social media

Winning Digital Metrics That Matter

Episode #406 of Six Pixels of Separation – The Twist Image Podcast is now live and ready for you to listen to.

I think of one word when it comes to describing Stephen Rappaport: enigma. I have no idea why anyone who is a professional digital marketer…

Six Links Worthy Of Your Attention #200

Is there one link, story, picture or thought that you saw online this week that you think somebody you know must see?

My friends: Alistair Croll (BitCurrent, Year One Labs, GigaOM, Human 2.0, Solve For Interesting, the author of Complete Web Monitoring, Managing Bandwidth: Deploying QOS in Enterprise Networks and Lean Analytics), Hugh McGuire (PressBooks, LibriVox, iambik and co-author of Book: A Futurist’s Manifesto) and I decided that every week the three of us are going to share one link for one another (for a total of six links) that each individual feels the other person “must see”.

Check out these six links that we’re recommending to one another:

  • Karateka – Jordan Mechner. “So we’ve been sharing links for nearly four years, and this is our 200th installment. I figured I’d choose things that make us feel old. First up, Karateka. When I was a young boy playing on an Apple IIe, there were a few games that pushed the 64K envelope of what was possible: Black Magic, Rescue Raiders, Lode Runner, and Archon 2. But nothing came close to Karateka. The first game by Jordan Mechner — who went on to make the Prince of Persia franchise — it had the music, animation, simplicity and humor that showed what was possible. A recent Facebook thread suggested this site (hat tip to Steve Hayter), which explains some of its history, with a link to a video about the game. Mechner’s first computer had 16K. To put that into context, that’s less memory than the logo on most modern websites. Dig around for a while and feel old.” (Alistair for Hugh).
  • Biomarkers and ageing: The clock-watcher – Nature. “What if your body kept time? And what if we could measure it accurately? Crime scene investigations are the obvious application, but what about the lifespan of transplanted organs? Or if cancer cells are different, can we detect them? For years, Steve Horvath had tried to find the body’s clock, but when he found it, it seemed too good to be true. He was widely rejected by scientific journals. But he persevered, and it looks like he was right. You can even do it with pee. This story is as much about tenacity as it is about science. And, it reminds me that we’re only a generation or two away from some kind of immortality — whether that’s artificial intelligence, downloaded brains, or life extension. Either way, we’re probably too soon to benefit from it, which should make us feel even older than Karateka does.” (Alistair for Mitch).
  • A 13-year-old eagle huntress in Mongolia – BBC. “Breathtaking photos.” (Hugh for Alistair).
  • 6 Independent Bookstores That Are Thriving — and How They Do It – New York Magazine. “A good-news story about book stores.” (Hugh for Mitch).
  • Scientists Find an ‘Earth Twin,’ or Perhaps a Cousin – The New York Times. “Astronomy is just awesome, isn’t it? Here’s the deal: Kepler 186f is the first validated, Earth-size planet in the habitable zone of another star. It falls into an area known as the ‘Goldilocks zone‘ (not too hot and not too cold… but just right). You read that right. A planet that is about as close to Earth as possible. It’s only 500 lights years away (not too close). It’s also not perfect. According to this article: ‘It is closer to its star — a red dwarf that is smaller, cooler and fainter than our sun — than the Earth is to its; its year, the time to complete one orbit, is 130 days, not 365. It is also at the outer edge of the habitable zone, receiving less warmth, so perhaps more of its surface would freeze.’ Still, the thinking is that you could walk around, breathe and have gravity working for you over there. How cool is that?” (Mitch for Alistair).
  • 30 Knockoff Products That Are Almost Better Than The Real Thing – Buzzfeed. “I honestly don’t know whether I should be laughing at crying at this. It’s funny, because it’s hard to believe how stupid certain unscrupulous business people are to make a quick buck… and how little thought they put into their plans. It’s sad, because it’s hard to be a brand on the receiving end of these knock-offs. You come up with an idea, you do your best to protect it, you gain market share, you get attention, you get people to care, and then the maniacal hawks (dogs) swoop in and do ridiculous things like this. Feels like something more than a simple ‘lost in translation’ kind of thing.” (Mitch for Hugh).

Now it’s your turn: in the comment section below pick one thing that you saw this week that inspired you and share it.

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The End Of Liking A Brand In A Move Towards Anti-Social Media

Be careful which brands you like, friend and follow going forward.

That was the headline yesterday in The New York Times article, When ‘Liking’ a Brand Online Voids the Right to Sue. What may seem like legal side-stepping to avoid things like class action lawsuits or individuals suing a brand, feels like a massive movement by brands to force consumers with any sort of issue to seek arbitration over the courts. There are pros and cons to this approach, but it is becoming a major issue for major corporations. With that, this New York Times article points this issue into an arena that may shock the marketing industry. From the article:

General Mills, the maker of cereals like Cheerios and Chex as well as brands like Bisquick and Betty Crocker, has quietly added language to its website to alert consumers that they give up their right to sue the company if they download coupons, ‘join’ it in online communities like Facebook, enter a company-sponsored sweepstakes or contest or interact with it in a variety of other ways. Instead, anyone who has received anything that could be construed as a benefit and who then has a dispute with the company over its products will have to use informal negotiation via email or go through arbitration to seek relief, according to the new terms posted on its site.”

What does that mean to social media? A lot.

Marketers have taken issue with these sorts of things long before this breaking news. Companies like Facebook, Twitter and others are constantly being criticized because of their terms of service and usage regulations and agreements. They are long, legal, cumbersome and very infrequently read or understood by consumers. Now, imagine this layer of confusion being added to mix. So, as this theory goes, if someone likes your page on Facebook, they are suddenly waiving their right to sue the company should something negative come about. While this may work for other industries, this seems even more restrictive when we’re talking about food companies. Picture a scenario where you like this brand on Facebook and then months later are poisoned due to quality controls at the factory. Suddenly, you can’t sue or take part in a class action suit because you clicked a like button for a completely different reason. If you didn’t click that like button… does that make it fair ball to sue?

We have to get less legal about things.

