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Archive for August, 2009

Where there’s smoke…there’s Twitter.

At least that was the case this summer when a Gord Hotchkiss, president of Enquiro, a search marketing firm, began tracking a wildfire burning in the hills outside his hometown, Ketowna, British Columbia.

As Hotchkiss relates in an excellent post for Search Insider, he began watching the blaze from the deck behind his home, armed with binoculars, a laptop and Twitter. Meanwhile, his wife was inside, monitoring news reports on radio and TV.

Suddenly, Hotchkiss found himself in the midst of a spontaneous media experiment. Which channel — radio, TV, or Twitter — would be most effective at quickly conveying fresh updates on the fire’s progress?

I won’t give away his entire post, except to say the more venerable media venues did not fair well in this side, by side, by side comparison.  Instead, Hotchkiss’ experience is a thought-provoking case study regarding ways social media can dramatically change how — and by whom — breaking news gets reported and consumed.


Breaking News Becoming a “Crowded” Field?

As a former newspaper reporter, I’m not sure I can begin to imagine, much less list, all the implications here for professional news journalists. Except to predict one thing:

If (as) this type of of crowd-sourced, online local news reporting really catches on, the media likely to be challenged most by it will be broadcasters, less so than newspapers.

Newspaper reporters have already adjusted to having their stories come out on the back end of the news cycle. They know radio and TV can not only get to the scene, but be broadcasting to their viewers, with much more immediacy.

Thus, newspapers have had to add context and texture to their early reportage on a breaking event, knowing that the basic facts of the event are likely to already be in circulation by the time their coverage hits the streets.

Broadcasters, meanwhile, suddenly have a new, extremely nimble competitor for the immediate and evolving details of breaking news.

As Hotchkiss’ post points out: When a TV talking head is droning the same two-hours-old script, with the same from-the-scene-earlier news footage looping in the background, but meanwhile the event continues to unfold and be reported on social media in near real-time — well, that talking head starts to look and sound a little silly and outmoded.

If, indeed, anyone is still tuned in.

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At risk of being named grand marshal of the annual Ludditeville Labor Day Parade…

Here’s a quick post postmortem to TPC’s recent post regarding social media and its potential clash with concerns over workplace productivity.


Study Looks at Social Media Acceptance, Concerns
A new study by Minneapolis-based Russell Herder and Ethos Business Law seems to show business execs feeling conflicted — in some cases, literally of two minds — over social media’s benefits and potential pitfalls.

The online survey, conducted in July, garnered responses from a random sampling of 438 management, marketing and human resources executives. Findings included:

  • 81 percent described social media as a potential corporate security risk (the study summary does not define “security risk,” but reading between the lines, it seems to be referring to a breach-the-firewall, IT type of risk).
  • Ironically, the same percentage said social media can enhance customer relationships and build brand reputation.
  • 69 percent said social media can be a useful tool for recruiting new employees, and another 64 percent said social media can be an effective customer service resource.
  • 51 percent fear social media could be detrimental to productivity, while nearly as many — 49 percent — expressed concern that social media could damage company reputation.
  • 40 percent of the execs surveyed said their companies block employees from using social media during work time
  • Only one in three of the companies represented by respondents have implemented social media guidelines, and only 10 percent have undertaken social media training for employees.

Study sponsors say the findings argue for adoption of thoughtful social media guidelines (their summary report suggests 10 very broad ones), along with training for employees.


TPC’s Survey: Unscientific, but Interesting

For the record, TPC conducted its own survey tied to our last post on the topic of social media being potentially in conflict with office productivity.

The one-question TPC MicroSurvey asked whether, if witnessed by a supervisor or peer visiting a social media site during work hours, respondents would feel:

  • Pleased for being seen as cutting edge
  • Embarrassed at being “caught”
  • Fearful of being reprimanded or even fired.

In all, eight people clicked through from the post to answer our highly unscientific, uni-question survey. Of those eight, responses divided as follows:

  • Pleased: 4
  • Embarrassed: 3
  • Fearful: 1

Which raises what is probably an unanswerable question:

Cup half full, or half empty?

