Friday, August 29, 2008

$100 off the Amazon Kindle

Our sister blog, The Eloquent Woman, has reviewed using the Amazon Kindle as a speaker's tool -- instead of printed script -- and now has a special offer from Chase and Amazon for a $100 discount on the Kindle when you sign up for an Amazon Rewards Visa card. Go here to learn more and order through The Eloquent Woman, for a limited time.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

moderating blog comments: newspapers

How to handle blog comments was a recurring topic at the social media talk I gave earlier this month for IABC Washington, especially from corporate communicators. I mentioned that I'd reviewed federal government blogs for a federal client, and found--to my surprise--that allowing anonymous comments seemed to be a common thread in federal blog policies. (This isn't to say that comments go unmoderated, mind you, and all federal agencies list what they will and won't publish in comments, and when.) Now Editor & Publisher offers a similar review of the 10 top-circulation newspapers' comments policies, which vary but appear to be somewhat less supervised than traditional letters-to-the-editor, for example. Most require commenters to register, but not all require them to show their true name, for example. From the article, the most surprising and liberal policy:
Interestingly, Wall Street Journal has the most "liberal" policy of the papers reviewed regarding user- posted material: it neither requires registration nor provides moderation. For WSJ free blogs, those wishing to comment must sign in but they don't have to register or give an e-mail address, which allows posters to tag their comments with whatever name they like. However, WSJ encourages readers to police themselves, and report offensive comments to the section or blog editor.
What do you include in your comments policy for a business blog?

the adapters: from archive to blog

I keep encountering clients and potential clients who have trouble envisioning how to integrate new media and social networking tools into their current array of communications efforts. So here, we'll start a series called "The Adapters," highlighting communications case studies that reinvent old approaches using the best features of new technology. And what better place to start with George Orwell's diaries? Written 70 years ago, my guess is these are little-read adjuncts to his more famous works...until now, when his diaries have been recast as a day-by-day blog. The impetus is described in coverage this week in the New York Times:
“I think he would have been a blogger,” said Jean Seaton, a professor at the University of Westminster in London who administers the Orwell writing prize and thought up the idea of the blog. Though as prolific as any blogger (his collected writings occupy some 20 volumes), Orwell, who died in 1950, never had the chance to spontaneously publish his thoughts to a waiting public. Now — with some lag time — they are being made available that way at

The blog, begun earlier this month, already has had 50,000 page views and enough material to publish until 2010. The blog's strong appeal: It brings the pages of history alive. From the Times, Professor Seaton again:
“You do know how this story is going to end,” she said, “but one of the brilliant things is that Orwell doesn’t know how it is going to end.”
We know, for example, that these 1938 diaries began to observe the disturbances that became World War II. That adds drama and suspense, and gives viewers a reason to keep checking back and participating--they can leave comments, pose questions, and learn more by clicking the links that offer more explanations of terms and phrases in the diaries...or offer corrections.

How would you adapt archival material? Nonprofits might use historic collections as ways to engage alumni or older supporters, and collect oral histories alongside their archival blog posts. Corporations--particularly product manufacturers--can show off packaging and products of yore, creating, in effect, a factory tour online. Research universities might catalog historic discoveries from their campus labs, and journals from their pages of the past. And if your business is history, start posting on behalf of some of the people I imagine would be fantastic bloggers: great letter-writers like Jane Austen or Abigail Adams, or great speakers like Abraham Lincoln. Got more good examples? Share them in the comments.

Monday, August 25, 2008

TV? 'tweens prefer the small screen

Looking to reach a younger audience? The New York Times today reported new data about youth viewers' preferences. From the article:
For children ages 10 to 14 who use the Internet, the computer is a bigger draw than the TV set, according to a study recently released by DoubleClick Performics, a search marketing company. The study found that 83 percent of Internet users in that age bracket spent an hour or more online a day, but only 68 percent devoted that much time to television.
Quite a bit of that online time is spent watching...TV programs, or online video. And 72 percent of that age group's members are using social networking sites, primarily MySpace. Blogs? Not so much. Don't communicate with youth audiences? You still need to keep your eye on these numbers and the habits of your future adult audiences, communicators.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

iabc q&a: trust employees?

