You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet.

May 24, 2010

This past Thursday, I had the privilege of hearing @TheTimHayden speak at the Social Media Club of Dallas. Aside from being a fellow bobcat (shout out, Texas State!), he is also an incredible marketer with great tales from campaigns where he has seamlessly integrated the online with the offline.

What I took away from his talk were a lot of solid campaign ideas, a lot of thoughts about what’s to come down the pipeline for marketers and a lot of excitement about the world of mobile.

Needless to say, he got my wheels a’ turnin’.

While digital marketers and communicators can often get caught up in the hype of the next-best-thing, Tim’s talk made it clear that mobile is still something to watch. While he suggests that the application platform will break down into something only used for temporary and disposable needs, like a travel guide app for a vacation, he was quick to point out that we haven’t seen the last – or even the half – of what mobile can do.

Less than half of mobile phones in the market today are smart phones. According to the latest data by Gartner, smart phones only made up 17.3 percent of cell phone sales in the first quarter (up from 13.6 percent last year).

So, what does this mean? It means potential – serious potential. As the price for smart phones continues to drop, and service prices continue to drop – the price of entry into the world of mobile has also dropped to attract more and more people.  As Tim pointed out, what will happen when all these people have limitless communication capacity in their hand?

Well, we don’t exactly know. Why? Because we haven’t even seen half of our audience yet. And for people who work in mobile and digital, that’s very exciting.

Now is the time to test the behavioral waters and learn. Around the corner waits a whole new group of people; and they are just as hungry for communication and just as eager to join the mobile/social conversation as the groups that came before them.

Where the Digital Revolution Feels More Like a Real Revolution

April 21, 2010

The shifting of conversations to an online, open space has forever altered the way communication occurs. It has leveled much of the playing field, allowing citizen journalists and advocates alike to sound-off on whichever topic they so choose.

Even in political discussions, the Web has opened up the flood gates of conversations by providing a forum to report, attack, praise, belittle, promote – and just about every other thing you can think of. Heck, sometimes I do all of them in just one day.

However, this total access to information and open dialogue can get to be too much for some people to bear. In countries already scarred by stressful revolts, the idea of ideal exchange is enough to get some governments reaching for the kill switch.

First, Venezuela – the inspiration for my blog post today. A couple months ago I came across an article about the #freevenezuela hashtag on Twitter. This outpouring from his own people prompted President Hugo Chavez to declare the social site a “tool of terror” that needed to be squashed due to its threat against the State.

Students protesting in Venezuela: "To express is freedom"

(Frankly, I have quite a few bones to pick with Mr. Chavez, but his smack down on free speech remains issue number one.)

Moving on to places like China, where it’s been suggested that 92 percent of Internet users participate in social media, compared to only 76 percent of Internet users in the United States, the online population is said to often find their way around government censors and Web blockades. This shows the extent to which people will go to actively participate in online communication.

Looking over to the little island of Cuba, where the very concept of Internet — much less social media — is moving as a grassroots effort, we can see discussions leaking out. Advocates, like Yoani Sánchez, piece together what little technology can be found to form a connection with the outside world.

So, what’s the danger of letting social chatter escape? Social media allows a raw look into a culture that would otherwise be hazed by a government-controlled image. Think back to the digital revolution last year that allowed the West to see severe cracks in Ahmadinejad’s Iran. Citizens took to social media blasting out videos and up-to-the-minute reports about a government that had previously been showcased as solid.

As many of us continue to use the Web as our own personal soap box, this topic will inevitably stay an issue. With that being said, my purpose is not to blame any particular government or system. I do, though, want to point out a dangerous trend that will no doubt continue to increase as our online communities grow in an autonomous manner.

The Web site is dead, long live the website

April 20, 2010

The AP Stylebook has finally come to the 21st century.

For those not familiar with the AP Stylebook, it’s basically the Bible of journalism and public relations writing. It provides guidelines on everything from a- (The rules of prefixes apply, but in general no hyphen.) to Zurich (The city in Switzerland stands alone in datelines.). Anyone who went to journalism school has memories of cramming for AP Style exams.