Is it a sign of growing social media acceptance, with more certain to come, that half of respondents would be glad to be seen viewing social media during work?

Or, is it a sign of a potential “chilling effect” that 50 percent — remember, these are people reading, commenting and taking action on a blog post — say they would be either embarrassed or fearful if seen visiting a social media site during work hours?

We’ll leave that question for you to ponder.

Whether you do so on work time is your call.

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Say you’re at work. You’ve got Facebook, Twitter or even LinkedIn up on your computer monitor. imagesYour boss — or a peer — unexpectedly walks in. Which of the following most closely describes your reaction?

          a.) Pleased that you’ve been noticed staying abreast of the latest in business communications and networking technologies.

          b.) Embarrassed at being caught sneaking a peak at social media sites on work time.twitter_logo_header

          c.) Fearful, or at least concerned, that you’ll be viewed as a slacker or, worse yet, reprimanded or fired.

          d.) Other.

linkedinLet’s not make this a hypothetical. Go ahead and take this one-question Touch Point City MicroSurvey, then come back to finish this post and offer your comment. Or, finish this post and then take the survey. Either way, we’d like to hear what you’re thinking. And we’ll publish the results in a future post.

After all, your answer to the above — tens of millions of people’s answer to the above — will have much to say about where we’re all going with social media as a business and marketing consideration.


The Big But

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and the like are, without question, intriguing and potentially powerful marketing and customer service channels.

But — and here’s the big but — if the business professionals we marketers seek to inform and engage via those channels are hesitant, or even forbidden, to access the content and conversations provided there, we’ve got a problem.

Lacking widespread acceptance as a legitimate tool of business, social media might just become a channel to nowhere. At least it might during the normal business day, when many brand perceptions get shaped and lots of purchasing decisions get made.


Working Away at Social Media

It’s possible this question has already been debated ad nauseam. But TPC got thinking about it because of a study done recently by Nucleus Research, a Boston-based provider of IT research and consulting services.

In late July, Nucleus released “Facebook: Measuring the Cost to Business of Social Notworking.” Get it? Notworking?

Nucleus interviewed 237 “randomly selected office workers” about their Facebook use. Among the findings:

  • 75 percent of those interviewed have a Facebook account
  • 61 percent access Facebook during work hours
  • Those who access Facebook at work do so for an average of 15 minutes daily, with the range as low as one minute and as high as 120 minutes
  • 13 percent claimed to have a business reason for accessing Facebook; 87 percent couldn’t define a clear business reason for doing so
  • One in every 33 created their entire Facebook profile during work hours

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Based on its research, Nucleus came to this conclusion:

Companies that let employees access Facebook during
work hours can expect to see total office productivity decline by an average of 1.5 percent.

Rebecca Wetterman, Nucleus’ vice president of research, framed the survey findings in this stark context:

“If your company is facing tight margins and low profitability, as many are now, then how can you accept any work distractions that drain your overall productivity? While it won’t make you popular, restricting Facebook can reclaim lost productivity. If your profitability is say two percent, this could be the difference between staying open or closing shop.”


Does Your Content Empower Your Audience to Justify Your Social Media?
TPC isn’t privy to how Nucleus defines “total office productivity.” And we recognize that for some types of businesses (e.g., marketing and PR agencies), and some job categories (e.g., marketing, PR, corporate communications, investor relations), it’s more acceptable, even expected, for employees to spend time focused on social media sites during work hours.

But what about purchasing managers? Design engineers? Other product and service specifiers and influencers? If they’re shamed at the thought of engaging with social media, or outright barred from doing so, social media suddenly becomes a lot less social.

You wonder if there’s a day of reckoning coming. A day when our customers and prospective customers are going to have to explain to superiors — and to IT gatekeepers — the legitimate business reasons why they need to access and interact with social media during work hours.

If so, it’s going to be incumbent upon marketers to not just be “on” or “doing” social media, but to ensure the conversations and content that define our social media offerings are truly relevant and value-adding. In other words, that the social media you strategize and publish is actually doing something for your audience.

