For a web video project, I recently interviewed Sheena Iyengar, author of The Art of Choosing.  She is a professor and researcher who famously conducted the so-called “jam” experiments at a farmer’s market. Shoppers at the booth with the most flavor choices purchased the least amount of jam. Those with fewer options purchased more. When it comes to social media and the internet, I’m starting to feel like the first group of jam shoppers. Overwhelmed.  Iyengar’s research points to our need to choose from among a smaller group of pre-identified choices.  When we do this, we actually have better outcomes.

So who’s helping us choose?

On the internet, there is much talk of “influencers.”  These folks are supposed to know something, and if we follow them on Twitter, or join the groups they lead on LinkedIn, read their blog posts or friend them on Facebook, we will have some assistance in our discernment.  So where do we start finding these people?  If we are in a particular field, then the thought leaders in that field are an excellent place to start.  But in the social media field itself, there are many self-titled experts. Some have thousands of followers on Twitter mainly because they’ve figured out how to game the system and get lots of automatic follow-backs.  Following them could make us the lemmings headed over the cliff.

Last in, first out.

This expression usually refers to hiring and firing. But it could easily apply to how we are processing information in a world with too much of it.  According to behavioral economist George Loewenstein of Carnegie Mellon University, we are wired to pay the most attention to the most recent piece of information we receive.  So in a daily barage of emails, the last couple we get before we leave the office might receive undue priority.  This is making us particularly bad choosers.  Unless we purposely learn to screen out some of the input. On days when I get very productive, it’s usually because I’m only reading emails every couple of hours. I know, that sounds crazy. Remember the days when there were Never any emails, and people had to bother to call you about something so it had to be important.

Can technology help?

Maybe if technology got us into this jam (pun intended), it can help get us out.  For example, James Bridle manages a blog called Open Bookmarks that is a discussion forum to hash out rules for social reading. That is, sharing your bookmarks and annotations in e-readers. Publishers, booksellers, educators, and social reading application developers are all working on a solution together. So that one day, you could potentially get the social bookmarks of your favorite thought leader on books that he or she recommends. Certainly a more useful step beyond simply jotting down their reading list by helping you think through the text in a new way.

Who shouldn’t be choosing for us?

The other question the internet brings is who is already choosing for us and we don’t even know it? So, for example, when you see a trending topic on Twitter, you might not realize that persistently popular memes don’t always appear.  And in an effort it claims was to deprive content-farm websites of high traffic volume, Google recently changed its search algorithm to penalize websites that it deems ‘not very useful.’  This sounds helpful, but do you want Google to be the one making your choices? (Maybe you do. They have a point about those annoyingly un-useful sites that just list other people’s content.)

I wish I had all the answers here, but it’s still an open question. How can we become better choosers in a world with exponentially increasing choices? In the short term, my strategy is to frankly ignore some of those choices. I can already hear my stunned techno-saavy friends (the ones who tsk tsk me for not ordering the new iPad or the very latest app). But hey, they can help me choose!

I was thrilled that The Social Network won Oscars for original music score and editing. Both of these crafts are essential, in my view, to successful narrative film.  And they are critical elements to my most successful online and event video productions, too.

So often, I find that music and editing get short-changed.  Clients want fast turnarounds–to get something on YouTube or their website–and these crafts get left by the wayside. But the projects that are most effective–whether for issue advocacy, education, or fundraising–are almost always those in which I’ve been able to spend the time crafting the edit and working with a composer on an original score.

What makes the difference?

On the editing side, it’s having time for multiple refinements. Not those that just wear down the original concept and don’t improve it. But those that are significant stylistic approaches–montage sequences, transitions, pacing–that result in better impact of the visuals.  An edit that I’ve been able to spend time designing, and my editor and I have had the time to evolve creatively, is one that will be stronger for that collaboration.  At a bare minimum, one should budget one edit day for every finished minute of end-product.

On the music side, a composed score matches the nuances of emotion and picture perfectly.  So often, clients want to rely on stock music for budget reasons. And yet, it often takes more editing time to make stock music support the images, pacing and emotional content without seeming to be overbearing or inappropriate.  Often stock music cuts have just one set of instrumentation per cut, for example. Whereas in a composed score, I can create a transition from a powerful, fast-paced montage to a slower-paced sequence by using different instruments but maintaining the same musical theme, for continuity.  I’ve been very effective with library music, too, but it takes significant time to search for the right cuts, with the right pacing and instrumentation, and having a specific (editing) game-plan for weaving them all together. Whether using stock audio or custom, having time to properly mix it–along with nterviews, narration, and “natural sound”–also helps keep distractions to a minimum and reinforces a production’s goals.

