16
Aug 14

Is Social Media Guilting Us Into Activism?

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Two mornings ago, I awoke to find that my brother-in-law had tagged me on Facebook to participate in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

For those who are somehow unaware of this social media activation, it’s exactly what it sounds like: you dump a bucket of ice water on your head to raise awareness for ALS.

Secretly I hoped nobody would tag me, because nobody wants to dump a bucket of ice water on their head, but I guess the odds weren’t in my favor. When a social cause has reached the point where celebrities like Bill Gates and Jimmy Fallon are doing it, it’s only a matter of time until us regular folk get involved.

To date, the challenge has raised more than $4 million for the cause. That’s more than double what they raised last year.

But like anything born on social media, there are dissenters.

The publication Quartz says that all of these donations to ALS are taking away from potentially donating to other charities.

The Huffington Post plays the “slacktivism” card to say all this challenge has done is get us talking about the disease, while conveniently ignoring the fact that it has raised millions of dollars.

I’ve even seen people flat-out not accept the challenge because they’d rather write a check. (Or, maybe they just don’t want to document being icy water poured on their head.)

I’m more interested in whether this is merely social media guilting us into doing something we’d rather not do.

When your friends are calling you out publicly to participate, you can’t exactly not do it, lest you want them to give you a hard time about it. So you do participate, then challenge three other friends to do the same because, well those are the rules.

By doing so, we are essentially clearing our conscience and putting the onus on somebody else to try and not break the chain.

This challenge brings together two polar opposites to accomplish the goal: calling out people on Facebook and Twitter to participate (which is the worst) and donating money to a good cause (which I endorse).

When the final numbers are tallied, we will undoubtedly see that it was a success. And, who knows, maybe that dollar you donated will lead to a cure for this terrible disease one day.

But peer pressure to participate in anything is the worst kind of pressure, and this is taking it to the max.

For the record, I shot a video and challenged three of my friends to do it, both because it’s a good cause and because I didn’t want to be the one to break the chain.

It’s a double-edged sword, this Ice Bucket Challenge. And with its success will bring many copycats looking to get in on this trend.

I’ve even heard that an organization is working on something to bring awareness to depression in light of Robin Williams’ death.

If that becomes a success, we will never stop this train.

We live in a world where, thanks to social media, you can communicate with practically anyone. It’s an amazing thing. But with that brings the ability to tap into our guilty consciences simply by tagging someone from the comfort of our living room.

I’ve yet to determine if that’s a good thing, and I’m not sure I ever will.

 


13
Aug 14

On The Internet, Everyone is Perfect (Except You)

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If you’re ever feeling down, or have lost confidence in your ability as a public relations professional, heed this advice: STAY OFF THE INTERNET.

Seriously. Log out of your browser and go binge-watch Breaking Bad.

Since we’re in the business of trying to make our clients look good, I guess it’s only natural our predisposition for positivity rubs off on ourselves.

Whether it’s taking an awesome new job, or landing a great placement for our client, we love to tell everyone just how great we are doing. Sometimes the status is even wrapped up in a humblebrag, which makes it even more infuriating.

If you wouldn’t brag to strangers about your personal exploits in person, why are you sharing it from behind a keyboard?

Whether it’s a tweet, a picture on Instagram, or a Facebook status, all of us have the ability to edit what we say before it’s released to the masses. This allows us to ensure that what we are saying is perfectly said, something we don’t have the luxury of doing when we’re interacting in real time with real people.

But when we do it over and over and over, our lives begin to resemble something out of the movies; an existence that has been carefully crafted to put ourselves in the most positive light, lest someone think anything negative happens to us at all.

Now, sitting at my desk, I realize that not everyone is perfect. But on certain days, depending on what’s happening in my world, I’m put off by this practice.

Life is an imperfect collection of moments. To succeed on social media, everyone says you have to be yourself.

To me, that would mean sharing your imperfect moments.

For some reason, others want us to think their lives are one magical moment after another.

I don’t get it.


05
Aug 14

On Soccer, Chicharito, and Chorizo Burgers

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I’ve had on my bucket list for the longest time a desire to travel to Europe to take in an English Premier League soccer match.

The passion of the fans, the intense rivalries, and history of the teams has always had some allure to me as a sports fan.

But with work and kids and house projects and money all standing in the way at the moment, the next best thing was to travel with my wife to the Big House in Ann Arbor this past weekend to take in a friendly between Manchester United and Real Madrid - two of the most popular teams in Europe.

(And let’s be honest: Without two teams of this caliber, the Big House would not have set the U.S. soccer attendance mark.)

If I’m straight with you, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

I’ve watched full matches on television before, but I was able to multitask. Soccer is a sport that lends itself well to doing so. And with the World Cup still fresh in our minds, I was still in that frame-of-mind.

My wife, on the other hand, would not consider herself a sports fan. She’ll amuse me by taking in a game here and there, but she’s usually bored by the end because American football and baseball, for instance, bump up against the three-hour mark as a rule. If you’re not into it, boredom sets in.

Perhaps this is why she (and by extension, I) walked out of the stadium with a new favorite sport to watch live.

Even if you count the pre-game introductions and fifteen-minute halftime performance by The Fray, the game lasted two hours from start to finish. It was long enough to provide entertainment, but not so long that my wife started to get antsy.

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I even saw her out of the corner of my eye jump out of her seat once or twice on a near-miss opportunity on the far end of the field.

Sometimes you just can’t help yourself.