Bringing the Flip video camera to my social media talk for IABC Washington last week worked so well that at least one attendee, seeing the crowd around me after the talk ended, used the camera to record a question so others had the chance to talk to me live. Here's her question:
My favorite example of trusting employees with social media tools comes from Microsoft, where it's estimated that tens of thousands of the company's employees blog about the company--without any review or interference from Microsoft. Colleagues of mine at the company say that, while many of those blogs share internal memos and inside views, just as many gripe about the cafeteria food or other, less high-minded topics. Microsoft, which is ubiquitous enough to have a constant stream of customer feedback, even hired tech blogger Robert Scoble for a time to blog about the company, no strings attached. (See Scoble's latest "what bloggers want from PR people" post here.) They've kept the lines of communication open, which helps the company's credibility--and ensures they know more about what employees and customers want.

Many other major corporations let employees write their corporate blogs to give an inside, human perspective that adds to the company's image. Check out Google's blog here, which covers its products, but also provides insight into its internal culture. One of my favorite posts stems from an employee who decided to order a huge amount of Silly Putty, and the adventures that resulted from trying to divide 250 pounds of the stuff to share with fellow workers--you can see that here.

My own take: The comments and feedback you get via social networking sites or blogs represent opinions and ideas that would exist without the technology. You just wouldn't know about them. Wouldn't you rather know?

And to answer the question, yes, I do think companies can trust their employees with social media tools like blogs, Facebook and Twitter. In fact, when I train companies and groups to create blogs or social networking pages or sites, I recommend that they find bloggers they trust--and let them do their thing. Readers today look for authentic voices, and there's nothing that sounds less authentic than an edited blog. John Palfrey of Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society has said it well: “Once you get to the point where lawyers review everything in a blog, it ain’t a blog anymore.” (Check out this related post about internal communications blogs.)

That's why I'm glad that my latest blogging client, a retail business, told me they wanted a blog that would let their on-the-floor sales staff show off what they know. They're the product experts, and they know the customers. Each salesperson has a distinctive set of skills and knowledge, and the owners -- who don't have the time to blog themselves -- see the blog not just as a way to reach new and existing customers, but as an employee benefit. They want their staff to have visibility, and expect it to build stronger customer relationships. The owners also have worked hard to create a system that makes it as easy as possible for the staff to add blogging to its other duties, including no reviews by the owners. I'd recommend trying this approach before you assume the employees can't be trusted. You may be pleasantly surprised, and you'll have a better blog or social networking site as a result.

Still thinking through this approach? Your company or organization may benefit from one of our customized social media orientation/strategy sessions to think through the options. Contact me at info[at] for more information. (Thanks to Emily Deck for capturing this on the Flip video camera!)

IABC Q&A: Employees on social media

One great thing about the audience at my talk on social media for IABC Washington last week was its willingness to share knowledge. This video captures one such generous perspective: A corporation has measured its Generation-Y employees, in their early 20s, about preferences for social networking options, as part of considering whether to deploy a site for internal communications. Here's what they learned:Figuring out that boundary means you need to start where this company did, with a baseline measure of what employees want. Employees' desire to keep their corporate "parents" off of Facebook may lead your company to creating its own internal blog or social networking site. (The bonus: You'll truly be able to keep that site internal if it's a customized, firewalled part of your corporate site.) Remember, social networking sites for employees will work best--and stay true to the origins of the form--if employees are empowered to create and manage them.

Check out my e-handout from this session to find a link to McDonald's new internal blog, Station M, which launched this summer with a clever campaign to find an employee blogger. In a brilliant Cinderella-story effort, employees worldwide were encouraged to submit videos and essays, which were then posted for a company-wide vote. The winner, Rick, not only gets to blog, but also has been taken off deep-fry duty for a year. (The effort is overseen by the internal communications staff at McDonald's.) The search took advantage of the popularity of voting that's been spurred by reality shows, created internal and external buzz for the blog and the blogger, and set the right tone by letting employees participate even before it was published. (Thanks to Emily Deck for capturing this on video.)

IABC Q&A: Build our own community?

Another question at my talk on social and "new" media for IABC Washington came from someone working on a university magazine. They'd like to create an online community for alumni, but aren't sure how to proceed: Should they use Facebook or some other existing community, or build their own? With that came a concern about opening it up to comments. Here's the question:

My answer: You'll have to try them both, and ask your community what it prefers. Many existing social networking sites offer the chance to create a community for free, which make them ideal options for groups with low budgets or those with only volunteer help who seek an off-the-shelf solution. And Facebook itself was created to be a campus and alumni network, so it's ideally suited to that use. LinkedIn also offers many alumni groups, and my e-handout for the talk includes another site, now in beta, called GottaMentor, which also could lend itself to building your alumni network.

