“Twitterdom” in America…

The brilliant article entitled, “The Ten Ways Twitter Will Permanently Change American Business” on 24/7 Wall Street this week, in which it examined Twitter’s model and its future impact on business, is essentially a “state of the art” of Twitter today. In reading the article I was struck with awe, but also with a measure of watchfulness at the fast pace with which Twitter has enmeshed itself into every aspect of life in America.

The “awe” comes from the fact that Twitter has rapidly become a place where companies build brands, do research, send information to customers, conduct e-commerce and create communities for their users. Moreover, Twitter had supplanted traditional media as a source of information, news and entertainment.  According to author, Douglas A. McIntyre, “some industries, like local retail, could be transformed by Twitter… for it has the potential to drive substantial amounts of business to retailers.”

While Twitter’s potential commercial value as a way to communicate with customers cannot be overstated, there are some brands that will do better than others in their effort to engage the community.  Tweeters are opinionated and, as such, will choose which firms they are willing to get messages from directly (such as promotions, sales, new products, etc.) and brands that key into contemporary culture or style, will surely have a larger ‘following” than brands that don’t.

However, it’s not all roses. A certain unease comes from the fact that social media can be used against a company by any disgruntled Tweeter with his/her own agenda, as seen this week by the Starbuck’s multi-million dollar campaign in which the company had put up billboards in six major cities and then encouraged Tweeters to hunt for the posters — and be the first to post a photo of one using Twitter.  But, according to Alternet.org, filmmaker Robert Greenwald, who had a critical video in the “can” ready to go about the way Starbucks treats employees, entered the Twitter contest, basically hijacking the contest as a way to get out news about his short video.

Among other worrisome aspects of Twitter, is its potential impact on financial markets.  According to the article, Twitter can easily become a platform for discussing stocks, offer opinions and exchange information, whether correct or not.  Per the article, “The Twitter audience makes it possible for groups interested in one stock to post opinions on that company, trades, research, rumors, and data directly from the company in real-time.” At some point federal government agencies such as the SEC will surely need to get involved, for per McIntyre, Twitter has the potential to be one of the most disruptive technologies to become part of the financial markets in decades.

Like many social network sites, Twitter is “self governed” by its members.  Companies must take that into account as they join the service — and also keep an extra measure of watchfulness…

Memorial Day and Omaha Beach…

Memorial Day and Omaha Beach…

Last week I walked on Omaha beach, on the coast of Normandy, France and Memorial Day will never again be the same for me.

As I looked over a precipice at Omaha Beach, the specter of what took place on June 6, 1944 — 65 years ago this year, came alive.  An eerie silence filled the air and it seemed fitting.  For just a moment in time, in my mind’s eye, I felt that I was there, a witness of that day, on D-Day, and through it, I experienced the terror, heard the roar of the heavy bombardment of the Atlantic wall fortifications, felt the land tremble as the massive movement of the special armored vehicles moved forward, and watched in horror as a battle-hardened enemy persisted to fight for its life against the mightiest military force that had ever been gathered in history.

I could see the quiet approach of the paratroopers as they started their slow glide down to land, before their lives would change all together.  I became that very first soldier, Dawson who, upon stepping off the first amphibious carrier that landed on the sand dunes, was instantly struck down before reaching the beach.  I became the 1,465 young men who died within the first five minutes of the massive assault, never knowing the role they would play in history.

Earlier in the day, I had walked into a Nazi bunker, which jolted my very being. Its voluminous concrete and steel fortifications, proved indestructible, even for the powerful Allied Air Force.  It stands today, as it was then, the structure whole, only now it is surrounded by wild growing brush and weeds that threaten to camouflage it.  Nazi bunkers still dot a major portion of the Normandy coastline today, standing intact as symbols of a day that changed the world forever.

And, in the museum at Omaha Beach, there are countless newsreels of the invasion, voice recordings of General Eisenhower and Field Marshall Montgomery as they struggled with their decision, and personal photos of soldiers as they forged ahead into a seemingly insurmountable onslaught of enemy fire.

While the museum captures the history, the cemetery captures the overwhelming price that was paid.  As I walked through the stillness of the cemetery, a sudden ferocious wind swept over the tens of thousands of graves and I shuddered at the coldness of it all.

Memorial Day needs to be more than just family gatherings, picnics, weekend holidays, etc.

It needs to be just what it says – a day to remember and a day to be with those who had the valor and courage to give up their own future, so that others could have a future — in liberty.

What have we learnt from it all?

It’s About The Economy — er, Money — Stupid

It seems it was all done backwards…. First came the innovation, then the run-away successes and then – oh dear, how do we get paid?  Take the freebie online publication dilemma. Who thought that one up?  Now comes all the chest beating, albeit a bit late, in light of the need to make money – or as we used to say, manage a sustainable business.

Look, hindsight doesn’t work.  You don’t get to charge once ‘you’ve given away the store.’

Rupert Murdoch, chief executive of News Corp. is mumbling about the need to end a “malfunctioning” business, per Eric Pfanner’s article in the International Herald Tribune of May 18.  According to the article, other publishers including The Guardian Media Group in Britain and the New York Times Company said they were examining ways to get readers to pay for digital news.

Even the ever-growing and popular two-year old Twitter is getting concerned about getting paid.  It wants to steer clear of advertising, per company cofounder Biz Stone in an article on CIO.com, on May 19, 2009, but needs to consider options.  Apparently, the company is developing tools and services that it may offer on top of Twitter’s free microblogging service.  According to a videotaped interview at a recent Reuters event, Stone offered, “I think by the end of the year we’ll have something out there.  It doesn’t have to be this super home run in terms of making billions of dollars. … But it has to show a little bit of signs of life, telling folks, ‘Yes Twitter can be a sustainable business.”

