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Rikki writes.

Marketing, business, media, and their intersections

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Social Media

5 Organizations that Will Rebrand in 2016

brandingMost of us haven’t even started to think about the New Years Resolutions we’ll set and them promptly abandon in early 2016. But brands are deep into media and marketing planning season, thinking about the moves they’ll make in 2016. And many of them will decide that they need the marketing equivalent of a full-body cleanse: a rebrand.

Here are my predictions for the organizations that will rebrand next year (and how they’ll do it):

Continue reading “5 Organizations that Will Rebrand in 2016”

Should Facebook Likes Be Considered Free Speech?

Should “liking” a page on Facebook be protected by the first Amendment?  A recent court case has raised this question.  A sheriff’s office employee in Virginia sued his employer after he was fired for liking the Facebook Page of his employer’s competitor and election opponent. (You can read about the details here.)

A U.S. District Court Judge concluded that his case was not valid because Facebook likes don’t constitute speech.  He explained that there’s a difference between liking something and “actual statements on the record.”  In other words, the court ruled that clicking a button isn’t equivalent to speech. It’s not about the nature of the content, it’s about quantity.

Facebook actually came out in support of the fired employee and issued a statement disagreeing with the judge, arguing that a Facebook like is a type of speech:  “It generates verbal statements and communicative imagery on the user’s profile (or timeline) page – i.e., a statement that the user likes a particular page, accompanied by the page’s icon – as well as similar statements and imagery in the news feeds of the user’s friends.”

This case sheds light on a challenge our judicial system will continue to face as our communication becomes increasingly digital: interpreting a constitutional right that was drafted hundreds of years ago for a modern language system that looks very different from the quill and ink medium used to draw it up.

But here’s a scary thought: A Facebook like might be the dominant form of speech (or the closest thing to self-expression) for many Americans every day.  They “Like” pages and posts to convey a number of ideas — Congratulations! That’s funny! I get it! I want to buy this.  I want to participate in this.

This case raises questions about the nature of all online sharing and whether it can be considered speech.  We express ourselves online by copying and quoting: retweets, mentions, and shares.  But if we’re not actually saying or writing any original content, just repurposing someone else’s words or showing support for an idea with one non-verbal click, are we actually creating speech?  

I’ve written before about how we use language on Facebook and Twitter and, as much as I adore both of those mediums, I do worry that the ease with which we can quote and share opinions makes us less likely to formulate our own.  We miss the opportunity to think critically when we Like or quote without analyzing or, at the very least, paraphrasing.

If we categorize Likes as protected speech, will it further legitimize Facebook as a form of expression?  Will it encourage people to mindlessly Like before considering the information they’re actually spreading?  Or does the content we generate, however passively, deserve to be protected by our first amendment rights?  Tweet me @rikki_rogers with your ideas.

Raising Kids in a Culture of Distraction

Nothing intimidates me more about being a parent than the difficult task of managing the technology that will dominate my child’s life.  I spend quite a bit of time using and analyzing technology and media in many forms, but will I want my child to do the same?  And how will I make sure that he or she is in-touch with their culture without being plugged-in 24/7?

Joe Kraus of Google Ventures says our reliance on devices is creating a “culture of distraction.”  He explains that while we used to have gaps in stimulation — momentary pauses in information flow in which we could completely concentrate on a single thought or, alternatively, let our mind wander and be creative — devices have now filled those gaps:

“Gaps used to happen all the time. Now they’re disappearing. You’re eating lunch with a friend and they excuse themselves to the restroom. A gap. Now, you pull our your phone because being unstimulated makes you feel anxious. Waiting time in a line at the bank? Used to be a gap. Now it’s an opportunity to send an email or a text.”

