Has Social Media Cheapened Creative Talent?

pulpfictionOne of the basic concepts in social media and online networking and marketing is about giving, yet there seems to be a lot more taking going on lately. Although I agree that the participation in the social web absolutely needs to have that element of helpfulness, it doesn’t mean that professional creative services should be expected to be given away for free or for a few bucks. Here are a few recent scenarios that have come to my attention:

In various LinkedIn discussion groups:
Someone asking for “suggestions” for a new tag line for their company.
Someone asking for “suggestions” for re-branding of a web domain.
Someone asking for the best solutions to market their brand.

Craig’s List:
Someone asking for product designs on spec: Create it, design it, give it to us and if we like it, we’ll pay you.

A prominent children’s brand looking for a product designer to work unpaid for 3 months which “may lead to a paid position.”

Numerous online news or information sites:
Writers provide free content or content for a few bucks an article in exchange for “exposure.”

Online printers:
Offering a free clip art logo with every printing job.

These are just a few of the myriad of examples of businesses looking for and/or taking free or nearly free, design, marketing or content to build their own businesses. There’s nothing wrong with helping people, offering advice and yes, sometimes offering limited services for free or at a discount, but there seems to be a disconnect somewhere that discounts talent and quality which, in turn, devalues and cheapens creative work.

A good example here is the case of the online printing service offering a free clip art logo with every printing job. This company is not a graphic design house, they are a printing house. A more appropriate offer might be to giveaway an extra few pieces of whatever is being printed. Giveaway the printing, not low level clip art logos. Yes it’s a logo, and yes, the customer might need a logo, but it’s not doing the customer any favors by offering them a logo that looks like it was designed by a 5th grader. There actually is no value in doing that, because even if their customer doesn’t realize the low quality, the marketplace probably will, and a poor unprofessional image will be projected.

It seems that it’s becoming a common practice to not only ask for, but expect creative work for free or virtually free. There is that old saying that “you get what you pay for.” This isn’t to say necessarily that the more expensive something is the better, but it’s safe to say that most professional quality work is not going to be found for free. The problem here lies in when businesses don’t see or know the difference between professional quality work and low level work that appears to fill a particular need at a particular time for a bargain or lower than bargain price. Is it really still true that content and quality is king or is a bargain the new reigning ruler? Is this a larger cultural question? Let me know what you think…

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Branding Rule #1: Avoid Conjuring Up Images Of #2

portable toiletI came across a company name the other day and when I saw it, I truly had to do a double take. My point is not to embarrass anyone here, so I won’t reveal the actual name, but let’s suffice it to say that it conjured up images of baking diapers in an oven, quite literally. O – k-aay, I thought to myself. I’m picturing a lovely woman in a nice white chef’s hat and coat with oven mitts and a nasty tray of …oh, I can’t continue. With this image in my mind, I felt compelled to go to the site and see for myself what this product could possibly be.

As it turns out, this business offers is an array of newborn baby items like blankets, and stuffed animals, diapers (clean) and other items arranged and assembled to resemble a three-tiered cake. These so called “diaper cakes” are sold as gifts to give in honor of a new arrival in the family. That’s fine, and although I could see how they actually might be a nice idea for someone who has just had a baby, the name was so not nice. The name did however, do the trick in driving me to go to the site, but I doubt that it was for the reason that the owner had intended.

Your Name is the Cornerstone for all Marketing Efforts

Whether you are naming a product, a business or a blog, creating an effective brand name is the most important place to start in building a marketing strategy. Your name needs to say who you are, what you do, and capture the essence of your business in one simple word or two. It needs to evoke not only an understanding of what your business is, but it should create the feeling that you want to convey. Always be careful not to use something that might have a hidden or not-so-hidden meaning to a different segment of the population, otherwise it might draw in the wrong crowd for the wrong reasons.

