Is 'The Academy' Losing Relevancy?

Today's blog is posted by Jerry Johnson, executive vice president at Brodeur Partners.

Late last fall, reporter Amanda Ripley wrote an article for TIME magazine with the ominous title “College is Dead. Long Live College!” It was the latest in a long litany of articles by reporters and pundits who have been doing a lot of rethinking lately about the institution long known as “the academy.”

college_classIs the “academy” losing its relevancy? There’s evidence this may be the case with groups important to its future, notably parents, students, alumni and opinion leaders.

We’ve worked on numerous research projects with groups of people both inside and outside colleges and universities across the country. Everything suggests higher education faces significant challenges in three areas: financial, technological and institutional relevance.

Is the academy financially relevant? This question is being asked by both students and parents facing skyrocketing tuitions as well by alumni who, in light of the ever-increasing pressure for giving, are rethinking the utility of both annual giving and capital campaigns. Tuitions at many schools are out of the reach of the average family. That, in turn, has led to an unprecedented (and unsustainable) level of personal tuition loan debt. A recently released survey by The Princeton Review suggest that while in years past people’s primary worry was getting into the “right school,” today the primary worry is how to pay for whatever school you get in to.

On the other side of graduation, the academy is facing headwinds from alumni. The competition for gifts to “good causes” among affluent alumni is increasing. Moreover, the younger Gen X and Gen Y alumni show distinctly different attitudes and giving patterns to giving compared to their boomer counterparts. Add to this the declining government funding, and there are many nervous development officers wondering where the next funding dollar is going to come from.

Is the academy technologically relevant? Technology is fundamentally changing the academy the same way it changed the business of news media over a decade ago. As popular New York Times columnist wrote in a piece titled “The Campus Tsunami,” “what happened to the newspaper and magazine business is about to happen in higher education: a scrambling around the Web.”

Why go to a university when one can get a considerable amount of instruction on the Internet for free? Indeed, the global demand for access to knowledge and the emerging opportunities for innovative technology to deliver it presage dramatic changes in “the academy’s” value proposition. Innovations like Kahn University and the explosion of MOOCs are just the beginnings of what will likely be very fundamental structural changes.

Is the academy institutionally relevant? Perhaps the biggest challenge is an uptick of people questioning the very being of the academy. Rightly or wrongly, almost every important audience we talk to – particularly employers and opinion leaders – are seeing a “profound disconnect” between what young people are learning and the world they’re going into. As one public policy executive told us, “The public institutions are in a crisis of declining public support … they’ve been slow to come to the reality that this decline is permanent.”

We don’t think it has to be. Amidst all this, we do see many colleges and universities successfully navigating a critical time of change. They have at least three things in common.

First, they are taking risks and taking action. The challenges of financing and technology will not change over the short- and medium-term. Institutions are experimenting, innovating and taking needed risks to restructure funding and curriculum.

Second, many of the best institutions are focusing as much in the “how” as the “what.” With the commoditization of information, the premium for the education experience increasingly will go beyond the lecture hall and into the streets.

Finally, we see colleges and universities rethinking, restructuring and rebuilding their ties to key communities – everything from students and parents to alumni to the towns and business sectors that they serve.

Those within “the academy” that best navigate the “digital disruption” taking place in education will be those who are most likely to be relevant to the students and alumni of tomorrow.

India's exploding digital economy

This blog was written by Jeffrey F. Rayport who is a member of the Brodeur Partners Advisory Board, a noted digital strategist and private equity investor. He was formerly on the faculty of the Harvard Business School.

Recently, I had the privilege of moderating a conference of global entrepreneurs and venture capitalists in Mumbai — an event called Founders Forum India. Founders Forum is a franchise started by two successful UK-based entrepreneurs, Brent Hoberman and Jonnie Goodwin, to stimulate US-style entrepreneurship in the European region, and now around the world. The event brought together some 250 entrepreneurs and investors for a series of panels, round tables, and a business plan competition. It also featured a showcase of hot new Indian start-ups.

