2011 Will Be There Year of the Documentary in Corporate Marketing and PR

It is my belief that we will see more mini-documentaries this year than in years past. Why, because the “Social Space” has provided a bigger platform to distribute content and a focus on the community voice is ever so prevalent.

In 2010, AT&T launched a campaign to educate consumers about the dangers of texting while driving. This video was shot as a short documentary, capturing the stories of those most effected by this social concern. What better way to bring the consumer to a place to see right into the heart of the issue than a documentary style video.

With YouTube being one of the Top Three search engines along with the platform to deliver high quality content, this video has been viewed over 570K times. That is an amazing touch point to so many consumers of information, people are embedding this video in Facebook, their blogs, and numerous other places.

Documentary style storytelling is a way to provide a journalistic approach to content delivery, providing a view-point directly from those whom are most effected by the mission of the video. Many traditional ad firms shy away from this approach, becuase it is harder to control the message…supposedly. You can’t script responses, you can’t shot-sheet and storyboard real life action and reaction. The ethical approach to telling this type of story has a whole new approach. Most documentary style storytellers shy away from script writing, not using “voice over” to connect the micro messages of the soundbites. Most try to take a more extreme position allowing the people in the documentary to completely tell the story. The only way to guide the message is do a good job of asking the appropriate questions to find the best responses, weaving them together to tell the story.

Look at ESPN’s 30 for 30 Series. It has empowered 30 storytellers to bring a passion to the screen by telling 30 stories. As stated by ESPN, “An unprecedented documentary series featuring thirty films from some of today’s finest storytellers. Each filmmaker will bring their passion and personal point of view to their film detailing the issues, trends, athletes, teams, rivalries, games and events that transformed the sports landscape from 1979 to 2009.”

This series can be seen on ESPN, but also online not only at the 30 for 30 website. Consumers can share the videos by links and embed codes, empowering consumers to take part in the storytelling process. A community of messages sharing by a community of consumer advocates. But what is even greater, each one is produced by a different documentary storyteller with complete creative enterprise…empowering the documentary approach to the collective story. Each one has a different style, a different approach, a different story…communities telling rich stories.

Think back to 2002 when Michael Moore released Bowling for Columbine attacking one issue that is near and dear to the hearts of Americans…guns. This documentary not only inspired many Americans to think about the horrible tragedy of Columbine but attribute a national conversation wrapped around the influence of gun laws in the American fabric. But the other thing this documentary inspired, that anyone with a camera, a vision, and a passion to tell a story can achieve the national spotlight with a powerful message.

By the way, Bowling for Columbine won the 55th Anniversary Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 2002 and an Oscar at the Academy Awards for Best Documentary in 2003. Talk about taking a message to a national spot light. It not only influenced millions of viewers/consumers but also the critics at large. You can see all the other awards that Bowling for Columbine won here on IMDb’s website.

So why will 2011 be a year of documentaries, well more and more cameras and technology have become affordable, compound that with the distribution platofrms like YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook, blogs, Twitter, and the list goes on. The critical point of content creation and content delivery is coming to it’s true apex providing the means and opportunity to touch more hearts and minds than CBS’s 60 Minutes. BTW, that is one of my all time favorite storytelling, magazine shows still in existence!

We are seeing more and more content created with the iPhone4, Flip Cameras, Canon EOS Cameras…quality content that is being integrated into bigger productions. If you look at the video below, this was shot with a Canon EOS 7D DSLR…yes, a camera for photos!

But what makes this even more a reason why we will see more documentaries this coming year, we as a community of advocates have truely found and understood the social space. This social space has began to break down traditional means to tell stories, providing more community voices to tell big brand messages. This is the heart of the documentary approach, many voices in one story told conhesively for the consumers at large to watch and derive, project, and discuss their own point of view.

Merry Christmas Mom! Pictures from Charleston Harbor.

This past October my mother was married in the Charleston Harbor in Charleston, SC. The following pictures were a select few that I took some time to touch-up then enlarge to give to my mom for Christmas this year.

