Friday, April 30, 2010

#14: You *can* DIY, but should you?

 There's not a whole lot I lament missing when it comes to The Middle Ages. That whole "the more you enjoy yourself the more you will burn in hell" thing must have been, well, not very enjoyable. Unless you were lucky enough to be born into royalty as a man, life pretty much stunk for you. But there is one thing that I do wish we had preserved from The Middle Ages -- an appreciation for craftsmanship.

Not to paint with a broad brush, but it seems like many professions are being affected by the mantra of "Heck, I could do that!" It shows up in insidious ways. For example, a friend of mine is a teacher in a struggling school district. The district is struggling so much, in fact, that the teachers were asked if they would be willing to teach one day a week without getting paid. Now I happened to know my friend back in college when she was pursuing her degree in education. In addition to her classwork, she had to wake up at ungodly hours to go to classrooms and basically train on the job. She did a ton of student teaching, which is not a walk in the park. She studies, she cares. Just like 90% of the teachers out there. They were not willing to teach for free. Teaching is their job.

The parents in the district attacked the teachers for this and said they didn't care about the students. It does not register with them that teaching is a paid profession and one that requires craftsmanship in order to be truly good.

Our society is filled with examples that make us think we can just go ahead and do something. Television commercials for Lowes and Home Depot  give you the confidence you need to paint your house or build a brick wall. Google offers a suite of services that can assist anyone in doing really anything he or she wants online. There are kits for teaching yourself a foreign language. There are even kits that claim that they make you paint like a Monet or a Cezanne.

There's a key differentiation missing in all of these examples. Yes, you CAN just stand in front of a group of people and repeat what you know and call that teaching. Yes, you can go to some template house and build a functional website. Yes, you can buy a kit and feel like you're the next Picasso.

But should you?

There are people out there who spend a lot of time, money, blood, sweat, and tears to learn a craft, whether it's masonry, teaching, or yes, even things related to marketing. I might know the mechanics of teaching and I might even know some best practices, but I don't know enough to know what I don't know. I think that's probably true of a lot of people. I know about Google Analytics but I'm not Avinash Kausik. I love doing Yoga but I'm not Suzanne Deason.

Is it easier to become expert at some things now? Probably. Through a lot of experience in painting walls,  you learn what works and what doesn't, and pretty soon you can start a blog that offers pointers. By doing a lot of studying, you yourself can become a good teacher or a marketing expert or whatever you want to be. But I am worried about this wave of thought that makes people think that because they can do something, not only should they do it, but it will be just as good as what a craftsman would do.

As for me, I'm off to paint the Sistine Chapel.

Image by John Nyberg.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Lucky 13: The horror

Lately, it seems to be my fate to delve into the minds of villains. Or at least perceived villains.

A couple of weeks ago, Rachel Maddow of MSNBC used her time slot to show a documentary about Timothy McVeigh. You can read about it here. The week after that, American Experience on PBS aired one of the most amazing documentaries I have ever seen. Focusing on the My Lai Massacre of 1968, the documentary covered every possible viewpoint equally, from the villagers to the soldiers of the Charlie Company to the prosecutor. You can check out the documentary here. Next week, American Experience is going to focus on James Earl Ray.

Why explore how these people think? There's a level of cruelty that people reach where it doesn't seem worthwhile to wonder why they did it. Their actions are their legacy. In the case of Timothy McVeigh that would certainly seem to be the case. In the case of the 9/11 hijackers that would certainly seem to be the case. Why bother? They did what they did.

I think it is absolutely essential to explore these things. Is it uncomfortable? Sure. But what does it reveal? Why is it relevant? What can we learn?

In the case of Timothy McVeigh, we could use his case to shine the light on PTSD and depression which so many of our military men and women are suffering from, often with no assistance, no understanding. How many of our military men and women have come home and committed suicide or beaten their spouses? More than we hear about, I can guarantee you. I'm not saying that we should feel sorry for McVeigh. I'm not saying that he was right in the head and he just had a sad time in Iraq. But maybe all of that pent up anger after he reentered civilian life was part of something that is affecting a lot of other people in a lot of different ways. Maybe we can learn from him for the future.

And what about the My Lai massacre? Like McVeigh, the members of the Charlie Company did the unthinkable. They killed women, they killed children, they killed the defenseless elderly. And killing is an understatement in this case. The people, we know now, were mutilated, abused, killed slowly. You might think that there could be no way to understand how these men committed these atrocities, and indeed, the documentary showed a couple of men who categorically refused to shoulder any blame or feelings of remorse. Why? They were military men. They'd been trained to do what they were told, no questions asked. They were told, so the story goes, that everyone in the My Lai village was either a Communist or a Communist sympathizer. Did that rationalize the gruesomeness of the killing? No. But what can we learn from this? Think back a few years ago to the atrocities we learned about in Baghdad prisons. Those soldiers also said that they were doing what they had been told to do.

