24 Hour News FAIL

April 29, 2009

swineI will preface this by saying that contrary to my personal opinion, the Swine Flu, or H1N1 Virus, may in fact infect a lot of people and lead to the end of the world.  Hey, it could happen.  And I don’t want to be the one that everyone points their finger at when we all contract the disease and die.

However, I put the blame for the sudden panic of the world squarely on the shoulders of 24 hour news stations.  The CNN’s, the FOX’s, and the hundreds of affiliates and sister channels all over the TV are ablaze with reports of pandemics.  And, what’s worse, we live in the age where not only are we exposed to this via television, but the web.  Every single major media outlet on the internet is covered with stories on the Swine Flu, and how bad of shape we are all in because of it.

And it gets to us.  It makes people panic.  It makes people say, “Oh my god, we are all screwed.”

The problem is, this happens all the time.  This happened a few years ago with the Bird Flu.  And you know what happened after it was all said and done, the so-called pandemic didn’t do nearly as much harm as everyone expected.

Every tragedy and every scare, anywhere in the world, is magnified a million times because of these major media outlets.  In my opinion, there is no need for it.  It just causes people to panic, when the real goal of news should be to inform without making judgment.

They do it with business news, as anyone who follows stocks can see.  They do it with political news, as anyone who is as fed up with the 100 day obligatory judgment of Barack Obama will agree with.  They even do it with sports news, endlessly bashing or building up a player or a coach to no end.

Why do they do this?  They will tell you that they have a moral obligation to inform.  They will tell you that people watch the news to get that information, so why would they get rid of it.

The truth is, 24 hours is too much for news.  And deep down, they will have to agree.  They need to fill every second with a story.  They need to take the stories that are big, and make them even bigger.

Swine Flu is this month’s presidential election.  Soon the story will dry up and they’ll find something else to talk about.

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If I Could Meet One Entrepreneur…

April 24, 2009

question_markYoungEntrepreneur is running a poll today for its readers.  The question, “If you could meet one famous entrepreneur, dead or alive, who would it be?”

For me, it’s an easy one.  I want to pick someone who built something from scratch, someone who challenged the system, and someone who continued to innovate all the way to the top.  And though it may seem somewhat obvious, I would not change my answer for anything in the world.

It’s Steve Jobs.

I have discussed the lifelong innovator before on this blog, and for good reason.  As an avid enthusiast of all things creative, I have to appreciate the work that he and Steve Wozniak did in creating Apple.  They saw something that no one else did in the area of computing.  They did what many people, even people in the industry, said was not possible and not “profitable”.  They created a personal computer that people could actually use.  And not only that, people wanted to use it.

Since then, Jobs has continued his journey with Apple at the speed of light, battling with Microsoft to gain market share over PC’s, adding the iPod to everybody’s list of must have gadgets, and successfully launching a smart phone with AT&T.

Through it all, Steve has fought his own battle with cancer.  I have great respect for Steve Jobs, and think that spending a few hours picking his brain on topics ranging from managing a growing company, to brainstorming new ideas, to successfully launching products, would be a great experience for any would be entrepreneur.

If you had to choose, who would you want to meet?  Share it with me in the comments section below, or hop on over to the real poll at YoungEntrepreneur.com and add your answer there.

Earth Day Message: Businesses Need to do More

April 22, 2009

earth-transparent1April 22, 2009 is Earth Day. This is a day when we all should remind ourselves that innovation is not only about making more money and helping more people, but truly about thinking outside the box and creating newer, forward moving strategies.  Going green and helping the environment in business is a great way to kick off your innovation discussions this year.

To help get you started, here are a few blogs that focus on Green Business practices that should inspire you to change the way you think about the environment.  This will show you that there are a lot of businesses out there that are starting to do the right thing, but so many more have to join them in order to make a difference.

GreenBiz is a great resource.  Reading this blog on a daily basis will show you what companies, large and small, are changing to put themselves in a better position to help the environment.  Included are stories on innovative new business practices, “green” jobs, and energy and climate data.

Future of Business is a blog which features some fantastic videos and interviews with professionals in the green business landscape.  It is a great place to find out what we can look forward to in the area of environmental innovation, and what companies are planning on doing to go green in their business ventures.

