Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof

Archive for the ‘Communications’ Category

What You Can’t Do Online

In Communications, Real Life, Social media on September 5, 2007 at 2:30 am

I think the electronic tools of communication, publishing and interaction are just great. I use them a lot for my nonprofit work, in my writing life and the strategic use of them has become my work.

But there is simply no way to achieve electronic mimesis of pulling into a colonial Salvadoran town on a Sunday, walking, accompanied by an ex-assassin, into a Beirut-like sidestreet lined with broad, brown women and their men cooking over barrels, buying a pupusa revuelta and eating it, leaning against the chalky wall.

That’s what Life is for.

Newsletters

In Communications, Newsletters, Work materials on April 28, 2007 at 8:33 am

I have had a great deal of opportunity over the years to create and distribute corporate newsletters. Although blogs and other social media have eroded the primacy of this method for keeping in touch with one’s customers, it’s a far cry from finished. I’ve included excerpts from several I’ve created below.

From the iKarma Newsletter.

Featured Feature

Most people use a number of reputational services scattered across the Internet, each of which gives a separate narrow glimpse into who they are as a person. You may have comments about your thoughtfulness on a Blogger.com blog, examples of your intelligence and interests at Amazon, shopping scores that indicate your trustworthiness on eBay, enthusiastic critiques of your photos on Flickr and personality information at Match.com.

Now you can unify all these accounts on your iKarma Profile.

United iKarma allows you to easily bring together all the elements of your online reputation on your iKarma Profile. Now when someone comes to your profile, they’ll have access to all your online reputation from one place.

The new version also provides you with the ability to bring together all your various email accounts.

Additionally, you’ll be able to reach out to those other accounts and install an iKarma medallion on them.

“We designed iKarma so our users could bring the benefits of reputation management out to their other activities on the web,” said iKarma CEO, Paul Williams “ With our new features, our users will also be able to apply their other Web activities to enhance their iKarma. The synergy this creates is truly karmic.”

From the Elance Newsletter.

ELANCE TOOLBOX

HOW MUCH IS THAT IN ZLOTYS?
Elance is devoted to the global nature of both the marketplace and the Internet. In an attempt to further integrate our users, we have introduced Multicurrency. Multicurrency allows the buyer to post projects in their home currency and receive bids in that currency. In most other situations it will also allow any user to see figures in a selected currency.

WHOSE LITTLE WIZARD ARE YOU?
With the addition of the RFP Wizard buyers can post projects with step-by-step assistance. The Wizard will ask the right question at the right time and by following its suggestions you will be able to post a description of your project that is both the most accurate for potential bidders and insures you communicate your needs completely.

I DIDN’T KNOW YOU HAD A SECRETARY.
Sellers can now sign up to receive email notification whenever a Request for Proposal (RFP) is posted in their chosen marketplace. This process is easily customized with the addition of keyword. To subscribe, click Edit Profile in the My Elance navigation bar. Scroll down the page until you see the heading marked Subscription. Check back to make sure that your selection is getting you all the Requests for Proposals (RFPs) that interest you. Keep in mind the keywords are very literal. Entering the keyword ‘designer’ may not capture an RFP with the keyword ‘design.’

CALL FOR YOU ON LINE FOUR.
We have added filters to the Request for Proposal (RFP) marketplace, the Fixed-Price Service marketplace and to the lists of bids. This will allow you to customize the listings that come to you, for example, those that have been placed within the last 3 days, only those that have detailed profiles, or only those service offers posted by users with feedback above 4.0. These filters are displayed in the heading of each marketplace and at the top of lists of bids on the project description pages.

GET THE GOODS ON ANYONE WITHOUT HIRING A PRIVATE DICK.
Detailed user feedback is now available in each Elancer’s profile. Information now displayed in the profile includes the total value of all RFP transactions in which the user has participated, as either a buyer or a seller, and the amount of the user’s Fixed-Price activity.

From the Sproutit Newsletter.

Sign Up for Our Super Ultra Mega Newsletter.

