Wednesday, May 28

How Social Connections Helped Save The Town Of Neptune

Veronica Mars
When Rob Thomas and Kristen Bell succeeded in raising an astonishing $5.7 million from more than 90,000 donors to produce a movie centered on the one-time teen private detective Veronica Mars, most people called it one of the greatest Kickstarter successes of all time. But much more than a crowd-funding platform success, the Veronica Mars movie marks a much bigger milestone.

As Kickstarter CEO Yancey Strickler called it, the Veronica Mars movie is one of the greatest fan stories of all time. He's mostly right. Kickstarter provided the platform, but it was the dedicated fan base of the cancelled television series that convinced Thomas and the cast to consider a revival.

Fans stuck with Veronica Mars for six years.

The fans didn't just promote the cancelled television series online. They promoted it offline too. And even after rumors that Thomas was making a movie in 2009 fell apart, few of them gave up hope. They continued to promote the series with contests, events, book clubs, and social networks.

"We were told that we made a difference in the decision to even launch the Kickstarter campaign," says Mark Thompson for Neptune Rising. "But once the the Kickstarter launched, we were just a pebble in the storm that represents the true fandom of Veronica Mars."

According to Thompson, he heard about the Kickstarter campaign in its seventh hour and Thomas had already raised his first $1 million for the film. Within 24 hours, the campaign raised $2 million.

At the same time, the entire campaign proved what the Neptune Rising team had said all along. The fan base behind Veronica Mars was much bigger than any social media metrics might demonstrate.

Even on the last day of the Kickstarter campaign, Thomas asked fans to meet him at an Austin bar. He anticipated 30-40 people. More than 700 fans showed up, including Jason Dohring.

Rob Thomas
"I always had high hopes," said Thomas at the campaign party. "And yet there was this little bit of doubt in my mind ... what if the people telling us to make a movie are the same 20 people?"

His one little worry is now long put to rest. Not only are there thousands of fans behind Veronica Mars, but they also represent the first wave of a shifting paradigm for television and film production that started in 2007. The size of an audience isn't the only consideration. Its passion is just as important.

Even after fans invested $5.7 million into what became a $6 million film, they also turned out to see it in theaters. The movie went on to earn another $2 million during its opening weekend. After earning its top ten release spot, it slowly tapered off and settled somewhere around $3.3 million.

Although it would likely take about $12 million for Warner Brothers to really consider a second movie, the fans who helped make the first one possible are doing everything to ensure their neo-noir detective won't slip away again. They're promoting DVD sales as well as a Veronica Mars novel.

You can stay up to date on the progress of the film via By The Numbers. While many fans already own a copy of the Veronica Mars DVD, it's not uncommon for fan bases to spike sales by purchasing an additional DVD and gifting it to a friend. They've also spiked reviews, giving the movie higher ratings on iTunes and Amazon than most mid-level releases (although critics genuinely liked it too).

If you haven't seen the film, suffice to say that diehard fans will love it as Veronica Mars resurrected. It takes place immediately after she finishes law school with Thomas and the cast planting plenty of insider tidbits and cameos to thank the fans for their long, hard fight. Unfortunately, everyone was so caught up in this as a labor of love, it wasn't as good as it could have been for a true introduction.

And this is the reason it didn't do even better at the box office. It felt too much like a reunion.

Fans are ready to stick with Veronica Mars for another six. 

Even so, does it matter? Warner Brothers could easily take the information it gleaned from this release and adjust for the next budget accordingly. Thomas could also pen a script that stays away from the reunion obligations and fights to make Mars into the neo-noir thriller she can be.

The fans, it seems, are already working to support such an effort. Not only are fans from sites like Neptune Rising promoting DVD sales, but they are also coordinating book readings for the first official Veronica Mars book, Veronica Mars: An Original Mystery by Rob Thomas: The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line (Vintage) with Jennifer Graham.

"As far as what's next, we'll have to see," Thompson told me. "But the fans of Neptune Rising plan on seeing even more of our favorite sleuth on either the big screen or the small screen."

There isn't any reason to doubt them. Years ago, when an entire season of cancellations happened to decent shows (The Black Donnellys, Jericho, Journeyman, and Veronica Mars), Veronica Mars landed in the uncomfortable position of being on the near-abandoned bubble. It looked like fan efforts were going to fail. Seven year later, there are more diehard fans today than there were then.

It's something to think about. In one form or another, Veronica Mars seems a long way off from solving her last case. And likewise, the movie proves that how networks and studios size up potential franchises is still evolving into smaller but increasingly loyal pools of viewers. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, May 21

Real Marketing Strategies Aren't Built On Search Or Social

The most common explanation for pushback related to changes to social and search platform changes is that people are resistant to change. Some companies have even mapped out classic reactions to it.

It follows a cycle. People deny the change will happen and then become upset when it actually occurs. This is sometimes followed by confusion, depression, and crisis. We're seeing it today.

Companies were laying people off after Google made changes to Panda. Companies used teams like reachpocalypse after Facebook became more like paid media. Both platform changes have been highly publicized as if they are unique, but it happens all the time — tweaks, adaptions, and deaths.

The Internet is in a constant state of change. Some people like to equate it to a world map, but it plays out much more like the chaos of a new cosmos. Every day, major players use their gravitational juice to expand, contract, and buy out other solar systems. It's a billion dollar game being played by titans who largely ignore the little people who worship or try to exploit them, except for the occasional swat.

"We're playing in their backyard but don't want to play by their rules - conundrum." — Shawn Elledge, Integrated Marketing Summit

My response? There are plenty of backyards. Problem solved. 

This isn't a new idea (and it doesn't mean that you abandon Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc. outright). All it means is that anybody who has been deep in the social space for any length of time has learned a lesson or two about playing in other people's backyards with other people's sand. Just not en masse.

Sure, social and search can work wonders for some companies. But it doesn't work that way for all companies. It largely depends on who they are, what they do, and the kind of customer they reach.

For example, it makes sense for search and social to play a prominent role in the outreach efforts of an Asian restaurant in Las Vegas that derived most of its business from hotel deliveries. While the restaurant has a loyal customer base, its primary revenue was derived from hotel staff referrals and visitors searching for Asian takeout. It made sense because there are two primary search drivers.

1. People search for things because they have no idea what exists.

2. People search for things because they know they exist somewhere.

Content marketing and social media were mostly built to help capture the first kind of searchers while simultaneously engaging a few of those people enough to make them second kind searchers or, better yet, direct referrers who bypass searching all together. Ergo, sharing is an expression of gratitude that sometimes creates second kind searchers — people who have heard of you, your product, your service, your idea, your company. For a restaurant, it might mean someone saying "make sure you eat at >place< when you are in >city<" or it could manifest on any number of review and travel sites.

Conversely, a speciality commercial contractor may have have a presence on social networks and earn reasonable placement on search engines, but search and social are not primary drivers. Generally speaking, this kind of business isn't driven by first kind searchers. They rely on second kind searchers and direct referrers. As a result, the social and search portion of a marketing plan differ.

