Wednesday, May 6

The Real Price Of Public Shaming On Social Media

Years ago, I worked with a film and television producer who brought me in as a senior copywriter for several dozen of his accounts, including American Greetings and McDonald's. It was fun and challenging work with considerable visibility. The scripts opened countless doors in my career.

One of the things that always struck me about his home office was a plaque that hung prominently by his front door. You couldn't leave the house without seeing it. Neither could he. That was the point.

The plaque unapologetically warned: "Be careful what you think for your thoughts become words, your words become actions, your actions become habits, and your habits become your destiny."

If you search for it, you'll undoubtedly find several variations. Most of them don't have any attributions, largely because the variations were built around Proverbs 4:23. It warns to be careful what you think because your thoughts run your life. It's an idea that was shared by Buddha too. 

Public thinking might be a worthwhile prerequisite for social media. 

More and more, people have been caught sharing any number of thoughts online with reckless abandon. But what they sometimes don't consider is that they aren't sharing their thoughts online. They're sharing words, some of which invite people to interpret them and predict future actions. 

That is what happened to a 27-year-old single mother who lost her job over a Facebook post. She posted that she was happy to start a new job at a day care, but added that she hated being around kids. 

The outrage that followed eventually landed in the laps of her new employers. They let her go. 

There are scores of other stories just like it. Victor Paul Alvarez was fired for making jokes about Congressman John Boehner. Adam Mark Smith had to sell his home after posting a YouTube video. Justine Sacco regretted her joke too. She was fired after a single tweet on Twitter. It goes on and on.

It goes on so often that people aren't always sure who is the real monster. Is it the person who made the offense, internationally or not? Or is it the mob that follows? And what about the people who relish jumping on the public shaming band wagon? Or bullies? Or those with thin skins?

The truth is that it is all of those things and none of those things at once, mostly because we haven't quite adapted to an environment that provides plenty of borders but very few barriers.

What I mean by that is that we build most social network platforms around our friends and colleagues much like we have always built social circles — based on proximity, similarity, ideology, special interests. The only difference is that the Internet removes all physicality and invites in the world. 

The whole world includes millions of people who have absolutely nothing in common with us. They have different dreams, needs, beliefs, backgrounds, feelings, experiences, prejudices, and tolerances — so much so that their entire reality is completely different. They don't even have to live half a world away. Living in an urban, suburban, or rural community is enough to create a polar opposite.

So when someone says something that would have otherwise been relegated to a coffee klatch with a few friends — people who have an entire context of who that someone is — to the entire world without any such context,  they can expect very bad things to happen. They're no longer thinking out loud or within the safety of a few friends who may either chuckle or politely correct their ignorance. Instead, you're making declarations (no matter your privacy setting ). So choose your words wisely.

If you don't, there is a better-than-average chance to find yourself in the crosshairs of public scorn. It's a weird place to be, especially because retaliation doesn't adhere to the same sensitivity it demands from those it persecutes. Read the comments after any public shaming session and see what I mean.

The comments are generally vile, often even more so than the initial infraction. Some of it is even penned by people who are bullies with a temporary permission slip to threaten, ridicule, and demean someone else. In fact, I would not be surprised if the majority of children who have been bullied online earned their bruises from being publicly shamed. Some of those kids go on to consider suicide.

How to manage a successful social network presence, semi-private or fully public.   

Proverbs 4:23 is even more right on the Internet than the era in which it was written. Your thoughts run your life and your public thoughts invite others to run it for you. Think before you post it and think twice before you pile on. What you contribute says more about you than anyone else anyway. 

Never build a network for numbers unless you're a professional, preferably one with some public relations training. Instead, build your network based on your level of tolerance. The more tolerant, patient, and forgiving you can be, the bigger your network can be. Sure, being thick skinned can help too, but mostly in connection with and not as a substitute for those other three traits I just mentioned. 