No one will argue that we live in very litigious times. People suing fast food restaurants because they spilled boiling coffee on themselves by accident (how is that the brand’s fault? They should not make the coffee so hot or they should put a warning on the coffee cups that the contents may be hot… for real). It takes all kinds. Still, in a world where consumers have demanded transparency, and brands have responded by attempting to be more open and real (in particular, on social media channels), it’s astonishing that these types of antics will be – in some form or another – considered good customer advocacy.

Connecting the points.

What makes digital marketing truly fascinating (for me, anyways) is how it elevates brands above and beyond a world of advertising (shouting messages) into a bigger palette of marketing expression. With it will come challenges (as we have seen on numerous occasions). It forces everybody in an organization (from the CEO and CMO down to the people on the frontlines) to think differently about how they act, react, communicate and engage with an audience. On the the other side, if every attempt to do so is met with a need for the legal department to absolve the brand of any mistakes, we may be headed in the wrong direction. The article goes on to state: “Arbitration experts said courts would probably require General Mills to prove that a customer was aware of its new policy before issuing decisions denying legal action against the company.” Translation: we are pitting brands against consumers and vice-versa… all over again. Over a decade ago, we begun to usher in this new type of connection and communication. It made me proud to be in the marketing profession. I understand the brand’s perspective and their need to protect themselves from frivolous and unfounded claims. I also understand the consumer’s perspective and their need to take action against anyone who knowingly does them harm. We have a legal system for a reason. That being said, forcing consumers to waive their legal rights because they “like” a brand on Facebook feels like a terribly anti-social statement to be making.

We have to ask ourselves if these types of legal arrangements are really empowering and entrusting our consumers or does it spell the end for social media? 

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CTRL ALT Delete – Weekly Technology And Digital Media Review – CHOM FM #27

Every Monday morning at 7:10 am, I am a guest contributor on CHOM 97.7 FM radio broadcasting out of Montreal (home base). It’s not a long segment – about 5 to 10 minutes every week – about everything that is happening in the world of technology and digital media. The good folks at CHOM 97.7 FM are posting these segments weekly to SoundCloud, if you’re interested in hearing more of me blathering away. I’m really excited about this opportunity, because this is the radio station that I grew up on listening to, and it really is a fun treat to be invited to the Mornings Rock with Terry and Heather B. morning show. The segment is called, CTRL ALT Delete with Mitch Joel.

This week we discussed:

  • Facebook is now throttling a lot of the content that brands and people see.
  • Personal pages on Facebook are not the same of brand pages.
  • Brands have done fan acquisition strategies and now they have to pay for posts.
  • The consumer doesn’t decide what it is seeing, Facebook decides.
  • Facebook is quickly becoming a paid media channel (yes, the free lunch is over).
  • We need to build channels that we (brands and individuals) can own.
  • Remember: not everyone who follows you ever saw all of your content (there was always throttling).
  • The advertising model changes as Facebook and Twitter try to monetize. We’re moving from a scarcity model to a model of abundance.
  • The value of advertising changes.
  • Online advertising has surpassed television advertising this year.
  • At the Master’s you can’t use your phone, but you can do the Howard Stern “baba-booey!”
  • Can we put an end to the #selfie already?
  • Follow-up to the iMedia Summit from last week.
  • App of the week: Shots.

Listen here…

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The Best That Social Media Has To Offer

Episode #405 of Six Pixels of Separation – The Twist Image Podcast is now live and ready for you to listen to.

Jay Baer is back and he’s doing what most people in Social Media are not doing: making big and smart moves (and good money, as well I am su…

Six Links Worthy Of Your Attention #199

Is there one link, story, picture or thought that you saw online this week that you think somebody you know must see?

My friends: Alistair Croll (BitCurrent, Year One Labs, GigaOM, Human 2.0, Solve For Interesting, the author of Complete Web Monitoring, Managing Bandwidth: Deploying QOS in Enterprise Networks and Lean Analytics), Hugh McGuire (PressBooks, LibriVox, iambik and co-author of Book: A Futurist’s Manifesto) and I decided that every week the three of us are going to share one link for one another (for a total of six links) that each individual feels the other person “must see”.

Check out these six links that we’re recommending to one another:

  • Swedish Pop Mafia – Pacific Standard. “Normally I’d route musical stuff to Mitch, but Hugh, I think you’ll like the unintended-consequences feel of this. It’s about why Sweden drives modern pop music. Sweden, you say? ‘What Hollywood is to movies and what Silicon Valley is to computing, Stockholm is to the production of pop.’ And all because the country’s elders, in the 1940s, tried to put baby in a corner.” (Alistair for Hugh).
  • Our Comrade The Electron. “This is the annotated transcript of an amazing talk given in February at Webstock, a conference in New Zealand. It’s an epic talk about Communism, the Theremin, and how electricity concentrates power in more than just technical ways. I only wish I’d seen the talk live. Since you’ve been talking about Big Data, Mitch, this seems like a fitting anecdote.” (Alistair for Mitch).
  • Why UPS Trucks Don’t Turn Left – Priceonomics. “Data should drive your decisions, as Alistair (co-author of Lean Analytics – aka the ‘Measure-It Bible’) will tell you – if you give him half a chance. In the case of UPS, data drove the company to make an edict for all drivers: never, ever turn left, no matter what.” (Hugh for Alistair).
  • Carpets For Airports. “Mitch logs more hours in the air than anyone else I know. And, I wonder, does Mitch sometimes ask himself, before he gets on a plane, ‘What will the carpets look like at O’Hare?’ Now he can find out, so he isn’t surprised when he arrives. This, dear readers, is what the Internet was built for.” (Hugh for Mitch).
  • Why 40% of us think we’re in the top 5% – Smart Planet. “Here’s the thing about data: the more we get of it and the more we’re able to take these disparate data sets and meld them into a bigger bucket, we start seeing some truisms. These are the types of truisms that most of us are (presently and sadly) ignoring. Little things like: our gut decisions are often wrong, how we can’t truly identify genius and, probably most disturbing, how dumb we actually are. Data rules, you morons! ;) (Mitch for Alistair).
  • French say ‘non’ to work email after 6 p.m. – cNet. “Ahh, who doesn’t want to spend their entire childhood and teenage years studying in an old school education institution that is making young people miserable, feeling inadequate and, ultimately, forcing them into a regiment of memorization of things they should never need to remember? I see this often when you look at more traditional European countries and their non-progressive school curriculums The good news? You get to graduate and become a ‘fonctionnaires,’ (if you live in France). A place that makes insane rules like this. I have a better idea: why stop at email? Just shut down the electricity for all fonctionnaires so nobody has to do anything? Alternately, you could just say, ‘hey, what if we let these adults make their own rules and attempt to find their own balance? Wow, what decade are we living in? How stupid do we think that people are?” (Mitch for Hugh).

