“Age of Conversation” will benefit charity

Wanted to let you know that I am one of the contributors in the new book Age of Conversation 3: Time to Get Busy, which will be published in mid-April.

I think you’ll enjoy this book because like {grow}, it looks at social media beyond the hype.  It also examines the practicalities of the social web and implications on business practices.

None of the contributing authors or editors are making any profit from the book — all the money is going to the Make-a-Wish Foundation.  I’ve listed the authors below. You’ll recognize some of your favorite bloggers like Beth Harte,   Trey Pennington, and Michelle Chmielewski plus some new names that will add a fresh voice to the conversation.

You’ll probably be hearing some more buzz as we get closer to publication time but I wanted to give you the inside scoop on what should be one of the most popular business reads of the year!

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Adam Joseph Priyanka Sachar Mark Earls
Cory Coley-Christakos Stefan Erschwendner Paul Hebert
Jeff De Cagna Thomas Clifford Phil Gerbyshak
Jon Burg Toby Bloomberg Shambhu Neil Vineberg
Joseph Jaffe Uwe Hook Steve Roesler
Michael E. Rubin anibal casso Steve Woodruff
Steve Sponder Becky Carroll Tim Tyler
Chris Wilson Beth Harte Tinu Abayomi-Paul
Dan Schawbel Carol Bodensteiner Trey Pennington
David Weinfeld Dan Sitter Vanessa DiMauro
Ed Brenegar David Zinger Brett T. T. Macfarlane
Efrain Mendicuti Deb Brown Brian Reich
Gaurav Mishra Dennis Deery C.B. Whittemore
Gordon Whitehead Heather Rast Cam Beck
Hajj E. Flemings Joan Endicott Cathryn Hrudicka
Jeroen Verkroost Karen D. Swim Christopher Morris
Joe Pulizzi Leah Otto Corentin Monot
Karalee Evans Leigh Durst David Berkowitz
Kevin Jessop Lesley Lambert Duane Brown
Peter Korchnak Mark Price Dustin Jacobsen
Piet Wulleman Mike Maddaloni Ernie Mosteller
Scott Townsend Nick Burcher Frank Stiefler
Steve Olenski Rich Nadworny John Rosen
Tim Jackson Suzanne Hull Len Kendall
Amber Naslund Wayne Buckhanan Mark McGuinness
Caroline Melberg Andy Drish Oleksandr Skorokhod
Claire Grinton Angela Maiers Paul Williams
Gary Cohen Armando Alves Sam Ismail
Gautam Ramdurai B.J. Smith Tamera Kremer
Eaon Pritchard Brendan Tripp Adelino de Almeida
Jacob Morgan Casey Hibbard Andy Hunter
Julian Cole Debra Helwig Anjali Ramachandran
Jye Smith Drew McLellan Craig Wilson
Karin Hermans Emily Reed David Petherick
Katie Harris Gavin Heaton Dennis Price
Mark Levy George Jenkins Doug Mitchell
Mark W. Schaefer Helge Tenno Douglas Hanna
Marshall Sponder James Stevens Ian Lurie
Ryan Hanser Jenny Meade Jeff Larche
Sacha Tueni and Katherine Maher David Svet Jessica Hagy
Simon Payn Joanne Austin-Olsen Mark Avnet
Stanley Johnson Marilyn Pratt Mark Hancock
Steve Kellogg Michelle Beckham-Corbin Michelle Chmielewski
Amy Mengel Veronique Rabuteau Peter Komendowski
Andrea Vascellari Timothy L Johnson Phil Osborne
Beth Wampler Amy Jussel Rick Liebling
Eric Brody Arun Rajagopal Dr Letitia Wright
Hugh de Winton David Koopmans Aki Spicer
Jeff Wallace Don Frederiksen Charles Sipe
Katie McIntyre James G Lindberg & Sandra Renshaw David Reich
Lynae Johnson Jasmin Tragas Deborah Chaddock Brown
Mike O’Toole Jeanne Dininni Iqbal Mohammed
Morriss M. Partee Katie Chatfield Jeff Cutler
Pete Jones Riku Vassinen Jeff Garrison
Kevin Dugan Tiphereth Gloria Mike Sansone
Lori Magno Valerie Simon Nettie Hartsock
Mark Goren Peter Salvitti

I think this means something but I’m not sure what.