Of course, as much as we would like it to be, tolerance is not a two-way street. Appreciate it, but never expect it. Unless you pretend to be someone else, there will always be those who will dehumanize you and others over differences or disparage your ideas as a means to affirm their own. And no, I don't get it either.

Then again, after blogging for the better part of a decade, I no longer see the price of public shaming to be the corrosion of culture or even a threat to an individual's reputation as some might claim. The real price of public shaming is giving ourselves over to it by allowing the initial offensive remark or the public pile on to change our thoughts, words, and actions into something completely unrecognizable. 

Absolutely, criticism can be healthy but only when we remember to take on the behavior and not the person. Try to contribute something positive instead because, after all, your thoughts are words and actions online — actions and words that can determine your destiny. Good night and good luck.

Wednesday, April 29

Five Takeaways For Writers From My Comic Con Panel

Meeting up with several dozen aspiring and published writers was a real treat at Comic Con. And true to my word too, I told them to stop aspiring all together as soon as I had the opportunity. Writing isn't an isolated spectator sport. It's as active as your prose should be. Get out there and do it, every day.

Sure, there are some exceptions in history, but most professional writers — including panelists Genese Davis, Maxwell Alexander Drake, PJ Perez, and myself — all agree. And we aren't the only ones. Creative designer Sean Adams said as much last year. You have to be in it to win it, he said. Daily Monster designer Stephen Bucher said it as well, just a few months ago: Starting is harder.

You have get on with the business of doing. And if you can get on with this business every day — even those days you don't feel like it — then you slowly but surely train yourself to be the professional that you always wanted to be, even if you're surprised that it's not all about writing.

Five takeaways for writers that have little and everything to do with writing.

• Connect. While many aspiring writers think of writing as a solitary practice, professional writers see it as a sociable profession. Even those who are introverts at heart recognize the need to live life away from the keyboard and make it a point to meet new people to maximize opportunities that range from friendship and inspiration to collaboration and contract work. Many creative fields are surprisingly small professional niches where everyone knows everyone. Build a network.

• Diversify. When one of the panelists asked the room full of aspiring writers about their passion, almost all of them chose prose — writing fiction that may some day become a published book. The panel saw it differently, with Perez pointing out how commercial work had challenged him to become even more creative by adhering to different styles. I concurred, noting how writers can learn alliteration from poetry, dialogue from radio, and visualization from film.

• Learn. Professional writers never stop learning. In addition to enhancing writing skills (e.g., avoid passive voice), writers must continually immerse themselves in their genre, subject matter, fields and industries, financial affairs, and the publishing world. Classes, workshops, interviews and independent research are all part of the educational mix for most professional writers. Suffice to say that you can't write about what you don't know and you can't submit unless you know where to send it.

• Communicate. When one of the attendees asked how to know whether to accept or reject feedback, Drake suggested thinking of their work as two stories. There is the story in your head and there is the story you put on paper, he said. When your readers don't understand what you've written, you have to ask yourself whether or not what is in your head really made it on the paper. That said, Davis added that feedback is always appreciated as long as the author is able to remain true to their vision.

• Share. Nobody will ever discover your work if you keep it in a shoebox. Digital media makes it easier than ever to share samples, sections, or even scraps (as I call shorter-than-short stories on my Facebook fiction page) with an ever-increasing audience. But even if a writer doesn't want to share their work outright, they can always look for writers groups or other meet-ups where creative people get together. You never know when sharing your work will eventually come full circle.

Few jobs are as rewarding as those that allow you to share some creativity. 

While I never intended to become a writer, I have always been a creative. And once you commit to being a creative, the rest of it will shape up nicely, depending mostly on your career path and a few surprise circumstances that you could never dream up when you started out.

It's true. You never really know until you do it. Maybe you will find a home in film or photography, design or the written word. Or maybe, if you are like me, you will discover you have some talent for all of it, even if one form of expression dominates most of my time than the others. The point is that how you share it will hardly matter as you are doing it, preferably every day. The panel all agreed.