What the event made clear — beyond the striking array of talent in the room assembled by our Indian host, Reliance Group’s Rajesh Sawhney — was a stunningly bright future for all things digital in India. Indeed, practically any statistic you might cite about Digital India suggests that something unusual is going on. And the impact will occur in the next 24 to 36 months, based on the following data and projections:

Let’s start with Internet access. Today, India’s population of Internet users is 80 million, which equals a penetration rate of just seven percent (or 17 percent of the urban population). That is about to change. The government is rolling out what it calls its National Broadband Plan, a $4.5 billion initiative to build a country-wide fiber optic network that will connect an additional 160 million Indians by 2014. An Indian investment bank, Avendus, projects 376 million Indian Net users by 2015.

Part of what’s fueling growth in Net penetration is an explosion in mobility. The Indian government sponsored the introduction of 3G services in 2011 with a $30 billion spectrum auction. Morgan Stanley projects that 3G penetration will reach 22 percent by 2015. Government and the private sector have spent something like $55 billion on related infrastructure. Further, we’ll see a roll-out of 4G wireless services across the country in 2012. While there are nearly 800 million mobile subscribers in India, very few use smart phones; most have feature phones that deliver, at best, premium text-based services. As unit economics enable ever cheaper smart phones (the lowest price in the market is now $65), their penetration will rise.

Fueling this explosion is a fact of national culture: Indians love media. No one aware of the nation’s obsession with “ABC” (Astrology, Bollywood, and Cricket) will be surprised to learn that the average Indian consumes 4.5 hours of media and entertainment a day, while 70 percent of the national population spends money on content, both online and off. Time spent online already comes to 40 minutes per capita per day.

Mobility will drive much of the expansion in Internet usage. One of every four Internet users in the country now accesses the Net using a mobile device. A leapfrog effect will mean that three of every four Net users will do so by 2015. Bye-bye to the clunkier and more costly PC.

One result of this expansion is that e-commerce is rapidly taking off. Granted, only 11 percent of Indian online users are transacting online. As in China several years ago, there’s a reluctance to pay for goods using the Web; most of today’s online transactions are in the travel industry (representing 87 percent of a $6.3 billion e-commerce sector, says Avendus). Still, Amazon lookalike Infibeam is growing sales handily. It’s a reflection of what’s happening in the domestic retail space more broadly. Infibeam’s founder projects growth of the retail economy from $400 billion today to $1 trillion by the end of the decade. Digital will inevitably play a starring role in propelling this growth.

At the same time, there is an abundance of local capital ready to deploy to feed new ventures. Consumer demand for innovative digital services, when executed ably, seems unquenchable; and that demand is stimulating capital flows. For this reason, one entrepreneur observed, “More companies [in India] die of indigestion than of starvation.” According to Mergermarket, the value of investment activity rose from $111 million in 2010 to $829 million in 2011, while the number of deals doubled from 33 to 66. This expansion isn’t just domestic. Indian entrepreneurs are feeling bullish about global markets. One publicly traded company, OnMobile, an operator of premium SMS services, now does business in 52 countries around the world.

Growing confidence among Indian entrepreneurs is related to one other market attribute: Indian consumers are extraordinarily demanding. Many at the conference articulated the idea simply. As they say in Manhattan, the Mumbai crowd averred, “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.”

Yes, there are challenges. There are at least 16 languages spoken throughout the country. There’s the question of how to develop robust legal, regulatory, and financial infrastructure (including payment systems). There’s the problem of sound policing of intellectual property rights. There’s an aversion to subscription-based offerings. And, as ever, there’s something else you cannot ignore: executional risk.

But it was hard for me, from a moderator’s perch, not to feel exhilarated by the dramatic upside for Digital India. The subcontinent seems on the cusp of amazing developments, only beginning with broadband Net access, high-speed mobility, and e-commerce. The idea that India — with its scale, its energy, its consumers — could become a digital laboratory and growth engine for the world struck me as both likely and inspiring.