Instead of popularity, the company needed to engage decision makers within their space — designers, architects, and general contractors who would have a specific need for the specialty provided. And the best way to accomplish that as a new company (but veteran owners) not to load up on search and social, but to create content that featured the designers, architects, and general contractors they were trying to reach and thereby giving their target audience an opportunity to become direct referrers.

In both cases, while the restaurant clearly has some reliance on search (which was still eclipsed by hotel staff recommendations), neither company was overtly reliant on fleeting tips and tricks to gain temporary boosts from a search or social networks that are all too often treated as marketing channels. There are better ways to invest a marketing budget than website traffic or social network likes alone.

Put the power of choice in the hands of customers not the platforms. 

The point is that all marketing plans ought to revolve around your own backyard, where it can be much more effectively managed. This is accomplished not by understanding platforms so much as understanding your customers, what they need, and when and how to deliver on that need.

The more you understand about your existing customer, the more likely you will be able to expand that base by delivering on the value proposition and/or other closely content they will value. And this approach makes much more sense than what many companies do to inflate the appearance of success.

1. Companies spend money to rank higher across accidental and unrelated search queries.

2. Companies spend money to send people to social networks instead of their backyard.

3. Companies spend money to interrupt consumers at the wrong time and place.

The most important takeaway for any organization is that all platforms change and they change so often that marketing professionals ought to be weary about any ticks and trips related to those three tactics because today's boost will be tomorrow's penalty and today's best investment will be tomorrow's waste of time. Stay focused on the constants of your company and customers first.

Wednesday, May 14

Five Popular Content Writing Tips That Are Dead Wrong

With the proliferation of technology, some people assume that writing proficiency is increasing and not diminishing. This isn't the case. One recent OECD study shows that despite having higher than average educational attainment, adults in the United States are below average in basic literacy.

How low? The United States ranked 16th out of 23 countries in literacy proficiency, with one in six adults scoring below level 2 (illiterate) on the literacy scale. Perhaps more troubling, college graduates demonstrate comparatively miserable scores. This means that degrees are beginning to create a meaningless expectation that graduates possess basic skill sets.

"Moreover, the relationship between parents’ education and skills proficiency varies across generations," the study says. "In Korea and the United States, for example, the relationship between socio-economic background and skills proficiency is much weaker among younger adults than among older adults."

While some might not be surprised to see the study cite a decline in literacy, education is not at fault exclusively. Despite employers wanting employees with strong written and verbal communication skills, more and more professionals promote content tips that reinforce the idea that writing is less important than it was in previous decades. Here are five myths that demonstrate it.

1. Everything is trending toward less words so write less. While writing tight and economy of language are important objectives for all writers, writing "less" is always superseded by the idea that content needs to be as long as it takes to effectively communicate a point. More can be memorable.

Never mind what big brands do. Copywriters have long known that big brands have the advantage of product familiarity. It's easy for Coca-Cola to show a big picture of a polar bear and a can of coke and have people understand it. Coca-Cola literally leverages a lifetime of marketing about Coke, its taste, and its product distinction. They don't write "less." They wrote "more" in a very, very big way.

If you tried to launch a new brand of soda the same way, it would likely fail. New voices in social media and content marketing face the same challenge. Well-known names writing about social media can say something in a few sentences. Newcomers and less familiar voices have to provide proof.

2. Adding exciting words to marketing copy will jazz it up. The biggest division between advertising copywriters and less experienced marketing content writers is seen in their word choices. Many marketers think that people respond to "greatest," "most exciting," and "best ever." They don't.

People respond best to facts because they convey memorable bits of information while empty claims lack conviction. You can write that a car has "zoom" and possibly attract attention (even if it is cliche), but if you don't back it up with facts — 0-50 mph in 60 seconds — people will easily draw their own conclusions. They might even conclude that all your hype is really hyperbole.

The truth is that empty claims are as boring as cliches. They are also harder to remember because they blend into the background like other generalities. A restaurant that sells delicious chicken is much more forgettable than a restaurant that sells crispy fried chicken, oven-roasted chicken, or free-range chicken. While all of them could be delicious, facts help people make purchasing decisions.

3. Writing catchy copy takes almost no time at all. Real writers know that packing conviction into a few short graphs or a headline demands discipline. It requires editing skills, proofreading skills, cutting, rewriting, and then more cutting and more rewriting. Writing tight takes more time, not less.

If you ever study automotive marketing, you'll find that the best manufacturers tell different parts of a big story across several mediums. Television commercials and some print advertisements are often nothing more than invitations to the rest of the message. The bulk of the marketing message comes later, perhaps in a brochure or on a website where it makes sense to provide details for people who are actively purchasing a car.

The point? Looks can be deceiving. One ad with a 3-5 word headline has an entire novel of strategy, psychology, and content behind it. Very few good writers just jot down whatever comes to mind. For most, even if some spark did originate in the shower, the hard work happens before and after the fact.

4. Persuasion and believability comes from good writing alone. There is some truth to it, but not really. Even when writing is beautifully conceived and perfectly written, it still needs some help. This is especially true for advertising copy and marketing content because people know it is biased.

When facts alone are not enough, content writers can employ several dozen approaches to elevate content credibility. These can include any number of customer testimonials, third-party endorsements or research studies, independent case studies, organization success stories, performance tests, key performance indicators, objective measurements, and even guarantees (provided they aren't cliche).

Even marketing content writers can boost their credibility by providing links to other stories and sources. It demonstrates that the opinions, thoughts, and conclusions weren't generated in a closet but within a greater and informed context. Let readers know you've done some homework.

5. One medium will rule them all and in the darkness bind them. There is increasing chatter that visual communication is outpacing written communication on the net. It's true and untrue at the same time. Images can boost both attraction and retention but the notion that images beat words is fiction.

Good copywriters (and perhaps all writers) have always known not to think in terms of words alone. Most are taught or teach themselves to think about communication as a mixed medium and in multiple dimensions. Pictures, symbols, shapes, layouts, and different components like audio and video can all contribute something to whatever needs to be communicated.

The idea is to think visually, no matter what role writing plays as part of the communication. Ask good educators. They know it too. Teaching that includes audio, visual, and written communication creates powerful connections and increased retention. So don't expect writing to lose its luster anytime soon. It will only become more important.

The solution for a better educated work force is to stop making excuses. 

The current education system isn't exclusively to blame. All five of these "tips" indirectly contribute to the greater myth that the written word is an inferior form of communication. It's not. The written word in one of the most accurate and flexible means of communication ever conceived and we're living in an era where we can access more of it than ever before in human history.

As communication professionals, we ought to do everything we can to support the written word rather than dumbing down marketing communication to cover for the abundance of bad writing being produced on daily basis. It seems to me that overtly short content, marketing fluff, rushed content, unsupported claims, and pretty pictures aren't a solution to combat illiteracy but a contribution to it.

These topics and how to make a positive impression with clear, concise, and grammatically-correct personal or business writing will be part of a half-day program, Editing & Proofreading Your Work, on June 6 at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. In addition to discussing current trends, the class focuses on common mistakes that writers make and how to assess your individual writing skills.

Wednesday, May 7

Anybody Can Sell Lipstick. Few People Can Sell Hope.

