I’ve Been Writing A Lot Lately, Just Not Here

I only update this blog occasionally because most of my writing these days appears on other people’s websites. But my blog is still my home base. Here’s a round up of what I’ve been scribbling about elsewhere of later.

Social is the Future of Search (Profitecture Blog)

BuzzFeed HQ

(Photo credit: Scott Beale)

What could possibly unseat Google as the king of the Web? The answer might be incubating in fast-growing media operations like BuzzFeed (right) and Upworthy. These publishers eschew search optimization in favor of creating content that people want to share. From an SEO perspective, they do a lot of things wrong. And they’re killing it online at the moment.

Marketing’s big miss (BtoB magazine)

A new McKinsey & Co. report reveals a startling disconnect between B2B companies and their customers that should give every marketer pause to reflect on his or her priorities. The research shows that the themes that B2B companies emphasize in their marketing messages are wildly inconsistent with the factors that B2B buyers care about most.

Short on content? Repackage (BtoB magazine)

A lot of marketers are frustrated by the perceived need to turn out a lot of content, but the problem is much more manageable if you reuse and repackage creatively. Here are some ideas for how to get more mileage out of the stuff you already have.

Rewarding Bad Behavior (Godfrey Blog)

Marketing and sales organizations at most B2B companies have a relationship that can be politely described as strained. Sales complains that marketing gives them lousy leads while marketers charge that sales wouldn’t know a good lead is it bit them on the nose.

Both sides are correct. That’s because many organizations reward their sales and marketing people for the wrong things. Improve lead quality and a lot of the bad karma disappears.

Altimeter’s Brian Solis: ‘It’s the Customer Experience, Stupid’ (Huffington Post)

Brian Solis at Upload Lisboa, Portugal.

Brian Solis (right) is one of the most consistently provocative and perceptive analysts in the world of new media and social business. I caught up with him shortly before his Pivot conference in October to find out what’s on his mind. He believes few CEOs know how dramatically their businesses will change as a result of customer empowerment. And he thinks any business can enchant its customers. Even one that makes hammers.

Five Important Differences Between Paid and Earned Media (Profitecture Blog)

Many marketers treat social or “earned” media the same way they treat advertising and direct mail, but the two forms of media are very different. Earned media is more valuable because people volunteer to share your information. This benefits small and patient companies disproportionately. If you talk at customers in earned the channels the way you do in paid channels, your results will probably disappoint you.

 

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This Brand Ambassador Program Goes Against the Grain

Update Nov. 21: Social Rebate’s PR agency took issue with my opinions below, stating:

For a journalist of your caliber, I would have expected you to do more than just ‘scour the website pretty thoroughly.’  If you were interested in a story—even a story critical of Social Rebate—I would have expected you to reach out, interview a Social Rebate representative, and perhaps even interview some of the company’s small business clients. Perhaps your perspective would have changed, perhaps not. But, at the very least, you would have fairly, accurately, and properly REPORTED the story.”

The company’s founder and CEO submitted a response, which I have appended, in its entirety, to the end of this post. 


Social Rebate logo

The PR agency for a startup called Social Rebate has been asking bloggers to comment on the company’s somewhat novel approach to brand ambassadorship. I have some strong feelings about this topic, so I’ll oblige.

Social Rebate is a service that creates brand ambassadors by offering cash and rebates to people who share recommendations of products and services in their social networks. According to the company’s website:

Upon check-out, consumers are given the option to earn a pre-determined percentage back from their current purchase when they share your marketing on their favorite social network. They can immediately earn cash back just for posting — and then earn even more when THEIR friends click you YOUR posted link.

Social Rebate cites some well-known statistics to support its concept, such as the fact that recommendations from friends and peers are the most credible form of buying advice and that people are much more likely to buy a product or service if someone they know recommends it. It also claims to have more than 200 retail customers, including Sprinkles Cupcakes and SitnSleep, although I couldn’t find any mention of Social Rebate on either of their websites. To be fair, I may have to make a purchase in order to do so.

