Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Three Social Media Lessons Not to Copy: Claire's disengages in face of charges that the retailer copied designs

Claire's Stores, a U.K./U.S. retailer with 3,000 outlets and revenue of $356 million in Q3 2011, has become embroiled in a social media scandal. An an independent U.K. designer, Tatty Devine has accused Claire's of ripping off its designs in this blog post. For more context, check out this ZDNet article, "Claire's Stores ignores Twitter criticism over copycat design claims."

When it comes U.S. intellectual property laws, designers cannot, apparently, copyright or trademark their designs. That's the crux of a current case between Christian Louboutin and Yves Saint Laurent. Current U.S. law apparently does not provide much protection against copies or knockoffs. (For that matter, U.S. law apparently does not protect the use of titles of books, movies and song.)   So the issue here is not whether or not a big retailer like Claire's copied designs from an independent designer; the issue is: how did Claire's address the issue via social media.  Claire's did not do a very good job. Here are some of the issues:

1.     On both Facebook and Twitter, Claire's provided generic statements that probably caused more confusion because the statements did not directly address the situation. On Facebook, Claire's stated that it is a "responsible company" that aims "to provide innovative collections that bring customers all the latest fashion trends. As such, we take any allegations of wrong doing seriously."  Some of the initial posts actually asked, "What happened?" A good initial statement needs to provide enough information so that it is clear  that the company understands the scope of the issue, even as it sets to investigate further. On Twitter, Claire's was limited to the 140-character limit, saying merely, " Claire's responsibly provides customers with the latest trends. We take claims of wrongdoing seriously and are reviewing the matters raised." That snippet perhaps left greater questions about what "the matters raised" is all about.
2.     On Facebook, the company deleted some users' feedback that was negative to Claire's, but did not otherwise engage with upset fans. The only interaction between someone at Claire's corporate seems to have been a post saying, "We do not tolerate the use of profanity on Claire's wall. Thank you." Just because you can delete posts written on your wall, doesn't mean you should.
3.     There was no follow-through on Twitter or Facebook. That one comment on Twitter at Feb. 24th at 12:46pm was the only statement the company posted -- even as it posted five other tweets. Same for Facebook. In fact, the only response from Claire's corporate was the Facebook comment about deleting a post due to profanity. Instead, the only one responding from the company was a manager from one of its U.S. stores; and after what she called a "lively debate," the store manager deleted her comments, instead, saying that she's "going to let my company handle it." That's good, except for one thing: the company has not responded.

In light of the fact that Claire's has a strong Facebook and Twitter presence, with more than one million likes on Facebook 15,500 followers and 2,100 tweets, you'd think the company would better understand how to engage with customers and potential customers via social media. Right now, the company has been stonewalling rather than engaging. They have not provided its one million Facebook fans with information to support the company's statement that it is responsible and that it is vital source for the latest fashion trends. The company basically disengaged, which is the antithesis of how you're supposed to approach social media.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

WSJ validates another of our predictions

The Wall St. Journal validates our Cutting the Cable prediction. In an article published yesterday, "Over-the-Air TV Catches Second Wind, Aided by Web," The Journal reported the same driving factors we cited:
With an increased array of online-video programming now drawing viewers' attention, companies are starting to pitch consumers on complementing online video streamed from the Web with broadcast-TV signals as a way to save money on cable subscriptions....There are signs that consumers are responding.
Here's what we said on Feb. 1st:
This year, expect more people to reduce their monthly expenses by cancelling their cable subscription – partly to reduce monthly expenses and partly to use new technology that provides a flexible alternative, allowing us to watch what we want, when we want, and on the device of our choosing. 
 It's always nice to be validated by the Wall St. Journal.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

New York Times continues to report on security/privacy bills validating our prediction about ongoing stories

The New York Times continues to cover the legislative fight over anti-piracy legislation (Stop Online Piracy Act aka SOPA and Protect Intellectual Property Act aka PIPA). Check out this sample article.

We also predicted that China and cyberwarfare:
against the US, including corporate espionage. The New York Times reporter that Vice President Biden took up the cause of predicting US businesses from Chinese corporate espionage: U.S. to Share Cautionary Tale of Trade Secret Theft With Chinese Official.