Sell desire.
If Charles Revson were alive today, I'm not convinced that the current state of cosmetic content marketing would impress him. Almost everyone in the industry is trying to sell makeup with it.

He might even find it ironic. Before he revolutionized the cosmetics industry starting in 1932, everyone counted the same measurements that social media experts count today — impressions, shares, leads, and sales. He never did. Rather, he was among the first to say he didn't sell makeup.

"In our factory, we make lipstick," Revson once clarified. "In our advertising, we sell hope."

Never mind that during his tenure Revlon went on to dominate market share, he never sold makeup. What he did instead was win over women by opening their minds to the idea that they could look as good as anyone. He helped turn makeup into a means of self-expression rather than conformity.

Somewhere along the way, after Revson was no longer part of the picture, the once major player in makeup began to lose steam. A few years ago, the company only made $1.4 billion in sales (half of that outside the United States). While that might seem respectable, it's 1/20th of what L'Oreal did.

So what happened? Revlon started selling makeup in such a mass produced fashion that it fell out of favor as the provocative brand it once was. Instead of women feeling like they could be as attractive as Revlon celebrities, they felt forced to conform to the standard set by those celebrities.

It's bad business, but it happens to brands all the time. Brands lose their way in the pursuit of sales over vision. And once they lose their way, it's hard to get it back (no matter how hard they try).

How to make the Revson vision relevant today in content marketing.

I once knew an advertising principal that prided himself on "not being in the advertising business but rather being in the check cashing business." He liked to cash checks. The quip sometimes lured sales-minded businesses in for the short term, but only the short term. It's hard to relate to people when they are always looking at your wallet much the same way it is hard to read sales-driven content.

What people want out of advertising agencies isn't a tax write off. Most of them want to grow their business by opening new markets, increasing market share, expanding distribution, etc. But what happens all too often is they get sidetracked because someone sells them on the ideal of making themselves (and their shareholders) rich in the short term by lowering costs and increasing sales.

Sure, the method works for some companies but not all them. When people want to look and feel their best, they don't necessarily think to search for "cheap lipstick" and then sort through reams of marketing content and purchased reviews. They search and look for something different. And once they find whatever that something might be, they might decide lipstick is part of the equation.

In other words, to be successful in content marketing today, you have to think beyond a dozen celebrity endorsements, a thousand posts about cosmetics, or a hundred different white papers on lipstick. What you need to ask yourself is how your organization can make a psychological connection to the right person (as opposed to as many people as possible) at the right time.

If Revson were alive today, he might support content marketing designed to add value to the lives of his customers but I doubt he would sell lipstick. It's very likely he would still sell hope but on a different canvas. Maybe your organization would be better off taking a page from this playbook too.

Instead of trying to move the sales needle, recognize that the best form of persuasion isn't built upon what you have to sell but what people perceive they need. And if you really listen to them, you likely discover that they only need lipstick some of the time while they need hope (or whatever might correlate to your product) almost all of the time.

Wednesday, April 30

Content Marketing Isn't Always About Content Creation

Given the number of public relations firms with their feet in social media and digital marketing, one would think more organizations could demonstrate content creation restraint. They don't.

Content creation continues to be the focus of most digital marketing and public relations campaigns and it's starting to backfire. There is so much being produced nowadays that some people are rightly asking how much is too much?

A few seem to think we've already crossed that threshold. Maybe so. The deluge is so huge that the quality of the content doesn't seem to matter as much anymore. The mantra of most programs can be summed up as: Create as much low value content as possible with tightly written link-bait headlines that can be distributed via incessant automation systems in order to inflate website traffic as evidence of causation for unspecified and erroneously labeled key performance indicators.

Sound familiar? It ought too. The vast majority of organizations approach content marking on measurable clicks (a.k.a. actions and conversions) that are overtly and painfully rewarded by online measurement systems. Entire books have been written about it. Frequency breeds familiarly, they say.

Too much frequency also breeds contempt. 

The real problem with more and more marketing programs is that content has become akin to being a house guest in someone else's online experience. Worse, this house guest has become so narcessistic that they act like they own the place just because they invested in a shiny new suit.

Sure, an organization might own the space where it publishes, but it doesn't own the stream most people subscribe to. They turned to digital mediums to escape interruption rather than be pummeled by them.

Unless more organizations wake up, it's very likely that the remedy for bad journalism and content shock is more and more of it until it becomes too expensive and ultimately people tune it out. It is an inevitable outcome, which is the same one that once caused direct mail houses to surrender 20 percent conversion rates for less than 2 percent between the 1970s and 2000s. They just sent more mail.

The alternative is to modify the content mix.

While some organizations are better suited to it than others, modifying content creation with content participation remains one of the most viable solutions. Rather than organizations expressing themselves with content creation, they can invite consumers or small business owners to contribute some of it.

The National Park Foundation, along with several partner agencies, is currently managing one such campaign. Outdoorsmen and amateur photographers provide photos and the foundation supplies the community and distribution.

Last year, nearly 20,000 photos were submitted between May and December. Winning images received cash prizes, outdoor gear, hotel packages, and an annual Federal Recreation Lands Pass.

Sure, Share The Experience is packaged as an annual contest that invites people to explore the nation’s federal lands and share their experiences with photography but it's more than that. While the prizes provide a gratitude-based incentive, they seem secondary to the primary participatory engagement.

At the same time, the photographs submitted by real people demonstrate the benefits of a federal parks program much more effectively than if these partner agencies produced and promoted 54 photographs every day. It's also more cost-effective than attempting to cover some 500 million acres of federal lands with professional photographers and park professionals alone.

Content participation is more structured than a crowdsourced contest.

A few years ago, we conceived a similar approach to developing content for early cause marketing campaigns, independent film releases, and startup social media programs. In essence, as long as the program structure guides participants (as opposed to runaway hashtag efforts, content participation efforts can have a dramatic and positive impact on exciting professional content creation programs.

Just keep in mind that running a "contest" on its own isn't enough. Effective campaigns are designed to place participants and stakeholders on equal footing. And any resulting exposure of a well-executed campaign will likely be a by-product of achieving larger objectives. In this case, it enriches the parks program, safeguards our national heritage, and inspires the next generation of parks enthusiasts.

What about your organization? What can you do to transform the "us and them" vernacular into a more collaborative "we" program? And if it isn't considering participatory efforts online and off, then maybe it's time to see how many counted clicks are destined to become disenfranchised customers or adversaries.

The kayaking photo above was submitted to Share The Experience by Courtney Kotewa. She was in northern Michigan near Essexville when she took the winning shot.

Wednesday, April 23

Fame Is Fun But A Shallow Substitute For Real Recognition

Richard R. Becker
It takes much less than 72 hours of fame to appreciate the folly in it. I had my fill after two hours.

It's true. For 72 hours in Grand Canyon National Park, everybody knew me. Not everyone exactly, but enough people that I could have passed Geoff Livingston's Safeway Test. Some would smile and nod at me with wide-eyed identification. Others immediately approached me with compliments or quips. And a few of them even acted like long lost friends, striking up a conversation.

It wasn't incessant, but surprisingly frequent. And when it did happen, there was enough exuberance in these random exchanges that some onlookers couldn't help but wonder who was that guy.

