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Archive for December, 2007

Everyone else is doing it, so More With Les is jumping on the bandwagon. After what seemed like endless minutes of contemplation and deliberation, I am now ready to announce the More With Les blog’s Person of the Year for 2007.

The winner is the Millennial student.

The students in the generational group referred to as the “Millennials” were born beginning in 1982 and continuing to 20xx. Along with their five predecessor generations, the Millennials span nearly 120 birth years. But Millennials are unlike any of the youths of previous generations. They are more of them. They are better educated and more affluent. They are more ethnically diverse than previous generations, according to Strauss and Howe (2006) in Millennials and the Pop Culture. And most important, Millennials are already having a profound impact on society. I see it every day as a college instructor in classes filled with Millennials.

But beyond demographics, the Millennials are characterized by a focus on teamwork, achievement, modesty, and good conduct. The Millennial college students in my classes are engaged and upbeat and oh so technologically savvy. These students are:

  • Close to their parents.
  • Focused on grades and performance.
  • Busy with extracurricular activities.
  • Eager to volunteer for community service.
  • Talented in technology.
  • More interested in math and science, relative to the humanities.
  • Insistent on a secure, regulated environment.
  • Respectful of norms and institutions.
  • Ethnically diverse, but less interested in questions of racial identity.
  • Majority female, but less interested in questions of gender identity (Strauss and Howe, 2006, p. 54).

Among the most important impacts of Millennials is their redefining society’s relationship to technology, especially their unprecedented influence over pop culture delivery. Witness the success of online music stores. They demand that entertainment service and products be digital, media-free, and interactive. Millennials want their entertainment products and services transmitted through anything, stored anywhere, to be enjoyed at any time by anybody and with a wide variety of equipment.

Strauss and Howe call this “team tech” as manifested in Millennnials’ desire for portable, customized, shareable listening experiences.  The explosion of ringtones, ringbacks, and wallpaper for cell phones, with estimated sales of around $4 billion worldwide, is almost entirely driven by Millennials.

Millennials love the action-response of anything interactive, viewing that as making it fun. As with all of the characteristics discussed here, this has profound implications to the education of Millennials.

Among other characteristics of Millennials  is that they are optimistic, with nine out of ten describing themselves as “happy”, “confident”, and “positive”. They follow rules and trust and accept authority.  For example, Millennials favor more stringent rules against misbehaving in class and society at large.

Millennials gravitate to group activity, a manifestation of this being their tendency to engage in community service in greater numbers than previous generations.

Many of their collective characteristics must come from the fact that Millennials are the most watched-over generation in memory. They were brought up in closely-managed, highly structured environments by protective parents. Millennials were a wanted generation of kids by their parents. Millennials have been regarded as special since birth and have been obsessed over at every age. They were born into an era of falling divorce and abortion rates, an era characterized by that which harms children is intolerable (Strauss and Howe, 2006).

It amazes me how many of my Millennial students tell me that their parents are their “best friends”. It is common for many of these students to talk with their parents via mobile phone as many as five times day or more. Many of my Millennial Facebook friends list in their “Favorites” their “Fam”.

And Millennials are smart. In fact, eight in ten say it is “cool to be smart.”

To summarize, Millennials are oriented toward personal safety, family closeness, community action, applied technology, and long-term planning. Millennials opt for the good of the group, patience, conformity, and a focus on deeds over words. They value finding consensus more than being right. Millennials set their standards high, get organized, set up teams, and create community (Strauss and Howe, 2006). 

And so it is with great pleasure I present to the More With Les learning community my pick for Person of the Year 2007, the Millennial student. As an educator, this group is extremely important to me. They will, as Strauss and Howe say, rebel against the Gen-X (1961-1981) style and attitudes, correct for Baby Boomer (1943-1960) excesses, and fill the void vacated by the G.I. Generation (1901-1924).

One final note of great importance: regular readers of MWL know that this Boomer/blogger is an auto racing fan. News flash — IRL IndyCar racer Danica Patrick is a Millennial. She was born March 25, 1982. How cool is that!!

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This Christmas, what does the strategic communicator need? What’s on his or her wish list?

A Christmas wish list usually implies “stuff” like the latest laptop,  music player, digital camera, etc. But most strategic communicators have those now. No, what’s really needed is the knowledge and ability to truly be a strategic communicator.

Such knowledge and ability is like Eddie said of Clark’s Jelly of the Month Club gift in Chevy Chase’s Christmas Vacation movie, “it’s the gift that keeps on giving.”

