Monthly Archives: March 2009

a few words of introduction.

[I figured part of my responsibility MCing the Oswego County Spelling Bee this morning includes putting it into perspective. Including with this whole social media thing. So part of my introductory comments concerns writing … and how everyone is doing it.]

Welcome to the regional finals of the Scripps Howard Spelling Bee. I’m glad you’re here today, because you’re helping dispel a myth. A myth that the written word is dying. A myth that no one cares about the English language. A myth that we’re losing our ability to communicate. I would argue nothing could be further than the truth.

Between email and IM, text messaging and Twitter, blogs and Facebook, more people spend more writing than at any time in history. Not everyone is writing novels or poems, but I’ve seen high school and college students write things that are just amazing.

And as to whether anyone still cares about how people spell … well, we have around 30 eager spellers onstage, and hundreds of family and friends in the audience. So we have our answer.


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tasting the rainbow: sweet or sour?

People have invested many keystrokes into the recent Skittles social media campaign, and opinions vary greatly. Sweet or sour? Fair or foul?

While some reacted viscerally and negatively against Skittles’ garish social-media stream, we should acknowledge that likability doesn’t always correspond with the bottom line. Consider:
– Throughout the 1970s, Charmin spokesman Mr. Whipple would consistently poll as both one of the recognizable and most hated figures in the U.S. Charmin sold well anyway, because the product (not the pitchman) was seen as squeezable.
– One of the most admired TV campaigns of all time was Piels beer’s droll animated spots with the voices of radio humorists Bob and Ray. The campaign nonetheless failed to move product, though if you’ve ever tasted a Piels you know why.
– Bud Light ads tend to gain the highest approval ratings during the Super Bowl™ extravaganza. For several years, I’ve asked if anyone has any post-event sales data showing a spike in Bud Light sales justifying the investment. I’m still waiting.

In terms of generating buzz, Skittles certainly succeeded. One day earlier, no one was talking about the brand, now folks everywhere debated whether this ploy was brilliant or awful. If you measure media mentions as dollar figures, it was a huge hit. If it spared us from seeing one more horrid Taste the Rainbow TV ad, that would be a plus too. I suspect a quick spike in sales figures followed. But will that bump in sales — which, ultimately, convinces stockholders whether it’s successful — last? Talk to me in a month, but I suspect I know the answer.

(Some would cite the old chestnut there’s no such thing as bad publicity in defense of the campaign. The mark of an amateur, this phrase has never been uttered by anyone I know working in public relations for non-profits or higher ed, where one bad letter to the editor or inaccurate article will send managers to battle stations.)

My bigger concern is that this stunt cheapens what many of us are trying to do in social media; it makes this field appear the province of hucksters and spammers. People on the fence about joining the Web 2.0 community (and I know a surprisingly large number) will pause upon seeing headlines like Skittles campaign bombards social media. Bear in mind that one of the original appeals behind online communities involved escaping the sales pitches that saturate public life and popular culture. Sure, it was only a matter of time before the critical mass of social media would attract marketers, but on Facebook and Twitter the signal still far outweighs the noise.

Not surprisingly, the biggest boosters of the Skittles campaign were social-media marketers and consultants, those who earn their pay commoditizing the field. You can tell your clients that social media is about communication, but when every hit is seen as a dollar sign, do you lose sight of the big picture? We value ourselves as individuals making connections, not as one more market-ready aggreggate of demographic and psychographic data. The Skittles campaign did nothing to ultimately connect to us, and what was the branding statement? That they … had a social media campaign? The stunt may have penetrated our minds, but ultimately our mouths were filled with a lot more discussion than candy.

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tabs on all media.

One of my favorite parts of working on campus is the opportunity to guest lecture. In sharing whatever knowledge I may have retained, I often learn from the class as well.

Friday my guest stint was in the Music Business class team-taught by my friends Rob and Dan. It’s a novel offering, where those interested in being musicians or sound engineers or promoters learn a 360-degree view of The Biz. Their big projects are to promote the upcoming Collage concert and — more interestingly — writing, arranging, recording, packaging and selling a single performed by talented twin sisters in the class.

Previous times when I spoke in the class, I gave a rundown on publicity, press releases, working with media and all that jazz. But since so much promotion is moving toward grassroots, street teams and social media, this concentration seemed excessive. In a new wrinkle, I addressed selling a story or idea via the SUCCES points of Made To Stick (the best ideas/campaigns are Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional and good Stories) plus a bit about writing news releases.

But I also wanted to show them around social media options. They knew much of that stuff — especially with Facebook — but I’m sufficiently immersed in the field that I shared a couple things that seemed new. Only two of them had Twitter accounts, so I showed them the instantaneous nature of feedback by saying Twittizens! I’m showing Twitter to a Music Business class. Say hi and tell us your favorite album. In no time, the Twitterverse responded — about a dozen tweeps chimed on the subject in all.

Fig. A: The Twitterverse responds quickly to an in-class query.

Fig. A: The Twitterverse responds quickly to an in-class query.

I also let them know how some musicians were using Twitter and how entities used the search tool as a marketing device. Like when I mentioned Whiskeytown in a tweet and ended up being followed by @cardinology, the Twitter account for Ryan Adams’ subsequent band, The Cardinals. @cardinology uses the Twitter stream to showcase new demos, give tour info and post recent live tracks. It’s a safe bet more than two class members are on Twitter now.

