If you're like me, you've probably had it with searching the internet and coming up with nothing but ads, sales pitches, and commercials disguised as "news." So with my 20 years of marketing communications experience, I'd like to offer you a quick, entertaining digest of useful and newsworthy ideas to help you navigate the fast-breaking world of social media.
Jul 15 12

What’s Up Doc? – July 13, 2012

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What’s Up Doc?

The intersection of social media and healthcare would seem like both an obvious and an impossible thing. Obvious, because there is nothing more personal than the patient and their care provider. Impossible because the practice of healthcare in the U.S. is a foreboding complex of rules, prohibitions, mandates, restrictions and protocols. When you last spoke to your doctor (nurse, dentist, tech, etc.) was it a trust-building interaction? An exchange of data? Do you even want to befriend your healthcare team? Would an e-mail help? Would a video chat help?

BFFs

How important are your online connections? In my case the best of them are almost exclusively ones with people that I’ve met in “real life” as well at some point. Whether exchanging e-mails, tweets, FB posts, or Linkedin recommendations, I feel more comfortable if the face-to-face element is also a part of the relationship. Some services are out there that help you “meet new people” through social networks, which may be the wave of the future. Eleven years ago I met my husband through an online dating network, and I used Dailymile.com as a way to meet and interact with other runners. Still, my network expands slowly. Since I don’t actually know 1,000 people, I’m not sure I want to “friend” that many on social networks. Your mileage may, of course, vary.

#End #Rant

It’s often stated about customer service that complaints are more common than compliments and that a single unhappy person will tell more friends than a dozen happy ones. According to my favorite online review site, however, more than half of the write-ups they get are highly favorable. Turns out the reviews I’ve written myself are evenly split between praise and condemnation. When you’re trying to find a place to eat, or a good doctor, or a car repair shop, you could just “ask around” or you could go online. Which makes more sense?

Health Matters

In my working life (for a healthcare organization), I’m focused on how to spread health-related messages to the greatest number of people in the most effective way. Prior to my day, my colleagues used traditional media (subway and bus stop banners, radio ads, etc), but since we no longer have funding for that, social media has been our venue. We’re learning that it’s not easy, it’s not “free” and it’s not always as far-reaching as we’d like. My only consolation is that when I review what my competitors are doing, it’s not clear they’ve got the answer either. Driving my Mother through central New Jersey this weekend I noticed that many healthcare groups are relying on billboards to get their message across. Personally, I’ll stick to Facebook and Youtube.

Jun 23 12

Catch a Wave – June 22, 2012

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Catch a Wave

If you’ve ever body surfed in the ocean, you’ll know that the primary conditions you need for success are to catch a wave with enough power (but not too much) and at the right stage (not too soon and not too late). Otherwise you’ll either get smashed against the bottom, or you’ll just bobble harmlessly in place. So whether it’s Google+, Tumblr, Pinterest, or any of the myriad new social media channels you might be interested in, it’s smart to get yourself in just the right spot and see whether they’ll have enough heft to be meaningful to you. Otherwise you’ll just be all wet.

Wanna see a hologram of my grandkids?

This week the New York Times asked whether Facebook is a fad and whether our grandchildren would still be using Twitter. The latter is perhaps the better question. To imply that social media as we use it today is a “fad” is to trivialize its importance. The way people are connecting socially online isn’t the same as pet rocks or silly bandz. But the idea of Twitter existing 40 years from now is laughable. Technology changes with such speed and frequency that certainly the next generation will be engaged in ways we simply can’t imagine. Personally I hope humans remain engaged with other humans and not digital facsimiles, but that’s not an impossibility.

Too much is not enough

Perhaps the strangest phenomenon of our times is the need to make judgments based on too much data rather than too little. If you’re in Manhattan and want to catch a cab, you just have to stand on the curb and look for a yellow vehicle – when you see one that’s the right shape and description and has a light on, then you’ve found what you need. By contrast, when it comes to selecting and downloading an app for your smartphone, it can be almost impossible to pick the right one. It’s like staring at a see of onrushing vehicles and not being able to figure out whether you’re looking at a truck, a moped or a horse-drawn buggy. Of course you could always choose an app by going for the most popular or the one with the highest ratings. Let me know how THAT’s workin’ for ya. (read the comments).