Given that, is it any wonder many who attended the conference regard India’s digital opportunity in the next few years as greater than China’s?

 

The future of e-books: iPad's Bram Stoker's Dracula

While e-books are growing in popularity, they represent only 8% of all books sold today. Sales will continue to climb as new concepts hit the market like the iPad-based Official Stoker Family Edition of Bram Stoker’s classic Dracula.
This isn’t your Mom’s Kindle e- book.
While it’s the original 1897 Stoker tome, Dracula has been wonderfully re-imagined. Most of the 300 pages come alive, driven by a game engine developed for the Apple iPad by PadWorx Digital Media. This enables readers to experience a book in a whole new way, from social media to gameplay to touch screen interaction.
And then there’s the glorious, shiny, iPad color “pop.” When blood trickles and howling wolves walk across the page, it’s mesmerizing.
There are hundreds of interactive experiences in this iPad Dracula. The compound effect is addictive. We’ve all talked about books “we can’t put down,” but this app takes the expression to a new level:
  • Can’t read a page because it’s too dark? Light a candle, then move it closer to the text.
  • A heavy gravestone slab is blocking your path… so… drag it and listen as the stone scrapes and moves away.
  • As Stoker describes Lucy being hypnotized, she appears in illustrated form, eyes open. Move your finger across her face and she falls into a trance.
  • Press the tip of a transfusion needle and blood flows through the tube.
  • Tilt the iPad and a character’s face changes from glorious to macabre.
  • Blow leaves off a tombstone so you can read the text beneath.
But the real kick, for me, were the small, unexpected touches like…
Snow falling across the page…Touch an envelope and out comes a handwritten letter…Press a (blood) red word and it launches you to a just-received telegram…Rats scramble across the page… Open the window of an insane asylum and peer inside…Unlock a mausoleum’s door with a key…Feed sugar to flies as they buzz across a page.
Music plays a key role in setting the mood. Each of the book’s 27 chapters features original, full-length songs – activated by touching a drop of blood. Eerie music starts playing when you’re reading a particularly creepy or suspenseful passage.
If all this wasn’t enough, there are eight “bonus” forms of content hidden within the application, including:
  • The entire 1922 film Nosferatu, based on the 1897 Bram Stoker Dracula
  • The entire Orson Welles radio adaptation of Dracula
  • The death certificate of Bram Stoker
“It really is a different kind of reading experience," said Jeffrey Schechter of PadWorx Digital Media.
He got that right. Dracula is the future of e-books. And you get all this for $4.99.

What's jumping the shark in 2011 in the world of tech?

As I watched The Office the other night (missing its original cleverness & quirkiness), I wondered: what’s jumping the shark in the world of tech?
Some are obvious: MySpace; cable TV subscriptions; brick & mortar video chains; Digg; flip phones, eBay and DVDs.

But what’s jumping the shark before our eyes? Consider the following candidates - some are unquestionably declining; others remain arguable in their pending sharkiness :

