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July 2008

The end of plastic?

A friend sent me this slideshow about the dangers of plastic bags: the nearly one trillion that are consumed worldwide each year are responsible for a growing amount of litter, contamination of soil and waterways, and catastrophic effects on wildlife.

It got me thinking about the cloth bags that have become popular lately, and my own resistance to using them. True, I have one Stop & Shop branded one in the trunk of my car, but when it comes time to shop, I rarely stop and grab it. Shame on me.


I'm not an Earth-hater, mind you. Perhaps just a bit lazy. I do have these great little Wrap-N-Mats that I bought from a catalog years ago; they are reusable sandwich (or snack) wraps that eliminate the need for plastic sandwich bags. That counts for something, right? And honestly - these are great (I had no idea that the "mat" part was meant to imply that they are a "sandwich mat and place mat in one!" until I just visited their site).

Folding_wrap Why aren't more brands combining branded utility with the green movement and providing everyday items like cloth grocery bags or Wrap-N-Mats (branded, of course) as free give aways? Not manufacture and sell them, mind you, but rather replace the same old (and often useless) tchotchkes like t-shirts, stress balls, and stuffed animals they normally distribute with utilitarian goods that may encourage greater adoption of these habits?

Or would the actual production of these bags just add to the cumulative effect of our consumption, which continues to be an enormous and hazardous drain on the environment?

I don't know. It's not easy being green, but this seems like a good way to integrate brands into daily life while raising the collective consciousness of the issue.

Olivia Browning

I was so excited to see this the other day!
It's the signage for the new Olivia Browning shop that's slated to open on the corner of Warren and Chelsea Streets in Charlestown's City Square.

Scheduled to open next month, the shop joins Edibles by Evers and The Joy of Old in Charlestown's growing retail/gifts category (hooray!).

Olivia Browning will sell all sorts of housewares, clothing and gifts, including bath & body, babies & children, Charlestown goods, kitchenware, jewelry & handbags, and pet accessories. They also will do your event planning!

They also have special in-store events planned, from a Men's Shopping NIght (to help the guys with their holiday shopping), to Gourmet Nights (with local restaurateurs on hand to discuss food), and historical lectures on Charlestown.

Cheers to Charlestown resident Abby Gray who's actually living my pipedream: after 20 years in marketing, she decided to make a career change and open this gift shop in the neighborhood. I wish her and her husband/business partner Richard, much success.

Stop the Madness

I normally don't use this space to rant, and I don't think I've ever weighed in on politics, but I've been sufficiently aggravated this week to do so now.

It all started with the AdAge Video email that arrived in my inbox on Thursday morning. Towards the bottom I saw this:

My curiosity piqued, I clicked through to watch the video. In it, Liberal blogger Arianna Huffington pretends she is in charge of John McCain's marketing, and describes what she would do to help him win.

Despite being staged, it's uncomfortable to watch. She plays into the religious fear-mongering that Senator Obama has struggled with since he announced his candidacy (see this and this).

My immediate thought was, "I wonder how long before some idiot lifts this and presents it as truth?" I then did a quick search on YouTube, and lo-and-behold, I saw this:


Note the definitive title: "Ariana Huffington slams Obama; Endorses McCain." As you might have guessed, someone edited out the AdAge intro, thereby removing all context for the dialogue, and presented it as a McCain endorsement on YouTube. Where over 1,000 people have viewed the video, many clearly taking it as truth as evidenced by the comments.

What's worse, I tried 3 times to add my own comment setting the record straight, but to no avail. The system apparently accepted my submission (see the feed from "My Comments in the Blogosphere", below), but neglected to publish the comment publicly. Now it looks like I'm just promoting this stupid video.


Honestly, technology is a wonderful thing. Why must people abuse it?

I'm now compelled to read Andrew Keen's The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet is Killing Our Culture.

For a nicer view of the Obama family, check out their recent interview in People magazine (or if that's too fluffy, try his NYTimes Op-Ed piece).

I haven't yet decided who'll get my vote, but I'm open-minded and interested in the truth. Too bad others aren't.


AMA Boston Social Media Event

I attended the AMA Boston's session this week on How to Build a Killer Social Network (sorry...I can't find any reference to the event on their site to link to, but honestly...it occurred).

It was well done - a solid introduction to social media for people that are new to the space.

John Moore, Director of Ideas and Innovation at Mullen's Media Hub, delivered the keynote, which was chock full of stats, trends, and examples of key publishers/marketers in the social media space. He cited both recent headlines (like the Herald's "Web's where it's at for networking") and old-time quotes (like Peter Drucker's "Every organization needs to be prepared to abandon everything it does to survive in the future") to convey the impact social media is having on business.

John also touched on 3 points of concern with respect to social networks:

  • Page velocity - visitors to social networks spend less time on a page (he noted MySpace's velocity of 4.5 pages/minute whereas Yahoo's is just 1.6), calling into question the ability to get readers' attention here
  • Monetization - no one has really cracked this one yet
  • Time spent - there have been reports that it's declining 

But there are plenty of ways for both businesses and individuals to leverage social networks, and a panel presentation followed to discuss just that.

The panel was moderated by Chris Brogan, VP Strategy and Technology at Cross Tech Media Partners (who, between this event, PodCamp Boston, and this Twebinar, I saw more of this week than I did my own family!) and comprised of:

  • Todd Van Hoosear, Social Media Practice Manager at Topaz Partners
  • Dale Durrett, Eastern Region Sales Manager at LinkedIn
  • Tom Arrix, VP Sales at Facebook (Tom, no public profiles to link to??)