How 10 minutes of fun turned into 72 hours of fame, maybe longer.

Who was that guy? Those in the know, knew. In total, those in the know included about 600 people who filled the bleachers in front of the railroad tracks at the Grand Depot Hotel in Williams, Arizona. All of them, like me, were there to see a shootout before departing to the Grand Canyon.

Having the foresight to know the show would be packed, my family and I even arrived early to get good seats. But what we didn't know is that the cowboys would pass over every audience volunteer with their hand up and pick me to participate in a card game prior to their shootout.

As the story played out, I was transformed into the "rich" tourist playing for an unknown stake in a card game with three brothers who had lost everything they had the night before (along with their mother, who was still sitting in jail). I played along, drawing up some dusty high school and college theater experience to lend expression to my mostly non-speaking part.

Rich Becker in a gunfightWhen the cards were all dealt out, I found myself sporting aces over kings. My hand easily beat two of the three brothers who had been dealt in, but not the third. He conspicuously won with five aces.

Accusations of cheating followed, with a younger brother getting the drop on the older brother by plugging him in the back. That might have been the end of it had the sheriff not shown up. My heroes quickly changed their tune to avoid jail time and fingered me as the most likely villain in the story.

According to the new account, I not only cheated but also gunned their brother down in cold blood. The sheriff didn't buy it for several reasons. I wasn't holding the alleged murder weapon. I was walking around in "underwear" and a purse. And that purse, duly noted, didn't match my shoes. Long story short, I didn't measure up to same rugged toughness as the company I kept. I was asked to sit back down. Sigh.

The verdict stung almost as much as being gunned down so I took my seat. The sheriff stood his ground on his own. Then there was a shootout. Bang, bang, bang. Cowboys dropped. We took some photos. It was done. Except, it wasn't done.

Why the prospect of fame is full of empty calories, never fulfilling. 

Almost immediately upon boarding the train, another family recognized me as the guy from the shootout. A few hours later, while overlooking the Grand Canyon, someone came up to mention what a good sport I had been. Another couple, walking by, pointed out my shoes still didn't match my purse.

Grand Canyon DepotIt went on like this for the next 72 hours. People would call me everything from "the five aces guy" (I wasn't) to a "no good dirty cheater who got those boys killed" (I wasn't). It was fun, but also odd in that some people seem to expect more from me than a laugh, a thank you, or other pleasantries. After a few encounters, the novelty wore off and some left me feeling empty or even awkward.

Don't get me wrong. I wouldn't trade the experience for the world. While I never seek it out, I have been picked (or seen family members picked) more often than not. It makes trips like this memorable.

The first time it happened, years ago, I was pulled up on a stage, strapped to chair, and surrounded by scantily clad women singing Hanky Panky. Another time, I joined friends to compete in a bed race down the main drag of Oatman, Arizona. A few weeks ago, I ran across a baseball field dressed as a Girl Scout cookie with my daughter. But unlike those times, something was different this time.

The intimacy of the show, the proximity to the audience, and the percentage of time on stage made me part of the show and, by default, part of the vacation experience of an audience and their photo albums. And as such, I became known not for who I am but for a part a played for about 10 minutes.

This is significantly different from teaching or speaking or receiving an award or writing an article, where being recognized is the result of recognition. This was akin to fame as in the condition of being known and talked about by many people but necessarily for any achievement. It's the difference between Miley Cyrus being known for a wrecking ball video but not as a singer. Call it set dressing.

Recognition will fill you up, even if no one knows you on sight.

Shoot out in Williams, Ariz.Conversely, no one in the Grand Canyon knew I was simultaneously being recognized by a colleague I respect nor that an article I wrote was picked up by an online publisher. And therein lies the irony of this observation.

No one will likely recognize me on the streets for either the recognition nor the article, but both have considerably more value from a perspective of reputation. Never mind that no one will recognize me on the street as the result of either. Even if they did, it wouldn't mean much.

Fame is fun but not a substitute. And if you need some help applying my meaning to public relations or social media, sum it up as being careful what you wish for. For many people, fame is nothing more than a flash in the pan before they return to being anonymous. Reputation, on the other hand, can last a lifetime. Ergo, the shootout was a load of fun and I would do it all again. But the fame that followed afterward, while novel, I could do without.

A few more words. My hat is off to the cowboys of Grand Depot Hotel in Williams, Arizona. They add  something extra to the entire experience like nowhere else. Let them rob you on the return. A full review will follow on Liquid [Hip] Travel.

Wednesday, April 16

Will The Next America Express A Culture Shift?

There are two interesting demographic anomalies being played out in the United States right now. And the reason they are interesting is that they aren't anomalies. They could be called corrections.

The first demographic transformation is that the Baby Boomer bubble will be largely played out by 2060. In its place will be a rectangle, with each age demographic being almost equally represented.

The second transformation is racial. Of the two transformations, this is the one that some people make a big deal about. "White" will become a minority by 2060, making the country a plurality.

Marketers are testing the waters of the Next America. 

There were three commercials that expressed the demographic changes taking place in America during the Super Bowl. They includes Coke, Chevy, and Cheerios. Of the three, Cheerios won with its portrayal of a blended family because the expression didn't draw attention to itself.

Conversely, Chevy flashed a brief image of a family with same-sex partners, which demonstrated acceptance more than the demographic changes ahead. Coke did something else. In attempting to celebrate the cultural diversity of the nation, it conveyed it by singing the nation anthem in seven languages.

Because of the political rhetoric that followed the advertisement, most marketers missed the lesson that tempers what Pew Research calls The Next America. The Cheerios advertisement makes the demographic nod to blended families, which is estimated to reach as much as 20 percent by 2060.

Coke was much more blatant because it expressed multiculturalism over assimilation, an ideal that doesn't always sit well with all Americans (regardless of ethnicity and political viewpoints) because it breaks down the melting pot concept of America. While most families retain some identity from their ancestral heritage, they also assimilate to some degree. It has pretty much always been this way.

History suggests demographic changes eventually even out. 

When most people consider American demographics, they tend to think of the United States as English dominant. They mostly do so because the founding fathers were English subjects.

Those demographics changed a long time ago. English hasn't been a dominant ancestry in the United States for almost a century. Dominant ancestral lines today are German (15 percent), followed by Irish (11 percent) and African (9 percent). Assimilation creates the illusion of an English country.

Sure, there is no doubt that mass German immigration (and mass Irish immigration before that) led to some cultural shifts in the country. But, by in large, mass emigrations were absorbed and people eventually self- identified with being American first. Ergo, German didn't supplant English as the official language. Other than adopting Octoberfest as a national celebration, not that much changed.

While some people will be quick to claim that mass German immigration (or any other mass immigration) doesn't resemble the same tensions we face a century later, history suggests otherwise. If anything, the alarmist anti-German sentiment was much more pronounced than any anti-anything sentiment we see today. Even President Woodrow Wilson condemned "hyphenated Americans."

The point is that the so-called demographic makeover that America is seeing today neglects that America has seen several demographic makeovers before, with most immigrant families becoming something much different within the short span of three generations or less. Everyone changes.

The ethnic and racial flames of today are too easily fanned. 