  • Delicious – word got out last month that Yahoo was shutting down its social bookmarking site. Then it shifted gears, talking about selling the service. Does this mean the world doesn’t need wide-scale storing, sharing and discovering web bookmarks?
  • Netbooks – the handwriting is on the tablet – netbooks from the likes of HP, Dell and Asus have been usurped by the Tablet Rush. (Thanks Apple for showing the way.) Now established companies like Motorola are in the game with the favorably reviewed Xoom and unknowns - like Notion – are garnering buzz with Adam. RIM skipped the netbook phase and moved directly to the tablet.
  • Virtualization – although it might be a tad early to make the call, there are some indications virtualization may be taking a hit as all things shift to the Cloud as companies worry more about taming management complexity issues.
  • Cloud computing – a harried, flight-delayed couple gets happy when they say “let’s go to the cloud” in a current TV commercial. Is cloud computing so mass market already that it’s jumped the shark? Some people think it’s already peaked.
  • Chatroulette – who doesn’t want a face-to-face webcam experience with an endless parade of strangers with a complete inability to manage the experience (find friends, trace your steps back, etc.). Evidently, a lot of people.
  • Twitter – a frequent knock against Twitter is “lots of talk but is anybody listening?” If Twitter usage hasn’t peaked, has its clout?
  • Large email service providers – several very capable small email service providers have proven themselves and are delivering a high level of functionality at far less cost. Why pay more when you can get it from vendors like Newsberry?
  • Quora – it hasn’t been around long (launched June 2009) and buzz is growing not declining, but some are already questioning its viability. If you’re not familiar Quora, it’s Search meets Wikipedia meets Yahoo Answers. Is it a retread or a valuable idea we’ll need more.
  • Facebook – some pundits are saying Facebook has peaked. With 500 million friends and climbing, it’s hard to make the case though. But maybe they’re right…The Social Network won a Golden Globe for Best Picture.
  • Augmented reality – there’s growing buzz that while it’s definitely cool, augmented reality hasn’t (and might never) find a useful purpose. To avoid jumping the shark, it needs to go from cool to practical applications.
  • Blu-ray – every year since it came out, marketers have prophesized “the year of Blu-ray” but it hasn’t happened yet. Blu-ray video now accounts for 11% of all movie sales according to Nielsen. The format appears to be growing, but the buzz has flattened. For example, there were fewer Blu-ray announcements at this year’s CES (except for the Star Wars trilogy news). Will 2011 be the tipping point year?
  • Blogging – last year’s Christian Science Monitor article (Has blogging peaked?) made a case for Twitter and Facebook now being the glue that keeps online communities together. There’s growing buzz that blogging requires too much work and diminishing returns. The biggest sharkiness sign may be that the majority of blogs are never updated.
  • Governance risk and compliance (GRC) – is this software being increasingly marginalized as more and more customers go SaaS?
What isn’t on this list that should be? What shouldn’t be on the list? Talk to me…

6 reasons why social media didn't kill PR

There was steady chatter from 2007 through 2009 about the potential death of PR. Social media - the new game in town – might make PR irrelevant. Companies and organizations could now go direct, building their own conversations, communities and visibility.
Specialized social media experts (who were ahead of the curve in the early days) understandably trumpeted this view, leveraging the opportunity to directly or indirectly de-position PR agencies and professionals. Similarly, some journalists said PR’s traditional media relations centricity was a model for extinction.
In March 2009,Putting the Public Back in Public Relations” by Brian Solis and Deirdre Breakenridge was published, urging PR practitioners to master the art of listening, build meaningful relationships and leverage emerging social media. They educated and informed but also advocated quick, smart reinvention. They said PR practitioners should be brand/cause enthusiasts, “embedded in the communities shaping the future.” It was a needed call to action … and a wake-up for many.
Like many others, I shared my points of view along the way via blogs like Pitching is passé, What PR isn’t and Tired, faded and dead PR words.
As we enter Q4 2010, the heatedness of this debate has arguably dissipated. It’s interesting how much progress has been made. Six transformations triggered the shift:
1.       History repeated itself – remember when the www tornado caught many off guard in the mid-nineties? The communications industry was flat-footed. Web experts sprung to life - including specialized digital agency properties. For a period of time, specialists ruled – as they typically do in moments of change - to fill the knowledge vacuum.
2.       Agencies got religion –What occurred with the Web repeated itself with social media. Facing loss of relevance and revenue, many agencies, firms and communications professionals invested the time to question, listen and learn. They got smarter, broadened service offerings, aligned with experts and integrated across disciplines. Priorities and practices were re-shaped.
3.       It went from niche to mainstream – as time passed, organizations and companies also became more comfortable with social media. Ideas and initiatives that didn’t work (or make sense) were discarded; promising approaches were encouraged. As corporate and not-for-profit sectors got smarter, they ramped-up their own internal talent. Today, according to a June 2010 research study conducted by Digital Brand Expressions, 78% of companies are now using social media.
4.       Walls broke down –As the PR industry shifted from wide-eyed to eagle-eyed and as clients, companies and not-for-profits became more at ease, the early days of social media panic and pointing largely dissipated. Former adversaries let down their guards and began cooperating. This year, one of the first books on the subject “The New Rules of Marketing & PR” by David Meerman Scott was re-issued as a second edition, illustrating social media’s continuing maturation.
5.       Opportunity begat revenue – As social media transformed from emerging to embedded – and as knowledge increased - the revenue followed. An August 2010 Advertising Age article reported how social media is helping the public relations sector not just survive, but thrive.
6.       True public relations practices remained strong –the people who sounded the PR death knell were largely equating public relations with media relations. In that narrow zone, they were right. Traditional, one-way publicity is an old model that’s no longer relevant in an age of social-media-driven two-way conversations, communities and grassroots empowerment.                                        

