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Subverting the marketers of evil things

Like many Americans I've been spending time with family and friends
these holidays, shopping the Thanksgiving sales, seeing a movie,
watching some interesting TV. And though I try not to think about work
stuff too much, I am always in the end a marketer, and I often process
what I see through the lens of "what can this teach me?" At the same time, I also tend to reflect on what I see through the
lens of right and wrong, or at least my personal beliefs about that.
And though I don't believe in being preachy, when I see what to me are
"bad" products being marketed extrarodinarily well, I tend to think
about how I'd love to launch my own marketing campaign to put them out of business, or at least minimize them to a small corner of the market. A big example is fast food and the sugary beverages that go with them.
Now, let me be the first one to say that I am no purist when it comes
to food. (Try to take away my french fries and you will definitely
emerge with some b…

Branding and Social Media: “I Now Pronounce You Man and Wife”

Over the past several years, with the explosion of freely available social media tools and the corresponding increase in the public’s use of these, I’ve become more and more consumed with a central challenge that social media presents to branding. Specifically, with these two disciplines we have two seemingly opposing rules of communication at work. Let’s put them in Ten Commandments form, since they are so important:

1. “Thou shalt communicate consistently.”

2. “Thou shalt communicate authentically (and increasingly, support authentic and transparent feedback to you from your customers).”

In the “olden” days (for me the “olden” days are roughly 2007, before I started actively studying and engaging in social media myself) simply obeying rule #1 was enough, and even that was tough, for two reasons.

--First, companies didn’t have a handle on all the touchpoints between themselves and the public that had to be controlled in order to create a consistent image. They understood that the ads…

Dealing with social media users' inner conflict re: sponsored content

I wrote this comment in response to an article written by Marian Salzman, President, Euro RSCG Worldwide PR, North America. (Transparency note: I worked for Marian a decade ago as VP and Editorial Director of the Intelligence Factory, she introduced me to branding, and I consider her a genius.)It's called "How Should Marketers Use Social Media Now?", and it is aimed at marketers, not government folks implementing social media, of which I am one.

Nevertheless, I think the article is still of interest to us in the government community, not just to private sector marketing firms, because it provides some research-based insight into how people actually use social media. If the government is going to use social media to reach the public, then it is better to develop fact-based strategies for doing so rather than a shotgun, based-on-a-whim approach that may win big or fail miserably depending on mostly pure luck.

As far as my comments go, they are really aimed at anyone who is t…

With trust ratings like these, why are leaders still talking?

According to a new study (the "2009 National Leadership Index") released by Harvard's Kennedy School, 52% of Americans mistrust what leaders in the federal government say.

This suggests a serious problem, no?

For in order to lead effectively, you have to have the trust of the people you serve.

At the very least, when you say something they should believe you.

Maybe it's time for government leaders to start listening more, rather than focusing so much on what it is that they want to say.

Something to keep in mind when developing social media tools...ask the question of how the tool will facilitate citizen engagement, or at least a conversation, rather than just providing a new and shiny kind of microphone.

Why “The Biggest Loser” in Government Is Actually The Biggest Winner

The Federal Times covers today’s Gallup event announcing the results of a survey they did this summer on citizens’ perceptions of the federal government.

I was fortunate to be there today when Gallup released the important findings and hosted an equally vital discussion about them. It was a rare opportunity to hear directly from an impressive panel of thought leaders, including Jim Clifton, the CEO of Gallup; the editor-in-chief of the Gallup Poll, Frank Newport (who was instantly recognizable from his presence on CNN), the president of the Partnership for Public Service, Max Stier; and Patricia McGinnis, a Georgetown professor who is also a White House advisor. The head of the Gallup Government Practice, Bernadine Karunaratne, led and moderated the event and was also very well-spoken.

