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Communications On the Edge II — Pepsi's Done it Again

Another sign that we are doomed as a society or just some juvenile humor?

Another sign that we are doomed as a society or just some juvenile humor?

Last year, Pepsi found itself in the middle of a controversy over some suicide-themed ads they put out that were pretty tasteless. My assessment of that particular issue was Pepsi messed up good and proper. Now the company is back in the hot seat over a (sort of) tasteless iPhone application it created to help promote its AMP energy drink. The application — like the drink — is marketed to pubescent males. The idea is they can use the app to get advice on how to score with different types of chicks. Unfortunately, they took it one step farther by also building in a feature that lets them brag about their conquests to their friends. As was obviously expected, the campaign got Team Political Correctness all up in a tizzy. Pepsi then “apologized” to those who were offended on Twitter and asked people to Tweet their opinions about the issue. They even asked people to use a pepsifail hashtag.  Brilliant. What they didn’t do is immediately kill the application (which they have since done). CNN had Adam Ostrow of Mashable and PR “guru” Kevin Dugan on to discuss the topic. Both made some excellent points about the pros and cons of the campaign and whether or not Pepsi should pull it from the Apple App Store. I tend to agree with Adam on this one. Yes, it is tasteless; but, at the end of the day, it is designed to appeal to young boys and that’s what young boys like. Yes the “brag about it” part was a little over the top and was probably not necessary. Yes, it was bound to piss people off — and get a lot of publicity in the process — and there is no doubt that this was a calculated strategy. But should Pepsi have pulled the app? Ultimately, I say yes but ONLY because AMP is owned by Pepsi and the Pepsi brand needs to stay squeaky-clean. If AMP was its own company, I would have said there would be a strong case for keeping it, political correctness be damned. It might get some people’s panties in a bunch, but not AMP’s target audience. In a way, the controversy is good for the brand if the goal is to appeal to pseudo bad-boys. And, as Adam pointed out, a “sister” app. that poked fun at guys would have been another legitimate way to mitigate the “outrage.” I also suspect that the reason Pepsi didn’t pull the app right away is because they wanted to get the Twitter publicity first. By “admitting” they screwed up, they had already set the stage to later make it right. I also suspect that if the “it’s a joke — lighten up” crowd dramatically overwhelmed the “oh my heck, I’m so appalled” crowd they would have kept it up. Pepsi took a risk. I think it paid off. They also provided another great case study for savvy social media marketing.

Want to Get REALLY Good at Corporate Blogging? Blog for Fun

to_blog_or_not_to_blogThere are all sorts of reasons to start a company blog. A company blog can help build your brand, establish corporate personality, provide a path for direct dialog with customers, help with search engine optimization (SEO) and a host of other cool things. Great content is, arguably, the most important component of a corporate blog — or any blog for that matter — but there’s a lot more to it than just content. Ensuring the blog has a professional look and feel is also key. If it is more inviting and easy to read, people are more likely to linger. And if the blog looks slick and professional, that says a lot about the company (even if readers only notice subconsciously). If it is messy, that says something too. Beyond that, there are a lot of other things that make a good blog great. These include:
  • Usability
  • Use of graphics, images and dynamic content
  • Intuitive archiving and navigation
  • Use of additional pages
  • Effective use of SEO
All this stuff requires extra time and effort, but the pay off is huge. My view is, if you are going to take the time to do it, taking the extra time and effort to do it well only makes sense. I’ve found that one of the best ways to REALLY get good at blogging is to blog about something about which you are passionate. If you are passionate about your corporate blog, consider yourself lucky. My guess is that, for most, even if they enjoy working on their company’s blog, it still feels like work on some level.
Blogging about something you love makes you a better all-around blogger

