Thursday, September 18, 2014

Internet Killed the Hollywood Star: Why being a star is not enough in the Interactive Age

"Run and hide, Hadji! It's me they're after. Not you."
"Run, Hadji! It's me they're after. Not you."
To be a success in the 20th century was to be a star. Whether a movie star, a rock star, or an NBA All Star, your job was to shine brightly and be worshiped by “the little people” below you. Feedback from the masses was next to impossible and that was OK by you.
Many stellar Fortune 500 corporations operated in much the same way, preferring target demographic marketing over actually engaging with their customers.
Then the Internet—which abhors monologues and other one-way communication—snuffed out many of the stars of the 20th century and gave birth to a new celestial model of success: the quasar.
Unlike a star, which only radiates, a quasar has an enormous black hole at its core that sucks matter and energy in while simultaneously emitting more light than any star in the universe. This two-way flow of energy is the foundation of successful communication in the Interactive Age. Dictatorial monologues are out; thoughtful and empathetic dialogues are in.
As it happens, the word “QuASAR” is also an acronym for the five-step process that can teach you how to become a thoughtful and empathetic communicator yourself, and show you how to get people to hear—and genuinely comprehend—what you have to say. QuASAR stands for Quest, Audience, Stories, Action, and Results.
Quest—Most meaningful communication begins with a quest. Unlike a mission—which is a directive from an external source, usually a framed piece of paper nailed to the break room wall—a quest is driven by a passion that comes from within to achieve a purpose that you hold dear. By discovering your quest, you will find—and attract—other people who share your goal, and your passion.
Audience—Until very recently, an audience’s primary function was to serve as a barometer of success. They were counted, not consulted. Today, however, the audience you attract on your quest will actually give you invaluable insight and helpful advice as you share stories during—and about—your mutual objetive. You cannot overstate the importance of your audience to your quest. They are no longer passive observers of your communication “campaigns.” They are your new partners and active participants in your quest.
Stories—Press releases, official statements, and talking points don’t initiate conversations; they kill them. To engage in a dialogue you need to share stories. In fact, now that you’re on a quest with new friends who share your objective, it would be almost impossible not to.
Action—Woody Allen famously said “80% of success is showing up.” In the Interactive Age, it’s closer to 100%. You need to take the time and energy you’re spending on quarterly magazines, monthly newsletters, and staged press events and spend it on developing organic, ongoing dialogues with your audiences. As Jay Baer, best-selling author of The Now Revolution, said, “Focus on how to be social, not on how to do social.”
Results—Success used to be measured by the number of clips your press release generated. But those metrics (and most press releases) are far less important in the Interactive Age. Successful communication isn’t measured in “hits.” Success is measured by your audiences' reactions.
Take Molly Katchpole. Ms. Katchpole was a part-time nanny in 2012 when she decided that she didn’t want to pay Bank of America $5 every month just to use her debit card. So she started an online petition opposing the surcharge that generated more than 200,000 signatures in one week. It’s a safe bet that BofA’s media team reached tens of millions of people that week, but that wasn’t enough to keep bank CEO Brian Moynihan from crying “Uncle” and dropping the $5 fee.
Interaction is the currency of the Interactive Age. After years of talking at your targeted audience, you and countless others are going to have to adjust to talking with both your targeted audiences and with the many new people and communities you will meet as you venture on your quest.
It will be difficult, but it’s not impossible. If Daniel Pink can learn how to draw a passable self-portrait by using his right brain, you can learn how to mechanize the magic of meaningful and effective communication through the QuASAR process.