If you look above, this is majority of the wedding party and family with my mom, she is the one in the white dress, slightly off-centered to the right. Steve is the hugging her just to the left. My sister Jennifer is is the one in the blue dress to the left. I took this picture at the last second, and luckily had my 11 mm wide angle lens on the camera. We are on a old-timey cruise boat with this main area that had us packed in like sardines. I took this picture and had it enlarged. I did not do much to it other than removing some dust particles that appeared in the image from the lens and also giving it a hint of a vignette. I think this image captures the moment of happiness right after mom and Steve cut the cake.

Here is the boat we set sail on named Innisfail, it was built in the 1930’s. Click Here to learn more about the boat. The picture above I took of the yacht right before departing for the ceremony in the Charleston Harbor. Steve loved this boat and thought it looked vintage…so I thought I would give it more of a vintage look with the black and white effect. We were only allowed to bring 65 people on the boat, that is including wedding party, family, and guests. Needless to say  that if you did not RSVP, you did not get on the boat, unless someone dropped out at the last second. One of my cousins was not able to take the cruise, he forgot to send in his RSVP card. Big dummy!

This final image is my favorite. I had it enlarged and put on canvas with the wooden backing. We cruised under the new Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, the bridge that replaced the two older Cooper River Bridges. This is my favorite image of the bunch, with a slight sepia effect (outside of converting to black and white). As we were going under the bridge, I ran to the front deck and and held the shutter button down. I had just putting my 11 mm lens on the camera and some dust was trapped inside on the back of the lens. It actually produced a very cool grainy effect on the image giving it a vintage look. Mom loved this when she opened it, and now it is hanging in their living room.

If you want to see all the images from the big ole wedding day and the cruise on the harbor, CLICK HERE for the Facebook Page.

Merry Christmas Mom!

Email is about trust.

As I woke-up Christmas Even morning, I was checking my email before starting the holiday communication shutdown. As I was looking through my personal email account, I noticed an email from Honda. Apparently, there was “an unauthorized access to an email list used by a vendor of customers who receive special offers and newsletters from Acura.” They went on to state that, “As a company, we believe that all customer relationships must be built on trust.” Honda, you are right! It is about “Trust”! Then they stated, “That is why we believe it is important to inform you of this incident.” You can click here to read the whole email.

My Holiday Message
Now this is not a mere examination of the the Honda email practices, but something that I experienced yesterday. Yesterday, I sent out a short video holiday message to my friends, family, and clients. It was not necessarily just a Holiday Message, it was a reminder to a select group of people that I will be out of town the week after Christmas. As I was putting together the email, I choose each person that will receive this email carefully based on the message. I also chose to send it out yesterday because I knew most of the recepients would still be in the office to open the email or would open it upon their return on Monday, December 27th. The purpose once again, a reminder. So far, %81 of the people have opened the message, which is about what I expected.

During the day, I received little notes from many people thanking me for the reminder, and also some that just enjoyed the funny video. Each person I know on a first name basis, and can honestly subscribe them to my Mail Client (MailChimp) because we email each other, each and everyday. We not only have a personal relationship in person but also a digital communication relationship based on information transaction.

Misuse of Email Addresses
Late Thursday afternoon, I received a Holiday Message where someone had sent an email to every email address they had in their address book. How do I know this, because all 1181 individual email addresses were in the “To:” field. This person has shared their whole client list, personal relationships, basically every email address they have with each of the 1181 people that received this note. This is a scary proposition. Two of my email addresses were in that distribution, so now I am subject to anyone who wants to use my email list for ill will. I do not know all of the 1181 people, so I have no idea if each of them is trust worthy enough to not use my email address properly. Email is about trust.

When we hand out our business cards or share our email address with someone, what are we “opting-in” to receive? How do we set expectations with the person whom we share our email address? I have four email address each with a specific purpose. I have one business email account, one personal account, one for my students at Clemson, and one for purchasing. Each has a specific purpose. I also ask people who send me business emails to my personal account to send to my business account. I also ask my students not to send class email to my personal or business account. I even ask my family to refrain from sending funny joke emails to my business account. So, when a person who has two of my email accounts sends a bulk email to all of their contacts, that is a violation of my email policy. Now I sound a little harsh, but this is how I have to manage my email.