With that, unless someone has some specific questions about becoming a writer, those five tips are among the best that could be pulled from our panel. That and, as always, good night and good luck.

Wednesday, April 22

How Much Marketing Has Become Psychological Trickery?

Marketing Meets PsychologyOne of the first lessons learned in advertising is that most purchasing decisions are made based on emotional impulses and irrational conclusions driven by our dreams, hopes, fears, and outrages. But for all marketers knew about advertising, it was social media that capitalized on the immediacy of it.

Instant gratification and chronic impatience has shortened not only attention spans but also the ability to make educated decisions. As a result, the fundamental market has changed with consumers who are generally more anxious and angry as the world feels a little less controllable and hard to understand. They are more prone to react with instinct over intelligence, favoring short term over the long term.

Five quick examples of psychological impulses shaping perception right now. 

• Vani Kari a.k.a. "Food Babe" has risen to become a popular food blogger for her denunciation of chemicals in food, but chemistry professor Michelle Francl has received an equal amount of attention for denouncing the decrier. Right or wrong, the initial attraction capitalized on our fear of the unknown while post-debate believability largely centers not on the facts but rather on people "like" the Food Babe.

• Socio-economic disadvantages are frequently attributed to poor performance in schools. While there is some truth to it, new studies suggest the labels meant to "save" these students can also be counterproductive. Students perform lower on tests when they are over praised, under challenged, or  merely reminded that they are disadvantaged. So wisdom holds true. We are what we think we are.

• The Guardian recently asked why people keep electing the least desirable politicians. The answer was psychology. People tend to vote for whomever simplifies the choice, demonstrates the confidence to deliver on a promise, and remains someone with whom they can relate. And what happens when nobody does? Then people are less likely to turn out and vote, which may explain low voter turnout.

• Most people have formed opinions about the Baltimore riots based upon visual content more than their understanding of the circumstances behind them. Depending on which visuals they were exposed to (rioters vandalizing stores or the peaceful side of the protests) and when in the timeline of events they were introduced to the story largely dictates their opinion of it.

 • Affirmation and frequency illusion work hand in hand in the subconscious. Not only do people see what they expect to see, whether or not it really happened, but they often believe what they see based on increasing frequency even if any improbable increase in frequency could be the result of simply noticing something in the first place. The validity of frequency is compounded from varied sources.

The packaging has become the product, for better or worse, in marketing. 

Content Marketing Stats from Hubspot
With trust in experts failing and the appetite for visual content increasing, people want to become more self-reliant simply by processing a mile of information to the depth of about one inch. In other words, they want someone else to study one inch of information a mile deep and distill any rationale into a soundbite that can be voted on, quickly and efficiently, based on little more than gut instinct.

The only problem with hard wiring the brain to work this way in tandem with modern technology is its reliance that the source has their best interest at heart. Mostly, they don't. The majority of content being produced today is by marketers and affirmation journalists, who exhibit varied degrees of bias.

That's not to say marketers are necessarily tricksters. It might be more accurate to say they've become more savvy in meeting the decision-making needs by distilling it in bite-sized simple comparisons to elicit an immediate emotional response. Right. "You won't believe what happened next" headlines work for a reason. So do easily digestible graphics that look authoritative and possibly objective.

Never mind that the content was compiled by an intern on the go. People are too busy rewriting their brains with potentially disastrous results to dig deeper into the issues or even the sources. As long as the marketer touches an emotion, narrows the choices, expresses confidence in the data, and delivers on any promises to somehow improve the purchaser's experience, people will buy the product, thought, or ideology. Sometimes, they even buy two.

Wednesday, April 15

The Problem With Chasing Profits For Most Companies

A long-time colleague of mine used to make every prospect he met chuckle over his quip that he wasn't in the "advertising business." He was in the "check cashing business." The more money his marketing strategies generated for his clients, the more often they would write him checks.

