Doug Haslam

Gischeleman: "To Create With the Mind"

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The Social Media Backlash is Here

Well, it finally happened.

Almost a decade of hubris by a new wave of marketers telling that social media was the be-all and end-all, and declaring advertising “dead” has finally turned.

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Photo by Retis on Flickr

First, we have Bob Hoffman’s Advertising Week Europe speech, “The Golden Age of Bullshit” in which he defends the still-quite-alive-thank-you-very-much advertising industry from the slings and nerf-tipped arrows of “engagement” and “brand relationships” crowd.

Ok, fine.

Calling advertising dead was always over the top, and poking the bear inevitably results in a mauling. Hoffman followed up, unrepentantly, with a thoughtful blog post that yet continues his mockery of the self-appointed social media elite.

Ok, fine.

From within the comfortable confines of Social Media Marketing, I have always cast a cynical eye to what many of us referred to the “snake oil” of social: the over-reliance of engagement over results; the emphasis of soft results over hard numbers; the circling of the wagons-of-peers over the service of business goals.

But here’s the thing: that’s not the entirety of social media marketing. While he acknowledges that not all social media marketers are full of it, I do have the distinct  feeling that Hoffman has found a fun new axe to swing; he is going to use the fact that he is largely right as an excuse to beat social media into the ground in favor of King Ad, with a resulting swing of the pendulum all the way back until Madge is soaking in it up to her neck.

In the meantime, social media marketers have found religion; we are seeing multiple blog posts decrying the social media imperatives that brands need to engage as humans, that people want to be Facebook pals with corporations, all as if this were a new idea.

The latest I noticed is Jason Falls’ post, “An Apology to Brands on Behalf of Social Media Experts Everywhere.” In it, Jason (who I know and like from the Social Media blogging and conference circuit), lays out the crime that social media marketers have been committing against brands since the beginning: that our insistence that brands be “human” and engage” was a lie.

Speak for yourself, Jason. I won’t claim never to have fallen in with the “engage” crowd, but I’m not a big fan of one “guru” trying to speak for the entire industry. And since I had a cuss-word to start, I’ll keep this R-rated; we didn’t all fuck this up. In fact, most of us still think we haven’t fucked it up.

The smart people in the industry haven’t called for the end of advertising (as if we could); we valued engagement but not at the expense of sales and attainable metrics; we were aware of the scale of social media versus the rest of our clients’ and employers’ business goals.

The idea of brands being able to publish and speak for themselves online is still pretty new and still forming and changing–

– in fact, stop –

The whole reason this painful self-examination and these attempted assassinations by the never-threatened ad industry is clear: it’s Facebook ceasing to pretend that brand exposure is free, isn’t it? Just ask Jeff Esposito. This set off the hysteria in the guise of a salvo of smoke bombs to distract the world while social media scrambles to understand “paid media.” Pardon our appearance while we re-brand our industry.

–ok, where was I? Oh yes –

– Social media is still pretty new. We are going through painful transitions in some quarters. But you know what? The false social “gurus” will still be full of crap, and the people who are honestly helping companies- the majority of us – will still be helping companies succeed in their communications and marketing programs.

So, when Bob Hoffman speaks of the “roiling cesspool of arrogant, insufferable charlatans,” well, we know what small part of the social media crowd they are. So what? Clean up your own cesspool and stop making crappy ads (while you’re at it, tell Geico to pick a campaign and stick with it – what a waste of money. I vote for the lizard).

On each side of the coin, the people who are good at their jobs know the real impact of what they do, the real reach of what they try, and the pitfalls of doing the wrong thing. I don’t care if social media marketers want to figuratively light themselves on fire, and if ad people want stand by and  roast marshmallows; I’ll just continue to do work that interests me – and that I hope is good and has an impact within the wider world of marketing and communications.

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Life Without Television Without Pity

I guess we’ll have to spoil the networks now.