So if your story has an emotional component–as every good narrative should–then you need to strongly consider adding the time and budget for effective editing and music scoring.  Your show will have added impact, which can change bottom-line results from a “nice video” to something that changes minds, or opens checkbooks.

In philanthropy, the saying is that people give to people, not causes. Connecting at the level of hearts and minds has always been critical to building long-term relationships with donors, and also with grassroots supporters. And the best way to do that is through storytelling.  Now that YouTube and other Web 2.0 tools are giving so many nonprofits a “channel” for their stories, personal narrative is being rediscovered.  But to tell a compelling story requires critical elements.

What makes a compelling story about mission?

1.       Focus on outcomes. Everyone loves a success story. Reality TV is filled with them: obese person becomes thinner, aspiring chef wins the prize, talented singer gets a record deal.  Think of the success stories in your organization, but instead of listing them as bullet-points, express them through anecdotal stories.

2.       Focus on people. The people who make it happen and the people whose lives are changed. Who are the teachers who made a difference in students lives? What are those students doing today? Who is the volunteer who went into a community and changed it for the better? What is happening in that neighborhood now? What would have happened to that child without a medical intervention paid for by others? What kind of life does this child have today?  Interview-driven narratives are highly successful at building the case for donors and volunteers.

3.       Show why your organization matters. Somewhere in the narrative, you need to show viewers why your organization made a tangible difference in the outcome.  It wasn’t just random acts of kindness that led to this success. It was your people, your dedication, your/their dollars at work.

4.       Engage viewers in their own narrative. Make sure there is a call to action somewhere in your story, usually at the very end. “How can you make a difference just like Alice did?”  “With just 20 cents per day, you can change the life of a child like Shawn.” “Join us at our XYZ event to make your voice heard.”  Think about what story viewers want to create for themselves after watching yours.

5.       Provide follow-up options. If a viewer is moved by your narrative, they should easily be able to click somewhere next to the video or case study to do something–sign up for the conference, make a donation, become a member.  Despite the tendency to want sheer numbers—hey, our video got 20,000 views!—you really want qualified viewers. You also want the video to be the entrance point to engage them with other content, either on your web page, Facebook page, etc.  So be sure you provide that option in your web video interface.

Telling and hearing stories is our oldest human instinct. Web 2.0 just makes it easier to share.

©2010 B. DeLouiseYou’ve heard it said a million times–we’re a “youth culture.” But consider this: 3 out of every 10 adults in America are grandparents—that’s about 80 million people.  And their number is increasing at about double that of the rest of the population.  Grandparents control 75% of the wealth in this country, and they’re spending quite a bit of it.  For example, they spend $100 billion a year alone just on entertainment.  They spend $2 trillion per year on goods and services. See Peter Francese, The Grandparent Economy, a study commissioned by, April 2009)

Is your company or nonprofit positioned to reach seniors?

Before you think about marketing to seniors, consider what products or services you offer that would serve this market niche. For example, law firms are finding elder law to be a burgeoning new legal field.  Attorneys are helping family members navigate the issues related not only to medical care and estate planning, but also guardianship and fiduciary administration.  The travel industry has long reached out to the grandparent market with cruises and tours. Now RoadScholar (formerly Elderhostel)  and Grandtravel offer grandparent-grandchild tour packages. Since the economic downturn, grandparents are also stepping in to purchase items for their grandchildren, from clothing to school supplies to dinners out. Consider what you have to offer that fits this trend.

On the nonprofit side, grandparents are generous donors.  They make 45% of the nation’s cash contributions to nonprofit organizations.  Studies on donors have long shown differences between men and women.  Since aging women are a large portion of the donor population (outliving their husbands), understanding their interests and behavior around philanthropy is critical. For example, it might surprise you to learn that older women respond to recognition before the group for their gifts.  That might mean a naming opportunity or it could mean receiving an award at an annual event.

How do seniors want to communicate?

Once you’ve figured out the product, service or charity you want to position with the grandparent  generation, you need to know how your target audience wants to communicate with you.  Since half the grandparent population are now baby boomers—soon to be 60% by 2015—many are comfortable with online tools like email and Facebook.  But not all grandparents want to see things via the web or email.  Many still prefer to communicate with charities by mail, which means you still need to send out print copies of newsletters or ask letters.  Checking in with your prospective and existing donors is always important, but especially now that this donor group contains such a wide range of comfort levels with the tools we use to reach out about a charity’s mission and accomplishments.

