Back From My Obama Cave

I’m recooperating after a little bit of election addiction.  It was pretty bad for a little while, but now, with no more polls to check, I’ve been working to fill the lull.  So far, it’s been filled with walks in parks (ah, air) and catching up on some needed sleep (I’ve been passing out at 9 PMish since Election Day).  Unfortunately, I’m still doing the MSNBC watching, but c’mon, Rachel Maddow’s show is the best, and it’s an exciting time.

Election night was incredible, and culminated into a parade to the White House.  I still can’t believe we did it – it was a nearly flawless campaign, and because I’m a Democrat, I know better than to think about the possibilities of my candidate as president.  I couldn’t help it at times, and I’d “go there,” but man, to have it really happen…

With my mind liberated from the nightmarish horror that was the concept of a Sarah Palin presidency, who knows what might happen.


I Almost Feel Guilty. Almost.

Last night, I sold my iPhone on eBay.

Why?  Because the new 3G iPhone comes out on Friday.

Not that it’s got features that are much different than my current one.  Really, it’s just 3G (which is actually great for me and I’ll love this), has GPS and has a bigger hard drive if you choose the top model.

I did it, mainly, because an eBay search showed me that original iPhones, as of yesterday, were still going for $350+.  Now, the new iPhones will cost $200 and $300 for the lower and top models.

So what did I do?  I put mine up, and lo and behold, someone actually bought it for $345.

Free iPhone upgrade, here I come.


Message and the Power to Motivate

This past weekend, the New York Times published a series called “What Went Wrong?”, which is trying to do a bit of a post-mortem on the Clinton campaign and explain, as the title suggests, what went wrong (note how the focus isn’t on what went “right” with the Obama campaign, which is actually a better question).

Mark Penn, the chief strategist of the Clinton campaign — and for those in the PR field, he’s also the CEO of Burson-Marsteller — wrote his take on why his own strategy failed. From his ed-op piece, entitled “The Problem Wasn’t the Message — It Was the Money“:

“From more aggressively courting young people earlier to mobilizing the full power of women, there are things that could have been done differently.

While everyone loves to talk about the message, campaigns are equally about money and organization. Having raised more than $100 million in 2007, the Clinton campaign found itself without adequate money at the beginning of 2008, and without organizations in a lot of states as a result. Given her successes in high-turnout primary elections and defeats in low-turnout caucuses, that simple fact may just have had a lot more to do with who won than anyone imagines.”

I read this, and I wondered, “but wasn’t it the message that drove people to donate to Obama?”

It was the entire Obama narrative — the concept of unity and creating a movement — that drove people to action, and to donate.

Think of key phrases from the campaign, from the “Yes We Can” slogan to lines like “we are the change that we’ve been waiting for.” The phrasing of words are specifically designed to target activation. Look at, for example, the words above the e-mail signup, and compare the phrase against the competition. What’s more likely to induce action? “Get Involved,” or “Get E-mail from Hillary”?

Language that urges inclusion and the concept of literally “buying into” the campaign — almost like an investment — is what activated donations from contributors. Flipping a slogan from “Yes We Can” to “Yes She Will” doesn’t give people the same kind of buy-in that a “we” message can.

A truly action-inducing campaign’s message needs to be more than just a collection of dial-tested phrases and slogans. Sure, polling helps to refine your messages, but there’s the notion that all of these dial-tested phrases need to end up coming together as a solid, inter-woven narrative that is designed to use the concept of “inclusion” to motivate supporters towards action.

That’s not to say that the Clinton campaign didn’t have emotionally-invested supporters (and we know that she did, and we’re clearly seeing it now). However, when Penn talks about message and Obama’s “money” as separate, non-complementary concepts, I scratch my head a bit and wonder, because it was the message that allowed for supporter-based small donations to flow in.


RSS Reader Phobia/An Interesting Experiment

Seems like I’m not the only one who dreads opening up his RSS reader these days (hat tip: Download Squad).

Here’s an interesting experiment: one blogger, Halsted (AKA Cygnoir) has sworn off her RSS reader for an entire week, choosing instead to read blogs the “old-fashioned” way: actually going to the blogs she wants to read at that moment and reading the posts there.

