Dec 16

Call me the (texting) tumbling dice

Aside from falling off the side of a mountain, drowning during a triathlon or simply slumping Padded_post over my desk after suffering a rogue heart attack, I think I know how I'll die. I'll be busy texting as I stride along one of Manhattan's side streets when, boom, I'll tumble head over heels into one of those sidewalk cellar doors that seem to always be in the fixed, upright and open position. That's where they'll find my body buried in produce, neck badly broken, hand still clutching the damn Blackberry.

I've already had a few close calls. That's why I'm thrilled to see there's a new iPhone application called Type n Walk. It was literally designed to save my life, since It provides a texting walker a view of what lies ahead.

Susan Dominus, a New York Times columnist, likens texting while walking to texting while driving. I disagree. It's one thing to be distracted while driving a 2,000 pound car at 65 mph. It's quite another to be walking slowly while texting. I'll admit the latter isn't smart or particularly healthy, but it's not necessarily jeopardizing other people's lives.

I can't wait to download the Type n Walk. I just hope it’s sensitive enough to pick up those damn, dark cellar doors. I'm worried they may one day become the iceberg to my RMS Titanic.

Oct 26

Look both ways before crossing an intersection and listen to all stakeholders before engaging in social media

October 26 I recently shared a Bulldog Reporter audio conference panel with two corporate communicators and another representative from the dark side (read: PR firms). The topic was social media and, thanks to some excellent moderating by the lovely and talented Brian Pittman, the discussion was rather lively.

I found myself disagreeing with one of the corporate panelists who advised the 150-plus listening audience to engage in social media at all costs, 'Look,' he advised, 'Social media is the future and you might as well engage sooner rather than later.'

I agreed, sort of. I think personal engagement in social media is, indeed, a no-brainer. But, an organization should think long and hard before taking the plunge. The corporate panelist said organizations can learn as they go. Well, yes, but some serious, and potentially devastating missteps can occur during that learning phase.

I likened social media to a busy intersection in a large city. Conventional wisdom holds that one should look both ways before crossing. Social media is the same: organizations should listen to all stakeholders before proceeding. Does each and every audience need/want your organization to engage with them in a social media dialogue? Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe information overloaded employees don't want or need a company Facebook page. Maybe long-standing customers prefer the pleasures of a face-to-face meeting over a Don Draper-like scotch and soda. And maybe local community leaders expect a town hall type back-and-forth on issues of the day.

The social media land rush mentality can undermine your organization's image, reputation and credibility if you dive in without listening first.

Brian Pittman asked what sort of questions an organization should ask of its stakeholders during a listening phase. That's easy: the exact same questions neophyte journalists are trained to ask before crafting a news article: who, what, when, where, why and how.

Make sure your audiences want to engage in social media before you decide to flip on the switch. Just because your management wants to, or your competitors are doing it or, even worse, some expert says it's here to stay and you better engage are the wrong reasons.

In the same way rushing across an intersection can be detrimental to one's health, diving pell-mell into social media can be dangerous to one's brand.

Oct 20

What works in Jacksonville may not in Jakarta

October 20 As if marketers don't have enough to worry about, a new blog series run by PepperDigital and Upstream Asia says successful social media campaigns need to resonate with the unique wants and needs of every culture and subculture around the world.

Bottom-line: a one size fits all strategy won't fly. The McDonald's online campaign that drives consumers to stores in Clarksville will probably be a turn-off in Copenhagen (although the Mickey D fish sticks will probably still be big sellers above the Arctic Circle).

The series tracks the rise of subcultures across the globe who, while they may be separated by several oceans, share a common affinity for, say, obscure Norwegian rock music. At the same time, though, those very same affinity groups will have wildly diverging tastes in other areas. So, while savvy marketers may be able to engage with a wide mix of, say, Vietnamese, American and Tanzanian fans of the Norwegian grunge band Lars and the Golden Geese, they need to tread lightly when introducing a second topic to the same group.

The same 'new norm' holds true within borders as well. The discussion that might build buzz in Paris’ fifth arrondissement could be found objectionable in Les cites of Marseilles.

It's a mixed-up world in which we live. This new series proves the old adage that marketers need to walk before they run, especially when it comes to engaging in social media. The land rush mentality to embrace social media we've seen by many U.S. organizations will fail miserably if they extend across borders without taking the time to stop and listen. Listening is, in fact, the single best piece of advice suggested by the series.

'Think global, act local,' is a smart admonition for any traditional marketer seeking to extend its brand beyond its borders. Based upon this new series, it holds doubly true for social media and should be extended to included subcultures and affinity groups.

Aug 21

Can I get you a drink?

Guest post from Alyson Buck

August 21 - obama beer We’re a few weeks out from the beer summit between President Obama, Professor Henry Gates and Sgt. James Crowley. The meeting was an attempt to smooth over the subsequent PR aftermath of the racial firestorm that ensued from the Cambridge arrest. Admittedly, the meeting was a pretty significant maneuver by the president to take it upon himself to address such a major issue head on. However, the significance of the meeting was overshadowed in the media by the beer choices of the participating parties. Yes, our president decided to solve a major social issue over a cold brewski.