I’m sure the folks at Social Rebate researched their concept exhaustively. If they concluded that this is a good idea, then their findings contradict nearly everything I know about brand ambassadorship.

Dave BalterBoston-based BzzAgent is a word-of-mouth marketing agency whose customer list would turn any ad agency executive green. Founder Dave Balter (right) has worked on hundreds of brand ambassador program since 2001. He told me that one of the secrets of success of such programs is not to compensate people, at least not with money.

BzzAgent has a database of hundreds of thousands of consumers whom it activates to spread the word about products from the company’s clients. The only compensation brand advocates receive is free samples and perhaps an advance look at a new product. For most people, Dave says, that’s payment enough.

He adds that once you start paying people, credibility goes out the window, and that’s where I have trouble with the Social Rebate concept. I can’t imagine a scenario in which I would recommend a product or company because someone paid me to do so. Credibility with my network is one of the most valuable assets I have, and it simply isn’t for sale. I imagine most people feel the same way. People who don’t are probably not folks I want to get to know in the first place.

Does full disclosure resolve the issue? Not really. Think of it: If someone recommends a product or company on your Facebook timeline and adds that they were paid to do so, what does that do to the credibility of that recommendation? In my view, such a disclosure effectively invalidates the recommendation. And I might think less highly of that individual as well.

In a harsh review on VentureBeat, John Koetsier wrote, “The problem [with Social Rebate] is that it threatens to turn a social space into a space just about commerce.” I agree, but I don’t think there’s much chance the Social Rebate concept will catch on. Human beings just don’t work that way.


Social Rebate responds:

Paul,

My name is Tom Larkin, and I’m the CEO of Share Magnet, and one of the creators of Social Rebate. I’d like to begin by thanking you for taking the time to comment on our product. Favorable or not, it’s good to get feedback from industry thought leaders so we can continue to make our product better.

That being said, there are some important points that your article doesn’t directly address. I hope that this response will serve to bring them into the conversation, and hopefully open a productive dialogue.

I appreciate Dave’s stance on product based compensation. I agree that the use of a product and subsequent review are a valid and positive form of brand ambassadorship. What your analysis fails to recognize is that the “payment” you’re referencing isn’t a payment, it’s a purchase price reduction.

The IRS, FTC and their legally affiliated entities all agree that a rebate is not income. So do we. We’re allowing businesses to engage in a transparent post-purchase agreement to engage people who are fans of their product or service to share them and get their money back.

The key here being that it is post-purchase. The person receiving the rebate has already spent their discretionary income at that particular business.  They are then given the opportunity to share that independent action with their friends.

When ask your readership to “think” about how their recommendation would be affected by getting paid, you fail to address the most important piece of the credibility establishment puzzle: DID THEY BUY THE PRODUCT WITH THEIR OWN MONEY? If yes, then they do. If not, then they do not.

I’d be happy to talk further about the issues you raise, and the lengths we as a company have gone to address them. I’d be happy to talk about our plans to harness the positive power of earning social rebates to charity. If you’d like to speak with some of our customers, we’d be happy to help facilitate that as well.

Best,

Tom Larkin
CEO and Co-Founder
www.sharemagnet.com

 

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Bidding Fond Farewell to BtoB Magazine

BtoB_logoI was sad to learn this week that BtoB magazine, which has existed under various brands for nearly 100 years, will be swallowed by Advertising Age at the end of the year. I have worked with BtoB for nearly seven years, publishing about 120 columns and articles during that time. The staff has always been a joy to work with, and BtoB has played a critical role in my own education about the transformation of media. It’s the most important publishing brand I’ve been affiliated with during my eight years as an independent consultant, and I’m truly sorry to see it go.

