Posts Tagged Business Communications

We Are the Media: Blurring the lines between print, digital, and social media

Print is dead. We’ve been hearing that for what, a decade now? Two? But have you been to a bookstore lately? Or a supermarket? You’ll still see a lot of floor space devoted to magazines and newspapers. Real estate inside those stores is extremely valuable and the people who run them are pretty smart. If print publications don’t make the cash register ring, why are they still there?

Many magazines have disappeared in recent years. Many that are still around are quite a bit thinner than they used to be. And newspapers are certainly struggling. Most of them have tried to integrate some sort of digital edition into their subscription model. Results have been mixed at best.

Yet occasionally we find a respected dead-trees media organization that seems to have figured out how to stop fighting digital media and make it work to their benefit. Recently I got a very inside look at one such example.

Cycle World launched in 1962 and by 2001 was the largest motorcycle magazine in the world. Its founder, Joe Parkhurst, was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame as “the person responsible for bringing a new era of objective journalism to motorcycling in the United States.” In 1995 the magazine published an article by Hunter S. Thompson called “Song of the Sausage Creature.” (Complete with illustrations by Ralph Steadman.) In it, HST wrote a sentence that has been quoted many times and is often seen in the signature lines of keyboard riders on internet motorcycle enthusiast forums: “Being shot out of a cannon will always be better than being squeezed out of a tube.” Hunter Thompson created a career out of ignoring the lines between observer and participant.

“Being shot out of a cannon will always be better than being squeezed out of a tube.” —Hunter S. Thompson

Cycle World has teamed up with Honda to help introduce a new motorcycle, the NC700X, to North America. The bike goes a very different direction from the rest of the market and Honda is staking a significant portion of its future on this motorcycle. It has drawn a lot of ink in traditional media and is starting to get some traction in the moto forums. Cycle World named it the best standard motorcycle of 2012.

Then they went way beyond the boundaries of the printed page. The magazine took four of its readers, had them ride the new bike for a week, and built a story around them. This story is being written almost entirely in pixels, rather than on paper. The story is called the Cycle World Honda NC700X Adventure Challenge.

And I am one of those four riders.

 

Cycle World and Honda paid all of our expenses for a week in Southern California. They put us up in nice hotels, fed us like kings, supplied more than a few tasty adult beverages, and generally made us feel like rock stars. The magazine even tapped some of its advertisers to hook us up with a bunch of new riding gear. And all they asked in return was for us to talk about the experience. They didn’t tell us what to say and they didn’t ask us to say nice things. Just talk about the experience.

And that’s what we’ve been doing. On Facebook, and Twitter, and Instagram, and lots of the other social media platforms. I’ve been asked a few direct questions about the bike and have answered to the best of my ability. Two most common questions: How is the fuel mileage? (It’s better than the specs say it is.) and, How is the bike on the dirt? (I don’t know as we didn’t get to take it off the pavement. But if you want a dual-sport motorcycle, this isn’t it.) I’ve also suggested to a few friends who are looking for a new bike that they might want to have a look at this Honda. If I were shopping and had $7,000 to spend, I would buy one.

While we were out hooning around on these new motorcycles a camera crew shot gobs of video and stills of most of our escapades. They’ve released some of that content on the Cycle World website with more to come. So we four are riders, content contributors, and, the magazine hopes, social media influencers.

Should be interesting to see how this goes.

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What’s Your Story?

We write a lot about the power of storytelling for business. How your story is the foundation of all of your marketing communications. There are a zillion tools for telling your story. Some are easy to use, others require a lot of skill, time, practice, or money.

One of the more interesting tools is Xtranormal, a web-based service that lets you create animated movies. You type words; cartoon characters speak your dialog. Simple enough. As with many technologies, from chainsaws to video editors, just getting the tool is not the same as learning how to use it well. Good results take time and effort.

Here’s a little movie we made with Xtranormal. It’s our first effort, so we’re naturally just a bit proud of it. We created 80 seconds of content, starting with the words we wanted our stick figure actor to speak. We added some movements and one simple sound effect. And we experimented with a number of camera angles to keep it interesting. Getting everything to synch up was a bit of a challenge. It took a lot more time than expected.