Clemson University’s Email
Recently, at the end of the semester, some of my students were complaining about the amount of email Clemson sends to them. I have to agree…as a part time employee, I receive more email in one day from Clemson than I receive in one week from my busiest client.  I am actually a bit overwhelmed. I on average receive 30 plus emails a day about a server problem, parking reminder, poetry exhibit, and the list goes on. I just hit delete, delete, delete. It is so bad, that I miss important email buried in the tons of email I receive daily from the university. Chartjunk as Tufte would say! “Chartjunk refers to all visual elements in charts and graphs that are not necessary to comprehend the information represented on the graph, or that distract the viewer from this information.” I think it applies here!

So I asked the students to write a paper to make recommendations to the university, to use email as a better resource to engage and inform the audiences at Clemson. I found some interesting responses, but the unified answer is do a better job delivering the proper email information to the person that is the actual consumer of this information.

Digital Communication
I have so many different ways I communicate with people digitally. I use Facebook, Twitter, Email, Mobile Phone Texting, and even Skype. I use email as a more formal form of communication, more of a contractual way to document conversations. But I use email based on the relationship with the recipient. This is a mutual proposition that allows us to interact in a private environment where we understand that we will not share information unless it is a part of the communication agreement. To me, Email is about Trust.

A few weeks ago, I heard a colleague chastising someone for putting the disclaimers in the bottom of their email signature. You know, the part that explains this is a communication between the above parties and not to share this confidential information. My colleague was saying that this is too much information for people to read and understand. But it is the actions I list above that have led to individuals being forced to set expectations with the recipient. Why…well, there are those who abuse our trust and share our private information with others.

Communication is about trust. I know we can just hit delete…but should we respond to those who abuse this transaction, informing them of our expectations, educating them of how we view our “address” should be used. Would you do so if that same person walked in your house without knocking…I think this is the same thing.

To learn about the MailChimp’s Email Terms of Use Policy, CLICK HERE.

To learn about SPAM and the CAN-SPAM Act of 2004, CLICK HERE.

It is time for a TRIP, a little Christmas Cabin Trip.

So we are off…off to enjoy some time with family. It is Christmas and it’s that time of year when we take some time to enjoy a cabin out in the middle of NOWHERE. Well actually, the mountains of Georgia. For the fourth year, Sarah and I, along with Sarah’s two sisters (Jennifer and Susanna), and Jennifer’s husband Tom & their two kids (Maggie and Sadie), take to the the holiday travel and enjoy the mountains of Georgia. Sometimes, Sarah’s father Marty tags along…but it is sporadic. BTW, Sarah’s birthday is the day after Christmas…so this is also a birthday weekend as well!

So bottomline…I am out of pocket from Christmas Day until Monday, January 3rd of the new year. Yes, can you believe it is almost 2011, close to 20 years since I graduated from good ole Daniel High School. So this little note is to say Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! I will not be seeing you until my return…no offense. Do not worry, my family is watching the house and my awesome assistant and partner in crime is monitoring everything. Thanks Wendi…she ROCKS!

I will be enjoying the get away of a log cabin and nothing but woods. My job…make sure the fire in the fireplace does not die. That is it! Oh, yes I will be watching tons of football.

So bottom-line, I am not sure if I will have good/any cell phone reception and I will have an auto-responder set-up on my email. I will monitor just in-case of an emergency.  If you like to mess around on Facebook and Twitter, well I will be Tweeting and updating Facebook. Here is my updated contact information:

Bobby Rettew
http://Facebook.com/bobbyrettew (personal page)
http://Facebook.com/brllc (business page – “Like Me” if you like!)

So…Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and GO TIGERS!

Who is really telling the story, your story? Thinking Outside Disclosure and WikiLeaks.

So the other day, I posted this one Twitter. I wish I could find the Tweet that prompted this response, but you can read above. Yes, I have been thinking. My brain does work sometimes outside the online world of mindless 140 characters…my synapses are in full brain activity.

So I have been thinking…there is definitely a difference between the one who is telling your story and the one who is capturing that story that is being told. Big difference. So my friend Gregg Morris (@greggvm) askes:

Good question Gregg! And I responded with this Tweet:

We are just proxies…we are displaying what we see, hear, feel, smell, understand, and comprehend through our point of views!

Thanks Mike (Mike Bell @ProformaGuy)! You are talking about delivery and how people view those who are delivering.

