30 days of tease: first Yahoo! logo truly hideous. But it’s only up from here, right?

Yahoo! today kicked off a stunt of featuring a new corporate logo each day for the next 30 days, before unveiling its new, for-real-this-time logo.

This morning Yahoo! is basking in free publicity. But is this really such a great idea?

The whole idea of a different logo each day is so… Google. The number one search engine is known for its Google doodles–whimsical takes on its logo in keeping with whatever occasion it happens to be. Copying your biggest rival isn’t the best way to showcase your innovative spirit, Yahoo!

And 30 days is a long time to tease. Especially in the Internet world. After all that build-up, the real-deal logo better be fantastic, or Yahoo! is setting itself up for an anti-climatic backlash. So they better make sure that none of the 30 tease logos surpass the final logo in awesomeness. Luckily, they are off to a good start with today’s clunker, a truly annoying graphic horror show:


Fake headlines and other viral tricks to avoid

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The stupendously popular viral video with an irresistible product message is the marketeer’s Holy Grail. But how can you give your product a story that attracts legions of fans?

Lots of so-called experts claim to know how to make videos go viral. But from what I’ve seen, most of them are hawking a combination of the obvious and some flat-out bad advice.

Wharton School marketing prof Jonah Berger has received attention far and wide as the author of the New York Times bestseller Contagious: Why Things Catch On. It’s a catchy title—one of his so-called secrets is to use catchy titles. That in itself is no big revelation. But what exactly is “catchy”? There’s no simple answer. Provocative? Curiosity-inspiring? Against the grain? Yes, yes and yes.

But what about using fake headlines to seduce viewers into clicking only to take them to something quite different (and therefore thoroughly disappointing)? Though a staple of many successful You-Tube spoof videos, this approach nearly always backfires for the product promoter. You’re not looking for more haters for your brand, are you?

That doesn’t stop Berger from using this tired trick himself. An article he penned for Tech Crunch titled “The Secret Science Behind Big Data and Word of Mouth” features absolutely zero “big data.” The headline draws you in; the article disappoints.

Kiri Blakely admitted in her 2011 Forbes post Why Does something Go Viral? that randomness is often the only explanation why one blog posts gets hundreds of thousands of hits and another goes virtually unnoticed. As an experiment, Blakely loaded 20 of her posts on a variety of topics onto the site StumbleUpon. One of the posts received more than 100,000 hits; most of the others received less than 1,000 and a few none at all. What distinguished the virally popular one?  “If I knew that, I’d make a fortune,” she writes. Still she did offer some tips:

  • Keep it simple. “The Susan Boyle video had a very simple beginning, middle, and end structure that quickly encompassed human dreams everywhere: An unattractive, middle-aged woman waddles onto the stage, gets laughed at, and soon transcends with soul-lifting, heart-swelling triumph. It’s the template for millions of movies, bestsellers, and fondly-remembered wars.”
  • Make it relatable. “People like to read about things that they can relate to or that they’ve had conversations with their friends about.”
  • Make it snarky. “The Internet loves snark. And kittens.”
  • Try various social media venues until you hit the right audience. “Sometimes it takes awhile to find your location: some stories are LinkedIn stories, others do well on Twitter, some on Reddit.”

But also keep in mind that videos that go viral often have received quite a bit of behind-the-scenes help. As Godwin Delali Adadzie writes on tech site GADEL said what?   “Most YouTube videos that you see as a viral success are in fact made by top viral marketing firms. These marketing firms pay people to blog about these videos, send links to top influencers on Twitter and Facebook.”

Finding Meaning in the Twitterverse Without Being a Buzz Killer

During the Presidential campaign this fall, news organizations were eager to discern patterns of meaning from raw (and unfathomable) social media data. We learned that the first Presidential debate generated 10.3 million Tweets to become the “most tweeted event in political history” (as if the only portion of political history that matters is that since the launch of Twitter way back in 2006).  The news organizations breathlessly reported the moments during the debates that generated the most tweets.  And they tracked the most popular Twitter hash tags being used–”Big Bird” and “malarkey” were two that jumped out of the first presidential and the vice presidential debates, respectively. All that was interesting but told us very little about what people were actually thinking or feeling about a topic or candidate. The sheer number of tweets made it impossible to provide any useful quantitative discernment on attitudes reflected by the tweets. 

For example, we can track how many hundred thousand people tweet per minute when the subject of “gun control” comes up in a debate, or the number of times #guncontrol is mentioned, but if we can’t separate the number of tweets for and against the idea of controlling guns, how useful is this? Sure, we can look at a sample of tweets, judge them as pros and cons, and extrapolate to the larger population–but that seems so Twentieth Century. Can’t we automate that?