His delivery was something of a marvel too. He said it with such smug confidence that you wanted to sign up with his firm. "Yes, yes! I want to be in the check cashing business too." Who doesn't?

The notion of making money is a powerful one. It has been baked in the balance sheet for some companies — enough so that their culture permeates it. Every incentive is built around growth, awareness, profits, and sales. And there doesn't seem to be any problem with it, until this thinking begins to create gaps between the business and its customers.

How profit margins are maligning the airline industry.

On one hand, the airline industry is enjoying record-setting profits. But on the other hand, the customer experience continues to crash as airlines charge for every luxury, convenience, and necessity while stripping away customer comfort and service.

Higher fares, hidden fees, and fewer employees contribute to a growing problem, exacerbated by the additional hurdles created by airport security. There is no question about it. Flying is worse. There are problems: more lost bags, more oversold flights, more flight disruptions, and more lapses in customer service than ever before. And most analysts are predicting it will get worse before it gets better. Even reward miles are a bit of a shell game on some carriers. You can earn them, but not redeem them.

Even when USA Today called flying something to be endured rather than enjoyed last year, nothing changed. The airlines simply doubled down and let things slip a little further. They might again too.

With 87 percent of all air travel dominated by four carriers, being travel unhappy is the new normal unless you happen to be a shareholder. Airlines profits have soared as airlines limit seats to make themselves look like attractive incentives. It's no longer about cost recovery, but inflated demand.

So what is really happening? Airlines are simply operating with a profit mindset, banking on the drop in oil prices and their ability to hold fares at their current level. It's a short-term boon to be sure. With the roomiest today really the tightest seats of ten years ago, it's becoming ripe for disruption.

Nobody really knows what that form of disruption might be. Maybe it will be a high speed rail system that relies less on fuel prices or the future proliferation of automated cars that make road trips less taxing. And while some people still equate such solutions with science fiction, either seem more likely than the emergence of more JetBlues (that won't succumb to investor pressures).

The bottom line is that the airline industry is leaving itself open for competition much in the same way taxi cab companies created the ride sharing disruption, the music industry forced the digital disruption, and the reference material market killed its print. Others are ripe for disruption too.

Almost all of them had the same thing in common. They tried to consolidate or regulate rather than diversify or communicate. They sacrificed customer service for cost containment. They placed profits ahead of their value propositions. They considered themselves invulnerable to disruption.

Profits are a by-product of innovation, attitude, and cohesiveness.

The best businesses never place profits first. They value all of their constituents — customers, employees, shareholders — equally. In fact, according to What America Does Right by Robert H. Waterman, Jr., companies that do are four times better in revenue growth, eight times better in job creation, 12 times better in stock prices, and 756 times better in new income growth.

So why do some people say put profits first? Most of them believe that revenue and expenses are somehow opposing forces. But they really aren't. They often work together, provided you can demonstrate a value proposition that justifies a slightly higher premium. Make it worth it.

Sure, some people can argue that no one will notice one missing olive. But eventually, someone will notice that the entire salad has gone missing, along with the peanuts, pretzels, blankets and pillows.

It's also why CEO Doug Parker seems to be struggling to meet his goal of "restoring American to the greatest airline in the world." To do it, he will have to reverse engineer profit-first thinking that has dominated the carrier since "olive" accounting was instituted years ago. In its place, the airline will have to remember that sometimes an olive is an expense, but sometimes it's an investment. Ergo, great reputations aren't built on scarcity principles. They are built on meeting elevated expectations.

It's a lesson that long-time colleague of mine eventually learned. His "check cashing business" was shuttered. It turns out that the prospects he won over were quick to miss the "advertising business."