So here is my real thought to this little Tweet and Blog combo explanation. Coming from a journalist background, I always felt that our views were skewed. Even though we were supposed to tell a story with an unbiased position, they are always going to be skewed. There was only hope that we could get closer and closer to the purest position in the way we tell stories, with each piece we produced or story we told. We were always looking through the lens, a bias based on news of the week, the politics of the organization, the financial potential from ratings/readership. So who can really tell our story from an unbiased position.

Storytellers are proxies, delivery mechanisms for the story we are telling…those we are trying to re-create for others to view. Now I am staying away from the advertising world, becuase here we can create the realities we want audiences to view. This is more of a PR position or even a journalistic/documentary position.

Each time I pick-up the camera and work with a client, I try to maintain the message of the story and organization. When I write a story, I stay away from supposition and try to stay as close to fact as I can…or interpretation of fact. So why should we care who is telling our story? Because it is important to understand the lens they are looking through. You have to see how they might perceive the story, even your story before they even begin the project. Do you want them to create a reality that does not properly represent your message…ultimately divesting time spent in a message.

These biases can be considered conflicts of interest. But is storytelling one of Fiction or Non-Fiction, and can we create that dichotomy so simply? And if we are paid to tell stories, document those stories, provide a proxy view-point of those stories…how should handle and disclose our view-point.

Now that Social Media has entered the picture…more and more individuals are providing view-points, telling stories, and using these outlets as means to reach audiences. As proxies of these stories, we should disclose our pre-dispositions, our conflicts, our view-points that are statement of fact.

In October of 2009, “FTC Publishes Final Guides Governing Endorsements, Testimonials” where “Changes Affect Testimonial Advertisements, Bloggers, Celebrity Endorsements.” FTC states, “Under the revised Guides, advertisements that feature a consumer and convey his or her experience with a product or service as typical when that is not the case will be required to clearly disclose the results that consumers can generally expect.”

Should we as storytellers be subject to these guidelines? Yes, I say. But to what capacity? Everytime I work with an organization to help tell a story, I should disclose to the organization my viewpoints and conflicts. Everytime I finish producing a story for an organization and post the link to my Facebook wall or even Tweet about it, I should have to disclose my relationship to the organization.

In an article by NPR, Laura Syndell looks at bloggers and disclosure of paid endorsements. Laura writes, “Kelly McBride, of the nonprofit Poynter Institute for journalism, says this is an important step: While many consumers can tell a commercial from a program on television, she says they can be naive when their Facebook friends say they’re a fan of McDonald’s.”

This is why when I work with organizations to create and establish a Social Media or New Media plan/strategy…it is my position that I do not Tweet, update a status, or communicate on behalf of the organization. I talked about this in a recent post. I typically do not follow those who are Tweeting, Blogging, Facebook”ing” on behalf of an organization without disclosure.

Social Media is such a progressive new area of digital publishing, should it held to the same professional standards as traditional marketing/pr/news outlets? Why, because it is “Social Media.” It is place for people to speak freely socially, to interact, and to build relationships. Why is this an issue, because organizations have been abusing this idea, acting on behalf of “a brand’s message” to influence a decision. Thus, de-socializing “Social Media(s)”.

So is the WikiLeaks idea/site privy to these types of ethics? The whole concept is that they are publishing information that typically not disclosed to the public in an open-source mentality. Many of the individuals providing information for WikiLeaks are not disclosing who they are and there relationships.

The Poynter Institute recently posted a link to their website that “Stars and Stripes Journalists are barred from viewing WikiLeaks documents.” In the article, Mark Prendergrast from Stars and Stripes writes, “Journalists are supposed to report before they write. That means gathering as much information as they can – in breadth and depth – and consulting primary sources whenever feasible. That might mean an editor clicking on Wikileaks to verify information in a wire story. Or an art director doing a screen grab to illustrate that story. Or a reporter reading a document in full for context in assessing a statement about it.”

Bottom-line, journalists need to know where the information came from, the source of the information. How do they know in this “public domain”? How do they know where the information has come from and if it is truly accurate.  This primal thought process should be the same as the we work we as “marketers do” for our clients everyday…we should disclose relationships, our predispositions, and why we are working with an organization when telling our stories.