Video is a very powerful tool. It’s easy to produce; not so easy to produce well. Mostly, it takes time. Fortunately, Xtranormal is fun to use. We quickly got caught in the time-suck vortex of trying to make our little movie just a bit better. Those 80 seconds of video took several hours to create. If you are thinking about using this tool for your business consider the value of your time. And compare that to the value you could create by spending those hours doing your real job.

Anyway, here’s the result:

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Social Media Strategy, Bursting Bubbles, and Companies that Suck

Social media is just one of the tools in our toolbox. It is not a strategy. It should not be run in a silo, segregated from the rest of the organization. I have believed that, strongly, since at least a decade before Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube came along.

All of these vehicles, venues, and platforms are just tools we can use to tell our story. If our story sucks, if we are not a good company, if our products are lousy, then the last thing we need is tools to help more people learn about us faster.

If we have a strong story, make good stuff, sell it at fair prices, and treat our customers, our prospects, and our competitors with respect, then using social media to tell that story far, wide, and fast can help us succeed.

Social media is not social selling. And it is rapidly moving away from social marketing. It is just a very efficient way to have conversations with people who might buy our products, or not buy them, or influence others who might or might not, or interact with a million other people who might have some effect on whether or not we succeed.

And so it must always be focused on the people outside our organization, as they ultimately determine whether we live or die. When we get a tweet that is essentially a customer service question, it is a fatal error to think, or to say, that the question needs to be directed to our customer service department, which is not on Twitter. Either we have good customer service, or we don’t. How the question comes in the door is irrelevant, unless we don’t really care about our customers. And if that is true, then we are irrelevant, or soon will be.

I see social media following a similar trajectory to the web, although much more quickly, with much sharper climbs and probably a faster descent. It really wasn’t that long ago that just having a website was a novelty. It didn’t need to be any good, or do anything useful. Just having a URL meant you were a sexy company. That lasted about three years. Then people started to demand that the website add value to the customer experience. So good companies began to install online help systems, and answer their email around the clock. The best ones began to see their online help system as a sales tool. Customers could now decide to buy from a company because they could clearly see how much support they would get after the sale. And they could see that before buying. Before even showing up on the company’s radar.

A bunch of groovy new startups arrived on the scene promising to take companies that suck, put them on the web, and magically turn them into great companies. Companies that suck, and some that don’t, bought into the hype, made a few people rich, the web collapsed, and a zillion internet gurus were out of work. This entire scenario played out between 1995 and 2001. The web didn’t go away. But the people who didn’t know how to make use of it did. And the web is a better place today.

Fast forward to today. You have to be a company that doesn’t suck. That’s always been true. Just two years ago, just being on Facebook meant you were a cool company, and you felt all sexy and warm inside. But if your company sucks, now it sucks on Facebook. And Twitter, and YouTube, and the other next best things to come along. And your customers, former customers, and competitors have yet another way to share the story of your sucky company. And leave you in the weeds. Lots of people claim to be social media gurus and sell a lot of snake oil. I think that we’ll see the social media bubble burst in two years or less. Social media won’t go away, but the hype will. The gurus will be unemployed. Meanwhile, the people with good storytelling skills will remain successful.

So, be a company that doesn’t suck. Have a great story. Tell it well, meaning listen more than talk. And use social media tools to help share that story with more people faster.

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Be Your Own Test Pilot

Do you know where the phrase “pushing the envelope” came from? It’s what a test pilot does. An aircraft is designed to operate within a set of boundaries called the performance envelope. How fast can it fly? How high? How quickly can it take off, turn, and land? How much weight can it carry? These are the limits of what it can do.

But when a new airplane is built no one really knows exactly where those limits are. So test pilots fly the thing to find out. They take the aircraft to the edge of the performance envelope and see what happens. If all goes well, they push beyond the existing boundaries. They explore unknown territory to see what they can find.

If they have a good day, and land in one piece, they have successfully pushed the envelope to establish a new boundary. Now the plane can be flown faster or higher. So the next day they’ll attempt to push the envelope out another little bit. If they have another good day, they’ve made more progress and helped create a better product.