Americans tend to politicize everything these days, ethnic and racial tensions included. While some researchers, including Pew, seem to expect a showdown of sorts, it seems more likely any sweeping changes will be a whimper. The truth is that most ethnic and racial tensions are sadly superficial.

Please don't misunderstand me. I don't mean that racism doesn't exist in America. It does. All I mean is by in large, ethnic and racial lines in this country are based on self-identification and skin color.

Case in point, the last presidential election featured two candidates who come from blended families, yet many people insist as seeing Barack Obama as black and Mitt Romney as white. Why? The only explanation is skin color and self-identification.

They aren't alone either. One of the best panels provided by Pew Research's The Next America features eight celebrities who come from blended families. They include Derek Jeter, Cameron Diaz, Halle Berry, Bruno Mars,  Apolo Ohno, Norah Jones, Selena Gomez and Tiger Woods. Self- identification and skin color tend to be the rule there too. So we might considered getting over it.

The big challenges ahead will be as big as we think. 

If anything has changed in the last forty years or so, it is that some people have become very adept at convincing Americans to create artificial divisions, especially among ethnic and racial lines. Marketers have to resist the urge to fall for it and see how it plays out. It won't be what is imagined.

Most of the changes taking place in the United States will be largely regional and not comprehensive. And even in those areas where "white" becomes a minority it won't necessarily mean much. California, New Mexico, and Texas all have pluralities today (with non-Hispanic whites at less than 50 percent) and it's still difficult to find three states with so little in common from a socio-political perspective.

And to that point, marketers are supposed to be sensitive to cultural values and beliefs by engaging in fair and balanced communication activities that foster and encourage mutual understanding. In other words, smart marketers create messages for existing markets as opposed to predictive ones.

While some people believe that companies, political parties, churches, and police forces need to prepare for what they call sweeping demographic changes, the truth is that nobody knows what exactly those changes will be unless they build assumptions based on pre-existing stereotypes. I cannot think of a worse idea.

There is no question that the nation is changing (as it has for decades), but these changes aren't going to adhere to whatever limited schism we can think up today. On the contrary, there are an increasing number of regions in the United States that have abandoned ethnic and racial identification all together, making one of the fastest-growing segments of the population unwilling to subscribe to hyphens.

When you ask them, they say they are Americans. Nothing more. Nothing less. And it's probably refreshing to the rest of the world because most places don't see hyphens either. They see nations.

Wednesday, April 9

NASA Continues To Emerge As A Social Media Savvy Agency

Although some people rightfully question whether or not the United States space program is significant without a self-sufficient means to send astronauts into outer space or return to the moon, NASA continues to take the lead in several areas of innovation, including its policy of proactive communication.

The space agency is steadily becoming a leader in education and conservation by means of its television webcasts, website content, and social media assets. Its ability to effectively use modern communication tools as a means for inspiration and awareness for under-covered scientific events is admirable, especially for Earth-bound observations such as the upcoming lunar eclipse.

NASA will provide full coverage of the lunar eclipse.

On Tuesday, April 15, NASA will broadcast live coverage of the lunar eclipse, beginning between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. (EDT) and ending when the moon will enter the Earth's full shadow (or umbra) at approximately 3:45 a.m. on the East Coast (and 12:45 a.m. on the West Coast). The event is significant because the United States is in a prime orbital position to view the eclipse.

Depending on local weather conditions, anyone awake to witness the event will have a spectacular view looking into the sky as the moon's appearance changes from bright orange to blood red to dark brown and perhaps gray. Assisting NASA in its coverage is anyone who wants to participate.

The agency has invited anyone who is interested to share their images of the eclipsed moon on Instagram and the NASA Flickr group. Currently, the agency has hundreds of pictures of previous lunar eclipses along with educational illustrations and models. It will also cover the event on its television channel and share multiple telescopic views from around the United States.


Some additional plans made by the social media team include live conversations (including question and answer sessions) on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, and Instagram. Use the hashtag #eclipse to easily source the conversation. The agency also planned to host a Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) on Monday, April 14 at 2 p.m. with astronomers from the agency's Marshall Space Flight Center.

Live lunar eclipse resources are also available on a dedicated webpage. In addition to the photos, the educational webpage includes an animated simulation of what the eclipse might look like from the surface of the moon. This particular eclipse is receiving additional attention because the United States will not be able to witness a full lunar eclipse in its entirety again until 2019.

Sizing up the social media program at NASA.

NASA continues to be diligent in covering a broad spectrum of missions, programs, and projects. It largely succeeds in making its findings prolific across most major social networks, adapting the content to suit the specific best practice models of each platform.

It also earns high marks in making its resources readily available so individuals can join in the conversation. As a public agency, many of its photos, images, and artwork are in the public domain (provided the resources aren't used for commercial purposes).

Where the program is still in its infancy is in categorizing its content to engage specific interest groups as well as space generalists and agency loyalists. Specifically, while the agency does a relatively fine job categorizing its website assets by mission, program, and project, its social media efforts tend to feel exceedingly expansive.

The net impact to its outreach is that it still relies on traditional media to set the awareness agenda. People are more likely to hear about the lunar eclipse and, perhaps, less likely to learn about the NADA Cassini Images that may reveal the birth of a new Saturn moon. If the small icy object that formed within the rings of Saturn is a new moon, then NADA will have effectively witnessed something that could help explain the formation of our own moon.

What do you think? How effective has NASA been in adopting social media tools as part of its greater outreach efforts? What could it do better?

Tuesday, April 1

Pay It Forward With A Social Media Endowment Today!

Most of us understand that social media is not a fad. It's the biggest social shift the world has seen since the Industrial Revolution. About 96 percent of Millennials have already joined a social network.

They aren't alone. About 73 percent of every generation is active on social networks. One out of every three couples who married last year met via social media (and are less likely to split up). One out of every six higher education students are enrolled in an online curriculum. Eight in ten companies use LinkedIn as a resource tool to find employees (and 98 percent use some social media).

Social media has become so important and so dominant in our culture and around the world, that an ever-increasing number of social scoring sites quantify, measure, and rate how we perform online. These scores are so important that you cannot leave social media to chance and still come out on top.

Everyone needs professional online help but they often learn it too late.

There is only one problem. By the time someone really needs to boost their social media presence, it's already too late. So they don't get hired. They don't make the grade. They don't even stay married.

It's time to face facts. There isn't anything anybody can do help you improve your social media status.  You are not a celebrity. You are not a marketer. You have no social skills. And even if you did, you would probably blow it anyway. But even if you are a total loser, we have some pretty happy news.

Even if you are a loser at social media, your kids don't have to be losers too.

You can make sure your children aren't subjected to the same social shame you have to live with today by investing in a social media endowment policy for tomorrow. It is the very first cradle-to-grave service ever offered and we're proud to be on the cutting edge of this exciting new program.

What is a social media endowment? A social media endowment works like any other financial endowment, except the money you invest is earmarked to be invested in the social media development of your children from cradle to grave (and, technically, even longer than that). Most social media planning starts from conception and carries forward to the next generation with a post-mortem plan.

