Thursday, March 31, 2011

Research: Professors With Personal Tweets Get High Credibility Marks

Kirsten A. Johnson is a communications professor and among the digerati. She wrestled with whether her personal posts on Twitter, Facebook, and other social-networking Web sites make her less credible in the eyes of her students.

An experiment with 120 students at Elizabethtown College proved that professors with personal Twitter streams appear to be more credible than those who stick to business. Often considered the bastion of deliberate adoption, higher education may be experiencing a culture shift if social media mavens like Ms. Johnson become commonplace.

Does anyone have insight? Are professors like Ms. Johnson the exception or the norm on campuses?

Ben Wieder at the Chronicle of Higher Education reports the details.

Monday, March 28, 2011

How To Get Great Work: Make your Own Luck

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of guest lecturing at colleges. Young creatives often ask how they can compete for the highest paying, coolest jobs. My answer is always the same: make your own luck. Keep doing ambitious work right now—paid or not. Get your ideas out there. Whether you are employed or looking for work, the digital culture enables people to take big creative risks, at low cost, and gain recognition for it.

To wit, check out these fake ads for the Smithsonian from Jenny Burrows an art student and Matt Kappler, a copy-writer. High-impact and hilarious! The Smithsonian, in its wisdom, has sent the “cease and desist” order out, thus driving the work viral. Now, the genie is out of the bottle. My marketing advice to the Smithsonian, not that it’s asking, is hey, any brand to attract this quality of free publicity should thank its lucky stars.

Hat tips: Kevin McCarthy for blogging it and Nina Simon for tweeting it.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Three Trends Marketers Should Glean from SXSW Interactive

Everyone comes to SXSW with an agenda. Newbies typically come for the content—namely the panels and keynotes. Veterans come to network at parties. In my case, I’m a marketing geek who knows her limitations for small talk so I attend both. It’s a stimulating mix that helps me see what’s coming.

Here are three things I saw at SXSW 2011 that will affect the future for marketers:

1. Will it be story or code? Agencies will either compete with software or storytelling.

Listening to bloggers Simon Salt and Joe Jaffe at Liz Strauss’ intimate SOBCon party I glimpsed the future of agencies. Marketing service agencies must clarify their value propositions: either be stellar at the technology or great at the human stuff. Joe and Simon are biz-tech bloggers who have pioneered the social media landscape. Each is a good storyteller. And as many sources would confirm throughout SXSW—good storytelling still wins.

Just down the street, was the Crowdtap party—a very different animal. Hosted by digital agency Mr Youth, it was a raucous pleasure bash replete with DJ, gushing chocolate fountain and 2,000+ guest list.

Crowdtap is a crowdsourcing platform for brands. MENG member Laura Levitan is Chief Evangelist at Mr Youth, which is the parent agency that built Crowdtap. By the look of things, it appears to be richly venture funded. It, along with P&G’s TREMOR and Unilever-backed BrainJuicer, points to a trend.

Big consumer conglomerates are building agencies with robust software platforms that will be profit centers, not cost centers, for the parent company. This topic was addressed head on during the panel titled, Do Agencies Need to Think Like Software Companies? Panelists included Allison Mooney (Google), Ben Malbon (Google), Matt Galligan (SimpleGEO), Rick Webb (Barbarian Group) and Rob Rasmussen (TribalDDB). The tension between technology and creative services is cresting. Simon Mainwaring’s advice is apt. Be very clear about what you are good at and compete there.

2. ROI Update—What to monetize and measure is coming clear.

Will we have to pay big bucks for high-speed Internet?

More rumblings about profitability of the Web shows us where the lines will be drawn between what stays free and what gets monetized. Comcast has its eye on Netflix—not to acquire it but to shut it down, says Senator Al Franken. His talk at SXSW urged geeks to rise up and, “Keep the Internet weird and free.”

Those words echoed in my ears as I took a spin on, a spanking new free publishing platform launched at SXSW. I was blown away as founder Mathieu Fivaz walked me through its many features. It has the power to turn bloggers and tweeters into multi-media producers with just a few clicks, but I couldn’t help wondering if it could survive in a pay-to-play Internet world.

Not Sure How to Measure Social Media? Look at Brand Health.

