Archive | November, 2008

Five Things About Social Media I’d Be Thankful to See Change

28 Nov

Mike Keliher wrote last week on things to be thankful for about social media, and tagged me on a related topic:  things I’d be thankful to see change in social media.  Appropriately, it’s the day after Thanksgiving, so let’s have at it.

For me, the issues with social media are less with the media themselves, and more with how it insinuates itself into our lives an conversations.  To whit:   

1.  Overstating Social Media’s Reach.  I work in public relations and marketing; I live in a world with mothers and fathers, housewives, sales people, real estate agents, corporate marketing communications professionals, stock brokers, designers, financial executives, housekeepers, retirees, restaurateurs, lawyers, shopkeepers … it goes on an on.  Just because you and your friends are Twittering and Uttering and blogging, snickering about the demise of newspapers and reviewing carefully compiled RSS feeds each day, doesn’t mean everyone is. Moreover, it doesn’t mean that most people are.  

Most people are checking their email every day and have a few favorite websites they follow. They barely manage to keep up with the news, but they scan the paper.  They have no time to read blogs.  They are amazed that anyone would use Twitter. 

I’d be thankful if communicators and social media evangelists would remember this. And, more importantly, respect it. 

2.  Understating Social Media’s Impact.  Flip the coin over and you find that most people have little idea how deeply social media impacts their lives.  Someone in their world is emailing them links to the hottest YouTube videos. TV takes them from the web, and then back into it again.  Every Google search delivers more data to marketers, every product review read and followed amplifies the power of one person’s opinion.  A friend of a friend of a friend shares a link or a bit of news on Twitter that makes it to your inbox in hours, if not minutes.  And have you noticed how many of your friends, family, high school and college buddies have signed up for Facebook?  How many colleagues are on LinkedIn?    

I’d be thankful if those who shake their heads and say they have no time for this would pay attention to how much more entertaining, fulfilling and downright useful social media has already become in their lives. 

3. Personally, I wish it were all easier. No matter how good you are with social media, it’s a pain.  There are too many networks, too many websites and technologies and services to follow.  Too many contacts to keep track of.  When my kids grow up, I expect that communications and the Web and gaming will all be handled by The Chip.  They’ll just stick this do-everything chip into their heads and they can call people and surf the net and play games just by thinking about it.

Okay, so I’m mostly joking, but I do know some folks who’d be first in line when The Chip hits the stores. Me, I’d be thankful if what want to know, who I want to follow and how I want to share would all just flow.  

4.  Could newspapers just figure it out already? Not directly “social media,” I know, but it’s my blog…  Here’s the deal:  We need journalism. We need professional journalists.  We need people covering news beats in our daily lives, we need people to make sense of it all.  And we need editors and fact checkers committed to the idea that they’re going to get the story right so their readers can trust what they report. We need business people and news leaders who run professional news organizations to stop fretting over classified ads that aren’t coming back and figure out a new millennium organizational and business model that will support this noble endeavor. I’d be thankful for that.

5.   It’s OK to put it down for awhile. I’ve been visiting family for the past week.  I haven’t Twittered (much) or blogged (until now), or kept up with much news (except Mumbai and the Minnesota Senate recount).  My family asked me if the Blackberry makes me feel compelled to answer emails instantly.  I said no.  There’s a comfort to knowing you’re always connected.  That if anyone needs you, they can find you.  But there’s even more comfort in sinking into the couch, Thanksgiving dinner over and the kids in bed, goofing around with your family, no cell phone, computer or Chip in sight. 

So there you go.  I’ll tag Adam Singer to try the same topic, in part because I’m almost sure he’s written on it already.

How’s it Going — Downturn Edition

18 Nov

I’m often asked how the economy is affecting the market for the independent consultant.  My answer, thus far, is that it’s hard to say.  I have a few core clients keeping me busy and happy; at the same time, I’m feeling the need to do a little knocking on doors, so to speak, to fill up the pipeline with new opportunities (although, out of the blue inquiries are more than welcome!).  

But the usual downturn analysis applies — there is opportunity out there for independents — there is more need than ever for experienced PR consultants, marketers and writers in both big comapnies and small.  An experienced independent can do a great deal of this work better and at a more modest investment than they could with using an agency.  As a client from way back once said, explaining how he pitched himself as an independent after leaving a big management consultancy:  “I told them they could get Accenture experience for half the price.”

At the same time, big companies will continue to seek out big agencies.  They need that combination of experience, creativity and ‘arms and legs’ they just can’t keep in house. However, the model is under pressure. The retainer is all but dead, and this latest downturn will put pressure on the agencies to deliver more on a ‘project’ basis, or to deliver more for less in a long-term relationship.  Corporate purchasing departments will fight for discounted rates while smaller clients bear the full agency freight.

Agencies accustomed to increasing their fees annually will need to think long and hard.  First, they’ll have to look at whether they’re truly earning the extra dollars, and they’ll have to look at what the market will bear. And then perhaps PR agencies will look longer and harder at the kinds of work they do today — from corporate counsel and strategy to media relations to web design, interactive and social media.  Does the experienced-based billable hour adequately deliver reflect the value clients receive in return?  Do they need dozens of full-time employees in on place, or will more flexible teams better fit changing client needs?  I’d welcome input from agency friends — I’m curious to see how it will play out.  

My own investment in the upswing will be to reach out to smaller companies — and larger ones as well — who see an opportuntiy to make a modest investment in branding, messaging, communications strategy and outreach to position themselves to lead in the upswing.  I’ll do some updates to the site, and see if I can’t turn some of my musings on the blog into articles that I can share with prospects, and use them to do some media relations on my own behalf.  I’m planning to get out more, see some speakers, eat some chicken-based lunches, catch up with colleagues and clients, and maybe even meet up with some of you folks around town.  