It was also nice to be among other dedicated federal employees at this event. Their questions showed a great deal of genuine commitment and an obvious desire to improve how their agencies work. Americans…

My Top 10 Picks from the New "Cluetrain Manifesto" for Gov 2.0

Writing for the Social Computing Journal, Steve Radick, offers "Twenty Theses for Government 2.0, Cluetrain Style"

Here are my favorites:

1. Every agency can use social media - no exception."Your Government agency/organization/group/branch/division is not unique. You do not work in a place that just can't just use social media because your data is too sensitive. You do not work in an environment where social media will never work. Your challenges, while unique to you, are not unique to the government."

2. Expect to confront skeptics, careerists, and other difficult people."You will work with skeptics and other people who want to see social media fail because the transparency and authenticity will expose their weaknesses (and) you will work with people who want to get involved with social media for all the wrong reasons...These people will be more dangerous to your efforts than the biggest skeptic."

3. Look inside the organization for expertise first."…

Via Will Kill the Starbucks Star

I am a huge fan of Starbucks. Good Starbucks, bad Starbucks, Starbucks from the grocery store, Starbucks mugs, Starbucks ice cream. Even the New York Times reads better at Starbucks. It’s not just that I like the coffee – honestly, Panera’s is better and Trader Joe’s tastes about the same – but the fact that the company is in many ways synonymous with the term “branding.” In fact, I can’t even think of the term without thinking of that company.

(What the heck does this post have to do with government? Nothing, except that a lot of us stand in line every day first thing for about ten minutes, just so we can tote a hot steaming “Venti” cup of this distinctively branded brew to the office, just so we can start our high-pressure days incredibly hyped on caffeine.)

It is because I am such a fan of this brand that I am going to take them to task for what is a very stupid, I believe brand-destroying mistake. And that is the introduction of the very opposite of what their brand stands for – ins…

A Declaration for Independence

I was in the airport, coming down the escalator, when I heard a loud THWACK.

Even if it was nothing, I couldn’t just ignore the sound. I am one of those people for whom the prospect of another 9/11 is more likelihood than remote possibility. So I scanned the area, slightly worried.

Fortunately, it didn’t indicate anything dangerous – no terrorist attack here. But the scene was still disturbing: A family meltdown, loud and carried on right in front of an entire Transportation Security Administration security line.

There, just beyond the escalator, on the right, was the mother. She was pulling the handles of a shopping bag apart and peering inside, her face gnarled in fury. In front of her was the daughter, looking up at mom with a combination of shock and fear on her face. I could see the child’s mouth forming a little O, and hear her piercing screams: “Mommy, Mommy, why did you do that?”

What I (and the rest of the TSA line apparently, judging from the stares and the disapproving comments…

Focus, guts, and great communication

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,” said Dr. Seuss, “nothing is going to get better. It's not.”

I agree with that. But as we all know, caring is not enough. You need discipline, dedication, and relentless focus too. And unfortunately, few organizations seem to have these qualities—especially the last one.

The link between focus and success is so obvious and well-established that it seems silly to get up on a soapbox about it. It’s as plain as the nose on your face - if you don’t define success, and you don’t do everything you can to achieve it, then you will by definition fail. Or more accurately, flail. Like a duck, flapping its wings and quacking, and going nowhere.

In an organizational context, a lack of focus goes together with a lack of shared performance measures that define success. In fact, there is a de-emphasis on metrics altogether; nobody likes to talk about that.

In the place of measures is anecdotal evidence, informal feedback, and an inward focus. You he…

Unscripted

A lot of things went through my mind this week when I learned that the President had been taped calling singer Kanye West what kids would call “a bad name.”

The first thing I thought was – this seems like just another Internet hoax.

Then I thought, well maybe he said it, but maybe he said it in private and somebody leaked the comment to the press.

After that I found myself very curious about what exactly had happened. So I went to the website where the audio was posted and listened for myself. Sure enough, there it was, the President on tape, saying that Mr. West was out of line for praising the singer Beyonce, who did not win a video music award, while simultaneously presenting it to the winner, Taylor Swift. And then I heard him actually use the “J” word. (You can look it up if you don’t know what that is.)