I have recently joined WOMMA, the Word of Mouth Marketing Organization and been reading through lots of the resources offered not only to it’s membership but also to the public. I find this information a great guide for people like myself when navigating this world of client based work that leads us to tell stories on their behalf.

So where do we go from here? Well…I know that we must question our intentions each time we “Write” or “Produce” a story on behalf of a “client” or organization. We must also question or intentions when we distribute these “stories” and what message we are sending when we distribute. The intention of distribution is just as much a part of the storytelling process as is the actual story itself.

My holiday thank you note writing…

So…this holiday season, I have been trying to take the time to write holiday cards. For the past three years, I have been creating a little holiday video that is from me to all my clients, friends, and family. One message to all of these people. Typically I would have about a 85% open rate, and about 90% of those who open would enjoy close to a minute of the video. These stats told me…that this was an impersonal way of saying Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays.

I have had this little bird singing in my head, telling me to do something a bit different. It is something that I remember John Warner saying in the first NetworkBash a few years ago. He was talking to the audience, explaining how after his yearly event called InnoVenture….he would write each person a thankyou note. This note was handwritten. I would bet he probably had a 100% open rate and 100% of those who opened the letter actually read the note. I don’t know about you, but when I receive a hand written thank you note, I read it!

The other day, I received a hand written thank you note from a very important public figure…I was humbled and honored. This busy person took just a few moments out of his busy, public policy day to write me a thank you note! WOW! His written words inspired me this holiday season.

What many people do not know about me is that I love buying cards. I like to find funny, off color cards that make people laugh. Each birthday, I typically buy two or three birthday cards for each person and number them in order for the recipient to open.  I have been known to find a store with good cards and buy them out. I actually made a lady mad in Beaufort for buying all of her funny cards…I think I spend about $150.00 that day. I have a good collection for the perfect moment.

So this Christmas…I went out and bought cards. Funny cards, professional cards, thank you note cards, and generic holiday cards. I sat down and wrote to each person, each client, each friend a personal thank you note. I wrote to each client thanking them for their business and friendship. Some were sent off-color cards, some more professional cards, and some a typical holiday cards. But to each person, I wrote a personal thank you note. I let them know why I wrote and let them know that appreciated their relationship.

It got to be one fun little task. I got through the list of 100+ plus and kept on finding more funny cards, more appropriate cards. So I wrote to more people. It was therapeutic!  I did not write to my close family members because I will be seeing this a lot during this holiday season, but I tried to write to as many people as I could. Some I did not, because I could not track down their address, so I will hand deliver. Some…I am still remembering and writing as fast as I can.

So this holiday season, how are you letting those you care about…know you care? Sometimes a hand written note says a lot…I know it does for me!

5 Links of the Week | December 19, 2010

Hello friends, here are my links for the week. As you can see…they include storytelling, Medicaid budget cuts, Facebook, Yahoo, and Del.icio.us. I hope you enjoy and let me know your thoughts about any of these articles!

Storytelling is not a Conversation
Nathan Ford
“Markets are Conversations.” Ten years after the Cluetrain left the station spouting these words, many advertisers are still left behind, desperately clinging to the romantic notion that they are storytellers. On the net, though, such ideas are fast becoming anachronisms. For the last fifty years or so, there were a few ways for a person to be influenced by the outside world (radio, television, printed materials, actually leaving the house) and advertisers had every base covered with their brand-related stories: a billboard with a smile, a commercial alluding to Orwell’s 1984, an ad that talked about cars like normal people do… each expertly tuned to play on our emotions. CLICK HERE to read more.

Budget: Medicaid, DSS, prisons hope to run deficits
$264 million-in-the-red proposals to be discussed today by board
December 14, 2010 | GINA SMITH
Three state agencies will ask a state budget panel today to run deficits totaling $264 million. With the state facing a mountain of unprecedented financial woes, Gov.-elect Nikki Haley and the state’s congressional delegation met behind closed doors Monday and discussed some of those urgent budget needs, including shortfalls for education and the state’s exploding Medicaid program. CLICK HERE to read more.