Let’s hope…

Lawmakers in France have come up with a whopper (pardon Burger King) of a plan to fight against unauthorized sharing of digital music and movies, in the hopes of having consumers pay for such services.  The approved law simply threatens such pirates with the loss of Internet access.  Good luck…

There seems to be an answer amidst all this brouhaha, and the example can be taken from the music industry.  It’s about packaging, that is, not charging for what the customer expects to get free, but offer add-on services as a package — and then charge.  Example: unlimited music, packaged with broadband subscriptions or other purchases.

But just think — it would not be a bad business model if digital news were to be packaged in a similar way, with legitimate offerings consumers actually want.  Basically, sell something other than basic services, which can then remain free.  Clearly there some other attempts at getting paid for receiving the news electronically, such as subscriptions to Amazon’s Kindle DX tablet and the soon-to-come Reader from the New York Times.

One expects business paradigms to change, but in the end, business has, and always will be, about getting paid for services or products.

I think that the original allure of the Internet, with its infinite possibilities, had us all jumping into the water but, apparently, not with feet first…

There really is no free lunch

Doesn’t everyone know that a promise is a promise is a promise, even more so when it comes to promotional giveaways?  Apparently Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) forgot that, when they didn’t deliver on a promise of free food, and the person who was left with “chicken feathers” on her face, was poor Oprah Winfrey.

After all, KFC’s online coupon promotion that promised a free two-piece Kentucky Grilled Chicken meal was featured on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and on her Web site.  What followed was mayhem.

According to Reuters, KFC said that millions of Americans had downloaded free coupons after the offer, driving traffic to levels unseen in the brand’s 50-year history, resulting in extreme demand for the free chicken offer nationwide.  KFC could not keep up.  They reneged on the offer.

As such, no more free chicken and lots of disgruntled people.

Clearly KFC was clueless as to the “tsunami’” that would be unleashed (so-called by Advertising Age crisis expert, Robbie Vorhaus) when free food is combined with the power of the Oprah brand. To make matters worst, the promotion was not offered on Mother’s Day, even though it landed smack in the middle of the promotion dates, which left KFC open to ridicule from competitor El Pollo Loco asking what KFC has against Moms.

Look, I understand that KFC cannot ‘give away the store’.  But where were KFC’s strategists when planning this promotion?  Where were the experts that understood that such a promotion needed to have built-in limits in advance?  Have KFC executives ever watched Oprah give stuff away on her show?  What did they think was going to happen? It’s a no-brainer that all promotions need to be planned against potential consequences — replete with possible crisis scenarios and evaluated from all angles.

So now KFC President Roger Eaton had to write a note of apology to all those who flocked to Oprah’s Web site to download their coupons, and were turned away.

Too late.   Such a major dent in customer relations cannot be wiped out by an apology.   What consumers want is what they were promised – free chicken.  What they got, at least for those who were quick enough to download a coupon before the scheme got changed, a rain check coupon.   But the trust is gone as to whether they will ever get free chicken…

KFC should have gotten their ducks – I mean, chickens — in order before they promised.

PR 101: Think, evaluate analyze, prepare — before you promise.

The Salvation of Newspapers – maybe…

In Camelot, it was the knight in shining armor that saved the princess, locked away in the tower.

With yesterday’s unveiling of Amazon’s Kindle DX, a new multi-purpose version of its digital eBook reader, the beleaguered newspaper industry may very well have its “own knight in shining armor” as quoted from a pre-launch article by Brad Stone in the International Herald Tribune (IHN) and The New York Times on May 5.  According to Stone’s report, Amazon is first in line to potentially save newspapers as in “throwing an electronic life preserver to old-media companies.”

Maybe…

As opposed to the launch of Kindle 1 last February (labeled as ‘experimental’ by the firm), which had skeptics wondering about large-scaled adoption of the device, the Kindle DX was launched with a “safety net” so to speak.  Even before yesterday’s announcement, several high-circulation newspapers including The New York Times, The Boston Globe and The Washington Post had planned pilots with Kindle DX for this coming summer, where they would offer the device at a reduced price to readers who live in areas where home-delivery is not available, and who sign up for a long-term subscription to the Kindle edition of the newspapers.

But I don’t get it.  How do you continue to convince people to pay for subscriptions when most publications have their material freely available on the Web?

Reality is, freely available or not, many of us still pay for subscriptions today, anyway.  Print publications have always offered something tangible and comfortable — as in holding a newspaper or magazine in our hands with our morning coffee, or sharing an article with a fellow commuter, or simply enjoying the rustling sound of turning pages, folding down corners to mark a page, etc.

Old habits die-hard.  Time will tell whether consumers will migrate to reading from tablet-like devices or not, and how quickly…

However, for newspapers, the potential for huge cost savings from the discontinuation of printing and distribution alone, may be just the “second chance” that they need.  Several similarly-positioned devices are due to hit the market in the next 12-months, with other offerings reported to be in the works by the likes of News Corp., the magazine publisher Hearst, and upstart Plastic Logic.

The concept becomes very attractive when you hear Amazon’s Chief Executive Jeff Bezos’ comment, “With the Kindle DX, you get to carry all your documents and your whole library in one slender package.”

How convenient and efficient.  These, may just be the drivers for consumer adoption…