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Communication Society

Machiavellian media realpolitik, iPhone radiation and Tiger Woods

A fancy way of a pessimist saying “I’m not a pessimist, I am just facing the facts” as expressed by Machiavelli 500 years ago:  “…how we live is so far removed from how we ought to live, that he who abandons what is done for what ought to be done, will rather learn to bring about his own ruin than his preservation.”

When the fuss over possible health side effects from the use of mobile phones started, it instantly reminded me of something.  Tobacco industry tactics!  For every seed of doubt regarding possible negative side effects from the use of mobile phones, bulldozers of studies and committees instantly appeared to say the opposite.  To a layman they seemed “scientific enough”.  “Doctor” so and so talked, “certain scientists” were quoted, “reputable statistics” were thrown in for good measure.

It seems I was not the only one seeing a pattern.  In their excellent recent book “Merchants of Doubt,”  science historians Naomi Oreskes  and Erik Conway take apart many scientific issues and the way in which “think tanks” muddled the evidence in the media.   (An excellent summary of how think tanks influence Green Politics here.)  They start in 1953 with a case book analysis of how the tobacco industry did it.  Then all sorts of other issues, from acid rain,  global warming to the ozone hole, get analysed.  Oreskes, a scientist herself, started seeing the pattern when her work as an oceanographer made the media portrayal of global warming seem completely inconsistent with her understanding of the ‘facts’.

You have two main tools and they are the same whether you are defending mobile phones or your reputation in the school playground:  1. Spread disinformation and 2. Stick to your story (especially those parts which seem to have appeal in the broader audience even when it is absolutely crystal clear that it complete nonsense.  Confusing the public in this way is guaranteed to gain you ten or twenty years of whatever product or idea you want to sell.  Like it did with the tobacco industry.

As a spin doctor I am fascinated by this topic.  I also wish that there was a sequel looking at the media more carefully.  For sure, journalists carry a huge part of the blame as they don’t do their homework properly.  Much of the disinformation would be debunked instantly if they did even elementary double checking of the sources.  If a thousand scientists say one thing and one think tank another, you had better triple check who is funding the think tank!  Journalists often fall into the media trap of trying to simplify arguments and present them as straightforward oppositions.   The topic also demands a second take to more carefully look at the differences between issues where the science was crystal clear, like the ozone, and others where it was not, like acid rain.  (A triumph of the opposite kind as regulation was passed despite this!)

It is also interesting to follow up on the media assumptions regarding scientists (they are all socialists!) and the environmental movement (sandal wearing hippies) in a time when it has become a much more complex public issue.  Portraying any view as “radical” usually pushes people to take the middle road.  In pricing we call it the Goldilocks effect, in cognitive psychology  it is the bias of aversion to extremes.  If just one State decides to make mobile phone makers prominently feature SAR figures (radiation from mobile phones) they must be “extreme”.  In a time of greater social responsibility and with companies and products having more and more to do with scientific discoveries, fully understanding the relative truths is of vital importance.  Just like companies pulled away from Tiger Woods after the scandal, you really don’t want to be associated with what proves to be bad science propaganda.  Yet even (or especially) big corporations are climbing on various cause bandwagons without fully understanding the risks.

There is a crucial difference:  unlike illicit affairs or spats with prostitutes, bad (pseudo) science is in the public domain.  There are well established rules to publication and pecking orders of status amongst them.  For good reason. It is not that a lone scientist can’t be right some times, even when the entire planet says otherwise.  But if that lone scientist is also the one who claimed that second hand smoking doesn’t do damage, CFCs don’t damage the ozone layer and that acid rain is good for certain crops…well you get the picture!

Categories
Business Communication

Why TV companies should give away reputation monitoring

The field of reputation monitoring seems to be on fire.  By all accounts a hot, hot, hot category to watch.  The reason is simple: most businesses don’t really know what is happening online and they are scared.  So they pay for a company to make sense of the millions of interactions going on globally around their brands.  They monitor products, staff, competitors, slogans, IP… in fact they let the reputation monitoring experts tell them what they should be monitoring!  This is about the same as asking your army’s general what new weapons he needs.  Expect a long, complex and detailed list of very expensive stuff.