The 2011 Listening Platform Landscape
December 15, 2010 | Zach Hofer-Shall
After an entire month without any acquisitions in the social media data space, there is no excuse but to get back to normal blogging. I assume I’ll be back to posting on M&A again soon, but in the meantime I’ve been busy working on some big research and now it’s finally ready to show off. Today we’ve published “The 2011 Listening Platform Landscape,” a report aimed at helping Marketing and Customer Intelligence professionals navigate a crowded and fragmented array of social media data tools and technologies. CLICK HERE to read more.

December 16, 2010 |  Jennifer Van Grove
Facebook accidentally went live with a handful of prototype features earlier today, including a site-wide yet short-lived overhaul of Pages. Roughly 45 minutes after the mistaken update, Facebook disabled the site, reverted back to its previous state and then tweeted apologetically about the downtime. But that brief span of time was enough for Facebook members and Page admins to get a sneak peak at new features in the works. CLICK HERE to read more.

December 16, 2010 | Alexia Tsotsis
For a couple of days now, we’ve been hearing rumors that the Yahoo layoffs included the entire Delicious team.  Now Former Yahoo employee and Upcoming founder Andy Baio has tweeted out the above Yahoo! product team meeting slide that seems to show that Yahoo! is either closing or merging the social bookmarking service as well as Upcoming, Fire Eagle, MyBlogLog and others. CLICK HERE to read more.

Why do you blog? Why do you write? Who inspires you?

What inspired you to start blogging? What was it? What made you that one day, sit down and set-up your first blog. Can you remember. I sure can!

It was my wife…and maybe I am a little bit biased. But what inspired me about her that made me start a blog. For starters, I had nothing to say. Really, nothing at all. She…on the other hand. It is September 2006 and Sarah had just accepted a new job here in the area. We were living in Charlotte both with good jobs. We were starting to find ourselves professionally when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. So, we felt this pull to get closer to home. She was the first to find a job and was hired as a strategic buyer at a large manufacturing group. Life was getting ready to flip upside down.

We had been living the high life for the first three years of marriage, fresh out of graduate school. We wanted to move back home, closer to family and pay off debt. So we sold our house, sold our expensive cars, moved into a crappy apartment, and used those good jobs to pay off debt. At the same time, Sarah’s mom was fighting breast cancer. That new job she started, well she hated it…but it was a good paying job. So, she started a journal. It was in a Word Document that started as a stream of consciousness. After a while, the document got so long, she moved it to a blog on Blogger.com. In 2006, she started blogging…journaling about life. Life with her mother fighting breast cancer, paying off debt, working a shitty job, living in a town that did not feel like home.

Over the next year, her mother got sicker and she wrote more. In the Fall of 2007, her mother lost her battle to Triple Negative Metastatic Breast Cancer…her blog was her coping mechanism. Her writing was raw and honest. This whole time we had been trying to get pregnant with little success. A year after her mother died, we got pregnant and life was great. Then we had our first miscarriage.  After three miscarriages, she wrote plenty. She wrote about research, her experiences, doctors she found, and the list goes on. Sarah’s blog is our families journal.

We have family dinners and someone asks what happened last year and we know we can go to her blog to find the answer. Her focus of her blog has been her life struggles and life’s passions. She writes about her family, her mother, infertility, and cause marketing. She is not a big fan of those who benefit financially by exploiting those fighting breast cancer. She writes with passion.

A year after her mother passed away, she quit her job. She was tired of working for something she did not believe in…now works for a daycare taking care of two year olds. She loves it. The people in the daycare have no idea she has a Masters Degree, graduate top of her class in both undergraduate and graduate school, was homecoming queen in undergrad, and was her high-school’s valedictorian. She is one smart cookie and one hell of a writer.

She has yet to spend any money on her blog using the free platform of WordPress. She does all the design work. She does not use social media and other outlets to promote her blog. She does not have it professionally optimized with targeted SEO. She does not Tweet or Facebook her blog posts. She writes passionately…and people read! She has a few notable children’s book authors reading her blog on a regular basis. How does she know, well she password protects some of her posts. She does this because she knows family members read her blog, and she writes like it is her journal. So she only let’s certain people read password protected blog posts. Those author’s make a request for the password. Trust me, she gets lots of requests for the password.