One way is to ask a yes/no or multiple choice question and ask followers to respond using different hashtags. Be careful to make it absolutely clear what you’re asking (e.g., does “no” mean “no to guns” or “no to gun control”?); if you confuse even 10% of respondents, your data could be grossly misleading. Still, not everyone tweeting cares to respond to a contrived question. Much better is to find ways to sort through naturally occurring Twitter traffic.

This is where Twitter will surely evolve to meet our incessant need to count and track–creating a simple, instantaneous mechanism for tweeters to use to express pro and con opinions, whatever the topic. Something more meaningful than a “like this” option but equally easy to click. With a little evolution, Twitter will provide instantaneous snapshots of mass public opinion.

Of course, getting answers to a complicated issue is seldom a matter of picking between two clear choices. Twitter totals aren’t ever going to reveal nuance. We’ll continue to need to dig deeper (through some manner of focus group probing) to delve into gray areas and to answer why? and how? questions.

An even more basic limitation is that much of social media conversation is said in fun and jest, not to be taken seriously or counted. And being at the center of a fun and frivolous conversation is pretty much what buzz is all about. We can measure the amount of buzz being created around a topic or brand quite easily, but asking for more detailed information can be a Twitter buzz-killer.

about dissertation – Jon Harmon 

Limitations of the Twitterverse–what’s needed is what will surely come

Most consumer companies have by now embraced social media as an important, if mysterious, part of their integrated communications aimed at building awareness and opening the door for positive consideration. But is it working?

Social media is all about conversations, not about shouting at the marketplace like traditional advertising. We want to prompt interest and to participate gently in conversations involving our products and brands.  So when we are looking to gauge the relative effectiveness of a social media campaign, it shouldn’t be just about counting followers and the number of times we tweeted a message. It should be about counting engaged followers and in listening to what they have to say about us and to us. This will require both a change in how we use social media and an evolution in social media itself.

First, the listening part: Clearly we need to devote the resources to read and quickly respond to tweets and messages directed to us through our social media accounts. And we should, of course, be paying attention to key words that indicate conversations involving our brand or company or idea. (Listen always; join in a conversation as appropriate.)  But we also can glean a lot about the changing external environment shaping the resonance of our brand or proposition by listening for cultural trends. See Sam Ford’s informative post in Fast Times:  ”5 Ways of Listening to Culture That Will Change Your Business.”

Second, the counting part: To make sense of the raw data, we want to count not the number of our followers but the number who actually saw and read our post. This is exactly analogous to mass media–raw circulation numbers don’t provide an accurate number of those who actually read the story about our company or product.

We shouldn’t delude ourselves with inflated follower totals. A service called Fake Follower Check attempts to quantify bot-generated fake followers, as well as real but inactive followers. “It’s not perfect, though — it only takes a sample of your followers and it relies on educated guesses about their status,” says Jeff Sonderman at Poynter. (Using this service, I’ve ascertained that 84% of Force for Good’s Twitter followers are “good,” 10 percent are “inactive” and 6% are “fake.” I suppose that’s relatively reassuring, but what else does it tell me?)

What we really want to get at is the number of engaged followers. Twitter’s advertisers have access to an analytics service that tracks the number of clicks, mentions and retweets generated by each tweet and for key words (like your brand name). These numbers provide more meaningful insight into the level of external engagement around your brand, company or idea. But it still doesn’t provide much insight into what those people are actually thinking and feeling. Anything generating real conversation is likely to have haters as well as likers (and perhaps some lovers). If all you  care about it creating awareness (what I call “the Mae West School of PR“), then counting haters the same as supporters is just fine. But in most cases, understanding some dimension of favorability is important.

Most social media, including Facebook and LinkedIn, count the number of people who “like” a certain post or topic. It’s a start, but not really very useful. Can’t we do better?

NEXT POST: Beyond “Likes”: How social media will surely evolve to become more useful in revealing mass audience attitudes.

click here - Jon Harmon

Transparency at work: Zuckerberg opens up; Facebook rebounds (a bit)

Back on June 1, I argued here that Facebook‘s CEO Mark Zuckerberg needed to lead an effort toward greater transparency in conducting the newly public business of the social network behemoth. Two weeks after its epically hyped IPO, Facebook had plunged 28% from its opening price of $38 to reach a new low of $27.50.

I had no pretensions of Zuckerberg noticing my advice, let alone heeding it, even though there were plenty of other voices calling for more business transparency from Facebook. And indeed, the famously maverick young founder of the company continued to keep a fairly low profile. Facebook continued to be vague in detailing its plans to monetize its enormous base of “friends” and failed to provide guidance on future revenue projections. When he did speak, Zuckerberg reminded us that Facebook’s mission was never to simply make money but to “give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.”