Don’t get me wrong.  You do need to monitor what is going on online. And with the right partner you might even learn a lot about the field.  But it is extremely important not to lose track of the real world of influence.  Which, for most businesses, is not yet completely online.   Traditional media like TV, radio and print exert massive influence.  Heck I have waged fax mailing campaigns that blow the socks of anything online!   The fact that they don’t provide metrics as easy to produce as the online stuff shouldn’t marginalise them.

It does of course in a twisted Catch 22 scenario:  online metrics are easier, so we spend more time with them, so we disregard older media, so ad spend decreases.  The solution is pretty much what Google did with their Analytics.  TV companies should buy monitoring systems and give them away to customers!  In Greece for example there is a truly excellent company, www.qualia.gr which offers not only solid technology for speech and content recognition, but intelligence in it’s analysis.  And social media is included, so you can get an overall and balanced view.  (If I was the TV company buying Qualia I would tweak the algorythms a bit I think…)

It is all about interface.  If I get you looking at my monitor of information I control what you think.

Categories
Communication

Hitch hiking in corporate social media

It is a form of constipation when it comes to writing anything in public.  And I am not talking about multimillion corporations worried about lawsuits or their careers if their names appear under a press release or a blog post.  Even (or especially) small companies suffer from the lack of bravado.  And the result is catastrophic.  No communication is bad communication.  In a world inundated with incoming signals, you get drowned out.

So how to energize the situation?   Here are techniques I have tried with varying degrees of success.   Never start with the top boss, he or she is usually the problem.   They are aware that there is a problem but when it really comes down to it, they can’t write to save their lives.   The same person that is fascinating and full of jokes, stories and details when he gets to know you, clamps up when he sits to a keyboard or pen and paper.  Fixed (boring) phrases, editing and re-editing until there is no life left in the text.  So if not the boss, who?  There is usually a sales director, marketing person or techie with a talent.   They may be afraid from past failures but they basically have the urge to communicate.  Use them!

The only thing you need top level consent on really is the main message.  Reassure them that no matter what gets written by someone in the company in any social media situation we will be following these basic assumptions about the company, the brand and the product messaging.  Help them focus on the big picture which is their job anyway, rather than examining the details of every blog post or LinkedIn update.

Where is the material?  Usually right in front of everyone! Any company that has been in business for some time, has amassed loads of material from conferences, sales meetings, trade shows, research…it is just sitting in a pile or a hard disk somewhere.   It is magical that first time I get the customer to see through these glasses as it hits him just what a goldmine he is sitting on.   Match the information to the audience and we have the energy to get this plane flying!

Here is a fine point though:  social media is NOT about making a new car in order to get somewhere.  It is more like hitching a lift every day.  Uncertain and dynamic.  What are your customers using already?  Facebook?  Twitter?  Linkedin?  You go to them in a way they will appreciate.  And make damn sure the content is useful.  No point in doing it anyhow else.  “Useful” can also mean “pleasant” or “motivating” or “feel good”.   It doesn’t have to change their lives but it has to fit in pleasantly.  If this is B2B communication it means “helps me get results”.  Me the customer.

The hitch hiking analogy is probably the best one to keep. You get in the car of someone you have never met.  You try and think of a topic of conversation they might find interesting.   You get off when they tell you to or you feel you have overstayed your welcome.   You offer useful tips and politely try and find out more about them.   That way you might get a lift tomorrow too!

Hitching a lift also offers itself as a metaphor to keep in mind that there are many other ways that people get information without you.  You want your information to be picked up?  Put it where they expect to find your information, where they are likely to be positively inclined towards its presence. Don’t stand in the middle of an uphill and expect cars to stop! What influences people to stop?  Time of day, your clothing, your smile…they all make a difference.  If you don’t care about all of these ‘details’, you’re not going to get a lift.

(More on ‘real’ hitch hiking advice – one of my favourite means of transport – with twenty practical pieces of advice here.)