My caution about existing communities--based on my own experience--is that you'll get out of them what you put into them. It's great to have a group on LinkedIn or Facebook, but unless you work at recruiting new members, sending updates to members, and using the group to consistently promote your events, issues and activities, it won't be much better than a directory. You'll need to plan how to take advantage of these groups each week throughout the year if you want to make the most of them, something that's just as true for a customized community you create yourself. I find Facebook more functional for this purpose, as it allows you and group members to post photos and videos, show RSVPs for events, send updates with visuals, and more. And you'll have to educate your alumni or other group members about what they can do with the site.

Regarding the comments issue--"anyone can say anything"--I'll say two things: Comments give you useful feedback, even if it's not the feedback you want. Handled deftly and publicly, even a negative comment can help your image. And most social networking groups allow the administrator of the group to control membership and to remove offensive comments and content. You'll help allay concerns if you have a clear comments policy and post it for all to see.

Finally, encouragement for magazine producers: Your skills in writing, editing and layout make your team ideally suited to converting a print vehicle to social networking online. (I know--I'm a former magazine writer, editor and developer myself.) Among my blogging clients is a newsletter publisher who has converted from all-print to all-electronic newsletters--at a great savings in overhead. (Thanks to Emily Deck for capturing this question on video.)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

IABC Q&A: Is 'Anon' more responsible?

Another question captured at my recent IABC Washington talk on new media concerned blogs and comments: I noted that even the U.S. government allows anonymous comments on most of its blogs, having recently completed a survey of federal blogs for a government client. In this talk, it was mentioned as part of the approach I call "following the audience" -- many readers want to contribute, but not by name. That raised this question from an audience member:

Your situation may vary, but in this case, the questioner noted that the promise of "no anonymous comments" helps to make the case for a blog with leadership in companies and organizations--the idea being that demanding the responsibility of an identity will promise responsible comments. In reality, that's hard to guarantee. A few points to consider:
  • Don't fool yourself: Anyone can create a login and "identity" with which to comment on your blog posts--and they will, if they don't want to be identified. So much for those best-laid plans...
  • How does that help your image? Is your company or organization really open to comments? Are you more concerned about the source than the content of the comment? An anti-anonymous-comments policy may speak volumes.
  • Moderate, don't obliterate: Most blogging platforms allow comments moderation, which allows you to view and approve comments before they appear. If that solves the issue of comment content, use this approach, and approve both anonymous and named comments. You'll get the benefits of an open approach and the control you seek.
Underlying this question is a common barrier to corporate blogs: The assertion that comments will get out of control. In reality, the blogging community looks upon itself as a self-policing body. Over-the-top and erroneous posts are challenged publicly--a practice that lets you do the same for your organization. Another best practice: Articulate what you will and won't publish in a public comments policy, so commenters know you won't publish off-topic, off-color or other matter. Offer moderation of comments in lieu of an anti-anonymous policy, and your company's image and outreach will benefit. Go here to see my e-handout from this IABC session, loaded with examples of corporate blogs--and check out their policies. You'll note this comment on the issue of anonymity:
...the employees/end users, who have a lot to gain from the inherent collaborative opportunies of social media in the workplace, may abstain entirely if they feel they will be too visible across the organization.
Now that's what I call starting where the audience is! (Thanks to Emily Deck for capturing this on video.)

IABC Q&A: How to measure social media?

At my talk last week on "The (Social) Medium is the Message" for the Washington chapter of IABC, we used a Flip video camera to capture audience questions. The first was this one (see video) on how communicators can measure the impact when they use social networking sites, blogs and other so-called "new media" as communications and PR tools.
The answer: It depends on your goals and your audience. Don't plunge into blogs and Facebook under the impression that every other organization or company's doing it. Who are your audiences? Is that where they want to be reached by you? What are your company's goals? Can they be accomplished this way?

Having said that, we're also in a time of experimentation with new technologies and applications for traditional communications and public relations. In that spirit, don't expect the measures and data you've had in the past--you may need to begin with more qualitative results and then move to quantitative data based on your goals. At the same time, web-based applications and social media options give you lots of precise data: who's accessed what, when, and how frequently, plus wide-open options for your customers to communicate with you directly. The best course: Using social networking sites and blogs to optimize your audience's ability to give you feedback.

