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Media Matters: Podcasting, Vidcasting and other Online Media Tools, Tips and Trends » Authenticity

Archive for the ‘Authenticity’ Category

New Media and Crisis Communication

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

The current mess on Wall Street really has major web news sites on their toes. Let’s take a look at who’s doing what in terms of their new media strategy.

Audio features:

First of all, I noticed something new on the New York Times website today. They are running click-to-play audio features on the front page, under related stories. Under the headline “Senate Leaders Pledge Action”, they include a speaker symbol with a streaming 8-minute audio feature “Back Story with David Herszenhorn.” It comes from “Take Away” - a public radio program produced in conjunction with NYT.

The audio feature is simple radio-style production: a host intro with a little music, a few clips from yesterday’s broadcast coverage, and an extended interview with Herszenhorn that was clearly recorded by phone and only lightly edited.

Posting an audio feature to accompany a print piece on a website, blog or e-newsletter works for a few reasons:

- Some people absorb information better by listening rather than reading, so you’re allowing for different learning styles.

- Many web readers are browsing for information while doing other things (like work) and an audio feature lets them multitask.

- Voice adds a personal dimension – you can hear some emotion in the voice that gives another layer to the interpretation of the facts. For example, in this NYT piece, you can hear that the reporter is weary and concerned. We take in information on many levels – intellectual, emotional, sensory – so providing that extra dimension makes a story more memorable and more meaningful.

What didn’t work so well? This particular audio piece felt a little at odds with the NYT brand in terms of its style. The NYT has a strong polished style in terms of the writing and the visual branding – but the same isn’t true of these audio features, which are clearly produced by an outside radio station. It wouldn’t be hard to develop a NYT “signature” for these things and spruce things up a bit. Too often, mainstream sources tack on “new media” features without the same attention to polish and quality that characterize their primary content. (For example, the WSJ has its reporters filing web video stories lately, and the quality is all over the map.)

The NYT is also doing a good job with their blog discussion, talking directly with readers about their personal finances. The way they are using the blog forum is a model of new media crisis communications.

Compare the NYT approach to the way CNN lets readers comment in their “Sound Off” section at the end of major stories. (Scroll to the bottom of the story.) The comments are mostly a way for irate readers to indulge the anonymity of the web to spout off in tirades that don’t add much to the discussion. NYT by comparison sets up a separate forum for readers to voice their anxieties and hear back from the experts.

The moral of the story is to moderate and segregate.

Moderate: Especially during a crisis, public discussions need to be led and directed. Otherwise, the comments section becomes nothing more than angry graffiti scribbled all over your lead story. Knowing that someone knowledgeable is going to “talk back” is often enough to keep the discussion focused and articulate.

Segregate: Keep discussion comments separate from news. Don’t just tag on “comments” to the end of an important official story or announcement. Create a separate forum for discussion. Put a link near a provocative leading to a discussion blog. A news story and a discussion with readers each have their own distinct tone and purpose – don’t mix them up.

One final note: what we like about all of the above is the focus on authenticity. It’s exciting to watch mainstream news sources embrace new media as way of introducing less scripted, more subjective, more authentic comments from reporters and readers alike.

The Yelp! Conundrum

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

Yelp logo

A San Francisco restauranteur thought he was pretty web-savvy, inviting 50 of the most prominent Yelp! reviewers to eat at his new digs — for free — before they opened. The crowd came, with friends, and ate well on the house. The next day, the reviews were pretty good. But the restauranteur was surprised to find that the reviews had absolutely no effect on his business. Inversely, one hears all the time about restaurants that get slammed on Yelp but do just fine.

The moral is that consumers online are more discerning than we give them credit for. Sure, some people will look at the most recent review and get immediately turned off by someone’s complaint that the waiter was rude, or the food was cold. But most people know that other people have their own weird obsessions, and habits, and failings, and you really can’t trust just one person’s review. The average person who uses a Yelp or Citysearch quickly assesses the aggregate of the reviews and makes their decision based on the balance.

The worst thing you can do is have your friends go online (or heaven forbid, do it yourself under a fake name) and write fake positive reviews. People can smell a fake review a mile away. But contrary to the commonly-held belief, we don’t think it’s wrong to respond to your critics in the comments — as long as you respond formally and professionally, fully own up to being the business representative, and only correct inaccurate information.