And I guess that's why I think it's absolutely essential that we try to learn from these tragedies. I can't get to a place where I think like a James Earl Ray or the murderer at Virginia Tech. But I want to understand what fed that darkness. I want to learn how we can avoid these things in the future. I don't think it's impossible. But we have to be willing to put ourselves in a place where we are willing to look at cruelty, our most base human instincts, and ask the question why. It's not easy. But I encourage the trying. A little discomfort now would be a small price to pay if we could use our knowledge to stave off future tragedies. Don't you think?

Photo by "Salssa"

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Post #12: Some step-by-step info on how to use Twitter

How egotistical is it to say that my post yesterday inspired me to write this one?

Well, it's my blog, and I'll be egotistical if I want to.

Anyway, in addition to hearing a lot of grumbling about how Twitter could never be useful for a company, I often hear a lot of questions. To a newbie on Twitter, the homepage can look like gobbledegook. It can be very intimidating, as a matter of fact. I know this because I was there not so long ago.

Straddling knowledge and ignorance as I now do, I thought I would try to answer some questions that I often hear or that I had when I first started out. If you have any other questions, feel free to ask me. I'll do my best to help ya out. First, a question I don't hear a lot but should:

How can I pick a username? You want to try to pick a username that describes what you are about but that is not verbose. Full disclosure: My Twitter username (@RealLifeMadMan) is really longer than it should be. Remember, when you post, or when people respond to you, your username takes up valuable characters.

What does the @ mean or do? I like to think of the @ symbol on Twitter as a pointy finger. If you want to say something to someone, you use the @ and then their username (no space in between) and that tells them you are talking to them. If you are retweeting (I'll get to that in a minute) it shows everyone that you are pointing to the person who actually wrote what you are posting. Without the @ we'd all be talking to ourselves.

What is this RT I see everywhere? Okay, RT stands for retweet. When I first started using twitter I thought everyone was a fan of Richard Thompson. Anyway, Retweeting is kind of like legal plagiarism. If you really like what someone has posted and you want to share it with the people following you, your post would look like this: RT @smartperson blah blah blah. The RT tells your followers that you did not come up with this gem yourself. The @ symbol tells everyone who actually did come up with the gem, and it also lets "smart person" know that you are quoting them. Pretty good multi-functional use for 2 letters, right?

What's the difference between the homepage and the profile page? The homepage on Twitter is like the homepage on Facebook or LinkedIn. You'll see posts from the people you're following. If you go to a person's profile page, you'll see everything they've posted, and you'll also probably see a lot of @ symbols. That's because anytime that person has talked to or responded to someone, it shows up on his or her profile as well as out in the open. That's why monitoring what you say on Twitter is SO important!

What is a direct message? A direct message serves the same purpose as a Facebook message or a LinkedIn email. It's a way to communicate with someone without the whole world seeing what you're saying. Characters are still limited, however, so if you really want to quack at someone, you might want to *gasp* send one of them ole antiquated email thingies.

How can I find out who is talking about me? Along the right-hand navigation is the @ symbol followed by whatever your username is. By clicking on that (over and over again every minute) you can see who has mentioned you or who has retweeted you. It's all right there.

How can I build my base of followers? The easiest way, of course, is to convince people you already know to join your Twitterhood. Other ideas, failing that, including doing a search for keywords that interest you and see who is talking about those things -- follow them! You can also start to follow some of the recommended Twitterers that Twitter will prompt you with. This can include everyone from the Huffington Post to The Onion. You won't necessarily gain a rapport with any of the celebs on Twitter, but you can build a reputation by posting to their page or following other people who make posts you like.

What are trending topics? Actually, trending topics are another good way to look for people to follow and potentially get followers yourself. Topics or conversations are marked by the hashtag symbol: #. A lot of times, if you are attending a seminar or especially a webinar, they'll tell you to tweet your questions to #webinarname. That's because people can then search for that specific subject and see all of the posts related to it in one fell swoop. When major world events happen, you'll often see them over on the right hand of the site. #TigerWoods was there for quite a while. #HaitiEarthquake would be another example. By scanning trending topics that you're interested in, or by contributing to the conversation, you can build your network.

Do I have to use my phone? No! I just go to on my computer because I fear that using Twitter on my Blackberry would lead me into a dark vortex of no return. There are also numerous ways to manage your Twitter account, like TweetDeck. I'm keeping it simple, at least for now :)

Hope this helped. Maybe it convinced you to give Twitter a try, or if you are on Twitter but don't really get it, maybe it gave you some ideas. Or maybe I muddied the waters and you've lost what little interest you had. In any case, happy to be of service, and like I said, I'll be happy to answer, or at least try to answer, any other questions you might have!

Photo by Stephen Eastop.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

#11: 10 Reasons Twitter is not just for kids

I'm going to be honest. When I first heard rumblings about Twitter, I had a single and instantaneous, from the gut, instinctive, ancestral, no doubt about it reaction.