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“Spare the Snark, Spoil the Networks.” That was the long-time slogan of “Television Without Pity,” a web site and community that, its now-owner NBC-Universal recently announced, is shutting down April 4.

Why do I care? For a time, back in the day, I was a very active community member of the site, going by the easy-to-remember name “gischeleman.” While I was not a big early Internet user, certainly not pre-web, I had a passing familiarity with bulletin-board culture without the burning need to talk coding (I’m not a coder) or Star Trek (love it, but not that kind of a fan). OK, I’m pushing the stereotype buttons. But after watching the show “24″ with my wife and I getting hooked for good after the first episode in 2001, I stumbled upon TWoP, and I was there to stay for a spell. I would devour the snarky and hilarious 8-page (what is a “page” on the Internet anyway?) recaps of the show authored by “gustave,” and later by “M. Giant,” whose recaps of “Walking Dead” I still read, and then head over to the forums. The forums, ruled with an iron fist (or rod) by the Mods, were a great way to share theories, plot holes, favorite lines, and even VHS tapes. At least once, I managed to snag a VHS copy of a missed episode from a fellow TWoP’er, which I would then pay forward in those pre-DVR days (OK, DVR’s existed, but most of us didn’t bother to have them). I also reveled not in the plot holes, but in the hilarious nicknames foisted upon the characters; where else would posters have the knowledge to christen Jude Ciccolella’s character on 24 the “Poor Man’s Hume Cronyn,” and even recently dub the buddy cop/android drama “Almost Human,” starring Karl Urban (the new Star Trek movies’ Dr. Leonard McCoy) as Bones & Yo-Yo?” (See, it’s funny because, ah, never mind…)   It was a real community, well-groomed and maintained, smart and snarky, and looking back it serves as a great example of my “nothin’s new no more” stance on social media; the platforms change, but they are built on ancient concepts of community and (in the best cases) civility. Bonus? Sometimes the shows’ producers and actors would take part and lend unprecedented credibility to these humble TV viewers.

While I read an contributed  mostly to the “24″ forums, I moved around a bit as well, most notably to “Heroes,” “Star Trek: Enterprise” (home of “Captain Asshat”) and “Law & Order” (where posters tried to turn the phrase “Is it because I’m a lesbian?” into a meme- yeah, that word existed before LOLCats). Over time, other interests and commitments took over, and I visited less. I still go back from time to time to check in on “Walking Dead” chats and the long-running single “Saturday Night Live: More Cowbell” thread, but I haven’t been the good Couch Potato I once was – “Couch Potato” being the poster designation between “Video Archivist” and the seemingly unreachable “Fanatic” in the active poster rankings.

Some will say the site got less interesting after Bravo (the NBC-Universal property) bought TWoP in 2007; I am not so sure about that. The purchase did bring with it some unnecessary bells and whistles and eventually the departure of many of the original recap writes, but perhaps it was just time for TWoP (and its mascot, Tubey) to retire and admire the legacy spilled across the web like so many classically good/bad TV pilots.

Whatever the cause, in the end, the rod was not spared by the axe.

R.I.P., Tubey

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I Made Fun of Upworthy Headlines; What Happened Next was Amazing*


I like to be grumpy online about things that bug me; however, I try to be fair and limit my (usually) good-natured condemnations to an element that bugs me, rather than an entire organization or effort (an example of this ethos: think “people do stupid things” rather than “people are stupid”).

One good example of this is Upworthy. Nothing makes me crazier than the “Upworthy” style of headline, which usually goes along the lines of: “The Sun Rose Today: What Happened Next Will Amaze You.”

I guess I don’t like to be told that I will be amazed: I WILL BE THE JUDGE OF THAT.

However, what happened next shocked me; I quickly began to notice that some – perhaps many – of the stories being shared with these atrocious headlines were actually pretty interesting or moving (amazing? let’s not get carried away). How would I know that? Because friends- people I trust – said the content was worth looking at. When I bothered to click, it often was worth reading; at least, it was more often than I expected (I know, amazing, right?). That’s enough for this cynical old troll to stop crabbing.

