September 30, 2008

Tweety Bird Didn't Know Nuthin 'Bout Tweets

It's pouring rain across the East Coast, the U.S. economy is in terrifying peril, and I've spent the past hour still trying to conquer Twitter. (I work from the Serenity Prayer mode, and obviously I can't change what's happening on Wall St.)

Twitter thrives on itty bitty messages (140 characters max. Yep - characters, not words) sent throughout the day. Sometimes with a purpose ("There's an accident at Third & Main") but more often just because you can ("I ate a good apple from Heinen's).

There is also a throng of Twitter-related programs, which is why I mentioned my favorite locally owned grocery. Type a single word or phrase into summize.com, for example, and it'll show every Tweet (a Twitter message) mentioning that word. (This is an absolute gift that enables businesses and nonprofits to monitor positive and negative comments about their work.) Twistori.com pulls out every Tweet that begins with certain emotions (I love, I hate, I think, I believe, I feel or I wish).

Whenever I mention Twitter to my friends, I often get a blank stare and the same question: "Why would I want to send messages like that to people I don't know?" And THAT, to me, is the core of the new social mindset.

People who Twitter often DO get to know the people they Tweet to, or the people whose Tweets they "follow." The dictionary says a friend is someone we're attached to or have concern for. Check out this article from 9/5/08 NY Times Sunday Magazine to read how the reporter finally "gets it" after Twittering for weeks. He's surprised when he frets about someone he's never met face-to-face who fails to Tweet for an entire day. Isn't that the core of friendship?

For me, even though I still don't totally "get" Twitter, I do get the New Community concept. I once heard a woman argue at a workshop that when she dies, she wants to know that people will come to her funeral instead of sending emails of sympathy . A younger man sitting a few rows back from her shouted, "If people send their love and regret at your passing, what's the difference? Is their grief any less real because they're not there in person?"

And that's the crux of it all. Love is love. Friends are friends. It's nice to see your friend's face in real life, but it's nice to see it on a webcam or a still photo, too. And if those options aren't available, it's nice just to get a note saying, "I'm thinking of you." It's nice when the note is delivered by a U.S. postal worker, but Outlook works just fine.

In the New Community, your favorite websites aren't bookmarked just for you; they're shared with the world on StumbleUpon. You don't email photos to your "friends", you share them broadly on flickr.com. One might argue that social software hinges on the universal spiritual concept that We Are All One. We now live in a village so global it would blow McLuhan's mind.

Now I hear you asking, "Is Twitter a form of media?"

Famous cases of Twitter breaking news include Tweets of the China earthquake before CNN had the story, and California firefighters using it to tell residents where new wildfires had begun.

In my own example, I hooked up mobile Twitter so that I can get Tweets on my Blackberry (I told you I'm determined to get the hang of this!). At about 8:30 pm one Sunday, a Tweet went by saying that Olympic star Michael Phelps was in Cleveland at the Browns game. I thought it was a joke until I saw a shot of him in the stands on the 11:00 news.

Traditional media -- broadcast & print -- had to wait for pre-set times for news. New media has no such limitations.

Lastly, I hope you'll send me a Tweet at KarenMW. Let me know how it's going for you, or pass along some advice for me.

But, if you're still thinking that the whole Twitter phenom is a passing fad, check out Twitterearth.com and watch Tweets come in from around the world. You'll be amazed.

September 17, 2008

Politically Correct Networking

I think that even the most casual user of the Big Three social websites -- LinkedIn, Facebook and MySpace -- knows that each one has its own personality, with LinkedIn being the more professionally-oriented. The photos that you might have on Facebook are generally not what you'd upload to LinkedIn, because it's assumed that business colleagues are more likely to see what's there.

It's a fair assumption. Every story I've seen about "busted" employees involves their comments or photos on Facebook or MySpace. It's no secret that both sites are attracting more mature users, or that potential employers are using the sites to screen applicants.

But, recently a friend who joined a LinkedIn group of Obama supporters learned that the action cost her the approval of a key client who visited her page. The client didn't pull his business, but their relationship may never be the same. And if he ever does cancel the account, she'll never know how much her online pro-Obama stance influenced the decision.

So, what's the lesson here? Is it OK to join an online fan club for Grey's Anatomy but not NARAL?