Blogging about something you love makes you a better all-around blogger

Earlier this year, I started a blog about cycling. My original intent was to use the blog to help keep my riding buddies informed about rides we had planned, share tidbits of info with some of the newer riders in the group and document our training. After only a few weeks, I noticed this blog was getting a LOT of traffic. So much so that I quickly decided to start writing it for a broader audience. Within a few months, my hobby blog had more posts — not to mention more traffic — than my corporate blog, which had been around three times as long. Then, one day, I compared the two side-by-side. I realized that my fun blog, which I did entirely on my own, looked every bit as professional as my corporate blog (which I paid a Web designer to create, customize and get running). Only then did it occur to me how much time and effort I had put in to my bike blog and how much I had learned. Unfortunately, I also realized how much I had neglected my corporate blog. Regardless, the extra experience I gained from my hobby blog has proven invaluable to me. Ultimately, it has had a positive impact on all the various blogs with which I’m involved. If you are building a team to work on your corporate blog, I highly recommend you encourage them to blog on their own as well. A strong case can even be made for allowing them to do a bit of personal blogging on company time every now and again. And if you’ve been given responsibility for spearheading your company’s blog and will be doing most of the heavy lifting yourself, I would, likewise, encourage you to start a blog on the side just for fun. Pick something you are passionate about and I promise you’ll have a great time with it. Even better, if you end up creating something great and you build a big enough following, you might even find ways to monetize it. Just don’t forget about your work blog.

The Power of Positive Language — Yes We Can

A positive writing style can pay big dividends

A positive writing style can pay big dividends

One of the most satisfying aspects of being a writer is having the opportunity to choose from an endless number of ways to express a single thought or idea. And, while there are lots of different ways to say something with the same literal meaning, how you say it is just as important as what you say. To a large extent, the specific words we choose to express our ideas are what makes the difference between a lousy writer and a great writer. Those choices also reveal a lot about a writer as a person. For the past year, I’ve put a lot of study into the difference between positive and negative language. Negative language is easy to spot. When you start encountering words like can’t, won’t, doesn’t, shouldn’t, couldn’t and wouldn’t chances are that you’ve taken a turn into negative town – and that’s just a sampling of words from the apostrophized list. There are plenty of others including unfortunately, concerned, disappointed, regrettably and a host of others you can choose from. Oddly enough, negative words are used to express all sorts of ideas ranging from negative to neutral or even positive. For example:
  • He’s not a bad guy
  • This wine doesn’t suck
  • It is not uncommon for that club to have live music
  • I don’t see why not
  • I can’t think of a reason we shouldn’t
  • I couldn’t agree more
  • People don’t buy products or services — people buy from people
Even though the above phrases are most often used in a positive way, they still evoke some degree of negativity. And little bits of negativity can quickly add up. Fortunately, for every negative way to say something there is a positive alternative. The alternative might be obvious or it might take a little thought. Here’s how the phrases above can be restated in a positive way:
  • He’s a great guy
  • This wine is fantastic
  • That club often has live music
  • Sure
  • We should
  • I totally agree – preach on brother!
  • Customer relationships are vital because people buy from people
Technically both sets of phrases say the exact same thing. However, the positive versions  somehow seem a little more pleasant and make the author seem more likable. If the objective of the piece you are writing is to position yourself, your company or your product in a positive light, being cognizant of these subtleties can yield powerful results. If you subscribe to the theory that people make buying decisions based on people, you’ll immediately understand why. As I said earlier, writing can offer some insight into the way an author thinks. I believe that generally positive people tend to write and speak in a positive tone and negative people can’t help but to write in a more negative tone. Given the choice, what type of person would you rather work with? This concept can be extended into positioning and messaging. Negative positioning employs fear tactics. It tries to explain what a company is by explaining what it is not. It focuses on problems rather than solutions. Positive positioning focuses on benefits and possibility. It inspires.

Yes We Can Vs. There’s No Reason We Can’t

Some of President Obama’s best campaign speeches took full advantage of positive positioning. The most effective of all was one of the simplest, “Yes we can.” This kind of message struck a chord with a lot of people. It is evident, President Obama’s speechwriters understand the importance of positive language. Ironically, when he’s not in campaign mode, I’ve noticed that Obama frequently “yes we can” by saying “there’s no reason we can’t.” For example: “If Brazil can do it, there’s no reason we can’t do it.” “There is no reason we can’t do this. We are a people of boundless industry and ingenuity.” “We need a smart transportation system … There’s no reason we can’t do this.” “It won’t be easy, but there’s no reason we can’t make this century another American century.” “There’s no reason we can’t create entirely new sectors of the economy.” “There’s no reason we can’t move just as quickly to pass a rescue plan for our middle-class.” The “Yes We Can” speech is almost entirely positive and does an amazing job of positioning Obama as unique and inspirational. Some of his more recent speeches have a lot more negative language and make him seem like just another politician which, of course, he is. The contrast is dramatic and does a lot to illustrate my point. The reality is that using positive language all of the time is not possible. There are also times where using negative language is the best way to express an idea or emotion. It can help you be sarcastic or edgy. Going 100% positive would probably make you come off as an insufferable dork. However, as a rule of thumb, unless there is a compelling reason to use negative language, my thinking is that positive language is the better choice. Once you become aware of the concept of positive vs. negative language, you might be surprised at how often you use negative language in all types of writing and in your every day speech. If you then purposely write in a positive tone you might be surprised at how much more effective your writing can be. Give it a shot. This speech is mostly positive and it is obvious why it was so inspirational   This speech uses much more negative language. Politics as usual a.k.a “more of the same”

