Wednesday, April 30, 2008

case study: social media in your seat

...airline seat, that is. AdAge gives us this look at Virgin America's clever uses for new technology in its passenger seats, an innovation that gives customers more options--and power. Called "Red," the new system:
...shows on-demand movies and satellite TV, of course, but it also has video games, a nicely curated collection of music videos and more than 3,000 MP3s. There's seat-to-seat text chat, and Virgin will add satellite-enabled internet access, including Wi-Fi if you're lugging your own computer, later this year. But the truly brilliant thing about Red is that it uses its elegantly designed, Linux-based touch-screen interface as a virtual refrigerator that you can peer into anytime you get thirsty or hungry.
OK, I like the nimble food ordering, too (it's all credit-card powered, and favored by flight attendants). But seat-to-seat text capability takes an airplane's captive audience and turns it into a moving global village, creating a community even if everyone's stuck in rows. I also like this as an example of a company that's using new media options in ways that remake--for the better--their customers' experiences. Consider this when you're mulling how to make the best use of your new technology for key audiences.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

new models for your media relations

Much of the news business seems to think it's in shreds, but communicators should be changing their media relations strategies to keep up with changes in the media...and, dare we say it, staying a step ahead. TV viewership and newspaper readership are down, but some media outlets are busy reinventing themselves instead of wringing their corporate hands. Take your cues from this pair of recent shifts in the media landscape:

 (Photo by gin_able.)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

weekly writing coach: a library online

When writers aren't writing, they're looking for sources--these days, most often on websites. To shorten your search, check out the Librarian's Internet Index, which catalogues websites. Its "New This Week" update is an easy way to stay current, fast, with new sites--and a popular one, too, as its RSS feed is among the top sites subscribed to on Bloglines. This week's reference sites include topics such as taxes, Stonehenge, the inventor of disposable diapers, and sites that will help you look up U.S. constitutional amendments or laws by their popular names.

on camera: mosh pit hands, please

Today's New York Times takes a look at the precision timing and organization behind American Idol and reveals this instruction from producers to the audience:
For the audience members who stand in the “mosh pit,” the area immediately in front of the stage, special instructions are required. “When you are applauding after a performance, we need your hands above your head,” Mr. Almeida said before a recent Tuesday performance. “Otherwise we can’t see that you’re clapping.”
It reminded us that gestures on camera are pointless if they're not in the camera's range--and in most interviews, or even typical videotapings of speeches, the camera will aim for a tight head shot. In other words, gestures below your head won't be seen. You don't need to overreach overhead, but do get your gestures higher if you want your hands in the picture at any point. Want to be sure how you'll be shot? Chat up the camera operator. And if you're speaking live and like to move around the room or away from the lectern, as we recommend you do, it's useful to give the videographer a heads-up, lest your activity wind up off-camera.

Monday, April 21, 2008


One of our communications networking groups took us to court -- the Supreme Court of the United States -- recently to hear from Kathy Arberg, the Court's spokeswoman and director of public information. She talked about its press policies and services, which include a standing press room for certain credentialed reporters and detailed credentialling procedures, as the Court has a limited number of seats for reporters to cover live proceedings. We asked about admitting bloggers to add to our case studies of press credentials various organizations are and are not extending to bloggers.

Not surprisingly, it's done "on a case by case basis and so far the bloggers who have covered an argument have been able to demonstrate a legitimate press interest and have been given credentials by the lower court that heard the case before it came to the U.S. Supreme Court." She offered this summary of the credentialling procedure:
The Supreme Court's Public Information Office issues credentials to press in order for them to attend oral arguments. The Court recognizes press who have current White House or Congressional press credentials. Press interested in attending oral argument who do not have White House or Congressional press credentials are asked to have a letter (on the media organization's letterhead) sent via fax from the editor, producer, or appropriate person who has assigned the reporter to cover the case. The Public Information Officer reviews these media requests and, if approved, issues a one-day press credential on the day of oral argument. On a few occasions bloggers have requested and been granted a seat in the press section to cover an oral argument. These requests are reviewed on a case by case basis. Factors that are considered include: a blogger's ability to demonstrate a legitimate press interest in a case and documentation that the blogger was issued press credentials in the lower courts while covering a particular case. Bloggers who do not meet the criteria to be seated in the press section are still able to attend oral argument by waiting in the public line for Courtroom seats.