Eventually, bad things will begin to happen. Components or systems or people will begin to reach the limits of their own performance. Sometimes, things will break and the pilot will have a not so good day. With skill and maybe some luck, the plane will land safely. The team will study what they’ve learned. They’ll dial things back a bit and establish the edges of the performance envelope. The limits of where the thing can be operated safely and reliably.

But no one knows where those limits are until they begin to go beyond them. They don’t know how fast or high or far they can go until they try.

You can do this in your own life. In your business. You can be your own test pilot. How do you know where your limits are? Have you pushed your own envelope lately?

I used to be afraid of heights. Then one beautiful San Francisco day, I took a walk across the Golden Gate Bridge. Traffic hurtled by a few feet away. The bridge moved under my feet. The wind felt like it would sweep me over the rail. But nothing bad happened. I had a really good day. And now, I’m a lot less nervous about being in high places.

A few months ago Arlene Battishill, the president of GoGo Gear, rode her motorcycle the entire length of the Baja peninsula. She met up with some scruffy-looking guys in Southern California, crossed the border into Mexico, and rode all the way to Cabo San Lucas. Eleven hundred miles in five days. With some traveling companions she really didn’t know.

I’m pretty sure Arlene told us in the first days or maybe hours of that trip that this was by far the biggest ride she had ever attempted. She said she would be doing something she had never done before. She planned to push her own envelope.

We had a great trip. Arlene proved to be one of the best riders in the group. She was definitely the most fun and now she and I are good friends. Recently I read about how she jumped on her bike and rode north, to San Francisco; 575 miles in a long weekend. She shared a picture of herself and her motorcycle at the Golden Gate Bridge. I could feel the wind and smell the ocean. I wanted to tell her about the time I went there and came back different.

Arlene Battishill at the Golden Gate Bridge

Arlene celebrates another day of pushing the envelope.

I originally wrote this as a guest post on the GoGo Gear blog. When Arlene published it she also said some very nice things about me. Here’s her version.

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How to Keep Your Trip on Track: Communication is Key

When you travel in the back country, do you eat breakfast? If you do, is it instant oatmeal or eggs benedict? What time do you hit the trail? Right after sunrise? Or after a leisurely morning stroll and a second cup of coffee?

Simple questions. And the answers aren’t really important. Except to your traveling companions. Those could be the people glaring at you while you drive away just as their breakfast burrito comes off the griddle. Or shaking you awake at dawn, while they are ready to roll.

My traveling companions lead the way out of a remote camp in Baja

Misunderstandings like these can ruin a trip. But they are avoidable with good communication. It can be very easy to assume that everyone else operates with the same sense of time, the same scheduling style, that you do. Especially if you are used to traveling alone. But bring in a new companion, or another couple, or create a small group, and differences in styles and perceptions of urgency or leisure will quickly surface. Mix in a little bad luck and things can deteriorate rapidly.

You can easily avert a lot of unpleasantness just by talking about timing before the trip starts. You might start the conversation by mentioning that you like to grab a quick cup of instant coffee and a granola bar and be rolling 30 minutes after sunrise. Or, that you really enjoy cooking up a big breakfast for the entire group, taking your time to pack up, and rarely leave camp before ten o’clock. Again the answers themselves are not so important. But the resulting conversation can be.

You might be pleasantly surprised to learn that everyone else on the trip shares your sense of timing. So it will be easy to manage expectations and keep the group smiling. If that’s the case, you can all just agree to be ready to roll at 6:30. Or at 10 AM. Or whatever time the group decides on.

And don’t panic should you find that your camp mates have a very different sense of timing from you. No need to cancel your trip. Just compromise. You might plan a combination of long days with early starts as well as shorter days with more leisure time. As long as you all talk about it before you leave, it will most likely work out.

And if you only have time for a quick weekend getaway, consider making it a general rendezvous rather than a trek. Just pick a scenic spot a couple of hours from home and have everyone meet there. Some will arrive right after work on Friday night, some Saturday morning in time for breakfast, and others later in the day. If you aren’t planning to actually travel together, it won’t matter when people arrive. You can have breakfast whenever you like and still enjoy a pleasant evening around the fire with nice people and good conversation. And that might include talk about when to have dessert.

This article originally appeared in the newsletter for AT Overland Equipment. A great company that builds fantastic products. That’s one of their “Built for Off-Road” trailers in the photo above.

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