The Clean Tech Blog is a good source of information related more specifically to alternative energy and clean technology innovation.  With posts ranging from Government policies to international updates, this blog gives you a good mix of important information when thinking green.

http://got2begreen.com/Got 2 Be Green is a very interesting green blog that I was referred to by a friend.  I have been an avid reader for quite some time.  They offer everything from lifestyle advice to charity features to green events that are coming up all around the world.  I recommend that anyone interested in the spread of the environmentally friendly lifestyle check out this site.

And finally, a little self promotion.  I am the main contributor to a legal blog called The Legal Beat over at http://www.lawline.com/blog.  We have put together a series on Going Green for Lawyers, with a focus on a more environmentally friendly legal community.  We offer various tips for lawyers and law firms to implement in their day to day practice of law.

The world is changing, and that means you have to change with it.  Businesses have a moral responsibility to help move us forward as a people.  You can start by helping the environment one day at a time.

Happy Earth Day!

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MTA Fare Hike: Cause and Effect of No Choice Decisions

April 20, 2009

Help ButtonThere is a lot of debate around New York City about the recent vote to raise the cost of monthly metro cards from $81 to $103.  It seems insane to spend over $100 for unlimited access to New York City’s public transportation systems every month.  But if you truly understand the situation the MTA is in, then you know it’s not all their fault.

This debate brings up the thoughts of others like it.  What happens when an organization is forced into a decision because of a negative situation?  Even worse, where is the motivation to innovate when the consumer has almost no choice in their decision making process?

See, the MTA was forced into this decision because they need money, desperately.  The government has not provided the funding needed to improve NYC’s transportation, so the MTA continues to spend more than it takes in.  This can only go on for so long, and then they decide they’re not making enough, and then they raise prices.  It’s a constant cycle.

When an organization is running out of money, they panic
.  They will look for new ways to make money from their current customers.  This is the case with banks, airlines and municipalities charging new fees, seemingly pulled from thin air.  They need money, so they “trick” their customers into spending more.  This is easier than reaching new customers.  And though it may not be as smart, and it most likely will create negative brand awareness, it’s the nature of a panic.

What’s worse is that in most cases where these types of situations occur, the consumer does not have much of a choice.  For the MTA, New York City workers and residents will continue to use the subways and buses.  Why?  We don’t have much of a choice if we want to continue to get from place to place.  Its still less expensive than owning a car, more efficient than walking or biking, and generally very convenient.  So there is no motivation for the MTA not to raise their prices.  The economic rules that say when prices go up, the number of people who will pay for it go down, do not apply in this type of monopolistic situation.  There is almost no risk.

You can put the onus of the problem squarely on the shoulders of the organization in question, and say that it is not an ethical decision to raise prices on customers who need their service.  But in truth, an organization will do anything to survive.  It is in their nature to make enough money to continue to operate, and you can’t fault it for looking to make more money when it starts to run out.

The true problem exists on a bigger level.  In this case, it may fall on the state and local governments who cut funding for transportation.  In many cases, it may lie in the hands of the systems we have put in place.  Competition is important.  Creativity and innovation are vital.  Companies that perform better should always win.

Where there is no motivation to innovate, most organizations simply won’t.

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Chili’s Gets It (I Think)

April 17, 2009

3427852837_bd0e99c337Chili’s did some market research and found out that most of the restaurant chains in their category have rather bland food compared to their own.  So naturally, they decided to tell the world this very discovery in a new ad campaign.

But this time, they did something that really speaks to the times we are living in.  They decided to go after the social media space, and go after it in a big way.

In Wednesday’s post, I discussed how more companies trying to enter the social media playing field will imminently cause the space to be overcrowded and boring.  But Chili’s, in my opinion, is going about it in all the right ways.

The campaign is based around a fictional restaurant chain called “PJ Blands“, which already sounds like a play on Friday’s.  And of course they have the traditional television commercials, which feature PJ Bland himself discussing the amazing new “cardboard-style” menu items at his restaurant.  This then leads to the decision of the featured consumers to choose taste, and eat at Chili’s.

Then, to back up the commercials, they created a website for the fictional restaurant.  And the website it dynamic, featuring many of the same things you would find on a REAL restaurant’s site.  It offers things like career applications, menu items, history of the company, and PJ himself discussing how amazing the new restaurant is.