Check out my e-handout from this session, where you'll find links to the Blendtec "Will It Blend?" videos, which started as a $50 experiment and now account for a 700 percent increase in sales of their home line of blenders, which start at $400. Talk about your ROI... (Thanks to Emily Deck for capturing the question on the Flip video camera.)

Monday, August 18, 2008

describing Olympian feats

In a week when everyone's searching for--and often failing--to find the right superlatives to describe Olympian Michael Phelps's astonishing eight gold medals in a single Games, it took a 26-year-old fellow swimmer to put together the crisp analogies that deliver a picture of the scope of Phelps's achievement. Teammate Brendan Hansen put it this way in today's New York Times:
“Michael is the biggest thing that sport has ever seen,” Hansen said. “Not swimming, but sport in general. He just made the pressure putt to win the U.S. Open. He just won the Tour of France. He just knocked out Muhammad Ali. And he did it in one week.”
Hansen repeated phrases (called anaphora, in rhetorical terms) to emphasize his point, but even better, pulled from visual, well-known images of victory in a variety of sports to put his point across. We'll give that one a rhetorical gold medal! (Photo by m@rcopako)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

TV's share of online video

Check out this Christian Science Monitor article on how broadcast TV's working to compete online with the explosive use of online non-TV videos. This week's example: NBC's Olympics site, offering 2,200 hours of live coverage--more than has been broadcast for all previous Olympics--online, in addition to its television coverage. Consider these audience data from the article for online TV and video watchers:
Nearly 80 million Americans (43 percent of those who go online) have watched a TV show on the Internet, according to a February survey by Solutions Research Group in Toronto. Just a year ago, the figure was 25 percent. Total video viewing will rise from about six hours a day today to a projected eight hours daily by 2013, Solutions forecasts, and fewer than four hours of that will be spent watching conventional TV.
When will people do all that watching? Readers of this blog know: At their desks, over a takeout lunch, according to recent reports.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

IABC talk: "handouts" no more

When you're invited to speak about "new" and social media, should you have handouts? I say no, and this post is what all my audiences will get in the future: a complete set of links and a summary of what's said, so they can explore on their own.

This session for the largest U.S. chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators was titled "The (Social) Medium is the Message," and prompted me to go back to Marshall McLuhan...who presciently said that the medium is the message because it “shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action," just what social networking and other "new media" tools are doing today. And, even more apt, he said “it’s not so much the message as the sender who is sent," which sure sounds like Facebook to me.

To practice what I preach--you need to follow the audience--I started by asking the group to put their questions to me before I started talking. Those who really wanted to get hands-on used my Flip video camera to record their questions, which I answered in person and will post and re-answer on this blog in a few days. The meeting was also live-Twittered here by an audience member. Then I asked the audience to rate themselves on how far they've come in adopting social networking and "new" media technologies in their communications, based on how far into the metaphorical pool they've come: Olympic swimmer? Still wearing water wings? Dipping a toe in? Standing by the chaise on the dry pavement? It was a mixed group, with lots of early adopters, experimenters, and beginners, with a healthy mix as well of enthusiasm, curiosity, skepticism and struggle.

