Lift not yourself but your users

Can we please bury the word “leverage” and all other marketing-speak when talking internet strategy? I’ve heard that word twice in the past 24 hours used by people with something to sell, people who are talking about getting the most out of viral or social networking sites.

What’s wrong with this picture?

The top still thinks it can “manage” its way to success by manipulating the bottom. This is exactly the opposite of what’s required in the business disruption that’s impacting the communications world. Why? Because the bottom is now in charge, and the laws of attraction “work” where laws of promotion don’t. Before you try and “leverage” people (that’s what this is really all about), you ought to ask if they want to be leveraged. They don’t.

Case in point is a nice MediaPost article today called “Productivity: Meet, Greet, Then Market.” J. Walker Smith of Yankelovich Partners is a major player in the marketing world, and the item has a lot of good information. He writes, for example, that social engagement is the next big thing in marketing and adds that it’s not just about the internet.

There’s a new appreciation that people like talking to other people, not to brands. In fact, at Yankelovich we’ve documented how little people want to be marketed to these days.
How true. Yet Mr. Smith writes that that’s just what companies should do.
…the Internet has emerged as a new marketing medium because it is the new medium of social engagement.

…The smartest use of technology is to leverage this dynamic of participation and engagement.

…In this age of consumer resistance, people are avoiding brands while seeking one another. Brands must shift away from the single-minded focus on engaging consumers and instead become adept at enabling people to engage with each other. This will give brands the edge they need in tomorrow’s marketplace of social engagement.

This sounds great, but the line between enabling people to engage with each other and selling to them is very fine. On the web, the two are at enmity, and while I think Mr. Smith is spot-on conceptually, the devil will be in the execution, because the moment the “lever” is recognized, people will flee.

As I tell clients, you must approach people on the web backwards. That means with the utmost respect for their time and loyalty, by providing a valuable service, by supporting what they want to do, by staying fluid and flexible, by being completely transparent about what’s going on, by facilitating their leveraging of us, and by just simply making them feel welcome.

Lift not yourself but your users. Seduction (I want you to want me more than I want you) is the game, not pandering.

Foolish strategy by the networks

NBC and CBS have displayed serious strategic ignorance by pulling clips from the popular user-contributed site youTube.com. First, NBC yanked the “Lazy Sunday” skit from Saturday Night live, and now CBS News (after 1.2 million views) has demanded that youTube pull a feature story about an autistic kid who captivated the crowd at a basketball game.

CBS explained is this way on “Public Eye”:

“It’s uncool for people to take our video without permission,” says Betsy Morgan, senior VP and GM of CBSNews.com. “It’s interesting and encouraging that there’s that much of an audience for our content. But this stuff should come back to the core site — otherwise it’s theft.”
This is bad strategy for the networks, because those youTube eyeballs are youTube eyeballs. To assume they’ll even find such stuff on a network site is seriously silly, and they’re missing a great opportunity to monetize genuinely unbundled content. By insisting that people “come to them,” they are pushing their closed network over the openness that users, especially younger people, associate with the internet. Let me repeat. This is bad strategy, for in today’s Media 2.0 world, it doesn’t matter where your content is played, as long as you attach your marketing or advertising to it. A much better strategy would be to offer youTube an “official” version.

It’s also heavy-handed, despite their plea that this is, after all, illegal (tsk-tsk, you naughty boys). In insisting that others abide by rules that benefit the status quo, the networks are distancing themselves from the very audience they covet. youTube is not the enemy. CBS and NBC (and all who think similarly) are vying for blockbusters in a snowball world. That’s the problem, and if it takes new laws to open the lanes for snowballs, then so be it.

(Thanks to the always excellent Lost Remote)

Public Broadcasting needs a new name

I saw a sign outside one of the meeting rooms at the Integrated Media Association’s conference on public broadcasting in Seattle last week. It read: “Public Broadcasting: Radio, Television, Internet.” We need to step away from that sign for a minute and ask “what’s wrong with this picture?”

What’s wrong is that the internet isn’t a form of broadcasting, and putting it in the same line with “other” broadcast models is suicidal in a Media 2.0 world. If public broadcasters are to be successful downstream, they’re going to have to see themselves as more than “just” broadcasters, and that takes a new way of thinking.

