When We Create the News, Does Journalism Lose?

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Yahoo! introduced a game changer this week when it launched the Yahoo! Contributor Platform. The new network takes Associated Content’s platform and gives it the mega-power of Yahoo! Basically, it takes contributions from more than 400,000 writers, videographers and photographers and places them on some of the Internet’s most-visited sites. Yahoo! News, Yahoo! Sports and other sites in the media conglomerate will be publishing pieces from members of the Contributor Platform. The company even pays selected contributors using PayPal.

While this move makes Internet news more social, we do have to wonder if quality is going to suffer in favor of a gimmicky platform. The big problem one can see straight away with contributor-based news is the “article marketing problem.” Yes, article marketing is still effective and still being touted by industry pros – but it’s also a practice which is routinely met with skepticism for spamming the web with manufactured articles which simply exist to garner more links. Contributor-based news may fall under the same kind of scrutiny. That said, Yahoo!’s seems to have an airtight, spam-proof system. Yahoo! Contributor Platform assigns stories and gives writers deadlines. So the links would probably only work in favor for the writer.

Still, there is no accounting for taste. MSN, Yahoo! and AOL are notorious for running wacky clickable headlines which are usually backed up by a story seemingly written by a chimpanzee. So it’s safe to assume that contributor-based stories could make Internet news even sillier than it is now. But will it kill online journalism as we know it? Hardly. As it is, the majority of items we read online come from random sources – even the ones published by actual news outlets – therefore folks seem fairly unconcerned with where there news comes from. Secondly, Internet readers are more like scanners. They gaze over what looks interesting and move on. Lastly, user-created news stories could bring back the DIY spirit of the Internet’s early information days. It’s kind of like your small town newspaper but with millions of Yahoo! readers perusing your articles. And when we put it like that, contributor-based news doesn’t sound so silly. After all, enlisting an average Joe to write a story about his favorite local bar is no more ridiculous than having a political rally sponsored by a cable channel. (Did we just say that?)

Small Business Saturday is the New Black Friday

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Small Business Saturday is the New Black Friday

After shoveling stuffing and cranberry sauce into our collective faces, the Thanksgiving ritual long has dictated that we waddle off to the mall the following day and face the crowds for deals on crap that our loved ones probably don’t really want. Does anybody actually enjoy the Black Friday tradition? Clearly someone does; but in these creative technical and financial times, the whole concept of Black Friday seems a tad tired. So, thankfully, Small Business Saturday has arrived.

The brainchild of American Express and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Small Business Saturday is definitely strategic but you can’t argue with the motives behind it. On the campaign trail in 2008, we heard everybody running for president blather on about the importance of small businesses and saving local-grown companies. The government hasn’t exactly hopped in to save the day, but small businesses have found a way to stay afloat using social media marketing and other homespun techniques.

American Express is rewarding this ingenuity. The credit card company is giving 100,000 cardholders who register their cards and use it on Small Business Saturday a $25 statement credit for shopping at local businesses that accept American Express. AmEx is sweetening the deal for shop owners too by giving away $100 of free Facebook advertising to 10,000 business owners who sign up at facebook.com/smallbusinesssaturday.

Facebook has joined in on the promotion by donating $500,000 in Facebook credits for these small business owners to use in the future. Business owners can find free downloadable marketing materials online to promote the event. And to give the promotion a truly holiday spirit of giving, American Express is donating $1 for every person who “˜likes’ Small Business Saturday on Facebook to Girls Inc.

American Express naturally has a full-throttle ad campaign in the wings to support Small Business Saturday. And it will certainly need it. Small Business Saturday is an idea whose time has come – but that doesn’t mean it will be an easy sell to the throngs of cash-strapped folks looking for bargains. As usual, changing our preprogrammed minds takes a lot of time and love for local companies won’t happen overnight. Small Business Saturday is at least a step in the right direction.

The Inside Blog: Why We Love Employee Blogs

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We often wonder who actually reads employee blogs. Are people truly interested in the inner workings of a company as described by some Chatty Cathy with a laptop? And aren’t insider blogs really just lengthy commercials for the company in question? Well, it seems the results are in. Just take a gander at the blog of one John Heald of Carnival Cruises for more evidence.

