Dear anti-vaccination nuts

You’re messing not just with your own child’s health but the health of all the kids – and adults – around them.

A new study looks at incoming kindergartners in California, and finds that the lack of vaccination is threatening herd immunity in some schools, and that some measures of risk have doubled in just three years.

Using data from 2008 to 2010, the authors found some worrying trends. Over just two years, the statewide interaction index increased by 25 percent in this short time. That means far more students are coming in contact with peers who are unvaccinated—a serious risk, since vaccines are not 100 percent effective.

via Widespread vaccine exemptions are messing with herd immunity | Ars Technica.

When my kid gets sick and winds up in the hospital because his immune system can’t handle whatever it is you chose not to vaccinate your kids against I’m sending you all the bills. M’kay?

Press affiliations

There’s lots of good stuff in Rex Sorgatz’s Neiman Journalism Lab piece advocating the adoption of a “membership” type model by The New York Times (or any other press outlet for that matter), including the kinds of things that should be included in such a membership.

Using what they have learned from digital subscriptions, The New York Times should create an entirely new product around membership. This new brand would vastly expand the reach of the Times to new products, new platforms, and new revenue opportunities. To succeed, it needs to perfectly executed in two areas: It has to be cool (marketing) and it has to create value (product).

What he’s talking about is a variation on the theme that I’ve been hitting for a while now, which is that media outlets aren’t going to survive based on either A) Trying to do it better than the other guys or B) Racing to find the lowest common denominator faster than the others. Instead the ones that survive will be the ones who realize they need to create strong affiliations between themselves and the current and potential readership in the same way that every other brand is currently doing.

That includes a lot of the ideas on Rex’s list. But even outside of a formal “membership” program such as the one he outlines there are ways to do that. What’s difficult is that many of those lie outside traditional comfort areas for the press, including creating stronger “brands” out of writers that have halo effects on the core brand and other things that are more messy than what a dignified press outlet with a storied history might be accustomed to.

But it’s those sorts of tactics, combined with the bold initiatives like owning and managing a membership program that provides real value for the audience, that will allow some media outlets to keep doing what they’re doing. That’s vitally important, which makes the need for some drastic and radical reinvention all that much more necessary.

Non-hating on the prequels

Say what you will about how this may or may not change your opinion of me but I don’t hate the Star Wars prequel trilogy. There are certainly some cringe-worthy moments and there’s no doubt that a stronger directorial hand would have likely worked wonders even with the material that was available but I also on occasion will simply sit back and let myself go with it, enjoying the ride and not getting hung up on what doesn’t work.

That combined with the fact that these releases (we didn’t see the 3D version of Episode I) mean a new generation gets to see these movies on the big screen for the first time means I’m actually kind of excited for Episodes II and III to hit theaters next year.

I know I shouldn’t like this trailer for Star Wars: Detours but I do

Giving the web a topic and stream-based makeover

Anil Dash wants us to stop publishing web pages:

…if I had my preference, I’d write up an article like this, and it’d seamlessly glide into a clean, simple stream of my writing, organized by topic and sorted with the newest stuff on top. Blogs have always worked this way, but they were shoehorning this stream-like behavior into the best representation possible under the old page model.

And later…

Streams of content can easily be read in friendly native apps on mobile platforms with the content flowing through simple APIs. Pages get squeezed into faux-mobile app experiences that look just enough like native apps to be frustrating and annoying when they don’t perform correctly. Pages tell users there’s no mobile version of this story available, or accidentally redirect an interested user to the site’s homepage, from where they quickly depart. Pages stop your flow.

It’s hard to say that Dash is wrong, especially when he talks about how clicking links from any of the current streams (pinterest, Twitter, Tumblr and everywhere else) takes you suddenly out of the stream, which you then have to rejoin them. It would be better for the reader at least if those links opened within the stream.

His thinking is of a kind with Richard MacManus’ thoughts on why topic pages are a much needed aspect of online organization and the subsequent reading of material on the web:

Organizing Web content by topic or theme is not new. Over the past 8 or 9 years, tagging has been the most common method of creating structure online. So-called Web 2.0 companies like Delicious and Flickr built their entire businesses around user-generated tagging of content.

I’ll forgive him forgetting about Technorati, which was the preeminent way to get topic-based content back in the early days of blogging. Before Google News searches were the big way to stay up to date on what was being said, an RSS subscription to a T’rati topic feed was an essential component of online conversation monitoring.