Begs the question — has #44 made himself too accessible?

During his run for presidency, Obama embraced Twitter and Facebook, making himself more accessible to a younger generation. He stood toe-to-toe to Stephen Colbert and did the late night circuit in an effort to show that he’s a likeable guy in touch with reality and eager to address middle-class average Americans’ needs. And in a time when the current president couldn't have been more out of touch, it was just what the country ordered. Like Bill Clinton's MTV sax solo before him, this approachable demeanor is arguably one of the main reasons Obama was able to secure a seat in the Oval Office.

I dig a president that's in touch with his country. I can get behind a guy that understood the value of social media (Full disclosure: He embraced Twitter long before this Millennial). But the role of president comes with serious responsibility and serious cache. The man is CEO, head honcho, top dog — yet he's settling what's turned into a major race dispute over a Bud Light. I've known many a dispute to be solved over a drink (probably more were started but who's counting) but is this the way we want our country’s leader to solve complex social issues that stretch back centuries?

I'm torn. On one hand I want Obama to be in touch with Americans and bring a fresher perspective to the White House. On the other, there are complicated issues — socially, economically — that need serious attention. Unfortunately I'm not sure they can be solved over the King of Beers.

Aug 11

Mommy Bloggers – To Blackout or Not to Blackout?

Guest post from Maggie O-Neill

According to MomDot, mommy bloggers were encouraged last week to take a much needed girls’ week off (August 6-10) to recover from “blogger burnout” via a PR Blackout Challenge. 

August 11
First off, I want to start this post with “good for you.”  At least from the perspective of someone who would like a week off to focus on myself and getting back to basics. And I get some of the burnout issues mommy bloggers must be facing – their quick rise to fame in the last few years has propelled them to one of the most powerful consumer voices across most industries. For this reason, I applaud them, engage with them and rely on them for insight from a personal and professional level.

But a publicized PR Blackout? Was it really necessary? Did it make a difference? The call-to-action stated that these moms have put aside what is important and become PR for their audience, and therefore have to get back-to-basics. It goes on to compare their deadline stress to what GM’s CEO must feel driving to work every day. Somehow I doubt that (no disrespect). Last time I checked, there was no U.S. implosion of the mommy blogger industry, and Detroit is not full of unemployed bloggers.

So, in a typical, “we don’t need them, they need us” strategy, mommy bloggers turned their cheek last week at some of the folks who helped propel their blogs into the spotlight. Media and PR professionals have done this dance for years; and we know at the end of the day, we really both need each other in order to stay afloat and relevant. 

Sure moms could go back to talking about just their kids and family, but I’m not sure they really want to; and from my experience, most of the blogs are meant to help this group, not harm. In fact, the mom bloggers I talked to this weekend love the job they have created. It allows them to not only be moms, but be moms with a voice that is heard outside of their four walls.

Not sure how the blackout played out, if anyone noticed, or if it helped moms get back-to-basics.  But, for an industry that changes on a daily basis, stepping out last week may be a vacation that is tough to come back from.

Jul 06

A new digital divide

July 6 - customer service Most large organizations today are living a lie. On the one hand, their marketing communications staffs are rushing pell-mell into the blogosphere to learn the rules of social media and how best to 'engage' with customers and prospective customers.

Simultaneously, though, these very same organizations are pushing their customer service departments to 'disengage' with customers as quickly as possible. Customer service is a quantity game, so the more customers that can be handled in the shortest period of time leads to the greatest profits.

According to Emily Yellen's 'Your call is (not) important to us,' the approximate cost of offering a live American-based customer service agent averages somewhere around $7.50 per phone call. Outsourcing calls to live agents in another country brings the average cost down to about $2.35 per call. Having customers take care of problems themselves, through an automated response phone system, averages around 32 cents per call, or contact. Guess which option more and more companies are choosing?

Is it any wonder why American business is so dysfunctional? The organization is in a constant state of civil war. The answer may seem obvious: an enlightened CEO should simply mandate that marketing and customer service huddle up and find a win-win solution. Sadly, solutions take time (and lots of money). And, with the change of pace measured in nanoseconds and the economy continuing to slide, the average CEO, CMO and head of customer service instead adopt a 'Let's make do with what we have' mentality.

Ah, but the consumer is king and, if we rant and rave loud enough, or, better yet, buy a competitor's product, corporations will have no choice but to close their digital divide.

Until then, please press 'one' for a service disruption, 'two' for a service disruption of one hour or more, 'three' to ask about our new service offerings, or 'four' for recommended methods of committing suicide when caught in voicemail hell.

Jun 30

The rules don’t apply to me

June 30 - ceo Power brokers think the rules don’t apply to them. That’s certainly true of sports stars, rock impresarios and politicians. It’s also true of executives. Take the latest findings released by UberCEO.com that reveal a near total use of social media tools by Fortune 100 chief executive officers.

