The Power of Engagement

April 4th, 2012 by admin. No Comments »

The acronym for the day is SOCIAL, or “Suitably Overt Customer Interaction And Loyalty”.

Many of my new clients express frustration at Twitter, decrying it as a shadow play with little substance and no value to their corporate brand needs. In those cases where Twitter conversation would be a useful mechanism in brand building, it doesn’t take long to lay out the many reasons why such engagement has value. It takes more than a few minutes, however, so when a brand demonstrates the value of Twitter engagement in literally a few minutes, I want to celebrate the case study.

This afternoon, in between meetings, I stopped by a Chipotle restaurant, to grab a chicken burrito (one of my occasional not-too-guilty pleasures!). I’ve enjoyed the experience at this restaurant for several years now, with its proven mix of marketable ingredients (organic, sustainable, carefully prepared, etc) and fast friendly service. I was surprised and disappointed, therefore, when I was served today by a somewhat lackluster team of servers with little enthusiasm, who doled out minute portions, and then back-filled my burrito with copious amounts of lettuce, in order to disguise the miniscule mix of “main” ingredients. To make matters worse, they left my burrito sitting open on the counter for a lonnnng time, while they went off in search of the lettuce, such that it was stone cold when I finally bit in to it. I was in a hurry to get to my next meeting, so I hurriedly vented via Twitter, and carried on my day, disappointed, but focusing on other matters. Here below is my tweet:

Within less than a minute I got this reply on Twitter:

Keeping with my shark analogy, I decided to bite, and – while listening to a particularly monotonous Q1 earnings call, I filled out an online customer feedback form. I hadn’t even finished the call, when I received an email from a customer service rep at Chipotle (copying a grand total of 13 other Chipotle employees!) apologizing to me for my experience, and detailing the actions the company intended to take to ensure that the restaurant where I had had my unfortunate experience improve its service with all due haste. That I was also offered a free burrito was a nice “icing on the cake” gesture that I appreciated. I was most struck, however, by the clearly demonstrated urgency and seriousness with which Chipotle’s online customer service team responded to my offhanded “vent”. In a matter of minutes, this individual disenchanted customer was converted in to an admiring partner in their success. I immediately tweeted my reaction:

And was instantly answered:

That short exchange cemented the brand’s humanity and intimacy, which is all too often a casualty in a very noisy retail marketplace, especially in the food services sector. It took Chipotle less than 20 minutes to fix a relatively small problem, but that 20 minutes also served to reestablish and strengthen a relationship with one of their most valuable brand stewards, the customer.

So, when you’re next wondering whether an investment in social engagement is worth it, take a look at the cost of all your ad buys, and the time you spend interfacing with your agencies, and the weeks you spend percolating messaging, and then perhaps you’ll realize that the ability to have quick and direct conversations with your end-user is of far greater value than you previously imagined: 20 minutes, perhaps 8 times daily, exponentially multiplied by the knock-on goodwill generated…there’s real power in doing things right.

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Happy Presidents’ Day

February 20th, 2012 by admin. No Comments »

Breakfast With Champions – Nominees Breakfast for the Producers Guild Awards

January 21st, 2012 by admin. 2 Comments »

As a co-founder of the New Media Council, and long-time member of the Producers Guild of America, I am sometimes able to benefit from certain opportunities that make me fall in love with filmmaking all over again. This morning was one such opportunity.

Tonight marks the 23rd annual Producers Guild Awards, precursor and controversial bellwether to the Oscars. A select few members of the Guild are able to attend a breakfast gathering, on the morning of these awards, to meet and hear from the Producers of each nominated Feature Film. It is an intimate and convivial get-together, and always illuminating.

Despite the assumption by many that Producers focus mostly on the fiscal value of a film, when pondering which box to mark on their voting ballot, the conversations this morning were only momentarily focused on financing, and largely concerned with the creative and operational processes of bringing a story to the screen.

What struck me almost immediately was how collaborative and connected to one another these producers had been on these projects, during the past year: Kathleen Kennedy was the impetus for both War Horse and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, while Spielberg catalyzed the realization of The Help. Amusingly, everyone on the panel credited Brad Pitt with some aspect of their production, even though the actor/producer was unusually restrained in his remarks re. friend George Clooney (strongly involved in two of the nominated films).

Even more compelling were some nuggets of wisdom and info dropped by individuals, during the course of conversation:

War Horse

When asked why he made the movie, Spielberg answered “I made the movie to get to that scene where the German and the Geordie free the horse from the barbed wire together”.

8 horses were used to portray the central character in the film, with two (“Abraham” and “Finder”) carrying the heavy acting load.