Make Your Name Unique In The Searchable Marketplace

In the modern world of marketing, a brand name also needs to be unique enough so that it is searchable without thousands of other results coming up instead of your business. If your name is Susan and you sell cookies, logic might tell you your business name should be Susan’s Cookies, but in the web world, a name like that would be impossible to search.

Make Sure There’s A Primary Domain Available

Ideally you would want your domain to be: www.yourbrand.com. If that is not available, .net is the second choice. You should avoid names like yourbrandonline.com or yourbrandbabygifts.com. No one will remember that, even if the “root” word of your brand name is catchy. Keep it short and sweet.

Protect Your Name With A Trademark

Your brand name also should be able to be trademarked. It’s pretty quick and easy to do an initial trademark search online. If someone else has already trademarked it, then think of an alternative. If it’s in another industry completely, then you could still potentially trademark it, but the best names are ones that have little chance of being confused with another business or contested. Thinking outside of literal terms or making up a word can often lead to a clever and compelling name. Making connections to your brand story or making up words that play with the definition of what your business is can lead to finding memorable names that most often can easily be trademarked.

Naming For The Future

Think about not only what your business is now, but also the larger picture of what it could be in the future. Try not to be too specific to a particular product, when you might be expanding into other arenas that may pose a future branding problem. Kentucky Fried Chicken was faced with the dilemma that fried chicken is not as popular now as it was back in 1952 when the company was founded. People are now interested in more options, like grilled or roasted chicken and other menu items instead. This is why they needed to rebrand themselves as KFC, taking the focus off of “fried.” Sometimes rebranding can work, but most often it fails miserably, especially for established brands. Best to try to anticipate possible changes to your business model at the beginning, rather than facing a rebranding crisis later.

Don’t Fall For Trendiness

A name has to have some longevity and timelessness. Trendy names might seem like a good idea for today, but they won’t make any sense for tomorrow because they will be out of step and dated pretty quickly. It’s like a tattoo – it might look hip when you’re 20, but when your 70 year old body is sagging in unanticipated places, that skull and cross bones imprinted in your skin might not have the same appeal.

Know Who You Are

Coming up with a fresh and effective brand name is not an easy task. It takes creativity, understanding of the marketplace, some savvy use of language, an understanding of your brand as a whole, and even some intuition. It’s like naming a baby. Try to name your business to last a lifetime. (But if you are having trouble, you can always hire me to help ; )

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Social Media And The New Age Of Accountability

Mommy, There’s A Caterpillar In My Pickle Jar!

When I was a kid, I can recall one day finding a pickled caterpillar floating in the brine in a jar of pickles from which I was eating. The little creature was about the same size as the gherkins in the jar and it had been pickled to that same unnatural yellowish green hue. After I finished screaming out of disgust from the realization that I almost ate the thing, my mother quickly typed (yes, on a typewriter) a carefully crafted letter of complaint to the company. She put the letter in an envelope and sent it off in the mail along with the jar containing the caterpillar. A few weeks later, my mother received a lovely letter of apology along with a slew of coupons for free pickles and other products from this company. She felt acknowledged and satisfied with the response and that was that. It was a matter between my mother and the pickle company.

Today, if that same scenario popped up, a modern mother might run right over to her laptop and tweet about the disgusting experience to her 3,000 followers on Twitter and maybe blog about it with a close up picture of the pickled caterpillar and a YouTube video of the thing floating around in the brine. Maybe some of her followers and readers would re-tweet or re-blog about the experience and before you know it, that one tiny caterpillar in the pickle jar could cause quite a big PR and QC problem for the pickle manufacturer.

Consumer Responsibility

As consumers, we need to know that what we say in our online communities can be very powerful, both in a positive way and a negative way. I think sometimes it’s easy to forget that what we say online is there forever. Once done, in most instances, it’s pretty hard to retract. Consumers now have ethical responsibilities that were never on the table before the onset of the Internet, and were previously reserved just for businesses. Consumers now have unprecedented power to make or break a brand.