Newsletters make me angry. And you wouldn’t like me angry. Most of the newsletters that are foisted on us are chock-a-block with tainted clams, contrived enthusiasms, transparently false bonhomie and a writing style that smells like the panicked waste of a suicidal robot.

Our newsletter, The Illustrated Sprout, is a tainted clam-free zone and we resent the accusation. The Illustrated Sprout, hand-written by crayon on pieces of bark by super-intelligent sea cucumbers, will have news you might actually use (though probably not). These could include anagrams, encrypted photos of Zbigniew Brzezinski and furious screeds on obscure Welsh verse forms. Any “tips” proffered will be your own doing. Your undoing. Doong doong doing ding dong. Language is fun.

Below are two boxes. Check the first one to indicate your irrational desire to read The Illustrated Sprout on a regular basis (i.e., your inbox is not full enough of ads for boner cream and stock offerings from the Island of Dr. Moreau). Check the other box in a vain attempt to decline. If you check both or neither (or either), we will send you the newsletter. We will ram fistful after fistful of gibberish into your computer hole. Come on. I’m kidding. You can always opt out later. Or at least you can try. * titter *

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Hyperlocals Guide

In Communications, PR, Social media on April 25, 2007 at 6:50 pm

Shields Bialasik, the chief at LocalsGuide, which I occasionally advise, has taken my advice, and started a blog, hyperlocal 101. Not surprisingly, he is focusing on the issues surrounding “hyperlocalism.” LocalsGuide is devoted putting the concept of the immediate, geographic and personal into practice, both through their geographically-based social network and their print magazine that comes out of the network. I expect to see him expound at length in the time to come on the “culture of hyperlocalism.”

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New Model Army

In Communications, Work materials on April 25, 2007 at 6:40 pm

There was a very interesting conversation that played out some time back across a number of blogs. Shel Israel (author, with Robert Scoble, of the business blogging book Naked Conversation) began discussing the search by one of his clients, Scrapblog (an online multimedia scrapbooking service), for a person who could wade into the community that was growing up around their product. (They wound up hiring Alex de Carvahlo.)

This conversation, which began on Shel’s blog Global Neighbourhoods, began as a quest for the right title for this position. In this age of conversation, social media and online communities that often surround and either buoy up or drag down a company, what should a person be called who is part PR manager-part community manager, part never-been-seen-before, part same-old-thing?

Carlos (the Scrapblog CEO) was in the process of hiring somebody whose job it was to be to join communities, rather than start them; who’s is to join conversations, some of them having nothing to directly do with Scrapblog. The ideas is that this new community enthusiast will become known and trusted in the community, and when Scrapblog has authentic news, other community neighborhoods will be involved.

There is no job description for this person. You cannot go to an HR manual and find the requirements.

With that first post, commenters suggested “community enthusiast,” “buzz director” and “social reporter.”

With the next post, Shel said, “I am willing to bet that there would have been far fewer people expressing this very high level of excitement had I posted that a client needs either a director of marketing or a product manager.”

The conversation migrated to Carlos’s Scrapblog blog where additional possibilities were outlined, including (thanks to yours truly) Master of Conversations (quoting Zurb). Eventually, the Scrapblog folk decided for the folksy Community Guy title.

This conversation, which lasted over a week, spread across at least two blogs and included several dozen people, points out an important issue in a time where business no longer can rely upon the tried-and-true (tried-and-false?) model of the one-way infosuckling of its infantilized customers. The customer has grown up. Better treat him and her like adults. There is too much information about whom they can leave you for. And too many truly excellent ways for you to relate to them to waste the opportunity. But to do so you have to do one thing and that thing is hard. You have to be honest.

When I say that being honest is hard, I don’t just mean you can’t claim to be who you’re not and you can’t claim your patent medicine will cure baldness, sterility and the staggers. I also mean you have to be honest about what you’re doing. The one element of the conversation I was uncomfortable about was the apparent lack of interest in admitting that while the person who fills this type of role may well at any given time be on the side of your customers, they work for you. And they should. And there’s nothing wrong with admitting it. Otherwise, you’re still hanging on to that old model: tricking the customer.

Shaking the old model is hard. Don’t let anyone tell you different.