What a stupid idea.

Yep, it's true. I was a non-Twit-liever. I couldn't understand why anyone would want to read 120-character updates from millions of different people all at once. More than that, I didn't understand why anyone would want to post updates about their life in rapid succession. If grocery shopping was meant to be a spectator sport, one of the big television channels would be all over it. Believe me.

There's a lot about Twitter that is ideal for those of the younger crowds. They're used to texting, so tweeting isn't that much of an adjustment. It's kind of like how us old-timers (but I'm only a 30-something!) used ICQ and AOL IM. Boy, some of the conversations I had with those tools should totally have been preserved by the Library of Congress. Heh.

Anyway, I've drunk the Twit-Aid, as it were, and I now see a lot of value that it can offer. So here are my ten reasons why Twitter is not just for kids.

1) Verbosity Stinks! As a person who tends to write in a Dickensian fashion (pay me by the word, PLEASE!) I can tell you that updating Twitter in 120-140 characters is a real challenge for me. But it's good. It's kind of like a verbal Sudoku. How can I fit words together so that they convey my point?

2) News Abounds: Because so many people have taken to the fair lands of Twitter, there are great founts of knowledge just tweeting away, waiting for you to dive in and grab what you want. In my own little world of Twitter, I follow sources ranging from The Drudge Report to MSNBC to the Wall Street Journal. I can always read more, but it's a great way for me to keep updated on what's going on in the world.

3) Your Crowd is Out There: While tweens, kids, and teens come to Twitter with a merry band of friends already set up a lot of the time, it's definitely possible to stick yourself to groups and individuals who are on your same wavelength. I can post about how great a documentary is and have people say "Darned right." Through these kinds of engagements, it becomes apparent who you might jive with and who you might not.

4) Professional Development: This might not be true for every profession, but as a marketer, Twitter is kind of like the mixer that keeps on giving. There is so much information, useful information, posted every day that I often feel overwhelmed. And in a world that often seems vacuous and just full of bad news, seeing a fire hydrant of information splashing towards you that will actually help you swim in the waters you like is a nice change of pace.

5) Humor: Some people have the gift to write literal one-liners on Twitter that are so subtle and brilliant that it just blows me away. I can't do it. I am lucky if I can get away with a 1-pager most of the time!

6) There but not there: People are increasingly tweeting live from seminars or conferences. While this might anger the person whose presentation is being peppered with beeps and clicks, it's great for busy pros who can't make it out of the office. The essence of the experience is capture, conversation can still happen, and it's all right there, easily accessible.

7) Voting: I don't necessarily mean voting in the traditional sense, although that kind of works. With every tweet, a person really has the potential to vote. A mention of a product, positive or negative, can be a vote. A retweet of someone else's post can be a vote. Expressing anger about a law or injustice, expressing support for a cause or candidate, all can be done in a setting that is mined constantly by Google. What could be a more powerful vote than that, other than actually going to the polls?

8) Spreading the Word: Whether you are a company, an artist, or just a concerned individual, Twitter is a tremendously powerful tool for spreading the word, not only because of the retweet feature but also because it's so darned open. I follow PBS, the New York Metropolitan Museum, UNICEF, and the ACLU, among others, because I think it's important to help them maximize their use of Twitter. I can assist them in getting their messages out, and that makes me feel like I'm doing something useful with my time.

9) Twitter is a car, and you're the driver: If you are a budding artist or a Fortune 500 Company, Twitter can help you drive people to a hub, whether that's a blog, a website, a Myspace Music page, or something else. Teaser posts, enticing questions, maybe even controversial comments can get the ball rolling. They don't use the word "follower" for nothin.

10) It's FUN! That's right. I said it. I am thoroughly enjoying seeing up-to-date posts about what PBS is going to be showing, what the News Hour is going to be talking about, or what's on the radar of everyone from The ACLU to Simon Pegg. I enjoy analyzing what posts people find interesting and what kills off 20 of my followers in one fell swoop. I enjoy trying to make every word meaningful. It makes me feel, well, like a kid again.

Monday, April 26, 2010

#10: Little House on a Facebook

When I was a kid, nothing made me happier than to sit down with one of the Little House books. I found them entrancing for reasons that I can't really explain other than to say that learning how people lived a century ago was just endlessly fascinating.

"Pioneers," as we now call that massive amount of people who settled the lands from the Ohio River to the Pacific Ocean, were an odd bunch of people. It seems like when you read about pioneers, the challenges they faced were always huge. Their victories were also always huge. They defined self-sufficient, after all.

Pioneers are on my mind today because of a really good question that came up at the PMPA IT Committee's session on Social Networking, of which I was privileged to be a part. The question was in regards to a boss and that boss's marketing director. The boss had posed the following question: "I know that we need to get involved in Social Media. How can we make enough money to justify getting someone to run a successful Social Media campaign?"