Midnight In Paris

Woody Allen‘s scripts are largely devoid of stage directions. Just dialogue. The visual is only revealed during production. More startling still is the fact that Woody Allen doesn’t write a thing until full financing is obtained. This film was made for $18 Million, all of which was obtained on his name alone. Only when the money was in the proverbial bank did Mr. Allen begin the scriptwriting process, which consisted of well over a month of “just thinking”, followed by 4 short weeks of longhand writing, and then typing up the draft (which Woody had to do himself, since nobody else could read his writing). Unlike most of the other productions, Woody Allen’s films have no rehearsal whatsoever, and every scene is shot on location (no studio shoots).

Bridesmaids

Casting drew strongly from Kristen Wiig’s compatriots at the Groundlings Improv company, and the original script was strongly augmented with rewrites culled from improv rehearsals. These revisions were themselves then altered dramatically in production, where additional improv took place. In essence, the film worked with 3 scripts as a result: two written, and one unwritten. The resulting 1,200,000 feet of film shot is testament to the production’s desire to capture the very brightest moments of performance and storytelling.

Each producer had favorite scenes in their respective film. Some examples:

  • Jim Burke particularly enjoyed when George Clooney’s character in THE DESCENDANTS, Matt King goes into the ancestral family home and opens the curtains, letting in the light, and showing us the family photos, thereby giving himself and us an insight into his place in the family history.
  • Ceán Chaffin was deeply impressed with the final scene in THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, when Rooney Mara’s character, Lisbeth Salanader, realizes some important truths, and the actress silently shows everything going on in Lisbeth’s mind, in that painful moment.
  • Brunson Green’s favorite scene in THE HELP was at the end, where the main character is about to walk into the room to be fired and confront Hilly.
  • Graham King’s favorite moment in HUGO was when the scholar, Rene Tabard, goes to George Méliès’ apartment and screens the film for his wife.
  • Grant Heslov was struck most by the restaurant kitchen confrontation scene between Ryan and George in THE IDES OF MARCH
  • From an acting perspective, Brad Pitt especially enjoyed the trading scene in MONEYBALL

Two particularly telling comments came from Mr. Spielberg. In response to a question as to whether any of the producers would now consider shooting a silent film, given the success of THE ARTIST, Spielberg admitted his surprise and delight at that film’s success, saying “I didn’t think silent film was possible in the 21st century, until The Artist” – testament to the fact that we never need lose opportunities for learning, no matter our experience.  Later, when asked what he looked for in submissions, Spielberg strongly decried any notion that writers should submit supporting materials (Sizzle reels, previz, storyboards) when pitching their work. Spielberg asked that he and his fellow producers be given enough credit to fill in the gaps with their own imaginations, which would always be far superior to whatever one might supply in the way of pre-visualizations.

When compared to this evening’s upcoming glitzy and impersonal gala affair, attended by thousands, I think I and my peers got the better part of the deal, as we spent a relaxed morning in the presence of some very talented and unquestionably devoted stewards of creative storytelling.

Moderator:

  • Gary Lucchesi (President, Lakeshore Entertainment)

Panelists:

  • Thomas Langmann for THE ARTIST
  • Barry Mendel for BRIDESMAIDS
  • Jim Burke for THE DESCENDANTS
  • Ceán Chaffin for THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO
  • Brunson Green for THE HELP
  • Graham King for HUGO
  • Grant Heslov for THE IDES OF MARCH
  • Letty Aronson for MIDNIGHT IN PARIS
  • Brad Pitt for MONEYBALL (Producers  Michael De Luca and Rachael Horovitz were also in attendance)
  • Steven Spielberg for WAR HORSE (Producer Kathleen Kennedy was also in attendance)
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In Case You Missed It… (1st in a series)

October 10th, 2011 by admin. No Comments »

It’s been almost 2 months since I last posted anything here (I have no interest in blogging for the sake of blogging, and I’m sure you have no interest in reading self-important daily ruminations on the state of social media, society, or Steve Jobs (RIP)).

So, beginning today, I will be compiling – in keeping with my commitment to publish only when I have something worth publishing – recaps of a few of the various things I’ve discovered and shared during the previous month, be it via Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, or whatever other social brand made sense in the moment. I won’t be recapping ALL my postings and discoveries (saints preserve us!), but only those that I think still merit review, one month later. As noted above, I’ll be calling this regular entry “In Case You Missed It…”, and I welcome any feedback or input, as always.  So, without further ado, here is the first installment of this regular publication for your enjoyment, information, education, and perhaps even inspiration! (this first posting will cover a little more than the past month, just to get us all caught up):

Fundraising in the New Economy

As many of my readers know, I have been dedicating a big chunk the past couple of years to supporting a small variety of Not-for-Profit Organizations, helping them to strengthen their brand and financial positions during this economic downturn. Many NPOs are still wasting a lot of time pursuing legacy funding channels that no longer deliver the returns they used to bring, at the cost of other revenue generation opportunities. Crowd-sourced and network funding channels abound now, including ProFounder, Kickstarter, Razoo and others. NPOs need to have a dedicated New Funding Director, well-versed in emerging channels (from text-based through Social, and beyond). In July, Mashable published an interesting article offering some tips for NPO mobile campaigning. It was a little simplistic, but a great way to help NPOs start thinking along the right lines.