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PBwiki and the press

In Communications, PR, Press placement, Work materials on March 29, 2007 at 4:25 pm

PBwiki

I’ve been working this past month helping PBwiki, the world’s largest providers of wiki software and hosting, to build on recent successes by getting some good press coverage. My goal was to secure commitments to publishing four stories, which I’ve done. (I’ll add links when the articles become available.) [Update: five now.]

There’s good and bad in doing press placement, especially if you are, or have been, a journalist (as I am and have been). The good is, once you get the commitment, you don’t have to write the story. In fact, in most cases, you can‘t, since you’re in the subject’s camp. The bad is, once you get the commitment, you can’t write the story. Sometimes, you have to find the writer but even then, if you’re on the up-and-up (oh, and I am) you can provide access, but can’t puppet the writer around because that would, among other things, reduce the credibility of the piece.

There is a nice thrill when you hit though, when your vision of The Story is appealing enough, presented well enough and focused on the right people and the editor, or reporter says, Yes, that’ s a great story.

With PBwiki it was easier than most. For one thing, the company had three good stories ready made.

First, they recently received over $2 million from Mohr Davidow Ventures, acquired competitor Schtuff, struck a deal with 30Boxes and unveiled a new point-and-click editor. In other words, they’re surging ahead in a crowded field. (Well, they’re dominating it, with 150,000 users.)

Second, I saw an interesting, and easy-to-apprehend trend piece in their vital relationship with educators. Of their 150,000 users, 30,000 are educators. Wikis are a real pedagogical tool (not just a resource) for educators and their students. PBwiki has an educational advisory board of 50 professionals, has an enthusiastic group of educators who started to give presentations on how to use the product quite independently of the company (though it is now actively encouraged) and stories of the educators’ creative use of wikis, including a collaborative design/build project in New Orleans.

Finally, PBwiki partnered with the United Nations on the “Global Compact.” The Global compact initiative is a collaboration of around 3,000 companies and 700 organizations in over 100 countries to create a voluntary corporate responsibility pledge. PBwiki is providing the collaborative frame work for this undertaking. (Totally awesome? Yuh-huh.)

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Web Copy / Sales Path

In Communications, Work materials on January 18, 2007 at 7:08 pm

Here’s a site for sore eyes. I took a dead end-ridden sales path, overgrown with ineffective language and bland graphics and turned it into an efficient, brightly-lit gambol down the online bridle path. A VP at Quicken called it the best sales path he’d ever seen and the number of readers who signed up doubled the day my changes were posted.

Uniting appropriate language, graphics and architecture, concentrating on simplicity and efficiency, has a direct effect on the utility of your web site. Good site design and copy is all about removing the obstacles between the visitor and the product.

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Your Communications Responsibilities

In Communications on January 17, 2007 at 4:54 pm

With the proliferation of communications technologies there is an impulse to jump on the bandwagon. How many times have you heard one of the following statements?

“Everyone has email.”

“You can’t compete without a web site.”

“Start blogging or I will destroy you!”

(That last one was from the Evil Blogging Robot.)

But just grabbing the latest communications technology is not enough. This sounds like the most basic of common sense, but it is all too often ignored.

If you are not going to keep your web site current, don’t have one.

If you aren’t going to respond to emails, don’t publish your email address.

If you’re not going to post to a blog, don’t start one.

If you’re not going to moderate comments on a blog, don’t enable comment moderation.

As a client, or potential client, I never look at a web site with outdated information and think, “Wow, this company must be busy. I’ll patronize them!” I never read that most contemptible of customer service kiss-offs, “We cannot respond to all of the email we receive,” and think, “I’ll just wait here patiently to see if mine is one they respond to!” And I do not stay subscribed to a blog that does not give me any new information. And (here’s the important part), neither do your future former potential customers.

My point’s simple: Don’t buy the hard sell that you must utilize the complete spectrum of communications tools that are available at any given moment. Experiment and figure out which ones work for you and for your customers, then maintain them. Slapping up a blog that you never pay attention to is not conducting a conversation with your customers. Far better a company that zealously sends out a paper newsletter than one that perfunctorily wheatpastes up a shabby blog with email addresses that no one responds to.