This is a real "chicken and the egg" kind of question, and it's haunting companies around the world, big and small, b2b and b2c.

I sort of wondered, as I searched for an answer to this question, how the pioneers would have responded to similar questions in reference to the famous "Go West, Young Man." See, the pioneers had heard that "the West" was this great new frontier. They saw all kinds of studies showing that wheat and corn could grow in Nebraska just by planting seeds and singing a song. They were hearing stories about gold and silver and all sorts of other valuable and wonderful things. That's not too dissimilar from the way a lot of companies are hearing about Social Media I think. Facebook is the land of gold. Twitter is a wide open field just waiting to be planted. The sky's the limit and the horizons are endless.

The amazing thing about the pioneers, it occurred to me, is that they didn't have the time or the luxury to ponder our modern-day "how are we going to do this?" questions. Even though the West seemed limitless, everyone knew that the land would have to run out eventually. A farmer in Virginia or a struggling merchant in New England couldn't wait around and see how his buddies were doing. He couldn't flounder over whether the risk would ultimately pay off. He had to go and hope for the best.

Today, we have the ability to do research, but it's a right that often isn't taken advantage of. We have the opportunity to learn about problems that could be comparable to a Summer of grasshoppers...say, a Facebook "like" page that isn't attracting any likers (I still like fans better, sorry). We could do some detective work and find out that sometimes there are really big raging prairie fires, something like the story about a guy that went into a town to meet with a big client, tweeted that he had arrived in a town that totally was crap, and then met with the client to find that everyone had seen his tweets.

I think it's kind of sad that we can't, or at least shouldn't, carry our pioneer heritage with us into efforts to market our companies and products and brands via Social Media. We all want to be trailblazers. Even if none of our competitors are on Facebook or Twitter yet, there's that gnawing desire to squat on the land, build a sod house of a fan page, and kick everyone else off when they come a'knockin. But factually, jumping into Social Media these days without doing the advanced footwork and planning can be downright dangerous. It can be like taking one of those shortcuts through the mountains that weren't clearly mapped out and actually ended up being dead ends or long ways around. None of us want to be the Social Media version of the Donner Party, right?

There are still plenty of ways to be pioneers in the business world and/or in the marketing world. You can still pave the way to new and exciting ideas. You can still try other things before your competitor tries them. But Social Media is not something we should jump into just because we heard it has worked really well for somebody else. Not everybody struck gold in 1849. Not everybody found an oil well in their back yard. Being methodical and asking the tough questions may not be quite as romantic as being a swashbuckling adventurer, but it's far more preferable than the alternative.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

#9: Can one good idea kill all other good ideas?

Riding on a wave of euphoria after deciding to keep some of my favorite VHS tapes (I wish I could quit them) I decided to watch Being John Malkovich, one of my all-time faves. One of the previews was for Unbreakable, written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan.

It got me to thinking.

When Sixth Sense came out, everyone was convinced that Shyamalan was a complete genius, and you have to admit, that was a pretty good movie. But from my own personal perspective, Shyamalan didn't really ever top that. Signs was okay but a little too fatalistic for me. Also, as has been pointed out many times, why would aliens who hate water come to a planet that is 78% water-based? Ehem. The Village wasn't all that bad, but you were just waiting for "the twist" the whole time. The fact that the twist, again in my opinion, wasn't nearly as awesome as the one in Sixth Sense kind of was disappointing. The twist had been Shyamalan's big idea, but he set the expectation that everything would try to top that or at least meet it. And again, according to me, that gamble didn't pay off (feel free to disagree).

Thinking about the career of M. Night Shyamalan got me to thinking about ideas in general. In another movie (not nearly to the level of Sixth Sense but still pretty amusing and one degree of separation away because Bruce Willis is involved), Over the Hedge, the phrase "enough is never enough" is oft repeated. I think that's how we've gotten not just regarding material objects but regarding awesome ideas too.

Think about Google. Google started as this amazing way to organize this burgeoning internet, and everyone was amazed. Information accessible at your fingertips. That's amazing!! But that one huge idea wasn't enough for Page and Brin. We all know where Google is war over the Chinese interwebs.

A few posts ago, I talked about how Facebook is starting to concern people because of privacy concerns (with a touch of "crap, are THEY taking over the world too?!?). Facebook started primarily as an online yearbook. What a great idea! And when I first joined Facebook, I was stunned that it hadn't been thought of before. Well, okay, Orkut and Friendster had kind of been there, and MySpace sort of. But Facebook seemed different. It was easier to talk to friends and family spread all around the world. There were a few games to play. Fine. But look at how much Facebook has changed just in the last couple of years! Zuckerberg is looking for another idea as innovative as his initial concept of Facebook, but I can tell you from my own individual experience, all he's doing is freaking me out!

