Social branding today: Too early or too late?

February 28, 2012

I was recently interviewed for an article about social branding on a blog site focused on public relations.  I thought I would share my full answers with my blog followers as well.  Enjoy!

Q: Does social branding have an age? For example, is it ever too late or too early to start?

A: Setting aside the issue of when is an appropriate age to begin using various forms of social media (which parents should set for their
children), I do not believe it is ever too early or too late to start social branding.  In fact, as soon as you begin using social media you
should be conscientious of how your actions on those sites and others you communicate with contribute to your overall digital identity.

The next step, of course, is to actively manage your social identity and to begin to shape your social brand.  I would argue that to some
extent children become familiar with social branding of their virtual selves as soon as they begin using social games.  For example, young
children on Club Penguin develop a branded penguin persona, children of all ages on Nintendo Wii and other games develop virtual avatars,
and so forth and so on. This study suggests that children as young as 11 start building their personal brand on social sites.
Whatever age you are, if you are actively using social media sites then you should start developing your social brand.  Of course,
developing a specific niche or areas of interest, even at a young age, work best to develop your brand.  I taught students as young as 12 in
my Duke TIP summer studies’ digital media course how to identify an area they’re passionate about and begin to build a social brand around
that topic, through blogging and use of social networking sites.  One teenage student created an online publication to cover teenage issues
in her hometown of Staunton, West Virginia.  Two other students with an interest in sports began to build up their brand presence as
experts in sports.  Regardless of age, building a social brand can help establish your expertise in certain subject matters.

Q: With evolving technology and social media, do you think we will ever brand ourselves correctly?

A: Just as technologies evolve, our personal brands may change as we change and evolve.  When I was in high school, I was a sportswriter
for a local weekly newspaper.  I also worked part time at an Italian ice store.  One basketball coach called me “scoop” because of my print
sports reporting (but the nickname also worked because I scooped Italian ice).  My personal brand revolved around sportswriting and
print news reporting.  I was known in my networks as a sports writer and a journalist.

When I was in college, I was a youth page editor for the daily newspaper’s teen section.  My brand revolved around youth media and
features writing.  After I graduated college, I covered Orange and Chatham counties in North Carolina so I was branded as a local
reporter.

During my graduate studies and time at Georgia, my brand has evolved to that of expert in social & digital media strategy, media
sustainability and journalism innovation.

For individuals, sometimes less is more.  Just because a new social media tool or platform develops doesn’t mean you have to use it.  In
some instances, it may not make sense to do so.  The biggest thing we advise corporate clients is to have an overall social media strategy
that ties to your brand strategy and overall objectives.  The same applies to individuals.  The biggest challenge is to either integrate
the different social media presences to a unified brand presence and/or to use the different social media outlets accordingly.  For example, I’ve chosen to use my Twitter presence for a mix of professional and personal purposes, often tweeting about journalism topics, social media and social media marketing, communicating with friends and students and opining on topics I’m passionate about such as Carolina basketball and food.  Facebook, meanwhile, for me is mostly for personal use.

Q: Any other thoughts about how social media is affecting branding with younger audiences.

A: Social media knows no boundaries or age limits for the potential to breakout among the masses.  Young people have become overnight
sensations (ala Rebecca Black for “Friday”) or bona fide celebrities (Justin Bieber), with the discovery fueled through the use of social media.  The good news for young people is that they can get a message out, brand themselves as experts in a particular topic they’re passionate about or convey their talents to the masses.  And they can do that now, at 12, or 13, or 14.  Or whatever age. They don’t have to wait to develop a social brand for themselves.  The downside, and the danger, is that one mistake or social media misstep can irreparably harm their social brand. Think of the “Star Wars” kid that became a viral video sensation.  The “leave Britney alone” YouTube guy. The teenage girl whose father put 9 bullets in her computer for a Facebook  post complaining about his parenting.

For younger audiences who are digital natives (born 1985 or later), I would argue that they have grown up with and are familiar with social media platforms on a personal level.  That is to say they know how to use social media to communicate with friends and for fun in their personal lives.  But most young people I’ve encountered have not thought about the larger issues associated with social and digital media.  They are not fully social media or digital media literate in the sense of an awareness of the processes and effects of those technologies-the business purposes of social media, how politicians, governments, celebrities, even law enforcement are using social media platforms and the larger issues social media raise in a socially connected society.

 

“Learning and leaving footprints:” on Rascals & Pals

January 15, 2012

In every class I have taught since coming to grad school, I have paid tribute on the first day to the UNC journalism professors who inspired me to want to teach journalism.

Jim Shumaker.

Chuck Stone.

Raleigh Mann.

Now, to this list of lions I will add the name of a truly legendary University of Georgia journalism professor.  This man not only reaffirmed my commitment to the calling to teach, but served as a model for what I should strive to become both in and out of the classroom.

