The Costa Call

Robert_Costa_by_Gage_Skidmore

Robert Costa
Source: Wikipedia
Credit: Gage Skidmore

Some things in life you can’t escape.  Last night, I celebrated another March birthday with a friend, whose birthday is a week later, at Le Diplomate restaurant on 14th Street in Washington. Both communication specialists, my friend and I talked about everything but politics, for awhile. When the subject came up, we both sort of shook our heads. My friend remarked that it was hard to believe some of the developments happening in politics and the media. If anyone had told us years ago the things happening now in the political landscape, we wouldn’t believe it. We both admitted to working consciously to resist the urge to keep up with the rapid-fire political news pushed to us via our cell phones. We knew such restraint was necessary to manage our own daily lives.

But the next day,  I succumbed to the pull of the cell phone’s news flash once again. I couldn’t help it. The Washington Post had released its journalist Robert Costa’s account of a cell phone call from our 45th President about his party’s replacement bill for the Affordable Care Act of 2010.

I have a number of opinions about that call, but I will keep the personal and political ones to myself. To stay true to the purpose of this blog, however, I feel compelled to focus on how the call speaks to the consequences of digital media in our modern political era.

Transparency: What is most revealing about the call from the 45th President of the United States to Acosta is that it gave the appearance of flouting established communications protocols for persons who hold the high office. The call also went to a journalist at a publication that has been vilified by the current Administration (and its supporters) as a bastion of the “elite liberal media.” The consequence is that it will undoubtedly spark an open discussion about whether the call was part of a planned communications strategy or an executive whim that diminished and devalued established executive branch communications protocols.

Truth: Never before have individuals been so challenged to sift for the truth, based on the myriad news sources that interweave news and opinion. A conscientious effort to decipher truth from fiction, “spin” and accusation presented by digital news media will require diligent objective reasoning abilities that diverse demographic and political groups may be increasingly challenged to adopt. This could have grave consequences for our democracy and others. On the flip side, the immediacy of journalism in the digital age gives rise to the facade of unfiltered reporting and the impression of veracity. Taking the Acosta call as a case in point, we tend to believe that the 45th President repeated three times that House Majority Leader Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) was not to “blame” for the replacement bill’s demise. We believe it, not just because a reporter said it, but we also believe it because it’s fresh off the phone call, with little filtering, we suppose. We also believe the Acosta account because his Wikipedia bio suggests that Acosta is least likely to put a liberal slant on his account of the phone conversation because he used to work for a conservative publication, The National Review. Never before has the phrase, “consider the source,” carried so much complexity in the business of information curation and dissemination.

Compromise: One and not done. On the surface, the 45th President’s call appears to be a simple admission that just one of his proposed campaign initiatives will not be achieved in the short term. That new opportunities for “wins” will abound in the months and weeks ahead. But a deeper analysis suggests that high-level communication via digital and social media has become the norm and carries a double-edged sword that may increasingly contribute to the calcification of political gridlock and the erosion of party allegiances. It seems that our digital media universe is not conducive to finding middle ground or fostering political discourse that might produce compromise leading to common-sense public policy.

I have been a purveyor of digital media technology for many years. I marvel at the positive changes it has brought humanity. But I am not alone in the belief that we must harness and guide it for political good. The Acosta call from “45” may be a blip on the digital political news radar, but if we fail to heed its warnings, we could be in a heck of a mess no matter who holds the reins of power. Like birthdays, we can’t escape technological advances, but we can determine how we manage them.

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Jobs Report: Is Tech Part of Our Recovery?

Chart of Jobs Growth in US, 2008-2011
Job growth since 2008 Infographic: Visual.ly
Chart of Jobs Growth in US, 2008-2011

Job growth since 2008
Infographic: Visual.ly

This morning, my WTOP.com SMS alert told me what I used to report every month on the radio: last month’s jobless rate. It’s good news by most standards. Six percent (6.3 to be exact) of people actively seeking work is the lowest rate in 5 1/2 years. Nearly 290,000 new jobs added. All good indicators our economy is bouncing back.

But are Baby Boomers bouncing back, and if so, how? The Urban Institute’s report on joblessness among the 50+ crowd, coupled with a GAO analysis, during The Great Recession painted a pretty dismal portrait of the financial well-being of this pre- and currently retired demographic in the US.

Being a techy Boomer, myself, I am curious about how the tech sector is playing a role in helping my folks out of the most recent jobs rut.  So, this May, I am putting that question out to my network…on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, LinkedIN and traveling around the country to investigate it.