Now it’s your turn: in the comment section below pick one thing that you saw this week that inspired you and share it.

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My Voice Is My Password

Is your head bleeding? Is your heart bleeding?

Here’s my thought (and, I say this with full disclosure that I am no IT expert and have limited knowledge of the hacking space beyond a personal interest in better understanding technology – peace and love… peace and love…), but the process of text-based passwords needs to be tossed out. It just has to happen. We’re all still trying to understand what the ramifications are of this nefarious Heartbleed bug is, and what it all means. Right now, some of the most frequently and commonly used online tools and sites are asking all of their users to change their passwords because of this bug. Some of these places are uncertain as to whether or not they have been hit, so changing your password before these services update their own systems with a fix would be a big mistake. The best source to sort this all out, for my dollar, has been this Mashable page: The Heartbleed Hit List: The Passwords You Need to Change Right Now.

Why this is so important to talk about for marketers?

The brands that win are the brands that can be trusted. Problems like Heartbleed erode the public’s trust. This is problematic on many levels. On top of this, while we can simply acknowledge that technology has these types of bugs, viruses and hiccups that come from a myriad of directions, let’s admit it: human beings are lazy (I know that I am) and while it’s a massive pain to go back and change the passwords on all of these platforms, it’s getting increasingly more frustrating because you then need to remember them all, store them in a safe place, and re-enter them all across multiple devices (computers, laptops, smartphones and tablets). From there, if you’re using any of the tools that enable you to share content through social media channels (Buffer app and others come to mind), you need to re-input and re-authorize the apps in there as well. Uch.

It’s like a full time job to manage this stuff, isn’t it? 

It gets worse. Last night, the Wall Street Journal reported that Heartbleed may have infiltrated some of the Cisco and Juniper Networks equipment as well. That’s not good. It means that hackers might be able to snag user names, passwords and other sensitive information as it moves across the corporate and home networks and routers on the Internet. So, you could change your passwords and then fall prey to hackers simply because your hardware (or a network along the way) has not cleaned up the bug yet. What a mess.

Blame the passwords.

These systems were built in a such a way that invites problems and challenges. Technology is doing a ton of things these days that it was never intended to do. I don’t think anyone would argue that the Internet was not intended to do everything that it is doing today. Many would argue that even having a commercial Internet is – in and of itself – something that was never truly supposed to be. Part of fixing these issues from a consumer experience perspective means removing the friction. Making it easier for people to connect and share is paramount to the continued growth and development of these channels. This means that we need to fix this whole password issue.

Some thoughts on a better way to connect.

I read with interest The Globe And Mail article published yesterday, Fed up with passwords? These tech experts are seeking alternatives. From the article: “Quietly, a movement is taking shape within the technology industry to finally kill off the traditional password – driven not only by growing consumer outcry, but also the twin scandals of high-profile hacking incidents that exposed customer information at major corporations such as Target, as well as the Edward Snowden revelations about the extent of digital government surveillance. The flaws of traditional computer security once again came under the public spotlight this week, after security experts revealed the existence of a flaw called ‘Heartbleed.’ The bug, considered one of the most significant security weaknesses in recent history, Heartbleed affects the encryption used to protect some of the most sensitive data on the Internet, including passwords and personal information.” The news item goes on to source several interesting technology companies that are working to replace text passwords with things like fingerprint readers, voice recognition engines and even heart rhythm monitors.

Organic solutions to technical challenges.

In short, we need to use the small things that make us individuals unique from one another as the way in which to secure the content, flow and information we connect with. Thinking that this problem can simply be brushed beneath the carpet is a massive mistake (as the world is finding out this week). We jokingly make our passwords simple for us to remember, but in doing so expose our most personal information in a very profound way. We seriously make our passwords complex, so that no one can hack into it and we wind up up forgetting them or being frustrated every time we have to input them. Thankfully, there are apps like 1Password and LastPass that manages the myriad of passwords and devices that we have, and they have not been affected by this bug (at this time), but who knows? One thing is for certain: perhaps Heartbleed brought the importance of passwords and consumer protection to the top of our minds… and that’s probably a good thing.

I’d love to know what your thoughts on the trouble with passwords.

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Some Questions About Your Questionable Content

Marketers, we have a problem…

Do you know how long an effective Facebook post should be? If I told you forty characters, what would your reaction be? A tweet should be 100 characters (even though Twitter affords you 140 of them). It makes perfect sense, right? I know that people like Tom Webster over at Edison Research is, without a doubt, rolling his eyes. I’m with him. But, that was the latest headline from Fast Company in an article titled, The Proven Ideal Length Of Every Tweet, Facebook Post, And Headline Online. All over the world, junior brand and community managers are building PowerPoint decks with charts, graphs and quotes from this article in an effort to demonstrate both how “in the know” they are, and how antiquated the upper echelons of the marketing and communications are. Those silly dinosaurs running the show in their corner offices, don’t even know how valueless most of what they do has become.

Don’t be fooled by the numbers (even if they are small ones).

Length does not equate to quality, value or substance. It’s an arbitrary number that is being allotted to a very crowded (and hyper-saturated) marketplace that hosts very finicky and tough to understand consumers who, in one instance, will “like” a picture of a dog licking itself and within the same brush of the finger also like a group denouncing human rights in Syria. Ahh, the human condition. So mystical. So difficult to pin down. The question is asked often, and in various ways:

  • How long should a tweet be?
  • How long should a Facebook post be?
  • What is the right balance between content and images?
  • How long should a podcast be?
  • How long should a blog post be?
  • How long should a business book be?
  • How long should a movie be?
  • How long should an article be?
  • How long should a… you get the point?

What matters more than the mechanics?