Whatever you do, don’t ignore the grandparent market. It’s big and it’s here to stay.

What is your organization doing to reach the grandparent market?  Shoot me an email or post a comment here.

This week Wikileaks started publishing more than 250,000 US embassy cables—the largest number of confidential documents released to the public so far.  Imagine if something like this happened to your organization. What would happen to your brand? How would it affect your ability to do business? To compete? To negotiate new deals? To hire and retain talent?  These are the questions now bouncing from diplomatic circles to executive boardrooms to newsrooms across the globe. As well as “how could this happen?”

But another question raised in my mind is how much information should organizations really share—even if they think it is being done privately–through the internet?  And how do you train your workforce to understand the advantages and perils of file-sharing and social networks?

To answer these questions, let’s back up and see just how this leak happened.  Starting in 2000, as part of a number of federal initiatives to improve information-sharing between  agencies, the State Department made software changes that effectively lowered its inter-agency firewall so that Pentagon staff could now peer into embassy cables, among other documents.  Of course, there were restrictions in place on who could do this, but obviously an industrious army private was able to defeat them rather easily.

This prompts several thoughts as we all begin to review internal systems. Organizations with multiple locations and that use servers or file-sharing systems should always be working to ensure the right people are reviewing the right materials.  But what about once a project is completed? Take the time to consider how you are archiving the materials and who has access and for how long.

The next issue is people—always at the heart of both brand and security.  The army private who allegedly got hold of all these documents was able to download them remotely and efficiently.  Was there software missing to detect mass downloads? Was he so clever as to defeat this? Was he able to retrieve redacted material? Regardless of the answers, the question raised is how companies and agencies vet their “army privates.”  Who are the young, digital natives (yes this is ageist of me—bring on the comments!) with access to critical information affecting your brand? The reality is that right now–and this will change over time–the younger generation is more likely to know how to defeat security systems and navigate social networks to disseminate the information.  Because of this knowledge they can also help you protect it. So plan to include them in those conversations. And consider how you vet and train them–not just about internal systems, but about how critical this information is to your brand and effectiveness.  Also take time to train (and re-train) your older employees–the ones of the cable-writing diplomat’s generation–to ensure they understand social networks and understand file-sharing protocols and the impact on your work.

File-sharing is a dangerous business, but also consistent with the workings of a democratic and open society.  I certainly don’t think we should try to stop it.  But we do need to reconsider people and processes, so we minimize the brand damage to our nation, our organizations, and ourselves.

c 2010 Barbara DeLouise

The recent uproar created by the Forbes Obama article–and no, I’m not going to provide a link!–reminds anyone functioning in the public space how important it is to know how to react to information you deem factually incorrect, mis-informed, or downright salacious.  The echo chamber of social media means that anything that is published gets instantly amplified through re-purposed media, tweets, Facebook mentions, and news aggregator sites.  So when and how do you respond?

1. First, determine how loud the negative voice really is. That is, does this person/entity have a significant and established following? Will what they say be re-tweeted and picked up by major news organizations?  In the case of the Forbes story, the answer is clearly yes. In the case of one angry person responding to one of your blog posts, maybe not so much. Depends who s/he is and who’s in their network. Responding could just feed the echo chamber and make it worse.

2. Get out your set of facts. You can’t change someone else’s information, but you can put out your own. If you don’t have your own version of Robert Gibbs (hopefully more cheery), get your followers/supporters to put out your side of the story through their own social networks.

3. Make sure you are getting good advance intel of what could be brewing on your issue/company/clients. Use the Twitter subject hashtag (#) to search for tweets that are relevant. Set up Google Alerts not just on yourself and your organization, but that of important donors/clients/thought leaders in your industry.

4. Don’t forget to follow competitors and folks with an opposing viewpoint. Trying to understand where they are coming from and to whom they are speaking is helpful in crafting your response (or lack thereof).

5. Don’t panic. The nightmare of social media is it promotes the 24-hour news cycle. The bonus is it’s only a 24-hour news cycle. How soon they forget.