My association with BtoB began as a happy accident. Shortly after going on my own in late 2005 I encountered the then-editor-in-chief, Ellis Booker. Ellis had worked for me at Computerworld years before and our mutual geekiness had cemented a friendship. At the time I reconnected with Ellis I was becoming fascinated by the changes in the publishing world driven by social media. I pitched him pretty hard on stepping up BtoB‘s focus on that area. Ellis has always been a forward-looking guy, so he began to feed me some assignments, which I tackled with zeal. Here was a chance to learn by talking to practitioners on the leading edge and earn a few bucks and a byline in the process.

In late 2006 Ellis offered me a monthly column on the editorial page called “New Channels.” I’m still writing it more than six years later. I’ve never been paid for it, but I would probably pay BtoB for the privilege.

New Channels gave me an opportunity to share what I was learning with more than 30,000 subscribers and perhaps to materially impact the way B2B companies were thinking about social media adoption. I sweated every one of the 450 words I was allocated each month and still think it was some of my best writing of the past six years. When you have so little space to say something, you have to focus and minimize waste. Length limits are a great way to improve your writing.

Looking back on some of those early columns dramatizes the speed with which things have changed. In 2007 I remarked on how big brands were embracing blogging and YouTube, completely unaware of the impending arrival of social networks. In 2006 I wrote about Microsoft’s Port 25 blog, which invited its critics in the Linux community to heap abuse on it in a Microsoft-branded channel. Thanks to Facebook, such interactions are common today across hundreds of brands.

John Obrecht took over from Ellis in 2010 and was kind enough to ask me to continue writing the column. I understand John will be leaving Crain Communications when BtoB shuts down. If you want a top-notch business editor and writer who understands B2B markets, be sure to give John a call. He’s in Chicago and hopes to stay there.

Gillin_at_BtoB_eventOver the years I’ve had the opportunity to be involved in many of BtoB‘s social media-related projects. I’ve helped judge its Social Media Awards for the last four years and also contributed to the annual Interactive Marketing Guide since 2010. I’ve been privileged to be on the stage for the past four years to present awards to some remarkable companies that are innovating with social media and to participate in numerous other BtoB events. The association with the BtoB brand has been invaluable to me. Despite all my blogging, books and contributions to other websites, the BtoB magazine association is the one people still mention most often when I meet them.

Many readers of my blog probably know that I also maintain a blog called Newspaper Death Watch, where I’ve commented on the massive changes sweeping through the newspaper industry for more than six years. BtoB is a victim of those same forces. The advertising market for business publications is in free fall, and since most of the magazine’s advertisers are themselves B2B media companies, BtoB has suffered along with everybody else. Crain Communications is notable for its commitment to print publishing. It sustained a print presence for BtoB long after most publishers probably would have opted to go online-only. The decision to shutter the brand isn’t surprising, but that doesn’t make it any less disappointing.

 

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8 Data Points about the Importance of Customer Experience

I was asked to prepare some background information on the importance of delivering a positive customer experience, and I thought I would share some of the research with you.

How much does the market reward companies that deliver excellent customer experience? Consider that the Fortune list of the world’s 10 most admired companies in 2013 includes seven that are renowned for excellence in that area: Apple, Google, Amazon, Starbucks, Southwest, Disney and FedEx. The world’s two most valuable brands – Apple and Google – are considered world-class.

Recent research worth noting:

  1. Dell has published internal metrics showing that 97% of dissatisfied customers can be rescued with proactive intervention and more than 40% of those people actually become raving fans.
  2. Siegel+Gale’s 3rd annual Global Brand Simplicity Index reported last year that nearly 1/3 of American consumers would be willing to pay an average of about 4% more for simpler brand experiences.
  3. Gartner estimated last year that by 2014 “failure to respond via social channels can lead to up to a 15% increase in churn rate for existing customers.” You have to wonder why one-third of large corporations still block social network use by their employees.
  4. Research published by Temkin Group last year reported that only 7% of the 255 large companies it surveyed could be described as reaching the highest level of customer experience maturity, although nearly 60% said their goal is to be the industry leader in customer experience within three years. That’s gonna be a tall order.
  5. A July, 2013 Lloyd’s survey of 588 C-suite executives found that customer loss was their second biggest concern, exceeded only by worries about high tax rates. Respondents also indicated they are under-prepared to address this risk, with executives giving themselves only a 5.7 rating on a 1-to-10 scale (see chart below).Areas of Biggest Business Risk As Defined by CEOs
  6. Sixty-two percent of B2B and 42% of B2C customers purchased more after a good experience, while 66% and 52%, respectively, stopped making purchases after a bad experience, according to a recent survey of 1,000 people who had had recent customer service interactions. The research also indicated that customers are somewhat more likely to share bad experiences through social networks than good ones.
  7. Executives talk the talk but still don’t walk the walk. An Oracle survey of 1,342 senior-level executives from 18 countries earlier this year found that 97% agree that delivering a great customer experience is critical to business advantage and results, and that the average potential revenue loss from failing in this area is 20% of annual revenue.  However, 37% are just getting started with a formal customer experience initiative, and only 20% consider the state of their customer experience initiative to be advanced.
  8. A survey of 2,000 adults last year found that 83% are willing to spend more on a product or service if they feel a personal connection to the company. One-fifth said they would spend 50% more on companies that they felt the company put the customer first.

How to Get Salespeople Aboard the Social Media Train

One of the most common frustrations I hear B2B marketers express is about the difficulty of getting salespeople interested in social media. Outside of prospecting with LinkedIn, few sales pros are willing to make the investment of time to learn and use tools that promise a payoff months or years down the road.

Jeffrey HoffmanJeff Hoffman says he knows precisely why salespeople are so reluctant because he was one of them for a long time. Hoffman, who runs the Boston-based MJ Hoffman and Associates sales training and consulting agency, shared four ideas for getting salespeople off the social media dime in a presentation at the Inbound13 conference in Boston today. I think they’re worth sharing.

Hoffman listed four characteristics of salespeople that make them poor candidates for social media success:

They’re reluctant to share. Information is competitive advantage in sales. Whispered tips from insiders and competitive intelligence can make the difference between closing the deal or losing it. Many salespeople see no upside in sharing information, which is a practice which is essential to building social capital.

They’re short-term thinkers. Sales pros are driven by quotas, which are measured in monthly increments. Telling them that social media prospecting will pay off in a year or two doesn’t interest them. They’ve got a quarterly quota to meet.

They express only neutral opinions. Anything that ticks off the prospect can sabotage the sales, so salespeople are trained never to express strong opinions, especially negative ones. How good is a competitor’s product? It’s great, but we’re different and let me tell you how we’re better. The problem is that visibility in social media accrues to those who have strong opinions to share. By keeping their opinions to themselves, salespeople limit their potential social capital.

They’re natural quarterbacks. Salespeople are lone wolf decision-makers. They want to be given goals and also the latitude to figure out how to achieve them. If you know any successful salespeople, you know what I mean. Don’t waste time collaborating on a solution; give them the ball and they’ll run with it.

Lemons into Lemonade

So how do you convince people to be more social media-savvy when their natural inclinations go against the grain of everything they need to do? Hoffman says you turn a handicap into a virtue. Here’s his advice for dealing with each of these anti-social behaviors in order.

Reluctant to share? Make it a contest. Sales pros are naturally competitive, so make the process of building social capital a game. Set measurable goals like the number of Twitter followers, number of LinkedIn connections of number of contributions to the corporate blog, then put rewards in place. People will try to cheat, but that’s OK. The point is to get them involved.

Break down long-term goals into short-term milestones. Using the technique above, share the numbers with your sales team as social quotas. Post a leader board that shows each rep’s progress toward that goal. Make sure everyone can see the rankings. Salespeople take pride in beating their quotas, so make sure they know their up-to-date progress toward this one – and also everybody else’s.