We get caught up in the mechanics and completely forget about why we’re creating anything in the first place. Ultimately, it should be twofold:

  1. Create value.
  2. Create awareness.

The answer to all of the questions above surrounding length is rather simple: content should be as long as it needs to be to create value. I’ve seen movies that have been three hours long and movies that have been thirty minutes long that have changed my life (and how I think about humanity). Research Brief posted a fascinating article – at just around the same time as the Fast Company one mentioned above – titled, Trusted Content Closes Vendor Selection. So, it’s not about the content… it’s about the quality of it and the level of trust that it inspires. It’s true, we often ask the wrong questions about the content that we’re creating and, in doing so, we wind up creating content that doesn’t get traction. The net result being a perception that either content marketing doesn’t work or that content marketing doesn’t work for our brands. Both are misnomers. Putting aside any kind of viral effect that some are lucky enough to achieve (do you believe in unicorns?), we need to be asking more profound (and real) questions about the content that brands are putting out into the world. So, before you put finger to keypad in an effect to pump out an extra few free impressions to a saturated social media channel, sit down and ask yourself the following:

  1. How trusted as a source of information is our organization?
  2. Is there a third-party who might be better suited to help us with our content?
  3. What is point of this content and who is it educating?
  4. Is this content “me too” or unique and additive to the current flow of discourse?
  5. Who are we looking to speak to with this? Customers in discovery mode? Qualification mode? Final selection mode?
  6. Once this content is created how will it be distributed? Our own channels? Third-party channels or platforms?
  7. How will this piece of content help the decision makers be influenced?
  8. How will this content help our potential customer make the best decision (and yes, this may even mean buying from someone else)?
  9. Is our content broad and expansive or is it myopic and narcissistic?
  10. Are the people we are speaking to more interested in fresh research and data or editorial-like content?
  11. Is our content the type of work that the industry influencers would pay attention to and share or is it closer to a de-jargonated press release?
  12. Does our content allow for honest commentary between us and the community?
  13. Is our content both findable and shareable to everyone that it needs to be?

The path to purchase is complex.

That’s the main thing that every brand needs to focus on. Content that understands and responds to the thirteen questions above will change the brand and help it add more value to the path to purchase. What this Research Brief article also illustrates is something that many digital marketing pundits (like myself) have been banging the drum about for some time: Yes, the path to purchase is complex, but “The Internet is the primary place where business buyers begin the path to purchase. 68% start their content sourcing at search engines and portals, 40% go to vendor websites, and 25% are activated by an email from a trusted source or peer.”

If you read nothing else, go back and re-read that last sentence.

If there was ever a case for digital marketing to lead all marketing initiatives (B2B, B2C, a small impulse buy or a year-long sales cycle) this is it. The Internet is the primary place where business buyers begin the path to purchase. This is a critical and key message. So, if you thought that the thirteen questions above are going to make you bang your head against the wall, start asking yourself a whole new set of questions about what your brand is truly doing to to engage with those who are simply kicking tires, those who are looking for a preferred vendor and those who are trying to validate the choice of vendor that they have already made. Too many brands are churning out this chum of content without the focus, intensity and voracity that is truly required to qualify any/all of this content marketing as a “success.”

Make no mistake about it… it starts with you. That being said, it all starts online.

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CTRL ALT Delete – Weekly Technology And Digital Media Review – CHOM FM #26

Every Monday morning at 7:10 am, I am a guest contributor on CHOM 97.7 FM radio broadcasting out of Montreal (home base). It’s not a long segment – about 5 to 10 minutes every week – about everything that is happening in the world of technology and dig…

The Perils Of Social Media

Episode #404 of Six Pixels of Separation – The Twist Image Podcast is now live and ready for you to listen to.

I first heard the voice of Eric Schwartzman over a decade ago as a contributor to the For Immediate Release podcast. I was always impressed…

Six Links Worthy Of Your Attention #198

Is there one link, story, picture or thought that you saw online this week that you think somebody you know must see?

My friends: Alistair Croll (BitCurrent, Year One Labs, GigaOM, Human 2.0, Solve For Interesting, the author of Complete Web Monitoring, Managing Bandwidth: Deploying QOS in Enterprise Networks and Lean Analytics), Hugh McGuire (PressBooks, LibriVox, iambik and co-author of Book: A Futurist’s Manifesto) and I decided that every week the three of us are going to share one link for one another (for a total of six links) that each individual feels the other person “must see”.

Check out these six links that we’re recommending to one another:

  • The Uncomfortable – Facebook. “This set of artifacts, designed by architect, Katerina Kamprani, will drive you bonkers. She takes everyday items, and then changes them to render them completely useless. It’s definitely art. Most of these things could only come from a really twisted, deviant mind. OCD trigger warning.” (Alistair for Hugh). 
  • Motivation Wave – BJ Fogg. “As any marketer knows, changing behaviors is hard. Whether you’re trying to improve someone’s health, or convince them to buy your product, changing habits is tough. Stanford‘s BJ Fogg has spent a lot of time researching this in the university’s Persuasive Technology Lab. That ‘persuasive technology’ is a field of study in the first place says a lot about the world in which we live.” (Alistair for Mitch).
  • Demo of Beat It composed using only Michael Jackson’s voice – Rhythm Of The Tide. “I was going to send Alistair an amazing xkcd comic this week (you can look it up on Google: xkcd frequency), but Alistair has probably seen it, and will probably see 22 more amazing xkcd comics this year. Instead, I am sending this, which is more of a one-of-a-kind sort of thing. Michael Jackson, apparently, never truly mastered playing instruments, but he composed and arranged – note for note – in his head. He would record and layer vocals/acapella versions of his songs, using his voice for all the instruments. Here is the amazing vocal arrangement he did for Beat It.” (Hugh for Alistair).   
  • A Growing Number of E-Commerce Sites Are Moving Into Print – AdWeek. “You know what technology has great, finely-honed UI and really, really good user engagement? Paper. Here’s a surprising development: web/ecommerce companies starting to put out old fashioned print catalogs.” (Hugh for Mitch).
  • Knowledge transfer between computers: Computers teach each other Pac-Man – Science Daily. “Have they found that plane that’s still missing? I watch CNN relentlessly when I am on the road… and, I was on the road quite a bit this week. I am in no way trying to minimize the fact that this plane must be found (or the tragedy surrounding it for the families), but I’m amazed that the 24-hour news cycle spins a ‘breaking news’ moment of this missing plane with nothing truly ‘breaking’ at all. Instead, stuff like this comes out and you don’t even hear about it. It turns out that computers can actually train each other and teach skills to one another. What? No way! Way.” (Mitch for Alistair).
  • The Wikipedia For Numbers Just Made My Job Easier, But It Needs Your Help To Be Even Better – Business Insider. “Have you ever heard of Meterfy? Me neither. In fact, most people haven’t, so it ain’t as robust as Wikipedia… but it could be. Yes, this is a Wikipedia for numbers. A way for people to post and share anything and everything related to numbers. This is a smart, cool and fun place. I sincerely hope it takes off. A Wikipedia for numbers. Makes sense to me.” (Mitch for Hugh).