Finally, a note about disabling discussion on YouTube and Facebook sites. When my clients do it, it concerns me. They always have valid reasons–typically really nasty, obscene or racist comments. But I always prefer to see the community self-correct. Also, when comments are blocked, you have many fewer hits to your site (thus potentially promoting the antagonist sites). Just have a thoughtful discussion if you feel the need to stop comments, and re-consider after a brief interval.

According to Neilsen Research, the percentage of online time Americans are spending with email has dropped 28% from June 2009 to June of this year. Overall time spent on social networks and blogs has increased 43%.  Yet email clearly isn’t dead.  In fact from what I see, its volume is growing exponentially. I’ve noticed an interesting trend among my clients lately–many prefer to be texted about certain projects, presumably because their email boxes are full and they might miss the information.

But as we change our relationship to email and social media, how should organizations respond?  What can you do to use these tools wisely to position your brand and create a good experience for your customers.

Email is still a great way to reach large numbers of customers, prospects, donors or volunteers. Successful email campaigns can drive traffic to your social networking sites, where more personalized interactions can take place.

Make sure everyone in your organization has an email signature that includes your Facebook, Twitter and YouTube locations. It’s common for people in the communications department to have this, but often others in the organization do not and it’s a major missed opportunity.

Use in-person interactions to promote your social media presence. So, for example, your hold phone message could include “please join us on Facebook,” and your receptionist could say the same thing as she says goodbye to someone who’s been visiting in your office.

In your next e-Newsletter, include links with additional information can be accessed through your social media sites.

Encourage feedback to new content or campaigns–people love to comment!  Create a feedback mechanism so that you can then let your customers/donors/volunteers know what the response was.

Contests are great for driving eyeballs to websites and social media sites.

Include polls in your blog posts and tweet them.  Polls tend to get circulated and re-tweeted.

The most important takeaway from the Neilsen’s August research data is not that email is declining and social media is on the rise. It’s that this amalgam of communications tools is evolving. For those of us in the business of creating and promoting brands–both personal and corporate–we’ll need to keep evolving too.

According to a new Pew survey , the use of non-voice data applications on cell phones has grown dramatically over the last year. Compared with a similar point in 2009, cell phone owners are now more likely to use their mobile phones to:

  • Take pictures—76% now do this, up from 66% in April 2009
  • Send or receive text messages—72% vs. 65%
  • Access the internet—38% vs. 25%
  • Play games—34% vs. 27%
  • Send or receive email—34% vs. 25%
  • Record a video—34% vs. 19%
  • Play music—33% vs. 21%
  • Send or receive instant messages—30% vs. 20%

But what’s most interesting about the study is that African-Americans and English-speaking Latinos continue to be among the most active users of the mobile web. Cell phone ownership is several percentage points higher among African-Americans and Latinos than among whites (87% vs. 80%) and minority cell phone owners use more mobile phone features than their white counterparts. In total, 64% of African-Americans access the internet from a laptop or mobile phone, a seven-point increase from the 57% who did so at a similar point in 2009.

But are minority outreach communications programs geared towards mobile web?

With 72% of mobile phone users sending or receiving text messages, texting seems like the best place to start. And yet few corporate or nonprofit communications programs regularly incorporate text messaging for customer or donor outreach. One of my nonprofit clients uses texts during its annual conference to notify attendees of program changes.  This is a good start. Since 9-11, many schools have gone to text notification of parents for emergencies. But what about corporations?  Couldn’t they text customers about urgent issues like product recalls? The recent water emergency in Washington, D.C. area was a great example. As a customer, I never heard one peep directly from WSSC, even though they could have texted me, or frankly even used the robo-phone technology so prevalent with our local schools and political campaigns.

And if you’re interested in reaching older adults, the Pew study has some interesting data for you. While young adults still dominate mobile data applications, cell phone owners 30-49 aren’t far behind, and were found to be much more likely to use their devices to send text messages, take photos, record video or access email, among other uses.

We are part of an increasingly mobile society. Good communications plans need to mobilize, too.

According to CEO Danny Sullivan,  BP’s latest PR tactic was to purchase all the Google links for any search that includes the words “oil spill” or “BP” or “gulf oil,” among other keywords. Type in any of these and the top result you see is BP’s special Gulf of Mexico Response website.  Interesting brand-in-crisis move.