21st Century Pop

Later that month, I came across a very compelling site called thesixtyone, where “new artists make music and listeners decide what’s good”. Why it took me so long to check this out, I’ll never know, but I’m glad to see it still going strong, and now there’s another offering, exclusively for the iPad, called Aweditorium, which is similar, yet just different enough to make it worth looking in to. While Spotify, Grooveshark, Pandora, Mog, and Last.fm are hands down the best purveyors of mainstream music over the Net, it’s great to see intuitive, crowdsourced music experience such as thesixtyone and Aweditorium. Kudos to Reid Hoffman and Joi Ito for supporting such truly grassroots musical adventures as thesixtyone, and I’m eager to see what sort of UX the iCloud offers, to mitigate the lousy experience that is currently iTunes.

Gee, Plus or Minus

Also in July, I began using Google+, and I must say I am still struggling to adopt it as a preferred social network. I can see some potential, but it is so specifically reliant on the input of users that one wonders whether “we” are enough to ensure ongoing and continually expanding usefulness, beyond the fraternity of early adopters. This network may end up becoming little more than a glorified techie BBS, which is not a bad thing, just not perhaps what everyone had initially expected or hoped for. I yearn to be proven wrong, though, and see this evolve into a deeply enriching experience for a vast cross section of society, sufficiently differentiated from Facebook that it moves beyond being an “either/or” proposition. Other niche social networks are growing strongly, meanwhile, including photography site 500px (an alternative the increasingly messy deviantart).

Incremental Change

I’ve been waging a more than 2-year battle to have a major residential street in Burbank calmed sufficiently to allow for bicycle lanes, a center turn lane, upgraded signalization, and safe pedestrian crossing experiences. Just a few weeks ago, with the help of many friends and professionals, the battle was won, and we now move on to the next street, in this war (at least, that’s what it often feels like!) to make urban living safer, more manageable, and more sustainable.  My efforts were quiet and diplomatic (for the most part!), compared to the impressive actions of people like Vilnius Mayor A.Zuokas and Ed Begley Jr. While we may not all have the discipline, vision, & commitment of Mr. Begley, wouldn’t it be nice if we each moved an inch further in the right direction? Standing still on the issue of sustainable living isn’t going to improve air quality, landfill overflows, urban heat island effect, & the host of other challenges bearing down on us. Whoever said “ignorance is bliss” was a fool (Hello, Thomas Gray). As for the tank stunt: Is it all staged? Perhaps. Does it momentarily fulfill the fondest wish of many a pedestrian, bus driver, and bicyclist around the world? Definitely. The streets of our urban areas are supposed to be for ALL forms of transportation, not just cars. Does your city have the legislative tank commanders necessary to ensure you are able to get around a cleaner city, however you wish, and safely? Think about it, and maybe one or two more of us can act upon it…

In the meantime, while we fight to make our cities more inclusive, many among us are worrying about how our privacy is becoming compromised online. Facebook is certainly not to blame, if you are stupid enough to post drunken/naked/awkward pictures of yourself on your profile, or otherwise upload sensitive data. That’s all on you, bubba! However, your phone number, real estate records, social content, name, age, and so much more are easy to find on the web, regardless of your Facebook activity, thanks to a host of sites you may never have heard of. Clearing the data can be a bit of a headache, but finding all those sites has recently become a whole lot easier: Unlistmy.info is a free service that helps you identify those sites and remove your personal data from their records.

Speaking of records, the results from the 2010 Census came online last month, and they’re interesting to wander around, during your coffee/tea break… (some intriguing questions arise, such as: if all designated races experienced population decline in Los Angeles County, how did the overall population in that California county INCREASE by nearly 300,000 people?). Explore the 2010 Census here (courtesy of CNN).

Keeping The Fire Alight

More recently, Lots of new techie toys have been coming out: iPhone 4S, Amazon Fire Tablet, Kindle Touch, Samsung Galaxy S2 for T-Mobile and others, a couple of new Android tablets, some more Windows phones…Despite high unemployment, and a gasping economy, our almost unconscious desire for the newest consumer tech bauble remains as healthy as ever. At some point we will suddenly wake up to the fact that all these devices are nothing more than toys or tools, and as such need to be either mightily entertaining or extremely useful…and, in both cases, firmly reliable.

Let that day come sooner, rather than later.