Corporate Responsibility

As businesses, we have the responsibility to make sure our practices are above board and our products and services are the best they can be. People are watching and listening, and if our products are not what we say they are or as they should be, then everyone will know about it within a few instants. If we are entrusting our products to the power of social media, then we must be willing to take what comes and deal with it, good or bad. Businesses can no longer keep problems quiet, most often they have to deal with them out in the open forum of social media.

The Changing Landscape Of Business

Social media has changed a lot of things. It has changed the way we communicate. It has changed the speed at which we can disseminate, find and devour information. It has also drastically changed the way we do business from researching, selling, and promoting, to communicating with our customers and colleagues and monitoring the marketplace and our own businesses. Social media has thrust a new age of power, responsibility and accountability onto businesses, consumers and anyone with an Internet connection. No longer can businesses hide behind carefully crafted copy and corporate speak when one customer could potentially create a brand’s name as a trending topic on Twitter for good, bad or evil. We all have an awesome responsibility here to be fair, honest, responsive to both consumers and businesses. Suddenly we are all swimming in the same pool, and we all have to take that responsibility seriously.

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Are You a Graduate of the Old School or the New School?

oldschoolThere are two camps that seem to be fighting each other these days. One is the old school camp of marketing and promotion and one is the new school. Paper and phones vs. digital and blogs. The conflict comes from the pure traditionalists that are closed to and a little fearful of the new and the cutting edge youngsters hooked up to their laptops and other devises who haven’t been around long enough to have ever seen the effectiveness of the old.

A friend of mine, who runs a pretty successful product design consultancy, is purely old school. I’d link to her site here, but she doesn’t have one. She isn’t on LinkedIn, has no idea what Twitter or Facebook is, only uses email to send files, yet she is a sought after designer. She uses pencil and paper and a telephone to do business. How does she get clients? The old fashioned way. By sending a beautifully designed direct mail piece and following up with a phone call. Remember mail, with stamps and envelopes? It works for her and she has no shortage of clients.

There are those that would be screaming that, in order to be competitive, you have got to get out there in the social media world. You have to have a blog, you have to be on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, comment on other blogs, rub elbows with the who’s who in the digital world. In a lot of cases this is absolutely true. I’ve said that myself, but I’m seeing a trend of everyone telling everyone else how to run their businesses, old and new alike.

My argument in support of old is that there is so much information and non-stop talk going on out there in the digital world that people find themselves yelling or talking more and more thinking that will get more attention. It starts to get so noisy out there that it’s really hard to stand out as an individual. Because of this, the old school approach starts to seem new again. Getting a beautiful or interesting promotional piece in the mail is a special thing again, and ironically is something that can have the power to make a business stand out from the crowd of the electronic images and messages that bombarded us on a daily basis. It’s like hanging onto that halter top for so long, that it came back in style, and actually looks pretty good with those new pants.

My argument for new school is that it is so quick and so vast, that it opens up a whole new opportunity for people to access your business and for your business to access people. It’s engaging, dynamic, and if used creatively, has the potential to grow your business beyond your wildest dreams. I just think there needs to be a balance. Every business, every person has their own philosophy and methods of reaching their market. Assumptions can’t be made that old is dead and new is it (or vice versa). I’ve been around long enough to have witnessed the success from using both methods. I was college educated during old school times and self educated on the job during new school times. It’s not an either/or scenario. I think both schools still have some learning to do.

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Does Arrogance Build Trust in the Social Media World?

Picture 1This has been brewing in my head for a while, and to be honest, I’ve been a little hesitant to write about it, but when I saw the description of the session that Chris Brogan is going to be leading at IZEAFEST, I decided (after some advice from a few folks at Copyblogger) to speak my mind. Now,  I have no idea who wrote the description, but regardless of whether Brogan wrote it himself or someone wrote it for him,  it really rubbed me the wrong way. I know Chris Brogan is a “Trust Agent” and all, and maybe it’s supposed to be funny or edgy or something, but I find it simply arrogant, complete with the intense close up photo of Brogan looking like an angry daddy about to tell the kids to go to their room.