Wednesday, April 8

Why I Want To Tell Writers To Stop Aspiring At Comic Con

The title of the panel that I'm participating on at Wizard World Comic Con might be entitled Calling All Aspiring Writers! The New Writer's Survival Guide, but I'll have a different message this time out. I'm going to tell them to stop aspiring all together. Very few aspiring writers ever become writers.

People who write become writers, which is why there are just as many accidental writers as there are writers who had always dreamed of becoming one. You have to aspire to be something more — a freelance journalist, copywriter, communication specialist, author, etc. — that makes more sense.

Most writers develop an affinity for one writing discipline over another and then invest less time into writing and more time into everything else around it. Very few have the time, talent or desire to weave in a bit of everything into their careers. Even closely related styles are surprisingly divergent.

Not many copywriters can write a press release (nor would they want to) and not many public relations practitioners can write advertising copy (no matter how hard they try). Even journalists who write for newspapers or magazines approach the craft differently, with the latter often lending more color, life, and perspective to their stories than the former with crisp graphs filled with facts. Most broadcast journalists admit to being further removed. And authors, especially novelists, have bigger challenges than many other career paths. Most of them have to balance their passion with a paycheck.

This is also one of the reasons I'm especially excited to be part of this panel. 

Genese Davis has assembled a diverse ensemble of writers to share their experiences and expertise to participate in an open-ended conversation that will flow and evolve with the panelists as well as the audience. What is especially interesting about the four of us is that we mostly break the convention of specialization mentioned above in favor of being creatives who happen to write about what they love.

Genese Davis is the author of The Holder's Dominion, a thriller about a young woman who joins a massive popular online game called Edannair to escape the pressures of college and the tragic death of her father. While her plan works at first, one of the game's elite clans has taken to coercing members into taking offline dares.

Along with her novel, Davis is a featured columnist at, the founder of The Gamer IN You, and an iGR Woman of the Year award recipient for her outstanding efforts in debunking stereotypes related to gaming. All of these experiences helped lay the foundation for her first novel.

Pj Perez is an American editor, writer, and musician best known for his reports on the Las Vegas culture for publications such a Rolling Stone. He has written for dozens of periodicals in Southern Nevada too, including Las Vegas Weekly, CityLife, and Vegas Seven. He currently writes for a variety of Wendoh Media publications and the MGM Resorts M Life magazine.

About six years ago, Perez relaunched his comic book and pop culture website, Pop! Goes the Icon, a boutique publishing label and online publishing house. It specializes in comic books, graphic novels, webcomics, and other forms of graphic literature and pop art.

Maxwell Alexander Drake is an award-winning science fiction/fantasy author and graphic novelist, best known for his fantasy series, The Genesis of Oblivion Saga. The epic series spans six novels that take readers deeper and deeper into a world of their own as the Talic'Hauth and follows the lives of its people over thousands of years.

He also teaches creative writing at schools, libraries, and writer's conferences all around the country. He is frequently a featured speaker at events such as Comic-Con International in San Diego, Gen-Con in Indianapolis, and Origins Game Fair in Columbus.

The accidental career path that afforded me a little bit of everything. 

As the fourth panelist, my place may seem a bit oddball in that my creative writing is only slowly starting to take shape after more than 25 years as a commercial writer — copywriter, journalist, content marketer, executive coach, political campaign strategist, and business communication strategist with award-winning work in everything from script to screen. Most of it happened by doing.

The truth is I never intended to become a writer. Although my first fictional story was serialized in a junior high school newspaper and my first poem appeared in print before that, I never intended to become a writer. I originally majored in psychology, believing art had limited career opportunities.

After studying psychology for a year at Whittier College, I learned the field primarily branched into two paths — listening to people's problems or teaching mice to press bars for cheese. It felt limited.

So I opted out of the program in favor of attending the University of Nevada, Reno with an intent to major in art and minor in psychology. The idea was to bring the two degrees together to begin a career as a graphic artist.