We looked at research on where communicators lag behind audiences and clients:
  • A McKinsey study conducted this summer looks at areas where companies are satisfied--or not--with use of Web 2.0 technologies, and some of the barriers to adoption. The good news: where users are satisfied, they report building bridges to customers and suppliers and an expectation that the technology will lead to innovation. Satisfied firms that invested in Web 2.0 plan to invest more. Useful: Dissatisfied company users report that their IT units often are a barrier to implementation--while satisfied users say the leadership on Web 2.0 came from leadership or some other unit than IT.
  • Smaller surveys from TNS/Cymfony and London-based Parker, Wayne & Kent note, respectively, that agencies don't "get" new and social media, according to their clients, and that PR pros in particular prefer print to online media, despite the latter's proven popularity with consumer audiences.
  • An interesting anecdotal report from New York Times reporter David Pogue relates reactions from an audience of PR pros when they were asked why their organizations weren't using Web 2.0 technologies.
We discussed where audiences are heading, as well as examples of emerging and enduring trends I shared with the crowd:
  • Online video: We've told you before that viewers of lunch-hour online videos are more likely to make purchases after viewing. Take a look at a leader in that regard: Blendtec's "Will It Blend?" videos boosted sales of its super-strong home blender 700%--the first five videos cost them $50 to produce, and today, companies pay them to feature products in the videos. This month, NBC joins in with 2,200 hours of live-streamed coverage of the Olympics, plus videos in formats for all sorts of devices, desktop to mobile. And even nonprofit causes like the Ad Council are seeking supporters from online video.
  • Internal/employee communication: Check out McDonald's new Station M--but you'll only get so far, as it's for "crew members." Rick, the blogger, was voted on by fellow employees after submitting an essay and video--and now has been taken off deep-fryer duty for a year. The site is multilingual and worldwide.
  • CEO blogs: We've already told you we love Bill Marriott's CEO blog, which sets a high bar--and enjoys thousands of comments from customers. CEO blogs, while still unusual, offer one of the most effective customer relations tools.
  • Targeted social networks: Following the audiences that prefer customized content that's more specialized than Facebook and MySpace, companies are creating networks like Disaboom, focused on people with disabilities for chat, jobs, networking, shopping and more; and Shop Like Anna, a site for 8-to-15-year-olds to meet up with friends and yes, shop. The latter offers an unusual parent signoff for safety. Also check out our post on youth audiences and New America Media, which offers young folks--the most diverse generation in U.S. history--news segmented by ethnicity.
  • Beyond links to mentors: Sites like BakeSpace, a targeted social networking site for bakers, have upgraded to match users with baking mentors. GottaMentor, a site now in beta, runs all the way with the idea and offers mentoring and shared "pearls of wisdom" for early, mid- and late-career professionals.
  • Twitter for nonprofits: What does your nonprofit do that could warrant frequent updates to your audience? Try building interest in upcoming events, the strategy behind Washington's Shakespeare Theatre Twitter feed with updates from the theatre's stage manager. The theatre also offers video, podcasts and a blog.
  • Photo collection help: The Library of Congress photostream on Flickr asks viewers to help identify people in thousands of photos from before World War II--and lets curators answer the questions these shots prompt in photography and history buffs.
Not everyone in the audience put a question on video, but I'm going to edit and post as many taped questions as possible with answers here to continue the conversation--and share it with you.

news, reporters push past the desk

Today's New York Times notes two places where communications is pushing past the desk. Text messaging--to be used in Senator Obama's campaign to announce his vice presidential pick--succeeds where other new media lag behind, says Garrett Graff in an op-ed:
For American politics, the Web has proved itself to be a powerful money-raising device, but e-mails, blogs, YouTube videos and Facebook haven’t demonstrated an ability to get voters to the polls. The new technology that’s best at moving people reaches beyond the desktop.
Graff includes examples of crowd-gathering-by-text in other countries to bolster the assertion. And, continuing a trend seen for some time in local media, major TV networks' bureaus are being replaced by:
...a new breed of reporter, sometimes called a “one-man band,” has become the new norm. Though the style of reporting has existed for years, it is being adopted more widely as these reporters act as their own producer, cameraman and editor, and sometimes even transmit live video.
The change will allow CNN, for example, to deploy all-in-one reporters to 10 additional cities in the U.S. What do you need to do to help reporters who've moved beyond the desk?

Monday, August 11, 2008

is the audience in charge? they say 'yes'

In the old days, the cynical said, "Freedom of the press belongs to the guy who owns one." Today, everyone does, or can. One of my earliest clients who wanted to try business blogging did so to give his organization a platform from which to respond to media coverage--in effect, an op-ed page that he and he alone controlled. And in today's New York Times, David Carr riffs on this now-well-established trend, noting that anyone with a cellphone, mouse or remote has their own publishing tool. The article says, that, on occasion: "...the consumer algorithm doesn’t just drive choice of time or platforms, it drives the news process itself." Strong stuff, but true. This piece also looks at how traditional media--television networks and newspapers--are scrambling to tamp down news broken in "nontraditional" ways online, yet benefiting from the extra buzz.

I'll be talking at the IABC Washington chapter's meeting this Thursday on a similar topic: Have audiences gotten ahead of communicators in new and social media--and what are the enduring trends to adopt? You can count on lots of audience participation, as I now like my speeches to mimic "new" media by letting participants drive the conversation. Please join us for what promises to be a lively discussion!

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