Looks like we got a few right within the first few weeks! Check  out our predictions about ongoing story angles here.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The New York Times validates our prediction about big data

Longtime New York Times tech reporter Steve Lohr, recently reported on the impact that big data will have on the US.  The US "need 140,000 to "190,000 more workers with 'deep analytical' expertise and 1.5 more data-literate managers," he wrote in an article entitled, "The Age of Big Data." The article is an interesting one, well worth checking out.  You can check out our prediction about big data here.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Recording Industry Still Does Not "Get" Technology

At last night's Grammys, they kept calling it "music's biggest night." But for those who wanted to check out some of the performances the next day, you're out of luck.

The reason: despite providing live webfeed, despite scheduling a per-telecast event to hand out the, um, less interesting awards so that the actual telecast can serve as more performance than award-giving, the Recording Academy has not posted a lot of videos of the actual performances.

Instead, they have posted video highlights of some of the artists' acceptance speeches.

And they've posted a whole lot of photos from last night's Grammys.

And though the Recoding Academy honored Steve Jobs about music industry leaders who passed away since last year's Grammys, it appears that the Grammys still don't "get" technology.

Even as the videos the academy did post included the ability to share and embed those few clips, it did not post any full-length videos of the performances.

Photos may be nice but they don't provide any sound. Yet aside from Lady Gaga and Niki Minaj (accompanied by a faux Pope), I'd think most people would be interested in the video to be able to see and hear their favorite performers.

The Emmys provided a plethora of video highlights. The fact that the Grammys did not suggests that they don't understand the power of social media to allow fans to share video. I understand copyright issues and concerns, but by enabling people to share links of their favorite performers at the Grammys might provide an additional boost to the entire industry.

The advertising industry certainly saw a bump after the Super Bowl because so many advertisers had a launch strategy that included social media.

Instead, fans going to YouTube saw either a message that content had been taken down because of copyright concerns or they saw clips that were titled as Grammy 2012 performances when those clips had been posted as long as two years ago. That kind of confusion in the marketplace seems more damaging to the Grammys' and the performers' brands than having the Grammys post videos of the actual performances (not highlights).

Seems to me the recording industry missed an opportunity to provide its customer base with protected content they could share with other fans.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Birnbach Communications' Top Predictions for 2012, Part 10

Here's our last set of predictions for 2012:

1.     Social media will play a bigger role in the marketing mix for B2B companies. More than eight years and nearly 900 million Facebook users later, B2B businesses will embrace social media, following the lead of B2C companies…though they may not focus on Facebook to reach their customers. B2B companies will recognize the need to generate their own multimedia content, and that there are active and engaged business consumers even for niche sectors. We expect that more B2B companies will consider increasing budgets to make engaging their targets through social media, thought leadership and lead generation their top marketing priorities.

2.     Reporting and metrics will continue to be important for marketing functions. For marketers, analytics will become even more important than ever. Department store owner John Wanamaker is remembered for a quote about metrics: "I know that half of my advertising budget is wasted, but I'm not sure which half." That’s not acceptable anymore. There are so many ways to measure how companies are engaging with their customers and potential customers – that one challenge is to prevent being overwhelmed by metrics and figuring out which ones truly matter to the organization. More than ever, we think clients will be asking and looking for ways to measure ROI.

Thanks for checking out all predictions. Let us know if you agree or disagree with any of them.  At the end of the year, we will issue our annual report card on how we did.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Birnbach Communications' Top Predictions for 2012, Part 9

Here's Part 9 of our predictions:
The role of CES will diminish next year. The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) has been the tech industry's most important conference, having eclipsed Comdex a decade ago. CES is a mashup of consumer gadgets and the tech that powers those gadgets (like semiconductors), and it's been considered so important that non-tech outlets feel compelled to cover the latest cool gadgets  launched at the show. But that is changing -- and not just because Apple has not been attending or that Microsoft announced that it will not attend next year's show.  The reason: While CES is not "dead show walking," it is being supplanted by Austin’s South by Southwest (SXSW), March 8-18. The change does not mean we don't love gadgets – because we still do. But it may mean that we don't always like the gadgets CES wants us to love. Prime example: despite last year's CES love fest for 3-D TVs, consumers did not rush out to buy them. We love apps and social and SXSW is the show that launches them. 
Let us know if you agree or disagree. And check back tomorrow for our last set of predictions for 2012. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Birnbach Communications' Top Predictions for 2012, Part 8