On the topic of social media metrics, few are better versed than Shiv Singh, head of Digital for PepsiCo. For Pepsi’s Refresh Everything Campaign, often described as the largest major cause-marketing campaign funded solely out of marketing dollars, measurement was a top priority. Not simply transactions, because those don’t reflect loyalty or good will, he explained. Instead, Pepsi tracked “brand health” with a metric system that accounts for how a brand is perceived socially.

To gauge “brand health” PepsiCo focused on four areas:

• better automated sentiment analysis
• manual analysis of conversations via sampling
• a sharper mechanism for applying influence weight-age
• a tighter formula to give additional weight-age to positive mentions

Want more detail? Visit Shiv’s blog for his recipe.

3. To be human is divine.

SXSW has a personality. It’s high-energy with an explosive imagination. The head rush it delivers springs from being among a tribe of people who thrive in the ethereal space of ideas. This is no small thing, and forms the connective tissue of the conference. For a few days a world pops up where everyone has an imagination and can appreciate the same in others.

I met a parade of mind-bending people at SXSW. How a person makes SXSW meaningful amidst the throngs of digerati is by making the human connection. It matters more than ever in the digital culture. And the most exciting new technologies I test-drove on the showroom floor amplify what is human to us all.

This article was also posted at MENG Online.

Monday, March 21, 2011

SXSW Update: Brands, Boots, Zappos and a Close Encounter with Happiness

When I left my office space overlooking the Chicago River to attend SXSW Interactive, all of a sudden I was hit with the desire to own a pair of cowboy boots. I had no idea my jones-ing would teach me a secret as to why SXSW is so important. And I’m starting to see the bigger lesson in it. Namely, that it’s one thing to know what you want. It’s a far greater thing to get it from extraordinary people.

Everyone comes to SXSW with an agenda. Newbies typically come for the content—namely the panels and keynotes. Veterans come to network at parties. In my case, I know my limitations for small talk and attend both. The mix helps me see what’s coming. I will blog my trend analysis from SXSW later...

SXSW has a personality. It’s high-energy with an explosive imagination. The head rush it delivers springs from being among a tribe of people who thrive in the ethereal space of ideas.

Making the human connection matters more than ever in the digital culture. And the most popular technologies amplify what is human to us all. I met a parade of mind-bending people at SXSW. But there’s one example of what David Brooks calls the “new humanism” that stands out.

And this brings me back to the cowboy boots.

While in Austin, I figured I’d buy a pair rather than ordering them from Zappos, my usual solution. So I sallied forth into a local boot shop. It was the end of the day. Wilted before walking in, I found the heat and crowd of boot-buyers daunting. Still, boots were on my agenda.

You’d think the rivulet of sweat down running down my back would’ve deterred me from trying on some 30 pairs. Nope. I wore the salesgirl’s Southern charm down to a no-nonsense nub. Finally, I chose a pair. The price made my ears throb. Wrapping them up she asked me, “Do you love them?” I muttered something vague and walked out grateful for the rush of fresh air on my clammy skin.

Days later, as I checked out of my hotel, I met a Zappos employee in the lobby. We chatted about CEO Tony Hsieh, his boss, whom I had met in 2009 at SXSW. The guy seemed genuinely sold on Hsieh’s leadership and commitment to the brand promise: Deliver happiness. I confessed that I strayed from Zappos for a boot-buying experience that could best be described as, well, unhappy. He hiked back up to his room and handed over three copies of Tony’s books as a parting gift.

As I waited to board the flight back to Chicago, I glanced over and, lo and behold, there was Tony Hsieh talking on his cell phone (I’m not making this up). I snatched his book from my briefcase and approached cautiously. From a few feet away I gestured, “Will you sign it for me?” He smiled broadly, excused himself from the call and dug out a Sharpie. I softly thanked him as he jotted and told him how much I respected his work. He looked up and blushed, earning his reputation for humility.

It was one of my favorite SXSW moments.

And there it is. We can build dazzling websites. Launch sticky digital campaigns. Tweet our fingers to the bone. And yet, there is nothing so precious as making that human connection.

If you’re lucky, you can string together several such encounters and that’s what keeps many of us coming back to SXSW.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Catching Up on Simple Pleasures

I cherish my Irish roots. Being away for St. Patrick's Day means I play catch up today. Corned beef and cabbage, of course. Not salmon. It's not hearty enough to face down the grey midwestern sky.