I think these gaps do more than make us anxious, they make us feel uncool.  Sitting alone in public without a phone or iPad to make ourselves look busy, we become self-conscious.  I experienced this earlier this week when I was waiting for a colleague to meet me for lunch.  She was running 20 minutes late, and I’d left my cell phone and laptop at the office.  With nothing to distract me, I was more than just bored, I was paranoid.  It seemed like the people at the other tables were staring at me, thinking, That poor lady not only has no real friends to dine with, but she also has no means to stalk virtual friends.  Let us take pity on her.  We live in a strange world when appearing less distracted and more attentive can be interpreted as a sign of social disconnection.   We feel like outcasts when we’re actually focusing on what’s in front of us.

But let’s forget the theoretical implications and get back to the real-life task of raising your kids in a culture of distraction.  I don’t want to completely ban TV, the internet, or social media from my child’s life.  I think to do so would make those mediums more appealing and also rob my child of having a shared culture with other kids.  I also think that because I am attuned to the pros and cons of media, I’ll have a better understanding of the technology that my child will encounter.

Some experts say limiting the amount of time kids spend with media is enough (Joe Kraus takes a technology holiday for 12  hours a week), while others encourage parents to teach their kids to be critical of all forms of media and the advertisers that fund them.  Is this sufficient?  How else can we help kids have a balanced relationship with technology?

Picky about Privacy: Why We (sort of) Care

“Privacy” has become a media buzzword over the past few weeks.  The White House released its proposed “Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights,” which basically argues that companies that collect personal data should be more transparent and that consumers have  a right to know when and how their personal data is being used.  Google announced that it’s adding a “do not track button” to its browser, Chrome, and rolled out a new Privacy Policy a couple of weeks ago.  All of these developments are being described as a victory for people concerned about how their personal data is being used by online giants like Google and Apple.

Who are these people, exactly — the people who are so concerned about how their data is being used? I realize that they do exist, and start organizations like this one, but I’ve never met someone who was genuinely worried about their online privacy, apart from wanting to keep their social security number and credit card information safe.  And a large portion of what these policies address isn’t financial information, it’s behavioral information: how we browse, sites we visit, items we buy, how we share with friends.

It appears that the everyday internet user isn’t troubled by a lack of privacy, given that they’re willing to share every detail of their life via social media.  We’re happy to share our physical location, via Foursquare and Facebook check-ins.  We’re thrilled to broadcast our personal interests and potential purchases with Pinterest.  We’re eager to tout our political views with Twitter and Huffington Post.  And are we reading the lengthy privacy policies of these social applications?  Probably not.

While marketers want to use our personal information to increase the efficiency of their ads, we’ll cough up that data if it means getting a deal.  Many restaurants, for example, give a discount if you check in with Foursquare or like their Facebook page.  If I can get a couple bucks off of a burrito, I really don’t care if California Tortilla knows that a twenty-eight year old white female that’s interested in feminist politics and  mid-century modern design prefers their vegetarian option.

But people do start to care when their personal data reveals things about them that they don’t want to admit.  You may convince yourself that you’re not addicted to celebrity gossip, but when marketers begin to leverage the amount of time you spend on perezehilton.com to send you targeted Us Weekly ads, instead of, say, ads for The Wall Street Journal, you have to admit that the data doesn’t lie.  Along the same lines, we really do want to keep certain elements of our lives private.  That’s why John Doe is happily checking in to the trendy downtown club, but failing to check in to the free clinic.

We want it both ways.  We want it to be socially acceptable to share intimate details of our lives with the world via social media because we love being voyeurs and crave public approval.  But, here’s the kicker, we want the mediums that we use to share — Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest — to be free.  Pay for Facebook?! Please!  But someone’s gotta pay for those brilliant engineers.  And advertisers’ currency of choice?  Your personal data.