Now it’s your turn: in the comment section below pick one thing that you saw this week that inspired you and share it.

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Let’s Stop Mixing Up Digital Advertising With Digital Marketing

I get into this fight all of the time.

When people talk to me about advertising agencies – especially ones that claim to be “fully integrated” – what I (still) hear is: digital advertising. Make no mistake about it, advertising is a juggernaut in the world of marketing, but it’s not everything. That’s the main gripe I have when people look at advertising agencies with digital capabilities, and try to compare them to a digital marketing agency. Here’s my theory on this (and it’s not perfect, there are variances and exceptions to every rule): An advertising agency (whether they have digital capabilities or not) are in the hammer and nail business. To an advertising agency (which would be the hammer), everything can be solved with an ad (which would be the nail) – and yes, to a hammer, everything does look like a nail. There is nothing wrong with that. Advertising is an essential component of a strong communications platform, and it is still a very efficient way for a brand to communicate a message to an audience. Brands can complain all they want about the diminishing returns on advertising, but this is a problem that gets exacerbated when lack of compelling creative meets a faltering scarcity model (too many channels and opportunities).

How does a digital marketing agency fit into this?

It depends on who you ask. We’ve been running Twist Image since 2000 (that’s 14 years, for those who do not want to do the math). And, for all of that time, we were never looking to solve a business challenge with an ad. We have always looked at the business challenge and tried to develop a solution that is based in the digital world. So, we’re looking to create products and/or services that can help a brand leapfrog both their competitors and the more traditional ways of connecting with consumers. From there, we build a framework for success (and, if you’re struggling to understand the difference between a framework and ROI, check out Avinash Kaushik‘s amazing article titled, See-Think-Do: A Content, Marketing, Measurement Business Framework). Once we have that product or service (and yes, that could be an e-commerce solution, a game, an app, social media initiatives, a website, etc…) and a framework for it, it becomes a question of communications. From the communications standpoint, we’re trying to leverage a healthy mix of paid, earned and owned models to help the brand to be successful.

Can you feel the difference?

Advertising is one component of the communications challenge. The reason this confusion is so prevalent in the marketing industry, is because we use media spend as the benchmark for some kind of marketing mix comprehension. Just today, eMarketer published the news item, Digital Ad Spending Worldwide to Hit $137.53 Billion in 2014. I thought it was a typo. From the article: “Spending on ads served to internet-connected devices including desktop and laptop computers, mobile phones and tablets will reach $137.53 billion this year, according to eMarketer’s latest estimates of worldwide paid media spending. Digital spend will be up 14.8% over 2013 levels, according to the forecast, and will make up just over one-quarter of all paid media spending worldwide. That’s up from about one-fifth of spending in 2012, and it is set to rise to nearly one-third of the total by the end of our forecast period, when advertisers around the world will invest $204.01 billion in digital.”

That’s a lot of bank.

Actually, that’s a misnomer. It’s a staggering amount of dollars. And, when marketers are pouring that kind of financial resources behind the paid media spending of brands, it’s easy to see how the distinction between advertising and marketing gets foggy. If you don’t think it’s staggering, just check out this chart: Internet Advertising Revenues Hit $7.3 Billion in Q1 ’11 from the IAB. I remember when the paid media spend was well under the one billion dollar level (I remember it so well, because I was selling online media back in 1999). Now, digital advertising spend is rivaling that of TV, and for one good reason: brands put the money where the consumers are. And, where do you think that the consumers are?

It’s about more than media.

When was the last time you read something about a brand and said to yourself, “you see… that is smart!” That my reaction when I read the AdWeek article, Why Johnson & Johnson Treasures BabyCenter’s Data. Moms and soon-to-be moms tend to like BabyCenter for information. That digital property is owned by Johnson & Johnson. Think about the business solution that J&J solved with this marketing solution. Think about the data capture that is happening on this site. And, ultimately, think about how they can leverage all of this information to better target both the advertising on this site (and even when J&J advertises on other mom-related sites). It’s staggering. It also demonstrates the massive chasm between digital advertising (the last mile of communicating the brand to the world) in comparison to the digital marketing work (develop a platform for moms, build a framework around it and push a communications platform to either get the message out or, in this case, even monetize it).

Don’t dismiss advertising.

It bears repeating: advertising is big, massive and growing (especially in the digital channels). Just look at those numbers: $137.53 billion in 2014. Still, advertising is but a subset of the communications platform which – in and of itself – is a component of a greater marketing good. Be floored by the media dollars that are being shifted to digital, but without a sound marketing platform that runs horizontally throughout the brand/organization, those messages will – for the most part – fall on deaf ears.

Still, digital continues to look healthy, growing and ever-evolving – even when we confuse the terms.

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Don’t Blame Brands (Always) In A Time Of Crisis

The tweet heard around the world.

There was a disaster somewhere in the world. I think it was the tragic Boston Marathon bombings. I was in France at the time speaking at an event. I was crawling into an early evening slumber when the news broke. As we do these days, I hopped over to Twitter. I was immediately taken by someone many would acknowledge as a social media expert who tweeted out something along the lines of “Attention brands: please turn off all of your automated tweets, etc… out of respect for the tragedy in Boston.” In the past, we’ve had many instances when brands (with good or stupid intentions) have firmly placed their proverbial feet in their mouths. It happens. It keeps happening. As bad and tragic as these events are, the world does not stop. I looked down to the pool/terrace area where the reception was continuing on without me (I was on a lower floor). You could see people scrambling to talk to one another and share the news of what was taking place in Boston. You could see groups of people huddled over mobile devices and the bar had changed the television channel over to CNN (or whatever the equivalent is in France). Still, the party raged on. Champagne was consumed, the buffet tables looked busy. Humans beings are a complex bunch. So, in one instance, we’re telling brands, don’t communicate anything during a national/international crisis, but on the other hand, the corporate parties and events keep raging on.