The speculation surrounding the Amazon tablet release was perhaps the most feverish, with claims being made that the “Fire” was a potential “iPad Killer”. Despite press reports supporting this dramatic contention, nothing could be further from the truth, IMHO. As I said in one of my Quora answers last month, the new device from Amazon certainly opens up the market, with a price point ($199) that will bring fiscal fence-sitters into the arena. However, the feature-set on the Kindle Fire make it more like a juiced-up iPod Touch than an iPad. The Kindle Fire has no camera, no microphone, and no 3G connectivity. That said, it has two things that the iPad does not have: Amazon Silk and a vast content library (remember, Apps are not content, per se, they are applications!). The iPad will continue (for now) to dominate the upper end of the tablet market, with its dominant app collection and solid device performance. Meanwhile, the Kindle Fire represents a price and feature challenge to the rest of the market (Android and Windows8, essentially). To go out on a limb, just for the heck of it, I’m going to predict that that Kindle Fire does very well in the short term, while the new Kindle e-readers do astonishingly well, once they come out in November. Amazon may well take 2nd place in tablet market share, but not for long, as I have to believe the release of Microsoft’s Windows 8 tablet OS will force the Android Tablets and applications communities to mature at an accelerated pace. Amazon will take 1st place in mobile content delivery, and will keep it, so long as they maintain focus on their existing core capabilities.

I don’t think Mr. Jeff Bezos and Co. are looking to secure early advantage in the tablet race. Their objective is loftier. Amazon is in the multiplatform content delivery market for the long haul, as evidenced by their Kindle ecosystem. While the HTCs, Dells, Samsungs, RIMs, and Motorolas of the world (sorry, HP, but a jailbroken tablet can no longer be considered viable competition) fight it out in their respectively scrappy fashions, Amazon would do well to stick to its proven methodologies: manage and enhance a world-leading library of diverse content; produce competitively priced, robust, yet simple-featured devices; tying it all together with a superior (if still prone to outage) cloud infrastructure,

Market analysts have claimed that everyone who was going to buy a Kindle has already bought one, but the new touchscreen functionality and very affordable price point now position the Kindle e-reader as the only game worth playing in town. The Nook is in serious trouble (trapped between the Kindle Touch and Fire, yet costing almost as much as both combined). Watch for massive sales of this new line of Kindle e-readers, assuming the interface is solid, and the Whispernet deal (free wireless content delivery) stays equally secure.

The Kindle Fire represents a widening of the market for tablet users, not so much a direct challenge to the iPad (although it may convince Apple to lower the price on their current model, and keep it on the market when the next iPad iteration comes out, all depending on whether there is sufficient differentiation between their current model and the next release. Most signs point to this not being the case).

The new line of Kindle e-readers positions Amazon to garner such a massive and insurmountable lead over all other book distributors, digital or otherwise, that the Big 5 publishers are going to have to come back to the table soon, with their tails between their legs. Although Apple’s iBook may have better UI, the Kindle App gives readers a degree of mobility and flexibility that is unmatched.

Amazon is pursuing software and hardware innovations in full support of their core competencies, and the company will prosper mightily as a result. If AWS can reduce outages, and their Cloud infrastructure is able to handle the load that might come to bear when 50 million (or more) tablets and e-readers and other devices call for content at the same time, then Amazon will be the new leading entertainment studio of the 21st century: in charge and in control of distribution more content to more people, in more places, on more devices, than any other entity.

That brings me to the end of September, and I haven’t even mentioned my Twitter postings (tweets). So I’ll just post a few from the beginning of July below, to give you a taste of what you can usually find there! In the meantime, I look forward to next month’s recap and, if you prefer to connect in a more timely fashion, I encourage you to follow my regular (almost daily) tweets on Twitter, and/or my weekly short posts on Facebook.

A few Twitter tweets of note for early July:

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Kumbaya Redux

August 16th, 2011 by admin. 1 Comment »

With economies crumbling, politicians posturing, nations in upheaval, and “Wizards of Waverly Place” canceled, one can’t be blamed for thinking humanity has lost its bearings, and all is lost. However, I believe that nothing could be further from the truth.

After decades of conspicuous consumption, corporate and personal greed, and upended priorities, the double-dip depression (that’s what I’ve been calling it, and I’m sticking by it) is forcing many of us to review our lifestyles, and reconsider what is really important. Statistics suggest that the undeniable financial stresses of late are not increasing divorce rates, but rather reversing the trend (divorce rates are down year-on-year since 2008YE), and families are growing closer, with adults moving back in with parents, resulting in shared costs and shared burdens. The high cost of oil (regardless of recent gimmicky dips) is accelerating the drive toward alternative fuel vehicles (here’s hoping that we blast through the not-so-green hybrid and electric cars currently on offer, and really get it right with 2014 models). Citizens of cities around the world are increasingly clamoring for alternative modes of urban transportation (bicycle, pedestrian, public transport), leading to the exciting redesign of urban landscapes – incorporating  complete streets, more green spaces, pedestrian safety, increased access to local retail businesses, air quality improvements, mitigation of obesity rates, and reduction of urban heat island effects.  The process is slow, sometimes painfully so, but it is at least progressive, and I believe accelerated by the pressures brought to bear by our collective and individual financial woes.