Good morning, America! Wake Up, It’s 2012!

This week I had a good chuckle over an article about the vitality of morning TV news programs, which held them up as sources of integrity when it comes to information and news. Personally, I get 100% of my news online, and broadcast networks aren’t even on my list. In addition to the web versions of NY newspapers (which I follow for work), my favorite source of news tends to be the Atlantic, the Guardian, the New Yorker, and –believe it or not– the Huffington Post. And, naturally, I use Google.

Jun 9 12

Twitter Patter – May 8, 2012

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Twitter Patter

In Jane Krowkowskis’ show at the Town Hall Theatre by Times Square last night, she tossed off an adorable song about using Twitter, with funny and scandalous rhymes about celebrities and events. The tune was catchy and charming, but I’m assuming that the 75% of audience members who were NOT teenagers or gay men had no idea what she was talking about. She also used her iPhone to call one of the composers and asked us to clap for his song while she held it up, which got a lot of enthusiasm. Given the fan demographics, maybe she should have stuck to Facebook?

What Do You Say?

About the time Ms. K debuted as the crazy secretary on Ally McBeal, I got my first mobile phone, courtesy of my job.  I was also given another device which was just about to implode into extinction — a beeper. In those days we also had dial-up internet and huge, expensive dinosaur-like personal computers. At work during that era we talked a lot about “convergence” — an abstract concept that apparently all these gizmos were about to be replaced by a super-gizmo. I’m not sure if the Atlantic was being serious, but in a post this week they claimed that this super-gizmo (aka the “smart phone”) is about to replace something else — live conversation.

Don’t Read This!

Have you ever tried to NOT read something? A lot’s been said about the demise of print communications, but they hold one incredible advantage over social media. That is, once something is printed, the words just stay there. But almost everything on line or on your phone is in a constant state of flux. And since it’s all too much to remember, you use google to go back and find whatever it is you’re trying to recall. So I’m not as shocked as writer Derek Thompson was that advertisers still love print. It’s why people get permanent tattoos.

Rehearsing the Truth

If you’ve ever been to a stage performance where the audience asked for –and got– an encore, you probably realize that the whole thing has been rehearsed ahead of time. Ms. Krawkoski mentioned exactly that at her concert last night, noting that coming back out for that final song is not a spontaneous act. When it comes to social media for business purposes, the same holds true. Many of us use scheduling software that allows us to post, tweet and share at night and on weekends when we’re not at work. (Facebook may even be poised to include this as a feature soon.)  It’s all meant to look spontaneous and “engaged.” But truth be told, it’s all still about presenting just the right image.

 

May 26 12

Old Man and the Tweet – May 25, 2012

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Old Man and the Tweet

Hemingway would have loved Twitter. As a writer who hated useless adjectives, flowery language and unecessary detail, he was focused on creating sentences with laser-like precision. Unfortunately, word processing, printers, and the internet have made it increasingly easier to overwhelm the world with words over the past 30 years. Suddenly, it’s become easier to write 1,000 words than 250. In marketing, I see every day the temptation to add more, more, and more. Which is why I’m grateful for Twitter’s 140 character limit. As Papa would say “Prose is architecture, not interior decoration, and the Baroque is over.”

How Big is Too Big

You’ve probably read enough about problems with the Facebook IPO already, but bear with me on this: in the long run the only thing that really matters to Wall Street is whether people still continue to spend time on Facebook. And, at some point, they won’t. Modern history is replete with examples of consumers being completely “captured” by monopolies (the phone system, the 3 TV networks, AOL, etc.). Yet all of these economic and political giants have stumbled and fallen in the face of unforeseen technological developments. I’m not saying you should sell your shares of “FB” right now. But there’s no doubt that something will replace the online social networking experience that Facebook offers, and the company is just too large now to innovate its way forward.

The Child of Necessity

Innovation isn’t dead. It just doesn’t come from $100 billion companies. It’s not that behemoth firms are blind to the importance of remaining cutting edge, but human organizational behavior is such that once you employ tens of thousands of people, it stops being possible to implement new ideas fast enough. What’s cool about social networking, however, is that it layers on top of the internet a whole new level of possibilities. As an article in Slate this week put it, social media is “jump-starting brand new services that depend on critical mass for their utility.” Like renting a summer house, where it might seem that all you need is a website, when what you really need is an edge.