From her blog:

“As I mentioned in my last post, I’m a bit overwhelmed by information right now. In a fit of pique (which just the other day I learned, thanks to FunkyPlaid, is monosyllabic) I decided to stop reading all RSS feeds for a week.

Day 1 has gone swimmingly, perhaps because I spent the majority of it in a workshop. Regardless, I did not check my RSS reader on my iPhone during my lunch break. Email and Twitter were my only two information sources, and I subscribe to the BBC world news feed with the latter, so I have a vague notion of the day’s headlines. I read my book, chatted with FunkyPlaid, window-shopped in Hayes Valley, and started a crossword puzzle.”

Yesterday was “Day 7.”  How’d she do?

“I’ve made my point to myself: I don’t need to keep up with 269 RSS feeds to lead a complete, informed, happy life. Also, I prefer getting my news from communities that encourage participation instead of from one-way news blasts.”

In an age where we’re slaves to the philosophy of “must not miss a single thing,” what kind of consequences are we imposing upon ourselves?  Sounds like we all need a little “web zen” these days.


Comcast: Opening Up A Can Of Worms?

As reported very nicely by Todd Zeigler of The Bivings Report, Comcast has been incorporating Twitter into how they perform customer relations. They’re actively monitoring Twitter for conversation surrounding the company and offering customer service. Says TechCrunch‘s Mike Arrington:

“Within 20 minutes of my first Twitter message (about technical problems) I got a call from a Comcast executive in Philadelphia who wanted to know how he could help. He said he monitors Twitter and blogs to get an understanding of what people are saying about Comcast, and so he saw the discussion break out around my messages.”

While Mike Arrington is a big “celeb” around these parts, they’re responding to nearly everyone, including my friend David All:

“Comcast just pinged me via Twitter and asked for feedback to the SVP of Customer Service. He just got a nice rant.”

But after David talked to them, he hasn’t heard a thing. Yesterday, David tweeted this:

“Still haven’t heard back from Comcast about resolving this matter. Was their tweeting simply a PR move?”

So, to test this out, I thought I’d see what happens, myself, if I referenced Comcast in a reply. I said:

Likely just a PR move. Look forward to hearing about Comcast’s response from that tweet. Comcast and promises generally don’t mix.”

Sure enough, a few moments later, I received a tweet asking me if I’m experiencing technical problems.

As of right now, no, I’m not. But the word “Comcast” leaves a sour taste in my mouth. It’s not anything that can be solved tech-wise. They’re systematic changes, like updating the on-screen menu for the first time in 10 years, fixing their auto-bill-pay system that it doesn’t take weeks to cancel (so when you cancel your account, you still get billed and have to wait for a refund check), or them telling me that I have to go and exchange boxes, in-store, if my cable box is nuked.

J.W. Crump of The Bivings Report says that I’m not alone. Of recent Twitter posts,


“178 were about the company itself, 66 were problems with the Internet or cable completely not working, 33 were about slowdown, and 22 were about pricing concerns. It is interesting that on Twitter there is a lot of general venting about Comcast (bad for the brand), and less specific complaints.”

Under the current Twitter system, how can Comcast solve these concerns? It’s a nice effort if they’re trying to solve tech problems, but that’s not what’s the “problem” is that we have with Comcast. Instead, the Twitter initiative will likely evolve into a “why I hate Comcast” free-for-all, and we’re going to overwhelm the poor Comcast rep with our complaints.

What Comcast is doing with Twitter might be a good first step, but like David All warns, they have to live up to their promises in helping us solve said tech problems. The problem is, of course, how a representative in Philly can ensure that everyone who needs help gets real help. He’ll be overwhelmed, and he’ll be lost in the technical argument of “hey, this still doesn’t work.” And if things still don’t work, negative will will form.

There’s no winning, because the only good thing that can happen out of this model is resolving a negative issue that a customer has with a service that they’re already paying for, and that they expect to work optimally.  The model is not about improving experience.

Instead, Comcast needs to use Twitter as a means to solicit real opinions about Comcast to promote systematic change. That’s the only way they can “win” here, and really solve the problem that people have with Comcast. And if they’re not up for that, then this might not be the right experiment for them to take on.