Here's Part 8 of our predictions:

The press release will not die in 2012.  Companies still need press releases to communicate news about the company. Twitter is good as a kind of short broadcast of news, but tweets get lost on the timeline – whereas press releases can easily be posted on a corporate newsroom, which is important from an SEO perspective and to demonstrate the company is still alive.  Additionally, reporters, who are overworked (they’re now creating multimedia stories on a daily basis), continue to rely on press releases for content. However, organizations must understand that they can’t rely on a press release alone.  They need to think about new ways they can distribute their news, including infographics, data-and-graphics mashups intended to compellingly present information.

Let us know if you agree or disagree. And check back tomorrow for additional predictions.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Birnbach Communications' Top Predictions for 2012, Part 7

Here's Part 7 of our predictions:

1.   Data will be bigger in 2012. At least the approach known as “big data,” software that enables users to capture and visualize huge amounts of data on their desktops, will be big in 2012, and will overtake Business Intelligence (BI) as the approach large companies will take to sift through and make sense of their data. These days, companies gather a tremendous amount of data, and it is only getting larger and larger. The challenge: how to visualize the data so that the business can gain insights and not be overwhelmed. Big data is different from BI because big data is faster (but no one wants to refer to this as big, fast data if only because the acronym of BFD usually involves a different f-word).  Unlike BI, which often looks for trends within a company’s data, big data enables companies to ask questions on the fly to identify new trends and insights, and to generate real-time answers. There’s a growing acknowledgement that big data will be a BFD in 2012.

2.     Ongoing Tech Trends we expect to continue from 2011:

  • Cloud computing: This trend started in 2010 but continues to go mainstream.
  • The battle of tablets: Just because the first battle went in Apple's direction does not mean that wannabe iPad Killers have given up the fight. Competitors still want to get into the action and capture some of the marketshare. From the media's perspective, it's a two-horse race between the Kindle Fire and iPad. We expect a third option to gain some traction, but the iPad will continue to dominate.
  • The three most important tech trends will be mobile, mobile, mobile. Unless the three most important trends are social, social, social. For example, enterprise technology now needs not only to have an intuitive interface, it also must be accessible on iPads.
  • Gaming is not just for kids. Gaming will continue to be integrated into business and training apps to keep people engaged and entertained.
Let us know if you agree or disagree. And check back tomorrow for additional predictions.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Birnbach Communications' Top Predictions for 2012, Part 6

Here's Part 6 of our predictions:

1.     Converging technology, like the “paperless office,” won’t live up to its hype. Converging technology was supposed to result in single devices that could handle multiple functions.  The problem: we still need too many chargers and have too many devices to sync.  Although smartphones have killed the wonderful Flip camera, and damaged sales of standalone cameras, dedicated GPS units and watches; convergence hasn’t delivered exactly clear benefits. Instead, we own and carry more devices: laptop or ultrabook, iPhone or Android phone (or, decreasingly, BlackBerry), iPad, iPod, etc. What’s worse are the multiple chargers we need to power those devices: laptop charger, phone charger, iPad charger (at least iPhones, iPads and iPods use the same charger) -- which doesn't take into consideration the separate chargers for all of these devices for your office, car and home.