The Social Media Revolution — Literally

This picture might be worth two thousand words

This picture might be worth two thousand words

I’d like to think that now we are finally done with the social media naysayers who can’t seem to understand its value. Expel the correspondents











Portland Public Relations Stunt Without Clothes or Clear Messaging

publid relations, Portland WNBR

5,000 naked riders in Portland provide a great vehichle for public relations

This weekend, thousands of naked cyclists treated Portland to one of the most awesome parades the town has ever seen. It was glorious. Riders of all ages, shapes and sizes pedaled enthusiastically through the city wearing little more than ear-to-ear grins. Their joy was infectious. It was a spectacular night to be alive. It became abundantly clear that nude group cycling is fantastically therapeutic – strong medicine for mind body and soul. Even as a spectator sport, it has a lot of value. Screw the Rose Parade – THIS event captures the true spirit of Portland.
Bikes and riders of all shapes and sizes

Bikes and riders of all shapes and sizes

Better still, this event was about more than drinking beer, riding bikes and letting the night air sweetly caress everyone’s naughty bits. This event was part of the World Naked Bike Ride. These riders were not just revelers; they were activists spreading an important message.  And that message – according to the WNBR’s Wiki – has something to do with dependence on cars and oil, body image and self-awareness, community building, peace-of-mind, self-sufficiency, thinking globally and acting locally, less being more, bike safety, saving the planet, reducing vehicle emissions and fueling a revolution. OK, perhaps it wasn’t so clear what the message was, but I’m sure it was important. After reading through the blog post and seeing what the riders themselves had to say about the ride, one of the few criticisms raised (aside from  a smattering of rude behavior from onlookers and motorists) was the fact that the purpose of the ride wasn’t as effectively communicated to the general public as it could have been. In other words, one of the best public relations stunts in Portland’s history was a tremendous success except for the publicity aspect.  Fortunately, this is easily fixed.
Drunk naked guy or catalyst for change?

Bicycling activist or drunk naked dude?

The NWBR creators deserve serious kudos for starting a movement that has obviously struck a chord with people around the globe. However, from a pure communications perspective, the Website falls short. It is out of date, incomplete and difficult to navigate. Most of all, it lacks clear, concise and coherent messaging explaining what the WNBR is all about and what the rides are trying to accomplish. The key messages are found on the organization’s Wiki. Alas, they are far from clear, concise and coherent. They are all over the place. They cover every conceivable angle. They don’t tell a story. This is what I like to call “message anarchy.” In this particular case, the most likely culprit is the nature of the Wiki itself – something that invites anyone and everyone to contribute. Big groups are great for brainstorming, but when it comes to messaging, too many cooks will always spoil the soup. At the end of the day, someone has to prioritize themes and do some serious editing and wordsmithing to come up with something meaningful and usable. This is important.
Miles and miles of ear-to-ear smiles

Miles and miles of ear-to-ear smiles

All successful communications campaigns require tight and compelling messaging. With a big grassroots campaign, it becomes even more critical. Key messages need to be something that participants can easily understand, remember and repeat in a clear and consistent way. Effective messaging empowers every member of the group to become an ambassador and spokesperson. And that is the key to spreading the message far and wide. If you look at the (minimal) regional news coverage from rides around the globe, you’ll see that some reporters saw the event as an attempt to increase awareness and safety and others saw it as an environmental initiative. Others saw it as little more than a party (or a nuisance).  This is message anarchy at work.