Heald is the blog-happy senior cruise director for the Carnival Splendor. Cruising enthusiasts – about 7 million, he claims – click on over to his blog for witty (albeit longwinded, grammatically-challenged) observations regarding life on deck the Carnival Splendor. Heald is conversational, funny and opinionated. He playfully bashes the occasional tourists and provides insight into his day-to-day life as a cruise director. Short of the long-deceased Love Boat, Heald’s blog is the closest thing folks will get to inside info from the world of cruising.

But his day in the life of the Carnival Splendor got downright dramatic when the ship was engulfed in flames last week. Heald hopped on his blog to describe what happened during the fire in a 5-part blog series. Better than any news coverage – and certainly a PR shot in the arm for Carnival, Heald gave readers the real story from an employee’s perspective.

Heald’s blog may be an anomaly in the employee blog genre; even pre-fire, the blog brought in millions of readers. The employee or industry blog gives regular folks a peek inside what happens behind closed doors. Is it unethical or kiss-and-tell or just plain voyeuristic? No more so than reality television or business profiled documentaries. Industry blogs at their best can provide the real dish about a business while serving as an ambassador of public relations. Heald’s details of the fire don’t show a company that sat back and watched a ship burn. He instead offers a gripping account of how the crew and captain moved as fast as they could to get the passengers to safety. The inside information of an employee blog can powerfully convey a business’ messages ten times faster and more effectively than a traditional press release ever could.

Our Five Things You Might Have Missed List

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Another week, another avalanche of information. It’s easy to get buried beneath a mountain of headlines and Tweets. Thankfully, we’ve shoveled out five worthwhile social media marketing innovations, techy treats and helpful hints just for you.

1.) Light For Rights: We always love seeing a non-profit using the latest social media channels to get their message out, so we were inspired when we stumbled on Light for Rights on Twitter. The campaign uses social media to raise awareness for World AIDS Day by inviting followers to download “lights” for their desktops and mobile phones. It’s an interactive call to action that employs all the latest channels for a cause that we often ignore.

2.) Eats App From EveryScape: Call it heaven for foodies and smart phone junkies alike. Call it two great tastes that taste great together. We call the Eats app for iPhone and iPad genius. The handy gadget takes restaurant lovers inside the restaurant even before they visit. With in-depth location and menu information, Eats perfectly blends our obsession with food and apps brilliantly.

3.) 10 Tips For Facebook Engagement: Brought to our attention by the peeps at AdRants, this white paper by Buddy Media gives us the Facebook recipes for success used by big social media winners like Taco Bell, Playboy, AFLAC and Samsung. We’re always interested in unlocking Facebook page magic so this is a must-read.

4.) We Want Our Tweet TV: AppleTV? Yawn. GoogleTV? Snooze. Twitter Television? Now you’re talking. At the New TeeVee Conference in San Francisco, Twitter execs pointed out that Twitter has inadvertently made TV more social as tweeting numbers spike during broadcasts of highly-watched shows. Award shows and reality TV are subject to live tweets from couch potatoes and Twitter-junkies alike. Networks are now encouraging viewers to get in the conversation by using Twitter. The best part of tweeting during TV? There’s no special box required!

5.) Pier 1 on Facebook: We now forgive Pier 1 for their series of traumatizing Kristie Alley ads from a few years back. Pier 1’s Facebook page is brand engagement at its finest. By liking the store on Facebook, the company donates $1 dollar per like to Toys for Tots. Plus, becoming a fan of Pier 1 unlocks a $10 dollar off coupon.

Mobile Marketers Ring In the Holidays

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The Dude in the Red Suit might still be using the old “making a list and checking it twice” method of holiday planning, but a new study shows that shoppers will lean heavily on their smart phones this season. From booking flights and shopping to keeping track of gifts to buy and taking holiday photos, the holidays are a time of year when cell phones are expected to work overtime.

A new study from U.S. Mobile Consumer Briefing, which was conducted on behalf of The Mobile Marketing Association, shows that a massive 59 percent of mobile customers are planning to let their cell phones do the work over the holiday season, which is a huge increase compare to 2009’s 25 percent. The survey found mobile users employ their phones’ bells and whistles during the holidays for finding stores, locating gifts, getting mall hours and, of course, gift buying. Naturally, phones primarily will be used to compare prices of gifts found at different locations.