Now, that tape could have been doctored. But it was true. As it turns out, the President had indeed said the word, but that part of the interview was not supposed to be on the recor…

Why people don’t trust public affairs (and what we can do about it)

As someone who has watched so many public figures and respected organizations fall and fail after years and years of lying, I don’t trust official statements anymore. It’s a pretty sad thing and from what I can see on the Internet, it’s also a pretty common one.

At the same time, I have to confess that I consider myself a marketer. More specifically, I am a public affairs specialist working for the government, and in that capacity I have always advocated reaching out to the public in a way that is exciting, engaging, and that generates understanding, awareness of, and support for the mission. If we don’t do these things, the public will not know what to do when they encounter us, they will believe the falsehoods that are spread about us, and they will turn to alternative, less reliable sources of information to find out what they need to know about what we do.

So, unless G-d likes to play cosmic jokes, why does such a cynical person walk around in a spokesperson’s shoes?

I do believe tha…

When It's Good To Be “Undignified”

If you are a federal government communicator, chances are you have either participated in or witnessed a conversation inside government walls that goes something like this:

Program Manager: OK everyone, we're here to talk about Initiative X. We really want to get the word out about it. Everyone needs to know how important Initiative X is.

Communicator: That sounds exciting! There are lots of things we can do to get your message out.

Program Manager: Can you give me some examples?

Communicator: We can create a brochure, a web story, an article in the employee newsletter, posters, things like that.

Program Manager: That's all fine, but what can we do to really stand out?

Communicator: Well if you really want to get “out there,” we can do a social media campaign, blogs, Tweets, maybe even a Facebook page if the lawyers will approve...we can go out on the message boards and talk to people, really get to citizens where they live.

Program Manager: Hmmm. I don't know. A blog? That sound…

Shopping for the Truth

Everybody is fearful of losing their good image. This includes government agencies, politicians, businesses large and small, religious leaders, educators, and even individuals who have nothing to to sell or to lose. It is simply human nature that we all want to look good before our family, friends, stakeholders, customers, and so on.

Not only are people concerned about their own reputations, but they spend a fair amount of time looking into the reputations of the people they know and work with, the businesses they buy from, and the candidates they choose.

I don't know about other people, but personally, when I want to find out more about someone or something, the first place I head to is Google. I Google the name on the web, in the news, on the blogs, basically everywhere. And if I find too many negative stories, actually if I even find one negative mention, I start to get suspicious.

In fact, gauging other people's reputations is standard practice both online and in the real wor…

7 Reasons Why People Should Have Access To Social Media At Work For Limited Personal Use

We take for granted that people can make personal phone calls and send personal emails at work, so why is social media any different?If we try to block certain sites we're basically saying to our employees, "I don't trust you." A very disheartening and disengaging message - bad for morale.If employees are engaged in their work they won't abuse Facebook. If they're abusing Facebook then there is a problem outside of social media that needs to be addressed.Many people have devices they can use to access social media without needing to be on the company computer. So it just turns them off that they can't work more conveniently.For many people, social networking combines elements of personal and professional - their friends are also their colleagues. I had a conversation on Facebook among a professional network this week about the best way to boil an egg. And in truth, at work, people work better with people that they can shoot the breeze with - we're not…

All Aboard Social Media: Or, Why You Shouldn’t Stand In Front of a Moving Train With a STOP Sign

Everyone is abuzz about the Marines’ order “banning” social media use at work, but it has truly been been mischaracterized. The reality is, the Marines always had that ban in place: "Even before this message, sites such as YouTube, Facebook, MySpace and Twitter could not be accessed by Marines using the Marine Corps Enterprise Network in accordance with Marine Corps and Department of the Navy policies."

The truth is quite the opposite of the headlines. The order was intended to promote the appropriate use of social media at work by institutionalizing a process to request a waiver for those who need access: “The point of the directive is to establish a formal waiver process for those who require access to social networking sites.”

The level of the reporting was so out of tune with what the Marines was actually doing that they actually had to issue a statement endorsing social media use: “Marines are encouraged to tell their stories on social networking sites, using personal ac…