The struggles faced by our society are reinvigorating our awareness of the communities within which we live, work, and play. More to the point, they are humanizing an existence that seemed to be losing itself in an entropic vortex of “technology for the sake of it”, rampant consumerism, and material one-upmanship. Individuals are becoming more aware of the truth of our shared reality. Nobody is in this alone, and this noble cliché seems to be reawakening an almost instinctual urge to share what little we have with those around us. The amount of dollars being given to charity may be down, but the number of people making donations  is up. This drive is manifesting itself in some wonderfully strange ways, a few cherry-picked examples offered her below, as evidence:

Airbnb is trying, with varying degrees of success, to connect private homeowners with regular travelers, for mutual benefit. Have an extra room (or whole residence) sitting empty at any particular time of the year? Offer it up for rental, and airbnb will help find a tenant.  As soon as the service manages to work out how to minimize vandalism and theft, and refine the availability calendaring (hopeless at present), it’s going to be fantastic.

Meanwhile, one wonders what the point of grassroots lodging is, if one doesn’t have a clue what to do in the city one is visiting. MyGuidie to the rescue! This service, still in alpha mode, is building a database of professional tour guides offering their professional services to travelers seeking to explore a destination properly. However, the real clincher about this site is the fact that it is ALSO registering volunteer locals willing to offer up a little guide time in return for a cold brew or friendly meal! Salacious potential aside, this is civic pride in action.

Don’t rely solely on your guide, however, when you consider that restaurants, museums, and many other places to see and be seen are actively pursuing ways to connect with their customers, fans, and clients. The obvious Foursquare and Facebook check-in mechanisms are but the proverbial tip of the iceberg, marking the spot in an ocean of opportunity. Underneath these well documented landmarks in communications and interconnectivity lie some very compelling niche programs worth checking out, such as – to give but one example among an increasing horde – the Connections program from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where staff are sharing their personal histories and perspectives on art, and overlaying these worldviews on the more specific  touchpoints offered in the museum’s collections.

While on the subject of taking people out to lunch, or visiting a place of interest, it’s intriguing to note that We&Co, a Foursquare outcrop app, is providing users the ability to leverage the increasingly ubiquitous “check-in” to recognize and thank the people who make a particular moment in our day a pleasant one, be it our waiter, retail clerk, dentist, or tour guide.

These are but a few of the apps, sites, and services cropping up (and growing fast) to accelerate this healthy compulsion many of us are experiencing: now that we have less money, perhaps we’ll focus a little less on building or buying more, and  instead take a little more time to show some interest in those things that truly make life worth living: the people and places that comprise our world. As my close personal friend, Henry David Thoreau, once said: What is the use of a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?

Henry David Thoreau, in 1861.

Image via Wikipedia

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Pigeonholing Evolution

July 14th, 2011 by admin. No Comments »

{EAV_BLOG_VER:833d5130113b8052} My friend, Mike Brown recently posted a short piece on his own blog, entitled “Who is creating social media content in your organization?”, exploring where the departmental responsibility for social media (or “social engagement”, as I prefer to call it) lies within an organization. I added a comment to the posting, which drew some very flattering responses via Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and email – so I thought I’d post my comments here below (as much to remember what the heck it was I wrote, as to keep the conversation going!):

Perhaps above and beyond the obvious impact Social Media is having, in terms of offering new opportunities for brand evangelists to introduce and moderate their platforms in existing or new constituencies; for product and solution marketing teams to try and launch “campaigns” via new channels; for corporate representatives – be they CRM, legal, or otherwise – to try and cautiously bring their brand and offering connection closer to the end-user, in response to an increasing demand by consumers and clients to participate in the valuation of offerings, further up the value chain….above and beyond these and other immediately evident opportunities, benefits, or enticements (presented across the still primordial social engagement landscape), there is growing one even larger opportunity that has been only tangentially addressed here, and deserves to be directly examined:

Instead of attempting to qualify which existing department should or does own or lead social engagement activities, within traditional corporate infrastructures and silos, the real question of deepest worth may be “has the advent of social engagement, greater organizational transparency, transversal responsibility for failure and success alike, and deeper demands from every part of the process (including consumers) for collaboration in development, innovation, productization, distribution, and iteration (breathe here) created not just an opportunity, but a demand, for organizations to review their org. charts, and functional infrastructures, in order to best respond to and manage new models and ecosystems in customer and client relationships, product sales and management, and other aspects of B2B and B2C business?”.

Perhaps the answer lies not in shoving social media activities into one or the other pre-existing pigeon hole, but instead taking this opportunity to stir the pot more than just a little, and take some time to divest ourselves of 1950′s functional structures..?