And I’ll knock on a few doors.

Murdoch on Newspapers

17 Nov

The media are reporting some Insightful and provacative comments by media magnate Rupert Murdoch on the predicament of newspapers in the web 2.0 age.  Murdoch believes traditional news organizations have been far too contemptuous of bloggers in particular.  In an increasingly engaged media environment, being contemptuous of bloggers is essentially contempt for your customers — never a good marketing plan.  

However Murdoch does believe that “the news” has a future…as reported in c|net

Despite the blemishes, however, Murdoch said newspapers can still count on circulation gains “if papers provide readers with news they can trust.” He added they will also need to embrace technology advances like RSS feeds and targeted e-mails. The challenge, according to Murdoch, will be to “use a newspaper’s brand while allowing readers to personalize the news for themselves-and then deliver it in the ways that they want.”

“The newspaper, or a very close electronic cousin, will always be around. It may not be thrown on your front doorstep the way it is today. But the thud it makes as it lands will continue to echo around society and the world,” he said.  

For the most part, major papers have taken some strides in doing what Murdoch suggests in terms of RSS feeds, emails and personalization.  It hasn’t led to financial stability.  But his overall point is a good one, and one I’ve made before in this blog:  the market will eventually find a way to support professional news organizations that deliver trusted news … in ways that will allow bloggers to complement “the news” rather than replace it.

The Personal Touch

10 Nov

This morning I had a massive headache and a ton of work to do.  I sat down at a local coffee shop, fired up the laptop and let iTunes pick some music.  There was something about the first song that played.  I smiled.  It was just right and realized that just about every time I hear this song and, really, anything by this singer/songwriter, it’s just right.  And it had been ever since the summer evening laying in the grass with the family at the Lake Harriet band shell where I’d first seen him perform.  So I took a moment, found the singer’s email address and thanked him. 

This is one of the wonderful things about the Internet. It’s so easy to connect and share a good word with someone you’ve never met … to bring together the buyer and the brand, the performer and the fan, the politician and the…governed.  And yeah, there’s plenty of hand-wringing over the way some folks unleash their darker side on those they don’t like while hiding behind the web’s perceived anonymity. 

But as a communicator and marketer, I’ll take the good and manage the bad.  I’ll take the ability to find and thank the teacher who told me I could do better,  the friend I thought I wronged, the company that made that perfectly useful thingamabob and the singer who helped me smile through my headache.  And I’ll remember that it’s cool to be inspired … so I’ll try harder for that in my work. 

And finally … if you’re into folkie singer/songwriter types, check out James Moors’ “Ten Years” off his “Hush” album.

Maybe you’ll smile, too.


5 Nov


After a hard fought election, an inspiring finish. I stayed up late in front of the TV and the laptop to take it all in.  This morning, my kids asked me who won.  Before answering, I ran barefoot to the mailbox to show them the story in headlines. My wife likes to  keep the papers from major events: We have Clinton’s impeachment, 9/11/2001, our kids’ birthdays.  We’ll add today’s StarTribune to the collection. 

It got me thinking:  Do you get the same thrill, the same sense of history, when you click on your web browser? When newspapers are gone, what will you  hold onto to pass along that sense of history?  If you’ve given up the paper, what will be your keepsake?

UPDATE:  I’m not the only one who’s noticed the power of newspapers when history’s being made: 

Gawker:  It’s a great day to be a newspaper 

News Cut Blog:  Are the headlines up to the historic task? 

BusinessWeek’s Brand Blog:  Newstands sold out in Ann Arbor…

Politically Speaking

1 Nov

I’ll admit it — I enjoy politcal speeches. If you’re going to convince thousands or millions of people to cast a vote for you and your cause, you’re likely a pretty effective persuader. You know how to hold the attention of a crowd.  You’ve had those special moments when you’ve got a crowd hanging on your every word. You’ve moved people.  So politicians have a few things they can teach the corporate executive about making effective speeches and presentations. 

After playing tourist at a couple local political rallies, a few obervations and takeaways on public speaking:


  1. It’s your speech – own it.  One of my more painful moments as a writer was watching a chief executive give a keynote speech that I had written.  As the CEO spoke, he’d stop and say things like, “That’s right – that’s very true.”  I realized that this may well have been the first or second time he’d read the speech.  He was reacting to words he’d spoken as if someone else had spoken them.  Good politicians don’t read speeches – they simply speak, from the mind and from the heart. They tell stories.
  2. You’re not giving them a speech.  They’re giving you a chance to be heard. What do want your audience to remember? Clinton flags his key points over and over – saying, in effect, “here’s what I want you to know”; “this is important…and here’s why.”  Your words need to pass that old smell test:  “Why does this matter…not to me, but to them.”
  3. If you’re prepared, it’s change the script.  This was the second week I’d heard Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar speak.  They were doing stump speeches – much of it was repeated from the week before… and yet, much of it sounded fresh and new.  Klobuchar told new stories, and peppered her speech with stories from the campaign trail.  Franken urged volunteers to talk to 5 friends and then 5 more about the election … then he stopped and said something like, “And I know some of you just need to get new friends,” utterly cracking up President Clinton behind him (you probably had to be there). 

And finally… I enjoyed many of these speeches… and, amazingly, they didn’t use a single PowerPoint slide. Does anyone remember a great speech that included a slide show?




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