Conrad Fink.

Fink, the former foreign correspondent and newspaper executive turned J-school icon, died Saturday after a courageous 20-year battle with prostate cancer.

As I and the rest of the Grady College family mourn the loss of Professor Fink, I am proud to count myself among the legions of Finkites or Finksters whose career was touched by a man whose stature and reputation (like his signature bushy eyebrows) seemed larger than life.

Fink was a mentor, a colleague and a friend.  Fink was and in many ways still is the heart and soul of Grady College.

One of the last occassions I saw Professor Fink,  in his office about a month ago, he was reflective of his life’s work.  He said that he felt fortunate to have had not one, but two, long, successful meaningful careers.  

Fink was the consummate journalist.  I’ve never met a man or woman who loved or cared for the newspaper industry and journalism profession as much or as deeply as Fink did.

 But teaching was Fink’s true calling and where he left his greatest mark.

Look at what Fink wrote in his teaching statement, included in the application material for one of the University system’s highest teaching honors:

For although as a journalist I touched thousands–millions, perhaps, on big stories I covered–my touch was fleeting, the impressions I left soon were washed over by bigger stories that always came rolling along.

In teaching, I found, my touch could be formative, truly meaningful, truly lasting. And isn’t that–learning and leaving footprints–what a creative, rewarding life should be all about?

Fink definitely lived a creative, rewarding life and left behind meaningful footprints. Fink’s impact has been seen by the “rascals” and “pals” he left behind.  There have been many blog posts, newspaper articles, columns, tweets and Facebook rememberances written and shared by Fink’s students, colleagues and friends.

Fink’s reach was far.  Fink affectionately called his students “rascals.”  In this oral history project interview (around the 31:17-33 minute mark on the audio file available by clicking “listen to the full interview” link above the embedded video– I’d recommend the listen, Fink’s warmth and humor comes across in this clip), Fink tells the students, “I’m on a mission to convert rascals to journalists.”

Mission accomplished, pal.

Micropayments and the gift of laughter

December 23, 2011

If you are a regular reader of my site, you know that I’m an advocate of micropayments, which are defined as online purchases of $5 or less.  Given the $5 pricing point as the threshold for micropayments, that means that comedian Louis C.K.’s recent DRM-free direct-sales video experiment can be classified as a successful micropayment sale.

One of the biggest backlashes/criticisms/questions my colleague Jameson Hayes and I get about our “Modified News Micropayment Model” (MNMM) and our “Modified Media Micropayment Model” (4M) is about cheating.  In other words, what is to stop people from stealing the content that others must pay for?  Our answer is that microearning is designed to prevent that, but we’re pleased to know that even without microearning, Louis C.K. reports that few people have stolen the video.  Louis C.K. was on Leno (in the video embedded below) talking about his successful micropayment experiment and the lack of people stealing the video (starts around the 2 minute mark).

And if you like Louis C.K. and need a last minute gift idea, I’d recommend the $5 video direct from the comedian.

Enjoy, and Happy Holidays! 

http://www.hulu.com/embed/nbd_NTqv5f9NgwRX-SzwVg

Brand Messaging & Digital Transformation

December 22, 2011

I’ve noticed that as I’ve progressed in my career as a scholar, I tend to see research all around me in my everyday life.  My scholarship centers on questions of media sustainability, particulary how legacy media outlets are making digital transformations.  And so the van I saw recently while driving in Raleigh traffic stood out for me as a classic example of illustrating what I’ve been studying and teaching for the last few years.

As companies tied to “old ways” of doing business seek to transform their business for the digital age, the brand remains an integral component to making a successful switch.  Classic marketing and management concepts such as brand positioning and brand messaging are important strategies to employ as change agents.

Now, back to the van and how it fits in.  The yellow van I spotted was for “YP.com” and touted the features of search on its powerful local directory.  The back of the van featured a generic smartphone image and a generic computer image and touted the benefits of these new digital products.

Of course, YP.com is the latest branding for YellowPages, long known for its big, bulky telephone book directories.  The very name YellowPages conjures images of its print origins.  The old logo I recall from my childhood consisted of fingertips flipping through those signature yellow pages.  This is a company and a business model clearly disrupted by the Internet.

And thus, to survive, to remain a sustainable operation, YellowPages has adapted.  The new brand identity, YP.com, conjures an entirely different image.  For starters, the digital identity- the .com, is now in the name.  Secondly, the references to the print identity (pages) is removed from the new branding effort.

And the brand messaging?  All about digital products.  You, the consumer, can access the YP.com local search directory online (cue generic computer) or on your phone (cue generic phone logo) through an app.  Those print pages from the big old phone books?  Nowhere in sight.  The name Yellow Pages?  Not on this van.

This is  a simple example of a case study on brand messaging and digital transformation.  A real world application of a “textbook” approach.  Spotted on a van while stuck in holiday traffic.