If not, they will become pure content companies, whose material will be used by others in the development of their own business models. This is a point a lot of local commercial media companies miss as well. Content may be “king,” but the number of players looking for content (web, mobile, on-demand, etc.) ought to make us stop and think that perhaps there’s something for us beyond just making content. Given the exploding creation of “content” from many sources, I’m not convinced we can make enough money (or raise enough money) to keep our own business models going unless we explore these new possibilities.

Public broadcasters believe their brand separates them from the masses and will protect them over the long haul. This is a fallacious belief, for broadcasting brands don’t necessarily transfer to the web, unless all you want to do is “broadcast.” That means you’re just a content company. I touched on the public broadcasting brand last year after another conference:

The Achilles’ Heel of Public Broadcasting is actually its core competency — trustworthy, quality programming. Those lofty attributes served it well in a Modernist, top-down world, especially when viewer choices were limited. PBS had the history, arts, documentary and education niches all to itself. Not so anymore, and the cry “but we offer such quality” falls on the deaf ears of a public that views such a claim with the same skepticism it does any other media claim these days. Quality is such a subjective term, especially in today’s marketplace. The inference I gathered from the people with whom I spoke was that quality to PBS — among other things — includes the filtering that only an educated élite can provide. I’m not trying to be unkind, but this is the impression one gets when the word is tossed around like an official mandate, a justification for all kinds of difficulties in a world of disruptive technologies and innovations.
Nearly every niche in nearly every market is open to entrepreneurship in the creation of smart aggregators that will serve the Media 2.0 disruption, and public broadcasters are naturally suited to several, including the arts, history, the environment and education. Whether they’ll be smart enough to jump into this area or not remains to be seen, but the opportunity is there. However, it’s also there for anybody else, including those who would provide distribution for the “content” created by the local public broadcasters.

The only way to properly view radio, television and the internet on the same line of an organizational chart is if there’s an entity above them calling the shots. This is why I recommend broadcasters start viewing themselves as multimedia companies, and even changing their names to help spread the message both internally and externally. The internet is NOT broadcasting, and the more we understand that, the quicker we’ll get on with business models that’ll meet our needs in a Media 2.0 world.

R.I.P. Don Knotts

Let me join my voice with others in mourning the passing of a comic legend, Don Knotts. While he’s best remembered as Barney Fife, his original comedy on The Steve Allen Show was what rocketed him to stardom, and those who’ve never seen his bits have missed some real comic genius. Here’s a graph about the show from The Museum of Television Communications:

And on the new show, Allen’s man in the street interview segments launched the careers of comedians Bill Dana, Pat Harrington, Louis Nye, Tom Poston and Don Knotts. Dana played the timid Hispanic Jose’ Jiminez, and Harrington the suave Italian golfer Guido Panzino.

Characters created by Nye, Poston and Knotts were the best known of the group. Nye portrayed the effete and cosmopolitan Gordon Hathaway whose cry “Hi Ho Steverino” became a trademark of the program. Tom Poston was the sympathetic and innocent guy who would candidly answer any question but who could never remember his name. Probably the best remembered character was the nervous Mr. Morrison portrayed by Don Knotts. Often Morrison’s initials were related to his occupation. On one segment he was introduced as K.B. Morrison whose job in a munitions factory was to place the pins in hand grenades. When asked what the initials stood for, Knotts replied, “Kaa Boom!” Invariably Allen would ask Knotts if he was nervous and always got the quick one word reply, “No!!!” Allen characterized the cast as the “happiest, most relaxed professional family in television.”

I remember these segments vividly and also how our whole family would roar with laughter, especially over Knotts’ character.

I will also fondly remember Don Knotts in The Incredible Mr. Limpett, a silly 1964 film in which Knotts’ character gets his wish to become a fish. It still brings a smile to my face.

Rest in peace, Don Knotts. You are remembered with much love.

Eclectic thoughts from the IMA conference

The W Hotel is a nice place to hang for a few days, but they need to provide a flashlight to guests as they check in. The hotel is dark, from hallways to rooms, and I swear it took me five minutes to find the on/off switch on the little coffee maker the first morning.