Context and Rhetoric: The Art of Thinking for Yourself

The media has been abuzz today with coverage of Mitt Romney’s “latest gaffe,” in which he says that he’s not concerned about the very poor. Gingrich jumped all over this and immediately incorporated it into his campaign speeches.  Romney argues that this comment (made to Soledad O’Brien) was taken out of context, and he’s right. The entire sentence was, “I’m in this race because I care about Americans. I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it. I’m not concerned about the very rich. They’re doing just fine. I’m concerned about the very heart of America.” (Of course, the sentiment isn’t exactly noble, but it is a little more complicated than an outright abandonment of the poor.)

I’m not one to defend Conservatives, but taking comments out of context and using them to attack one’s opponent happens all the time, and we’ll continue to see it happen more and more as the election goes on (and the civility goes down).

Assaulting an opponent with their own out-of-context words is a flawed tactic, especially now that the average American, with YouTube, Facebook, and other online tools, can easily see the original utterance and judge for herself. For example, when I saw the CNN headline “Michelle Obama Insults Mitt Romney for his Singing Voice,” it didn’t rake me long to find the actual clip from Jay Leno.  During her interview Mrs. Obama makes a lighthearted joke about the republican front-runner, which is kind and completely appropriate and wow I love that lady.

The problem is that many people don’t take advantage of the tools available to them to sort through the garbage spewing from politicians’ mouths (and, of course, some people don’t have access to these tools — the “very poor” included). They take what candidates say at face value or rely on the media to relay the information. And the media, love them as I do, have their own agenda and reasons for taking things out of context. Soledad O’Brien, another lady I love, hit the jackpot with that sound bite.

Americans need to learn the art of dissecting rhetoric: listening to a politicians’ speech, identifying its main argument, and understanding how the speaker is trying to influence us through appeals to our emotions.  When we see a campaign ad that frames the economic recession in terms of how it’s affecting little Sally from Michigan (She’s white!  She has asthma!), we need to realize what’s happening. When we hear a candidate subtly interchange the words woman, wife, and mother, we need to think about what she’s implying.  When we hear a candidate quote his opponent, we need to do our own research to find out what he or she really said.  Unless we do so, we can’t make an educated decision.

Do retail stores really create community, or do we just like to buy stuff?

In 2011 Americans spent $33.5 billion online.  That’s a 15% increase from 2010, according to comScore.  Any increase in spending, whether online or in stores, is a sign of an improving economy, which is surely something to celebrate.  But brick and mortar retailers aren’t thrilled.

Store owners complained in December that holiday shoppers are increasingly using retail stores to check out a product before going home to buy it online.  In other words, their retail stores are becoming showrooms for e-commerce giants like Amazon.

And this is exactly what Amazon wants.  In fact, before the holidays Amazon actually gave shoppers a discount if they went to a retail store and left without buying anything.  If a customer went to a store like Best Buy or Target, used the Amazon Price Check App to compare prices to product on Amazon, and then later purchased the Amazon product, they receive up to 15% off.

Retail stores argue that the shift to online shopping isn’t just bad for their balance sheet, but it’s bad for the community.  Drawing up nostalgic images of families heading downtown in their Sunday best, retailers, and many other people out there, believe that local retail stores are the foundations of the neighborhood.

Retail stores are certainly  a part of the local economy, but if they were replaced by, say, locally owned restaurants, gyms, dry cleaners, etc, would the community actually suffer?  Is shopping as a social enterprise (and I mean social as physically being with other people, not as in social media) a part of local culture that is worth protecting? And what would be the consequences if we didn’t protect it?

I’m a big proponent of supporting local business, and I’m also employed by an e-commerce company, so it’s an interesting question to me.  Does physical group buying (ie shopping with friends), strengthen a community, or does it simply reinforce materialism?  Does spending create a local culture, and does consuming with friends actually strengthen a relationship?

As buying becomes more solitary and, paradoxically, more social (and here I mean as in social media), we’ll have to decide whether physically shopping in a retail store is a cultural tradition that we’re willing to maintain.  And that will mean walking away from our laptops, despite the incentives of free shipping and no-question returns.