The university had other plans. The Reynolds School of Journalism recruited me into an advertising section of a journalism program that ranked fourth in the nation. They taught me how to channel artistic creativity into words instead of art, nurturing dual skill sets as a copywriter and journalist.

Upon graduation, I followed a girl back to Las Vegas rather than take any number of journalist job leads afforded to me by my mentors. I freelanced with a foot in two fields, writing advertising copy and collateral for agencies and articles for newspapers and magazines. Doing grew into a business.

Within a few years, as most entrepreneurs find out, growing a business is a different cut from freelancing. So while writing remained central to my career (about 15,000 words a week), new responsibilities required new skill sets — business management, creative direction, message development, strategic communication, platform architecture, public policy, and publishing among them. There were so many tasks that needed doing, it started squeezing out the creativity at times.

At one time, there were 40 full-time, part-time, and freelance writers and designers on our books. But after selling my first publication and surviving cancer more recently, I rewrote the business plan. And today, I only work with a handful of select clients while reviving my creative roots by doing.

In fact, there is only one thing more important than doing. You have to stick with the business of living. In other words, much like writing, you have to find an active voice instead of a passive one. Active living is where most writers find the inspiration to turn aspiration into action. Good night and good luck.

Wednesday, April 1

How To Automate PR So Even A Monkey Can Do It

You have probably heard some variation of the infinite monkey theorem, a clever little probability gem that suggests a universe of monkeys randomly striking keys on a typewriter will eventually deliver Shakespeare's Hamlet in entity, right? Well, as crazy as it seems, there is some truth to it.

Jesse Anderson used Amazon's cloud computing resource to create an army of virtual monkeys who randomly assembled some of Shakespeare's works. What's more, it takes significantly fewer monkeys to bang out a basic press release. A dozen or so can do it, maybe less with the right automated tools.

8 tools that that will change the way you don't think about public relations. 

1. Start with a premise. Don't worry about coming up with news content again. Mash up existing headlines or enter a new subject for your premise and then plug in the name of your organization in place of the more popular names that come up. You'll have juicy ideas for news in no time.

2. Write a release. All you have to do is fill in the blanks to turn out reams of press-ready news releases, suitable for email and/or stationery. The automated program will even generate a properly formatted HTML code, complete with a beautiful array of background colors.

3. Make media contacts. Some public relations professionals are quick to tout their lists, but there are plenty of places to go, scrape, and call them your own. You'll have hundreds of emails in a matter of minutes, news hungry journalists who are waiting for something to drop right in their laps.

4. Submit to all. Too lazy to build a list? No problem. There are hundreds of submission software programs, wire services, and online distribution sites to ensure your news release goes anywhere and everywhere. Submit everything you do as often as possible.

5. Change it up. If you cherry pick three nouns from your news release and plug them into the right algorithm, it will immediately transform your news story into compelling content marketing. Make it a blog post headline or a white paper. It doesn't matter as long as you get clicks.

6. Make your own meme. Nothing says relevant like a meme. Transform your news and content into eyeball attracting memes for Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest. Simply copy your headline into the caption and you are good to go.

7. Make another pitch. Follow up your press release with a well-timed post pitch, preferably one that has the sizzle journalists really seem to need nowadays. Plug in your topic one more time and get it all.

8. Take the call. Have the intern answer or, better yet, don't take the call. The industry is only a few years out from automated answering services that can be pre-programmed to answer any question a reporter might ask (or not answer any question by claiming you'll get back to them). Genius.

9.* Clip for success. Most people already know that Google captures all the news worth collecting, but few people know that you don't even need to make the news to be the headline. If the proof is in the clipping, skip all the other steps and make your own news! *Bonus tool.

See how easy it is? Public relations can be as easy or hard as you make it. And nowadays, you can make it all automated with a little less than a dozen monkeys running the show for big time results.

Links are not an implied endorsement. Results may vary. Good luck and happy April 1! For more April Fool's fun and communication satire, stick around and enjoy the archives from previous years.

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