Part of the reason BP did this was to control the message. Controlling the Message is of course Rule #2 of Crisis Communications 101.  (Rule #1 is Full and Immediate Transparency/Disclosure.  BP hasn’t quite gotten that one down, no doubt because it is in conflict with all of the rules of Avoiding Lawsuits 101).  BP was smart to try the Google search word approach since they got major blowback from the TV ads they purchased, which featured their lambasted CEO touting all the great work BP was doing on the cleanup.   They really didn’t have many options for getting out their message, since BP was not well established in social media prior to the crisis and wasn’t positioned to respond (take note, SM slackers!), they had to go this route.

The ultimate question is:  is it working? Since the new top-of-the-Google-charts BP link clearly says “Sponsored Link,” people know it’s not a clean search result. Or do they? And even so, are they tempted to click on their site and scan it? It would be interesting to learn if the company is getting increased hits and any positive spin from that. BP stock prices just dropped another 4%, so that may be one indicator this plan isn’t working.

With email, iPhones and Blackberrys, not to mention school and community list-serves, and buckets of emails for work and home, information is coming at us faster than we can say digital download. And now we’re expected to keep up with Facebook, Linked In and Twitter, too?  There’s simply no time!  Why should anyone want to use social media if they are already busy professionals?  More specifically…

Who Cares About Social Media?

If my customers, clients, donors or referral sources don’t care about social media, why should I?  It’s hard to imagine they don’t. Consider these facts (from Neilsen Research):

  • In March 2010, people spent an average of 6 hours per month on social networking sites, as compared to a little more than 2 hours two years ago.
  • 13.4 M Americans watch video on mobile phones.
  • There are roughly as many iPhone users 55 and older as there are 13-24.
  • 27 M Americans have listened to an audio podcast in the last month.
  • Unique Twitter Use was up 1,382%, with 7 Million users as of last February.
  • Facebook has more than 400 million users.
  • The fastest growing demographic on Facebook is Women Over 55.

Notice that if folks are spending 6 hours a month on SM, that’s about 12 minutes a day. That seems doable, right?

Stats are nice, but no serious business people care about social media, so why should I?

Given that more people are using social media than email (as of March, 2009-Neilsen again), corporations are taking notice. Forrester Research projects that companies will spend $3.1 billion on social media by 2014. Why? Because smart companies are using this cost-effective tool to build better relationships with clients, vendors and policymakers.  And frankly, nonprofits are way ahead, as they’ve learned how to leverage social media tools to reach donors and advocate issues directly to the public.

OK, fine, but we’re a [fill in the blank here] and not a multi-national corporation or a nonprofit with a cause. How can social media help us?

Social media can help a small firm compete with bigger players.  It allows businesses to offer added client value (content) in an information marketplace. And it can help you promote your personal brand and that of your organization. How? If you’re just getting started with SM, set up a Linked In account and join and follow two user groups—one related to your area of business and one related to the industry of one of your top clients.  Almost immediately, you’ll gain new professional contacts, access critical information, and be able to share resources with colleagues and clients.  Twitter is also an excellent resource for intel on best practices, thought leaders, and what your clients are up to or up against.  (Try Tweetdeck to customize your Twitter feed–it’s a handy tool to lay out tweets in columns so they are easier/faster to follow).

Fine. But people can bad-mouth us through social media.Who needs that?

Yep, they can. Possibly they already have. But how would you know if you aren’t using social media? At a bare minimum, set up a “Google Alert” for your own name and that of your firm, as well as for the names or issues of any key clients (Hint: you can remove any Google Alert once you don’t need it any more).  You will now be quickly informed via email on issues that affect your firm and your clients.

But what about our younger staff? We can’t just let them be “out there” on social media!

Well, first of all they already are. So to protect yourself, you need to have firm policy for social media use. In a survey of employers, the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics found that while one-fourth of companies have already had to discipline an employee, only 10% have a policy addressing social network sites. Don’t panic. There are  plenty of sample policies to choose from as a basis.  The Red Cross spent quite a bit of time thinking about their policy, for example, and you can benefit from their ideas.  Engage your stakeholders–management committee members & managing partners but also younger associates if you are a law firm, marketing folks and executive leadership as well as up-and-comers if you are another type of business.  Have a discussion about how SM can propel your organizational and personal professional development goals. Are you looking to attract new employees? To learn more about a  new client industry? Be more visible in the local community? Develop your strategy intentionally around goals and your social media outreach is more likely to deliver results.

There’s no question that social media takes some work to understand and eats up time.  The question is whether you can make it time well spent. I’ve had to accept the fact that I need to make time for social media, just as I did for email and the web.  I’m pretty sure other professionals will need to do the same.