Here’s the copy from the site:

“If you’re dipping your toe into social media, blogging, and all the other tools related to content marketing, either ‘jump in or get the Hell outta my water!’
Businesses are ready NOW, and they want professional treatment in bridging the gap between how they USED to do online marketing and advertising and how they will in the coming months.
Join Chris Brogan for a cuss-out, and a set of next steps to take home to your teams.”

This bothers me on multiple levels:

1. “If you’re dipping your toe into social media, blogging, and all the other tools related to content marketing, either ‘jump in or get the Hell outta my water!’”…Excuse me, but whose water is it that people are supposed to either jump into or get the hell out of?  The last time I checked, no one actually owned the vast ocean that we call social media.
2. “Businesses are ready NOW and they want professional treatment” …This implies that they are ready but everyone except for Chris Brogan is not prepared now to guide them or treat them professionally.
3. “Join Chris Brogan for a cuss-out” ….Hmm, I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t spend a sizable chunk of change to attend a conference to be cussed out by a Trust Agent.
4. “a set of steps to take home to your teams” …. Let’s all hope that everyone there takes copious notes so that they can all follow Chris Brogan’s steps to success. Everyone has his or her own way of working and thinking. What works for one doesn’t necessarily work for all.

I had been a subscriber to Brogan’s blog, but the straw that broke it for me was a recent post of his that detailed the minutiae of his day, right down to what he ate for breakfast. There are people who apparently care about that, because he got many comments and RTs for that post, exclaiming amazement at just how busy he is, but instead of impressing me or building trust in me, it had the opposite effect and I unsubscribed.

Arrogance is very unappealing to me. I have never been one to blindly follow or believe everything I hear, even if it is from an expert. I don’t think anyone should. I listen to all kinds of people, all kinds of ideas and take a wide range of thinking into consideration when I form my opinions and methods of doing things. But in my opinion this time, arrogance does not build trust or respect. What do you think?

screen shot from izeafest.com

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A Thousand Words Is Worth A Picture


I am a confessed antique treasure hunting junkie.  Some people go to church on Sunday, but I go to Todd Farm Flea Market in search of what, I’m never quite sure, but I know it when I see it.

This past Sunday on my usual trip to Todd, I picked up a Boston Newspaper that dated from 1858. When the seller said “a buck,” I couldn’t refuse.  When I got home, I opened it up and started to read. It’s a huge piece of  paper about 20X28 with teeny tiny type, 4 or 6pt at the most, with no pictures or illustrations, just words.  The stories are just that, stories and I couldn’t find much of anything that resembled what we would today consider to be news. One story in particular caught my eye and made me realize just how much communication has changed from then to now:

Scene In A Metropolitan Railroad Car

Yesterday afternoon, as one of the cars on the Metropolitan Railroad rolled along its rails, a lady, extensively beflounced and expansively crinolined, beckoned to the polite conductor as it was passing West Street, in order to take passage to the South End.  Her robe was in a state of delicious newness: its tissue folds were hardly cold from the modiste’s last artistic touch, and her attire was altogether gotten up evidently with a reckless regard of expense. The car was only partly filled – one side free from incumbrance. Upon its cushions she sat herself at ease with thought for her robe’s intactness uppermost, and spread its voluminous flounces carefully to their natural amplitude. She cast her eyes at the conductor with an air of composure, sang froid, and self-collectedness.

“Conductor,” she asked in the blandest of manners and most mellifluous of tones, “how many seats do I occupy?”

Taken by surprise, he glanced from one side to the other of her extended dress, and then at her. The lady’s face was serenely interrogative.

“About four, I should think Madam,” he said, wondering what would come next.

“Here are twenty cents,” she said, dropping the dimes from her lavender-kidded fingers into his extended palm. “ I do not wish to be disturbed.”

One would have thought the possibility of disturbing such a supreme embodiment of composure rather impossible; but having secured herself from the chance, in spite of stares and whispers, the quadrupled-fare pursued her way happily and uncreasedly  to her destination. It was a spectacle to admire. We commend her example to all ladies of similar balloonish dimensions.