This is a picture of my favorite thing to prepare. Homemade Irish Soda Bread. I make it every year at this time. Right now, my kitchen smells like heaven must.

Being out in the world sometimes leaves me feeling drained. Exhilarated, but a little worn at the edges. Plunging my hands into dough revives me.

It's simple. I use this recipe. It's also simple.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

SXSW Update: Brand Journalism

Brand Journalism panel @SXSW was jammed. People lined the walls and crammed into the back. Bob Garfield from Ad Age emcee'd, with Brian Clark, David Eastman, Kyle Monson, Shiv Singh.

Here's the stream of discussion:
If everything is media, then everything is marketing, then how should brands behave? Digital culture is forcing marketers to behave differently as non-fiction creators.

Social media is built on goodwill and trust.

How do you forge a relationship around sugar water? Can't hand over its brand to its consumers to co-create because it won't be meaningful for the user. None of us have a deep relationship with the Austin Convention Center, but we do w/SXSW. In the case of Pepsi we must express our values. We spent our brand dollars on Pepsi Refresh and it was our outreach to address the downturn. We measured it to death. We didn't focus on awareness. We focused on brand health.

Here's what we measured:
>Brand persuasion + Brand influence + Brand emotion = Brand health
When we talk about a world gone social, Pepsi Refresh got 183,000 proposals of concrete ideas about how to make the country better. That's important content. It has meaning. Who cares if Pepsi taste test proves so-and-so demographic likes it. Pepsi Refresh gave us really powerful insight and content that people care about.

Ford Volt (Chevy--see note)
Ford gave permission to find journalists to write about what direction Ford should go to turn the company around. No sanctions, no holes barred. The brand as a result is less about sheet metal porn and more about human beings. Real people talking about the brand, the company, and the driving experience.

*My thanks to the person who posted the simple comment questioning the brand confusion. The Volt is a Chevy product. I live blogged this post during a panel, which means my fingers flew across the keyboard, then it's on to the next panel or meet up. And I apologize for the confusion. My bad. But I recall thinking at the time that Ford had also taken a social media approach to the Fiesta, but used very different tactics. Both are sporty compact cars--the Volt has an edge as an eco-friendly electric car. I made a mental note that I wanted to check later and see which of the two compact vehicles was selling better. Hence, I had Ford on the brain. Not excusing the error. Just sayin'. Now, to unpack my bags from SXSW on get back to reality.

Monday, March 14, 2011

SXSW Update: Al Franken on the Future of Creative Work, Net Neutrality

It's 9:30AM on a Monday in a hotel ballroom that is filled to the brim with people eager to hear what Al Franken has to say. Last night, Austin was overflowing with parties, so I figure most people dragged themselves here with hangovers. Al Franken is sober. With appropriate gravitas, he warns people straight up that the indie party is over for the Internet. Corporate interests are moving in and bringing bags of cash and controlling mindsets, Franken says.

Franken wants big telecom to, "Leave the Internet alone!" And he cracks up the tweeting audience. He explains the coming pricing intentions of major telecoms who will create a paid class system. First class service gives people a fast lane. Coach class is a throttled, slow, low-res dirt road of service.

Other warnings from Franken:
Higher prices are coming. Comcast is looking to kill Netflix. Corporations want control over distribution to give the content they own the biggest audience. This will kill the Long Tail. (I'm wondering if Wired has a reporter here and what Chris Anderson would say to this idea.)

Indie creative content can be created, but will have trouble getting seen. This will choke American creativity. Corporately owned distribution systems serve up a certain kind of content. Predictable, mainstream, vanilla.

Franken says he wants two things:
1. For artists to get paid for their work
2. To have access to open and free distribution platforms to reach audiences.

Franken urges Internet "job creators", as he sees the audience gathered at SXSW, to call their Congressmen and speak up. "As tech entrepreneurs, you create jobs and in this economy legislators want to hear from you." And, yes, he says--"You will get your call returned." He mentions Bandcamp, a service beloved by this blog from its inception.

"Let's not sell out. Let's keep the Internet weird, let's keep the Internet free."
Audience goes wild!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

SXSW Update: Artistic Collaborations Via Skype

I'm sitting in on a panel of innovators from live entertainment who are experimenting with using Skype to create dramatic performances delivered live stream into peoples' homes. You Wouldn't Know Her, She Lives in London/You Wouldn't Know Him, He Lives in Texas is an interactive, multimedia, site-specific theatrical experience.