No initiation fee for National Press Club

As part of its 100th year celebration, the National Press Club's encouraging new memberships by waiving the initiation fees for applicants in all categories. (Currently, the club admits professional journalists, web masters, public relations professionals, news sources, authors, college journalism instructors, journalism students, free-lancers and bloggers.) If you live outside the Washington, DC, area, your membership rates are greatly reduced. The initiation fee deal means you can save up to $350. For more information on application for membership, go here. The membership office can be reached at (202) 662-7511.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

weekly writing coach: beyond compilation

If you have friends and colleagues who wonder what writers really do, you can take pride in your work after reading this New York Times article on the self-described "most published author in the history of the planet," with 200,000 books and counting to his credit. The rub? He compiles them, using complex computer algorithms that gather publicly available information from the Web. Here, a rundown on some of his books:
Among the books published under his name are “The Official Patient’s Sourcebook on Acne Rosacea” ($24.95 and 168 pages long); “Stickler Syndrome: A Bibliography and Dictionary for Physicians, Patients and Genome Researchers” ($28.95 for 126 pages); and “The 2007-2012 Outlook for Tufted Washable Scatter Rugs, Bathmats and Sets That Measure 6-Feet by 9-Feet or Smaller in India” ($495 for 144 pages).
We quote the Times there so you know we're not making this up. What does this really mean for you, the writer? Your coach sees too many writers who come close to making this mistake, without the computer's aid, by offering their editors poorly organized compilations of facts. Writers pick and choose and organize facts, then help the reader by adding description or transitions, combining similar themes, completing thoughts. Our favored way to move beyond compilation: List every fact that's relevant to your piece as a separate bullet, then group them with the other facts that help make the same point. After that, you need only fashion your introductions and transitions, and edit the whole to make it coherent. Want to call us a stickler? You know now where you can look up the details...

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

weekly writing coach: storytellers

Check out this University of Missouri story, which captures storytelling tips from Ira Glass, host of public radio's This American Life. Glass, who recently lectured on the campus, takes one iconic TAL story and breaks it down into the components that make it a good story, including:
- starting with the story in motion, and giving it a sense of motion, of leading somewhere, to hook the listener
-engaging listeners so they can visualize the story in their heads
-examining what the story means and how it makes you feel to create empathy with the audience
-giving the listener a sense that "other people are like us" to create a connection
Try that the next time you're crafting an anecdote for an article, podcast or speech. Want more examples? Go to the This American Life website.

what audiences want from online news

A new study on news credibility, jointly sponsored by the Associated Press and the University of Missouri, finds newspaper editors and public audiences on opposite sides when it comes to including the opinions of readers and journalists in online news stories. From AP's own coverage:
Some 70 percent of editors surveyed said requiring commenters to disclose their identities would support good journalism, while only 45 percent of the public did. Similarly, 58 percent of editors said letting journalists join online conversations and give personal views would harm journalism, but only 36 percent of the public agreed..."Many of us have come to recognize that the age of `We report it, and you read it and view it' is over," said Howard Finberg, director of interactive learning and NewsU at the Poynter Institute, a Florida think tank on journalism. "The audience has demanded much more."
The problem? What "more" means is still up in the air. We're struck by how the newspaper editors' views mimic those of many organizations resistant to opening up their avenues of communication to public comments. There's a parallel to what we see with live audiences wanting more chances to interact with the speaker, we think. Where do you fall in this spectrum?

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

the age of your web users matters

A hat tip to our pal Jay Collier, web communications manager at Bates College and a college pal of ours who's now a Facebook pal, for sharing this study of age differences in how people use the Web, including response times. It's just another reminder to segment your audiences, and to consider your website/blog/Facebook page based on how people of different age groups might approach it. The following description of how the generational shift of Web usage will unfold caught our eye. It says we should pay attention to:
....the age at which people started using the Web. Because the Web is relatively new, a 50-year-old might have started using it at age 40, whereas a 30-year-old might have started at age 20. In contrast, by 2050, a 50-year-old will have used the Web since age 5, and thus benefit from 45 years of experience. A 30-year-old user in 2050 will have only 25 years' Web experience. This added experience might eventually allow older users to catch up and somewhat reduce the 0.8% gap. Although we obviously can't predict the future, my guess is that the age penalty will drop to around 0.5%/year. Still, this doesn't matter much for your Web strategy over the next 10 years: the 0.8% level is where we're at and where we'll remain for some time.
What are your assumptions about your website's users? Put them to the age test, and stand ready to revise as our collective knowledge grows.

Monday, April 07, 2008

weekly writing coach: colon-oscopy

Your coach blinked several times in recent weeks, seeing double colons in the same title. No, we can't blame it on dizziness or drink: The culprit-writers were adding, we surmise, extra emphasis to their titles by using not one but two sets of colons. First, we saw announcements of author talks for the new cookbook Sneaky Chef: How to Cheat on Your Man (in the Kitchen!): Hiding Healthy Foods in Hearty Meals Any Guy Will Love, a title with more than its share of punctuation even without the two colons. (We note this second volume follows one similarly titled, but sans the second colon.) And a hat tip to Lee Aase, whose blog noted the double colons in this conference session title: Getting Personal:Telling your Story in Social Media: Facebook, LinkedIn and More.

If this is a trend, we want out of it. Instead of overusing the strident colon--the one punctuation mark used within a sentence that has the full-stop power of a period--rethink that sentence. If you want a super-confident title, write one without relying on the colon to add bravado. In the examples above, you might rewrite the cookbook title as The Sneaky Chef Cheats on Her Man: Hiding Healthy Foods in Hearty Meals, and the session title easily could be recast as Getting Personal With Your Story in Social Media: Facebook, LinkedIn and More. When it comes to your own work, try other options for emphasis: single colons, used with care; active verbs; and tighter, more thoughtful writing.