Categories
Business Communication

Follow your bliss: branding is storytelling as an archetype

Heinrich Zimmer was a man with a mission.  You don’t need a guru, he said, you need to find an archetypal myth that applies to your situation and live it through.  His knowledge of Hindu mythology allowed him to interpret works of art through archetypes.  Very Jung-like of him and he greatly influenced my favourite thinker on the subject, Joseph Campbell.

It is a fairly straightforward theory: any story can be categorized in a specific archetypal myth.   A myth that is told and retold since the beginning of human storytelling.  Any journey, be it Lord of the Rings or Rocky IV, has twelve stages.  Ordinary World, Call to Adventure, Refusal of the Call, Meeting with the Mentor and so on.  Much like Jung in “Man and his symbols” demonstrated that signs from the swastika to a snake eating it’s tail have followed homo sapiens from his very beginning.  (Great inspiration for logos!)  You can pick a fight with Jung’s last work easily.  Is a lion the same potent symbol today as it was back when I really did fear getting eaten by one daily?  A dragon now that we now all about dinosaurs?  Any symbol in a technologically advanced world which throws any image around the internet and on TV at a breakneck speed?

But you can’t argue with mythological archetypes.  Why?  Because what makes us human is the search for meaning.  Arguably without that, there are no emotions.  And without emotions, there is no marketing.  So, like Zimmer, I say “don’t look for brand gurus”. Follow your bliss and find the myth that applies to your brand.  And the stage it is at.  Start up?  You have seen it a thousand times in those films where a young person suddenly gets thrown into a big adventure.  It seems impossible at first, daunting.  But we learn about his pedigree.  (Good excuse for our brand’s origins.)  Then he finds allies (other companies we are working with) or mentors (brand endorsers).  We are routing for him.  Then we learn about his nemesis.  You can make it specific (“we hate Microsoft” seems to be popular!) or generic “untidy offices drive me mad!”

Myth provides a safe, reliable route to follow.  One that consumers can relate to.  Because the biggest enemy of brand building is incongruity.  Our brains just can’t handle information that seems to make no sense.  Just like in film making or book writing, just because you are following an archetype, doesn’t mean you can’t embelish it, or decide where to place emphasis.  But using well known symbols gives the larger than life effect every brand needs to gain mind share.

Straightfoward stuff.  Now my teaser question: who do you want telling your story?

Categories
Business Communication Technology

Don’t spend good money on SEO. Start a blog!

OK, I admit it.  I never liked Flash.  But Apple isn’t killing Flash.  Google is.

Back when I sold ‘real’ animation software I hated it.  Computer geeks idea of making stuff move on a screen really was the absolute worse way of doing it.  I objected to it as an animation tool.  Then I started getting annoyed at Flash as the cause of all those ridiculously complicated websites which took forever to load and didn’t really tell you anything.

I felt the need for content. Content isn’t king, it is our bread and butter.   And while corporate websites got FLASHier (pun intended) they got less and less interesting in terms of content.  It was like a one page brochure on nice shiny paper.  Almost useless, you can’t even use it for starting the fireplace in winter.

Which is why blogs took over.  Google likes blogs better than Flash sites.  And people find content through search.  At least if you are interested in attracting new customers.  Having a flash based website you end up paying for SEO to achieve what? If someone enters your brand name, your official website appears near the top of search results.  Which is like saying that if someone opens the physical copy of yellow pages, when they get to your listing they see you!

What you really need is to appear next to relevant topics.  And Flash doesn’t do that.  Wordpress does.  Or any other mechanism that puts the emphasis on content.  So rather than spending through the nose to try and make your flash website more SEO friendly, just start a blog next to it!

Your flash website is like your business card.  Flashy and almost useless but it gives a better (safer) sense of your brand.  And the blog is like your newsletter.  Less aesthetically pleasing but with more juicy content, worth revisiting.  I predicted the demise of Flash back in 2007 but here I am now in some ways backing it.  There is no good reason to go tearing down work already done on the platform 98% of connected computers use!  Just because Steve Jobs and a bunch of iPhone touting fashion maniacs in California say you should?  (Remember than iPhone penetration is much much lower in most of the rest of the planet.)

I still don’t like flash by the way.