Her blog is semi-private…meaning she does not use her last name on her blog yet has our picture posted. Some knows that it is her, but some have no idea who “Sarah” is right here in Anderson, SC.

She has a tremendous community. She calls them her “Bloggy Friends” and they all read each others’ blogs like clockwork. Each of them have come together because of a circumstance in their lives. One may write about breast cancer, one may write about her infertility story, or some just find each other because they are just funny. Regardless, they have found each other and they share with each other on their blogs. They write with each other…and they check on each other. If one has not posted in a while, they drop an email to check on each other. Sarah’s blog is her community and she always feels the need to write not only for her creative enterprise but to keep her “Bloggy Friends”  in the loop.

Sarah’s blogging is an extension of her life, she is writing her story as she lives it. She writes straight from the heart. She writes with passion. Her blog has caused many family disputes, where she will write about a situation and someone will read her interpretation of the situation. They sometimes are not happy, but what they do not realize…her writing is her coping mechanism. She has thought about taking it down or going totally anonymous, but I have told her I support her writing 100%. The only thing I ask is that she not write about our personal marriage topics and also refrain from discussing the private part of my business.

Sarah is also a reader. She likes to read others’ blogs because she is genuinely interested.  She treats this like and in-person conversation. She reads to learn and this reading turns into reciprocation. She is passionate about the blogs she reads and believes in her community.

Sarah is my inspiration. Her writing has inspired others. People read her blog when dealing with breast cancer, infertility, paying off debt, or just to read. She has had more people thank her for her writing…helping them deal/cope with a particular life situation. She is not writing for a mass market…she is writing to write. Her focus is her life and her passion is her family.

There is not perfect formula for blogging. You can read all the “experts” about blogging, SEO, neccessary technology…BLAH, BLAH, BLAH! But I do know this…you do not need a beautiful layout design, you do not need the best SEO expert, you do not need to pay for a blog! What you need is to write passionately. You have something in your heart that you are most passionate about…write about it. Sarah writes on a consistent basis, uses pictures, and puts her whole heart into each and every post.

Each time I start working with a client, I do not even allow them to set-up a blog until a few things have happened. First, they have a focus for their writing. I ask them to write a mission statement for the blog. Second, I ask them to write ten posts on a Word document based on this mission statement. Then I ask them, who do you think will read your blog…who are you writing for in every post. Blogging is not about the platform, the SEO, the distribution…it is about the writing, and the technology is just the platform to present your writing. Write passionately! BTW…I used Sarah as an example with each corporate client I work with. The example I explain…write passionately.

Here are some of the blogs I have helped start:
South Carolina Hospital Association’s President & CEO Thornton Kirby’s Blog: http://scha.org/thornton-blog/

South Carolina Hospital Association’s Advocacy Group Blog: http://www.scha.org/blog/

Greenville Hospital System CEO Mike Riordan: http://totransformhealthcare.com/

Free Real Estate Education Blog by Rising Sun Capital Group CFO Marty Boardman: http://freerealestateeducation.com/

Sarah’s Blog: http://stillthinkingagain.wordpress.com/ (BTW – she is not going to give you the password :D)

Another Facebook Change To Come – They control the platform!

It is certain, that if you want to have control over your web presence, then you cannot depend on Facebook. Why, because it will always be changing and it has complete control over the interface, look, and user interaction. With the recent Facebook Personal Profile update, this gave business a first hand look at what is to come with their Pages for business.

Today, I noticed a Tweet come across citing that Facebook made an “accidental” update that allowed business to see what their Pages will look like with this new integration. Mashable.com has a complete write-up about the temporary release, and from this article…this is what I gather. The first thing I noticed, just like the new personal profiles, no Tabs. Yes, the tabs are gone moving the navigation to the left hand column. So those of you using the FBML application, it is definitely noticed with the FBML icon next to the Tab name. BLAH. Many organizations have spent tons of time and money working on the creation of their Tabs and the interface that is revealed once you click a Tab.

It also looks like you can “Login” to the Page which brings the questions about how Administrators will manage the page. Along with this, it looks like a “Lightbox” feature will be added to the photos area for a slick way to flip through pictures in a “Slide Show” mode.