Why an endowment instead of a typical service retainer? Service retainers are great, but they can also deplete disposable income and we don't want to do that. An endowment works better because the investment holds its principal in perpetuity, paying out only a small portion for the services that are needed. When the program is complete (at death), some money can be paid out to a benefactor too.

How are allocations slated over the life of the endowment? While every social media endowment is different, we generally plan to allocate $100 per month times the age of the child, allowing it to cumulate when they need it most — applying for colleges and finding post-graduate employment. All other interest is reinvested until the principal reaches a peak operating balance. At that time, the service is capped at 50 percent of the monthly interest with allowance for events, circumstances and contingencies.

What special events do you plan for as part of the program? Obviously, there are times in everyone's life that deserve special attention— birth, first birthday, first day of school, etc. To ensure these magical moments receive fresh attention, we draw down additional funds to ensure their birth announcement (for example) trends on Pinterest or that the optional live birth video is a hit on YouTube, making your child an instant celebrity that people know they should be watching!

Can highlighting their biggest life moments really matter? Perhaps the best explanation is an example. As reported by CNN, some people already offer this service for weddings. But this concept is so much bigger because we will be in your child's corner from day one to make their dreams come true and trend at the same time. Best of all, as an endowment, it's already paid in full. As long as the endowment meets the minimum requirements, everything is covered. So, in sum, heck yeah it does!

How does a social media endowment really help? The only difference between your child and the kid who got his picture on the front page of the news for a science project is exposure. By sharing select posts, pictures, and videos early on, they create a legacy of achievement whether they were any good at something or not. The simple truth is that winning people over before your child is good at something will lead to an amateur following that will swear the child is good at it.

Are there money making opportunities for my child? As your child grows his or her social scores and fan base, the sky is the limit in terms of endorsement deals, sponsorships and spokesperson opportunities. Many children who are enrolled in the social media endowment program are already on track to become famous, giving their socially challenged parents a second chance at fame by becoming their child's manager. The perks alone will blow your mind!

The time to act is now! Imagine how great their lives will be if everything they do trends on the most popular social networks! Facebook. Streamed. Twitter. Chirped. Pinterest. Pinned. Google+. Added. The point is that as experts, we will migrate your child's success onto whatever social network is popular in the future. It's easily guaranteed because the program operating capital is guaranteed.

The bottom line. With a social media endowment, your child will be entitled to the best of everything online — from a trending birth announcement to the highest influencer scores in whatever interests they might have — long before their peers even have permission to open an account. They will be first, firmly entrenched, and positioned to make their dreams come true while receiving endorsements from companies that know exposure is everything just like the social stars you envy today.

For endowment options, please inquire after reading the disclaimer.* Based on historical averages, a $1 million endowment made today will cover $500,000 worth of social media exposure while growing the principal to $1.8 million in 10 years. Initial endowments of $50,000 or more are also manageable to reach your goals!

*For more great social media tips in the tradition of April Fools! please see The Mushup StrategyBronx Zoo InfluencerSME: 14.0Clout Bellies, How To Write A Social Media Book, or almost anything labeled satire. Have a great day! And a special thanks to Benson Hendrix for inspiration!

Wednesday, March 26

If 80 Percent Of People Won't Change, Why Force Them?

Why Change?
Jim Earley has it right. When forced to embrace change, 10 percent will respond like James Bond, 10 percent will respond like Moe Howard from the Three Stooges, and 80 percent will do nothing at all.

He even drove the point home by citing Alan Deutschman's book, Change or Die: The Three Keys to Change at Work and in Life, which found only one of nine people will make lifestyle changes (diet, exercise, etc.) even after they are told they could prolong their life, restore their health, and even reverse diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.

Get that? Only 11 percent of people choose life over death. 

Everyone else will more or less choose death, about 89 percent. And, in keeping with the Moe Howard analogy, about 10 percent of those are likely to hasten the pace by throwing all caution to the wind. It's inevitable anyway, they might say, just before they sit back down on the couch.

Most people, even those who belong in the 80 percent, will think this is crazy. I'm not one of them. I think it is crazy to expect anything different. People resist change and they have a good reason.

• Many employers do not articulate a reasonable, achievable post-change vision.
• Many employees mistrust the motivations of leadership for organizational change.
• Many employees rightly know that change is accompanied by loss of job security.
• Many employees cite bad timing, because they don't want their workflow disrupted.
• Many people are predisposed to resist change because the present feels safe and stable.

This doesn't just relate to organizational change, but change in every aspect of our lives. As Stan Goldberg put it in his article in Psychology Today, being is easier than becoming. But I might take that thinking a step further by saying that being is easier than becoming until becoming becomes more rewarding than being. Simply put, change requires a long-term plan with benchmarks.

A personal example about change and momentum. 

My doctor recently told me that I should become a vegetarian. There are a number of reasons, but mostly he has read the widely circulated study published by JAMA Internal Medicine. He has not, it seems, read the less circulated study that notes that people with high cholesterol live longer.  Enough said.

That isn't the point. The point is that his statement led to a lesson in effective communication. When he first told me that I should become a vegetarian — a reasonably athletic 40-something who works out almost daily and does watch his diet despite being raised in the meat-and-potato Midwest — I laughed out loud. I was a skinny, less fit 30-something once upon a time and have no desire for it.

Except, my immediate reaction was the direct result of ineffective communication and not a rebut of what he was saying. And since he didn't know it, I decided to help him. I'll make more changes.

My plan is much more reasonable. I can change my diet by introducing more fish (not so easy in the desert) and fiber and see where we end up. And then, depending on the outcomes, make some more changes or not. The way I see it, some numbers will even out or perhaps I'll eventually be relegated to give up meat because the change won't be as drastic then as it would be today. Slow motion is sometimes better.

A professional example about change and mentorship.

Change for everybody.
I had a conversation with someone who currently works in human resources about this very issue, even if he might not see it that way. He asked me what I would do (and have done) when confronted by an underperforming employee.

I knew what he wanted me to say, but I just couldn't bring myself to say it. He wanted me to say that I might bring human resources into the loop because they have procedures. Sure, there is some validity in this direction for extreme cases at large organizations. However, it seems to me there are better ways before the approach is formalized.

A better method is mentorship, specifically outlining a step program that improves whatever deficiencies the employee might have and then giving them one step at a time. I've used this method to help people improve their writing skills for the better part of two decades. It works for performance issues as well.

Why? Much like Earley wrote his post that inspired this one, people will literally do nothing if they are confronted with a change that do not believe is needed, trusted, or leads to something better. They will literally do nothing even if you tell them their job is on the line. In many cases, they are so entrenched in denial, improvement will not be possible. So unless you want to let someone go, it is crazy to confront people with an ultimatum that will cause 90 percent of them to fail.

The same can be said for organizational change. Rather than convincing people that the organization needs change, try implementing small directional steps that establish trust, reward progress and encourage feedback in order to make employees stakeholders in the process. It's more effective.

After all, the way I see it, it's not just the people who are asked to make changes that can act like James Bond or Moe Howard. People who expect changes to be made can come across that way too.

Wednesday, March 19

The Future Of The Everywherenet, Part 2

What's Not Next?
Never mind all those social media and marketing tactics that everyone wants you to remember. The life span of most online marketing tactics lasts about six months if you are lucky. Sure, some last a little longer. Some last a little less. But all of them change.

