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.
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?


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.]

Mar 25 12

The Health Issue – March 23, 2012

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To Your Health!

How does 21st century technology impact your health? Aside from breathtakingly complex machinery like MRI’s and spectrometers, has the information revolution really changed the practice of medicine? While medical, political, and administrative leaders in healthcare debate how this works, most of us are already turning to the web for answers for everything from headaches to chronic care. But we should be wary of predictions that care will soon be automated. First and foremost because doctors are not really engaged in any two-way conversations outside the exam room.

Healthy Debate or Stony Silence

From a professional standpoint, I want to know how you think about the choices you have and how you reach the decisions you do. But marketers like me are far from all-knowing, and even farther from having the ability to react to what they do know. As I’ve noted above, in the healthcare world we often either don’t know how best to reach out, or are prohibited from doing so using social media channels. From a practical standpoint this means that consumers have a platform for asking questions and raising complaints, but at best they are engaging the broader community first, while those they most want to hear from are either silent or silenced.

Positive Thinking

According to Merriam Webster, a yelp is a “sharp shrill bark or cry.” Yet Wikipedia says that yelp.dot.com is “a social networking, user review, and local search web site.” So does “yelping” mean shrilly barking, or does it mean reaching out to friends and sharing stories? I’ve read that most website reviews are overwhelmingly positive, and I can see why. Who wants to get sued for going public with a bad customer service story? In the end, I like what New Yorkers have to say in this piece from Business Insider.

Caveat Googler

While dealing with a plantar fasciitis problem, I’ve seen five health specialists over the past three months. Inevitably, each of them gave me some patient education materials, while also mentioning that they assumed I’d “google” the problem as well. Naturally I had, and never really thought twice about it. But what if the diagnosis had been for something more serious, like heart disease or chronic depression. Google, after all, is a publicly traded information company, focused on profits rather than your personal needs. If you google a debilitating health concern, does that create a record of your health that may one day become inadvertently public?


Mar 10 12

Leave Well Enough Alone? – March 9, 2012

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Leave Well Enough Alone

Telling someone you’re an introvert is like admitting to a character flaw. People are quick to tell you that it’s not true or that it can be overcome. So recently I shared a vid from Susan Cain in my social media feed about the value of introversion, just to help people understand what makes me tick. So I rolled my eyes when I read about an airline that is now implementing a policy that is supposed to help the passenger experience by getting travellers to vet each other through Facebook. The New York times poked fun at this, and I have to agree. Not everyone needs or wants to talk all the time.

Who’s Right? Who’s Wrong?

This week my social media feed was packed with an interesting mix of people both lauding and criticizing a viral-video effort to expose a brutal African warlord. The issue was not about the despot himself, but about the motives and tactics of the organization bringing this story to light. By creating a compelling story, packaged effectively, many progressives felt that the emotional message (“we need to stop this killer, dead or alive”) belied a more complex concern about how to create a sustainable rule of law and justice in the region. Manipulating the masses is a tricky business.

Who’s Wrong? Who’s Right?

This week NPR highlighted a story that contrasted the huge gulf between the discipline of academic research and the equally hidebound world of online information crowd-sourcing. In short, a researcher who’s spent his career correcting misperceptions about a famous 19th Century trial found that he was unable to get his facts posted on Wikipedia. Although he tried to link his information to primary sources that backed him up, the wisdom of the crowd was that his efforts weren’t tenacious enough to be true. In the interview the spokesperson for Wikimedia was unabashed. Wikipedia is about “trying to get it right rather than get it fast“. By which he means, it’s about getting it wrong, and then about getting it right, later on. Yikes.

Just. Plain. Wrong.

Last week saw a convergence of two social media phenomena that are still in their adolescence: QR codes and location check-in services. And speaking of adolescents, the idea was to have young (or at least social-savvy) lovers scan a code on a condom wrapper as a means of broadcasting to the world their amorous adventures. My guess is that the people behind the idea are riffing off of the practice of “sexting” (texting while having sex). Call me old fashioned, but back in my day, making love properly required all of one’s attention, not to mention the use of all available hands.

Feb 25 12

Bang Bang, You’re (the un)Dead, February 24th, 2012

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Bang Bang, You’re (the un)Dead

Technology, like fame or wealth, doesn’t alter a person’s intelligence, it simply amplifies their experience. This was brought home to me when I watched, wincing, a YouTube video of an upset father dealing with his bratty daughter’s Facebook outburst by shooting her laptop with his revolver. Social media wasn’t the cause of either the daughter or the father’s behavior — it was merely the means of broadcasting it to the universe. The sad thing is that with over 30 million hits, it’s a meaningless incident which may shape the rest of their lives.