So, no, Upworthy stories are not worthless; in fact, it’s just another lesson along the lines of “don’t judge a book by the Hello Kitty protective cover some shallow middle schooler put on it.”

I still hate the headlines- they do a disservice to the better stories out there.

And stop using the word amazing (or don’t); it has surely lost its meaning by now.

 

* Not really

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Three Takeaways from Three Speakers: Social Media Club Boston on Viral Content

Social Media Club Boston held an excellent event* this past week at Northeastern University titled “The Myth, Money and Business Value of Viral Content.” The three presenters each brought his own unique take on the issue, and I had my own personal (if not unique) take from each one. Enough preamble, here are the themes:

Nothing’s New No More

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Ryan Cordell of Northeastern has been studying virality of content in the newspapers of the 19th century. Why is this interesting? It gives us a fresh look at the phenomenon of shared content through the habits of people in a different time, using the technology of the day. I won’t go into the details of his studies as it is easy to go down rat holes (after all we are talking about viral content), so please visit and peruse the site Cordell set up to show the results of his research.

What Cordell’s talk reinforced in me is that everything we – in the social media marketing space – hail as “new” or “revolutionary” is often a very old concept wrapped in a fresh coat of paint (or a new technology or medium). “Viral” content was not invented with YouTube, and it probably doesn’t start historically with the 19th century spread of newspapers either. We are always reinventing what we do – perhaps making it faster, using different memes (that’s not a new word either, so there). There is always something to learn about what we do now from what came before, even if it’s to discover that what we are having trouble learning now (why do people share, what makes something a sure-fire “viral” hit, etc.) was giving people fits back then as well.

By the way, an interesting side note is that Cordell is the man whose children started the “Dad will give us a puppy if we get a million likes” campaign on Facebook – remarkably, that was not part of his research but did end up being a great case study in viral accidents and how hard they are to replicate.

The Story of Viral Content is a Journal of Irreproducible Results**

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Rob Ciampa of Pixability takes great glee in destroying the myth of viral content. Many of us grumpy folks in the social media world pooh-pooh the notion of making a viral video, but Ciampa puts a practical argument behind such corrections. Of all the points he made about platforms, targeting and execution of videos, the one that really sticks is this: most viral video successes are one-offs. There is usually a second video, sure, but they tend to fail in becoming viral for various reasons (remember the second “Dollar Shave Club” video? Me neither).

So- after realizing we are not breaking new ground in creating sharable content, now we must remember that marketing fundamentals – and good content – are key to ensuring  that content is effective, rather than worrying about making a “viral sensation” as the primary driver.

Ongoing Success Trumps the One-Hit Wonder

12121891625_778e306dd9The final panelist, Matthew Wade of My Silent Bravery, performed a pair of his songs for us. This would be enough to cap the night by itself, but he also gave his thoughts on “viral” from the point of view of an artist trying to get noticed. I’ll distill his talk into this quote (paraphrased, so if I get it wrong I hope someone will correct me in comments):

“My approach is more of a long term goal. It’s really about trying to build your audience and your fanbase. You can have a million views but if you only have five subscribers, where is the built-in audience for your next video?”

 

*I can say it’s excellent without sounding like  bragging jackass because I am not currently on the SMC Boston board.

** But not the Journal of Irreproducible Results

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The Future of Agencies: Thoughts on Social Media Breakfast 33

Full House at Social Media Breakfast 33

Full House at Social Media Breakfast 33

Last week, Social Media Breakfast Boston convened once again: this time at the office of Racepoint Group, for a discussion titled The Evolution of PR, Marketing and Digital – What’s Next for the Agency World?”

I had been giving a lot of thought to this question over the past year, so I was eager to hear the opinions of the panelists and the questions from the audience.