The Austin Chronicle says it's, "Way more casual and intimate than its premise might sound." The action occurs in three different locales simultanteously: a loft across from the Longbranch Inn, the Roundhouse in London, and online, for anyone with bandwidth across the world to watch and participate in the story (via live streaming at

The audience members are encouraged to meet one another and mingle and tweet live during the performance (with the comments also projected in real time on the screen).

Making interaction a central part of a show is a risky business. Being able to use a smartphone to contribute an idea for a character that the actors respond to is powerful.

What is most exciting about this experiment is that it sets out to bring classic culture--live theatre--into the digital culture. Rather than using the potency of social media to tweet about Kim Kardashian's booty or Charlie Sheen's hysteria, this ambitious project invites meaningful human interactions. And audiences have stepped up to deliver quality content via Twitter and Facebook.

Metrics: Audience is cross-Atlantic and has quadrupled since project inception. Average viewing time is 22 minutes.

The project reminds me of the New Paradise Lab in Philly that I describe in Tipping the Culture along with tips on how to leverage social media to attract young audiences. Download it. It's FREE. Really. No strings.

Friday, March 11, 2011

White House at SXSW to Speak to the Elite about Start-Ups

I'm blogging from SXSW Interactive in Austin, TX. The White House is planning a big event here to engage the digerati in a discussion about the new Start Up America initiative.

Culturally, SXSW has earned a reputation for being a pretty democratic forum. Small "d" not big "D." So I was stunned when I read this disclaimer at the bottom of the invitation:

"These two Startup America sessions are only open to SXSW Interactive, Gold and Platinum badgeholders only."

It's funny. I've never considered there to be a "rank and file" among start-ups. And that they'd somehow have less to offer the White House in terms of insight into the turn-around.

The rest of the invitation copy is below in case you're curious.

Are you a tech entrepreneur who wants to give your feedback on how the new Startup America program can assist your new endeavor? Then be sure to attend the two special Startup America: Reducing Barriers sessions on Saturday, March 12 from 12:30 to 1:30 pm. For both these sessions, the bulk of time will be devoted to attendee input on what policy changes are needed to encourage more innovation in the US. Officials who will be present for these two sessions include Aaron K. (Ronnie) Chatterji (Senior Economist, White House Council of Economic Advisors), Aneesh Chopra (Chief Technology Officer for the United States), Scott Case (CEO, Startup America Partnership), Sean Greene (Associate Administrator for Investment, and Special Adviser for Innovation, U.S. Small Business Administration) and Todd Park (Todd Park, US Department of Heath and Human Services). Read more about these sessions in a special White House press release. These Startup America sessions occur at the AT&T Conference Center (1900 University Avenue)—take the free SXSW Interactive shuttle bus to this venue.

Found Art: Lotte Reiniger

"...pioneering female animators include Lotte Reiniger, who created silhouette animation in Germany in the 1920s and worked on The Adventures of Prince Achmed, one of the world's first feature-length animated films." - Independent Spirits: Women in Animation, PBS

Thursday, March 10, 2011

How Brave Women Weather Success

I was stunned when a woman I’ve considered the epitome of success told me she was filing for bankruptcy. Her chain of successful retail stores was overcome with debt.

I fought the urge to ask her: “But what will you do now?” No need to inflict more doubt, I figured. I listened carefully as she described having to dismantle her life.

But wait. It isn’t her LIFE that’s coming apart. It’s her business. As much as we Americans tend to confuse the two-our work is not who we are. It’s part of who we are.

What really struck me was her take on it all. In answer to my question about how it all made her feel, she said: “I did a brave thing when I opened my first store. I’ve always wanted to brave, more than I wanted to be successful.”

In honor of International Women’s Day, which was this past Tuesday, here’s to all the brave women out there taking risks.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Thriving On the Edge of Chaos

Photo by tim geers
Truthfully, I feel like I live on the brink. Have you been there? I’m talking about that cuspy, dangerous place where at any moment you will break through. Or, you will plunge to your peril.

I’m retooling. I’m creating a new research methodology for gathering user insights. Writing a new book. Quitting old habits. And wondering where I want to put down roots. It’s been an introspective process not without it’s surprising revelations, namely that I’m the wrong age to be taking so many risks and I crave walks in the woods despite the fact that I live a city.