A lot of the fun stemmed from the fans’ passion for a game that was, by all accounts, just a warm-up for the real deal.

You would never see or hear Detroit Lions fans chanting Calvin Johnson’s name during a preseason game, partly because he wouldn’t be on the field very long. But the guys sitting behind us chanted Chicharito’s name off and on during the second half, and they were rewarded when he scored a goal on a sweet header during the second half.

After the game, we made the one mile trek back to our car in search of something to eat. In a serendipitous moment, we happened upon Frita Batidos in downtown Ann Arbor, a restaurant friends have raved about, but not one my wife nor I have ever visited.

As it happened, they were opening late that day, so we were able to get in a much shorter line than normal. I got the chorizo “frita” with the tropical slaw, and my wife opted for the fish burger with slaw. And in case you’re wondering, we split garlic and cilantro shoestring fries.

Like I mentioned above, I didn’t really know what to expect when the day started, but I knew at the end of the day that it couldn’t have turned out much better.

Sometimes, when you don’t know what to expect, you get the best.


29
Jul 14

The N.F.L.’s Puzzling Use of Longform Content

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When it comes to attention spans and major sports, the National Football League has to lead the way when it comes to which fans have the shortest attention spans.

It’s well-documented that a football game has only 11 minutes of real action on the field. The rest of the time is spent in huddles, celebrating touchdowns, and cutting to commercial break. The average fan doesn’t have to commit to non-stop action the same way a fan of hockey and soccer might. Football is the one sport designed around the bathroom break.

That’s why it’s a bit surprising two N.F.L. teams have made the foray into the already crowded world of longform content marketing.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers recently published a piece on new coach Lovie Smith, titled “The First 100 Days.”

The piece, which chronicles the first hundred day’s of Smith’s tenure as head coach, clocks in at — holy shit — more than 31,000 words. While I’m sure it’s super-interesting to know what time he wakes up at in the morning, nobody is going to take the time to sit down and read that tome. (Thankfully, SB Nation broke it down for us.)

If the Buccaneers were shooting to provide an in-depth look at their new coach, they succeeded. But if they wanted people to read it, all accounts indicate a failure in reaching that goal.

The San Francisco 49ers, on the other hand, have an entire section of their website devoted to long reads.

Their new content, which tells the story-behind-the-story of the building of their new stadium, checks in at a more palpable 4,500 words. Plus, the text is broken up with Vines, photo galleries, and an infographic that rank the size of every N.F.L. team’s stadium video board, providing the reader with ample opportunities to pause and grab a drink from the kitchen.

It’s the best content that incorporates other elements of storytelling, and the 49ers have done that.

But here’s a the real question: Why?

Content marketing was created as a way for companies to tell their stories on their own, without having to use a third party. It might be less respectable on a company’s website than it would be the front page of the local paper, but it has become a serviceable workaround for a lot of businesses.

The N.F.L., however, does not need this Plan B. The league has never been more popular. And none of the teams in the league want for coverage.

But with concussions and domestic violence issues taking up quite a bit of “print” this offseason, perhaps this is how these mega-brands are trying to control the message.

A quick search of other teams’ websites does not uncover similar types of content. But the Detroit Lions, for instance, just hired a multimedia journalist. So maybe this is something other teams are exploring.

Either way, companies shouldn’t get into the content game for the sake of getting into the content game. And that includes professional sports teams.

You need a solid plan in place before you execute. Throwing thousands of words on a page shouldn’t be the goal.

If you’re writing for the sake of writing, with no desire to reach a specific audience, you’re probably doing it wrong.


01
Jul 14

An Open Letter to Social Media Managers

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So you want to write a clever tweet about the World Cup that will expose your brand to hundreds, if not thousands, of potential new customers.

Great.

But before you do, know this: there are people on Twitter whose sole goal in life is to be one of the first to call you out for tweeting content that could be viewed as insensitive or inaccurate.

As of this writing, companies the likes of Delta Airlines and KLM have already issued apologies for pushing tweets that would be considered stupid at best, and insensitive to entire cultures, at worst.

And, to think, somebody in a high position looked at those tweets and said it was okay to click “Tweet.”

(For the sake of the people low on the social totem pole, I hope somebody above them approved their idea. There is nothing worse than issuing something publicly that you forgot to get approval for.)

Nothing excites the Twitter lynch mob more than publicly shaming your brand as soon as the tweet shows up in their feed.

You remember when Chrysler’s Twitter account posted a tweet that contained the F-word, right?

People practically fell over themselves to be the first to feign outrage that a real company could tweet something so vulgar (even if it was 100 percent true.)

There was a mad dash to be the first to re-tweet the tweet; to show the social universe just how concerned they are about how brands conduct themselves on Twitter, even though it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans.

Maybe that user would even gain ten more followers. But for sure they would live on in infamy and gain immediate Internet fame for being the first to call attention to it.

Unfortunately, this is what you’ll have to deal with, so you’ll rack your brain trying to come up with something clever, only to see it become sanitized as it goes through the approval process, ultimately becoming something so vanilla that it couldn’t possibly offend anyone.

And therein lies the rub: Why spend all of that time going through approvals if your brand is just going to become lost among a sea of related tweets?

In this case, unless your brand has a real connection to soccer or sport, don’t waste your time trying to keep up with the Joneses.

At best, you’ll gain a few re-tweets. At worse, you’ll be ridiculed.

It’s not worth your time.