Otherwise, decision-makers critical to your brand and business success might be lacking the evidence they need to argue the case for accessing your social media during office hours.

As you ponder that notion, be advised that Nucleus has launched a second study to examine the impact of work-hours Twitter use on productivity, the findings of which might pose this philosophical question:

If a marketer tweets in the marketplace, but there’s no one online to hear it, does it still make an impact?

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What do you think? Are social media and productivity headed for a High Noon-style showdown? Has your organization instituted policies that restrict social media use during work hours? If you were the CEO or CIO, what would be your stance on social media use by employees during the workday?

Lots of angles and implications here. Comments and discussion welcome. And don’t forget to take our one-question TCP MicroSurvey.

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We often hear publishing’s print vs. online evolution framed as a winner-take-all death match. A zero-sum game, with Web-based publishing models certain to wind up with all the chips.

From your Man Bites Dog Marketing News Team, here’s one of today’s top stories:

The Internet is growing as a source of print magazine subscriptions.

That’s right. Apparently lots of people are not only finding their way to print media, they’re actually opting to pay for that printed content, via the Web.

According to a study by the Magazine Publishers of America, subscription sales generated through the Web are expected to account for 22 percent of all new subscriptions sold this year. That number has climbed steadily since the MPA began tracking in 2006, when the Internet accounted for 13 percent of total new (vs. renewal) subscription sales.

MPA president and CEO Nina Link said, “The web is becoming the number one source for direct-to-publisher subscriptions for member magazines.” The MPA study also found that magazine-branded sites are the leading source of Internet-originated subscriptions, accounting for 45 percent of all subscription sales.

In other words, the online counterparts to print magazines are playing a dominant role in keeping readers engaged with, and paying for, print.

Those confidently predicting the imminent demise of print might be interested to learn that the Web, itself, is increasingly responsible for pumping revenue lifeblood into print publishing.


Integrated Content Delivery

What does this mean to content marketers and traditional trade and consumer publishers?

At risk of reading too much into a single set of stats, these new MPA numbers seem to suggest that print vs. online is more complex than a zero-sum game. While many publishers and advertisers are questioning the future of print, it appears audiences themselves aren’t necessarily losing their appetite for printed content.

Further evidence: Readex, one of the nation’s leading reader research firms, has conducted more than 750 magazine reader studies since 1999. Over that decade, their studies have shown scarcely an iota of slippage in the popularity and value that consumer and trade audiences attach to magazines.

Granted, the future of magazines — and print publishing in general — remains an open and fluid question. One new set of data points does not crystal-ball clarity create.

Still, it’s the fearless prediction here that the successful publishers (and content marketers) going forward won’t simply be the ones with the strongest, stand-alone Web presences.

Instead, the fully effective and engaging content offerings will be those serving relevant, differentiated information, interactions and experiences from a four-legged “table”: 

  • An outstanding print publication
  • A dynamic Web complement to the print
  • Events (in-person, online or both)
  • Otherengagement channels (likely, some smart combination of social media followings and online conversations and communities)

If you’re a traditional publishing company, you might want to think twice before discontinuing that flagship print publication. Redesign it, maybe. Rethink it, probably. Look for breakthrough ways for print to complement online, and vice versa. Definitely.

But outright cancel it? You might be unliterally disarming, only to discover competitors now have a clear advantage, offering the audience something they still want and value.

For custom publishers, give due consideration to print in your delivery equation going forward, even if you do so in a reduced or less traditional fashion. Quarterly instead of monthly. Bi-annual instead of quarterly. Even an annual, “best of” print vehicle might end up being the content tool that clearly differentiates your brand from the others when it comes to adding value for your target audience.

Print vs. online?

Chances are, if you were to ask your audience, they’d say: “I’ll take some of each, please.”

As we balance economics and audience engagement, the challenge — and opportunity — is to find that optimal blend and symbiosis.

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Comments Welcome: What’s your perspective on print vs. online delivery of content? Is your organization rethinking print, or abandoning it? Or maybe you’re investing more in print, as a counter to prevailing trends? Still reading your favorite magazine, but it’s now via Kindle? Would welcome your comments and predictions.

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