The future of the Internet is poised to leap well ahead of wearable technology that quantifies the self. It's one of the reasons I both praised and dismissed some of the tips featured in 99 Facts Every Entrepreneur Must Be Aware Of In The Digital Age. Most of those tips will last only a blink.

Ergo. Some people predict 90 percent of all Internet traffic will be video by 2017. I doubt it. It will much more likely be interactive mixed medium and augmented reality interface. Some of the other presentation facts are much more valuable because they monitor the past as opposed to predicting the future.

In fact, some of the most powerful slides from that presentation demonstrate just how powerful change can be. More than 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies in 2000 disappeared by 2010.

The future is flexible. It can be as bright or as dark as we make it. 

The first part of this post — The Future Of The Everywherenet, Part 1 — expressed some of the brilliant innovations we'll see in the near future. This one touches on something else all together.

Anytime I present On Spreading Messages as part of my Writing For Public Relations series, I point out one ugly truth about communication. For every innovation that propels us forward, someone inevitably invents a manipulation that drags us backward. The same can be said about technology.

As Geoff Livingston reported from SXSW, some of the biggest buzz centered on the surveillance. He suggested that keynotes Julian Assange and Edward Snowden set the tone. Maybe. Maybe not.

NSA
I see it as a sign of the times because some of the greatest innovations ahead come with some of the greatest potential for abuse. It's part of an older conversation that often gets shuffled away into the shadows because it creeps people out. Why? The downside of an everywherenet is the inability to escape it.

Concepts like proximity advertising, consumer profiling, and big data collection are not new, but we tend to ignore them (except when we actively embrace them without wisdom). People frequently tell me that privacy concerns are merely a topic for conspiracy theorists, but conversations that I've had about the future of an everywherenet point to surveillance as a side effect of something better.

In other words, nobody will willingly agree to everything they do being captured, quantified, and assessed. But when you package it as a benefit, everyone wants to sign up. Privacy always seems optional.

Technology is an excellent servant and a relentless master. 

Case in point. My doctor smiled when he said he couldn't wait for the day that I would walk into his office, step in front of a display, and immediately see a complete diagnostic. While working in energy medical services, first responders were among the biggest advocates of transportation computer chips that pinpoint location and provide damage assessments at the scene of any accident. Some technology futurists I know frequently fantasize about a world where you can wave a hand in front of a cash register to make a purchase or unlock your front door without a key. The benefit would be convenience, crime abatement, and (given the option) consumer discounts and rebates.

All of those benefits sound too good to be true, but none of them are free. The price is a complete and total erosion of privacy. And once privacy is given up freely, analysis is only a few key strokes away.

Dystopia
One day, your doctor could be required to submit your health information to a federally-monitored health care system with consensus-approved procedures to help you modify your health. One day, your vehicle might not only be better equipped to assist you but also better equipped to ensure compliance with all local, state, and federal laws. One day, all of your data could be confined to a single processor either embedded in your body or a federal or state issued identification card that must be carried at all times.

Some thought leaders in the technology sector look at these solutions as being vital to what they call the technological evolution of mankind — where our biological circuitry can freely interact with the Internet. And in some thought exercises, they imagine a world where working for the good of society is a foregone conclusion and the pursuit of individual luxuries (what some might call happiness) is old hat.

Think it's all science fiction? Some of it has already been done. What hasn't will be old news by 2020.  

But what does this have to with marketing and public relations? Maybe nothing. Maybe everything. Personally, I think communicators need to be more than cheerleaders for their organizations. They need to service both the interests of the organization and the public. And by that, I don't mean what needs to be done for their own good. The question always needs to be: If not you, then who?

Wednesday, March 12

The Future Of The Everywherenet, Part 1

When people consider the convergence of social media and technology, they often make the assumption that formats and devices drive the future of the Internet. It's an easy mistake to make, given the abundance of evidence that can be snapped up with a few careless search terms.

It takes almost no time to find out how social media has become increasingly visual and video-reliant and wearable technology that quantifies the self. But then there is the problem with search engines. Google leads the world in self-affirming research. You will only ever find what you look for.

What you might not find is that we are at the end of the device era as we know it and moving toward one where the Internet becomes a system ordinary as electricity. Just like few people will think about the power grid when they plug in to get an electrical fix, no one will think about accessing the Internet.

The Internet will be everywhere. Just state your command. 

The Internet will operate much like that, but voice won't be the only option and wearable gadgets will give way to function-specific augmented reality tools and rooms or surfaces prewired to be an interface. Gestures, keyboards (virtual or physical), and other function-specific interfaces will all be options, making some of the wearable marvels today look like the digital watches of the last century.

In other words, it seems relatively unlikely that smart watches will be accessories to smart phones in the future and much more likely that portable processors that might look like watches will become the hard drive to any surface when you're away from a hard drive optional environment. The result will provide augmented reality, like the Skully Helmet, as the real driver of almost anything.


While the helmet makes sense for motorcyclists, windshields will be the next interface for cars and trucks. Desks, tables, walls, closet doors and windows all have the potential to become whatever interface we want when we want it. But even those kinds of surfaces stop short of potential.

Can you imagine ski goggles that provide topographical detail of the terrain? How about surf goggles that not only help you size up a wave, but also let you know which wave to catch? Or maybe they don't have to be glasses at all. Perhaps a hammer can assist in hitting a nail straight or a duster can pinpoint which areas of your house were missed the week before.

The point is that anything becomes possible when you leap ahead even one notch. And for as much time and thought is being given to the tools we have now, most of it will feel obsolete within the next three or five years, a drop in the bucket when you consider how quickly everything has evolved.


Even more striking than predictions delivered by Walter Cronkite in 1967 as cutting edge is how technology has leapt ahead ten times further than he could have even imagined — with entire industries being built and collapsing along the way. In that same amount of time, we said hello and goodbye to tapes, compact discs, and Walkmen, to name a few. And we'll absolutely do the same going forward.

The point ought to be pretty clear for strategic communicators and public relations professionals alike. Communication and marketing plans need to simultaneously be grounded in the present while preparing for the future. And if you are interested in being ahead of the curve in the next decade, then you might have to consider what this future will look like — a mixed medium accessible without limitations or limited to whatever function-speficic parameters we choose.

All the social media and marketing tactics you know today will change.

How will companies communicate in such a self-selected environment? Chances are that the companies who will win will be those that move away from the self-affirmation models of the present and more toward an open environment of comparisons and contrasts that help people understand the consequences of their decisions. Ergo, instead of quantifying ourselves with devices, we'll quantify the grocery store to help us balance whatever diet our doctor has prescribed and we accepted.

But then again, this assumes we're moving toward a Star Trek-like utopia and not a brave new dystopia. So perhaps it might be prudent to peer into a few shadows too in part two. But in the interim, I would love to know what you think. What do you see as inevitable change in the decade ahead?

Wednesday, March 5

The Influence Of Nobody Strikes Again. Who's Next?