Make it safe to express opinions. Ask for a blog entry on what they like best about sales, why they came to work for your company or 10 reasons to love the local football team. Find topics that enable them to exercise their opinion muscles without risking backlash. As they gain confidence (and see response), they’ll feel more comfortable venturing outside their comfort zone.

Turn quarterbacks into captains. Give sales reps the same control over their social capital as you do over their territories. The conversations on Twitter and LinkedIn will go on with or without them. Don’t change quotas, but create incentives for sales brought in through social channels. Then let the reps figure out how to achieve them.

The one theme that runs through all four of these tactics is competition. Sales people respond better to challenge than they do to opportunity, and better to short-term than to long-term goals. Make the process of building social authority a game and let the instincts of your sales people take over from there.

 

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Gems from Godin

Seth Godin keynoted the #Inbound13 conference in Boston this morning, serving up his usual bounty of great quotes. Godin’s overarching point: We are moving from the age of mass to the age of connection. Organizations must connect with their constituents individually or they’ll be ignored. A person’s value is defined by his or her platform, which is a function of connections.

Quotes are more or less word-for-word. Unquoted comments are paraphrased.

  • “We get so hung up on what we’re good at that we forget to ask what we should do next.”
  • “For 100 years our economy has been based on idea that we can swap people out interchangeably.” This promotes mediocrity.
  • “More people are listening to music today than ever before but the recording industry is toast. That’s revolution”
  • “Mass media appeals to the masses and that means average. TV was invented to sell ads to masses. Products advertised on TV are by definition mediocre.”
  • “A typical supermarket has 30,000 items with 17,000 new ones arriving every year. Do consumers want more marketing?”
  • The Internet shifts markets from normal to extreme because enthusiasts can find each other and drive each other to greater extremes.
  • The great new ideas come from people working at the extreme outer edges, not the normal middle
  • We’re leaving the industrial economy and entering the connection economy. Mass won’t work any more.
  • “Be careful with a race to the bottom because because you might win.”
  • Generosity will be essential to marketing because no one wants to connect with a selfish person.
  • “If people aren’t complaining when your e-mail doesn’t show up, you don’t really have their permission to e-mail them.”
  • “Be the one people can’t live without, the one that delivers something unique. That’s why TripAdvisor is worth more than American Airlines, which is basically a bus company.”
  • “The guy who invented ships also invented shipwrecks.”
  • We want to be in synch with our tribe, but our tribe isn’t large any more. It’s others like us.
  • Don’t try to invent a tribe. Show up to lead one that already exists.
  • “The minute someone gives you instructions, you’re not doing art any more. You’re doing color-by-numbers.”
  • “If your value is that you cost a nickel less than the other guys, you’re in a race to the bottom.”
  • “If you believe failure is not an option, then neither is success.”
  • “A meeting is a group of people waiting to see who foolishly will take responsibility for what happens next.”
Seth Godin at #Inbound13

Seth Godin on stage at #Inbound13 (photo by Joselin Mane via Twitter @JoselinMane)

The Smart Device Revolution Is Just Beginning

I spotted a promotion this morning for a smart tag you can now attach to items that you never want to lose. It emits a Bluetooth signal that a smart phone app can pick up so you can always track them down. It’s a terrific idea and another example of how the Internet of things is going to transform so many markets.

Smart Revolution E-Book CoverCoincidentally, Christina Kerley just sent a copy of her new e-book, “The SMART Revolution.” It’s a 17-page compendium of products that are rewriting the rules of entire businesses by embedding intelligence into everyday things.

For example, hospital workers can now wear a wristband that reminds them to wash their hands and monitors their diligence in doing so (if this sounds Big Brother-ish to you, ask yourself if you wouldn’t prefer to be a patient in a hospital that used it). There’s a device you can attach to a golf glove that gives you feedback on your swing and several examples of devices that monitor your health to help you or your doctor make more informed decisions.

There are several other wonderful examples in the 17-page e-book, which is free on Christina’s site.

I think we’re only in the first innings of understanding the revolutionary potential of smart mobile devices and how they will enable us to crack big problems that are too expensive to solve by other means.