Born with an Online Identity

My sister is pregnant (hooray!),  and I found out that her baby is a girl (even better!) via this ultrasound:

Yes, you just checked out the labia of a tiny, unborn child.  Pervert.

I currently have more than a few friends and family that are  pregnant or trying to be pregnant.  Every time I turn around someone else is refusing to have a drink with me.  As a result, I’ve become quite skilled at examining ultrasound images and feigning recognition when someone says, “Do you see the profile?”

In all honesty, the technology behind the ultrasound has made this easier and easier.  It’s pretty rare that, at least after a few hints, I can’t identify fingers, toes,or  a spine.

Mothers and grandmothers with grown children will tell you how much the technology surrounding pregnancy and childbirth has changed (if you’re in your late twenties, like me, your grandmother never had an ultrasound and could have been unconscious during delivery).   Many couples opt for 3D ultrasounds, provided by third party vendors charging a hefty fee, which provide unbelievably detailed pictures of your unborn baby.

It’s no surprise that the technology, specifically the ability to know so much about your baby before you meet him or her, has changed the way we talk about pregnancy, motherhood, and babies.  With this new and accurate prenatal information, parents are more likely to refer to their unborn baby by name, speculate on his or future personality, and create an identity for him before he or she is physically in the world.

I’ve written before about the impact of media, social media, and technology on the way we think about the world around us, and I find it particularly compelling that children born today will be born into a world that is already steeped in social media.   In fact, because so many parents post ultrasound photos and baby pictures on Facebook, announcing their children’s entrance into the world and chronicling it with daily photo updates, (which will only be enhanced with Timeline), children born today will always have a virtual identity, beginning with day 1 (or week 12).

How will my niece’s childhood be different than mine or her mother’s because of social media?  How will being born into Facebook (which, were it a country, would be the third largest nation in the world) affect her development?  Will taking over her Facebook account when she turns 13 (or the age that her parents deem appropriate) be a new right of passage, just as important as learning to drive or getting a cell phone?

As I’ve said before, I don’t support a doom-and-gloom outlook of social media, and so I am not implying that modern childhood will be worse, less rich, or less grounded.  But I do think that being born with both a physical and virtual identity is a cultural phenomenon worth investigating.

Shopping Carts and Social Media: Why Are We Getting Lazier?

I came across this visual display of laziness during my grocery run today:

I know the photo is a little dark, so allow me to elaborate.  It’s a shopping cart in the middle of the grocery store’s main thoroughfare.  I had to drive around it.

I know what you “benefit of the doubt” people are thinking right now.  Maybe the wind blew it into the road!  Maybe its wheels went haywire and it rolled–independently–from the cart corral into the middle of traffic!  Surely no one would do this!

But, someone did.  In fact, several people did.  I witnessed a family load their groceries into their trunk, watch as their shopping cart rolled away from their Honda Odyssey, and proceed to climb into the van and drive away.

I don’t understand this willful ignorance of how your own inconsiderate actions–however small–can affect those around you.

Maybe this lack of awareness is a blessing.  As the van’s sliding door closed automatically at about 4 inches per minute, allowing the children in the backseat to watch the shopping cart come to a halt several feet from the sidewalk, they looked bored, but happy.

I, on the other hand, tend to over-think the consequences of the tiniest actions.  If I take off my socks in the middle of the night and fling them onto the floor, I imagine my husband getting up, slipping on the socks in the dark, falling violently, breaking his neck or injuring his back, and by the time I get up to put the socks into the laundry basket, I’m considering the logistics of adding a wheelchair ramp to the front of the house.

While the evidence isn’t always as photogenic as the shopping cart incident, I see instances of inconsiderateness every day: littering, smoking two feet from the building’s only covered entrance, texting when you should be paying attention to my compelling Powerpoint presentation.

You’d think that people would be more considerate now, given the increasing ease of connecting with and influencing other human beings.  Just a few decades ago, the average American kept in touch with far-off folks via letters and an occasional road trip, but the scope of their everyday interactions was much smaller: local friends, local family.