Digital disruption in action

October 19, 2011

This cute video making the rounds on the Internet that I’ve posted below is a perfect illustration of disruption in action.  Not only must print industries like newspapers and magazines grapple with digital disruption of their business models that has eroded competitive advantages in creation and distribution of news and information and advertising, but  they must also take into consideration the new customer segments digital technology has created.

As this video shows, digital natives are born with a “digital first” mindset.  They simply do not have the same affinity for print that previous generations may have had.  One of the early mistakes newspaper executives made with the Internet was to try to recreate the print product online, failing to ignore and capitalize on the advantages afforded by an interactive medium.  Almost a decade ago, when he was a Harvard Business professor, Clark Gilbert (he now runs Deseret Media), conducted a multi-case study of 8 different newspapers.  The vast majority of the newspaper’s online content (75-95%) was a recreation of the print product at all but one of the newspapers.

Newspapers have certainly come a long way since Gilbert’s 2002 study.  Now, wireless mobile distribution affords newspapers another opportunity to tackle digital disruption head on. Tablet devices like the iPad and smartphones like the iPhone and Droid devices afford newspapers the opportunity to create new digital products for digital consumers like this baby below.

Wireless devices disrupt newspapers

October 4, 2011

“The faster the disruption of print by tablet happens, the faster newspaper owners can jettison print expenses and get closer to sustainable (but not yet proven) mainly-digital business models.”

-Ken Doctor, newsonomics blog post

Newspaper executives and industry observers are starting to pay attention to two significant developments that are altering their business: disruption and the continued emergence of wireless mobile devices (specifically smartphones and tablet devices).

In a blog post on “the newsonomics of disruption,”  digital news analyst Ken Doctor writes about tablet disruption of tablet, tablet disruption of laptops, tablet disruption of smartphones and most importantly, local news disruption and tablet news disruption.

“Digital disruption is now increasing,” according to Doctor. “Audiences are even more up for grabs than they were a couple of years ago. Advertising and sponsorship dollars, pounds and euros, are also being more greatly swayed by these disruptive winds than they were in 2009.”

In an article first published in Editor & Publisher and republished on his Reflections of a Newsosaur blog, Alan Mutter writes that “publishers have not failed to embrace disruptive experimentation because they are not smart enough to do so. The video embedded below (note: also embedded on this blog) is proof that the folks at Knight Ridder in 1994 had a pretty good idea of what the future might hold. But the newspaper business historically was so successful that publishers didn’t need, or want, to change much about it. Consequently, risk-taking and experimentation took a back seat to business as usual. “

“With print circulation and advertising revenues falling to ever-lower lows for each of the last five years, newspapers now must find new ways to cost-effectively create content; build new web, mobile and social audiences, and monetize their traffic as profitably as Facebook and Google do,” Mutter continues. “To do that, they will have to bring the creative chaos of Silicon Valley into every corner of their businesses. This means launching multiple, carefully planned initiatives across the full array of print and digital media.”

These newspaper disruptions brought on by wireless mobile devices is precisely what I’m looking at for my dissertation.  I’m interested not only in the disruption to newspaper business models, but what publishers are doing about it.  A good headline for an article about my work would be “Wireless devices disrupt newspaper business models, publishers respond.”

Here’s a brief summary of my ongoing dissertation research:

Firms are now operating in hypercompetitive, emergent, dynamic, unstable, highly volatile environments in which a sustained competitive advantage may no longer be possible.  Disruptive innovation (disruption) may alter not only business models, but the strategic processes used to address the disruption.

Disruptive innovation can either disrupt or sustain a firm or industry either through business model innovations or radical product innovations.  There is not one clear definition for business models, but revenue streams and consumer values are vital to most business-model concepts.  Circulation revenue and advertising in print have long made up the traditional newspaper business model now being disrupted by the Internet and mobile devices. Whereas the Internet served as the first wave of disruption to newspaper business models, wireless mobile devices represent a second wave of disruption.

Newspapers are now experimenting with emerging models for online and mobile content, but have a history of failing to act on risk-taking experimentation that brings about change even though companies like Knight Ridder designed a futuristic tablet nearly two decades ago that closely resembles today’s iPad, and other newspaper companies commissioned a group to address disruption.  Wireless mobile devices have emerged as a critical news delivery platform and offer potential to newspapers at the same time as they continue to disrupt existing newspaper business models.

The highly uncertain “emergent” disrupted environment, characterized by evolving business models, unclear industry boundaries, new competitors and consumer preferences that are not well known, can have a dramatic impact on the managerial process of newspaper managers.  Newspaper managers’ decision speed, participation, comprehensiveness, and perceptions of the environment can affect the business model implemented to address business model innovation in order to gain a competitive advantage.  My dissertation explores these internal strategy processes newspaper executives are using to develop strategies and tactics to address mobile disruption.