Golden rule time again folks. If you walked up to the counter of a coffee shop and ordered a cup to go and the person behind the counter stood perfectly still, saying and doing nothing until you went away, how likely is it that you’d come back?

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The Dialogic Imagination

In Communications on December 21, 2006 at 8:55 am

I find systems of thought (ideologies, philosophies) to be more intellectual exercise than trustworthy tool for understanding the world. Like a t-square, a system can be moved around a page to make interesting or comic patterns but they’re about as useful at getting at the meaning of life (and the “texts” that inform it) as “The Bible Code.”

The use of systems to understand communications issues I find entirely too precious. And how these manufactured constructions could possibly help anyone speak to a customer is utterly beyond me. Although, to be fair (and to paraphrase this generation’s “Battleship Potemkin”), “Curt Hopkins is not a thinker. Curt Hopkins is a writer!” I prefer the organic patterns than develop out of direct contact with our most common material of meaning, words. The absolutes of this world remain, but do not retain permanent form. The only way to apprehend the truth, great or small, of a situation is to move intellectually in the moment, something that is impossible to do when hobbled by a system. Writing is the discipline that allows me to pursue, and occasionally find, the truth.

Still, given all the intellection that communications and social media have been subject to, it surprises me that no one in this discussion has made mention of Mikhail Bakhtin. (To my knowledge, anyway. Someone please correct me if I’m wrong.) Bakhtin, a 20th century Russian literary theorist, introduced me to the notion of textual conversation long before blogs arrived on the scene. In his book, “The Dialogic Imagination,” Bahktin outlines the development of “heteroglossia,” or multivocal discourse, and “dialogism” in literature.

My favorite essay in the book is “Epic and Novel.” Bahktin’s basic argument is this: In the epic, and in much of poetry, meaning is unidirectional. It comes from, and speaks in, one voice. Meaning is a “substance” that travels from a permanent source and fills up words like water filling up a pitcher.

But with the advent of the novel, or the proto-novel, this structure changed. Now, we have a mixing of voices and a change of direction. Meaning is produced by the interchange between voices. Sources multiply. And the apprehension of meaning becomes dynamic. A novel may have the voices of the poor and the rich, of various working lives, jargon, situation-specific speech. In my reading, it is not a change from absolute to relative meaning. It is a recognition that, again, the surface of the truth changes, its external clothing is in constant movement. Truth is found in the interstices of the multiple voices. To my mind, this is much more of a spiritual exercise than the booming voice and the arrow.

The novel, in other words, is the recognition that the text is a conversation and the truth of a situation is to be found as much in the silences as in the words themselves. The truth resides in the dynamic shapes between speakers.

I do not believe that Bahktin developed a “system” and I believe even less in the superimposition of this non-existent system over modern communications and media. I do believe, however, that the ideas are interesting and, to my knowledge unrecognized, elements of our ongoing conversation.

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“I act as the tongue of you”

In Communications on December 10, 2006 at 9:11 am

“I act as the tongue of you,
It was tied in your mouth . . . . in mine it begins to be loosened.”—Walt Whitman

As my favorite poet, the American Walt Whitman says in his long poem, “Leaves of Grass“, the writer’s job is to speak. But this speech is not necessarily solely personal speech. Whether as a poet or in a professional capacity, a writer speaks for you. Or, more accurately, a writer should use his or her talents and experience to help you to recognize what you meant to say all along.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of what I do is that moment when I elicit a gleam of recognition in a client’s eye, when they themselves have suddenly uttered their own well-formed message. They recognize it even as they say it for the first time. So, though I’m not fond of the term, “coaching” is a big part of what I do.

It would be a bit beyond belief to maintain that a communications consultant should, like James Joyce‘s artist, be “within or behind or beyond or above his handiwork, invisible, refined out of existence, paring his fingernails.” But there is a need to harnass and master your ego. After all, your product should not present your views on a subject, but that of your client. Projecting your own opinions onto a situation is analogous to making a suit according to your own measurements. In all but the most unusual situations, it is very unlikely to fit comfortably.

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