Now in today’s language, this article could easily be reduced to the 140 characters of Twitter:

Wealthy woman wearing a big fancy dress, pays four times the trolley fair for the four seats she and her fluffy garments occupied.

But does that fill you with the image that the 19th century version does? I recently read a post on Copyblogger about editing your writing, only saying what you really have to say and not “falling in love with your words.”  But take a look at the adjectives and adverbs used in the article: beflounced, uncreasedly, crinolined, delicious newness, lavendar-kidded fingers, balloonish dimensions – what can get better than that in conjuring up a perfect image of this fine lady of Boston.

Yes, editing is good, unnecessary words are bad, but in this world of  OMG, BTW, LOL, don’t forget to serve up a few tasty adverbs and adjectives now and then. Just choose the right ones. Writing is an art that has the power to create powerful and clear images, depending on the words that you pick. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with falling in love with your words. There’s got to be some kind of passion behind what your are doing or saying or writing or there is no point.

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Excuse Me, Your SEO is Showing

underwearshowingNot to date myself here, but I started writing before SEO was part of modern vocabulary. I learned to write with conviction and clarity, to creatively communicate meaning, and to carefully choose words that would draw in a human reader rather than attract a robot. I learned the craft of writing as an art, not a science.

Writing has changed now with the desire to have a strong online presence and to show up first in a Google search or on Digg’s front page. Writing, at least the online sort, seems to have taken a turn for the science, often abandoning the art. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the importance of SEO in online content, but it seems that SEO has become of primary concern in most online writing. There are an overabundance of SEO keyword dense headlines and articles floating around out there, and it always seems so obvious which are written with SEO as the primary goal.

Keyword driven headlines and content may be search friendly, but when they show up in a search, are they compelling enough for a human to respond, click and read? Or does that not matter anymore? Copyblogger recently posted an article by Dave Navarro about the importance of headlines. In the article, it was stated that, “it’s well known that many Digg users vote on articles based on article titles and descriptions without ever actually reading the stories.” I find it a little disheartening that people aren’t reading content anymore, just headlines. If this is true, does this mean that the written word, the actual meaning the words has taken a backseat to searchable terms?

The creative soul that I am can’t help but want to make a pretty sentence that a human might read and respond to. I admittedly spend way too much time crafting and editing everything that I write. I have to consciously force the science in once the art is done. In my book, art comes first and science comes second. Just the same, the scientists among us also have to try to remember to bring art into their writing. Take the SEO formula and add a few swipes of a paintbrush to it, so it is compelling and appealing to humans as well as robots. I guess the trick is for the artists and the scientists to begin to mingle and mix it up a bit. You know, like in the old Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup commercial: you got peanut butter on my chocolate or you got chocolate in my peanut butter. Maybe art and science should rub up against each other a little bit more. When the two elements are put together in the right amounts, they can actually taste pretty good.

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Is Your Blog Content Killer or Filler?

ingredientsWith many bloggers feeling pressured to post something daily or multiple times daily to maintain their level of engagement, I think content can begin to suffer. No matter how much of an expert or guru someone is, the stuff can start to get recycled, irrelevant, tiresome or forced and often a bit too rich with keywords. Getting these posts in my inbox a couple of times a day, even from a “thought leader,” starts to feel a little spammy.

I do get the concepts of interruption and engagement, but being interrupted by the same person several times a day crosses the line for me. It has, for me, actually created the opposite effect. I am finding myself disengaging with some of the engagers, and have recently unsubscribed to several blogs for this reason. I have decided that since I now know that these blogs are there, I’ll choose when I want to be interrupted to read what they have to say. I’m taking control of my inbox back from the invaders.