One of my favorite people, Diane Mermigas, addressed the crowd on Thursday, and it was a joy. Not only is she smart as all get out, but she has this motherly charm about her and used it throughout her speech (she indeed has four children). You can find a detailed summary of her talk here, but the highlight was a simple thought with which I agree: the liability to your company is greater if you do nothing than if you simply get in there and do something. This was a prevailing theme among several speakers, because there’s a sense that public broadcasters recognize we’re in the midst of significant change, but they’re waiting for somebody, anybody to show them what to do. “Just do it,” was the advice of Rafat Ali on a panel examining various new technology platforms.

My session on unbundled media was attended only by about a dozen people. This didn’t surprise me, because I was up against some pretty heavy sessions, although I was surprised that my presentation was labeled “news/elections” while another session got the “cutting edge” tag. It doesn’t matter; I believe that those who needed to hear my presentation were present. And once again, I was stunned by the number of people who read what I write. I don’t think that’ll ever change. Included among them is Dennis Haarsager, whose Technology 360 blog is on my reading list as well.

Of the sessions I attended, my favorite was a presentation by Andrew Blau, who I’m sorry to say I’d never heard of before this conference. The guy is absolutely brilliant and has his arms around the paradigm shift in communications, and I wish you all could’ve been there. Dennis has a brief summary of Andrew’s talk, which includes the following:

1. Pervasive — media will be part of every kind of experience
2. Noisy — more media, everywhere, all the time means more competition for everyone, everywhere, all the time
3. Inverted — the essential dynamic of how audiences connect with work will be inverted from broadcast to “broadcatch“
4. Fragmented –audiences are fragmenting and organizing in new configurations
5. Financially reorganized — how independent work is funded will change
I was on a panel Friday discussing, of all things, the future of news. (Who knows?) A fellow panelist, Chris Lydon of public radio’s Open Source program, thinks the future will be “all bloggers, all the time,” although he did acknowledge a role (albeit lesser) for mainstream media. He’s a smart fellow and a big supporter of the Global Voices project, which brought about a moment of pride for me. “Their slogan,” he said, “is ‘The world is talking; are you listening?” A few minutes later, I had the chance to interject that this slogan was originated with our own Nashville Is Talking project. It is either purely coincidental that the slogan would appear in two places, or somebody picked it up during Blog Nashville last year. Hmm.

I’ve been terribly sick this entire trip, and I’m sure looking forward to getting home to Allie and my own bed. I like to travel, but this has been a long week, and I’ll close with a thought for Southwest Airlines. You guys need a “time out” chamber for toddlers whose temper tantrums can’t be controlled by their parents. Argh!

Inside online advertising

The PaidContent mixer last night was loud, crowded and a lot of fun. I spent most of my time with Rafat Ali and Staci Kramer of PaidContent.org, Cory Bergman of Lost Remote, and the inimitable Chris Pirillo (of Lockergnome and Tech TV fame).

The best part of the conversation was an exchange between Rafat and Chris about online advertising. Both of these guys are highly successful in terms of online advertising, but they’ve gotten there by paying attention to how they can best serve the advertiser, not on how much money they can make. They resist the formulas of contemporary advertising, and Rafat even once cut a “buy” by two-thirds, because he knew his site wouldn’t be effective for the advertiser over the long haul.

The logic is that the reputation of the publisher has exponentially increasing value as it serves the best interests of the publisher and the advertiser. Both stressed that, as publishers, they have to personally be involved in the ad process in order to maintain this integrity. Chris spoke of the need to work advertising into the blend of podcasts rather than attach disparate ads, and he was doubtful about the long-term viability of platforms that do this.

This is important for Media 1.0 players to understand, because you cannot be successful in the 2.0 world by applying 1.0 systems and methodology. New metrics — such as authority and influence — are being created, and that is what advertisers will buy down-the-road.

That’s Mr. Excitement, Chris Pirillo, on the right. I’m with Rafat Ali on the left.

I’m presenting my Unbundled Media dog-n-pony show this afternoon and am on two panels tomorrow, including “The Future of News.” Hmm. Should be fun.