I think this needing to top a great idea is not just a symptom of celebrity and power. I think we all have this problem. Success is no longer an end-game. Wealth is no longer an end-game. Look at these athletes of ours. Do you really need a raise from $50 million to $75 million A  YEAR?! I mean, really? That $25 million is just keeping you back, right? If your business succeeds or has a good year, you want it to make the Fortune 500 list. If you get a promotion, you feel the next stop should be CEO. Anything else is unsatisfactory.

I'm particularly worried about this when it comes to the arts. How are we gauging success? I think some of our artists and actors are getting tired. That's the only explanation I can find for Chris Rock involving himself in a re-make of Death at a Funeral, a movie that was hilarious in its own right and, more to the point, is less than 3 years old. Surely he has more talent than that. Surely he has more original ideas. Is music going to continue to suffer because being a great artist is no longer enough? Are singers going to feel like they have to re-make the music industry with every song, every album in order to truly be a success?

There are some folks out there who don't seem to get paranoid about having the next revolutionary idea. The Coen Brothers keep cranking out masterpieces. Each is somewhat similar just because its them, but you don't really feel like they're trying to revisit old ideas. No Country for Old Men couldn't possibly be more different from say, Raising Arizona. Stephen Hawking keeps on writing and exploring, but you don't feel like he's trying to top A Brief History of Time. He just loves what he is doing.

Let's face it. Most of us are not going to have any world-changing ideas. But if you do...if you are able to think of something no one else has ever thought of, and if you are recognized for that accomplishment, will that be enough for you, or will you spend the rest of your life just trying to top it? Will enough be enough? Now there's a revolutionary idea for ya.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

#8: The secret to good health's a diet alright...

I'm going to plagiarize John Lennon ever so briefly and say that about 6 years ago, I went through my "fat Elvis" period. I know, of all of the things to quote from John Lennon, that's what I choose. But it's appropriate.

You see, around that time, I had gone through pursuing my Masters in Library and Information Science. Not a lot of calisthenics involved, but 3- hour classes where you kind of just...sat there. To stay. uh, alert, I would wander over to the student center and get various types of mochas. With whipped cream. Then I'd go home and make something like Ramen or Kraft Mac & Cheese, because my fat Elvis period was also my "Holy crap I'm poor" period. Guess I could have saved some money by not buying those mochas, but I digress.

One day, I looked in a mirror and thought, "Man, my pants are really MC Hammer poofy." Then I realized it was actually me that was poofy. I instantaneously felt worried, ashamed, embarrassed, and otherwise just plain bad.

Since that time, I've been working hard to lose all of those mochas. I've done a lot of different things, including Yoga, Pilates, biking, and most recently, my Wii EA Sports Active game (awesome!). And of course, I've changed my diet drastically to the point where I'm now about 75% vegetarian (I only eat meat on occasion when I go out or visit someone...haven't purchased meat to cook for about 3 months now).

It occurred to me today though that being healthy, losing weight, and all of that jazz is really all about one thing. Lying to yourself.

Dr. Phil, Jillian Michaels, and Oprah will never say this or condone this, but it's really true. Here are some examples.

You have to tell yourself on a regular basis that really, with the limited free time that you have, you'd much rather work up a sweat and get sore and stinky. Watching TV with a glass of wine or a cup of tea is just way too sedentary for you.

You have to tell yourself that a veggie patty with low-fat mayo and some baked chips is just as satisfying as a Wendy's burger, fries, and a Frosty.

You have to tell yourself that if you count that walk to get the mail as your daily exercise you'll just feel bad about yourself when you go to bed that night (this is a wammy of a lie).

I was thinking of this diet of lies this morning when I went to the grocery store. There was a LOT of ice cream on sale, and I do like to have a tiny bowl of ice cream as the weather starts to get warm. Some of my faves were on sale too. Mint Chocolate Chip. Moose Tracks. I'm drooling here as I type.

I did not buy any ice cream.

No, instead I left the freezer aisle and went to the dairy aisle. I got 2 containers of Yoplait Whips key lime pie, 2 containers of Yoplait Whips Lemon Burst, and 2 containers of Yoplait Whips Chocolate Mousse. And I told myself that these would taste just as cool as ice cream. I told myself they would taste just as good as that Starbucks coffee ice cream with almonds or as good as my Rocky Road.

Is any of this true? I have to type here that it is, or will be, because this is one of the carefully constructed lies that will help me take my health one more notch up the ladder. Cuz while I've made an awful lot of progress and while I'm almost to that goal weight, I'm just not quite there, and ice cream won't push me along.

Everyone knows that lying is really the key to health, because everyone who makes this decision in life ends up becoming an evangelist about it. Don't be offended. It's not about making you feel bad for eating that fantastic looking Chik-Filet sandwich. It's really because that person REALLY REALLY wants one of those, errr, no they don't because they told themselves that breaded tofu will taste just as crunchy.

Try it out. Tell yourself just one white lie. It's a real domino effect. And hey, no one will be able to call you a "big fat" liar. Just an obnoxious one.

