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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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.

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.