What is right in a world that has gone so wrong?

“Oh no. Not again.” That was the sum of my initial thoughts when I first heard about the Fort Hood shooting. Tragedies everywhere. People struggling with their own demons, and violence becomes their desperate cry for help/attention. Sadly, people (now victims) become collateral damage in these cries for help. As usual, I head online to get perspective, read the discourse and more. Once again, a very senior communications executive sent out a message (this time on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook) about a tweet: “#FortHoodShooting sweet Save 10% plus free shipping on your order at Acme Inc. use coupon code: BUY19.” The comment from the senior executive read: “The dark side of Twitter and hashtags. National tragedy unfolding and trending topic attracts marketing.” I changed the name of the company and the promo code for a specific reason. This company was now taking a lot of flack for looking very insensitive during these times. As if that weren’t enough, it is also (somewhat evident) that it’s probably some kind of automated tweet that gets triggered for any trending topic/hashtag.

So, do you HATE that brand? 

It’s hard not to be immediately disgusted by them. But, here’s the thing: upon closer inspection of this instance, you can easily uncover that the brand (probably) had nothing to do with this tweet. It looked like an affiliate marketer who gets a commission of their sales when someone uses that, specific, promo code. So, this unsophisticated affiliate marketer is doing the equivalent of spamming trending hashtags in the hopes of picking up a few bucks here or there. Still, the brands takes the brunt of the hit, pain and crisis management that ensues.

Having a media brain.

How many people do you think saw that tweet and were simply disgusted by the brand, instead of taking the time to scratch a little beneath the surface to uncover the truth? It’s just another example of how brands can take a hit without ever having done anything wrong. Yes, you could easily say that businesses need to be careful about who they do business with, and that all affiliate marketers should be vetted in a more professional manner, but let’s get real here: what’s stopping anybody from going online, saying something like this about any brand and attempting to make them look bad? It’s easier than you think. It happens all of the time. The general mass populous are not trained media professionals. It’s not their jobs (nor do they care) to vet these tweets for validity. The brand gets hurts worse than anyone else in this scenario, and it quickly becomes this massive pile-on. Personally, I feel bad for the brand that got caught up in this storm. But, it just goes to show you, that even if you’re doing everything right, in terms of using social media to connect in a more real and authentic way with you consumers, that little mishaps like this are sure to happen. And, no matter how much is done in the aftermath to correct-course, there will still be even more people who saw that terrible tweet and now have a terrible brand impression.

Is time to talk about brands and control again?

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CTRL ALT Delete – Weekly Technology And Digital Media Review – CHOM FM #25

Every Monday morning at 7:10 am, I am a guest contributor on CHOM 97.7 FM radio broadcasting out of Montreal (home base). It’s not a long segment – about 5 to 10 minutes every week – about everything that is happening in the world of technology and dig…

Why Every Brand Should Build An Audience

Episode #403 of Six Pixels of Separation – The Twist Image Podcast is now live and ready for you to listen to.

There are few people as passionate as Jeffrey Rohrs when it comes to brands and connecting with consumers. It’s gotten so hot and heavy for…

Six Links Worthy Of Your Attention #197

Is there one link, story, picture or thought that you saw online this week that you think somebody you know must see?

My friends: Alistair Croll (BitCurrent, Year One Labs, GigaOM, Human 2.0, Solve For Interesting, the author of Complete Web Monitoring, Managing Bandwidth: Deploying QOS in Enterprise Networks and Lean Analytics), Hugh McGuire (PressBooks, LibriVox, iambik and co-author of Book: A Futurist’s Manifesto) and I decided that every week the three of us are going to share one link for one another (for a total of six links) that each individual feels the other person “must see”.

Check out these six links that we’re recommending to one another:

  • I’ve tracked one year of sex and masturbation between [M]yself and my wi[F]e: activity tags, a look at the role of the menstrual cycle, and other trends – Reddit. “Add this to the list of things I didn’t know I’d share with you guys when we started this. Since we’re talking health data, well, in for a penny, in for a pound. One of the most common uses of new tech – whether it’s the printing press, the VHS, or the Web – is adult content. So, it’s no surprise that life-logging enthusiasts are turning their all-seeing eye to data. Here, a husband tracks sex patterns, and draws some interesting conclusions. I’ll let you decide whether you want to click or not.” (Alistair for Hugh).
  • The Parable of Google Flu: Traps in Big Data Analysis – Science. “Since you asked about big data on Facebook, here’s a nugget. Last year, Google made big news by predicting the outbreak of flu. Or did they? One of the problems with a reliance on data for decision-making is that the data shapes our behavior, which changes the data. It’s like a big data version of the observer effect (or, as some have less politely described it, ‘algorithms dumping where they eat.’) In this case, changes to algorithms and media hype around flu outbreaks caused Google to overstate the number of cases of the flu. ‘Big data hubris’ is the often implicit assumption that big data are a substitute for, rather than a supplement to, traditional data collection and analysis.” (Alistair for Mitch).
  • When one New Zealand school tossed its playground rules and let students risk injury, the results were surprising – National Post. “I love stories about unintended consequences. For instance, what if bending over backwards to make things (playgrounds, classrooms, etc…) safe for our kids actually raises the incidence of injury? Maybe what our kids need to stay safe is a pile of broken glass, some rusty barbed-wire, and some broken up 2 by 4s.” (Hugh for Alistair).
  • Bitcoin’s Future – Hidden Flipside – The Economist. “Here’s an old tech innovator’s saw: ‘If you were to ask a group of smart people to create X with the technology of today, what would it look like? Nothing like the X we all know.’ We take many things for granted as facts of the universe, but if you think in depth about some things, they just don’t make much sense. Money is one of them. And, while Bitcoin itself might not win the day, Bitcoin as’”platform for financial innovation’ is a pretty exciting possibility.” (Hugh for Mitch).
  • Harvard’s Free Computer Science Course Teaches You to Code in 12 Weeks – Open Culture. “There was one thing that really stood out in my mind from TED 2014 in Vancouver. Something new and interesting was brought to my attention. It’s something called University of the People and its founder, Shai Reshef, explained it. Basically, anyone can apply to get a university degree. It’s online. It’s tuition-free. It’s got real profs. It’s accredited. Students pay $100 per exam. That’s it. Pretty cool. Pretty mind blowing. I don’t have a university degree… so yeah, I’m now considering it. Of course, you can study all kinds of courses online for free (have you checked out iTunes U yet?). How about a free computer science course that will teach you to code in twelve week from Harvard? Well…” (Mitch for Alistair). 
  • What are some great mind-blowing books? Why? – Quora. “Sick of lists online about what to read? I’m not only sick of them… I am guilty of creating them. I kind of rolled my eyes when I saw this question posted on Quora. Then, I checked it out (still a sucker for some good linkbait) and it did not disappoint. As much as you read, and as much as you may think that you are well-read, this list will show you otherwise. Some amazing books that I have never read, that I think that I should read. I’m sure you will find a few gems for yourself as well.” (Mitch for Hugh).  