But true public relations practice isn’t publicity. It’s much broader, taking into account every stakeholder (or “public”) with which an organization interacts: 

Strategically practiced, PR takes on a wide-ranging role, focused on earning a trusted reputation by acting in the best interests of these publics – not the organization’s own myopic agenda.

Social media is the latest expression of relationship building (a two-way model that’s far more inclusive and participative); other exciting new iterations will follow. Solis and Breakenridge were right, we’re the industry in the best position to “put the public back in public relations” and keep it there by never staying put.

5 reasons why "polymath" people & E2.0 technology are fueling a PR renaissance

Vinnie MirchandaniWednesday I experienced a cool one-two punch: Enterprise 2.0 & Vinnie Mirchandani.
If you’re not familiar with Enterprise 2.0 (E2.0) it’s an annual event focused on online collaboration/ social media tools that engage and transform people at work. (Full disclosure: one of our clients, NewsGator, is a leader in this industry).  
If you’re not familiar with Vinnie Mirchandani, he’s a former Gartner analyst, active blogger and author of “The New Polymath.”
What’s a “polymath?” It’s the Greek word for Renaissance Man (Vinnie needs to integrate an equivalent word for women). From DaVinci to Franklin, polymaths innovated the problems of the day; as Vinnie said, “they are good at many things.”
Vinnie was presenting at E2.0 because it’s a place where technology polymaths and polymath organizations hang out. Smart companies understand how a unified, communicative workforce outmaneuvers a fragmented one. Instead of keeping employees in the dark, or relying on outdated technologies like email to communicate, they’re embracing tools that foster meaningful collaboration. 

Vinnie said the characteristics of E2.0 organizations are these:

  • Ambitious community from day one – aiming for “enterprise” not a single tech category
  • People, more than machine, centric
  • Early adopter of social networks
  • Well connected around globe
  • Ethical – advocates for transparency
  • Media/PR savvy
He believes “polymathing” (if I can turn it into a verb) is the key to innovThe New Polymath by Vinnie Mirchandaniation because it encourages curiosity and “an openness to accept ideas from left field.” It also triggers the “building of widely-rounded enterprises” that are more adept at discovering new markets and technologies. Polymath thinking is helping our world tackle and resolve the “grand challenges” of our day.

Vinnie believes the world of E2.0 is creating a need for more “black swan” public relations as crises reveal themselves instantly and spread more virally than ever before. “Look no further than BP and Toyota,” he said, “it could happen to any of you.”

For communications professionals, branding gurus and PR experts, there are five takeaways:

5.  Good communications starts internally, not externally. Engage and empower your employees first – start there. Adopting new enterprise 2.0 technologies will help. 

4.  The functions of communications/branding/PR no longer reside within the confines of a “department.” These walls are breaking down and should keep breaking down.

3.  Communications 2.0 must be holistic, embracing the entire organization and all stakeholders. Communication experts can strategize, monitor and help shape, but “non-communication experts” will positively contribute to brand enhancement when properly engaged.  