But the real problem with multiple devices is the need to sync them all. Every device seems to contain an address book for friends, family and work, and those address books all need to be replicated on your cell, your work and home phones, laptops, tablets, etc. – if only because no one ever remembers phone numbers anymore. The same is true with email accounts on different devices and calendars, especially if you need to track activities for your spouse and children. The problem is that not all devices sync well with others. So mistakes and false information creep in, leaving users with zombie appointments that keep updated but can't be killed, um, deleted. Multiple devices require different syncs during the day, which increases the likelihood of some information that you actually need getting overwritten or misinformation getting repeated and reducing the owner's confidence in the info. This gets even more complicated as the workplace increasingly is embracing Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) to the office.  The ability to have devices operating on different platforms sync and communicate to each (techs call that “interoperability”) is critical in a BYOD work environment.  Some companies, like Apple, prefer their own ecosystem so that you're not-so-subtlety pushed to buy only one platform, theirs. B2B tech vendors have tried that before, but their corporate customers don't like to be locked in. While there will always be Apple evangelists, the rest of us want interoperability, and customers will be better served if we get that. If there's truly an app for interoperability, it needs to be simple to use and cost-effective. Otherwise, convergence won’t live up to its promise. And for personal usage, convergence is sometimes more important than the device itself.  This point is perhaps best made by noting that young adults love all the features on their phones, except two: the phone (because they rarely actually use phones to make a call) and voicemail (they prefer texts).

Let us know if you agree or disagree. And check back tomorrow for additional predictions.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Non-apologies and Non-answers Don't Help Non-profits

The well respected nonprofit Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation is now embroiled in a scandal of its own making. The reaction to the news that the foundation had decided to cut funding of $700,000 of grants to Planned Parenthood has generated a storm of front-page coverage, angry editorials, tweets and Facebook comments.

The organization, which has built up tremendous goodwill and strong brand recognition with its iconic pink ribbon, has a right to distribute its $93 million in grant money as it sees fit, consistent with its mission, fiduciary and legal responsibilities.  However, the foundation has clearly miscommunicated an apparent policy change with regard to Planned Parenthood.

Critics are claiming that the reason Komen cut grants to Planned Parenthood is due to politics -- specifically the desire to placate some anti-abortion donors who have been targeting Planned Parenthood, which provides breast-cancer screenings along with privately-funded services, which may include abortion.

In its attempt to explain the change in policy, the foundation issued a statement, followed up by a video by Komen founder and CEO Nancy G. Brinker, that it continually measures the impact and that  the organization "has the highest responsibility" to make sure "these donor dollars make the biggest impact possible." You can see Brinker's comments directly here.

At the end of the video, Brinker invokes the promise she made her sister, Susan G. Komen, in explaining the foundation's mission. She does a good job in articulating the passion she feels for the organization, its goals and its impact.

Unfortunately, though the video is intended to provide background on the organization's policy changes, Brinker never actually mentions Planned Parenthood by name. Nor, in stating the organization revamped its guidelines and policies in terms of grant-giving, does Brinker explain what new criteria Planned Parenthood and others organizations now must meet in order to continue to receive grants from the Komen foundation.

Ultimately, her explanation is neither an apology -- Brinker's a bit to defensive here -- nor a direct response to the questions people have.

And because she doesn't provide a true answer about its decision that impacted Planned Parenthood, Brinker has actually flamed the fires, enabling people to assume that the decision was motivated by anti-abortion politics that has spent the past year targeting Planned Parenthood, investigating it for possible misuse of government funding (which is kept separate from any abortion services Planned Parenthood provides).

The lesson here is that goodwill takes years to build up but can be damaged in a heartbeat if communications are mishandled.  I don't know if the Komen foundation will see long-term negative impact on its programs and fundraising -- just as I don't know if Planned Parenthood will see a long-term positive impact to its fundraising and its support.

But I do know this damage is self-inflicted, even if unintentional. Policy changes don't have to be scandals. But it shows, yet again, that in the social media age, organizations need to be more sensitive than ever to the impact of its decisions and to the way those decisions are communicated and responded to.

UPDATE: After this article was posted, the foundation actually reversed its decision,and did a better job of explaining its new policy:
Our original desire was to fulfill our fiduciary duty to our donors by not funding grant applications made by organizations under investigation.  We will amend the criteria to make clear that disqualifying investigations must be criminal and conclusive in nature and not political. That is what is right and fair.
This information was not communicated well before -- which meant that the conflicting information coming from inside the organization and from former employees was getting significant play as people were trying to make sense of things.

That said, the tone of part of the response is more defensive than it might have been: "We have been distressed at the presumption that the changes made to our funding criteria were done for political reasons or to specifically penalize Planned Parenthood.  They were not."