I am a true believer in quality over quantity any day. A post for posting sake (and you can usually tell which ones those are) is a waste of both the writer’s and the reader’s time. There have been a couple of posts I’ve read recently that talk about the panic of writer’s block. These posts have given numerous suggestions on what to do and how to find something to say, including recycling older posts. My advice: don’t say anything. Wait a day (or even two) until you make an observation about something or read something, or see something or have a fresh idea worth sharing. Squeezing out the words like a stubborn pimple is painful for the writer and for the reader. Wait a little until the words flow more easily. It will lead to a more successful post that will truly offer something valuable, rather than simply supplying more verbiage to fill someone’s inbox.

What’s your take on this? Do you think it’s essential to post daily or multiple times daily, or are you inclined to be more conservative about it and post when you are driven to by a thought or idea that you need to share?

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How To Draw People In Like A Dust Bunny To A Vacuum Cleaner

dustbunnySo, you have a great business, a great product, a great idea or a great blog, but no one is paying attention. Consumers, retailers, subscribers, investors, sponsors or whoever it is that you are trying to get to notice you, are ignoring you instead. How can you get them to be drawn in to you like a dust bunny to a vacuum cleaner? The first step is to tell them a good non-fiction story, your story.

For example, Terracyle is a company that I think has an incredibly great story and is very successful at telling it. The founder and CEO, Tom Szaky had a great idea, a fabulous and greener than green product line that also serves the greater good not only in it’s greenness, but by engaging, motivating, and benefiting the community in the success of his brand. Terracycle takes trash that would normally be non-recylable, gets people to collect it and sent it to the company, and then Terracycle turns it into really cool, practical and usable products and sends the collectors a check to be used to support a non-profit oganization of their choosing. Szaky tells his story, his product’s story and motivates a call to action. I stumbled upon Terracycle through Google, and I thought the story was so great, that I went out and bought his products for my son’s back to school needs. It also motivated my son and his best buddy to start a Terracylce “brigade” to benefit his school, and in turn, Terracycle’s business. It also impressed me so much that I am now writing about it on my own blog without being asked to or paid to. That, my friends, is the power of a great story.

Whatever your tale is, tell it like it really is. Tell people about your great idea, tell them where it came from, tell them who you are, what motivates you, and offer something to them to engage them so much that they will be compelled to act on your behalf without asking. Let people know that, like them, you are a human, not a corporate robot, and you will find that you will begin to have more fans. Humans like humans. Humans are savvy creatures that are not fooled by corporate speak or carefully crafted, altered or unnatural histories.

Everyone has a real story, but we have always been told to weave our stories in a certain way in order to present the company or the brand or ourselves in the best light possible, but not necessarily natural light.  I know I can tell an airbrushed story when I read one. Don’t be afraid of the thought of having some stranger tap you on the shoulder and say, “Excuse me, but your humanness is showing.” Tell the real and natural story and you’ll find people will be coming in closer to listen. What’s your story?

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Is There A Pill For Social Media Overload Relief?

pillsAre you overwhelmed by information, or is it just me? Tweets and links , RSS feeds, newsletter subscriptions, LinkedIn group discussions and news, email blasts: the never-ending flow of messages and information is, at times, pretty hard to manage. With bloggers compelled to post daily or multiple times daily, and everyone trying to bring attention to what they are doing and saying, and the infinite array of tweets and messages, I’m beginning to wonder if it is just contributing to information overload and internet pollution? It’s so noisy out there, that I sometimes find it hard to concentrate, wasting time just sorting through to find the useful stuff.

Because the pharmaceuticals have not yet been developed, I’ve decided to take matters into my own hands. (Although, apparently therapists are starting to jump on the internet addiction treatment bandwagon.) My simple solution: I’m going to sit down and really go through all my subscriptions and whittle it down to just a few core blogs, groups and newsletters that I really rely on for information, inspiration or entertainment. Others, I’ll check on periodically when I have time, but I’m finding it so distracting and difficult to be productive when I have so much information and messaging constantly bombarding me throughout my day. Tell me, how do you manage all of your incoming information? (And after you do that, make sure you retweet and subscribe to my blog ; )

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