Having a well-articulated, noble and inspiring mission is critical for encouraging an active and participative employee culture geared to execute corporate strategies. Shareholders can likewise be inspired by the vision. But they also want some guidance to help them figure out if their invested dollars are wisely held in the company, or should be put somewhere else.

(And BTW, employees also want to be reassured that the business has a sustainable trajectory of profitable growth. In short, every stakeholder wants to invest in, work for, do business with…winning companies. “Winning” encompasses all aspects of reputation including social responsibility as well
as, yes, profitable growth.)

Throughout the summer, Facebook stock continued its downward trend, dropping below $18, less than half of its initial price four months earlier. That will get your attention, no matter how maverick you are.

Finally, this week at a tech conference in San Francisco, Zuckerberg let it be know that the company’s profit performance was indeed important to management. As John Shinal wrote for MarketWatch:

Now that Zuckerberg has seen the damage that the stock drop has done to the image of his company — not to mention to the morale of employees with restricted stock grants — he’s on board with the whole profit thing.

Today, Facebook closed at $22 — up a cool 25% from its low 10 days ago. There’s still a long ways to go before Day One investors recoup their investment. But it’s a good start.

So, yes, transparency is critical for all stakeholders, including (especially) employees. And that includes detailing efforts being made to ensure sustainable, profitable growth.

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Is brand what we want it to be, or what others say it is?

I posted my thoughts on the meaning of "reputation" and "brand" on the Corporate Communications and Reputation group at LinkedIn, which sparked an interesting flow of ideas and perspective:

Nick Taylor • Reputation is made up of three dimensions, and is, essentially, the “intellectual capital of an organisation (i.e., not the book value). The first dimension is identity – what we present ourselves as. This is typically what a brand is about (logos, values, positioning). The second dimension is image, which is almost the reverse, the opposite. It is what stakeholders see and feel from their perspective. The third dimension is personality. This is the reality of the brand seen through actions, not words, and is a real contributor to brand perception and overall reputation. So brand is an element of intellectual capital.

Jerry Thompson • Brand is the promise of value defined and offered to an organization's stakeholders. Reputation is awareness and understanding – by those stakeholders – of how well that promise is being kept, based on actions taken by the organization each and every day.

Martin Liptrot • I agree with Jerry. The brand is the promise; reputation is how well you are perceived to be living up to it. The other key difference is about ownership – while brand is tightly governed and controlled from the centre out, in the corporate voice, consistent iconography, etc. – reputation is subjective and truly in the eye of the beholder. It is possible to have a great reputation with consumers and analysts but a rotten one with community and employees, for example. That is the bit that senior executives sometimes struggle with; it isn’t a linear relationship.

Jon Harmon • Interesting comments, gentlemen.

But I'm not sure I would still assert that brand is what we say it is. More and more, brand is what those "out there" say it is; reputation, of course, always has been determined by "the others."

Today, a myriad of conversations, in social media as well as in "real life," determine the texture and shape of brand. (I'm thinking more of product brand or corporate brand than one's personal "brand," but the principle is the same.) When the branding put out by a company does not square with the branding determined by the social conversation, the dissonance can render the company's efforts ineffectual and wasted or, worse, counter-productive. And when the failed branding becomes the butt of jokes or scorned as intentionally deceptive, the company's reputation takes a hit as well.

Reputation comes before brand. But what does that mean?

Okay, so we all agree that "reputation is a winning company's greatest asset," right? That makes it pretty darn important.

But what exactly do we mean by reputation? And how does it differ from brand?

These are crucial questions – the two words are central to the professions of communications and marketing, yet there seems to be widespread disagreement on what reputation and brand really mean.

I generally love Wikipedia but this isn’t helpful:

Reputation, as distinct from how to write research proposal for phd image, is the process and the effect of transmission of a target image. To be more precise, we call reputation transmission a communication of an evaluation without the specification of the evaluator, if not for a group attribution, and only in the default sense.

Got that?

This is how I would begin:

Reputation is the audience filter that comes before consideration – of purchase, investment, recommendation, or employment. A positive reputation opens the door to consideration; a negative reputation can slam it shut.

Brand is all about identity and connotation, but it has no power to drive action without reputational “permission.”

Advertising pioneer David Ogilvy (who would’ve turned 100 a few months ago), made this simple and brilliant distinction:

“Brand is the promise that an organization makes. Reputation is whether it lives up to that promise”. (Thanks to Mike Hatcliffe’s blog for that.)