Monday, September 15, 2014

"Comments, Please!" The 7-step process that will rock your page views

"Say 'Benghazi' one more time and I'm gonna give you such a slap!"
"Say 'Benghazi' one more time and I'm gonna give you such a slap!"
One of the hallmarks of social media is the “comments section,” a kind of virtual town square where people can share their opinions on articles, blog posts, and Benghazi.
The comments sections that don’t devolve into hate-filled shouting matches provide an excellent opportunity to connect with people who are literally thinking about your issue at the moment you post your comment.
The comment section is truly a product of the Internet Age. Back in the day, the only way to weigh in on an article was to draft a letter to the editor, get it approved by your boss, run it by legal, send it to the target newspaper, and pray that it would be selected to run in the paper several days later … long after everybody had lost interest in the story.
But online comments sections let you:
  • Post your comment immediately.
  • Imbed a link that will instantly drive new traffic to your website.
  • Use the same comment on numerous sites because exclusivity is not required.
  • Engage directly and instantly with people who have demonstrated an active interest in your issue.
The best part is you can start right away. Let me show you how it works.
Shortly after Dylan Farrow accused Woody Allen of bad touching her when she was a kid, the Daily Beast published an article written by Allen’s biographer that essentially called Dylan a liar.
Having experienced a dash of what Dylan had gone through, I wrote a blog post challenging Allen’s biographer. Then I drafted a very short comment that encapsulated the main point of my blog post—added a link to my blog post in the comment I wrote—and then posted that comment on every heavily trafficked site I could find.
I, too, am wondering why I didn't think of this sooner.
I, too, wonder why I didn't think of this sooner.
The results were impressive. Prior to this campaign, I was lucky to get more than 200 page views for any given post. But this post attracted nearly 3,000 page views, with over 2,000 of them coming in just a few hours after I hit “send.”
To make sure this wasn’t a fluke, I launched another comment-section campaign a few weeks later. Here is the step-by-step process.
Step 1: Select the broad issue you want to promote. The goal of my personal blog, FlackOps.com, is to teach people that there is often much more to a story than meets the eye. I’m constantly on the lookout for stories that seem to be too good—or too bad—to be true. When I find one, I pounce.
Step 2: Look for trending topics that relate to that issue. Not long ago, multiple news outlets reported that a “NASA-funded study” predicted the imminent collapse of Western Civilization. Having a selfish interest in the topic, I set out to learn just how valid this study was.
Step 3: Write a blog post that presents your perspective on that issue. I started with the most obvious question: Who exactly did NASA fund to do the study?
Turns out it was a researcher who has been writing about society’s pending collapse since at least 2011. He also holds a rather notable bias against the free-market system, calling for government policies to “stabilize population,” and to “stabilize industrial production per person.” It made for great blog post fodder.
Step 4: Craft a very short comment and imbed a link to your blog post. After I wrote my post, I drafted a comment which included a promise that the reader could find more information by clicking on the link back to my blog.
Step 5: Copy and paste your comment into every applicable site. This is the fun part. Now that I had essentially done the work, I just cut and pasted this comment into heavily trafficked every article I could find.
It took one day to get the 911 pageviews for  the NASA story. It took one year to get the 694 pageviews for the post below it.
It took one day to get the 911 page views for the NASA story. It took one year to get the 694 page views for the post below it.
Step 6: Identify your performance indicators on your blog’s dashboard before you post your first comment so you can see exactly how effective this tactic is … and which media outlets send the most traffic to your site. In this case, my comment generated more than 800 page views within two hours—second only to the Woody Allen post.
Step 7: Create an auto-search for terms relevant to your issues. Every news story that gets legs follows a certain pattern of coverage—it breaks online, gets picked up by the foldable media, inspires blog reaction and old-media editorials, and finally if it’s significant enough, columnists will talk about the societal implications of the issue. Following this cycle will give you plenty of opportunities to generate more web traffic.
It's that simple. So give it a shot and leave me a comment telling me how it went.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Slinging the Red Bull: How to find stories everywhere