MacManus goes on to make the case that Quora could play a role as a topic hub. It’s an intriguing concept – I’ve gone back and forth on what I think of Quora so much even I don’t know what I think anymore – but have yet to really dive into that particular network.

But what’s really needed, and this is what I think is at the heart of what both MacManus and Dash are saying, is a new system that allows publishers to produce new material that’s seamlessly 1) Added to the right topic page on that site and 2) Consumed in a way that displays what’s relevant all within the stream, even if what’s relevant contains a link to an outside site.

While, again, MacManus thinks Quora could come close to playing that role I think Tumblr or WordPress are better bets. Both allow for easy publishing of links and block quotes that can easily have additional media or commentary added to them. And, importantly, both (at least with some themes) support infinite scrolling, eliminating the need for clicking through to Page 2 for more. They just keep going.

But as has been pointed out, this all is difficult because tags, categories and the like are messy. Everyone has their own definitions and variations, including some that are just for fun or to be annoying.

That makes me think the first victor in the race to be a new topic aggregation point for the web (there will be a battle if history is any indication) will have very finite category options that users must fit their content into if they want to participate. That will be a hard sell but it’s the only real way to make this work. Those options can expand if adoption necessitates it but at the outset there need to be just a handful – a couple dozen tops – that allow people to include their content for others to read/watch/view.

Nine years? That’s just shy of forever on the internet

Jeremy Pepper is celebrating nine years of writing on his blog and talking about how he’s seen the landscape change over those years:

I’ve seen the “popular” bloggers in public relations turn to social media advocates, and then fall to the side of less importance because they, well, never stuck out their necks on issues or just followed trends. I see the new group of SM bloggers that have risen to the top – some are cream, some are artificial, powdered cream – and while the cream is imparting wisdom, the powdered kind is glomming onto hot topics and rehashing others’ posts, with no original content or thinking.

I’ve also seen the original group of PR bloggers just say fuck-it-all and give up on PR and SM blogging, and start following their other passions. And, well, most of the time I don’t blame them. That small group was relatively close, meaning we’d talk and share ideas and information and while somewhat competitive, were a community. Yah, that’s pretty much gone nowadays except with a few good people. But that is how media works, and at the end of the day, blogging and social media are … just media.

My own earliest online exploits have been lost to the ages, largely because in the early days I’d sometimes get a twitch and decide that the contents of wherever I was writing were garbage and I needed to start again with a clean slate. I know I don’t beat Pepper’s nine years but even if I’m just counting Movie Marketing Madness then I’m well past eight years of being online, with MMM starting in May of 2004.

Aside from that I can’t disagree with Pepper’s overview of how things have changed in that time. Not only are the conversations different – there are far fewer constructive conversations and more rushing to be the first person to yell “FAIL” – but the way people are having them has fundamentally changed.

One of the biggest differences is that links to other writers used to be given out freely and with a sense of excitement, like the writer knew that by linking out from their own site they were not only encouraging people to check out another good point of view but also gaining some good karma at the same time. Now too many people only link back to their own previous posts on a topic (something that’s easy to do since there’s far too little original thinking going on) as if we’re supposed to think that their seven previous posts somehow prove the veracity of the current one.

As for myself? I continue to flounder to some extent in what I’m trying to say. I’m not the angry voice in the wilderness that Pepper is. I’m not the wise professor that some people are. I’m not the hip dad with a unique point of view that others are. I’m me. CT.WP will, most likely, continue to be a mix of serious stuff about PR, social media and the industry I work in, the Cubs, movies and music I’m enjoying or looking forward to and a bit more.

My hope is that when I do take an opinion on something, whatever it is, that I do so in a respectful yet forceful manner. I always try to call BS in the nicest possible way since I know that, whatever I might think of something, there was an individual or group of individuals on the other side of that who thought they were doing a good job. More often it’s the reaction to something that’s the bigger failure than whatever happened in the first place and the last thing I want to do is pile on someone’s bad day or come back a year from now regretting whatever I might have said.

In short, I try to leave the internet in a little better condition than I found it. Here’s to 8+ years of doing more of the same.

Wait ’til 2015?