Other useful definitions:

“Reputation is (corporate) culture seen from the outside.” – Alan Towers, TowersGroup Inc

Reputation is “how much a community trusts you.” – Stackoverflow

If there is any doubt of reputation’s primacy before brand, consider this pithy command to the marketer by Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Airways and someone who knows a bit about branding:

“Build brands not around products but around reputation.”

And finally, on the notion of “building your own personal brand” as distinct from your reputation:

You build reputation by silently doing, proving and acting on everything you said you were going to do while building your brand. If your brand is … that you know what the hell you’re talking about, your reputation is the proof that you do. – Lisa Barone, Outspoken Media

Secret for brand success in social media: Take a walk in shoes of customers, critics

Complete this thought:

Corporate communicators seeking to use social media to connect with customers and other constituents should concentrate on …

If you ask Peter Hirshberg, CEO of The Re:imagine Group, he'd say "empathy."

Brands are shaped by conversations "out there" and the brand messages a company puts out must be in sync with those conversations or they will have no traction in the market. You probably know that already.

But there's something even more basic to success in social media engagement, Hirshberg says. Our ability to shape conversations depends on our ability to truly empathize with the people inside those conversations.

Hirshberg provided the keynote address last night at the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations' second annual Celebration of Leaders in Chicago. Hirshberg's credentials are most impressive: a nine-year run at Apple, followed by Chairman/CEO roles at Elemental Software, Interpacket Networks, Gloss.com and Technorati (the world's leading aggregator of user-generated content).

Social media provides the on-going narrative to learning empathy, he says. That means more than just listening and responding to what we might see as factual errors. It means putting ourselves in our customers' — or our critics — shoes and seeing the world from their point of view before responding.

A not surprising viewpoint if you consider another aspect of Hirshberg's impressive resume. He is a Henry Crown Fellow of the Aspen Institute — the Henry Crown Fellowship seeks "to develop the next generation of community-spririted leaders by honing their skills in value-centered leadership."

– Jon Harmon

How to put strategic communications into practice to set your business on a winning trajectory

Seventh in my series on strategic communications.

My central point has been that truly strategic communications can be more than just proactive … and more than just closely wired to the corporate strategy. Truly strategic communications can be an ongoing input into the corporate strategy and indispensable to its execution. Corporate strategy aiming to be transformational needs the communication strategy to be a dynamic driver, helping to propel the business to a higher plane.

That’s good in theory. But just how does that work in practice?

Here are two critical connection points between communication strategy and corporate strategy — where communications can drive results so fundamentally that the Corporate Strategy function would be remiss in not actively courting Communications “to the table” as it establishes objectives and strategic plans:

College Essay Issue Of Importance Internal transformation–Becoming an innovation leader. Unless your company is already fully functioning as a living, breathing mecca of innovation, fully engaged in a learning cycle delivering continual transformation for sustainable competitive advantage, it probably needs a steady dose of active culture change. Senior management, informed by forward-thinking Human Resources (no, that doesn’t have to be an oxymoron) and Communications leaders, pushes the organization out of its comfort zone for truly creative innovation. HR must revamp evaluation and compensation processes to reward smart risk-taking, breakthrough thinking and creativity while fostering cooperation and teamwork (we aren’t looking for me-first all-stars, but individuals whose passion, energy and creativity helps makes everyone better). And Communications actively promotes candid, sharp, timely and specific communication throughout the organization. Everyone knows senior management’s vision and strategic priorities, and knows that their ideas are actively sought and valued. Together, HR and Communications aim not just for effective internal communication, but active and productive internal engagement.

see Reputation management go to site –Beyond protecting the brand. Top-performing companies know the value of a strong brand (and not just consumer companies; a vibrant brand drives sales success in a B-to-B environment as well). But reputation management is on an even higher plane of importance than brand management. Companies not considered trustworthy drop off customers’ consideration lists, preempting an opportunity for the brand to gain traction as a sales motivator. Active reputation management makes brand enhancement possible. Marketing and Communications should work actively to help drive reputation and brand valuation upward. But that’s more than just a matter of communicating well to the marketplace (media relations, social media participation, marketing and advertising). The company’s actions must match its words just as its products must measure up to its marketing claims. Communications leaders provide an active voice in strategic and operational meetings as the company’s reputational conscience. (The Chief Communications Officer may be more appropriately renamed the Chief Reputation Officer, as I have suggested here since 2006.) Yes, the company’s reputation is every leader’s responsibility, but the senior Communications leader is its unceasing advocate. (Just as financial accountability and stewardship is every leader’s responsibility but the CFO keeps it his/her singular focus).