Categories
Business Communication Technology

Brand building and social media

I took the time to get to know a superb team of brand builders today, www.yalosquality.com has a sample of their work through sadly not a lot of the more recent stuff.  They know what they are good at and they really focus on those details of a brand that matter, especially in packaging.  It got me thinking about all the social media so called brand building.

In essence you need to know three things to start with: who do you want to get into your net?(work) What gets onto your customers radars?  (Rather pointless these days to talk about media ‘consumption’.)  And where does the rest of your team fit into this effort?  (Your employees or anyone else you feel is on your side.)

It seems self evident to say you need a target but with social media this is not an easy task.  It isn’t a box sitting on a shelf, limited in many respects in its effects.  It bridges PR, community, investors and any other partnership in ways so complex it is infuriating to try and explain many times.   In normal brand building, people like the fantastically able people at Yalos make sure that everything is perfect.  The best possible take on all aspects of the brand.  In social media we are battling to achieve a degree of transparency which is almost in opposition with classic testimonials or case studies.  We are looking for a convincing ‘person’ of a brand.

And this ‘person’ cannot be driven by a single entity.  It has to be the live sum total of customers’ living with the brand.  But as clear as they are conversing with a friend.   Except they aren’t sitting down to share a coffee and a long chat.  They are saying ‘hi’ as they pass each other in the supermarket, ‘how are you’ as they pick up their kids from school and ‘we should get together some time’ as they sit next to each other for five minutes at basketball practice.   That’s life today, even with ‘normal’ regular real people friends!

Let me be clear about one thing: for most companies I wouldn’t dream of putting up anything on a social network that can be demolished.  I recently witnessed the online bashing of www.getitnow.gr , what seemed a much promising eshop type venture in Greece with serious levels of investment.  Their facebook page had all the right ingredients but once the complaints started, it seems impossible to put a lid on the hell it let loose!  You can’t delete a comment you don’t like, everyone will know instantly.    Server problems?  Delays?  Confusion?  Even if they were perfect from the start they would have been in for it.  When behemoths like P&G are struggling to make sense of it all you know we have a challenge.

And I have the solution.  Stay tuned!

Categories
Business Communication Technology

y2k vs swine flu: lessons for two industries

Everyone in the IT industry pretends it never happened.  One of the most succesful marketing fabrications ever in what is otherwise quite a boring sector.  It generated billions in revenue out of nothing.   The y2k bug was a public relations triumph.  And in many ways, it relied on similar scaremongery as H1N1.  Presidents and prime ministers went on record publicly in order to “raise awareness”.  They authorised massive amounts of public funding in order to counter the potential threat.

Potential” the operative word.  Nobody guaranteed that air control, traffic lights and bank systems would crumble as the Millenium dawned.  But everyone happilly got paid overtime to miss the New Year party.  “Just in case”.

Swine flu, though also grossly overhyped at least had some actual victims!   y2k managed to capitalize on the planet’s fear of robots taking over.  A generation of decision makers seeing technology taking over but at the same time not really understanding how it works.

I must admit that I did not personally mastermind y2k hysteria.  In fact I am one of the very few who publicly, clearly and often stated that it is all complete nonsense.  But now older and wiser I am more interested in the hysteria than the truth.  I want to do a Steve Jobs on the planet by actually causing such irrationality!

It is the Holy Grail of marketing.  Selling services for a non existent threat with all the marketing created by terrified, responsibility fearing civil servants.  Anybody with a passion for serious social engineering please contact me;  with the increased pace of technological adoption and dependence, combined with social media we can do better than y2k and swine flu combined!