I decided to distill each panelist’s spiel to one word, with the commentary a mix of my opinion and what the panelists actually said:

Dan Carter, Racepoint GroupCONVERGENCE

Having recently folded the sister company Digital Influence Group into Racepoint, Dan speaks from experience, seeing a greater need for a unified set of varied offerings, rather than a different agency for each need. The drivers for this? From a business standpoint, it’s a function of where the budgeting authority is coming from. From a professional standpoint, I personally have seen the need to make sure we put the different aspects of services together, the better to serve clients and win different types of business.

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Seth Bloom, FleishmanHillardCONTEXT

Seth used the game of Twister to illustrate his point: a game spinner with all one color and one hand would make for a very boring game; if you have a single service offering, people know what you do, but are you able to adapt to the needs of a client, which are usually customized and certainly mutable? The ideal is not the typical Twister spinning arrow piece, but actually one with greater shades of colors; more choices of services to be able to offer for each unique agency/client relationship.

 

Eric Fulwiler, MullenDIVERSITY

Eric is actually the one who used the word “context,” but this is my blog post so I am assigning key words where they fit in how I interpreted the talk. Mullen’s presence on the panel was unique in that it is most readily identified as an advertising agency, rather than PR. Still, Eric’s citation of the need for social to sit within all communications disciplines rings true throughout the agencies represented: will social cease to be a separate practice? I see a trend in that direction, as the need for social media to support, rather than stand apart from, PR, advertising and marketing means that all agencies need to diversify their offerings in order to serve a more complete communications mandate: and professionals, while likely remaining specialists at some point in their careers, must be able to reach across the lines of paid,  earned and owned media more readily.

Christine Perkett, PerkettPR, Inc.FLEXIBILITY

Christine spoke from the point of view of a small agency; the need for flexibility becomes evident when an agency’s services do not solely serve their traditional constituents (e.g. the marketing department). We may be doing work for customer service, or even sales or HR. Being able to adapt core skills to serve new masters is key in this context (there’s that word again).

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The most interesting part of the Q&A to me was the discussion of talent. What skills does one need now? The answer, I think, lies in what I wrote above: that specialization is a way in to the industry, but the need to understand and be able to bring together the different strands of the communications mix becomes more and more important – to professionals, as well as the companies and agencies they work for (or start).

Is the PR agency world converging? Will it bring a collision with the ad and digital marketing agency world? What does it mean for careers and for the future (or even the existence) of current agencies? My only prediction for 2014 is that we will be asking these questions mare and more, especially if we are not answering them.

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Planning and Measurement Lacking in Social Media (Other Than That, Everything is Great)

A few months ago, I attended a pair of events in Boston: BlogWell, in which several large brands presented case studies; and the Society for New Communications Research (SNCR) Symposium, an annual presentation of research studies focusing on social media and other new platforms. While there were several great ideas and lots of useful information disseminated at both events, I came away with two painful but enlightening truths: companies still do not put enough planning into their social media programs and campaigns; and fewer companies than you might think actually measure their efforts.

At the SNCR symposium, among the many enlightening presentations was one I always look forward to: the annual study of social media adoption among Inc 500 and Fortune 500 companies, conducted by Nora Ganim Barnes of UMass Dartmouth. While tool adoption is always fascinating (apparently, blogs are not “dead,” as the prevalence of blogs among both groups of companies has grown to its highest levels in the last several years. 34 percent of the Fortune 500 now have corporate blogs, a new high-water mark (see the embedded presentation, below).

What was more interesting, and potentially alarming, however, was that the number of companies (among the Inc. 500) that actively monitor social media decreased to 63 percent – a majority, but marking a steady decline from 70% two years prior. Additionally, respondents to the survey generally said that marketing departments are in charge of social media planning (which sounds logical), but it was apparent from the presentation that respondents may have been making a best guess, and weren’t themselves directly responsible for planning.