This is the moment to loosen our grip on the past and present, and see this undeniably disruptive practice of social engagement as a chance to reinvigorate and possibly reinvent the way we manage innovation, human resources, market penetration, customer service, and so much more. Let’s not get carried away with a presently rather shallow tide, but let’s recognize that the tides have nevertheless shifted, and the currents are moving in compelling new ways which will certainly change the landscape. Where your ship lands depends on how well you learn to navigate these currents and tides, and how efficiently you reassign your crew.

My fundamental suggestion is that corporate and organizational models are ripe for transformation, reflecting massive evolutions in internal and external communications, operations, personnel management and education, marketing, and customer relations – to name but a few areas that are both deeply impacted by and – in turn – heavily influence hierarchies and processes within organizations. The way social engagement permeates an infrastructure could prove invaluable in effecting valuable transformation: watch the practice as it flows through the organization: something akin to a corporate blue dye (BDT) and modified barium swallow (MBS) test! Should Marketing and Communications continue to be lumped together (“MarCom”)? Is the skills set of Marketing best maximized as a Sales support function, or is there a more strategic opportunity therein? Should Communications really be a satellite support function, activated only whenever a Business Unit or other department determines there exists a need to “push” information outward, or is more potential just itching to manifest itself? The communal nature of social engagement gives organizations the priceless opportunity to move beyond legacy charts, developed to manage the 19th Century industrial revolution. Several revolutions have taken place since then, and this latest one – effectively disrupting how we connect, communicate, and transact with one another – presents an opening that should not be overlooked.

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Who Needs Experts?

April 28th, 2011 by admin. 1 Comment »

As professional reviewers and taste-makers find themselves increasingly marginalized by the aggregate insights and observations of “the crowd”, one wonders whether the demise of printed news may actually be beaten to the punch by the obsolescence of the once-all-powerful critic.

It used to be that we relied on Patricia Wells or Brad A. Johnson to guide us from one fine dining experience to the other. Indeed, reading their restaurant reviews in the Herald Tribune or Angeleno (respectively) represented something of a tasty appetizer, prior to the main experience of visiting an emerging “hot spot” discovered by their renowned palates.

Today, we are far more likely to turn to the legion of self-anointed food critics that live on Yelp, and – by parsing their experiences – so determine our choice of venue.

Of course, this trend is not limited to food: IMDB, Metacritic, and rottentomatoes.com are but a few of the resources available to moviegoers seeking to crowdsource their entertainment choices; a slew of new apps and engines, such as Weddar (location-based, people-powered, social weather reporting) and Fflick (twitter-based movie recommendation engine, recently acquired by Google), to name but a couple, are rapidly making anyone with the inclination a “retail influencer”.

It seems that for every institution, industry, and brand, there’s an app or a site ready to offer up a plethora of user-generated reviews. Amazon’s main value proposition is arguably not so much its products or pricing, but rather the fact that every one of those products is accompanied by a rich diversity of opinions from past shoppers. Groupon and Foursquare give users the opportunity to share “tips” and other product insights, and what’s Facebook if not one big moshpit of “Like/Unlike”? From PCs to software downloads, cars to cancer treatment, the experienced insights of trained professionals or deeply experienced specialists are being usurped, in favor of the massed choir of “fellow shoppers” in whom we prefer to somewhat blindly place our faith – jaded by a glut of advertising, and suspicious of prognosticators that seem less perfectionist and more political…a classic case of “quantity trumps quality”, based on the assumption that a sufficiently large aggregate of diversified opinions and reviews will yield a more truthful mean insight than one or two “professional” perspectives.

During the early days of this trend, the notion that one could turn to our peers for honest pre-purchase evaluations was both compelling and valuable. Sites such as Epinions.com and eBay fostered communities of idealistic shoppers, keen to ensure that their fellow consumers benefited from their prior experiences with a brand or product. As with most movements, the early days were a refreshing and invigorating alternative to what had admittedly become a somewhat stuffy status quo of entrenched, predictable, and unimaginative thinking. However, with mass adoption comes an exponential raising of the volume. The signal-to-noise ratio has diminished so swiftly that  I believe the “great experiment” risks expiring, gorged on the fat of its gluttony. Opinion aggregating sites such as Yelp are working frantically to develop and perfect algorithms that will mitigate the mess, but code often confounds the issue (many Yelp users – consumers and businesses alike – are complaining that their bona-fide reviews are being filtered for no apparent reason, and Yelp representatives explain that they have no control over the automated process of removing reviews that its algorithm deems “suspicious”).