In the days of typewriters and face-to-face social clubs, people rarely knew what lurked behind a business associate's smile. Political affiliations and beliefs were basically one's own business to share or not. Now, it seems smart to at least consider keeping online lives politically correct.

You don't have to scrub your LinkedIn and Facebook pages -- it's definitely your choice. I'm only suggesting that you imagine that my friend heads a struggling non-profit and the offended person was a new donor poised to write a fat check. That story wouldn't have a happy ending, and worse, she'd have no way of knowing how many other potential donors had been turned off.

It's easy to support Obama, or NARAL, or any other cause "safely" online. Just do it through the specific website, not a social networking site. It's called social for a reason.

September 9, 2008

Respecting Public Relations Professionals

When I worked in television, I had a newspaper clipping taped just above my monitor that read: PUBLIC RELATIONS IS NOT THE UGLY STEPCHILD OF ADVERTISING. I needed a daily self-hug because it was all about the Promotion Director (the guy who produced spots for the station's newscasts and other locally produced programs) or the Sales Director (the guy who brought in the money by selling airtime). It was rarely about me, the person who generated publicity for free.

I worked at 3 TV stations in 3 cities in my career, and this was the sad truth at each location. I have no reason to believe things have changed, though I would still argue that if I get your picture on the cover of this week's TV Guide, that's as influential as an annoying commercial elsewhere.

But here's the proof that PR still don't get no respect: As print media, particularly daily newspapers, continue to wither on the vine, reporters are grudingly preparing themselves to work elsewhere -- in PR.

Try this on from last week's Cleveland Scene:

"The same day the Plain Dealer announced buyouts, the Akron Beacon Journal offered buyouts and early retirement packages to its entire newsroom. The offers represented the paper's third major round of cuts in recent years. The news was a surprise but not a bombshell. Having bonded after the previous attrition, the newsroom survivors accepted the announcement with resignation. Those who weren't already updating their résumé for public-relations or teaching gigs went to their Word files to create one."

This is the type of stuff I'm reading more and more, and never once have I seen a reference saying that the reporter planned to take a class or two to prepare for what is apparently the only job transition possible. It would seem that even Lassie can balance the needs of print, broadcast, online and social media; effectively manage a crisis and craft internal, investor/donor and general communications strategy.

Most people think advertising is easy, too. "Any fool can make up a slogan," they say. And surely Photoshop or Microsoft Draw can serve to pop out a logo. Why are creative arts so easily dismissed?

My blogger friend at Present Perfect Coach who works with media folks in career transition warns them against taking what looks like an easy path when it's not authentic to that person. Makes sense to me -- would Woodward & Bernstein have automatically succeeded as Burson Marsteller? I doubt it.

September 3, 2008

In Communications, Size Matters

It's getting easier for me to tell when an organization is truly conscious of the diverse world around them. A quick look at a website or written materials can tell me what I need to know.

People have pigeon-holed "diversity" to mean "race" just as "urban" has become synonymous with "black." But diversity includes many factors, including age -- which circles me back to generations, and Boomers. The first Baby Boomer turned 60 in 2006. Starting at that moment, another Boomer will celebrate his or her 60th birthday every 7.5 seconds until 2024! There are so many boomers that the younger waves haven't finished turning 50 yet.

Of course, Life being what it is, many of these people are squinting at fine print for the first time. They may even be buying [gasp!]... bi-focals.

The good news is that I'm seeing a growing number of websites that feature a tool for users to increase the font size of webpages or articles. Yay! THAT'S thinking outside of the box and beyond your own youthful staff.

Hopefully, those organizations carry out that insight in hard-copy, too. Too often I see printed materials in 11-pt font. And why? Because they don't want their handout to be more than one page. What the heck good is a one-page handout that is too much of a pain to read?

With an unprecedented wealth transfer underway, nonprofits have an incredible opportunity to garner donations. The wealth transfer to baby boomers from their parents is estimated to be up to $41 trillion, with a possible $6 trillion going to charities.

Look at your communications materials carefully. Is the spacing and font size perfect for everyone? Better yet, show your materials to an informal "focus group" of 55+ men and women. They can be friends and family if that's easiest. The important thing is that you listen to them and heed their recommendations. It could be worth it in more ways than you know.

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