Waze screen shotI’m using the popular Waze app on my phone to make me a smarter driver. Waze tracks data coming from nearby users and alerts me to problems ahead. It has become an essential utility for me when driving more than a few miles, particularly at rush hour. On several occasions, Waze has redirected me to routes I never knew existed to get me around traffic jams. It taps into the experience of each driver on the road to the mutual benefit of all.

While most of us use our smart phones primarily to read, text and perhaps play games, their potential is so much greater. When tied to a network, they become utilities that tap into information all around us to make us healthier, more informed and more efficient.

Back in the 1980s several states experimented with traffic monitoring systems that involved embedding sensors in roads. The systems proved to be too expensive and fragile to be practical. Today we’re solving these kinds problems not by changing our infrastructure but by tapping into the devices that people carry with them. This is a vastly cheaper, more reliable and more flexible approach than the ones envisioned just a couple of decades ago.

I think you’ll find Christina’s e-book fun and thought-provoking. Get it here.

How to Summarize Content for a Business Audience

In my previous post about How to Read and Summarize a 20-Page Research Report in 20 Minutes, I showed how to skim through a complex document and gather essential information to use in summarizing the material for a business audience. Now let’s build our summary from the material we highlighted.

We start by going back through the document we marked up earlier (it’s embedded in the previous post) and copying and pasting each highlighted section into a new document. Organize each element under one of the categories you used when marking up the document (for example, Key Point, Take Away, Summary Trend and New Insight). The result looks something like the document embedded below.

Then we plug our highlighted information into an “inverted pyramid” template. Inverted pyramid is an organizational technique that was invented many years ago in the newspaper industry when space was finite and stories often had to be cut at the last minute. Inverted pyramid dictates that information is presented in order of declining importance. That way, if the story needs to be cut to one paragraph at the last minute, the key points are still preserved.

You don’t hear much about inverted pyramid anymore because length isn’t an issue online, but it’s a very reader-friendly way to present information to time-pressed people. That makes it a good technique to use in business writing.

The technique of journalism writing.

Just the Facts? No

A good summary does more than just relate facts, though. It also provides context for why the facts are important and filles in background information that helps the reader understand how this new information moves their understanding forward. Here’s a typical example from an Aug. 1 AP story:

The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell 19,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 326,000, the fewest since January 2008. The decline shows the job market continues to strengthen.

The Labor Department said Thursday that the less volatile four-week average slid 4,500 to 345,750. The July figures are typically volatile as the government has a difficult time adjusting for seasonal layoffs in the auto industry.

Still, the trend in weekly unemployment claims has been positive and offered hope that a better job market could help lift a sluggish economy later this year.

Look to this model when summarizing content. Your outline might look like this:

Paragraph 1 Key Point
Important Data 1
Key Takeaway
Paragraph 2 Important Data 2
New Insight
Paragraph 3 Callout or Quote
Paragraph 4 Important Data 3
Paragraph 5 Important Data 4
Potential Gotcha or
Summary Recommendations

Each paragraph should ideally introduce new data that moves the story forward. After you’ve introduced two or three new data points, step back and offer context for what you’ve just said. The exception is the middle of the summary, where the quote typically appears. Quotes shouldn’t be random or perfunctory. They should comment upon the data and insights already presented.

Putting It All Together

By dragging and dropping the highlighted information into this outline and then rewriting for consistency, we come up with this summary:

New research finds that midsize businesses are applying the same principles as big companies to extracting untapped value from data both inside and outside the organization. They are also motivated by the same goal as their corporate counterparts: to create a competitive advantage. The research challenges common perceptions that only big companies have the scale and computing power to realize the opportunity of “Big Data.”

A survey of more than 1,100 business and IT professionals in 95 countries – nearly half of which are midmarket businesses – also suggests that data quality is an important variable in the effective use of big data analytics. Researchers suggest that a fourth “V” – veracity – be added to the “three Vs” of big data that are commonly accepted. They include volume, variety and velocity.