Stories are everywhere. This can led me to the Cutty Sark, Fencetech 2015, and a TV show I hadn't thought of in decades.
Stories are everywhere. This can led me to the Cutty Sark, Fencetech 2015, and a TV show I hadn't thought of in decades.
I tried Red Bull once, and I was so surprised that it wasn’t Hawaiian Punch red that I can’t remember what it tasted like. I haven’t tried it since primarily because Red Bull has never asked me to.
Frankly, they have no use for a 54-year-old male with 2.4 children (my daughters are quite tall). Red Bull targets kids who want to jump out of balloons that are bumping against earth’s celestial ceiling. I, on the other hand, didn’t want to jump out of bed this morning.
My first exposure to Red Bull was through their James Thurber-esque cartoon commercials that featured various scenarios where some guy “gets his wings.” And even though I wasn’t their target market, I did connect with those TV ads in a nostalgic way.
They reminded me a TV show I use to watch when I was a kid, “My World and Welcome to It,” which was based on the life of the cartoonist James Thurber. That show was cancelled 34 years ago. The star of the show was born in 1923. James Thurber died in 1961 … of old age. None of us is Red Bull’s target demo.
Last week, Amsterdam Printing (“the leader in laser engraved promotional pens and personalized calendars”) posted a blog about “3 Brands Rocking Social Media,” with Red Bull being the first. In it, they made the insightful observation that, “the key to Red Bull’s social media success is the staggering amount of quality content it shares.”
Red Bull, they wrote, is an “immersive” brand because “it seamlessly immerses itself with other stories in order to tell its own” … not unlike what Amsterdam Printing did with that post … and as long as we’re being honest, not unlike what I‘m doing with this post.
Now, I need to point out that this wasn’t the point of my post at its inception. (See what I did there, Karlyn Boe?) I actually had planned to write about the Red Bull can fence-post cap that I found yesterday. I thought it would be a nice addition to my fence-post cap oeuvre. But having only had one unmemorable sip of Red Bull, I didn’t have a single story about it. So I did a little digging and found Amsterdam Printing’s informative post.
I bring all this up to show that there is always a story. Sometimes you just have to dig a little deeper. In the past few weeks, I’ve written about a bug, a one-armed tan-colored plastic Army man, and a fence-post cap. And I came up with stories because each of those treasures (eventually) triggered a memory.
Here’s the trick: Free association. Take the topic you want to write about and boil it down to one word or phrase (if you can tie it to a tangible object, all the better). Then find a quiet place away from any Internet access and start rummaging through your memory for incidents that involved that word, phrase, or object.
If you can’t churn up any of your own stories, Google your phrase and use someone else’s.
For example, say it was your job to entice people to attend the Fencetech 2015, the trade show of the American Fence Association being held in Orlando in February. And say the theme of the show was “Charting a New Course” emblazoned over the silhouette of a three-masted schooner.
Not much to work with, right? You’d be surprised. Here’s what I’d lead with:
“Back in 1972 on a family vacation in London, we toured the dry-docked clipper ship Cutty Sark. The captain’s log was in a glass case opened to an entry made on April 3, 1881—exactly 79 years and one day before I was born. [True story.]
“On that day, two seamen were swept off the deck never to be found again. Their names were John Clifton and John Doyle!
“To this day, I wonder how differently things might have turned out if the Cutty Sark’s deck was equipped with a durable, lightweight fence. If you would like to see the kinds of fences that might have saved the lives of those two young men, join us at Fencetech 2015, in Orlando, Florida!”
And don’t worry if you don’t have a similar story. You could always lead with a picture of a Red Bull can serving as a fence-post cap.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Creative License Revocation: Calling Shenanigans on 21st Century Snake-Oil Salesmen

And for a limited time, we'll throw in our
Unlimited Gravity Guarantee. If your
diamonds ever float off into space, we'll
replace them FREE!
The Internet has not been kind to snake-oil salesmen. Today, you can debunk claims that seem too good to be true with just a few keystrokes. Still, the chicanery persists. Marketers have just gotten a little more creative.
Zales guarantees their diamonds "for life," which is a pretty safe bet since diamonds are the most durable gemstones on the planet, scoring a perfect 10 on the Mohs Scale.
"Hold still, knucklehead, or I won't get an accurate reading!"
"Hold still, knucklehead, or I won't get an accurate reading!"
Dawn promised to donate $1 to wildlife conservation groups with every bottle of Dawn Ultra Dishwashing Detergent sold ... after you log on to their site and register the code found on the bottle ... where you will see that they're already reached their goal, thanks to "Everyday Wildlife Champions like you." (Do you suppose they meant "every-day"?)
But if you try again later, you'll learn that "There was a small glitch with our website that falsely announced that we had reached our goal last month," so you can go ahead and register that bottle after all. Oh, and we've upped the donation limit to $1 million, so we're cool now, right?
It's worth a visit to the site to become a "virtual volunteer" to see how they rescue oil-coated baby ducks, which in this case looks a lot more like Hershey's syrup.
I'll be posting more Interactive-Age Chicanery in days to come, but until then, I'd love to hear from you. What "creative" marketing tactics have got you calling shenanigans?

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Harmless Sand Wasps and Charmless Dog Cops

