Stop creepin’ on my page

Facebook’s always been challenged by the task of targeting their advertising across a highly segmented population. Their attempts vary between ham-handed (Beacon) and all thumbs (illo below)

Crappy ad targeting

Crappy ad targeting

Of all the types of ads one can target, singles ads seem straightforward. Granted, FB profiles don’t cater to all proclivities but when I’m a middle aged single man interested in women, why does this guy show up? He’s as out of place as the ads for girls my daughter’s age or Both are regular occupants of the right column.

Facebook, get a clue. The data is right in front of you.


Where’s the tail that wags the dog?

I turn to Google Trends once in a while to see if my client work has had an impact. Trying to understand search behavior is like trying to understand love. It’s something that eludes casual analysis. You have to work hard and smart to move the needle, but it can be done.

Sometimes there are genuine events, not manufactured PR or marketing initiatives that bring a new picture into focus. The search volume generated by the recent celebrity death quad-fectra of Ed McMahon, Farah Fawcett, Michael Jackson and Billy Mays is a case in point.

Death Trends

Google Trends lets you limit the search geographically. Admittedly, I biased the chart by choosing Billy’s home state, Pennsylvania. It seems that people in Delaware, Maryland, Rhode Island and to a lesser extent Florida generated similar Michael to Billy ratios. Nevada stood out as a State transfixed by Michael and less so by Billy.

Regardless of the regional variation, there are two dimensions of analysis that fascinate me. One is the age divide and the other is the correlation between news volume and search frequency.

The age difference is striking. The older you are, the less likely people are going to search for you when you die. Only boomers remember Farah and Ed and they probably get their news from dead trees. Michael and Billy remain firmly in the consciousness of younger folks that get their news online. That may account for the striking difference in search volume between those that die at 50 vs. 60+.

But look at that news volume. Michael Jackson is getting ad nauseum coverage from all media outlets. The ongoing nature of this coverage is only surpassed by RAI when the Pope dies. Clearly media coverage drives the sheep to search Google for everything Michael. There are plenty of sheep.

But what about Billy. His news volume is a slim fraction of Michael’s but look at the search volume. Is that just great word of mouth? Is it the vast untapped love for an everyman folk hero? It’s an organic phenomenon that has nothing to do with PR and media. It’s something else that I don’t have an explanation for unless Billy came from a very, very big family. His search volume is disproportionate to the media coverage of his exit.

So the question is…what creates big increases in search volume in the absence of the media stirring the pot? Is it just big love for Billy? I doubt it. New theories welcome.

This is good news

The New York Times reports that the Chinese are going after the electric car market. Should that worry us?

It’s time to say it. Harden the fuck up, America. Stop whinging and whining about the economic transition. Get with it and start competing. A new race is being defined.

There’s been recent hand wringing over the innovation gap. Some think Silicon Valley has lost its mojo. I don’t think so. The Japanese threw down the gauntlet with hybrids (and a few plug ins too). The Chinese are coming on with mass manufacture, and the Indians can have a game changer with an electric Nano. Interesting times.

The US responded with Tesla, an early adopter’s wet dream. The Chevy Volt (God, I wish I had my ’63 Nova) is what GM is dishing up. And Ford’s hybrids seem to do nothing but add a few MPG and increase the cost of maintenance. Competition should up our game and breed innovation. That’s how it works in Silicon Valley…let’s hope Detroit can catch on.

I don’t like to point out problems without offering a solution. In this case the solution may very well be to sell off the GM brands (if possible) and form new business alliances with global partners. Crysler-Fiat?  Where’s Lee Iacocca right now? He’s not just making olive oil, is he? Interesting times indeed.

Setting up a successful social media program

Assuming that your company is one that has something to gain by social media engagement you have to decide how to deliver successful initiatives that advance tangible business goals. That may mean going to an agency for help or finding internal resources. In many cases, it’s a split of duties between your company and a marketing/advertising/pr firm. I’d like to offer some experience-based recommendations on how to divide social media tasks.

The first step is to understand your goals. Are you trying to create awareness and loyalty? Do you want to drive website traffic? Do you intend to generate qualified leads? Is providing better customer support a goal? Clearly thinking through your primary goals will help you understand which social media tactics support those goals.

Next, assess your social media readiness. How many of your employees are on Facebook or Twitter? Do any of them blog? What sort of social media footprint does your brand project? Are people talking about your brand? Identify which venues they favor and determine whether the sentiment is positive or negative. This information provides a baseline against which you can measure the impact of your program.

Determine what mix of resources will deliver cost effective results. For example, UPS has an in-house blog monitoring program that leverages receptionists as blog readers. Their reporting is aggregated so that marketing folks can understand what’s being said in the blogosphere. Perhaps you have an agency that is able to monitor blogs too. That’s fine, provided they can move as fast as a viral story does online. A weekly blog coverage report doesn’t cut it when a story can propagate online like wildfire. A frequently updated wiki or media dashboard is a better solution for keeping everyone informed.

Communicate with authenticity and transparency. The era of social media has opened up organizations that were opaque in the past. People have come to expect that company executives and employees have social network presences and can be engaged in authentic dialog. The expectation of dialog comes with an expectation that they are communicating with someone that is knowledgable and “on the inside.” This argues for putting Twitter in the hands of your employees, just as does. They have over 400 employees on Twitter and it has become a defining part of their culture.