Now it’s your turn: in the comment section below pick one thing that you saw this week that inspired you and share it.

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CTRL ALT Delete – Weekly Technology And Digital Media Review – CHOM FM #24

Every morning at 7:10 am, I am a guest contributor on CHOM 97.7 FM radio broadcasting out of Montreal (home base). It’s not a long segment – about 5 to 10 minutes every week – about everything that is happening in the world of technology and digital media. The good folks at CHOM 97.7 FM are posting these segments weekly to SoundCloud, if you’re interested in hearing more of me blathering away. I’m really excited about this opportunity, because this is the radio station that I grew up on listening to, and it really is a fun treat to be invited to the Mornings Rock with Terry and Heather B. morning show. The segment is called, CTRL ALT Delete with Mitch Joel.

This week we discussed:

Listen here…

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The Absolute Value Of Marketing

Episode #402 of Six Pixels of Separation – The Twist Image Podcast is now live and ready for you to listen to.

Back in 2000 (yes, way back then), I read a book that made me rethink everything that I thought I knew about marketing. It was called, The Anatomy of Buzz, and it was written by Emanuel Rosen. Long before we were all talking about social media, viral videos, content marketing and more, Rosen was busy studying what makes people do the things that they do. You find a “best marketing books ever” list and not see The Anatomy of Buzz on it. Rosen, a former marketing professional, considers himself a writer, researcher, teacher and speaker. I’m fortunate because, over the years, Emanuel and I have become friends. In 2009, he looked again at what makes people talk about brands and wrote, The Anatomy of Buzz Revisited. Now, he’s back with a fascinating business book called, Absolute Value (that he co-wrote with Itamar Simonson). It has been getting incredible reviews… and for good reason. In this book, Emanuel wonders about the value of brands, marketing and advertising in a world where information is everywhere, available in real-time and spin becomes, increasingly, more difficult from brands to pull off. Enjoy the conversation…

You can grab the latest episode of Six Pixels of Separation here (or feel free to subscribe via iTunes): Six Pixels of Separation – The Twist Image Podcast #402.

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Six Links Worthy Of Your Attention #196

Is there one link, story, picture or thought that you saw online this week that you think somebody you know must see?

My friends: Alistair Croll (BitCurrent, Year One Labs, GigaOM, Human 2.0, Solve For Interesting, the author of Complete Web Monitoring, Managing Bandwidth: Deploying QOS in Enterprise Networks and Lean Analytics), Hugh McGuire (PressBooks, LibriVox, iambik and co-author of Book: A Futurist’s Manifesto) and I decided that every week the three of us are going to share one link for one another (for a total of six links) that each individual feels the other person “must see”.

Check out these six links that we’re recommending to one another:

  • Voracious Worm Evolves to Eat Biotech Corn Engineered to Kill It – Wired. “If something doesn’t kill you, as the saying goes, it makes you stronger. That’s sort of how evolution works, so when scientists devised a form of corn that poisoned a common pest, they told farmers to plant normal corn alongside it — so the bugs that survived didn’t build a resistance. Guess what? Like vaccines and global warming, people were happy to enjoy the benefits of the science but less quick to heed its warnings. The rest, you can probably figure out.” (Alistair for Hugh).
  • Lumo Play – Give It 100. “My friend Meg Athavale, from Winnipeg, is in Silicon Valley for four months as part of Highway1 – a hardware startup accelerator. She wants to take interactivity and projection mapping and turn it into a kid’s toy. Meg’s been at this for a few years now and her time at Highway1 will take her to Taiwan and China to work with manufacturers. It’s a far cry from Winnipeg, where she’s better known for poking fun at the mayor. And, she’s keeping a journal, creating a video log of her experiences every day. Out of the Winnipeg chill, into the Logan’s Run-like fishbowl of San Francisco Maker tech. I suspect it will get interesting fast.” (Alistair for Mitch).
  • Billionaires With Big Ideas Are Privatizing American Science – The New York Times. “Ever was it thus, I suppose, but billionaires seem to be getting much better at being billionaires faster than governments are getting better at governing, and here’s yet another indication of this direction.” (Hugh for Alistair).
  • International Women’s Day 2014: What’s the difference between men and women’s brains? Very little, says neuroscientist – The Independent. “In the nature vs nurture debate, I’ve always been a ‘both’ kind of guy. Certain brains are pre-disposed to certain kinds of development; when exposed at a certain environment, they’ll grow in one way or another. Multiple by several billion times, and repeat over and during a lifetime. But: do girls and boys have different brains, biologically? I’m inclined to think yes-ish. Here’s a recent neurologist saying no-ish.” (Hugh for Mitch).
  • We already live in the age of robots–we just don’t call them that – Quartz. “Does it need arms, legs and a face for us to call it a ‘robot’? Don’t laugh. This is a serious question. For a few years now, I’ve been fascinated with the growth of robots in our society. I’m a huge proponent that while everyone is paying attention to how robots are going to automate our workforce (as in, no more jobs for us, humans), that the real opportunity is in how robots are going to help us augment our work (make us stronger, allow us to focus more on the creativity and strategy, etc…). Well, in the meantime, it seems as though everyone (including journalists) are having a problem defining what a robot is. Is your bank machine a robot? What about the ATM? How about all of those Amazon drones that are coming?” (Mitch for Alistair).
  • A Tale of Two TEDs: Ideas Conference Triumphant on 30th Anniversary – Wired. “My head is spinning. If you could have dinner with ten fascinating people, who would it be? What if you could have dinner with people like Clay Shirky, Barry Schwartz, Nilofer Merchant, Steven Johnson, Scott Belsky, Jane McGonigal, Susan Cain, Amy Cuddy and Baratunde Thurston, would that be cool? I had dinner with those people (and a few others – can’t forget Curt Beckmann and Andrew Blau) on Wednesday night at TED… and that was the free night, the unorganized evening, so Nilofer and I pulled some friends together to hang out. I know… I know… it sounds like I’m name dropping. I apologize. My head is still spinning. It was a week that had me both fired up about the potential of what could be, and drained from the amazing connections, conversations and ideas that have filled a Moleskine. With each and every passing year, I get more and more excited about what the TED conference does for my professional and personal development. This article does a great job of explaining the diversity and some of the issues that TED faces. Ultimately, I feel that the conference is a lightning rod for contention (check out the comments) simply because it has become so popular. Personally, I can’t think of another event (with the exception of Google Zeitgeist) that I look forward to – with each and every passing year – as much as TED.” (Mitch for Hugh).