"Wait. Could you take another one? I think I blinked."
"Wait. Could you take another one? I think I blinked."
I often think of the 1975 cult classic “A Boy and His Dog,” starring the then-unknown Don Johnson, when Lucy and I walk through the parks in Arlington. Not for the obvious reason, but because Arlington County reminds me a lot of the parts of the movie that take place in “Downunder,” a (relatively) beautiful underground biosphere that protects its inhabitants from the dystopian dessert that the world above has been reduced to.
Here’s why: when the boy is lured into Downunder, he’s told that he’s been brought there to help repopulate the place with the help of what appears to be the evening shift of the Las Vegas Playboy Club. Great, right? But he learns that the procedure is more clinical than he had hoped when they strap him onto a gurney and strap him into a … well, it looks like something you’d find in a dairy barn.
Arlington, like Downunder, is a (relatively) beautiful aboveground biosphere that protects its inhabitants from the nearby morally bankrupt dessert that Washington DC has been reduced to. It’s got bike trails and dog parks, food assistance centers and pub crawls. It even has a sign that explains that the large wasp you see digging in this playground sandbox (or in this case, posing near the sign) is a harmless little critter that just wants to lay its eggs in the sand. Cute, right?
But not 20 yards from that sign, you’re very likely to be stopped by a badge-wearing animal control officer who will explain to you in excruciating detail that it is against the law to allow your dog to roam off-leash outside of the designated dog park even after you explain that you are well aware of the law but you choose to ignore it on days like this, “because there isn’t anyone else in this entire park except you and me and Lucy and she’s about as dangerous than that sand wasp over there in the sandbox.”
So Lucy and I are done with dog parks and no-dog parks and grumpy badge-wearing animal control cops. We’re going to stay down near the river where the only thing that can bother us is snakes and snapping turtles, drunk day-laborers, and the occasional bear sighting.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Today's Treasure: Some Ethical Dilemmas

"I'm just saying that if it is performance art he wouldn't want us to disturb him."
"I'm just saying that if it is performance art he wouldn't want us to disturb him."
Right between the Weenie Beenie and the river is a day-laborer pick-up site where a bunch of our Central American friends--predominantly El Salvadoran--gather in hopes of being picked up for some very temporary day labor (hence the name).
During the warmer months, some of the guys set up camp along sections of the river where nobody--except Lucy and I--ever goes. They're pretty cool guys and none of us yelps anymore when we accidentally stumble upon each other ... until this morning, when we came upon a body.
Now, we've seen stone-still bodies along the river before, but they were always in one of those well-worn camps which meant that our would-be corpse was just some guy sleeping it off. But today's body was in the middle of some thick and nasty thicket, thicket that's filled with thorns and vines and snakes and poison ivy and, today at least, dead bodies.
We had just started our walk so I was reluctant to see if the guy was really dead because if he was, we'd have to call the cops and we'd miss our morning river walk. And if he wasn't we'd have to engage in an awkward conversation consisting of several different configurations of the same few Spanish words I know, and I just wasn't in the mood. So I told Lucy that if he was still there when we were heading back home, I'd check him out.
Now before you get all high and mighty about how I should have checked right away (Ethical Dilemma #1), I need to point out that I've seen dead bodies before and this particular body, even at 20 yards away, didn't seem to have that unique dead stillness to it. And I couldn't see any blood on him so it was very likely that he had just staggered into the thicket and passed out.
Further, it's is extremely dangerous to wake up anything--people or animals--in the wild. Back in 1983, my friend Mark Burger and I snuck up on an enormous sea lion sleeping on the beach just north of Big Sur, CA. Unfortunately, we had made the terrible mistake of approaching it from the shoreline. When it woke up--startled--it roared (yes, it freaking roared!), lifted most of its 2,000-pound self high in the air, and started undulating toward us with alarming speed. I was literally too frightened to move.
Mark wasn't. He shoved me out of my stupor as he bolted by me. I jumped in the air and started running as fast as my adrenaline-fired legs would carry me. But, as physics would have it, my legs were pumping so fast that I couldn't get traction in the sand. I looked like Wile E. Coyote trying to outrun a falling anvil.
With that experience forever seared into my brain, I calculated that it was in everyone's best interest that I give our new friend a little more time to offer proof of life.
Well, he was still there an hour later. So I told Lucy that we should head home for some coffee and breakfast because if he was actually dead, he'd still be there when we got back and if he wasn't then he surely would have woken up and wobbled over to the day-laborer pick-up site by then.
When we got home, I realized that I should have at least taken a picture of him for my Today's Treasure collection. But that seemed a bit ghoulish (Ethical Dilemma #2), so instead I "decided" that the right thing for me to do was check on the guy, and if I happened to get a photo, so be it.
He was still there.
And I took his photo.
And once I did, I realized that I now had a moral obligation to check on him ... which meant I would have to wander into that nasty thicket like Hans Solo in that trash compactor scene only without the boots (Ethical Dilemma #3).
So I did.
As I walked down the embankment and into the thorns and snakes, I looked back and saw the vines closing up my escape route. And for a moment, I actually hoped he was dead because at least then I wouldn't necessarily have to make a mad dash out of there through those living, breathing vines.
I didn't want to alarm the guy as I approached, so the whole way in I kept saying, "Hey, amigo, you OK?" figuring that we shared at least three out of those four words. But he wasn't moving.
Finally, I got close enough to see the top of his face-down head move ever so slightly in a manner that could be construed as a nod. So I asked him again if he was OK, and once again I saw the nod-like response. I mean, I'm almost certain it was a nod (Ethical Dilemma #4).
Figuring my work here was done, I said, "Bueno," wished him a good day, and scooted out of there at a fast clip, but not so fast that it looked like I was running away from a murder scene, if in fact that's what it turns into (Ethical Dilemma #5).
I'll be heading out there shortly with a box of Pop Tarts and a bottle of Gatorade to make sure my new friend is feeling OK. And if he isn't, I'll let you know. But in the meantime, I'm curious. What would you have done?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