Portland Public Relations Efforts Can Help Spread the Word Locally and Globally

  This weekend, the Portland cycling community provided yet another example of why this small, rainy town deserves the title of Best Bicycle City in America. New York’s WNBR ride boasted 40 riders who were prevented from getting completely naked by the police. New Orleans reported dozens of riders. Chicago and San Francisco drew slightly larger crowds. Portland, on the other hand, had more than 5,000 participants. The police were there in force – not to arrest people for being naked, but to help with traffic and protect the riders. Portland riders EARNED the right to take a leadership role in this movement. And Portland has the numbers, the passion and the talent to help take the WNBR to the next level locally, nationally or globally. So, for those riders who wished that the event could have raised a little more awareness for the cause, I’ve provided a few thoughts on things you might want to focus on next year. Obviously, these same tips can be adapted for virtually any similar type of grassroots effort. 1)      End message anarchy – prioritize what it is that YOUR ride wants to accomplish. Be specific and concise with your messages. For example: WNBR Portland is part of a global initiative to remind motorists, politicians and the community at large that:
  • There are more bicycles on the road than ever before
  • Cyclists (clothed or otherwise) are vulnerable to motorists. Drivers need to be constantly aware of their presence and share the road
  • Cycling is an elegant form of sustainable transportation and a great alternative to automobiles
  • Cycling is good for mind, body and soul
  • Bikes bring joy to a community and are a fundamental part of what makes Portland special
2)      Communicate the message to participants and ask them to spread the word 3)      Proactively contact the media. The first step in getting positive and accurate media coverage is to provide reporters with the information they need to craft a compelling story.
  • Provide basic who, what, when, where and why information, key messaging and access to articulate spokespeople (a mix of riders and organizers is best)
  • Invite them to cover the event and let them know how best to do so
4)      Engage the community
  • Ask for volunteers to hand out information to spectators
  • Enlist local bars to help with crowd control in front of their establishments
  • Publish the route in advance and encourage people to come out and cheer the riders on
5)      Get Social
  • Proactively reach out to the appropriate blogging community and invite them to cover the event
  • Create ways to maintain rider contact all year long
  • Consider creating an event-specific Website and/or blog
  • Network with other WNBR ride leaders to share information and resources
  • Establish or identify a presence on appropriate social media outlets in advance and encourage riders to participate and add content
    • Facebook page
    • Event-specific Flickr and YouTube groups for posting photos and video
    • Choose a Twitter hashtag that contributors can use
While it is unlikely you’ll see my bare butt on a bicycle any time soon, I’m happy to support the cause.  Organizers or enthusiasts are free to drop me a line any time.

Social Media T Shirt

social_media_md The image pretty much speaks for itself. This is from a T shirt brought to us from the folks at If we can’t laugh at ourselves, at whom can we laugh? Poke around the rest of their Website if you like to look at humorous take-offs on those cheesy corporate motivational posters. I know I do.

The Dangers of Taking Technology to Bed

Is there a reason that the only photos online of people in bed with their computers are nerds who sleep alone?

Is there a reason that the only photos online of people in bed with their computers are nerds who sleep alone?

My old pal, Mark Kellner, wrote an interesting piece in today’s Washington Times about the dangers of taking technology to bed. He cites a study that explores how few home networks are secure and encrypted and what this means for sensitive work-related documents. Mark also wonders about the impact taking technology to bed has on relationships. As you’ll read in the article, it doesn’t pose a problem for yours truly, but it has proven to be disruptive to some. Interestingly, the only photos I could find online of people in bed with their computers were of dorky dudes who clearly sleep alone. Do you take your technology to bed? If so, does it upset your sleeping partner?

The Power of Social Media — From Zero to Hero in 24 Hours

Strangely Compelling

Strangely compelling

If you’re like most people, you can recall a time in your life when you might have wished you had more friends. 24 hours ago I thought about how nice it would be to become a tad more popular and decided to do something about it. Today I have people from all over the globe clamoring to make my acquaintance and I’m struggling to figure out how to stop the madness. Frankly,  I’m not 100% sure I have figured out the best way to put the genie back in the bottle. You see, in my quest to stay current on all things social media, I recently started playing Mafia Wars. Mafia Wars is a very simple — yet surprisingly compelling — game you play with your pals on Facebook and/or MySpace. The goal is to become the wealthiest, most powerful mob boss you can be. And, in the world of organized crime, you need a lot of troops to make this happen. Unfortunately, most of my real-world friends have lives. They have jobs and families. They choose to spend their free time constructively. Far too few were interested in helping me satisfy my virtual bloodlust.
Typical Real-World Friend