As part of my personal research, I’d like to find success stories of Boomers using technology to bounce back from a tough financial spot. If you can help with this research, send or Tweet me a link or a personal contact that I can interview anywhere in the country.

And if you’re a Boomer who wants to jump into the tech economy (check out Xconomy.com) to improve your financial position, here are five revenue-creation companies you may want to explore:

 

1. E-Bay

2. Flex Jobs

3. Postmates

4. Thrillist

5. Lyft

Subscribe to this blog, and I’ll help keep you posted on this and other digital cues in the rapidly changing world we share.

Social Media Niche Management

Niche Knowledge

Fall 2010 may go down in digital media history as a major turning point in the mass media landscape. Searching online and separately noting today’s Washington Women in PR’s luncheon speaker insights about the use of social media as integral to marketing strategy brought back memories of the “dialectic” theory of historical events. The theory requires that major historical trends interact with “visionaries” or “individual actors” who understand and capitalize upon these trends to transform society, conventional thinking or business practices.

Dialectic theory seemed to emerge this week with the occurrence of two events–a presentation and a conference. Ironically, the sources of our knowledge are so technology-centered and diverse that many of us flock to “live” presentations to help us digest and sort out our Information Age overload. That’s exactly what was so powerful about Webb Media Group’s tech talk for Washington Women in PR over lunch today. In about an hour, WG’s Principal Amy Webb creatively outlined how marketing/PR executives could better sort out how to use social media applications for audience engagement, brand awareness and customer conversion.

Three focal points helped simplify Webb’s message for both novice and experienced social media marketers. The first was function, that is, what “utility” does a social media application perform? Webb identified seven social media platform trends that provide utilitarian niches for marketers to customize for specific campaign or communications analysis needs.

Her other focal points were strategic in nature: Are communicators engaging target audiences by using social media in ways that are habit-forming/effective and comprehensive?

As Amy posed those questions in Washington, digital media marketing executives in Boston presented case studies about products and causes that answered the questions raised in Washington. But they also posed new ones, about social media marketing and metrics, the next generation of digital marketers and more.

The two meetings clearly show that the so-called “changing media landscape” has reached the tipping point. The Brave New World of Digital Communications is our reality. Clearly, it’s a world in which–through social media–the individual can wield as much power (and sometimes more) as the amorphous brand. As communicators in uncharted territory, our best bet is making sure we understand social media and how to deploy it for our clients’ best advantage.

Hootsuite is Heaven

It’s been almost six months since Kenneth Piner, a video producer and Northwestern alumnus, advised me about the merits of using Hootsuite to manage my social media properties. Try it, you’ll like it, was the gist of his message. It was advice I filed away for later use.

As in advertising, sometimes you have to hear advice a few times—from different sources–before taking action on it.  Even we media gurus are human. So it was with me and Hootsuite. But this week, I took the plunge. But not before doing a bit of due diligence. As a business, Hootsuite appears to be in a sweet social media spot.  The “eyeballs” that all media covet are in the driver’s seat and publishers of all ilk can’t quite predict where they will be found to cluster next. We know they are scarce for print media, which has led to layoffs of newspaper and magazine journalists nationwide. It’s all part of the so-called changing media landscape.

With social media and other online platforms commanding impressive views, Hootsuite is capitalizing on the commodity of time that its software saves by using a dashboard approach to monitoring activity across several platforms.  Like most upstart media technology companies, Hootsuite also is leveraging its “free” following by offering premium services as a business model.  Targeted to businesses, Hootsuite understands that it’s in a position to advance while the gears of traditional media are “seizing up” as Hootsuite’s CEO put it.

At my level, I’m just happy to have the order of having my social media universe, both personal and business, in one online garage. Now that I’ve tested the waters of Hootsuite, I am a true believer. When it comes to contracting my social media schedule, it’s like heaven.