Diana Mekota is a "nobody." Well, I don't think so but apparently Kelly Blazek did. She would know. Blazek operated a successful LinkedIn jobs board. She published a newsletter with about 7,300 subscribers. She was often asked to speak about resumes and LinkedIn profiles. She won the 2013 Communicator of the Year award from the Cleveland chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC).

And Mekota? She was a Northwest Ohio native who was in the process of moving back to the area who attempted to join Blazek's job board and followed it up with LinkedIn invite. The response she received in return aimed to shatter her.

"Your invite to connect is inappropriate, beneficial to only you, and tacky. ... You're welcome for your humility lesson for the year, " she wrote. "Don't ever write me again."

Mekota didn't write her again. She decided to share her lesson instead, saving hundreds of other "entitled" members of her generation instead. And in doing so, the story of a "nobody" went viral.

As Buzzfeed, Reddit, and other viral hotspots picked it up, the story grew in size and scope until eventually landing on major media outlets like CNN. As the story gained more attention, dozens of people came forward to share similar experiences. Meanwhile others recognized her frustration.

The publicity and public push back was so severe that Blazek shut down her job board. She later returned her Communicator of the Year award. The Cleveland chapter of IABC reported it was "mutually agreed." Some people are wondering whether she will even be able to rebuild her career despite her apology. Others wonder if she wants to, given she has erased most of her online presence.

The Blazek story is a symptom of a bigger problem. Sociopathic media.

Call it inflated influence. Call it cyber bullying. Call it sociopathic media. Call it whatever you want but know there is plenty of it. Professionals who would otherwise help others in person become convinced that they are superior to those they see as outside their circles online. And why not?

This is the message many communicators are advising professionals and businesses to carry forward. I've met many social pros who profess that responses be limited based upon online influence, social scores, and other such nonsense. Most of them have favorites: subscription rates, page views, retweets, followers, friends, comments, or any number that currently favors them is the one to watch.

Never mind the truth. This year's favored measurement tool will be deemed irrelevant tomorrow. Most people who make this year's "must follow list" will be unseated by others next year. And as I've told various classes for better than a decade, today's inexperienced intern is tomorrow's client.

Blazek forgot all that. Many people do. Sooner or later almost everyone is tempted to chase one metric or another because they see it as some elusive but reachable objective. And for some who are bold enough to reach it, they will eventually discover that there is considerably more air at the summit than they could have ever predicted during the climb. Most is hot.

Social media is overdue for a makeover. Expect more stories ahead.

This is what happened to Blazek. As a side effect to own sense of success, she became afflicted with her own sense of self-induced entitlement. She was a "have." Mekota, quite clearly, was a "have not."

If you really want to serve yourself or your organization online, there are three things to remember. 1. Stop paying attention to "influencers" and start paying attention to the "nobodies" who are primed to depose them, for better or worse. 2. Online influence has a propensity to evaporate at a rate one hundred times faster than it takes to acquire it, which makes its value much more diluted than anyone likes to admit. 3. Some of the loudest voices chastising Blazek for her ill-advised email do the same thing, albeit more subtly and sometimes publicly, day in and day out. Good night and good luck.

Wednesday, February 26

You Have To Be In It To Win It.

As surprising at it will seem to many graphic designers, most communication professionals are unfamiliar with Sean Adams. They don't know he is a partner at AdamsMorioka in Beverly Hills.

They don't know he has been recognized by every major design competition and publication, ranging from Communication Arts to Graphis. They don't know he has had a solo exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Art or that he teaches at the Art Center College of Design. And they don't know that he is president ex officio and past national board member of AIGA, assuming they have ever heard of AIGA.

They do, however, know some of AdamsMorioka clients. They include the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Adobe, Gap, Frank Gehry Partners, Nickelodeon, Sundance, Target, USC, and The Walt Disney Company to name a few. And on any given day, his work influences people not only in his profession, but also in the products, services, and experiences they choose to purchase.

So why don't more people know him or follow him on Twitter? 

The reason is three-fold. First, the greater field of marketing and communication is so expansive and siloed that it is not uncommon for leaders inside different niches to never meet or even know of each other. Second, the number of people you 'know' isn't nearly as important as which ones. And third, this prevailing notion that social media is an indicator of influence is a lie.

There are much better ways leave a sustainable impact in a profession and blaze a trail that some people will undoubtedly recognize as a legacy that will inspire others. Adams has done that. And after hearing him speak a few weeks ago at a Mohawk Paper - AIGA Las Vegas sponsored event, it's exceptionally clear that he will continue to do so.

The wealth of information he shared about his career path, design philosophy, and business approach  was only matched by his ability to connect with the audience. It's also the mark of a good teacher.

It's also the mark of a professional who understood early on that in order to succeed in your career — particularly if it is anywhere close to marketing and communication (social media, public relations, design, etc.) — you have to be in it to win it. For Adams, that meant immersing himself in his profession as a leader in organizations like AIGA and at colleges like Art Center College of Design.

It was through those organizations that Adams was able to immerse himself in his profession to learn, lead, and influence design. It's very similar to what I encourage students to do every year too.

The three most important sectors in which to become involved.

Years ago, I used to suggest that students, interns, and employees become involved in at least one professional and one civic organization. But at minimum, I no longer believe two is really enough to remain competitive. Three is a better number because many answers can be found outside the field.

1. Profession. Becoming involved in the profession is the easiest way to remain immersed in the profession. And there is no shortage of professional organizations in the field of marketing and communication, ranging from the American Marketing Association and American Advertising Federation to the International Association of Business Communicators and Public Relations Society of America. AIGA, by the way, is one of the oldest. It's celebrating 100 years this year.

Joining any one or two of these organizations (or related niche organizations) provides an opportunity to develop a professional network, discuss trends, and sometimes forecast changes to come. Don't stop at becoming a member. Become immersed by serving as a volunteer.

2. Industry. Since communication doesn't happen in a vacuum, it's also important to join an organization that isn't related to your profession but is related to your field. While many students seemed surprised to learn that some of their future peers join communication-related organizations but not organizations within their own industry, people in the field sometimes forget.

If you are working in communication for a bank, it's important to become involved in finance-related associations. The same holds true for emergency medical, hospitality, technology, or whatever. And for those that work at an agency or firm? They ought to survey a cross section of their clients and become involved in whichever industries seem prevalent.

3. Community. Last but not least, professionals who excel tend to give back to the communities where they live, work, and play. This almost always includes becoming involved with at least one nonprofit organization or civic agency that benefits their community. It's especially worthwhile for communication professionals too. There is no shortage of nonprofits that could use the help.

To be clear, any commitment ought to be in addition to the corporate philanthropy encouraged by the company. It's one thing to volunteer your time and talent to your office place, but quite another to make a personal commitment to an organization regardless of where you work. Pick something important to you and make a difference.

Good companies support professional and community involvement.

Every now and again, I meet people who tell me that their employers won't support it. If you find that to be the case, then you might be working for the wrong company. Savvy organizations know that the best professionals tend to be those who are involved and not isolated. Flex time is not negotiable.

By becoming involved in at least one organization in each sector, you will find out very quickly that influence isn't built by online scoring systems as much as the relationships you make offline first. Or, as Sean Adams said during his speech a few weeks ago: You have to be in it to win it.
 

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