Disappointed? Watch this!

If you have watched as many video blogs as I have, you know that an overwhelming majority of talking-head style clips are boring and cheerless, regardless of the subject matter. It’s amazing, however, what a tiny amount of editing can do to create interest, draw the viewer in and drive a point home. This is so subtle that it can be easily missed. So I’ll link here to a great example of a clip that simply took the phrase “disappointing” and parlayed it into a highly watchable piece on why NJ Governor Christie’s veto of the gay marriage bill was wrong-headed.

Information Please

Trying to pull up an image that I had seen a while ago, I did a quick google search on “social media infographic” and limited the results to “images”. What I found astonished me. Apparently the world has gone ga-ga for information graphics! I had no idea. Ironically, the piece I was looking for had to do with whether social media was ruining our minds. Personally, I think the answer to that question is “No, it’s just changing the way we think.” After all, I didn’t wake up in a cave and light a fire with two sticks this morning. To live in the 21st century requires using 21st century tools. Now pardon me while I go hunt some groceries online.

He Tweeted She Tweeted

This week I got into a losing argument at work with my very talented team. I stood alone in the contention was that it matters who follows you on Twitter. The majority view was that a follow is a follow is a follow, so it’s a waste of time to monitor (and edit) the list, even if it includes bots and spammers. My thinking was that your online reputation could be hindered if your fan base included people selling pills, sex, and god knows what else. An online search failed to yield a definitive answer, meaning my colleagues may well be right. I’d love to know what you think!

Feb 12 12

The Sincerest Form of Flattery – February 10th, 2012

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The Sincerest Form of Flattery

Tech startups fail at an astonishing rate – many of them crashing and burning long before they ever have a functional business model or revenue stream figured out. So borrowing a page from the movie/television/theatre industry, some startups apparenly just look around for what’s working, and then copy it verbatim. A great article in Mashable at the end of January highlighted ten of the most “blatant social media design ripoffs“. It’s a fun read, but I wouldn’t bet any money on the copycats. It’s easier to attract investors than users.

Pin Up

Having finally received my “invitation” to join Pinterest, it’s taking me a while to figure the site out. The biggest barrier to getting started is that Pinterest requires you to have a Twitter or Facebook account and to be connected to at least one of them. That kind of bugged me, as I envisioned Pinterest either accidentally or intentionally spamming my friends. So I chose Twitter, since it’s much easier to be ignored there! I began by “pinning” (uploading) a photo of my very photogenic dalmatian taking a nap. And I got three new friends in just an instant! Now if only I could figure out how to create a board…

Girls in the Hood

One of the copycat sites noted in the article above promotes itself as a sort of Pinterest for the male gender. If that seems weird, well it turns out they might be on to something. There’s reason to believe that Pinterest’s users are almost uniformly women —97% according to Tech Crunch. If so, I’ve got to hand it to them because it’s a marketers demographic dream. In a consumer society like ours, the role of women in making household purchasing decisions is a well-established fact. Indeed, the entire web 2.0 economy may turn out to be the most gender-levelling phenomenon since female suffrage.

Green with Ivy

Speaking of making money off of the web, it was interesting to discover that two mega-celebrities decided to forego the usual let’s-make-money-off-the-photos-of-the-baby thing and posted pictures of their newborn on Tumblr. It says a lot about the waning power of tradition media. Instead, the couple has decided they’re much more likely to make money by selling merchandise, and thus are trying to trademark the little one’s name. I wonder if Jonathan™ is already taken?

Jan 27 12

Five Star Foul – January 27, 2012

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Five Star Foul

Being new to the Big City, time and again I’ve turned to customer review sites to find everything from barbers to dentists to grocery stores, with some very mixed results. One particularly bad hair cut comes to mind. As the New York Times points out, it’s simple enough for any retailer to game the system. For a few bucks, companies can buy amazingly perfect “5 star” accolades. The lesson here is that social networks are more meaningful when you know the people involved, or at least their motives. One day, I simply stopped a guy with a full head of nicely cut hair and asked him who did it. When I went to the salon, I did get a great cut, but I also found out that if you refer people there, you get a great discount.