 

Modified News Micropayment Model In Action

September 30, 2011

The theoretical idea that I and Jameson Hayes developed, PBS MediaShift wrote about and we presented at Texas is now a fully-vetted, peer-reviewed,  published scholarly journal article.

The Modified News Micropayment Model (for newspapers on the Social Web) is fully outlined in this International Journal on Media Management article (note: you have to pay to access the article- we are paid content advocates afterall!).
Now that our work is published, as we wrote in the piece, “the next logical step would be to test the model in local communities. Implementing the model concurrently with the design of firm-level strategic plans-of-action would make for compelling case studies, as well as test the viability and practicality of the concepts.”
That is our goal.  Of course, we are not developers, which is why it has been rewarding to see our key concepts become reality.  Hong Kong-based CarrotPay has come the closest to providing the technology to enable our model (based off of our work).  Whereas we introduced the theoretical contribution of microearn, they have dubbed this the much more industry marketable term Share-n-Earn.  This video below does an excellent job showcasing how microearn/Share-n-Earn for news can work using the CarrotPay digital purse.

The value of newspapers lost on the public

September 30, 2011

While the latest study by the Pew centers and Knight Foundation provides a comprehensive look at “how people learn about their local community” , one of the most troubling findings is how little people value a primary provider of that information.

More than two-thirds of surveyed respondents told pollsters that if their hometown newspaper disappeared, it would not seriously hurt their ability to keep up with the news.  This finding is telling because it demonstrates that first and foremost newspapers have done a poor job of  illustrating the value of their reporting.  As a paid content advocate, I would argue that a decade+ of giving content away for free online has brought newspapers to this point.  To say that putting news content online for free has tremendously devalued that content would be an understatement.  Readers have been conditioned to believe that newspapers’ best content is not worth paying for.   Is worth nothing. Nada. Zip. Zlich. Zero.

“The assumption seems to be that this information is a commodity, that it’s free and it’s omnipresent,” Tom Rosenstiel, principal author of the Project for Excellence in Journalism report told The Los Angeles Times. “That may not be true, particularly with this civic information that newspapers are primary in producing. It’s quite possible, if the newspaper disappeared, that the information would disappear along with it.”

Rosenstiel links what should be contradictory concepts in one sentence.  Even in the most simplest of terms, a commodity is a thing of value.  In economic terms, consumers pay a price for what they value.  A free commodity is an oxymoron.  And yet by failing to charge for online content, newspapers have been peddling a free commodity for years.

The Pew study should serve as the latest warning siren to beleaguered newspaper executives.  As the Los Angeles Times’ James Rainey writes “newspapers could do a lot more to tell their unique stories to the public.”  True.  But they also need to send a message that their content is highly valuable.  That it truly is a commodity.  That the content is worth paying for.  Charging for online content restores the value proposition that has been obliterated by FREE content.

Watch the last 30 seconds of this humorous but biting commentary on student journalists today (you can start around the 2:35 mark).  The fact is that not even journalism students are instinctively willing to pay for news content because of the free online alternatives.

 

 

If newspapers value their content so little that they don’t even ask the reader to pay for it, that they aren’t even willing to put any price tag on the toils of their labor, why should we expect the audience to find value in that work?  Thus, newspapers are faced with an audience who cares so little for their product that they feel they would not be phased without them. Newspapers need to show the public otherwise.  But first newspapers need to value their own product before they expect others to do the same.

Context is king in the social media economy

September 29, 2011

As one of the leading social media evangelists, Gary Vaynerchuk is outspoken, loud, vibrant, passionate, emphatic and yeah, he likes to cuss a lot. In short, he’s the polar opposite of a scholar. As demonstrative as Vaynerchuk is, he usually has some substance underlying his style.  In fact, I find that I agree with @garyvee more than I disagree with him.  In the video below, Gary is spot on in describing the importance of c-o-n-t-e-x-t in the new social media ecosystem.

This is precisely what Jameson Hayes and I had in mind 2 years ago when we began drafting our “Modified Media Micropayment Model” (we wrote “the social aspect of payment for web content is also vital. In many ways, web users are already dependent upon this socialization aspect as a referent of content we’re willing to click through. As media products are experience goods, opinions of others are often tapped to alleviate  uncertainty prior to consumption. … the modified micropayment system harnesses trusted sources from social networking sites to help consumers determine whether a media good is worth purchasing. This converts online social networks into value creating distribution networks beneficial to all parties.” p. 34 – “Synergizing Traditional Media and The Social Web for Monetization: A Modified Media Micropayment Model, Journal of Media Business Studies, 8(2),)

Gary says this more emphatically than I ever could.  Check out this excellent video below:

Social media, (search) and PR

September 29, 2011

Below are the slides from my guest lecture on “Social media, (search) and PR.” Enjoy!


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