These two strategic priorities–developing and maintaining a high-performance culture, and protecting and enhancing corporate reputation among all key stakeholders–are critical to your company’s long-term success, are they not? Can you really achieve excellence without them? So … is strategic communications an active and valued input in your corporate strategy?

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Corporate strategy advanced … but left communications behind

Fifth in a series on strategic communications.

At each stage in the evolution of corporate strategy as a discipline over the past two to three decades–from an emphasis on “positioning” to “process” and now to “people”–its dependence on equally strategic communication has become more essential.

But strategic communications as a discipline has not kept pace. And neither have the bright minds driving the strategy trains inside corporations or the leading consulting firms grasped the rapidly escalating need for communication strategy to mature as an essential input into corporate strategy.

Let’s take a look at the evolution of strategy from the eyes of a corporate communicator:

  • Positioning–As the “father of competitive strategy,” Harvard’s Michael Porter defined strategy as positioning. “Operational effectiveness” shouldn’t be confused with strategy, he said. “Competing to be the best” equates to “running the same race faster.” Strategic positioning is “creating a unique and sustainable competitive advantage,” that is, “choosing to run a different race.” Years ago, Hewlett-Packard pioneered a strategy aimed at market dominance of small printers for personal computers–HP would follow the classic Experience Curve model of a market leader driving down its prices to drive share and volume gains, in turn lowering its costs even further. In fact, HP would sell its printers at a loss in anticipation of building a highly profitable business selling expensive ink cartridges to its printer customers. HP’s strategy wasn’t to maximize its share of “printer units sold” but its “share of pages printed.” HP’s competitors have been forced to follow this strategy, resulting in both a price war for printers and sticker shock for customers needing replacement ink cartridges (leading to this less-than-forthright explanation from HP). This market dynamic creates an opportunity for a daring competitor to seek a counter positioning strategy: Kodak in 2007 began to sell its printers for a premium with the promise of low-cost replacement ink cartridges. Aimed especially at the “big burners” (customers printing lots of pages), the strategy has been only partially successful. Clearly the strategy works only to the degree it is communicated effectively–customers are willingly to pay a premium for a printer only if they are attracted to the appeal of lower ink costs. Advertising, point-of-purchase displays and successful PR (including participation in social media) should all be aimed at communicating the benefit of low cost ink, and, importantly,tapping into the anger of customers outraged by high ink costs. A smart, fully integrated, emotional communications blitz strategically aimed at outraged customers would be much more successful than the staid campaign Kodak has pursued. It’s a mistake to attempt marketplace positioning without a strategy actively positioning within the sphere of customer awareness. Communications should not have been merely a conduit of Kodak’s positioning strategy, it should have been one of its pillars.
  • Process–Total Quality Excellence, Re-engineering, ISO and black belt certification and the like are systematic efforts to wring out further improvements in productivity and product quality.
    Relentlessly reducing costs and shortening cycle times are critical to survival in competitive industries, and what industry today isn’t competitive? But process improvement isn’t enough–except for market leaders selling commodities solely on price who can exploit scale advantages over their competitors. Eliminating waste and shaving costs are important, but they amount to what Porter called “running the same race faster,” and Walter Kiechel calls “Greater Taylorism.” Not very inspiring as strategy or battle cry, and therefore unlikely to prove transformative.
  • People–Today more than ever, competitive advantage is fleeting. Globalization and the ever-quickening pace of technological advancement (e.g., Moore’s Law) allow competitors to leap-frog complacent market leaders. Contemporary corporate strategy focuses on capabilities and competencies, rather than current product advantage. Strategy aims to unleash the creative power of the team. And the team may be defined broadly to include customers, as in the case of open-sourced technology development, such as apps for mobile devices. (The greater availability of free apps for Android will be a critical competitive advantage vs. Apple’s I-phone.) In this paradigm, information is power not when it is protected, but when it is shared broadly. Cloud-computing can make formerly proprietary resources available to anyone in the world, and facilitate the rapid generation of ideas into concepts, concepts into products, products into social fads, and, perhaps, fads into adaptive (and therefore lasting) cultural icons. Sharing information and encouraging individual expression are foreign concepts for most corporate managers–and, therefore, true culture change will become an ever-more important element of strategy. Corporations traditionally have been designed to enforce norms of behavior and productivity through top-down authority. Actively urging people to push beyond the expected requires a shock to the system. “Innovative,” “creative” and “entrepreneurial” aren’t just buzz words; they describe the essence of people-centered enterprises built to continually produce competitive advantage.

Next: Enough with the concepts already! How can strategic communications deliver results NOW?

- Jon Harmon