Rosenbloom on the Cubs as they stand with just a handful of games left in 2012:

The current bunch died at the trading deadline. After going 19-10 in July — I believe Cooperstown asked for that calendar page — the Cubs have gone 4-18 in their last 22. They’ve hit a robust .213 in that time. Their pitchers have a 5.12 earned-run average that is the next journey for the NASA rover Curiosity. They have been outscored 114-74 and just got done striking out 37 times in getting swept in Milwaukee.

He’s not wrong on a lot of this stuff, even if I do think he’s a little overly cynical about the team’s chances in the next couple years. Then again maybe just thinking that proves I really am a Cubs fan and therefore am truly a lost cause.

When not reacting is the appropriate reaction

The five points that are outlined in this Fast Company story about how to manage and engage with the portion of an audience that are complaining loudly about this, that or the other thing are completely spot on. It’s never a bad thing to Acknowledge, Apologize, Amplify, Ask and Act on those complaints. In fact some combination of those five verbs is arguably essential, though you can’t always do as many as you like.That’s because what’s not stated in this kind of pie-in-the-sky outline is the reality that the action taken isn’t always in line with what those doing the complaining would like to see a company do. Or, more often, what’s being seen as a “problem” by the audience is actually what’s best for eh company and is simply a decision that will not be reversed, apologized for or anything else.

So the missing point in that list of actions is “Explain.”

Sometimes decisions are made that are going to be exactly what makes sense for a company, whether that be for creative or business reasons. It fits with corporate goals, it has been made after a thoughtful and deliberative process and the risks of taking that course of action have been fully explored, including the fact that it’s going to turn off a certain (occasionally sizable) portion of the consumer base. But it has to be made because it’s what’s best for the company from most or all objective measures.

It thereby falls to the communications team – whether online or off – to explain why that decision was made. Silence is usually unacceptable so the plan needs to be how to present that to the audience in a way that they will accept. Not every reaction is a knee-jerk course correction based on feedback from what it often an extremely vocal minority. But there does need to be some sort of reaction, even if it’s just to take pains to show people why a decision was made.

Hollywood and Social Media V2.7

From a Wall Street Journal story from earlier this month that I’ve been sitting on since then because I’ve had other things going on:

Hollywood is doing more than using Twitter and Facebook as mere promotional tools. After several years of experimenting, studios have thrown themselves deeply into a medium which is still barely understood. They are now developing elaborate social media campaigns early on, sometimes as soon as a film gets greenlit. Researchers are conducting deep numerical analysis on posts and tweets to guide marketing decisions, sometimes predicting box office revenue with pinpoint accuracy. They’re looking not just at opening movies, but sustaining their word-of-mouth through subsequent weeks. And they are getting more surgical about targeting their ever-fickle, ever-elusive core audience of young people.

Movie marketing has always been something of a black art. Studios typically intensify advertising the month before a movie opens, spending heavily on a barrage of television spots. Upcoming films are now surfacing on social media far earlier. On July 14, nearly a year before the release of M. Night Shyamalan’s “After Earth,” the producers released a video in the form of a Facebook timeline using headlines and photos to describe the historical run-up to an alien-driven apocalypse (the film stars Will Smith).

I’ve yet to see a major movie marketing effort on Twitter or Facebook that I really liked and that was engaging, interesting and enough to make me really tune in to what was going on. Mostly that’s because I have no bandwidth for short-term campaigns, which is what all movie marketing campaigns inherently are.

The story also resurrects the anecdote about how 2009’s Bruno opened big on Friday but then was savaged by immediate (hugely negative) reactions posted to social networks and once again presents this as a case of social media contributing to the sharp drop-off of a movie’s box-office. While there may be some truth there the story fails to adequately point out that this isn’t special, it’s just an example of social media amplifying word of mouth, not some wholly new creation that has to be feared.

Innovation and disruption are two very different things

A recent Fast Company story makes the casethat big companies are essentially incapable of churning out new, hugely innovative products.

Questioning the status quo, cutting costs, eliminating hassles, bypassing middle-men, and removing fees certainly go a long way. But being naïve, clueless or wildly–and perhaps inappropriately–ambitious also helps.

I know the point he’s trying to make but, while he gives some lip-service to the idea, I’m not convinced he actually differentiates in his own mind between innovation and industry or business model disruption. The former can happen anywhere and often does, in fact, happen within large companies where someone figures out how to do something better or in a radically different way. The latter does, admittedly, rarely happen within companies like that since such disruption tends to put those businesses *out* of business.