At this point, the question remains: what long-term impact will this blunder have on this worthy organization. Let me know what you think.

Birnbach Communications' Top Predictions for 2012, Part 5

Here's Part 5 of our predictions:
  1.  Companies will use fees to offset declining revenue in 2012. With revenue still not approaching 2007-2008 levels and with costs continuing to increase, look for all types of companies to start adding fees for things that had once been included in the price. Airlines and hotels are charging for baggage, onboard food and other things, like Wi-Fi, that used to be included in the price of a ticket or a hotel room. Banks are charging consumers to use their debit cards or paying bills by phone (or backing off, when there’s too much public pressure).  Shipping companies charge surtaxes to offset spikes in the price of gas, which, by the way, has dropped from sky-high prices. And that illustrates another aspect of fees – they won’t go away.  What we saw in 2011 was that a number of big companies did a poor job of explaining why they felt they had to impose higher fees on their customers – which made the increase feel like a slap in the face to many customers. In 2012, some companies will have learned that lesson – but you can expect a number of companies who should have known better to make a mistake in how they communicate their fees to their customers. 
  2. Mobile payments will increase. Spearheaded by Google Wallet, Visa's V.me, and Verizon, 2012 looks to be a big year for mobile commerce. Using your smartphone to make purchases will not attract most Americans this year, but a growing part of the population will love the convenience of not having to find an ATM or not paying fees to use another bank system’s ATM. You can delay the day our society becomes a cashless one, but eventually going cash free will be mainstream by the end of the decade.
  3. Videoconferencing will continue to hit its stride. Consumers are able to use video to chat not only on Skype (now owned by Microsoft) but also on Facebook or Google+ as well as their iPhones and other smartphones. As consumers bring their own devices to work – rather than carry two smartphones (one for work and one for personal) – they will naturally try to use FaceTime, Skype or other free videoconferencing software. But what they’ll find is that while the service they get from free video chat services is fine to talk with a long-distance friend or family member, it’s not okay when talking with a customer. Expect more interest in cloud-based videoconferencing.
Let us know if you agree or disagree. And check back Monday for additional predictions.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Birnbach Communications' Top Predictions for 2012, Part 4

Here's Part 4 of our predictions:  

Ongoing stories we’ll see covered in the media

  • The 2012 election, healthcare, taxes and tax reform, and job creation.  The candidates, the process, the election as horse race, Super PACs, the strength and weakness of the Tea Party and the Occupy Wall St. movement (as well as the 99% vs. the 1%), and sometimes the actual issues.
  • The euro and euro zone economies and the debt crisis -- particularly troubled Greece and Italy and stable Germany and France -- and the impact of all of this on the US economy. 
  • Facebook’s IPO and its implications for the rest of the social media sector. 
  • The battle between Facebook v. Google+. (Interestingly, Twitter won’t be considered even an also-ran in this story.) 
  • The battle between huge companies. Apple v. Google v. Microsoft. Oracle v. Everyone Else.
  • The state of the media – because the media love reporting on their competitors as well as themselves. 
  • Online privacy will continue to be an important story. 
  •  Online reviews – specifically whether they are from real customers who have bought the product or whether they are positive phony reviews paid to counteract real negative reviews – will generate coverage. 
  • The economics and environmental impact of fracking, an efficient but controversial way to extract oil and natural gas from shale. We expect climate science and global warming to be issues during the general election, specifically when discussing regulations.
  • Net-specific issues such as net neutrality (the need to prevent broadband providers from blocking access to competitors), the e-tax loophole (in which e-retailers don’t require customers to pay sales tax, which gives Amazon and others an advantage over bricks-and-mortar retailers that do charge customers sales tax), and anti-piracy legislation (Stop Online Piracy Act aka SOPA and Protect Intellectual Property Act aka PIPA).
  • Cyberattacks on B2C websites. As more high profile sites get hacked, expect more reports that reinforce fear and uncertainty of online commerce. 
  • Cyberwarfare: the act of attacking one’s enemies by hacking. It’s happening on both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the US media has reported that China is using cyberwarfare against the US, including corporate espionage, so expect it to spread elsewhere.
  • The rising threat of Chinese businesses, the Chinese economy and the Chinese military.
  • One story not likely to be covered for most of 2012: Tim Tebow. Not that his 15 minutes is up. Expect the media to regain its interest with the start of the next NFL season.