Friday, April 23, 2010

#7: We are all of us Trumanéd

I know, William Shakespeare would be so happy that I am taking one of the last lines from Romeo & Juliet (we are all punishéd), bastardizing it so that it relates to the Truman show, then remarking that we may kind of all be punishéd anyway. It's why he wrote Romeo & Juliet, I'm fairly certain.

Maybe not.

Anyway, on with the show.

So, The Truman Show came out in 1998. Neither Facebook nor Twitter existed yet. How did we live?!? But anyway, some of the most memorable parts of the film, at least to this budding marketer, were when the people around Truman would randomly pop in product endorsements as they were talking to him. Like this, for example:

Sure seemed crazy and over-the-top back then, didn't it?

Funnily enough, we have all become product placement billboards. We may or may not be conscious of it. You're gonna want some proof, aren't ya?

Have you ever mentioned in a Facebook post that you made pancakes with that new heart healthy Bisquick and didn't notice a difference in taste?

Have you ever tweeted that you went to Wal-Mart and really found their customer service outstanding and much improved?

Have you ever really really liked a movie and blogged about it after seeing it?

Guess what, friend! You're a marketer!

Of course, sometimes it's even easier to work product placement into your friends' lives. Have you ever "liked" or "fanned" (or whatever Facebook will call it next) a product page on Facebook? Like, for example, that time I signed into Facebook and saw that some of my friends had become fans of Pepsi..."Why sure, I like Pepsi too. I will fan them," said I. Didn't really think about it until it was too late. Same thing happened to me with Lion Brand yarn. Sure, I love Lion Brand yarn! I'll become a "fan"! Now I get updates about the latest kits and yarn sales going on. What the heck is going on here?

This isn't to say that our own individual contributions to marketing are all that is left. But it is kind of overwhelming to think about how much we market without realizing it. Don't think it has escaped my mind that in mentioning those brands above, I was giving them pings and bings and dings on Google alerts and other social media tracking sites. Yes, even talking about how products are marketed can result in product marketing.

I don't know who the "Truman" is in this new reality. I think maybe we are all switching off. I was a Truman when I clicked on that "fan" button, but then I became a marketer because my fandom was announced to other friends. Kind of insidious. Kind of instinctive. Maybe even kind of unfair.

Welcome to The Truman Show.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Post #6: Foursquare and the Open Graph, Achtung Baby

Okay, let me start by saying that yes, I am aware of the fact that I am a marketer. I know that nothing should thrill me more than something like Foursquare, where people can holler to the winds that they are at such and such a place doing such and such a thing. I know that as a marketer the news about the Facebook open graph should have me feeling like I'm on some sort of Cloud 9. The marketing future has been paved with gold. The internet is forever young. All of the goals of the great explorers, from Coronado to my personal fave, Ponce de Leon, have been fulfilled. I get it.

However, and I just add this as a bit of an aside, marketing is only a portion of my life. I mean, don't get me wrong, marketing is great. Love it. But I do have other facets to my personality, and those facets are all curled up into the fetal position right now.

Let's start with Foursquare. The first time I saw a friend posting Foursquare updates, I left a comment along the lines of, "If I am going to stalk you, I want to have to work for it." As I saw more and more updates, I began shaking in my boots, not necessarily for the folks I saw, but rather for possible ramifications.

I tend to jump mentally to the worst case scenario. It's a gift.

But to me, what jumped to my mind is that now, if someone (heaven forbid) wants to hurt a child, they don't have to go to a chat room anymore. They don't have to plot and plan. They just have to watch Twitter and see where kids are going. How can this be monitored? Another good point that even my paranoid mind hadn't thought of: if you are letting the world know where you are, you're also telling the world where you are NOT. Other folks have thought of this and created a site called Please Rob Me. You can read more about that at Tech Crunch.

I understand that there are a lot of other things out there that, like Foursquare, help broadcast your location to the world. It just seems like this one is spreading a little bit more like wildfire. Are we being careful?

Now for the Open Graph thing. I've had a bone to pick with Facebook for the last year or so, full disclosure. I don't like the fact that the site's interface changes every five seconds. But what I especially don't like right now is that if my friends decide to play Mafia Wars, they are not only sacrificing their time, which is fine, but they are also sacrificing some of my privacy. No matter how locked down you think your account is, applications can still access some info like your profile picture. And this new Open Graph thing? It's built on that same kind of application platform.

I'm not really worried about myself in this scenario. I always was kind of creeped out by Facebook. "If you enter your email address we'll find all of your friends" stood out as an "achtung" sign for me from the start. But there are people who are using their credit card on Facebook. There are people who are probably posting things that they really shouldn't be posting. There are kids posting things that probably shouldn't be posted. Are they aware that their settings have been changed to automatically allow Social Plug-Ins? I was aware of it because I saw the news because that's part of my job. I went into my settings and dug all the way to manually blocking Microsoft Docs, Yelp, and Pandora as applications. Is everyone that aware? I don't think so. And they're not really getting a kosher heads up.