Gauging Pinterest

Perhaps this blog comment said it best: “Pinterest is so much more than a fancy online picture book“. Which begs the question, what exactly IS the site useful for? From what I can tell, the main attraction is not just that it’s a fun time-waster. Rather, it’s a place free of commercial come-ons where people at least can maintain the illusion that the act of sharing pictures and ideas doesn’t have to be accompanied by a relentless stream of ads along the side. For how long, I don’t know. But something tells me that if you talked to anyone investing in the start-up, the phrase “revenue stream” would come into play sooner or later.

Bigger is Sometimes Better

Our culture generally idolizes underdogs and vilifies the big guys. So it’s probably un-cool of me to say that I actually kind of dig Google. Not for their weird experiments like Wave and GooglePlus. But I seldom feel as if there’s a hidden agenda when I’m using their services. For example, this week I first got an e-mail letting me know about changes to their privacy policy, laid out in very simple Google fashion. Then I got another one letting me “know that Google Mobile Maps is running on your mobile device and reporting your location” which also explained how to disable the feature. Take that, Facebook.

Speaking of Big Guys

The arrest of larger-than-life Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom this week put an interesting coda on the debate over the U.S Congress’ various proposals to combat web piracy. While the SOPA/PIPA measures were beaten back by a last ditch effort of internet interest groups, the power of the copyright still wields a strong hand in international commerce. Much like the long-ago demise of music file sharing (aka piracy) site Napster, it was probably only a matter of time before governments put a stop to the big guy. The problem with online file sharing, it seems to me, is a lot like the one we have with highway driving. Everyone agrees the speed limit is necessary, but no-one wants to obey it.




Jan 20 12

California Streamin’ – January 20, 2012

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California Streaming

Having spent much of the last nine months working remotely, I’ve found Manhattan to be a reasonably accommodating place when it comes to free Wi-Fi and a comfortable place to sit, from Starbucks to the public library to Bryant Park (depending on the weather). Spending the week in San Francisco, however, I’ve discovered that many “free” spots there place a time-limit *and* require a purchase in order to obtain that coveted internet signal. At the same time, in the course of the week in S.F. I’ve seen an intense amount of business activity going on (job interviews, marketing pitches, etc.). In NY I mostly observe tourists, shoppers and escapees from the workplace. Maybe the Bureau of Labor Statistics should start tracking free wi-fi offerings by region as an adjunct to its monthly unemployment stats?

Brewing Ideas, and Coffee

Speaking of coffee and the workplace, I’ve noticed something in San Francisco that I haven’t seen in other U.S. cities (probably because I wasn’t looking). Namely, collaborative workspaces where entrepreneurs and the self-employed gather in lieu of a traditional office building type setup. My first exposure to this  was at “The Hub” several years ago when I was volunteering for a “Green-capital” conference — we used it as our temporary headquarters in the days leading up to the event. It seems like a challenging and tiring way to make a living (lots of rules about who cleans up the sink), so I’m not surprised these places don’t always survive. You have to wonder though, is coffee and a “hotelling station” the real future of work in America?

Telling Social Tales

In marketing circles, I hear endlessly about the urgent need to “engage” customers, particularly using social media. This week I came across an interesting campaign
from H&R Block
that tells an enjoyable story that simultaneously
educates people about a service offering they’re promoting. It’s a polished, well-crafted, nearly 5-minute long video with great audio and visual flourishes. What I don’t understand is where the “engagement” comes through, unless by that phrase we mean that people will want to share links to the piece. I’m not against great advertising, but I do think we should call an ad an ad.

Out With the Old, In With the Old

In 2000, I moved from Washington, DC to Silicon Valley to try and interest tech firms in joining a trade association, with the idea that we could favorably shape rules and regulations about the web. At the time, none of the people I met with felt that Washington mattered (and perhaps it didn’t). Our “old school” approach to coalition-building and generating position papers sounded hopelessly lame and irrelevant to the would-be prospects that I met with. Given this week’s showdown between Silicon Valley and Hollywood, however, I now see that I was just a decade too early.

Jan 15 12

Who Ya Gonna Tweet? – January 13th, 2011

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Who Ya Gonna Tweet?
Deeply understaffed airport check-in counters long ago taught me that travel snafus are almost always best resolved by cell phone, rather than waiting to speak to someone onsite. As phones get smarter and wireless networks become faster and more reliable, using the internet is quickly becoming another great alternative. I find it incomprehensible, however, that some people (and many corporations) seem to be placing a bet on Twitter as the next wave in customer service. The New York Times reported on a study of how major U.S. banks responded to customersthat tried to contact them via Twitter and found it to be a “vexing customer service tool”. You’re kidding — sending a 140 character message to a best-guess Twitter handle about a critical financial matter isn’t the way to go?