Today the internet and social media allow us to keep in touch with hundreds of people.  We can watch our high school friends grow up, do business with colleagues on the other side of the globe, and find distant relatives online.  We can view the intimate details of strangers’ lives online, creating a sense of empathy for someone we might otherwise disregard.

Yet the ability to communicate with other human beings more efficiently and more frequently has not made us more aware of those around us.  Your grandparents and parents might argue that it has made us more selfish and more aware of our own needs instead.

I don’t have an insightful conclusion here.  Maybe my observation is geographically biased, maybe Silver Spring, Maryland just has a high concentration of jerks.  But there must be some way for us to translate the “it’s a small world after all” effect of social media into “return your damn shopping cart, lazy.”

On Not Being Crafty

I’m not crafty (in the “arts-and-crafty” sense of the word, not in the “cunning” sense of the word.  Very much so cunning, not very crafty.)  My sister, my mother, and my aunts are very crafty, but somehow I didn’t inherit the trait.  I tend to fail at anything that requires manual dexterity.

I rarely feel insecure about my lack of craftiness.  With the exception of Christmas day, when my female relatives reveal handmade masterpieces that cost them less than the fortune I’ve managed to spend on presents most likely made by Asian children, I’ve always felt pretty neutral about my craft skills.   Who cares if I can’t cut a straight line, much less a scalloped edge?

This has all changed because of the wonderful, evil site, Pinterest.

Pinterest is a website, inspired by social media faves Facebook and Twitter, that allows users to share “beautiful things”– art, photography, home design, clothes, and crafts.  Anything you find on the internet can be pinned and saved to Pinterest.

Although Pinterest can be used to share images of clothes, books, and even celebrities, do-it-yourself crafts occupy the majority of Pinterest space.

Because of crafts’ dominance on Pinterest, it has become, for me, a craft-bully, constantly reminding me how inadequate I am for being unable to do-it-myself.  Why is Pinterest so effective at  instilling shame in the non-crafty?

1. It’s social.  When you join Pinterest, you can import and follow your Facebook and Twitter friends as well as your contacts from Gmail, Yahoo, etc.  This means that the homemade items you see on Pinterest aren’t just display items at Michael’s, they are projects that your friends and family have actually completed and will be shoving into your stocking with a handmade card.  Not to mention that your friends and family can follow you and see what you’ve pinned, ie what you (I) will eventually fail at creating.

2. It’s never-ending.  The landing page of Pinterest, once you’re a member, is a stream of your friends’ pins.  This page literally never ends.  I’ve tried to reach the end of Pinterest, unsuccessfully, by dragging the scroll bar to the conclusion of the page, only to see it rise again, as if by magic, while Pinterest informs me that it is “loading more Pins.”   There’s no natural pause point for viewing craft after craft, which leads un-crafty people, like me, into a bottomless shame spiral.

3. It capitalizes on the home decorating craze.  I’ve only recently weened myself off of House Hunters, Income Property,  Color Splash, Holmes on Homes, and Property Virgins.  I’m now down to only 2 marathon DVR sessions per week.  Pinterest has leveraged the home decor madness that has allowed TLC and HGTV (previously deemed  “Hey Grandma TV” by one of my uncles) to become hip and mainstream.

3. Therefore, it’s addictive.  Because it combines the time-sucking powers of social media and the home decor craze, and because it is designed to be a bottomless pit of impossible (for me) crafts, Pinterest is like craft crack.

In order to improve my poor do-it-yourself-esteem, I’m going to tackle some “beginner” crafts between now and the holidays.  To give you an idea of how it’s going so far: The first craft I began, which required only three items (buttons, straight pins, foam) ended a in complete and total failure,  inducing my husband (who was trying to make me feel better) to exclaim,  “But you’re crafty with words!”

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