Instant Message-gram

A while back I railed against Faceboook’s purchase of instagram for a cool $1 billion. I still think it was a silly amount of money to pay. But I have to say that this Read Write Web article helped me better understand the point of instagram in terms of its social sharing value. So it’s not just about making taking photos and making them look cool, it’s about how you do that in a way that engages people in a conversation. I don’t love it enough to try it, yet. But I appreciate anything that’s a good conversation starter.

 

May 19 12

Whatchamacallit – May 18, 2012

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Whatchamacallit

What do you call this symbol: # ? For most of my life the people in my world referred to it as the “number sign“, until the rise of digital voicemail systems, at which point that symbol on the phone keybad was called the “pound sign”. In social media it’s referred to as the “hash” symbol (which apparently has British origins). Whatever. If you dip your toes at all into the world of Twitter, you’ll discover the so-called “hash tag” is used to filter searches so that you can follow any topic that is preceded by the # sign. For example, people at a conference I attended this week added #HCSMNY to their posts, which allowed anyone to listen in on the conversation without having to first find out the names of everyone there. Someday it will seem dumb that I had to explain this. But for now, I thought you might want to know!

It’s Perfectly Outrageous

At least, that’s my opinion of this week’s Facebook “IPO”. There were at least two really good pieces on NPR last week that pointed out potential problems with the efficacy of advertising on Facebook (which is, I think, it’s only source of revenue). Since Facebook’s business model is built on having its members voluntarily fork over vast volumes of personal information about themselves, and then selling that information to others, this is a tricky business. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Facebook and use it frequently throughout the day for both work and personal reasons. But it looks like a bubble to me. (See: AOL, Yahoo, et al)

A Conference Saved My Job

Do you feel that you know absolutely everything you need to in order to do your job well? If not, where do you learn new skills? In most of the jobs I’ve had, I’ve been the only one doing what I’m doing, and so I need to reach out externally to colleagues in other organizations. In my current line of work this has been especially true, since they never covered social media marketing in any of my college courses or on the job training. Ironically, what helped me deal with two huge online marketing challenges at work was attending a conference of my peers this week where I could simply walk up to people, introduce myself, and say “…listen, could you help me figure out something …”

Chronology and Digits

My 65 year-old aunt recently explained to me how to download an e-book from the public library, and my 86 year-old Mother just finished self-publishing a book on family history which she developed on her computer at home. But neither of these ladies finds social media useful. Oddly, the youngest segment of the adult population doesn’t have much time for social media either (if you define it as Facebook and Twitter). So what the heck does the future hold for us in terms of communications, entertainment, shopping, etc? Anecdotally, based on observing my 15 years-younger husband and others, I think it has to do with texting and a mobile online experience that’s not defined by anyone other than themselves. And what that will look like, I have no idea.

 

May 13 12

Moving Gaily Forward – May 11, 2012

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Moving Gaily Forward

It’s often been said that the pace of technological change is accelerating, which seems hard to believe when human beings themselves take eons to evolve. Yet people do adapt – for example in my adult lifetime, there has been an almost incomprehensible shift towards the acceptance of new social ideas like gay marriage. At the same time, large organizations struggle with change because they tend to enshrine ideas rather than challenge them. When high-level managers are faced with the adoption of social media, they often have no experience with it. So they fight it by asking for proof that it works. Since that’s a whole lot easier than trying something new.

Banning Ads

Do you hate banner ads, too? I just assumed that everyone shared my loathing for these ubiquitous annoyances and concentrated their energy on minimizing, deleting or ignoring them as much as possible. But I observed an ad agency pitch last week that promoted these ads as the biggest game in town, bigger than cable TV and radio advertising, in fact. That’s why my favorite information graphic this week was one which claims it’s more likely that one of your customers would apply to Harvard and get accepted than it is that they’d click on your ad. Or at least, I *think* that’s what this means.

Quick (Don’t) Change

Social media practices are so new and evolve so quickly that it’s easy for anyone to set themselves up as having special knowledge. This blog results from all the stuff (and nonsense) that I sift through during the course of a week, so you can be spared some of the most ridiculous advice. For example, while looking at a purported Top 10 social media “no-no’s” advice column this week, my viewing experience was interrupted by a pop-up ad. I’m thinking these people need to do their homework.