This last point suggests the possibility that there is a gap in planning; that companies know they should use social media and have established presences, but aren’t necessarily attaching this to an overall plan. How do marketers get buy-in for these ideas from management? The sexiness of social media as new platforms will wear off, and I would think that more planning will be needed if to continue programs and conduct more campaigns – why it is not required now is a bit bewildering.

The other end of the planning chain is measurement, which brings me to things I heard a few weeks earlier at the BlogWell event in Boston. This series of events specializes in presenting real case studies from brands. While I will not name the companies involved, I will share this: invariably, audience members asked about results and metrics from their social media programs and campaigns. More than once I heard a version of this reply: “We don’t measure.” I found that astonishing; how can a program be accountable if they don’t measure their efforts? How can they sell a continued program or a new campaign? It is clear from the audience that some sort of success metrics are expected, much more perhaps than in the past – after all, what is a case study without a happy ending?

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It is clear that part of this issue is that in some aspects companies treat social media as experimental, when in reality it can be, and often is, a seamlessly-integrated part of a holistic communications program. As with planning, it is hard to imagine a future in which social media programs get continued support without demonstrating their success against business goals.

I saw these as “painful truths” as I heard them (I hope the look on my face as I realized what I was hearing didn’t give too much away); however, what I really think is that they are opportunities. Companies need guidance in connecting their programs to business and marketing goals, both from the outset (planning) and the results (measurement). Either way you look at it, there is still plenty of work to do at both ends in order to ensure success and provide accountability.

Photo credit: Measurement A” by Ktow on Flickr

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Calling All Comics: Unfunny Social Media Marketers Need Your Help

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Every day, it seems, we see an example of a company, or an individual social media marketer, doing something dumb on the Internet.The cycle goes something like:

  • Brand or person says something dumb or offensive
  • Other social media addicts/professionals see it, point it out, act offended
  • Mainstream media picks it up
  • Social media professionals write “lessons learned” posts because, you know, they all know better than you and they miraculously had a break from all that billable work they do so they could write such an ingenious post telling the rest of us how it is and how it should be – oh, and because “Oreo
  • Someone gets fired, and brand or person either digs a deeper hole or disappears
  • True context of original offending remark is revealed and everyone takes a breath and backs off (HA! Had you there, didn’t I?)

I’m not going to write some sort of navel-gazing or preachy post dissecting the latest “offensive Tweet” scandal (the Justine Sacco Africa/AIDS thing), and what “social media marketing lessons” we can learn from it. That’s tired- and if it’s not tired, someone will do it better than I can before I hit “publish.”

So let’s step back a little and look at one of the main problems driving a lot of these contretemps, particularly this latest episode:

The problem is not that people are bad at marketing; they are bad at comedy. 

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It’s a popular sport to try to be clever to get attention (I am certainly guilty of that), but the ability to sense what is funny, clever, and most importantly, strikes the right tone, is frequently absent. Was Justine Sacco missing the mark with her “I’m going to Africa/Hope I don’t get AIDS/Haha I’m white” tweet? Most likely (notice I didn’t definitively say “no), and certainly it reflected poorly on her employer, even on a personal account (another topic for another post). Did GoGo, the in-flight wireless company, strike out by trying to joke about her inability to manage her disintegrating online reputation while in flight? Perhaps.

How can people and companies make these decisions? We’re marketers, PR pros, social media ninjagururockstars and companies, not performers!

Oops- we are performers. What a big stage we have. We should realize that. So who can help us with tone, timing, and just being good at banter and cleverness?

Professional comics.

Who gets away with saying outrageous things and still getting a laugh? Comics.

Who can put a punchline against a serious topic and still make the point? Comics.

Marketers should study comedy. Companies, agencies and trade shows should hire comics to teach workshops on being funny without killing your message and you brand.

Not everyone is naturally funny, but anyone should at least be able where they can draw the line of what not to say and when not to say it- and of after that, what they can actually get away with and be applauded for it.

So- be funny! But know how to do it first.

Isn’t breaking down the art of comedy into hundreds of words of prose entertaining? Let me know in comments.