Making Gains: Mobile Advertising

The buzz around the industry for the past 15 months has been the role of mobile ads in the marketing mix. My Webcomic client, Trilogy-Media, is a great candidate for mobile ads because of the rich media product they will unveil this month. The product, The Adjusted Webcomic, will introduce a soundtrack to enhance its science-fiction online comic series. Its target market, comic book enthusiasts, are good candidates for mobile ads given the upsurge in sales of mobile devices, from the iPad to iPhones. To promote its product, visual ads in the form of MMS messaging makes the most sense. But with the financial contraints of a start-up marketing budget, the strategy we seek must take cost into account. So our execution will involve finding low-cost mobile advertising through social media platforms, like Google and Facebook. Independent Webcomic publishers that sell banner ads will extend the reach on mobile devices with access to the Internet. So there is no reason to buy separate mobile advertising for small mobile campaigns. But there is a glitch in this process: the analytics. How can you differentiate from the click-throughs whether your prospective customer came from a mobile version of the platform or from a desktop? I suspect there is no way to make that distinction without paying handsomely for it. So for small-budget clients, measuring ROI for mobile advertising is only effective with text or SMS campaigns. One alternative for measuring the effectiveness of mobile advertising with rich-media (MMS) is to run a separate mobile-only banner campaign using one social media platform. Stay tuned.

Social Media, No Small Business

National Small Business Week Logo

Cynical readers would be correct to retort under their breath “no kidding” about the widely known fact that social media is no small business. After all, this was the week Time magazine put Facebook center stage with its in-depth look at the mega social media platform’s privacy transgressions. But my focus this Tuesday was the Social Media Forum at the National Small Business Week Conference at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Southwest DC. I went because I always learn some new insight when I attend these free social media forums and webinars. Besides that, I believed that I might gain new insights that could assist with a start-up Webcomics website marketing plan that primarily uses social media to create buzz before its launch this summer. The panel and the small businesses in the audience delivered much more than expected.

Here are the social media insights for marketing small businesses I mined from the forum’s panel:

Think of social media investments to gain customer loyalty and promote transparency in terms of not just ROI, but ROTI (return on time invested.)” –Brian Moran, President, Veracle Media, and moderator for the forum

The bricks to clicks social media platform Yelp is the preferred social media platform for most retail businesses across the country. Businesses on average are spending about $3.60 per fan a year with Yelp.
-–Luther Lowe, business outreach manager for Yelp

Don’t just leave it to the interns. They may not know any more than you do. There was much discussion from the panel and audience about assuming that social media is a young professional’s province. Rather, the consensus was that social media marketing success requires a progressive learning curve from anyone who embraces it, at any age. Social media should be managed as part of a small business’ overall strategic marketing mix. This resonated, especially given anecdotal testimony from one company that adopting social media helped grow business by 30 percent.

Intuit is researching cloud analytics and integration into business ledgers. That means Intuit may soon help businesses analyze how much direct revenue comes as a result of email and other social media campaigns, according to panelist Angus Thomson, head of Intuit’s new social media division. Intuit’s entry into the business analytics side of social media portends social media’s share of the business marketing mix could be huge in short order. (Another sign: Microsoft’s big footprint, integrating social media into Outlook 2010.)

Young consumers are more tolerant of interruptions. That research tidbit from Small Business columnist Rieva Lesonsky indicates online entertainment businesses (like my client’s) may find success with intermittent ads and/or donation offers, especially among younger fans accustomed to mobile communication venues.

Outside of these social media info nuggets, small businesses made clear most are struggling to survive and keenly exploring how creatively they can use the new network of platforms that encompass social media to pull them through.

Social Media_Boom or Bust?

On King Day, I decided I needed to balance cultural reflection and community service with communication best practices for economic gain. So my schedule was rather eclectic I’d say. The morning schedule included a Webinar by Social Media Magic, while the afternoon was consumed with MLK speeches, good food and by-law revisions for The Young Masters, an youth arts advocacy non-profit I support.

I was grateful I made time for the social media Webinar. While most of us know about Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, I now know that Fastpitch!, Biznik and Plaxo offer major business and PR advantages. The social media info nuggets discerned from this 90-minute session merit sharing. Heard before, but worth repeating: social media can hurt business, if it is not focused. That means rather than hiring an intern to learn on the job, hire a nouveau expert to execute specific social media-related tasks. The hourly model apparently is dead or dying when it comes to social media, which can take the unfocused worker on a journey that saps the employer’s money without results. Other nuggets of knowledge from the Social Media Magic Webinar:

*Use Twitter as a search engine to identify prospects
*Use Fastpitch! to interest reporters on business news
*Shop around before paying for Social Media Training or certification
*LinkedIn Company Websites reap more engagement when they are engaging

What I appreciated about Social Media Magic’s Webinar was that it was focused on business needs, rather than being about the aimless community watering holes that connect old classmates or neighbors. At its best, social media can raise thousands of dollars for nameless earthquake victims in Haiti. At its worst, it can suck precious time away from the unfocused with little return.