Late last night, I was hovered over a federal report on Economic Development. I was researching ways to help local economies grow more jobs for young creatives. There, amidst the tables and sawtooth graphs I came across this handy rule of thumb from complexity science.

It’s a theory called the "edge of chaos". And it defines that fine line between stability and chaos as the place of possibilities. Scientifically, it’s where innovation and survival are most likely to take place.

Let me explain.

Think about water—H20—and the form it takes. In the frozen regime, it would be ice. In the stable regime, it would be water. In the chaotic regime, it would be steam.

In the frozen regime, no information gets transferred, but no activity takes place either. It’s impossible to adapt. And in the chaotic regime, information and change takes place so fast that nothing is stable enough to retain its identity. This is where many of us have lived and worked for two decades—chaos.

The stable regime is more about a regular rhythm of activity in which identity is retained, but adaptation to changing conditions happens. But more slowly.

We all want stability. It gives us the illusion of safety. But it’s a scientific fact that nature favors the line between stability and chaos—the edge of chaos--because it’s here that adaptation is evolutionary and “allows an organism to survive over the long run”.

As I close up my studio for the evening I realize that I am two people. I want to be safe. And I want to pioneer. Risk is inherent in every innovation. Perhaps the tension is what it feels like to adapt. It’s like stretching a muscle in order to reach further.

I tell myself to believe this and go to bed.

Economic Gardening
Christian Gibbons

Director, Business/Industry Affairs
City of Littleton, Colorado

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Above All, Be Brave--When Women Take Risks

This week, I’m writing about brave women in honor of the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day.

Meet Professor Alexandra Juhasz. She began teaching a class about YouTube in 2007. Colleagues frowned. Journalists howled her down. TechCrunch, the popular blog, said it might be the “most ridiculous class any college had ever offered.”

But Ms. Juhasz persisted, believing that her media studies students needed to understand the working mechanics of the media they were critiquing. The result is a genre-bending idea—video books.

Her invention got traction when MIT Press released Learning From YouTube, a free "video book" written by Ms. Juhasz. It's the first time MIT press has published an online-only book. Equally cool is that it’s helping developers build a new platform for authorship that they hope will be used for more such works.

We want to be safe. We want to protect ourselves from peer criticism. Worse, we pull back when the nay-sayers ridicule our ideas. For women, shame is a form of control. We’ve been raised to derive our sense of self-worth from what others think.

What if we re-write the equation?

What if the measure of our success comes from within, not without?

Cleary, Professor Juhasz felt it was more important to be brave, than be successful. And the outcome? She accomplished both.

Monday, March 7, 2011

A World Without Imagination

Cutting out the raw materials of the creative economy: imagination, creativity, and thought

The new Congress is in a budget-slashing frenzy-- and the arts, plus vital cultural programs like National Public Radio, are on the chopping block. But a group of "creative sector colleagues" from Providence, RI are responding.

I studied Providence for my last book and dubbed it a RenGen city for its vibrant, creative start-up culture. It didn’t surprise me to see that activists there came up with the idea for Culture Stops!, a "citizen-driven, peaceful day of action," scheduled for this March 10, three days from now.

The day will protest the idea that culture and the arts do not matter in America. Culture Stops! has a list of easy activities anyone or organization can do to participate and send a message.

The coalition behind it is an interesting blend of established (museums and libraries) and emerging cultural organizations.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Found Art: Eric Daigh

We Have One Conversation
Eric Daigh
I saw this show at the Carl Hammer Gallery in Chicago recently and was blown away. His medium is primarily push-pins.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Reasons to Believe: Why I Love My Herman Miller Chair

As I write this, I am sitting in my Herman Miller chair. I adore it. My only beef is that it enables my work-aholism. I can write for hours on end sitting in this chair.

Recently, I came across Herman Miller’s social responsibility agenda. By infusing its culture with its social values, the brand radiates good vibes--from the inside out.

Creating a high-performance culture in these times takes compassion and commitment.

This Herman Miller recruitment video demonstrates both - and it’s a great example of how a compassion brand radiates its values from the inside out to create a ripple effect with its message. This wins hearts and minds. Plus, it's clever. But not clever-clever. All in all, it gives us a reason to believe.

Check it out: