Media Influencer

helping people break out of pigeonholes since 2003

Cinderella in ppt

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Another reason why presentations in powerpoint must die.

via Dave Snowden

Power equation

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I have been thinking about how to explain the shift in communications to professional communicators within companies. That communication is not a skill, it is a survival trait. It is considered a skill within a particular environment that requires specific ways of processing, broadcasting and receiving information. But if the environment changes, then the skill may no longer be relevant. And such shift has occurred in communications and media industries because of the internet.

We now have the POWER to do things we couldn’t do before, we have the tools and the technology that enable us to go direct and bypass. That’s a real power in the world where intermediaries form entire industries. The ‘power to the person’ is the most important development for me so far.

Then there is the rise of CONTEXT. The web has removed physical limitations on space. Data was expensive to create, store and move around and now it is not. This made room for context, which is becoming at least as important as the data. In fact, it is what make data and information the skeleton, giving shape to the flesh and skin but it is no longer the whole body and finish. The important thing is that context can be provided only by a human mind. It cannot be automated – when creating or absorbing it.

Finally, there is DISTRIBUTION. The networked nature of the web has changed the nature of the expensive part of the media – getting their content to the desired audience. But online, the content does not contain any more and people formerly known as audience are now co-producers and distributors.

All this adds up to many groovy things. The important one for communicators is that communication is now the default, not a skill.

Communications equation

Power to the customers

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A friend emailed me a link saying ‘you won’t like this’.

An Australian accounting software developer blames a “severe downturn in sales” on people who bad-mouthed its products in online user forums. It wants a judge to muzzle their comments.

Apart from being a serious contender for the Darwin Award – seriously, suing people for making comments about its products and services! – it is also a company with a mindset I ranted about recently.

Let’s have a look at the offending ‘word of mouth’:

Among the challenged statements are incendiary comments such as these:

If you deal in Foreign Currency at all, I would avoid it. It was one of the big issues we faced … and don’t get me started on the inventory and manufacturing system – what a joke.

and

I was put onto this forum recently after discussion with peers, about how frustrated, dissatisfied and ultimately ripped off I feel after purchasing 2clix earlier this year … Our company has been trying to implement 2clix for sometime now and we are still in the implementation process and feel like we are getting nowhere fast.

These are very mild comments indeed. They would hardly register on the heat scale in most flame wars in the blogosphere. So on top of a company that has bad products and services and doesn’t know how to treat its customers, we also have a software developer that has no clue about the web and the conversations it spawns.

And now for the good news:


Since January 2Clix has suffered a “severe downturn in sales” that cost the company about $750,000 over six months, according to the 2Clix complaint, which was filed in the Supreme Court of Queensland. (All currency amounts are in US dollars.)

Here we have the holy grail of quantification of the word of mouth! The marketers of the world rejoice! Not quite. The good news is that the impact can be significant and lasting. Started by a few comments by ‘unimportant’ people. This is a power of sorts, although not yet harnessed. It can be amplified by more tools and understanding of what’s going on. Similar to blogs capturing, networking and scaling the conversations that people have always had, and similar to social networks connecting people through their profiles and relationships, there are ways to do this to our interactions with businesses and markets. Preferably without silos, lock-ins and closed platforms.

It often seems to be that people forget the power starts from the individual. It is not merely about scale and aggregation. I am reminded of Doc’s post Power to the person, which strongly resonates, for obvious reasons. :)

On the way to the airport this morning, my wife and I were talking about one of the big easily-defaulted misunderstandings of the VRM concept: that power for people only comes in numbers, in aggregation. The problem is with the word “only”. Power needs to start with the individual. In a pure VRM context, it’s about my relationship with FaceBook, or Peets Coffee, or United Airlines, or the corner cleaners.

Falling on swords

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Rapleaf is contrite.

We made lots of mistakes. And this is a long post that, in great detail, goes over our mistakes and what we plan to do about them.

They explain what they do, why it’s scary and how to make it less scary, in their opinion:

There is a lot of information about people living on pockets all over the web. Everyone has an online/web footprint. And it is accessible if someone really wants to research someone – the information is publicly available – but it takes a lot of time to find.

Rapleaf automates this search process. We search billions of pages on blogs, social networks, forums, etc. for information on people. And a little over a month ago, we started making this information public on Rapleaf.com

Some people did not understand how we found their info and were worried that this info was going to be public, even though the info was already public. Others were concerned that their info was just plain wrong. The common denominator was not understanding where this info was coming from.

Yesterday we cooked up an idea to solve this – we are going to tell you where we obtained the info. Essentially all info will be attributed to a source and that way you can correct it at the source. We haven’t started coding this yet, but look for this change in the next few weeks.

And here is the falling on sword bit:

Last week we also made a decision to send the “you’ve been searched” emails to people that were searched for in Upscoop, a service we run that allows you to upload all your friends and find out what social networks they are on. In retrospect, this was really stupid and very wrong for doing this without any controls. Very very wrong. But at the time, it seemed like a really good idea for some reason. The problem is many people who use Upscoop were unaware that their contacts would receive a courtesy email.

Again, we were wrong. Now we iterate. And we ask for forgiveness.

So, admission of being wrong, check, apology, check, but what it is that they sell and make money out of? This is the bit that got me foaming at the mouth last week:

Rapleaf sweeps up all the publicly available but sometimes hard-to-get information it can find about you on the Web, via social networks, other sites and, soon to be added, blogs. At the other end of the business, TrustFuse packages information culled from sites in a profile and sells the profile to marketers. All three companies appear to operate within the scope of their stated privacy policies, which say they do “not sell, rent or lease e-mail addresses to third parties.”

And that’s right. Marketers bring TrustFuse their own list of e-mail addresses to buy access to demographic, behavioral and Internet usage data on those people, according to the company’s privacy policy and sales documents.

So are Rapleaf, Upscoop and TrustFuse doing evil or not? From their blog post:

People that are doing lots of searches on a monthly basis pay a little bit of money per lookup. This is how we generate revenue.

And we’ll even give heavy users the ability to do batch lookups and provide aggregate reports of the information. And yes, these heavy users and companies may use this information for marketing purposes to give their users and better offers when they visit their sites.

In the post Auren demonstrates he understands the importance of context. My problem is that I am not seeing the context of Rapleaf, their products and services. Who are they aimed at? If at companies and their marketers for the purposes of matching their email lists with online profiles than the whole mea culpa exercise doesn’t address my original objection.

But to be fair to Rapleaf and the likes of them, they are merely tapping into the demand they see from companies to ‘regain control over the consumer’. It is about collecting data and information on the elusive demographics. At arms-length and without any intention to treat their customers as individuals. And that is my gripe.

A message to marketers

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A worthy post by Brian Solis of PR 2.0 summarising what has become obvious some time ago thanks to blogging:

Attention PR and practicing Social Media professionals, step away from using “messages” to target “users” and “audience.” They are no longer filling the theaters, stadiums, and auditoriums to hear from marketers.

The implications for communications and marketing are profound and joint, they both need to take note and no longer define themselves by company processes or departments.

Discussing marketing in terms of audience and users implies a one to many approach, whereas focusing on people begets a one to one communications strategy – shifting from monologue to dialog.

Brian also has rather sound advice that does go a bit further than the ‘you-can’t-market-as-you-used-to’ meme:

When we look at groups of people respectively, we’re forced change our migration path to them. Each group is influenced, inspired and driven by unique channels and communities. Figuring out who we want to reach, why they matter to us, and why we matter to them, is the ante in order to buy into this game. Then we reverse engineer this process of where they go for their information and discussions to learn about how to reach them. And, while there may be several horizontal mediums that overlap, the vertical avenues are dedicated.

When you want to have a conversations with someone you do these two things – listen to the other person/people and try to say something of interest or of use to them. Otherwise you become unpopular and people will avoid you. Why on earth PR and communications departments can’t get that simple truth right and still blather on about messaging?!

Let’s go ahead and eradicate “messages” when discussing customers and people. They don’t want to hear messages, they want to hear how you can help them do something better than how they do it today or how this is something that they couldn’t do before, taking into specific account, their daily regime.

Messages are not conversations and there is no market for them.

Amen.

Messages_fuck_yourself

Bonus link: There is no market for messages

Why I love blip.tv

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…because the guys behind it look far beyond a video upload site or network, marvellous as it may be. Charles is one of my favourite people who can hold his own against any politico or wanna-be censor.

Loren Feldman, the author of a controversial video, decided to use blip as his host. A few hours later we received a letter warning us of potential damage to our brand. I responded that speech should be countered with speech, not censorship. What do you think? Here’s the e-mail exchange.

And so the entire email exchange is published. Not only I find the arguments sound but this is transparency at its best. Instead of agonising about how various people perceive what blip.tv does or does not do, why not make them privy to the issues that they are facing and by disclosing all, make them participate in those decisions.

Brilliant, Charles!

Surely you don’t think he would ever run out of new hosting services to try! Eventually, the pursuit would reach a tipping point by, for example, reaching the attention of digg or boing boing, and hundreds of thousands would swarm to search for the banned videos, eagerly downloading and saving copies of the contraband. Drudge could easily pick this story up, and Loren would be invited to do the rounds on right-wing talk radio, as a hero and martyr to the PC police. The case would be held up as a foreshadowing of the Reign of Terror predicted after a Democrat victory in 2008.

Contrast that with the profound impact of a deeply moving work of art. Loren’s video should inspire works which outlive it by decades, which look forward to the future instead of the past, which give us a glimpse of the glorious potential of humankind. Works which send shivers down the spine and trigger paradigm shifts, which children remember the rest of their adult lives.

I urge you to focus your energy on creating positive change in people’s hearts and dry up the market for Loren’s opinions. We have enough futile attempts at silencing foul speech, but we don’t have enough deep, inspiring, illuminating speech.

In Liberty and Reason,
Charles

J&J bypass

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This is rather tricky.

Johnson & Johnson sues the American Red Cross and other parties over…. What?! … the use of the RED CROSS?!

And as the author of the post (Ray Jordan, VP for corporate communications) points out, it is almost too easy for journalists to get a juicy headline out of this. First, there were press releases, both from the American Red Cross and from Johnson & Johnson. Then, there was the press storm. And then, a blog post on J&J blog JNJ BTW with Ray’s candid recognition that this is most unfortunate and is not going to be pretty from the outside.

So, I’ve now lived a classic corporate public affairs nightmare: announcing a lawsuit against the American Red Cross. Would I have chosen this exercise as a reputation-building opportunity for Johnson & Johnson? No, of course not.

We now have the words from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. Not a voiceless press release but a real human being telling J&J’s side of the story, from the inside. We can make up our mind with that information. It is not just the media that have their say. Which is as it should be.

…as much as we might respect the American Red Cross, if we didn’t act we could open the floodgates to all infringers of our trademark and could do nothing about it. So even though we remain committed to supporting the primary mission of the American Red Cross through our philanthropic efforts, we simply can’t give them a pass on violating our trademark rights.[ed. more background here]

Trademark law, 100-years old agreement, big business against charity, media… this makes for a complex and a potentially agenda-driven affair. All of this is reflected in the blogosphere, open and free space it is, with commenters letting rip as well as providing some useful perspectives. So business as usual. The unusual bit, at least for most large corporations, is the tone and personality of the communication in the first post and further updates, as well as posting of hostile or unpleasant comments. I was at first struck by the simplicity with which people jumped to a conclusion about the situation, to condemn or ridicule. But comments sections also yielded people who took the trouble to follow the links to understand what’s going on. From the company’s point of view it must be jarring to see both types attached to a post that tries to put things straight, trying to keep the story clear and clean. The price for getting your story out there is losing control over where it ends and who adds to it. The ‘reward’ is the ability to bypass the media, an unmediated and more human reach to those who care about the whole story, not just the outrage of the day in the papers.

As a blogger, I have no illusions about what I can control. But companies operate under many delusions about that. Rather than focusing on what they can affect, they obsess about what they wish they could affect. Who they are, how they express and communicate it is under their control. What impact it has on people’s mind, how others chose to react, what gets added to their ‘message’, and how it is distributed further… is not.

People behind JNJ BTW have realised that, which is no mean feat for any company. It’s messy, frightening but it makes sense. A bypass on its own, however, is just a new lease of life. The rest depends on what you do with it. :)

Disclosure: I have been working with JNJ advising them on this for long enough to know that there are some very englightened people around and this is a result of their determination to understand how online has changed communications and of letting some of the blogging magic into the company.

Communications propaganda

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A revealing comment can be found on Euan’s blog about internal propaganda communications at the BBC that could have only been made by a communications professional (read PR) who drinks his own koolaid.

Having the opportunity to hear hard hitting questions put to the director general, listening to people talking ‘live’ in a group situation can be powerful tools.

The point must be that in any organisation communications are layered across a range of media and through both formal and informal interactions. The overall effect will always be cumulative.

…to suggest that the internal bulletin board makes more than a minor contribution to a sense of organisational cohesion stretches credibility.

Oh dear. Euan’s response was vehement and healthy – after all he is speaking from his own experience:

ah there speaks a comms professional. To be honest to most of the people I knew at the BBC the comms stuff not only had minor impact it was actually negative. It made us feel more disengaged and cynical.

Communications professionals do not speak as people. They are meant to (and paid to) represent the corporate and collective voice, in the best possible fashion. That is not a voice which allows conversations, which are messy, chaotic and do not follow a script. So internal communications end up being another form of broadcast to the populace, the audience being the employees who can’t escape. Staged and tightly managed townhall meetings with no meaningful discussions dispel any delusions that employees matter or have any impact on what is going on within the company. Ultimately, interactions among employees (and beyond) cannot be controlled but that is precisely what every communications professional I have encountered so far does. After all, it is their job.

Giving people tools, or allowing them to use some, to communicate among themselves, might just get them to communicate as themselves and not as disembodied voices parroting the corporate message. Once they can use their own voices, external communications won’t be a problem.

Sun unplugged

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This is rather important. And one lawyer is ok with it.

I wanted to alert everyone to a change we’ll be making this quarter – related to how we publish those results, and going forward, other timely information about our financial performance. It’s a small, but exceptionally symbolic change.

I’ve asked our investor relations (known as "IR") and press relations ("PR") teams to gear up to announce our results via Sun’s web site and RSS feeds. We will announce our results to the general public via Sun’s IR web site before making that same information available through the third party news services that traditionally distribute such information to paying subscribers. We will simultaneously file a Form 8-K with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (for their redistribution).


Specifically, we will publish our results to this web site on July 30th at 1:00 PM (Pacific Time), which will in turn be
disseminated via open syndication protocols (namely, RSS) to those who have subscribed to Sun’s news feeds. 10 minutes after publication to the internet, we will distribute this information via traditional news wires for dissemination to private news agencies and distribution vehicles.

via Jackie

Words that PR killed

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Dan Santow of Word Wise has a highly relevant post on words over-used by PR and communications people. A candid admission prefaces the list:

The power of words comes, in part, from their meaning and from their
placement within sentences and phrases. It also comes from the
integrity with which they’re being used. In public relations,
advertising and marketing, we’re especially susceptible to latching
onto of-the-moment words and using them and using them and using
them until they’re used to death (their meaning and power dies). Half
the time we use these words it’s because we have no idea what the heck
we’re talking about in the first place.

Apropos, our company is the industry-leader in innovative utilisation of words, strategically leveraging their unique value proposition to uphold its position as the world-class communications solutions provider with unmatched, seamlessly integrated and robust best practice. Turnkey is out, revolutionary is in. Being proactive is the only way to be empowered. Let our highly-seasoned people who can turn the paradigm-shifting and the revolutionary into organic growth, facilitate your transition to the next-generation challenges. A win-win solution, surely.

RIP

hat tip Marc

Context is everything…

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Ecogeek reports:

In the next 12 months, McDonald’s plans on creating enough fuel to power its 155 delivery vehicles while having enough fuel left over to sell into the public market. The fuel will be composed of 85% waste vegetable oil and 15% virgin rapeseed oil. So, while it will be 100% carbon neutral, it won’t be entirely waste oil.

It’s all very well training executives in communication with the media. Somehow I have a feeling that if the guy was allow to talk normally instead of using the pseudo-technical press-release talk, this might have been avoided.

However, Matthew Howe, Senior VP of McDonald’s UK was quoted saying: “As we get better at the refinement we will be able to remove virgin rape from the process”; a line which we sincerely hope never gets taken out of context. [emphasis mine]

Now please excuse me whilst I clean the tea from out of my keyboard.

Loveless blog

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William at Ideal Government nails it perfectly when he describes the new Microsoft UK public sector blog. He knows a thing or two about public sector technology, platforms and Microsoft’s fingers on the many pulses as he puts it. He couldn’t find the people behind the blog or a name attached to its voice such as it was. His conclusion…

Hope springs eternal that we may get a human voice with a name attached
to it, and some hot gossip from some of the best-informed people in the
business. When people in corporations find their voices it’s great -
what was it like to work for Lou Gerstner, Jerry Fishenden on almost
anything, raw, passionate stuff. But man, when their PR companies get
going I find myself woken up by the sound of my head hitting the desk.

There was a comment in the best British comedy tradition. ;-)

Well, I think it’s great that the UKGOVERNMENT has started blogging.
I had no idea that the UKGOVERNMENT worked for Microsoft. Glad to see
the UKGOVERNMENT has so much time to maintain a blog outside of running
the country and doing world stage stuff.


I wonder if UKGOVERNMENT also gets a £10k pa communications allowance to spend on his/her/their blog?

I have always been of the opinion that a company cannot have a blog, only people working for it can. So a blog without a person is like marriage without love, possible, done more often than we would like but doesn’t inspire, engage or attract anyone, including the people involved in it…

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