I don't really have a problem with the idea of the internet becoming a social mechanism. I've been frightened enough times by PPC ads related to email content showing up that I've just accepted that you have to live with what you post. And as a marketer, the possibilities are exciting. But as a person, and in particular a person who worries about other people who may not be plugged in mentally even if they are plugged in socially, I just worry that maybe we're not being careful enough.

What do you think?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Post #5: What Jim Henson can teach us about marketing

I have been a muppet fan for as long as I can remember. One of the most tragic days of my life, however, is when I watched Muppets Take Manhattan for the trillionth time and really dug the scenes where Kermit (aka Phil Phillip Phil) is working for an amphibian-owned and run advertising agency.

Youth, where art thou?

Still, I've been thinking a lot about those scenes and then other general Jim Henson knowledge, and I've decided that marketers and people in general can learn a lot from the muppets.

You don't believe me, huh? Or you just can't believe I'm doing this to your muppets. I sympathize. But take a look.

Remember yesterday when I was pondering whether we can really talk human? Jim Henson was already covering that topic close to 30 years ago. "you mean just say what the product does? Nobody has tried that!":

In the same movie, Kermit and the rats start a "whisper campaign" to spread the word about Manhattan Melodies. In this case, they literally are whispering, but isn't that the same general concept as Twitter or Facebook or any other Social Media campaign? It's all about word-of-mouth, even if you are using your fingers.

Jim Henson can teach us about the fact that great advice for one person (or a great product) might not work for everybody, even if they seem to be in the same demographic. Check out the Sandy Duncan portion of this clip:

Of course, I wouldn't be recommending that we look to Jim Henson as an example if I didn't have proof that he actually followed his own advice. Jim had to be a marketer of his imaginative ideas, and imagine trying to pitch a show where a frog and pig are the leading characters! Here's how he did it:

Yep, he definitely said what he meant.

Of course, one could also argue that Rainbow Connection could be equated to a modern day Facebook page (join the lovers, the dreamers, and me). But we won't go that far, will we?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Post #4: Is it really possible to talk human?

Yesterday, I watched Harry Gottlieb's webinar on talking human (It's called Corporate Blahblahdiblah) and how corporations generally don't do it. His point was well taken. Corporations seem to use words that have been proven to be good sellers, kind of like the word "ambitious" or "dedicated" when it comes to applying for jobs. It has gotten to the point where it's hard to tell what a company actually does or what they are actually trying to say. Fair enough.

However, coming at this issue from the marketing side, I have to say that there are a lot of obstacles in the way of "talking human." For example, there's Search Engine Optimization. Everybody wants to be on the first page of search results on Google or Bing, right? Well, you need the right keywords, among other things, to accomplish that goal. Unfortunately, keywords do not always jive with how people talk. If you are a medical company, you might want to talk human and talk about headaches, but SEO demands that you talk about "pain in the occipital region." Who talks like that? Not many people. But maybe a lot of people search like that.

Facebook, Twitter, and texting have me worried too. Have you ever tried to carry on a conversation using 140 CHARACTER statements? I haven't. As you probably are learning from my blog posts, 140 characters for me is like the calm before the storm. However, this kind of limited communication is what corporations are facing on increasingly regular occasions. They are having to update fan pages (or is it "like" pages now?), they are having to update Twitter accounts, or they are sending out text messages. Is this how they would normally entice customers? Probably not. Is that talking human? Probably not. But it's the new reality.

That has me wondering. Are we in danger of having more human contact but being less human about it? A fan page can have hundreds of fans, but if you can't *really* talk to people the way you'd like to and the way Gottlieb recommends, how effective is your marketing going to be in the end?

I guess, being a human, this all just gives me something to ponder.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Post #3: The fine line between Shock & Awe

I saw an ad the other day while I was watching the Cleveland Indians was for one of those trivia companies that you can text to get random answers to dumb debates in which you are engaged. You'll note I can't remember the company's name. I''ll get to that later.

The main visual of the ad was two guys with their heads stuffed up into their...well, butts. I found the image rather uncomfortable and gratuitous, and that's saying something because I'm a fan of shows like South Park. The visual was shocking in that you don't usually see those kinds of things, and it was gross, and clearly it stuck with me. But again, I can't remember the name of the company who did the ad.

I've noticed lately that a lot of ads are like this. They try to gross you out or weird you out. Have you seen that Viagra ad where the guy's reflection is begging him to talk about his "E.D?" Creepy. In that case, I do remember the name, but that's only because the ad seems run during every show that I watch. Clearly I'm a surprise demographic.

Is there really a point to these ads? They might get people talking, but if people are just talking about "that gross ad" it's not going to do you any good. Does anyone still remember what that Betty White commercial was for during the Super Bowl? It was great for her brand, that's for sure. But did it do the advertiser a lot of good?