For years, the AP Stylebook has insisted that Web site should be spelled as two words, with the W capitalized. This, despite the fact that most of the rest of the English-speaking world spelled it website. It seemed like writers who followed the AP Stylebook were the odd ones out. Even the New York Times spelled it website (note: the New York Times has its own style guide and does not follow AP Style). As a PR professional, I was forever trying to explain to clients why it was Web site and not website. As a professor, I was constantly counting off for website. Enough people became frustrated that someone started a group on Facebook, “Dear AP Stylebook: Could You Please Spell ‘Web site’ Like a Normal Person?

On Friday the AP Stylebook announced that it is changing Web site to website, effective immediately on the online guide and next month in the new print edition.

Most people, including myself, seem to be happy with the change. I must admit, however, that after years of typing Web site, I have to force myself to type website. Still, language is ever evolving. We don’t speak the same way as people did in Shakespeare’s time. It’s only right that the AP Styleboook evolve with us.

Net Neutrality Takes a Hit; Court Rules in Favor of Comcast

April 13, 2010

The Internet is the only medium in the world that gives all its users, without discrimination, the ability to create content for the entire world to see. User generated content is a dominating component of the Internet and freedom is one of the key characteristics of the Internet’s success. Supporters of continued freedom are backing a concept known as net neutrality, which is the principle that says all information flowing across the Internet should be treated equally. With a recent federal appeals court ruling, the freedoms current users experience online could be downloading at a much slower rate, or blocked all together as some fear the ruling could lead to unjustified regulation of the Web.

The much anticipated ruling was handed down in favor of Comcast who had brought suit against the Federal Communications Commission for rules it had put in place in an attempt to enforce net neutrality. The court found that the FCC did not have the authority or power to enforce the rules they had handed down regarding Comcast. The major take away from this is the court emphasized that the FCC does not have this authority over this matter. Many believe this may lead to regulation provided by another entity and the possibility of new legislation established to protect consumers. Most users are in agreement that everyone should have equal access to all Internet content but the issue must be considered with great precision as it has massive financial, legal and social implications.

Comcast claims the purpose of their need for control over usage stems from customers they term as heavy users. Heavy users consistently use more bandwidth, pulling available resources and causing network slowness in some cases. Comcast wants to be able to control the amount of data being transferred in to a user. Some fear this could lead to providers only allowing access to approved items and big service providers charging partners a lesser price for service while selling at premium prices to others. This discussion usually triggers discussions on Comcast’s reserved markets across the U.S. where no competition is allowed from other providers; thereby leaving no opposing forces to check each other in this constantly changing world of technology.

Although concerns have been expressed on both sides, the general response seems to be support for net neutrality. Users want protection and reassurance that when they desire information, it will be available in an unbiased, raw form. It seems as if service providers such as Comcast need to step up the game and focus on enhancing the network to provide faster, more reliable speeds instead of fighting to block heavy users.

Three minute video explaining Net Neutrality…

Dog-gone marketing

April 12, 2010

My dogs went with us on a Sunday drive and we had to take the obligatory Texas bluebonnet photo.

I had to run a few errands today and decided to take my two dogs along for a ride (actually, I’m not sure they were going to give me a choice). We stopped at Bank of America to deposit a check; finishing our transaction, the drive-thru tell sent a dog biscuit through the tube. When she noticed I actually had two dogs in the car, she sent another. This act of kindness, while not totally unexpected (the tellers usually do have treats for the dogs), left me with a good feeling about my bank.

I compare this to my credit union, which was the next stop. My credit union has great customer service, but no doggy treats. It got me thinking, maybe more businesses, particularly ones with drive-thrus, should target dog-lovers. We tend to be as loyal as, well, our dogs.

According to the 2009/2010 National Pet Owners Survey, 62% of U.S. households have a pet. There are 77.5 million dogs (pets) in the U.S., which means nearly 40% of households have at least one dog. That’s a lot of kibble. Not only that, Americans tend to spend money on our pets. The survey points out that we’re projected to spend $47.7 billion on our pets in 2010, up from $45.5 billion in 2009 and $43.2 billion in 2008 (I guess our pets are recession-proof).

We’re traveling with our pets, taking them when we run errands and even enrolling them in doggy daycare. So wouldn’t it be smart for businesses to target this large market?