6 Content Rules You Can Learn from a Fence-Post Cap

Capo di Tutti Capi
Capo di Tutti Capi
Lucy and I thought we had found real treasure when I dug up this chain link fence-post cap on our walk by the river this morning. It was just a few feet from the existing fence, but it was much more substantial and ornate than the flimsy aluminum strap that was capping the fence post now.
I was pretty sure that my fence-post cap was once part of a Civil War-era chain link fence that protected a long-forgotten Union Army outpost from Indian attacks. (I know. I know. Native American attacks. But if I’m being honest, I imagined Indian attacks, not Native American attacks.)
Post-Modern Cap
Post-Modern Cap
Anyway, my treasure fantasy was short-lived because the next fence post was capped with an older and less flimsy model than that cheap aluminum band. And 10 yards down from that, the posts were capped with my Civil War-era treasure.
I did a little research when I got home and learned that my fence-post cap was from the mid-20th century, which means it’s most likely from a Cold War-era fence that protected a long-forgotten stash of uranium-235 from commie spies. (Yeah, I said “commie.” What of it?)
fence post1
A capital investment at $95 a pop
I also learned that fence-post caps were heftier and even more ornate decades before that, as evidenced by this pair of horse-head fence post caps that you can get on etsy for a mere $95 (each). Unfortunately, 20th century technology did to fence post caps what it did to most of our once hefty and ornate culture, including the way we communicate—it mass produced the charm right out of it.
But here’s the good news: Internet technology is forcing all of us to be much more creative and thoughtful with the content we create. Your mass-produced press release just ain’t gonna cut it in the Interactive Age. If you want to be heard over the din of millions of self-publishers screaming for attention, you have to infuse some creativity and craftsmanship into your content.
Here are six lessons about creating great content you can learn from a mid-20th century chain link fence-post cap.
Be attractive—Do you know how many people would take the time to dig a modern-day fence-post cap out of the ground? Zero. Separated from the post, today’s caps look like something that fell off a bicycle. If you want to attract eyeballs and make sure they come bouncing back to your site day after day, you need to toss a little spice into your copy. Here are two tips that will help you right away: Thesaurus and active verbs.
Develop a style—The team that designed my fence-post cap didn’t have to put a decorative little thimble on top. But they did. Why? Because it looked cool. And it gave that fence-post cap a style that allows me to identify it in an Internet search decades after it was designed. You need to do the same with your content. Don’t be afraid to put a thimble on top.
Be functional—Sure, my fence-post cap looks cool, but it also performs a valuable service—it keeps the top rail from falling over.  Unless you’re a fiction writer, your copy should provide valuable information as well.
Be enduring—I found my fence-post cap very near where I found the fossilized vertebrae of some mammal that wandered around these parts in the Pliocene era. I’m not saying my fence-post cap is going to be around for four million years, but it will be around centuries after its modern-day counterpart rusts away. When creating content, you should occasionally—maybe once a month—produce something more long lasting than, say, a tweet or a vine video of your cat.
Be prolific—One fence post does not a fence make. Just like the guys who produced my fence-post cap, you’ve got to churn out a bunch of content if you want to fence in some online real estate that you can call your own.
Be brief—The thimble was a nice touch. But there simply is not enough time to design and produce horse-head fence-post caps in the Interactive Age. And frankly, no one has time anymore to appreciate the craftsmanship that was commonplace before Henry Ford taught us that mass-produced efficiency was more profitable than artistry. So you need to find the middle ground between functionality and creativity because you’ve got a lot of fence-post caps to churn out to get the job done.