2.  Transparency remains a vital idea, not a cliché. Top-down autocracy is dead. Two-way communication triggers curiosity and fresh ideas.

1.  Public relations is in an ideal position to catalyze this historic change. Remember what Vinnie said: the world of enterprise 2.0 is defined by organizations that are “people-centric,” “globally well-connected,” “advocates for transparency” and “media/PR savvy.” That’s us, right? 

Hollywood, technology & innovation

Inventing the Movies - by Scott KirsnerScott Kirsner, the popular columnist and contributing writer to Variety, Business Week, The Boston Globe, New York Times and Wired, was in town last night talking up his new book “Inventing the Movies: Hollywood's Epic Battle Between Innovation and the Status Quo, from Thomas Edison to Steve Jobs” The packed event held at the Portsmouth Public Library was sponsored by Borealis Ventures and the NH High Technology Council.
 
Kirsner wove a fascinating tale, connecting Hollywood, technology, chance and persistence.
 
Leave it to Kirsner – a master storyteller – to find a compelling link between two seemingly disparate worlds. It turns out there are three kinds of people common to both Hollywood and technology: innovators, preservationists (trying desperately to hang onto the status quo) and sideline-sitters. They’ve existed for a century in the movie business and for 50 plus years in high technology.
 
Did you know, for example, that it took 24 years for Technicolor Motion Picture Corporation (given birth by MIT alums, btw) to gain acceptance and widespread use in Hollywood? 24 years! It wasn’t until “Gone With the Wind” in 1939 that color movies were finally accepted.
 
That’s a lesson for technology entrepreneurs who impatiently believe their new product should be met with instant, wide-eyed acclaim and adoption.
 
Sometimes it takes persistence to succeed.
 
Gone With The WindDid you know people couldn’t envision a day when movies with sound would be preferred over silent motion pictures? Amazing. Irving Thalberg, an MGM executive said “Sound is a passing fancy, it won’t last.” It wasn’t until popular vaudevillian Al Jolsen starred in “The Jazz Singer” in 1927 that people could finally envision a different reality. There was no looking back.
 
The same thing happened in the minicomputer era when the PC was born. And it’s happening now in Hollywood – 95 percent of major motion pictures shot in 2008 were shot with film, despite the availability of superior digital technology.
 
Sometimes it just takes the right actor.
 
Did you know one of the first standards battles occurred in Hollywood? Vitaphone and Movietone –two different sound standards - battled each other, the latter eventually winning out because of its ability to print audio optically on movie film. VHS nixing Betamax was another example. Standards technology battles continue today, the latest being HDDVD vs. Blue Ray. High tech has had hundreds of standards battles; everything from operating systems to networking protocols to disk formats.
The Jazz Singer with Al Jolson Movie Poster 
Sometimes it takes a major battle to win the war.
 
Did you know it took 26 years for the VCR to win acceptance? Bing Crosby, the father of the VCR, wanted to record his voice, perfect things and play recordings on his NBC show. They didn’t like this idea; in the early days of radio everything was performed live. So Bing created “Crosby Video” and had to journey to ABC to use it. Crosby eventually sold the technology to 3M. That was in 1956.
 
In 1982, the evil threat of recording was still alive. Jack Valenti told Congress “I say to you the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston Strangler is to the woman home alone.”
 
It took Andre Blay, an AV dealer from Michigan who envisioned a big payday, to make the studios see the light of day. It worked. Ten years later, movie studios earned more from home video sales than ticket sales. Are you listening RIAA? 

Sometimes you have to forge the right kind of alliances.

Did you know the first movies were individual, not group, experiences? People watched 30-second movies in individual booths in a few major cities. Thomas Edison, who invented the movie camera (which he called the “peep show machine”) said, “We will only need about 10 of these in the whole United States.”
 