Following is a strategic communicator’s Christmas wish list:

Research. The first gift is the ability to conduct research, both formative and summative/evaluative. To be strategic, communication programs must be built on fact, not fiction. That means conducting formative research to know as much as you can about issues facing an organization. Formative research can be primary, that is, original, designed and conducted by the communicator to address specifics of his/her organization’s situation. Or it can be secondary, adapting already-conducted research that relates most closely to his/her organization’s situation. Primary research is the most demanding and expensive, but yields the best results. It is made up of qualitative components, like interviews and focus groups, and quantitative components, like surveys and questionnaires. The completed research then becomes the basis of writing a credible situation analysis.

Goals and objectives. Once a situation analysis is written, then the strategic communicator has a basis on which to make his/her recommendations. That involves setting goals and objectives. Goals are broad brush, over-the-top, higher level concepts of what needs to be accomplished, like to improve an organization’s relationship with key publics or enhance its reputation/image among key publics. A number of objectives then come in under a goal to help manifest it into reality. Objectives are the work horses here, for each should be specific, measurable, time-sensitive, attainable, and relevant to accomplishing the goal it serves.

Strategy and implementation. Now that goals are set with appropriate objectives, the strategic communicator must decide on a mix of tactics that will reach target audiences. This involves dipping into the strategic communicator’s tool kit and selecting a mix of tactics that will reach the audience in a timely and cost-effective manner. A mix of tactics that have the highest credibility with target audiences is always better than a few tactics only. Devising effective strategy also must take into account the time schedule for tactical implementation. Gantt charts work exceptionally well for this.

Budgeting. Now that recommendations have been formulated and backed up by strategy and tactical  implementation schedules, the strategic communicator must budget the activity as competently as would be expected of any business manager. The greatest tool since the hand-held calculator for this purpose is the Excel Spreadsheet to play “what if” games until the budget is within guidelines and meets needs.

Summative (or evaluative) research. Now the strategic communicator comes full circle. You begin with research to know what needs doing. Now you end with research to see if your strategic communication efforts have accomplished goals and objectives. The key here is to concentrate on measuring and evaluating the success or failure of your objectives, the work horses of strategic communication. Strategic communicators don’t wait until the end of the planned work to evaluate it. It’s too late then to do anything about it, except learn from mistakes. Strategic communicators monitor and evaluate all along in order to make any needed course corrections to stay on target. Final evaluation then can help set up success in the next cycle of activity.

Merry Christmas to the More With Les learning community. Thank you for making this such a special year for me.

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They’re back….

The ubiquitous Christmas letter (CLs). Doubtless you get one or two. Most come by snail mail, but with increasing frequency, some are emailed. CLs are well-meaning attempts to catch up with large numbers of people during the holiday season. They usually recount how the year was a blur of activity and frequently contain an apology for sending the CL instead of, say, a personal letter to the recipient.

Most CLs provide a look back at the year. Major events are covered in a journalistic style, minus the objectivity. In all fairness, there are sometimes mentions of sadness, pain, medical situations, and loss. That’s real. I believe using a CL to bring a lot of people up to date on such poignant issues is entirely understandable and acceptable. Otherwise, it might mean tiring individual mailing and phone time.

But to me, it’s the other topics covered that, in many ways, betray the purpose of the CL. Things like all the fun the writer(s) had that didn’t include the recipient.

“In August, we went scuba diving with friends Harley and Bernice in Aruba. It was such fun.”

“In October, we rented a motor home with friends Sidney and Penelope and drove across Canada. It was marvelous.”

“We snow boarded and partied at our mountain cabin in Puberty Rock with friends Reginald and Muffy. If you haven’t had mojitas in a hot tub in the mountains, you have not lived!”

“We flew to Bora Bora with friends Sherman and Lydia for two weeks of sun and fun. If you haven’t had mojitas in a hot tub overlooking the Pacific, you have not lived!”

The only problem is, your name is not Harley, Bernice, Sidney, Penelope, Reginald, Muffy, Sherman, or Lydia. So why are they telling you this? You have not seen them all year. But they sure managed to see a lot of other people.

Unless you are one of the chosen few friends who actually got to spend time with the writer(s), I think the CL is negative PR . The communication value is about the same. To communicate, why not simply send a card with a few hand-written lines on it. That has real meaning. People cherish that.

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It’s official; w00t is in

Do whut? Not whut, w00t.

W00t, a curious combination of letters and numbers, is the official new entry into the Merriam-Webster dictionary for 2007. The term is used by online gamers as an exclamation of happiness or triumph. To sports fans, it also stands for “we own the other team”. You hear it as “w00t, w00t, w00t” at games.

The dictionary folks say they chose w00t because it combines new technology with whimsy…w00 knew?

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Remember the Bimbo Princess blogger I introduced in my last post? I asked her why she blogs. Her simple reply speaks volumes about not only blogging, but communication/PR/IMC (whatever we call our jobs), education, and life in general.

She said she blogs “to learn to tell the truth.”

Wow!

The Princess is a senior Mass Comm. major in Towson’s PR Track. After writing for professors, or rather, regurgitating information for some profs, I understand what she means. After reading about, and experiencing, some of the phoniness that passes for “relationships” today, I see her point.