Who You Know, Not What You Know

As a WeightWatchers meeting leader, I cherish the power of a supportive group environment, fostered by in-person get-togethers for a guided discussion. So it stands to reason that in my social media activities I’m most invested in connecting with people that I also know in “real” life. In fact, my personal advice to WeightWatcher members who tell me that they want to just “do it online” is that they’re missing a critical success factor — the need for camaraderie and interpersonal feedback. After all, knowing how to lose weight isn’t the same thing as doing it.

May 5 12

Facebook is Hard – May 4, 2012

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Facebook is hard.

Well, to be clearer, playing on social media is easy, but making a living there is hard. Not only does Facebook force marketing folks like me into tight little boxes, it’s also really hard to convince management that online engagement matters. Everytime my employer’s CEO mentions “Twitter” at a board meeting, the room erupts in laughter, as if creating good tweets was silly child’s play. I can only hope that our new #Idedicate campaign, which engages women in a conversation about getting a mammogram, shows the folks in charge that social media really does matter. And mammograms save lives!

Design for Living

While I’m not a fan of crowd-sourcing when it’s used for advertising or dubious research, I love that the California HealthCare Foundation is asking the web for help with data design. That’s because data are useless to us regular folks unless presented in a compelling way. In fact, creating health-related behavior change is damn hard, regardless of how much data there may be (think: smoking). I’ll be watching for the winners, and I hope that it will be more interesting and useful than this confusing infographic on working out with a mobile phone from Lab42

That Tumblr Thing

Chances are, you’re as sick and tired of political advertising as the next person, but don’t realize that these ads are very hard to escape. You’ve probably also noticed that social media gives politicians the chance to break outside the 30-second spot, and to say and do things they can’t on TV or radio. As a progressive, I enjoyed this piece that felt unscripted and honest, even though surely it was carefully planned. A far cry from this sweet, but old-school-feeling YouTube video from President Obama’s 2008 campaign, just four years ago.

Mob Scene

You’ve no doubt heard me argue before that information technology hasn’t fundamentally changed what it means to be human. And surely electronically-facilitated social conversations are a means of expanding individuals’ networks rather than isolating them. But on the one year anniversary of my arrival in New York City, I remain skeptical of all crowds –whether they be in Times Square or online. The same phenomenon that creates dirty subway stations (careless littering, no supervision) creates messy comment streams online.

 

Apr 21 12

Bleak to the Future – April 20, 2012

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Bleak to the Future

It’s human nature to want to see into the future, and to imagine the unimagineable –fantasizing in particular about life-transforming technologies. But let’s be wary about predictions that technology will solve our problems and lead us walking hand-in-hand towards a rosy sunset. Or at least to a halycon future of fairness and leisure. A ridiculously long article in the Guardian notes that ours is a fearful culture, and we must get past our anxieties to understand how to harness the future.

Technology is hard

As I’ve noted many times in this blog, the explosion in growth of social media doesn’t mean that everyone gets it and knows how to take advantage. I wasn’t surprised, for example, to read that most people who use social media sites to rank doctors, give them fairly high marks. It caught me off guard, however, when researchers concluded “One Feedback Question May be Sufficient to Assess Patient Experience.” Really? One question? Do you feel that all you need is a thumbs up or down to pick YOUR caregiver?

Technology makes some things worse

As the print and broadcast-based news media struggles through its final death throes, you might want to remember that “just because it’s online doesn’t make it true.” This week, I fell for a patently false story about Ann Romney, published by a parody site (but told to me by a friend as if true). Worse, big news organizations like the Washington Post, desparate to remain relevant, are pushing employees to sift through vast quantities of online stories in order to “surf the wave” of breaking trends. That they sometimes stumble and report fiction as fact, shouldn’t suprise us.

Social technologies won’t eat your brain

Or shorten your commute. At least, that’s one prediction I (perhaps foolishly) am willing to make. True, almost every aspect of daily work and life has been deeply altered by changes in communications (when was the last time you left your cell phone home on purpose). But utopian visions claiming we’ll all live in mixed use, transit friendly, green, sustainable environments just don’t ring true. Compare the incredible advance of social media and device technology over the past 10 years, against the growth (or shrinkage) of your paycheck.