Authenticity: The Authoritative Source

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

Authenticity book image

When you’re talking about authenticity, you really have to namecheck Joe Pine and Jim Gilmore. Their latest book is called, of course, Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want. It’s a great read, and they’ve got a nicely-designed website and blog to go along with it.

Today’s cry for authenticity is really about staking a claim against the advertising, PR and marketing models of the past, oh, century. The reason being, they’ve stopped working. We’ve heard something advertised as FREE! for so long, the word has lost its meaning. We know now that FREE! really means, “we’ve found a way to stick you with the price, and more, somewhere along the line.” I remember the first time I got roped into one of those record club deals, when I was 15, and got stuck buying a bunch of cassettes by Taco and 38 Special that I didn’t want. I learned my lesson, and since then I’m wary of things marked FREE!, same as we all are.

The same thing goes for much subtler branding strategies. We’ve become highly-attuned sensors of graphic design, and we’re able to sense when a Yelp review is written by the person who owns the restaurant. The only way to really reach people today is to be yourself, to let your company/non-profit/etc. tell its own story. Pine and Gilmore delve deeper into the meaning of authenticity- check out their site and the book.

What We Can Learn from the “Yes We Can” Phenomenon

Thursday, February 28th, 2008

It’s campaign season, and we can’t help but compare the web videos being circulated by supporters of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. They are an object lesson in what works and what doesn’t in the world of viral video.By now, everyone who isn’t living under a rock has seen, or at least heard of, the famous Obama tribute “Yes We Can.” Total views thus far: more than 5 million.

It was a rush job, produced in two days, including the time it took to contact and convince 30-odd famous musicians and actors to come into the studio. The campaign had nothing to do with it - they didn't even know it was happening. It was posted on Saturday February 2nd, had 700,000 hits by Monday, and has grown exponentially since then.

Even if, like me, you find it just a tad overly-emotional, you've gotta admit it works. It's moving. It's obviously spontaneous. And it does all the things that official political ads rarely if ever accomplish: it's impressionistic, indirect, emotive. It captures a mood of aspiration and possibility without hammering home a poll-tested message. And it does that because, presumably, it reflects the true and idiosyncratic feelings of the people who created it (especially of the Black Eyed Peas and his friend, the filmmaker Jesse Dylan).

Okay, so let's check out the competition. Twelve days after the Yes We Can phenomenon hit YouTube, the Clinton campaign responded with a video of their own, called Hillary 4U and Me.

If you just finished watching it, I bet you laughed (be sure to check out the dance sequence around 2:16). But maybe not in the way the campaign intended, because this is an official campaign production. The staging is obvious in the "Hillary" t-shirts, the over-determined multiculturalism and age span of the crowd. On the whole, it's got a certain campy bad taste. The music is outdated, simplistic and childish. Catchy, in a camp song kind of way. But a little embarrassing. This is what happens when you think too hard about imitating someone else's work and try to be inspiring without feeling inspired. Total views: 448,310.For a more tongue-in-cheek effort (again, funded by the campaign), see this one, called "Hillary and the Band". Total views: 396,839.

Clearly it is targeted at hipster GenY voters. But the strain of stretching across the great generational divide produces cracks through which one catches an unmistakable glimpse of pandering and desperation - kind of like the teacher who tries too hard to be cool.My personal favorite web video of this campaign season is the recent and relatively modest Mariachi tribute to Obama called Viva Obama (It went up last week and it's had 256,952 viewers so far).

It's hilarious, smart, and the music is totally authentic. It isn't over-produced. The focus of the piece is the genuine enthusiasm of a specific group of supporters. Compare this one to the Hillary4U&Me video and you can start to see that there is a right way and a wrong way to take advantage of viral video, and it has everything to do with authenticity.So how do you cultivate authenticity? Well, that's probably a topic for a longer conversation - and it's the sub-text of almost all of our posts! Let's just say for now that the surest way to kill it is to set out to imitate a competitor. Or to try to be all things to all people.

In order for authenticity to emerge, we have to open up and make room for idiosyncratic expressions. We have to set aside the fear that our message will be adapted to someone else's creative vision. In the world of communications, there is the message you intend to transmit and then there is how other people interpret that message. And there is always going to be a little bit of difference, a little bit of space between those two things. That space is where dialogue happens. Sometimes it's a good idea to provide a stage and then get off it, so your audience can contribute their own voices. It's hard to give up the security of scripted, vetted, focus-group tested messaging - but letting others have their say can open the doors to a kind of authentic creativity that is impossible to imitate.