But here’s the unexpected: What do you think the class had questions about? Print media! Yes, almost every question concerned where and how to better promote their activities through traditional print media. This is a group that not only reads newspapers, but values them. Take that, those who argue that young people don’t care about print media any more!

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Looks like the first-ever #pancaketweetup was a multimedia, albeit modest, success. Kudos to co-creator Lane Joplin, whose pancakes looked much better than mine, and the various Twitters and bloggers who participated. There were some waffles, and some people who had to participate late or early, but it was all in good fun. And good food. Even if I learned it’s difficult to make pancakes, take and upload pictures and tweet all at the same time.

Developed a short (1:17) video snippet for a little flavor from Tim’s kitchen:

Photos? You betcha! (A few more in this Facebook photo album.)

The price of New Hope Mills wheat pancake mix went from $1.99 to $3 in between times I bought it? Inconceivable!

The price of the wonderful New Hope Mills whole wheat pancake mix went from $1.99 to $3 in between times I bought it? Inconceivable!

The one and only Brad J. Ward provided a live video stream of making waffles.

The one and only Brad J. Ward provided a live video stream of making waffles.

All the fixin's: Note that I don't use eggs, so I have to experiment between the level of mix and half-n-half for consistency.

All the fixin's: Note that I don't use eggs, so I have to experiment between the level of mix and half-n-half for consistency.

First one was doughy and thick; had to adjust by adding more half-n-half to the mix.

First one was doughy and thick; had to adjust by adding more half-n-half to the mix.

By the second pancake, the mix was better, but all that multitasking meant they came out a tad burned.

By the second pancake, the mix was better, but all that multitasking meant they came out a tad burned.



Thanks to all who participated. If you didn’t we hope you’ll join us if we do this again!

EDIT/UPDATE: Lane has posted a great #pancaketweetup video. Enjoy.


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social media with a side of pancakes.

With all the marvelous, momentous and monumental potential behind social media, we can’t forget that it’s inherently about connecting. And, occasionally, silliness. Which brings us to #pancaketweetup this Saturday.

Everyone loves pancakes, and somehow a discussion with @lanejoplin evolved into the first-ever virtual pancake meetup via Twitter, aka #pancaketweetup. Yeah, it has its own hashtag and even online invitation if you’re so inclined (everyone everywhere is invited, cuz that’s how social media is).

By now if you’re still reading, you’re asking one of two questions: 1) How do I participate? or 2) What the hell are you talking about? I’ll try to answer both questions at once.

The #pancaketweetup is a virtual meetup this Saturday (March 7) at 10:30 a.m. eastern. Essentially anyone who wants to be involved needs only do two things: 1) make pancakes (yum!) and 2) share the experience in some way via social media. Real-time would be optimal, such as discussing it (briefly, obviously) on Twitter or Facebook, posting a picture of the pancake process on TwitPic and/or Facebook and/or Flickr, blogging about it, making a video or … well, other ways I probably haven’t thought up. Contact me here or on Twitter if you have other questions.

Consider it a low-stress, high-taste way to meet and interact with other neat (so we think) people across the Webiverse. And a chance to eat pancakes! Yummy yummy pancakes! Are you in? Are you hungry?


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less news than we bargained for.

Earlier today came the official announcement of the end of an era, on Syracuse’s WTVH-5 ceasing news operations and laying off 40 loyal employees. This hits home for me, because 5 is the TV news I’ve watched since I was a young boy, an outlet that helped interest me in journalism and where I had my most influential internship.

The announcement tries to position it as 5’s newsroom merging with that of neighbor and former rival WSTM-3, but it essentially ends an institution with a proud tradition. TV5 was SUNY Oswego grad Al Roker’s first professional weatherman gig. When I interned there, one of the nicest guys was Mike Tirico, now well known as a lead announcer for ABC Sports and ESPN. Other TV5 alumni are working jobs all over the country, thankful for the small-market start.

This news came on the heels of the Rocky Mountain News’ abrupt shuttering by parent company Scripps Howard. If you happen to have 20 minutes to spare, the video on the ghost paper’s home page is an engaging yet devastating documentation of the end of a proud and important paper. And the sad thing is that more TV5s and Rockys will join the club of former journalism outlets.

One part where I disagree with the RMN video, and other pundits on this subject, is in the anger and blame directed at bloggers for the demise of journalism. This is misplaced, albeit trendy: While there are some rogue bloggers trying to supplant journalists, most bloggers (and Twitters and Facebookers) trafficking in current events post links to newspaper articles. It’s just a different distribution method, as I don’t know a single blogger who wants to see newsrooms close, or is working toward putting journalists out of work.

If you’re looking for blame, try corporate boardrooms that have bought up all these journalism outlets and see them as lines on a balance sheet … not as the community resources they are. When Scripps Howard gives up after a mere month of trying to find a buyer for the Rocky Mountain News, when Granite Broadcasting decides to phase out 5’s news function, they are merely redlining an expense to keep shareholders happy. That a community with fewer journalism checks on power is a disservice to everyone, that cities shedding jobs now losing news sources they’ve come to trust like friends is one more kick in the gut … these human costs do not fit into the equation. No film at 11, no special edition, just a fade to black.


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