Her blog is her truth.

To me, her reason for blogging is a powerful lesson, whether we are educators, corporate bloggers, recreational bloggers, or communication/PR/IMC professionals.

To me, a huge part of the lesson is the responsibility it implies.

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The Bimbo Princess

I have been blogging for about one year now. As stated in “Why is Uncle Lester Blogging?”, I blog to learn about blogging. I Facebook to learn about Facebook. In short, I actively participate in social media to learn about social media in order to teach it to my students with some degree of authenticity and expertise. Yes, I have a lot to learn, but I am loving the learning.

There have been bright spots along the way. I taught a special topics course in our Mass Comm. Masters program last spring.  The first part of every class was devoted to what I called “Reports from the Blogosphere”. The Masters candidates, working professionals all, read communication/PR/IMC blogs weekly and reported memorable findings in each class.

It was a great constructivist learning environment. We co-created the learning with me as coach and helper. In so doing, we shared current thought, best practices, and professional tips from a wide variety of sources. It was always stimulating and productive. It always resulted in applications for becoming better communication/PR/IMC professionals.

Most all of these students had never read a blog of any type. But with each passing week, they seemed to grasp the incredible importance of the blog to the practice of communication/PR/IMC.

One of my favorite social media bright spots involves the Bimbo Princess, as she often jokingly calls herself. She blogged that it is her alter ego. This woman, who came to the USA to study from a far distant country, blogs about her life here in the USA in ways so refreshing, so pure, so real, that it re-grounds you to the reason for blogging. Hers are real conversations. She talks about her frustrations and disappointments both in and out of class. She talks about relationships. She talks about music and movies, and travel on weekends to exciting new U.S. cities.

I laugh when I see the Bimbo Princess reference, for she is close to earning an “A” in two of my most challenging classes. And all the while she is blogging away.

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Is this a solution in search of a problem?

An organization called the Blog Council was launched this week. According to its website, its mission is to help corporate blogging efforts become more successful.

The founding members, 12 well-known companies, say that the corporate blogging community has been under-served, so the Blog Council wants to change that. How? Through creating “best practices, community, ROI, and advocacy,” they say.

The members are listed as “major corporations and brands, the key officials responsible for their company’s official blog presence, and the entire blog team — bloggers, management, marketing, legal, etc.”

The Council bills itself as a forum for executives to meet one another in a private, vendor-free environment and share tactics, offer advice based on past experience, and develop standards-based best practices as a model for other corporate blogs.

According to its press release, the Council CEO Andy Semovitz says major corporations blog differently from individual and small-business bloggers and face different issues.  That means group members need to deliver a responsible and effective corporate message in the complicated blogosphere, speaking for the corporation without sounding “corporate”, and learning to do it live and in real time.

Let’s see: the Council says it brings together “key officials responsible for their company’s official blog presence.” What precisely is an “official blog presence?” These officials are listed as bloggers, management, marketing, legal, etc. Yep, that sure is different from an individual blogger like me for several reasons:

  1. I am the blogger, and the only blogger, responsible for More With Les.
  2. I am management, too, I guess, by default. Such as it is, I manage my blog.
  3. There is no marketing. I do not do this to market anything. To paraphrase Descartes, “I blog, therefore, I am.”
  4. Legal? The last thing I’d want to do is involve my $600/hour legal counsel, Dewey Stickem & Howe, in this.

The Council’s wording of its raison d’etre troubles me. Maybe I just don’t get it, but I believe blogging should be as Scoble and Israel (2006) say in Naked Conversations, that “bloggers just talk to each other. They make grammatical errors. They bop from one topic to another and back again. They interrupt each other to ask questions, make suggestions, challenge arguments. These conversations build trust. One blog pioneer, Dave Winer, calls it, ‘come-as-you-are conversations’ and says he enjoys seeing an occasional typo because it reveals authenticity, showing you are reading the unfiltered work of a real person” (pp.3-4).

The Blog Council says its advocacy role functions as a collective voice in support of responsible, ethics-based corporate blogs. That sounds entirely reasonable, but how will this manifest into reality? How will it affect the individual bloggers who I assume are part of the “official blog presence” along with legal and marketing? So much for Winer’s unfiltered work of a real person.

I completely understand the desire to perform more professionally, for example, that is why IABC and PRSA thrive. But this is the blogosphere. Neville Hobson said in Naked Converasations “if an organization isn’t already in a place where openness and transparency in communication exits and is practiced, then using tools like blogs will be unlikely to do anything positive for that organization.”

Am I off on this? It seems to me that this effort approaches regulation and bureaucracy. Why not just rely on controlled and very un-spontaneous and highly filtered “corporate speak” and be done with it? Or, blog and let blog.

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