So if your employees are monitoring the blogosphere, tweeting and at home on Facebook, what’s the role of your agency? A good agency will have broader and deeper experience with social media than you. Their lessons learned are useful and may help you avoid mistakes. Marketing agencies can develop integrated campaigns and leverage your resources, web shops are able to build Facebook applications and drive traffic and PR firms can orchestrate blogger relations in support of events and product launches. Agencies can round out your resource set, provide ideas and direction and guide your strategic thinking. Just don’t give up the most important thing, your authentic voice.

Four Years Out


Today marks the fourth anniversary of Gabriella’s passing. It’s enough time to move on, yet on this day I feel like she was here only yesterday.

My memory is funny that way. I have a terrible memory for birthdays and important holidays, but January 12 really imprinted itself. It is preceded by a sequence of milestones from 2004. Our last Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. Not much to celebrate that year other than her survival. We didn’t anticipate that the challenge of 2005 would be our own survival. Not that I had doubts, but it was a long hard slog through a year which can best be described as lost.

As I listen to the gloomy economic news, I really can’t get all that upset. I’ve been to lower lows than dollars (or the lack of) can produce. Today is a relative high spot in my life. I’m together with my kids, we love each other and have an optimistic view of tomorrow. I’m gainfully employed and still find time to ride my bike. It’s only up from where we’ve been.

This year’s anniversary post is one of gratitude. Gratitude to those friends that stood by my side and those new friends that helped move me along. And especially to those deep, deep lifelong friends who’ve always been there for me. You know who you are…. Thanks to all.

On Book Writing

I was in a client meeting a few weeks ago. I suppose I was more articulate than usual that day because one of the meeting participants asked me when I was going to write a book. A nice compliment but a very tough thing to do. I started my career in book publishing and I saw first hand how hard it is to complete a manuscript. It’s not for the faint hearted.

That’s why I loved reading today’s opinion in the New York Times. Timothy Egan hits the nail on the head.

Most of the writers I know work every day, in obscurity and close to poverty, trying to say one thing well and true. Day in, day out, they labor to find their voice, to learn their trade, to understand nuance and pace. And then, facing a sea of rejections, they hear about something like Barbara Bush’s dog getting a book deal.

Writing is hard, even for the best wordsmiths. Ernest Hemingway said the most frightening thing he ever encountered was “a blank sheet of paper.” And Winston Churchill called the act of writing a book “a horrible, exhaustive struggle, like a long bout of painful illness.”

I could not agree more. With limited funds to advance to authors, publishers have to choose between literature and pop culture. Unfortunately the money’s in pop culture.

The Holidays

Those that know me well know that my attitude towards this time of year is ambivalent at best. It makes me think about my late wife and how she held on to life through Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year’s Day in 2005. She passed soon after the calendar changed.

I’ve been reluctant to share my experience because it brings me back to a dark time in my life. But after nearly four years, I’m used to the loss and am able to share with the thousands of caregivers watching their spouses dance with this malevolent illness.

What really got me writing this Sunday morning are blog comments. Whether it’s someone who knew my wife from her school days in Italy or a stranger, comments have a way of pullling me up from my self-absorbed trench. That’s the case with John Rigo, a poet, writer and blogger from Texas. He left a comment on my blog about a month ago.

John understands that the role of caregiver is a tough one. Your job is to provide comfort, care, love in the face of incredible odds. As much as I aspired to be upbeat and optimistic about my wife’s disease, I knew that the odds of her recovery were slight. That’s something I kept to myself during those years. I even refrained from making sarcastic comments when we collected holy water at the Vatican, knowing that my wife was trying every avenue, even a miracle, to escape the disease. Each round of chemo, each plunge of the surgical knife was an opportunity to focus on recovery and pray for a successful outcome.

We finally confronted reality this time of year in 2004. Being the stronger one, she started putting her affairs in order. There’s nothing like going to the lawyer to draw up a will as a sign that the baton of life is about to pass. I resisted her urgings to learn how to manage the household expenses, but eventually gave in to the cold logic. These conversations were a tacit acknowledgement of what was to come.

In retrospect I would have done a few things differently.

1) I would have spent better time with her. She learned how to live in the moment and treasure those around her. It took me a while longer to learn that skill. I spent too much time preoccupied with the future and carried around too much anxiety.

2) We should have talked more to the kids. They knew things weren’t good, but at 11 and 14 years old, they had no point of reference for the situation. They need more care too.

3) We should have spent more time imaging the future without her. As difficult as it is, we didn’t do much of this until the last 30 days. At that point, with the fog of the drugs, I’m not sure we were able to imagine anything but a blank wall.

4) I should have gone back to work sooner. I took time off to remodel a house and be the caregiver. I don’t regret that one bit. What I do regret is letting my professional network wither for four years. I felt like Rip Van Winkle when I started becoming active in my industry again. I faced the same dilemma as a housewife returning to the workforce. My re-entry took longer and was harder than I ever expected.

5) I should have taken better care of myself. The stress takes its toll and you can see it on my waist even today. Being a caregiver is a very outwardly directed state of mind. Don’t forget about yourself. Eat well, laugh with friends and get some exercise. Maybe that’s my New Year’s resolution!

“She hasn’t been gone long enough for me to miss her”
“Except every minute of every hour of every day when I wish I could possess her”

— Elvis Costello