Let us know if you agree or disagree. And check back tomorrow for additional predictions.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

New Study Reported in WSJ Validates Predictions

A day after we published two related predictions -- "The desire to be connected 24/7 may change in 2012" and "We may be immersed in social media, but we’ll spend less time with actual people" -- the Wall St. Journal published an article, Study: Face Time Benefits Preteens. (You can check out those predictions here.)

Stanford University researchers found, according to the Journal, that "media multitasking can hurt social and emotional development in preteen girls. And the researchers found a simple remedy—face-to-face talks."

In fact, the Journal reported that "the study, published in Developmental Psychology, found that heavy digital multitasking and more time spent in front of screens correlated with poor emotional and social health—including low social confidence, not feeling normal, having more friends whom parents perceive as poor influences and even sleeping less. Passively watching videos, online or on television, was also strongly associated with negative health measures."

A key point, which we did not discuss, is that because "everyone is looking at their devices instead," they miss the the tone of people's voices, their facial expressions and body posture. The result: according to Clifford Nass, a communications professor at Stanford and co-author of the study with Roy Pea, an education professor, is that “The most important message is that face-to-face communication is just enormously important and there has been a dramatic decline in that, among kids and among families.”

As the media writes about these issues, one that will get increasing attention is the growing inability to read emotions.

Birnbach Communications' Top Predictions for 2012, Part 3

Here's Part 3 of our predictions:
  1. More viewers will cut the cable cord. Americans have complained about the service of cable companies for decades. Now, consumers have another reason to grumble: Cable fees are rising so much that even cable providers are taking content providers to task over the cost of content – specifically sports channels, (Wall St. Journal: “Cable-TV Honchos Cry Foul Over Soaring Cost of ESPN,” Dec. 6, 2011). This year, expect more people to reduce their monthly expenses by cancelling their cable subscription – partly to reduce monthly expenses and partly to use new technology that provides a flexible alternative, allowing us to watch what we want, when we want, and on the device of our choosing.  The challenge: You need to have several apps, along with a computer connected to your TV, and, it’s still too complicated – often requiring tech assistance for many just to get it set up.  And technology is quickly evolving, which means what you buy today may be obsolete in 18 months, requiring new purchases and additional tech support.
  2.      Converging media will continue in 2012. 1) Expect more newspaper reporters to prepare video reports for their newspapers’ website and apps. Expect more TV and radio reporters to prepare text articles for their websites and apps – and everyone to take more still photos that they post onto Twitter and Google+. Lines of cooperation and competition will continue to blur.  2) Increasingly, media will stop being defined by the device on which we used to consume them. Instead, we’ll need to find new terms to define what we’re doing. We’re not taping a TV program anymore because we’re not using tape of any kind – we’re recording it onto a DVR and perhaps watching it on a tablet.

    In fact, calling HBO a pay-cable channel may not make sense as more people may access the network via smartphone or tablet apps. They’ll listen to the radio but not actually on a radio (there is an app for that). Or watch TV on a TV. And they certainly won’t be watching or listening at the time designated by the broadcasters, but on their own time.  Interestingly, American consumers, who have purchased new flat panel TVs over the past five years, are looking to watch TV shows on devices at a time and place that’s convenient for them. 

    The implications for communications functions within organizations: Because the how, when and where we consume media is changing, they should consider developing and distributing content across different platforms and different devices and for different mindsets.  The person using a smartphone wants short, uncluttered content whereas a person using a laptop might be okay with more links and longer high-def content.
  3.  E-books will improve their experience by providing new interactive and multimedia content. Already some publishers are working on combining video and other interactive features into their e-books to provide more value. With the growing capabilities of e-readers like the Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble’s Nook, expect e-textbooks to include interactive exercises, and nonfiction e-books to include more video, photos, and audio, while fiction books will come packed with featurettes much the way DVDs are packaged.
Let us know if you agree or disagree. And check back tomorrow for additional predictions.