The group shared some social media rules of engagement, like: look before you leap; standard ad units are not the foundation of social media programs; leverage the targeting available via social nets; and above all, understand the environment. Chris polled the Twitter community real-time to ask their advice, and they overwhelmingly said that you must be transparent/authentic. Make your community members feel special and stay involved.

Remember that on social networks, you're not competing with ad space; you're competing with people's friends. "Traditional" online media doesn't work in the social networking environment, where there is a greater need for branded utility.

There was only a brief discussion around measurement (although admittedly, I left early, during the Q&A part), where Tom acknowledged that they're still trying to figure out what the metrics are, but pointed out that it should include some measure of the value of the conversations social media enables. Todd went on to say that social media can go beyond marketing, into the realm of product development for example.

I whole-heartedly agree. Beyond the typical direct response metrics (clicks, downloads, purchases, etc.) and the newer engagement (comments, forwards, etc.) and buzz metrics, a true ROI analysis must also consider:

  • customer retention & savings associated with customer service via real-time, lower cost channels (e.g., reduced call center/F2F inquiries thanks to online self-serve, peer-to-peer, etc. - see ComcastCares or IBM DeveloperWorks)
  • intangibles that are tough to measure but much more valuable (e.g., product quality, customer satisfaction, faster time to market). Social media can feed market research (via the comments, feedbacks, etc.) as well as merchandising.

As I've commented before, you can't treat social media like a campaign and expect immediate results; like any other relationship, it needs ongoing care and feeding.

Podcamp Boston 3 Wrap Up

Another TWIT Podcamp is in the can!

That's right - PCB3 came and went, and I'm just now publishing my observations and thoughts. In the spirit of focusing on the task at hand, I elected to refrain from live-blogging, photo-blogging, texting and Tweeting during the event (the horror!).

Instead, I'll just share a few highlights from the weekend here:

Stever Robbins got us thinking about how to make compelling content that keeps people coming back in his session: Grab, Hold, and Grow a Loyal Audience. The key is to include a human element (introduce stories) and interactivity (tools, resources) to hook people and keep them. Instead of one-way, monotone copy or audio, provide engaging, two-way conversations that have a personality. For example, use inflection in your audio tracks, ask rhetorical questions that solicit comments, provide related links and tools so that people can respond/react to what you've presented. Stever recommends learning some improv techniques and leveraging them in the business and/or social media setting (as does Izzy Gessell, who I had the pleasure of meeting at PCB3).

The Smart Social Media Marketing Panel - comprised of Greg Verdino, Doug Haslam, Adam Broitman, Philip Robertson - continued this thread by noting that social media is not just about adding a ShareThis button. It's about creating an immersive environment, one that provides value and is compelling enough to earn attention. Like the early days of soap operas, advertising must return to a value exchange. Equally important is the concept of listening first, and then jumping into social media where it's appropriate. Comcast has found a way to do this with its ComcastCares account on Twitter, where a real employee monitors the Twitterscape for references to Comcast and helps with diagnostics, troubleshooting, and general customer service.
(Zappos has made an impressive foray into Twitter as well).

Speaking of Twitter...Joe Cascio talked about distributed microblogging and the challenge of relying on a centralized system (like Twitter, which was down for maintenance on Saturday afternoon).
In this session, we talked about alternative services (like the open source identi.ca), the continued niching of the Web (e.g., SportsTwit), and the resulting clamor for a universal log-in system like OpenID (just adopted by MySpace). Oh - and the big question on everyone's mind: how can these systems be monetized?

Lastly, my friend CC Chapman led a rousing discussion on building your brand through passion & community. Among his tips: be human, be honest, and be sure to manage your digital footprint. Building and maintaining a brand - be it personal or corporate - is hard work; it takes patience and consistency to achieve organic growth (which is why, I think, so many of forays into social media by big brands are a flash in the pan: they treat it like a campaign and expect immediate results, rather than a living thing that needs ongoing care and feeding).

Overall, PCB3 was informative and fun. I ran into several past colleagues (Crystal, Anthony, John and Moli - who reminded me how cool MOO cards are). And I'm now committed to trying out Utterz, which let's you add audio tracks to your blog posts (among other things) and will make my mobile photo posts (like this) more interesting.

Photos from the event:

Dancing with Matt

Podcamp news is coming...in the meantime, enjoy this feel-good video from Matt (which was ever-so-subtlety sponsored by Stride gum).


Update: Matt has decided to use his fame to raise money for charity: he met United Nations officials this month and talked to the sponsor of his video, Stride, about raising money to buy and donate laptops to the poor in Rwanda where he danced with locals and plans to go to teach them himself.

Podcamp Boston 3

Podcampboston3 It's finally here!

The third annual installment of Podcamp Boston is happening this weekend at the Joseph Martin Conference Center at Harvard Medical School.

Over 400 people have registered to participate in a variety of sessions on new media, as well as partake in some good old-fashioned networking.

If you're not attending PCB3 this year, watch this space for updates, or follow PCB3 on Twitter.

Related Posts:
Podcamp Boston 2
Podcamp Boston 2 Recap

Boston Design Center Dream Home

Head on over to the sixth floor of the Boston Design Center before July 31st to get a peek at this year's Dream Home - a collection of rooms outfitted by nine local designers.

It's a quick tour (only 9 rooms) but a good excuse to get into a space that's normally only open to the trade*, and drool over some over-the-top home furnishings.

While the physical installation itself could've been more interactive (it was billed as the "ultimate" domicile, so I expected more technology integration...but this is, after all, brought to you by the design center), there's a good companion Web site that features detailed information on the rooms, designers, and products (including pricing and where to by).


*Consumers can get access to the products available in BDC's 87 showrooms via the Plush membership program ($275/year).