The first movies were ridiculous. For example, a man on a tightrope bouncing up and down, in black and white. Kirsner said the same thing is happening today with You Tube. The highest viewed video is a silly little piece produced by one performer with zero budget. Called “The evolution of dance,” it’s been viewed by over 100 million people. Like the first peep show movies, we’re still trying to figure out what really lurks in YouTube. Someday, its raw potential will unleash a different world.
 
Sometimes big ideas lie beneath seemingly ridiculous content.
 
Innovators, preservationists and sideline-sitters are all around us, shaping, delaying and eventually adopting inventions that capture our imagination and reshape life experiences.

10 branding communication lessons from the ‘08 presidential campaign

Obama - 10 communication lessons from the '08 Presidential campaignCheckmate readers are corporate communications, branding and public relations professionals. They’re Independents, Republicans and Democrats. There might even be a few Libertarians in the mix too.
 
Recognizing this reality, today’s blog is bi-partisan, focused on the top 10 communications lessons gleaned from this year’s campaign:
 
  1. Crisp, consistent messaging still rules - Obama started off his campaign with “change” and “hope” and stuck with it until the end. McCain, by contrast, embraced multiple messaging points, particularly in the last month of the campaign. Maverick. Country first. Fighter. Experienced. Leader. Independent. Straight talker.
  2. Social media changed the ballgame forevermore - both candidates embraced social media. They both understood its power to engage, mobilize and raise gobs of money. Obama had more success, yes, but they both leveraged it. There’s no going back.
  3. The big three got bigger – Facebook, YouTube and Twitter emerged as vital strategies. Obama’s Facebook network exceeded two million and McCain’s was nearly 600,000. Obama's YouTube presence was five times greater than McCain's, including subscribers and videos.Obama has over 118,107 Twitter followers to McCain's 4,942.
  4. Traditional TV was still king – although millions were spent online, the big bucks went to the “it’s so yesterday” boob-tube. Obama spent more than $100 million alone; his half-hour infomercials exceeded $3 million.
  5. Storytelling works – prior presidential elections used this technique, but in ‘08, it was more popular than ever. Tales were told through colorful characters, from Joe the Plumber to the 106-year old lady. Proving the value of storytelling, the latter example was used in the very last speech of the campaign by Obama Tuesday night.
  6. Soundbites stick – people remember a few oft-repeated phrases and slogans. Hockey Mom. Joe Six-Pack. Maverick. Socialist. Lipstick on a pit bull. Soundbites are not only vividly recalled, they also shape our perceptions and opinions.
  7. Teleprompters are double-edged –yes, they improve delivery but teleprompters can also create a false sense of reality. Sara Palin, for example, did a terrific job at her coming-out-party speech at the RNC, but subsequent interviews created the impression she was effective when controlled and scripted, but less so in impromptu conversations.
  8. Body language matters –the Town Hall debates helped shape public opinion when people had the chance to see the candidate in more natural settings. Voters repeatedly stressed Obama’s calm demeanor. Polls revealed McCain came across erratic and less even-tempered.
  9. Repetition works – both candidates understood the benefit of repetition. No new taxes. Yes we can. Essential points have to be emphasized over and over to break through and stick.
  10. Great Web sites are part of a larger conversation – official campaign Web sites were vital but only one element in a much broader conversation that took place online, in real-time, everywhere. News, ad campaigns, campaign accusations and rebuttals broke on YouTube, Twitter and social news sites long before they appeared on mainstream media. The debate was shaped online.

Does Twitter chatter matter?

Does Twitter matter? Social media - Beaupre & Co.I was speaking with a high-tech company’s social media guru yesterday. To fill dead air, I asked, “You guys doing anything with Twitter?”
 
I didn’t expect much of an answer. To be honest, Twitter kind of annoys me. It’s like reply-to-all on steroids, with an extra dollop of vanity (canceling my meetings, taking my Ferrari for a spin along the beach). The handful of people and companies I should follow would be buried by the twitter litter of others I should maybe cancel.
 
“Absolutely,” the guru replied. “Twitter is our number one way of spreading news online these days.”
 