This leaves us at the proverbial crossroad: either engineers or programmers discover and develop a stronger mechanism for managing the overwhelming pool of reviews attaching themselves to every book, diaper, TV, ointment, and car available on the Web; or we begin to find ourselves gravitating toward, and eventually anointing a select few regular reviewers, and making them the professional critics of the 21st Century, hired by their readership/viewership, and empowered to guide us all once more, as we seek out – albeit a little more frugally than our parents may have done – the next great meal, deal, or wheel.

What is certain, IMHO, is that crowdsourced review pools are fast reaching their saturation point and, unless someone begins to refine and maximize the resource, it will be as appealing and nourishing as sitting in a pool-full of marshmallows: the idea was thrilling, and the initial experience inspiring, but eventually the reality proves somewhat mind-numbing, and perhaps even a little sickening.

NFFTY Keynote Panel 2011

April 12th, 2011 by admin. No Comments »

If you happen to be in Seattle in a couple of weeks, you are warmly invited to attend a panel I am moderating at this year’s National Film Festival for Talented Youth (the world’s largest youth film festival). The panel will take place at 11:30am, Friday April 29th, in the renowned SIFF Cinema (located at 321 Mercer Street at 3rd Avenue, McCaw Hall, in the heart of Seattle Center’s Theatre district).

Keynote Panel: Sharing Your Vision in the Digital Age

Financing, distribution, intellectual property, platforms and channels – these are but a few of the considerations facing today’s filmmakers, living in a world that experiences entertainment and information far beyond the confines of a theater, with all the opportunities and threats inherent in this shifting paradigm (multiplatform distribution, day-and-date, elimination of physical reel, concentric campaigns, GoogleTV/Hulu/Netflix/YouTube, streaming media, content piracy, interactive storytelling, and so much more).

This panel will comprise renowned professionals with a variety of viewpoints along the expanding content spectrum, together exploring how the modern storyteller can best ensure that their story has the greatest possible impact and value.

Panelists:

Hayden Black
Hayden hails from Salford, England and created, produced and co-starred in the original version of “Goodnight Burbank” back in ’06. The webisodic version was nominated for a Best Comedy Webby ’08, and won numerous other “Best Of” awards from iTunes and others. His production company, Evil Global Corp, has also been behind two other hugely popular online comedies – “Abigail’s Teen Diary” and “The Occulterers”.  All three series have been met with critical acclaim and views number collectively in the tens of millions. His latest version of Goodnight Burbank, co-starring himself, Laura Silverman and Dominic Monaghan, is the first ever half-hour comedy to be created exclusively for the web. Hayden’s also spoken and/or keynoted at a variety of conferences, including NAB, Digital Hollywood and NATPE and received a Groundbreaker of the Year Award in March 2011 from the LA Web Festival. You can follow his musings at @haydenblack but be warned.

Valerie Van Galder
Valerie had a very successful ten year tenure at Sony Pictures, joining to launch Screen Gems in 1999, and subsequently rising quickly to take on the challenges of President of Marketing for Columbia Pictures, and co-president Worldwide Theatrical Marketing for Sony Pictures Entertainment, as well as, at one time, President of Tristar Pictures.  Since leaving Sony at the end of 2009 she has been consulting for such clients as MARV Productions (Matthew Vaughn), John Wells Productions, Summit Entertainment, Vendome Entertainment and the Walt Disney Company, where she is now heading up the marketing campaign for next month’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.”

Van Galder has launched an impressive list of hits, including such blockbusters as “The Da Vinci Code,” “Casino Royale,” “Quantum of Solace,” “Hancock,” “Spider-Man” (TM), “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan,” “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” “The Full Monty,” “The Ice Storm,” “The Exorcism of Emily Rose,” “Underworld,” “Resident Evil,” “Apocalypse,” “Boogeyman,” “You Got Served,” “Pineapple Express,” “Vantage Point,” “Superbad,” “Ghost Rider,” “The Pursuit of Happyness,” “Click,” “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” “RV,” “The Grudge 2,” “Gridiron Gang,” “Step Brothers,” “The Pink Panther,” “Monster House,” and Sony Pictures Animation’s first full length CGI feature film “Open Season,” among others.

Dana Brunetti
Dana is a feature film and television producer, President of Trigger Street Productions and long time business partner of company founder Kevin Spacey. Some of Brunetti’s credits include 21 (the story of MIT students who perfected the art of card counting and took Vegas for millions), “Fanboys,” the Emmy and Golden Globe nominated “Bernard and Doris,” “Casino Jack,” “Recount,” and others.  In 2009 Brunetti produced the film “The Social Network,” and his role as the producer of the project won him numerous accolades, including eight Academy Award nominations and a Golden Globe for Best Picture. In 2002 Brunetti and Kevin Spacey founded TriggerStreet.com, an innovative and prescient social network for emerging film and writing talent. More recently he has been involved with several new initiatives to push the boundaries of digital distribution, including a groundbreaking deal with Netflix to distribute Fincher and Spacey’s House of Cards as well as in-house production of dynamic and original live and video-on-demand content for the web.