And all of this cell phone dependency is good news for marketers. Toys “R” Us, for example, is all set to dial up business using mobile marketing this holiday season. The toy giant, which has seen some of the wind taken out of its sails over the years thanks to Target and Wal-Mart, hopes to bring in iPhone moms and dads by launching a text messaging program to alert shoppers on big sales and new low prices. By joining the Toys “R” Us mailing lists, customers can get coupons sent to their e-mail and the retailer will scan smart phones with the coupons. Toys “R” Us has loaded its locations with special scanners designed to read coupon bar codes on mobile telephones. The stores also can scan and read gift cards off of smart phones.

As we’ve discussed here before, mobile marketing slowly is becoming a channel to be taken seriously. While not everybody has fancy scanners like big chain stores, small business can easily design apps, offer SMS text message deals and cater e-mail marketing to mobile customers. Plus as the avenues expand, mobile marketing could very well be as accessible as social media. Who knows? Maybe even Santa is designing an app of his own.

Recipe for Disaster: Cooks Source, Content Thievery & Consequences

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14 days ago, Cooks Source magazine was hotly discussed and debated only by certain folks who decorate with goose-shaped cookie jars and have strong opinions on what brand of ladle to buy. Today, if you haven’t heard of Cooks Source, you must be living under a rock. What catapulted the magazine to instant fame/shame is an alleged case of content theft followed by a kamikaze Facebook page bombing and age-old copyright debate with a new media twist.

Last Wednesday, blogger Monica Guadio baked up a post wherein she told a tale of how her seemingly innocent piece about the history of apple pie wound up published in Cooks Source. The kicker is that Guadio never was compensated for the publishing of that article, nor was she ever asked permission from the magazine to reprint it. When Guadio was informed by a friend that her blog had appeared in Cooks Source, she fired off a couple of e-mails to magazine editor Judith Griggs.

As the world now knows, Griggs responded with a condescending brush-off as featured on Twitter and Facebook. Amongst Griggs’ gems in the e-mail is her belief that “Honestly Monica, the web is considered “˜public domain’ and you should be happy we just didn’t “˜lift’ your whole article and put someone else’s name on it!” Soon Cooks Source’s Facebook page had to be shut down after it had been flooded with angry fans who sided with Guadio. Then the Cooks Source website was shut down.

While all of this Internet rallying around the poor little blogger is very interesting and entertaining, there’s a deeper issue going on here that doesn’t end with Griggs and Cooks Source. Publications or wannabe blog kingpins have been giving writers the shaft for years. While Guadio is the most visible in content battles, she ain’t the only one. Talk to any writer – especially one who works in new media – and they will tell you that tales of work being lifted, changed, renamed and bastardized all while being underpaid or not paid at all. What we can hope is that the Cooks Source drama opens an honest dialogue about the value of original web content and how we protect ourselves from falling victim to or committing plagiarism in the digital age.

Chasing Good Online Buzz

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chasing good online buzz

Buzz. That’s what everybody wants. We Twitter endlessly. We update our blogs tirelessly. We send love notes to the media”¦ All in the name of buzz. Online buzz in particular has become the pot of gold at the end of the marketing rainbow. Many recent oft-cited success stories are inspiring tales of how a small-time company with a good idea exploded thanks to huge interest created online. So we keep chipping away in hopes of becoming a talked-about brand with a strong online presence. But does online excitement always translate to big sales?

The New York Times wondered this same thing over the weekend when discussing the recent Internet sensation “Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys.” The reality show from Sundance Channel won’t even air until December 7 but already has more than 160,000 fans on Facebook. In today’s world of TV indifference, these are huge numbers – especially when considering other cable reality shows like Bravo’s “Flipping Out” have about 50,000 fans.

“Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys” follows a straight girl and her gay best friend. While the subject has been covered to death in sitcoms and dramas, the series is the first reality show devoted to the topic. Apparently, something about the marketing or the premise has already spoken to TV fans even though they haven’t even seen an episode of the program. Sundance, naturally, is already doing a victory dance.

But we’d hold off on popping the champagne bottles just yet if we were you, Sundance. We’ve seen big-time online buzz build and swell but still fail to deliver the dollars over the past year. ABC’s “My Generation,” the documentary “Catfish,” the iTunes social flop Ping and the new Digg are just a few examples of lots of press coverage and chatter that didn’t pay off in the end. The reason? Well, we’re no psychics here, but we can guess that people simply didn’t like those things. Massive online buzz, while being the Holy Grail for marketers, is worthless if the product or business being promoted isn’t very good.