Apr 14 12

Making Friends – April 13, 2012

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Making Friends

This month the Atlantic asks “Is Facebook Making us Lonely” (c’mon, you just knew the answer would be ‘yes’, didn’t you?). As a life-long introvert, I’m used to popular culture extolling the virtues of being outgoing, gregarious and extroverted, while hinting that there’s something not quite right with people who prefer a little peace and quiet. While scholarly and interesting, I thought the basic premise of the piece was a flawed assumption that there existed an earlier halcyon era during which we all hung out together in person. Perhaps like that old TV show, “Friends”? I don’t know about you, but I remember life before the internet and don’t recall endless nights of scintillating conversation and deeply meaningful bonding. Mostly we just sat around watching TV.

Hello, Hello There

A while ago I wrote about a new hotel in my neighborhood that offers guests the chance to connect with fellow travellers and interact with the staff thru a hyper-local social network. Nowhere is the feeling of being “alone in a crowd” more profound than in a place like New York City where the sidewalks are packed night and day but you might never encounter a handshake, a smile or a friendly face. Yet, as this clip from one of my favorite old movies shows, it has ever been thus.

Where are you?

I have a theory that it won’t be until the current generation of senior management retires that we’ll really see how technology meaningfully change communications between companies and their customers. Where I work, for example, press releases, press conferences and newspaper mentions are still a strong focus of our communications efforts. I think those days are numbered because what really matters to any organization is to find (and get in front of) the audience wherever they may be. And newspaper reading just isn’t the place. Some people think that websites aren’t the place either. So…got any good ideas?

Nasty-gram

Posting diatribes is not my usual thing, but I’m going to take the low road and declare my real hatred of “instagram.” It’s not that I’m jumping on the bandwagon of those who say that Facebook will ruin it now that they bought the start-up for a cool billion (seriously ONE BILLION). It’s that I don’t really love sepia-toned, frayed-edge photos. I’m old enough to remember when those kind of pictures were the norm, and the delight we all felt when photography progressed beyond that phase for good in the 1970s. Here’s to hoping the instagram will go the way of the telegram.

 

 

Mar 31 12

Friendship vs. Facebook – March 30, 2012

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Friendship vs. Facebook

When you read about “authenticity” and “engagement” in the context of social media, it’s probably a wise idea to keep an eye for a grain of salt to take with it. Of course, any organization –from the corner store to the multinational conglomerate– can create an appealing brand image through the products and service it offers. But there’s absolutely no data demonstrating that consumers are starting to consider these entities to be their friends. People may like fan pages on Facebook, review companies on Yelp, and pin up pictures online. But in real life, around the real water cooler, they’re talking about last night’s game or who got voted off their favorite show.

Facebook vs. Friendship

If you’re a social media nut like me, you can get impatient waiting even a few minutes to hear back from someone. Everywhere I go in New York City I see people wandering down streets and sidewalks in a texting frenzy. By contrast, my Mother just published a book about an ancestor, based on letters he wrote 150 years ago while in the Pacific Northwest, that sometimes took a year or more to get a reply. I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling pretty appreciative of my mobile company’s data network right now.

You Don’t Tweet

In my experience, most webinars achieve extremely low interactivity, so it didn’t bug me too much that this week my work team watched one on social PR that was pre-recorded. The most compelling nugget I got from it was that people are on Facebook because it’s the default place to go, not because they give a damn about social media. Whereas Twitter is a gathering place for communication-hungry nerds (like me) who’ll get their info anywhere. Lesson: you can mention Facebook on Twitter, but don’t mention Twitter on Facebook!

Mad Man
While my office is nothing like the set of Mad Men, this week one of my colleagues upstaged a dull, uninspired proposal I made by coming up with a truly brilliant suggestion for our public awareness campaign. Rather than my dumb posts and posters, she suggested having real patients share real photos of themselves and their loved ones, and then post them on social media with comments about why they wanted to live longer, healthier lives, and for whom. In a nutshell she captured what people do best (talking about their lives and people they love), and imagined a way to let them do it while helping our cause. [I can't post a link until we launch it in May.]