is understood. It is a call to remember that the price of freedom is never free. The cost of it is paid for with the lives of brave men and women in an instant, and then by their families forever. Good night and good luck.

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