Outta My Way

Perhaps my daily experience on the teeming streets, subways and shop floors of New York leaves me a little cynical about the “wisdom of the crowd.” This week, while reading a heartwarming blogpost from Ushahidiabout how crowdsourcing helped rescuers find trapped victims in the Haiti earthquake two years ago, I remained somewhat skeptical. It makes sense to use network connections for gathering data and uncovering important  tidbits of information. But in a crisis, it seems like Twitter, Facebook and other social networks rely too much on serendipity. Like who’s online at a given moment, or who might be too busy texting to read their newsfeed.

Occupy iPhone

Travelling by bus this week from Hartford to New York, I overheard two young 20-something travellers trying to find a place to crash for the night when they got to the city. I couldn’t help but overhear their strategy: based on a list of people they had met at various “occupy protests” they’re making their way from the East to the West coast with no money, but lots of contacts. Rather than Facebook or Twitter or e-mails, the two were phoning and texting anyone and everyone they could think of.  Apparently it’s not a far-fetched approach, as it only took a little over two hours for them to nail down a place to sleep. Fortunately the bus ride is two and a half. (I used the time to write this blog).

Caller ID’d

My spouse is in love with someone else. Apparently her name is Siri and she lives inside his iPhone. All day long he asks her vital questions such as (and I quote) “Will I need an umbrella tomorrow?” and “What is the meaning of life?” Possibly because I’m 15 years older than he is, I still find the notion of artificial intelligence rather chilling. Whereas I love the use of technology to connect people with other people, it frightens me to imagine a world where people are only interested in connecting to…what should I call them…non-people. Am I the only one who finds Siri incredibly creepy? Or am I just jealous?

Jan 7 12

How Healthy is Social Media? – January 6, 2012

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How Healthy is Social Media?

While doing research for a job interview a few weeks ago,  I discovered a claim that only one-fifth of hospitals have any kind of social media presence. Further investigation  seemed to show the opposite -namely that in the space of four years, social media usage went from almost no-one to almost everyone. Wherever the truth lies, it says a lot that in a conservative and heavily regulated field like medicine, YouTube and Facebook  have started to become the norm. Whatever the pace of healthcare reform, it’s absolutely certain that more and more of us are going to expect to engage with our doctors online rather than on the phone, even when using our mobile devices.

Happy 2012, Brought to You by Zynga

Other than in New York City, where pretty much everyone is either going to be on, or see, public transit vehicles (a.k.a. mobile billboards)  it’s not easy for advertisers these days to know where their audiences are.  As people drop books, magazines and newspapers in favor of Kindles and iPads,  and avoid or record broadcast entertainment in order to skip seeing commercials, you’d think we’d be entering a new, more ad-free world. Yet as Esteban Contreras points out in his beautifully crafted “State of Social Media and Social Media Marketing in 2012” report, people of all ages and backgrounds are rapidly embracing online entertainment (a.k.a. mobile billboards). With 63 million Americans playing Farmville, Words With Friends, and the like, you’ll be seeing PLENTY of commercials in the coming year.

Weight Loss? There’s an App for That

While it can be foolhardy to draw conclusions from only anecdotal evidence, there are times when all it takes to spot a trend is to keep your eyes open. In my work as a WeightWatchers leader, for example, I’m exposed to one of the most ideal marketing demographics –middle class women from 30-55, often mothers, and often working 9-5. Over the past six years I’ve seen a radical shift in their behavior as it relates to technology: instead of paying week-by-week to attend meetings, more than three-fourths now take advantage of an ongoing month-to-month pass (which requires internet access). People who buy the pass, in turn have access to a suite of online tools that assist in the behavior change and weight loss process. Increasingly our customers are utilizing these tools on their phones, and only last month we launched a new barcode scanner app that they can use in thes upermarket. Look for us in stores everywhere!

Now Listen Up

Taking a class during my junior year abroad in the 1980s, my French professor was the only one in the room with a textbook. She dictated, and we wrote. Since I didn’t speak French, this was a real problem. As a result, it didn’t surprise me to learn that there’s a movement among some science teachers to forego lectures in favor of experiential learning. Turns out that talking to other people is often a great way to share techniques and strategies as well as information. I’m not sure what Madame Broussard would think, but I bet she’d be tres sceptique.