Categories
Communication

this concert never happened

nobody expected it.  the party was well underway already, past midnight.  i felt something in the sky.  too near to be a plane.   suddenly the spotlights went on and we all turned our eyes up.

it was like a spielberg shot where u see everyone’s reaction while they try to figure out what the alien ship is doing.  it was dusty and noisy.  two massive helicopters where bringing containers to the middle of the field.  really fast!

so fast in fact that they had unhitched and left before we all got near them.  they looked like plain containers.  black.  and rather smarter than what you see behind trucks on the motorway.  not scary, not alien.  so we ran down.

but before we could get near them, they started.  the party music was obliterated by their sound, a massive subsonic boom, louder than even the helicopters earlier.

and then it moved.

now we’re a generation that sits through the effects in “Transformers 2” but finds Megan Fox more exciting.  it takes a lot to impress me.  a huge box from the sky unfolding with smoke and light pouring out of it in the middle of nowhere ranks up there.

it wasn’t aliens.  it was a show.  superbly choreographed.  every robotic move as it set itself up.  like the introduction to “wall-e” it was gripping.  the sound turned into a pulse, then a hint of music.  by now the stage was completely ready.  the container had opened up into a complete concert rig, instruments and lights all set up.  the second box seemed dormant.  maybe it had malfunctioned.

“the way u move me…” the voice was unmistakable.  depeche mode burst onto the stage from behind the smoke.  what on earth?  how? why?  this was no playback performance.  as it neared the end they took the song off on a tangent.  it was amazing.

we didn’t have time to adapt though.  if they went for a second song somebody might have headed back to the drinks table.  no, this was no ordinary performance.  bono came on stage!  “I know a girl…a girl called party…”   the second box now seemed to be an audiovisual central station as the sky filled with a gigantic laser show featuring a female figure dancing.

and while we were lost and entranced by the show inthe sky, a female voice joined bono.  the song ended without anyone figuring who she was but it merged into the unmistakable beat of the eurovision 2010 song contest winner.  lena!  u2 did a rock version of it, the 19yr old sang better than her pretty abysmal performance in Oslo and bono improvised anti globalization slogans as a rap over the last part.

the show lasted just short of an hour.  the surprises kept coming.  ac/dc, van morrisson, mick jagger, james.  the selection of musicians seemed to relate to the style of the couple throwing the party we had come for.

we were all too busy gawking or dancing to think about it.  a few people shouted “we need to tell someone about this!” but there is no cell phone reception in that part of the mountain.  we just tried to take it all in.  someone in front of me tried to take pictures with his phone but this was impossible to capture.  it was everywhere.  virtual projections in the sky, then lights on the forest as the ausie band sang “beds on fire” and the light show made it look like the forest was ablaze.

we didn’t know what was coming.  a reunion of the clash was rocking tha casbah and there were fireworks reminiscent of battle all around.  scenes from iraq and afghanistan played back.  as the song ended the stage was airborn!  the real helicopters had snuck back in the mayhem.  the scenes from vietnam had fooled us from seeing them come in.

it just hovered ten meters above the ground as all effects and sound ceased.  the containers folded up.  show must be over.  but my brain was a step ahead.

ten years ago, this couple of friends of mine had asked david bowie to send a video message for their wedding.  i had tried to help too but we got no response from her favorite artist.  who was now standing on the stage! the master showman himself started talking over the music drone.

it was the introduction of his spider song but then he added:

This concert never happened.”

the music stopped.  the stage was suddenly whisked to the sky at massive speed.  it almost disappeared behind the hill.  i was about to turn my eyes down.

“there’s a staaaarman…”

bowie must have been secured to the floor of the stage somehow because the whole thing swung around at g force velocity to fill our senses with music and lights.  i honestly lost track of reality for the rest of the song as the helicopters traversed the small mountain valley in every possible way, laser show, fireworks and every other effects with abandon.

he left for good, still singing.  we were almost tempted to run up the mountain to look for him.  everything went dark and quiet.  we flopped on to the ground exhausted and exhilarated.  even the cold grass beneath me, i stroked it, was this real?  my eyes couldn’t close.

there was just one reality check.  a parachute.  they must have dropped it earlier but it got lost in the pzazz.  a simple white set of three parachutes with a billboard beneath them.  it floated down.  we strained our eyes.  it came to reading distance.    i see well at distance.  and i read fast.  both advantages proved critical in this case because the sign burst into flames and then burnt the parachutes well before reaching ground level.

most people hadn’t had time.  “what did it say?”  i just smiled.  my eyes wearily closed at last.

this concert never happened.  a limited liability company with offices worldwide.  don’t look for us.  if you have enough money we will find you.”