Sometimes there are ads that stay with you and you know why. The ads for animal rescue charities are good examples of this. Seeing abused animals isn't easy. It's shocking and uncomfortable, but there's a reason for showing it. I can't really think of any good reason to show a person, literally, with their head up where the sun don't shine. I'd tell the advertiser that if I could remember who they were.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Post #2: Afghans for Afghans

Back in 2001, I, like everyone, felt hopeless and helpless in the wake of 9/11. Watching people tell the stories of their loved ones for 3-4 days, all of the stories that turned out not to be true, all of the amazing stories of heroism...I was a grad student at the time, in a small town. I knew that I would never be able to understand the experiences I was watching. What could I do?

I had always been a crafter, and the idea came to me to try to find somebody that was looking for homemade items to sell, which would in turn raise money for the victims. Children newly orphaned were of special concern. During this time, I found an organization called Afghans for Afghans.

Of course, this organization caught my attention for 2 reasons. First, it was a charity crafting organization. Second, it was for Afghanistan, a country that was bearing the brunt of the blame for the 9/11 attacks. I decided that I would make some items and send them. The fulfillment I received from doing so got me hooked on making things for charities, a hobby that still occupies a lot of my time.

Afghans for Afghans is on my mind today because I just got an email update that makes it seem like the collection they are doing now might be the last for the whole year. A few years ago, there were many different collections -- someone would be collecting socks for kids, another would be collecting blankets for maternity wards. But those days are gone, thanks to the increased in power of the Taliban, a lack of funds, and general deterioration of the situation.

I hope that this is not the case. Afghans for Afghans didn't just give me something to do after 9/11. It gave me hope that even after all of that, there could still be people who would view the world as bigger than themselves. To give charity to a country when your country just declared war on it takes guts.

Afghans for Afghans is collecting items for kids ages 7-14 until May 14th. Since these items might have to last for the entire year, I'm hoping to be able to send a lot of items in addition to the socks I made (pictured). If you are interested in helping either through crafting or monetarily, take a gander at their website:

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Blog #1: The Tale of the Indian Bead Loom

Lately, I've been thinking about an event that happened over a period of months when I was a little kid.

You have to understand, in order to "get" this story, that when I was real little, I found out I had Cherokee blood in my family. I thought that was the coolest thing ever. To think that this rich culture I had already kind of liked was part of my family tree was just too amazing. I wanted to learn everything I could about all Native American cultures. 
So with that in mind, the following might make a bit more sense. One day, I went over to a friend's house, and she had a little loom like the one in the picture there. She was making a bracelet that had a beaded pattern in it. I of course was enchanted. She showed me how to use it. I knew that I had to have one of these.
I asked my mom if I could get one. Her first vision was not the beautiful jewelry I'd make but rather the millions of tiny seed beads that she would get to step on. Despite these obstacles, one Christmas, I found a long, rectangular box under the tree. I had gotten my Indian Bead loom.

After Christmas breakfast I ran upstairs to my room and ripped open the box. I already had visions of what my beautiful "authentic" jewelry would look like. But what was this? What came out of the box was not a fully functional, put-together loom. It was in pieces. You had to put it together. Being a kid, I didn't think I needed to bother with the directions. I had seen the loom in action. I had worked with the loom. I started fitting pieces together and...broke it.

I've been thinking about my Indian Bead Loom a lot lately because I have found that there are a lot of experiences in life that could potentially go better if you bear such lessons in mind. In life, one could apply this to something like relationships. Everyone seems to have a great relationship. You see it, you think you are pretty sure how it works, so you rush to get one, but it doesn't come all put together. You have to work for it.
In the business world, this comes to mind when I think about marketing through Social Media. Everyone is pretty sure they know what Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter are by now. Heck, teens can use this stuff, so it would seem like a business could. And everyone is talking about how great Social Media can be. But Social Media, corporate identity, whatever it might be...these things don't arrive all put together. It comes through bits and pieces of information and experience, and yes, some directions. But like a my Indian Bead Loom, if you try to rush into things without doing the research....if you try to put things together haphazardly, you can end up breaking it.

Years later, by the way, when I was an adult, I bought myself another loom, determined to learn from my mistakes. I did put the loom together successfully, and I got a third of the way through making something. I realized I didn't know how to change the tension on the strings. I moved that in-progress bracelet to three different abodes before finally throwing the whole thing away. With a little more research, a little more care, well who knows. I could have been a Native American bracelet guru by now.

Yeah, so, I'm repurposing my blog

And I'm starting with a challenge.

Inspired by the great Ed Hamell (aka Hamell on Trial), who challenged himself to write a song a day for days and days, I'm challenging myself, and I guess you too, to write a blog a day for the next 100 days. It's kind of like the 30-day challenge on Wii Fit or Wii Sports Active. Mind calisthenics. No rules, except that it has to be a real writing effort. And now, this does not count for my number 1. This is just my warm-up round :)

Will you play?