Now it’s your turn: in the comment section below pick one thing that you saw this week that inspired you and share it.

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It’s A Small (And Strange) World After All, Brands

How much control does a company really have over their brand?

Never has this question in business been asked more than in the past decade. Technology, the Internet and social media have been a virtual can of worms for brands that has extended well beyond the marketing department, and has poured over into everything from customer care, business innovation, the reputation of individual leaders within the organization, how a company hires employees and more. It’s one of the fundamental reasons why I’m such a massive advocate for marketing to become a horizontal function within the organization instead of it’s current role as a vertical. We need everyone (from employees to consumers) to understand what the brand is and how the stories are told, because every single one of us has become a media entity unto ourselves. We can talk about the merits of social media as an engine of engagement and conversation for brands, but the simple truth is that it is nothing more than a public publishing platform. A place where anyone – in text, images, audio and video – can create content, applications and communities about anything and everything. It’s free (in terms of cost, not time and attention) and distributed globally for the world to see (also free, if you’re not thinking about your Internet and mobile monthly bills). While the past fifteen years has brought with it a lot of innovation and depth, we’re seeing how the nuances of the brand have started to shift in more dramatic ways.

What is the face of the brand?

Marketers wonder if there is a structured and prescribed way to dictate the sentiment and actions that we would, ideally, like customers and employees to have when they interact with a brand. What most successful brands still fail to realize is that in an environment of global interconnectivity, humans are also increasingly exposed to newer types of cultures and ways to connect. This means that newer ideas and ways to connect can be crossbred, much in the same way we’re currently breeding very different kinds of dogs to create newer kinds of dogs (care for a Labradoodle, anyone?) or fruits (hungry for a Grapple? – yes, an apple that tastes like a grape). Brands are quickly starting to feel, understand and interact with their own little Frankenstein versions of themselves.

What does a crossbreed brand look like?

Imagine waiting in line for the It’s A Small World ride at Disneyland, and suddenly coming across what looks like a Harley Davidson meets Fall Out Boy group of Disney fanatics. Tattoos of good ole Walt Disney on their calves, ripped jean jackets, piercings, patches of Daisy Duck surrounded in gang-like skulls and crossbones and more. It may feel like something out of a Tim Burton movie, but you have actually come face to face with the Neverlanders. This group of rag tags are more than 30 strong and were recently featured in an in-depth editorial piece by Vice called, The Punks Of Disneyland. It’s a unique story about passionate brand evangelists (the kind of people who visit these properties so much, that they are actually on a first-name basis with the staff and characters) who have taken their love of all things Disney into a dramatic and alternative realm. This is much bigger than the annual Disney conventions for fans (D23 Expo) and the Neverlanders are not the only exclusive, members-only, social club that roams these parks and resorts (there is Main Street Elite, the Wonderlanders, Jungle Cruisers and many more). In the case of the Neverlanders, this group formed through social networking. They began connecting and sharing in spaces like Instagram long before they formalized themselves as an independent social club (some people call them a gang).

What do you think Disney has to say about all of this?   

Here’s the official Disney quote from the Vice article about these roaming Disney fan gangs: “We are fortunate to have guests who share such a strong affinity for Disneyland Resort.” What would you do? What would your brand position be on groups of people who love what you are doing this much, but still run down a much more alternative path than the brand might publicly be comfortable with? Granted, this isn’t the challenge of all brands, but it begs an interesting question: If consumers are actually in control of the brand, and now they have the tools, resources and connections to do these types of things, what is the brand and what does it really stand for?

It’s not just Disney.

For every legitimate and corporately run group like Jeep‘s annual Jeep Jamboree adventure event and meet-up, you have groups like IKEA Hackers. Formed in May 2006 on a blog, this website is now full of passionate IKEA customers who build their own, unique, projects by modifying and repurposing IKEA products. They are embellishing and adding their own elbow grease to figure out new and interesting types of furniture that can be built through various pieces of IKEA furniture. So, whether you would like to build your own iPad kiosk or a laundry organizer from standard IKEA kitchen cabinets, the possibilities are now endless. According to the IkeaHackers website, IKEA does not pay the owner or in any way sanctions or endorses it. It is purely a fan-run website.

It’s a small world, for brands, afterall.

Brands now have a deeper optic into what, exactly, their heavy users want. In fact, what these examples demonstrate is that we can often never truly understand what consumers want, and when they do things like hack our products or roam our properties in a way that it was never intended, perhaps brands should be doing a better job of supporting, encouraging and helping them to be successful. Instead, most brands are attempting to keep them at arm’s length. Steve Jobs from Apple once famously said: “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

Perhaps, in today’s age of connectivity and social media, brands need to pay attention when the reverse comes true as well.

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for The Huffington Post. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original version online here:

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