Stupid Study: Who Do You Trust More, Bloggers Or Friends?

As someone who’s done a few studies during his academic years, one of my favorite concepts is that of the “useless study.”

Would you believe it, there’s a new study out (hat tip to TechDirt) that did some research on online influences. Turns out that our entire social media profession is useless, says the study, because “self-described social media users put far more trust in friends and family online than in popular bloggers, or strangers with 10,000 MySpace ‘friends.'”  So much for our profession, right, social media people?


Of more than 1,100 adults polled in December, nearly 80% said they were very or somewhat more likely to consider buying products recommended by real-world friends and family, while only 23% reported being very or somewhat likely to consider a product pushed by “well-known bloggers.”

“This shows that popularity doesn’t always equate to credibility,” said Robert Hutton, executive vice president and general manager at Pollara (the research group of the study). “Marketers might have to reconsider who the real influencers are out there.”

Yeah…no, it really doesn’t mean that, because you just conducted a stupid study.
How did the study operationalize “popularity,” “credibility” and “influence”?  They didn’t.  They just asked people, “hey, do you listen to blogs more, or your friends?” and then published the results as if they were valid.

What did the study group consider as a “blog”? Were they thinking about the most popular blogs, like DailyKos, Huffington Post, and so on? These are blogs where there’s not much interaction between a blogger and the audience.  They’re popular — but how do we define credibility and influence based on their popularity?  They’re extremely distinct and different concepts, and completely mutually exclusive.  The loudest person may be heard, but they don’t have to have the most influence.

What about blogs like DownloadSquad or Lifehacker?  These are blogs that “recommend” things.  Therefore, they have more influence.  I read these blogs to learn about the “latest and greatest,” and influence what I download and purchase.  Or what about sites like HeatEatReview, that tells me what frozen foods are delicious and what I should stay away from? Or CoolMomPicks, that acts as a pretty spectacular guide for moms?

Another variable: what if I consider the blogger my friend?  I’ve met plenty of people through blogs that I’d consider my friends, but I’ve never met them in person.  So, are they a blogger, or are they my friend?  Because I listen to those people.  If they say, “oh man, you’ve gotta check this out” or “I love this product,” I’m bound to listen.  “Blogger” and “friend” aren’t mutually exclusive, either.

And, really, what is this study?  Who doesn’t trust something more than their “friends?” I trust my friends’ musical recommendations more than I trust the Rolling Stone reviews, so should Rolling Stone shut down? If my friend says, “hey, you’ve gotta try this new cleaning product,” but Consumer Reports says it’s useless, and I trust my friend, should Consumer Reports just cease publication?

Really, I wouldn’t even call this a study.  I’d call it a question.  Study implies that you actually use research methodology.

So, my take?  Ignore this thing.  Please.

UPDATE: It’s been pointed out to me by my friend (girlfriend, to be exact) that you shouldn’t trust my opinion on this. I’m just a blogger, you know.

[tags]Stupid study, study, studies, influences, social media[/tags]


Using Social Anthropology To Create Resonant Campaigns

Alright!  Just when you thought my “social media and anthropology” series was more of a vapor-series than a real one, I’m back with part two!  In the first post, I was beginning to discuss the role of culture in new/social media, and how we can use anthropology and culture studies in order to produce better and more resonant media campaigns.

Why is this?  When applied to communication, research and knowledge of the target community helps communicators create more compelling strategies, solutions, and messages.   You need to learn how a group shapes its perceptions — and of course, how it expresses itself.  Otherwise, you risk striking a culturally off-key note.

After all, great communications always connect and strike a chord with people.  To me, the main ingredient in a real campaign is a compassion and empathy for my audience.  Think about Bill Clinton’s famous “I feel your pain” appeal.  Why did it connect with people?  Because a great communicator understands that the relationship between what he or she has to say and how it connects with others.

But say you need to appeal to an online community that you don’t really know all that well.  Or say you know about the subject that the bloggers talk about (say healthcare or politics or economics), but you know nothing about the actual online community.  What are you to do when you don’t know the “pain” that a group itself faces?  How can you understand, in-depth, how to appeal to a community?  Or how to even navigate it or get started?