Stan Emert
Stan Emert is the creator/producer/president of RAINMAKERS.TV, a documentary TV/video series in partnership with a PBS affiliate, that celebrates the successes of people at the bottom of the economic pyramid; NGOs; and donors, who collaborate to improve the world.  Emert has spoken on corporate social responsibility before the American Film Institute, the World Bank, and to many other significant audiences around the US. An adjunct faculty member of the University of Washington, Emert is the author of two books, and the ghostwriter of five others.

Timothy Dubel
Tim is Microsoft Corporation’s Director of Global Community Affairs, responsible for development of strategy and implementation of global philanthropic programs.  His work focuses on community based citizenship, and enabling changemakers to impact society, be it through technology, social initiatives, or through the act of telling and preserving their stories. Prior to Microsoft, Tim was with the US Agency for International Development (USAID), where he managed private sector development programs in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

Moderator – Nicholas de Wolff

Click here to buy tickets.

The Inexorable Rise of Efficiency

October 26th, 2010 by admin. No Comments »

Over the past 10 years or so, we have been subject to an escalating swath of socially suffocating technological wizardry. It seemed as if we had to “adopt” a new piece of hardware or software every day, and it has been boggling our minds on an ever-overwhelming basis. Many have opted to “opt-out”, and are happily ignorant of many or all the fantastic advances available to them: the mobile weather apps, Smartphones, advanced networks, streaming media, 3D TVs, ebooks, tablets, subcutaneous bar codes (ok, I made that last one up…maybe).

The point is, Moore’s law and its associate exponential trend markers are suffocating us with advances, to the point where the next generation is looking at us with bemusement, and wondering why we are swimming so hard upstream. They want the tools, plugins, add-ons, extensions, gadgets, gewgaws, and apps to serve them with utility, and not the other way around.

And I say “Hear! Hear!”

It has been a thrilling, albeit exhausting, ride: keeping up with the cyberjoneses, as I educated myself about all the latest multiplatform, multi-browser apps and extensions and add-ons; as I tested all the diversity of mobile devices, and patiently spent hours per week updating all my software applications. I marveled at my friends and associates who could not exercise any modicum of patience, and spent top dollar to add another hardware device to their growing arsenal, until they had a desktop computer with triple monitors, networked to their HDTV, augmented (but not replaced) by a laptop and Smartphone, and then accompanied by an e-book reader, Internet TV, and – most recently – tablet.

It is this latest device, however, that gives me the greatest cause for rejoicing (perhaps prematurely). I’m not just referring to the iPad, but to the imminent explosion of tablets that the iPad has facilitated, by dint of being the prettiest, although not the first (see my article from January 2010).

I believe that because of the very fact that we are simply overwhelmed by technology, the tablet has presented us with a new challenge: do we add yet another device to our asphyxiating arsenal of gadgets, or do we identify what current tools it effectively replaces, and dispose of a whole hardware subset or two? The decline of the Netbook is testament to the subconscious desire of consumers for a return to efficient and manageable technological lifestyles, and I predict (again) that – with the right marketing and product innovation – tablets will eventually replace laptops as well. This time, I have pretty pictures to back me up:

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Fragile China – Treat With Care

September 10th, 2010 by admin. 1 Comment »

How many of you were aware that China and the US almost went to war recently (according to Chinese mainland media and other sources)? Did you know that China had rebuffed Obama’s request for Secretary Gates to come visit his military counterparts in China (to discuss North Korea situation), refusing to allow the US to meet with military leaders in Beijing; that the US parked several fleets around the nation as a show of indignant force; and that people in China were being prepared by their leaders to rise up and fight “the evil Americans”? I have friends in China who had their bags packed, ready to flee. Yet we heard precious little about this over here.

We are also hearing precious little about China’s enormous investment in the African continent, helping almost every nation therein build up their infrastructure, and investing heavily in natural resources. Just as many see the US as having helped to rebuild Europe in the post-war years, China is building a reputation through the African nations as the benevolent partner…

How are US corporations and administrations responding to the inescapable growth of this Asian culture? We cannot seek to slow down or arrest the development of this economic and cultural force. Attempts to crush evolutionary movement tend to hurt the instigator (see RIAA attempts to stop digital file downloads, as a smaller scale example).

China is bigger than most people seem to consciously calculate, and their business and social culture is very different to the aggressive, fast-moving instant gratification, individualistic culture manifest in US business and society. Are we SO arrogant to think WE can change THEM?..

I wonder how long it will take us to learn how to interface truly effectively with Chinese leaders (government and business), and whether that learning curve will prove simply too long to save us from painful decline as a leading global influencer of policy…when our Secretary of Defense is told to go fly a kite by a foreign nation, you know that more than icebergs are shifting

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