Regardless of these updates, that either enhance the experience or change the design for businesses, it is proof that business do not have control over the platform. The platform was built to provide a place for people to connect and share with an interactive experience. But with this comes the same experience as a new update from Microsoft Windows, Office, or any of their other products. You receive the update and the whole interface changes. But the difference, you pay for those Microsoft updates where Facebook is a free, online experience for individuals and businesses to engage in a single platform.

Would businesses be willing to pay for an more “Enterprise” level experience with their Facebook presence? Considering how much they spend in other areas of their online marketing message, I would assume they would consider paying…given the audiences that are interacting within the platform. Imagine the opportunity to have control of some of the rich code to create a more interactive experience within the framework. The same idea as WordPress and Joomla yet inside a platform where audience already exist. But this “Enterprise” level system could swing the balance away from the community driven roots of Facebook. This could give marketing engines a more controlling atmosphere where the experience is more about the marketing message and not the community experience.

So bottom-line…if you are an organization and you want to have “control” over the platform that contains your brand and your message, Facebook should not be your only outlet. But, really…Facebook is not really a “Website” for a company. Facebook is a community driven platform and if used correctly, can engage and connect people of like minds. So who cares if they keep on changing it…the people will stay hang out as long as they can connect; and business will just have to deal with it.

All of this is hypothetical, because the real release has not been made yet!

Read more by CLICKING HERE about what might be the “New” look of Facebook Pages on Mashable.com.

Communicating Passionately and Methodically

How do we make information for our communities creative, usable, and easy to access? Thinking back to my academic days of User-Centered Design and Usability Testing Methodologies…it is all about AUDIENCE.

We have to find a focus! Seriously, we have to have a mission statement for the information we are trying to communicate. It takes a some time to sit down and write out a mission statement. The one thing that helps me frame this initiative is to identify three points.

1 – Who is the audience
2 – What is the purpose of this communication effort?
3 – How are we trying to reach this audience with this piece(s) of communication?

Not hard, but sit down and do this simple analysis. Take time to break down the audiences, list them all. Then, write out the purpose of the effort/initiative when communicating to these audience(s). next, how are you going to get this information to the audience. Take a few moments and see how each of these are inter-dependent. The method of distribution might differ from audience to audience and might even change your purpose.

Now use this research to write a mission statement for your overall initiative.  Explain it to yourself and say it out loud, imagine if you have to pitch this to your client.

OK…to make it usable, you have to know your audience. You have to live, breath, eat, sleep, smell, taste, etc…just like your audience. You have to know their pre-dispositions before your can communicate with them .So, take that little analysis above and list out each audience. Then for each one, write a complete description for each audience. Describe them in a way that you can paint a picture for your mother who knows nothing about these people. You want to paint that picture so you can almost see everything through their eyes.

Once you have done this little exercise, you should have a better understanding of your audience. Now, begin creating your piece of communication. Go through the creative process iteratively. Create static drafts of the design, rough drafts of the copy, story boards of the video, etc. Put together the first look.

Now, pull out that audience analysis you created previously, and ask yourself if you think they can see/understand this information. Use this as a litmus test. Then, conduct a simple usability test, invite individuals that represent each audience and let them interact with these “static” designs. You think of this as a focus group, but to me you are conducting a simple usability test. Let them play, ask questions, but do not predispose them .Do this on a global basis, looking at the overall communication initiative; and also do this very micro with a small part of the communication piece. RECORD THIER THOUGHTS. DO this either with note taking, audio recording, or video recording. Then…make changes based on the mission statement.

Now…create the piece of communication in a dynamic form. This means make the website, the Facebook page, the Blog, the Video, etc. Pull out the mission statement and audience analysis and compare the final dynamic piece and with this initial research. Find another group of individuals to come to review. Let them watch, interact, etc. with the dynamic piece of communication. Watch them as the interact. See where they engage and disengage. What their faces, their eyes, and their body language.

Does this make any sense. Is it too methodical. Well, you can make this as big or as small a process as you want. But ultimately, it is the purpose to come up with a creative idea, understand the audience, test with the audience, adapt, and launch. This empowers a community of creatives and audiences to engage in a process to learn and come up with a wonderful piece of creative!

Be passionate…communicate passionately…engage with your audience(s) passionately!