Here’s where social anthropology has always come into play for me — namely one of the core methods of research, called an “ethnography.” (As a side note, in the workplace, I’ve always called this a “blog audit,” because “online ethnography” sounds really lame and really, really nerdy.)  An ethnography, simply, is a research method designed to “map out” a culture, group or community that you wish to learn more about.  Once you conduct an ethnography, you’ll likely know what to “do” and how to “do it.”

How? In anthropology, the ethnography itself is an account of a specific social system.  Included are generally a breakdown of roles, norms, values, motivations, symbols, and other social breakdowns.  The ethnography focuses on detailed observations of what the culture “actually does” — its social behavior, and reasons and motivations behind them.  It’s also extremely systematic, and insights come from a rigorous analysis of systematically collected data (cough, metrics, cough).  The best ethnographies are quite objective.

It’s also not just observation that gets the job done.  Ethnography is also based — and this is key — on a participatory model (are bells ringing in your head, my social media friends?).  Ethnographers take part in cultural events.  Participation lets the research “feel” what it’s like to be a part of the group being studied.  Participation works not only as a means of gaining insight, but trust.  Don’t forget — the social scientist (the “participant”) is also being observed and evaluated as the ethnography is conducted, so participation builds rapport.

The observer-participant model, together, lets social scientists — and in the case that I’m trying to make, us social media people — better able to understand and widen our perspectives on the culture we’re interacting with.  Because of it, we have better analytic insight and a deeper understanding of the culture and what makes it tick.  Once we have that, we can build better campaigns.

In my next post, I’m going to lay out the ethnographic model and map out the “social media equivalent” to these.  I’ll be going from the conceptual, theory-based stuff to the practical “this is how you do an ethnography with an online community.”  And no, don’t worry, it’s already mostly typed out, so expect it soon!


How Are Ads Like These Legal?

I’ve made it no secret that my favorite news station (actually, “favorite” might not be the right word. How about “leasted hated”?) is MSNBC. So, likely, it’s no surprise that I find myself on MSNBC.com quite a lot.

There’s been an ad circulating for some sort of mystery facial cream called “Dermitage,” and I’m wondering how advertising like this is legal.

Here’s the ad in question:


Welcome to the miracle cream that fills craters the size of the Grand Canyon and takes 40 years off of your face. My absolute favorite part is how the application of this cream changes the color of your hair from “old person” gray to “hot blonde.” Truly amazing.

Now, I understand that it’s “simulated imagery,” as it says in pretty small letters, but as someone who makes and places online advertisements, I begin to wonder…how is that not false advertising? And how is that, in any way, allowed? Is there any oversight on this? Is this stuff regulated?

I highly doubt that this “Dermitage” company cares about its integrity and its reputation (it’s pretty clear that when you advertise like this, you likely don’t), but shouldn’t MSNBC, as a place that should care about news and facts, have a better “false advertising” policy?


When Less Internet Time Is More

A strange thing happened to me when I moved last week. I had no Internet for six whole days.

A crisis, you’d think. How could a social media guy survive without the Internet for more than ten minutes?

So how well did I hold up?

Pretty damned well, actually.

I went to bed at reasonable hours. I woke up feeling amazingly refreshed and extremely happy and affable. I actually watched TV and paid attention to plots, rather than having it just be background noise. I actually called people on the phone — including my grandma, like a good little 6 foot 4 grandson. I took the time to relax a bit.

Now that Comcast is installed, I’m finding myself mull this over. I’m convinced — totally and utterly — that less Internet time can actually be more. I’ve realized that while I didn’t think I was, I was snacking. I’m realizing that I need more red meat, and less of the Ruffles.

That means making Internet time more valuable to me. That means no staying up late because of instant messaging. The same people will be there in the morning, I’m telling myself.

That means that I’m setting an Internet curfiew for myself. Yes, I’m not kidding.

Could it be? A more disciplined Internet usage? My mood, my sleep and my love of the Internet depend on it, I think.

Let’s see how long it lasts, no?


In The Midst Of A Move

I’ll be back in the next few days. I’ve been moving, and my new place has yet to have Internet installed.

Strangely, that’s allowed me to finish up my “social media = anthropology” series, and I’ll be posting those up little by little over the next few days.

Stay tuned!

– Brad