UberCEO thinks CEOs are either distracted or too timid to engage in the blogosphere. Timidity (or fear) is a likely culprit. But, so too, is hubris. CEOs move in rarified worlds and breathe rarified air. As a result, most think the rules governing mortal men simply don’t apply to them. One needs only to think of, say, Bernie Ebbers, Bernie Madoff, Dennis Kozlowski or Jeff Skilling to prove the point.

I think CEOs think social media is for the hoi polloi. They don’t need, or want, to dirty their hands by interacting with the masses. They already have their hands full with such irritants as analyst calls, CNBC interviews or annual meetings. Who has the time or patience to write a blog, Tweet or maintain a home page on Facebook?

Sure, one needs to factor in Sarbanes-Oxley when conjecturing why CEOs avoid social media like the plague. And, yes, there remains a solid business case why the big kahuna needs to do this citizen journalist ‘nonsense.’ But, I think the average chief executive officer thinks just like the J. Walter Thompson CEO I once worked for. He felt himself above the fray and looked down his nose at lesser mortals. Let them eat cake (or hit ‘send’).

Until, and unless, we have some truly enlightened CEOs sitting in Fortune 100 corner offices, I don’t think we’ll see any blogging or podcasting. CEOs think that’s something for the ‘marketing guys’ to deal with. In the meantime, they have bigger fish to fry: Wall Street is unhappy with the stock performance, the board is questioning the latest downsizing and the charities are demanding some sort of sustainability program. Blogging? Bah humbug!

*Thanks to Greg Schmalz for the idea for this post.

Jun 23

I highly recommend it

Public relations is in the midst of unprecedented change. Traditional media relations, while still important, has been equaled, if not surpassed by social media. Indeed, we’re seeing more and more clients ask about word-of-mouth. How does one inspire, motivate and encourage a prospective or current customer to ‘recommend’ an organization’s product or service to a peer? The answer  to that single question contains the key to the future of marketing communications.

June 23 - socialmedia  

Like many forward-looking organizations, we’re grappling with how one goes about ‘encouraging’ or ‘enabling’ recommendations. We don’t know the full answer, but we have some ideas. In the spirit of openness and transparency, we’d like to get your perspective as well.

So, if you don’t mind, click the survey link below and let me know what you think. I promise to share the findings in a future blog that, I hope, you’ll highly recommend to others.

Check out the survey here.

May 26

The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming!

Despite the best-intentioned efforts of our crack IT Manager Kel Q., Russian spammers continue to fool our Anti-Spam Filtering Service by constantly changing their point of origin.

Russian I'm routinely peppered with all sorts of Russian spam, which to the best of my limited Eastern European language skills, seems to be much the same as the crap I receive in English. Am I angry? Nyet. Am I interested in a ceasefire and possible rapprochement? Da.

Kel tells me that, even though he blocks these digital Russian ICBMs as soon as I forward them, some sort of nefarious Dr. Strangelove-like supercomputer immediately finds another way through our firewall.

So, in the tradition of Glasnost and Perestroika, I'd like to offer my Russian spammer friends some sort of SALT II-type arrangement: you stand down on the non-stop spam invasions and I'll find ways in which to highlight Messrs Putin, Gorbachev, Brenhzev and other legendary former and current Communists in my blogs. I'll bet there are plenty of positive image and reputation angles if one merely looks below the surface. For example:

– How about the impact on the image of shoes after Kruschev used his to pound a table at the U.N. and vow to bury capitalism?

– Or, how about one on Iceland's tourism trade in the immediate aftermath of the Reagan-Gorbachev tête-à-tête?

– What about one on Leon Trotsky? Was his assassination in Mexico City the precursor of that country's drug wars?

I'm open to a thaw in my virtual Cold War with Russian spammers. Comrades, let's tear down this virtual wall.

May 01

Has Web 2.0 killed the Dead?

Guest Post from Ted Birkhahn

May 1 - Dead The past Saturday night, the Dead (formerly known as the Grateful Dead) rolled into the Big Apple to play Madison Square Garden – sans Jerry Garcia, of course. For those of you who have a passion for the band and their music, the Garden is arguably the best venue to experience a show. Great things tend to happen at MSG and, as Jerry Garcia used to say, "the place is juiced." 

One of the greatest parts of any Dead show is its spontaneity. There is nothing like a live performance featuring the Grateful Dead. No two shows are alike – despite playing nearly 3,000 live concerts over more than 40 years – prompting much anticipation among fans who dream of hearing set lists that will "steal your face right off your head." Their spontaneity and ability to improvise on stage is what the Dead built their brand on over the course of 40 years. It's what prompted so many fans to fall in love with not just the music but the whole experience, compelling them to come back night after night. 

So there I was on Saturday night at MSG, with a flood of memories from past Garden shows racing through my mind, when the unthinkable happened. About midway through the first set, a friend of mine – who was busy checking his Blackberry – leaned over and fed me the next song before one first chord was played. Impressive. Then he did the same for the next song. Weird. 

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