Wow. Yes, I’ve heard the celebrated stories of giant companies putting out fires with angry consumers via Twitter, but I gathered they were the exception proving the rule. Maybe not. Here’s what the guru’s company is doing:
 
News: The company as an entity tweets from time to time to let followers know about events, training opportunities, updates, offers, cool Web pages and the like with links to more details. All the bloggers who follow the company and many of their traditional media counterparts are on Twitter, pretty much all day. With one click, the bloggers can break the news to their followers, and so on, until the word is out fast, in a big way.
 
Customer relations: Many of the company’s customers are on Twitter, too, and are picking up on the news as it’s announced. Web site copy and news releases still have their place, but in a lot of cases, you heard it first or got the link from Twitter. Customers are also picking up on valuable tidbits not really worth trumpeting over any other medium.
 
Access: Several of the company’s key employees and execs, one of whom is an industry rock star, are on Twitter. Followers are delighted to have access to him, as well as the other company reps, on an ad hoc, sometimes real-time basis.
 
Listening: The company learns things from its customer base it would never learn through a formal feedback process: suggestions, modest proposals, gripes, observations, etc. Worthy ideas are captured and go to product developers or whomever will make use of them. The company also uses Twitter to toss out an occasional sounding board question to the community – e.g., what would you like to see at our annual event?
 
Good will: The ability for customers, bloggers and others to have Twitter conversations with the real, caring humans behind the brand reminds everyone that there are, well, real, caring humans behind the brand who are open to ongoing personal relationships. That really means a lot. “There’s a sense we’re out there listening and participating versus throwing out marketing messages from afar,” the guru says.
 
Final thought. Our social media guru thinks of Twitter as something far more appealing than reply-to-all on steroids:
 
Imagine a cozy bar in your neighborhood open 24/7. You and your friends were first in the door when it opened 20 years ago on opening day and grabbed the best table, a large one, and never gave it up. None of you live at the bar, but you have enough friends coming in and out around the clock that your crowd always has the table. Everyone’s having conversations everyone else can overhear, but if you need to, you can pick one person out and whisper.
 

I think I’m starting to get Twitter. Is Twitter paying off for you?

...

Dec. 29, 2008 update: CNN names "Ascendance of Twitter" a top tech trend of 2008.

Texting: what’s kinda old is new again

Texting social media Beaupre communications branding public relationsWe call them cell phones, but they’re also little text machines. Now it’s official: Americans are doing more texting on them than talking. Youngsters 13-17 are leading the charge, with the 18-24s right behind them, says a Nielsen Mobile survey. Only at age 45 and beyond do calls still outnumber texts.
 
Hmm, in a world supposedly becoming less literate and more urgent for gratification, we now type more than talk. I wonder why. Finding tiny keys with clumsy thumbs and communicating at a fraction of the pace of natural speech doesn’t exactly scream efficiency or ease of use. It feels like a regression to the telegram era (telegrams on steroids, of course, with texting capacity in the hands of just about everybody in the developed world).
 

Then why so much texting? My guesses:

  • Kids are texting when talking is impractical, like in class, like when parents are “over shoulder,” like when they’re in a group and want to have a back-channel conversation. OMG, cn u b leev she’s wearing that?
  •  Texting is convenient. You don’t have to “answer” it like you do a ringing phone, so we’re texting a lot for the same reason we email a lot.
  •  Texting is polite. Rather than interrupt someone’s meeting, sleep or vacation, you can quietly send a text.
  •  Texting doesn’t tie up the phone, so you if you have fast fingers, you can carry on multilateral conversations not just bilateral ones.
  • Texting makes driving exciting.

What does hyper texting mean for business? Well, phones with QWERTY keyboards are no longer status symbols; they’re standard tools for anyone who interacts with a team or customer base. If you’re not texting, it’s time to learn. And if you’re texting on a phone-style 0-9 keypad, you really should think about upgrading.  

For communications and branding, the ascendancy of text means words still have a central place in a world dominated by images and icons. Just remember to kp it brf

 

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