In my neighborhood, both Chick-fil-a and Bank of America give dog treats at the drive-thru. A local sandwich shop, Thundercloud, will usually give my dogs a piece of ham or turkey. There are restaurants that cater to dogs, like Freddie’s Place, which goes so far as having menu items for the dog patrons. While I don’t go to these places because they market to my dogs, these places are top-of-mind because they understand my relationship to my dogs.

Love me, love my dog and you’ll get our business.

Will Nike’s new ad change opinions about Tiger?

April 7, 2010

If you haven’t seen and/or heard enough about Tiger Woods lately, then you have probably been completely isolated from any and all media coverage over the past few months. I was completely amazed to see most of the sports channels totally focused on Tiger and his return to golf while the NCAA National Basketball Championship and Opening Day for baseball were both going on.  While Mr. Woods might be a great golfer, he is still just a human being. I think the entire Tiger Woods “scandal” can be summed up in a few very short sentences. Tiger is a professional golfer. He made a mistake. Let’s move on.

Amidst all of the controversy surrounding Tiger and his scandal, many of his sponsors, including Accenture, AT&T and Gatorade, decided to drop him. However, perhaps his biggest and most important sponsor is now publicly backing the golf superstar. Nike has just released a new commercial on the Web, ESPN and the Golf Channel. The ad features Tiger’s late father, Earl Woods. You can watch the ad below:

Unless I’m missing something, it seems the ad has little to do with Nike or golf. It looks to me like Nike is simply trying to shine a positive light on Tiger after the current PR crisis the golfer has undergone. In my opinion, the purpose of the ad is to “humanize” Tiger and show the public that he also has feelings and he also makes mistakes.

After so many big companies have dropped Tiger, do you think Nike made the right decision to stand behind him? Is this ad going to earn some good PR coverage for Tiger and Nike, or do you think it was simply a mistake by Nike?

Honestly, I think Tiger’s fan base consists mostly of men who couldn’t care less about whether he cheated on his wife or not. They just want to watch some good golf. If you want my two cents, I think as long as Tiger continues to put the golf ball in the hole then he will be just fine.

The Fuss About Location-Based Services

April 6, 2010

As an intern at a fast-paced, digital PR firm – I should know better. Mobile technologies, such as location-based services, are topics discussed daily among my team. However, as stated, I am an intern. I won’t spend the money to upgrade my cutesy phone to what I really need to keep up. I often feel like the fashion intern who can’t afford the beautiful clothes she works so hard to market.

That being said, I am very interested in location-based apps such as Gowalla and Foursquare. I see great potential, from a marketing standpoint. These applications use geolocation to allow you to “check in” at different places and receive badges as a reward system.

While I get creeped out by the notion that someone could follow your daily routine (check out one of my coworker’s blog post cautioning LBS), I am in total agreement with the direction these technologies seem to be going. For example, Starbucks recently teamed up with Foursquare to reward patrons with a “Barista” badge for those who check in at five Starbucks locations.

This, combined with future possibilities for a mobile coupon to returning customers, is a way to track who’s coming into your business, and how to get them back. Furthermore, this could essentially scrap the idea of a shopper’s loyalty card and transform the concept into information on your mobile device. In addition to rewarding the customer, it also allows the business a glimpse at the social landscape that makes up their clientele.

Moving forward from loyalty programs, my agency recently worked on a client campaign at South By Southwest using Gowalla to hook people up with a Chevrolet vehicle. When SXSW goers checked in with the mobile application at the airport, a lucky few were offered a “free ride” provided by Chevrolet.

This idea of merging marketing with someone’s physical location is the premise that will, I believe, help tailor advertisements more toward the right audience, as well as lead to more customer control and interaction. It’s not in-your-face bombardment — it’s a more strategic process of delivering the right product, to the right person, at the right time and in the right place. And for a good or service to suddenly make an offer on your mobile phone in an interactive, game-like manner — well, that’s just plain exciting.

Never get a second chance to make a first impression

March 30, 2010

Yesterday I had an experience that made me think how important word-of-mouth, Web content and customer service is to build a brand and a business. Even if the product is dirt.

My husband and I are building new garden beds. For this, we need dirt. A lot of it. Five cubic yards to begin with. But, it can’t be just any old dirt. According to the experts, it has to have the right mixture of loam (or what we think of as plain old dirt), compost and sand.