After that, you can find a Twitter account for PJ, a Flickr account, all their commercials on YouTube, and much, much more.  It’s obvious that Chili’s recognized the need to go social, and put the time and money into it to get it right.  This is a story that has the ability to spread.  It builds the right kind of message, fun and casual, that will spread links.  All of this goes to build brand awareness of the Chili’s restaurant chain and makes them a player in the social media landscape.

For other companies that are looking to test the waters in our Web 2.0 world, exploring how Chili’s went about launching the PJ Blands campaign is a good start.  I commend the advertising people who came up with this idea, and the higher ups at Chili’s who saw the value in committing resources to this type of project.

But that’s just one man’s opinion.  Check out the campaign for yourself and tell me what you think in the comments area below, or by sending me a quick email.  It’s the opinion of all of us that really matters.

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High Risk of “Social Blanding” as Networks Go Mainstream

April 15, 2009

boringWe operate in the era of perpetual online expansion.  New forms of social networks and media channels continue to develop and grow all around us.  As consumers, we have more options than ever before on who we talk to, how we communicate and share information, and where we spend our time.  And companies, seeing the potential, have started to join us in this new space.  Successful efforts by those early corporate adopters of social media have led to an increased demand for other companies and competitors to join in the race.

But as more and more companies look to focus their attention online, they run the risk of turning this platform into just another commercialized media outlet.

The social web was built for creativity.  Companies that are most successful offer us genuine ideas, fun promotions, odd games and characters, and easy to find information.  They use various networks to deliver one unique voice and help us discover things that we really want or need.

The problem comes when companies enter the space with no real plan or vision.  Too often, the higher ups who control the money will consider online marketing just another form of advertising, throw some money at it, and leave it at that.  Since they won’t take the time to understand it, they may decide that whatever it is that they are doing is not working, and abort or change the strategy.

Unfortunately, there are too many companies that are too conservative to do anything differently.  We are in danger of allowing this online space to grow boring as more corporate blogs, and Twitter accounts, and Facebook pages discuss and share the same old information.  There are now social media consultancies that offer to get you started and coach you through the social web.  Content runs the risk of being generic and bland.  And all of the sudden, you’ll have thousands of companies just promoting themselves slowly and sparingly with no real rhyme or reason.

True social media success, from a corporate perspective, really cannot be measured. At least not in dollars and cents like CEO’s are used to measuring everything else.  It is a presence, an overall sense of being there for the consumer, a connection and personalization of brands and services.

This post from Chris Brogan goes through a list of things to measure for solid online content.  It is important that as more companies go online and try to communicate with users that they generally put effort into it.  If your company has a problem with communication or consumer backlash, throwing money at it will not make it go away.

Be real, be original, and save us from “social blanding”.

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Use Incentives Instead of Salaries to Recruit Early Hires

April 13, 2009

carrot-incentiveMost companies start with nothing.  But it takes people to run a company.  So what should you do?  You don’t have any money coming in to pay your employees, but you can’t hire anyone with any talent if you can’t pay them.  You’re stuck.

Not if you are creative.

Instead of offering competitive salaries to the first round of people that you hire, offer them a chance at even higher earning potential down the line.  I have always been one that thought that giving your employees a vested interest in the success of your company will lead to better results.  When people see that their work directly leads to the company’s success, and they are rewarded based on that productivity, they are much more likely to increase their effort.

If you hire a salesman, consider higher commissions than he expects.  Consider allowing the sales team to make suggestions to the marketing and development teams that will make selling and customer communication easier.  Reward them for suggestions that they help get implemented.

If you hire marketers, tie their earnings potential in with revenue that can be tracked directly to the marketing campaigns that they controlled.  If someone helps to create a strategy that works out in a big way, don’t hesitate to let them in some of the revenue that the strategy brought you.  For more ideas on creating a successful employee incentives program, check this out.

Your employees are much more likely to take an active role in the building of a new company if they feel some sort of ownership role.  They will stay with you longer, produce better results, and work harder to turn your new company into a stronger, larger one.

Anyone can offer a competitive salary.  Only the best and brightest companies offer a sense of responsibility and reward system based on the various roles played by employees.  Those companies will continue to recruit and retain A Players.

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