Typical real-world friend

So I did what I had to do and visited the Mafia Wars forums where you can actively recruit new Facebook friends to join your mob. Without giving it much thought, I added myself to a list of folks looking for new “associates.” I figured this would be a good way to find a few dozen like-minded psychopaths to help me crack a few safes and break a few knee caps. I was wrong. It wasn’t dozens of people, it was hundreds. I’ve been getting friend requests from people around the globe at a rate of about 1 every 30 seconds. On the one hand, this is kind of cool. My “family” is now a force to be reckoned with. I’ve also become an international sensation. And, most importantly, I do have a lot more younger, hipper and better-looking friends than I did yesterday.
Typical Virtual-World Friend

Typical virtual-world friend

On the other hand, I’m wondering how long it will take for my virtual popularity to subside. I’m beginning to think I’m going to continue getting requests from strangers wanting to join my mob long after my interest in the game ends (I give that another week tops). It also occurred to me last night that my fellow mobsters have the same access to my Facebook information as my real-world friends. This meant I had to pull some personal information off of my profile. When I decide to call it quits, I’m going to need to put the e-mail I use for social media experimentation into the witness protection program for a while until things cool down. I’m also going to have to spend a few hours “unfriending” people so my Facebook account is once again manageable. I suppose that’s all part of the fun. This whole episode is yet another example of just how powerful social media can be for important as well as trivial matters. It also serves as a reminder of the need to use caution and common sense when messing around with applications such as this. Had I used my work e-mail for this adventure, I would have caused myself a ton of unnecessary grief. But, at least for today, I’m going to enjoy my popularity, rally my troops and whack a few rivals. I think I’ll also be able to earn enough money to buy that casino I’ve had my eye on.

Understanding Social Media — Stuff on YouTube That Makes People Feel Happy

Can this woman make YOU happy? Yep.

Can this woman make you feel happy? I'll bet she can.

I like social media. It lets us do some amazing things. One of my favorites is that it provides a simple conduit for people to be able to quickly and easily share little snippets of happiness with others.

Lots of these snippets can be found on YouTube. Two of my favorites come from a show called Britain’s Got Talent. The first one is of a former cellphone salesman named Paul. Paul is just a regular guy who isn’t someone likely to be described as classically handsome. He certainly doesn’t look like a kick-ass opera singer, but he turned out to be just that.  And, if Paul is a one-in-a-million kind of find, then this show must have auditioned at least two million people, because they also found Susan Boyle, an unemployed 48-year-old who has never been kissed. Like Paul, she absolutely killed.

This one seems too simple — its just some hippie passing out free hugs. It is still pretty awesome.

This one is about a young man with Autism who performed some amazing feats on the basketball court. The achievement on its own is enough to make you smile, but it is even cooler to see a group of high school students actually being supportive of a kid with a disability.

And speaking of disabled, my dad, a former airline pilot himself, really liked the interview with “Captain Sully” about the successful landing of his disabled airplane in the Hudson River. Apparently, landing on the water without tragic results is no easy feat. My dad flat out thinks it isn’t something he could have done even after 30 years of flying. It is rare to hear an airline pilot admit that there is anything they can’t do, so this makes me even more impressed by what Captain Sullenberger was able to accomplish.

BTW, from a communications standpoint, this interview shows that there is simply no substitute for competence. “Sully” is not a trained spokesperson, but he comes off better than a lot of corporate CEOs in this interview. He has earned the ability to be confident based on a lifetime of hard work and it shows. Confidence combined with competence is easy to recognize when you see it. I particularly like the part 6 minutes and 44 seconds in, where Katie Couric asks him if he was praying during the ordeal. He responded by saying that he was so intensely focused on the landing that he thought of nothing else. I admire people who look first to themselves for solutions to their problems. Those people make me happy.

I’m adding this video because just thinking about doing this makes me happy. It also makes me pucker.
wingsuit base jumping from Ali on Vimeo.

What stuff on YouTube makes you happy?