Knowing nothing about this, we got recommendations from some of our neighbors and friends. There we three places we decided to look at online. None really had GREAT Web sites, but some had more info than others. My husband was interested in one in particular because his friend raved about it. The Web site had pricing, we may have been able to do same-day delivery and it was the least expensive. However, there was no information on the site about the soil mixture. This concerned me because they were significantly under the price of the other two places and I wanted to make sure we got a good quality. So I called the place a little after 9 yesterday morning.

The girl who answered the phone began to frustrate me. I felt that she wasn’t hearing what I said and kept interrupting me. Not a good sign. She didn’t have the answer to my question and said someone would call me back in 5 minutes. Ok, I get it so I hung up and waited. Five minutes passed. Then 15. After 30 minutes I started calling the other places, getting information on their delivery fees and timelines. An hour and a half passed since calling the first place and there was no call back. I finally called one of the other places back, with an order that was close to $250. Not bad for one customer that would probably order more before all the projects were through. BTW, while the Web site for the place needs serious design help, they had all the content I needed to know on the, including the soil mixture.

The original place finally called back, 2½ hours after I originally called. I told them that because they waited so long to return my call, I gave my business to someone else. He mumbled something about working outside, loading the trucks, whatever. Quite honestly, as a customer, I didn’t care what they were doing, I just care that they promised a call back in a timely manner and it didn’t happen.

There’s more to the story. I posted my dirt delivery dilemma on Facebook and a friend responded she too needed topsoil delivered. I gave her the name, Web site and pricing info for the place we used as well as the info from the second place. I also told her who to stay away from.

Bottom line, we went with the company that came recommended by a neighbor and had good content on its Web site. We didn’t go with the company that had poor content and provided bad customer service. Not only that, we’ll recommend the company we went with (assuming they deliver everything ok) and we’ll make sure to tell folks not to use the other company.

Business owners, are you making a good impression on your potential customers, from your Web site to customer service? Are your clients likely to recommend you to others? If not, you may want to make some changes.

How should we be teaching social media?

March 25, 2010

I recently had the opportunity to be a panelist on #PRStudChat, a monthly online discussion that takes place via Twitter. The moderator (a student) asked the panelists (a group of PR professors) about teaching social media and public relations. One question was “Should social media be its own, separate course? If not, how should it be incorporated into existing PR courses?”

Regarding the first question, establishing a new course just on social media really isn’t that easy. First, the Texas Legislature passed a law that says that unless otherwise approved, all degree programs must be able to be completed in 120 hours. This means unless you are an engineering or architecture program, you have to have cut your degree program. Until a few years ago, the bachelor’s degree in the School of Journalism & Mass Communication at Texas State University required 128 hours. Because the University would not reduce the hours required in the core classes (English, History, etc.), the School of Journalism had to cut eight hours (almost three classes) from our program. Requiring a social media course would mean dropping another course, such as research, editing or writing — a big mistake.

What about offering a social media course as an elective? That’s a great idea in theory, but reality is, most students are just trying to wrap up courses and graduate. They hardly take electives, nor, in our program, is there room for many electives in those 120 hours. We have a course on our books, Advertising and Public Relations Management. We can only offer it once every two years because it simply does not make. When it does make, 90 percent of the class are advertising majors because they have more room in their program for electives.

For us to offer a stand-alone social media course would require a change in our curriculum, a big undertaking, something that may occur every decade or two. While most of my colleagues would agree it’s time to review and possibly overhaul our curriculum, when and how we’ll do it remains to be seen.

While it might be good to start offering social media PR courses, my philosophy has been to incorporate social media in the traditional PR courses. It’s not an either/or for today’s PR practitioners, so it shouldn’t be one for the students. Students must know how both traditional and new media work in the world of public relations.

Often, interesting conversations arise when talking to traditionalist colleagues who don’t understand social media. They think that those of us who push social media are doing so in lieu of traditional media. That is not the case. Social media is simply a weapon in a PR practitioner’s arsenal, much in the same way a news release or a bylined article is a weapon. Twitter alone cannot do the job. To hit the bulls eye, the PR practitioner must have the ammunition of being a good writer and understanding the message, the audience and the medium. Unless we teach those basics, teaching social media will do us little good.