“’Veracity emphasizes the importance of addressing and managing for the uncertainty inherent within some types of data,” the researchers say. Acknowledging that there is no such thing as perfectly clean data, they recommend that “the need to acknowledge and plan for uncertainty is a dimension of big data that has been introduced as executives seek to better understand the uncertain world around them.”

Customer-centered objectives are the principal drivers of big data projects, the research revealed. Other frequently mentioned goals include operational optimization, risk/fi­nancial management, employee collaboration and enabling new business models.

In order to get the most from big data, companies of all sizes need a scalable infrastructure and strong analytics. Even then, most are struggling to find the skills needed to analyze the deluge of unstructured data like voice, video and conversations in social media.

Note the third sentence in the first paragraph, which states that the research challenges conventional wisdom. This is an attention-getter. Whenever you can counter commonly held perceptions, you have a good chance of grabbing the audience’s attention.

Note the third sentence in the first paragraph, which states that the research challenges conventional wisdom. This is an attention-getter. Whenever you can counter commonly held perceptions, you have a good chance of grabbing the audience’s attention.

Paragraphs one, two and four primarily introduce new information. Paragraphs three and five step back and provide context. Again, this is a cadence that readers are comfortable with.

This is just one of many ways to write a business summary, but it’s a reliable one. It uses a cadence that’s familiar to most people and gets across the key points of the research in declining order of importance.

Next we’ll talk about writing headlines for different audiences.

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When Bad News is Good

There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.
–Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

Consider the case of Reza Aslan, a religious scholar and author of the controversial new book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of NazarethAslan was interviewed by Fox News’ Lauren Green last Friday, resulting nine of the most bizarre minutes in television journalism history. Green, who had clearly not even cracked the cover on Aslan’s book. repeatedly questioned the author’s credibility as a Christian religious scolar based solely on the fact that Aslan is Muslim. MediaMatters reports that her bias against Islam goes back many years.

As a rule, public relations professionals advise their clients against getting involved in a confrontational interview such as this, but in Aslan’s case it has worked out splendidly. As of this moment, his book is the top seller on Amazon. Twitter is recording about 10 tweets per minute mentioning the author’s name. The story on BuzzFeed (linked to above) is approaching 4 million views and nearly 6,000 comments have been posted to the coverage on Huffington Post. Scores of articles have appeared in mainstream media. YouTube views are over 1 million.

Reza Aslan is making out like a bandit. The Fox interview virtually guarantees his book will be a bestseller. Getting attacked by Lauren Green is the best thing that could have happened to him.

What’s the lesson here? In today’s hyper-caffeinated media market, you have to make a scene to get noticed. Aslan’s book was controversial before he went on Fox, but had this interview not occurred it probably would have received little mainstream notice. Pairing him with a questioner with a Christian fundamentalist agenda was a recipe for dynamite. The author was clearly prepared to be challenged. The fact that Green bungled the whole interview so completely was just his good luck.

The story is a microcosm of the new media industry. Outlets like Fox thrive by pushing an agenda. It doesn’t matter to them if their tactics occasionally look stupid. Their core audience will stick with them regardless. Watch Lauren Green’s popularity soar in the wake of this incident. Many of Fox’s ultra-conservative viewers will believe she was only saying what too many others are afraid to say. In the echo chamber of extreme media, it’s almost impossible to go too far. Far from being cowed by this incident, Fox will only be further emboldened, just as Rolling Stone has profited from anger over its recent controversial cover photo.

There’s also a lesson for professional communicators. If you want to get noticed, you have to be outrageous. This new fact of life frustrates many of us who believe our work to be thoughtful, serious and worthy of informed debate. Authors can hope for thoughtful reviews in the Wall Street Journal, but that isn’t going to sell 100,000 copies of their books. If the opportunity to  engage with immediate extremist media emerges, grab it. An attack may be the best publicity you can ask for.

 

 

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