Photo credits:

“I’m With Stupid” by delete08 on Flickr

“This is not funny” by zhouxuan12345678 on Flickr

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LinkedIn and the Context of Social Media Etiquette

When people kvetch about getting “Generic” connection requests on LinkedIn, I tend to roll my eyes -and not just because I roll my eyes a lot.

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The “generic” appearance of these invitations doesn’t bother me. The context of the invite is enough. If that context is lacking (I don’t know the person) or is inappropriate (I have reasons not to want to connect), then I ignore. If it’s a person I already know and want to connect with – the very basis for accepting such a connection – then I don’t care what the invitation says. It could say “Teddy bear Romulus keezer basketball spy” – or some other random nonsense – it really doesn’t matter.

Invite_New_Connection__David___LinkedIn

Perhaps LinkedIn will change the way we connect; I suggest removing the default “greeting” altogether, while keeping the option for a customized one. LinkedIn telling me “Bob” wants to connect is enough for me. If the request is warranted, I probably know why anyway.

Stop kvetching. There’s plenty to complain about out there (right?); I don’t think this is one of them.

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This is Why People Hate “Social Media Authors”

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Ok, first of all, the hyperbole of the post title is designed for attention. Perhaps my next post will be “This is Why People Hate Bloggers Who Write Hyperbolic Post Titles.” Moving on…

I will try to sidestep the – undoubtedly – hundreds of bloggers and other writers jumping on Randi Zuckerberg for using Veteran’s Day to hawk her book, with no clear connection to veterans in the book whatsoever. PR people and marketers like myself talk ourselves blue in the face about “newsjacking” gone wrong on a weekly basis.

I could also just jump in and attack “social media book authors,” when, in fact, I am impressed – indeed, at time envious – of those who can commit to getting something produced, even if it sits unread on their friends’ dusty bookshelves (I read every book I get, eventually….probably).

I will simply settle in on the sin of “overreach;” people assume that everyone is so excited about what they are doing, that they blast through the boundaries of appropriateness and logic to apply their own pride, their baby, their precious words – to something that makes no sense.

If people understand that what they are doing isn’t always the most important thing in the universe, they will make ore friends- even, to swipe a phrase, influence people.

So, no “PR Lessons from Randi Zuckerberg’s Horrifying Veteran’s Day Hijack:” no “Stop Signing Copies of Your Book in Random Bookstores as if it’s a Golden Ticket:” not even a “Stop Jumping on Everything People do Wrong in Social Media as if You are The Smartest Person on the Twitter.”

Just, think. Think about who actually cares and focus on those people. And move on.

Photo credit: “Horrified” by mirsasha, on Flickr

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A Few Thoughts on Live Blogging

Waiting for Blogwell to start (I was early)

Waiting for Blogwell to start (I was early)

In the near-decade since “live blogging” events has been a thing, there has been debate about its utility – those arguments tend to extend to attendees live-tweeting, leading to an audience with noses buried in phones. I have tended to agree it’s generally not a bad thing, depending on the context of the event (see my post about how TedX Cambridge created an “atmosphere of attention”).

Another side to this is those running the event recruiting (or hiring) people to blog  their events live, regardless of whether they encourage the audience to do so or not. At base, live blogging is simple: dispatches from the front, updated live, akin to the old teletype and telegraph updates from bygone media days.

I was asked to blog a few sessions at Blogwell in Boston today (Oct 22, 2013 – in fact, I am writing this as I wait for the event to begin). The setup is simple: just text updates on a standard blog post. In the face of more complex curation tools out there (like Storify), this is pretty bare-bones, but if I do a good job, the ideas I capture from listening (rather than trying to get photos and gather other observations) will make the posts focused, useful and accurate.

For myself, I am interested to see how this goes. I have done live social media for clients before, but somehow this feels a little bit more like a “reporter’s adventure.” We shall see..

(TO BE CONTINUED?)