Last week I was a guest at a formal black -tie dinner at a yacht club.  This is not a picture of me, but it is a very, very close proximity. Really : )

The dinner was filled with wealthy, silver-haired, impeccably-groomed white men and their sequined spouses.  The former leaders of the yacht club, the “commodores,” wore their commemorative jackets, which looked like a hand-me down from an Ivy League fraternity. We ate aged steak, drank fine wine and danced to a wedding band from Atlanta.

And this is what I thought: “This is so pretentious.  This is SO not me. If the people on {grow} saw me like this they would have a fit.”

Isn’t that weird?  I have internalized you. What does this mean???

Meet the captain of the world’s first viral marketing success

 

Can you imagine being in charge of marketing and watch your product become the first-ever “viral” success story? 

It was just five years ago. YouTube was brand new.  Facebook was just being opened to the public.  And performance art with Mentos “geysers” became the world’s first video viral sensation.  If you haven’t seen some of this amazing fun, push play above!  Here’s an interview with Pete Healy, who saw it all happen on his watch as vice president of marketing for Perfetti Van Melle USA, makers and distributors of Mentos …

Mark: Pete, it’s hard to imagine a world without the social web. Tell us how the whole Mentos viral event evolved.

Pete:  It was something that could have come and gone in two weeks, but it ended up lasting nearly a year.  To be honest, we didn’t start the “Mentos Geyser Craze” of 2006, but I think we did a good job of inviting people everywhere to participate in the goofy fun. The fountain effect of dropping a Mentos into soda was already known and used by Steve Spangler and other science educators, but in 2006, the performance art duo “Eepybird” decided to make it theatrical by dropping Mentos into 100 bottles of soda simultaneously, with spectacular results.  They posted the video titled “Experiment #137″, an homage to the Bellagio Fountains in Las Vegas, and it immediately started getting attention–including ours.  By chance we had just re-evaluated the personality of our Mentos brand; and thinking metaphorically, we had decided that if Mentos were a celebrity, it would be Adam Sandler.  What better match than Adam Sandler and shooting off bottles of soda?!

 I’m passionate about building “brands that captivate,” and that means that every time a consumer is pleased by contact with a brand, they should have the chance for additional contact or “touchpoints.”   This approach led us beyond supporting an Eepybird sequel to a “DIY Mentos Geyser” video contest microsite, a chance to hang with the street team of the Mentos Roadshow tour, an opening video segment for a Blue Man Group national tour, and “Party with Mentos” photo uploads during Spring Break 2007.  The craze culminated in the first Guiness Book of World Records “Mentos Geyser” event at Fountain Square in Cincinnati, when 504 bottles of soda were “shot off” at once.  It was a hot day, so that soda splashing down on all the volunteers who turned out to help was kind of fun!

 When we talk about “viral” what did that really mean in terms of views or whatever?

The impact was amazing to us, especially since we were still figuring the social web out. Ultimately there were more than 7 million viewings of the first Mentos Geyser video and it took only five days to hit 1 million views of the sequel, “Experiment #214.”  From the standpoint of User Generated Content, there were more than 10,000 videos created and posted by people doing their own Mentos Geysers; the comic effect of the ones done indoors tended to offset any aesthetic shortcomings!  For our own “official” video contest, we had to pick a winner out of 200 entries.

While you facilitated the viral event, you mentioned to me that Coca Cola, the other piece of the geyser formula, reacted in a much different way.

Yes, the difference came out early on when the Wall Street Journal called me to ask our feelings about the spread of the first geyser video.  I could genuinely say that we were delighted by the creativity, fun, and whimsy of the effort. After all, Mentos is candy — fun by definition. The WSJ reporter told me that, in contrast, Coca Cola’s first reaction had been that this whole thing didn’t fit the Coke brand, although they later seemed to change their thinking.

It’s remarkable to me that you had the foresight back then to let the thing roll and disconnect it from a traditional marketing perspective.   What were the results?  Where you able to connect this event to sales in any way?

For better or worse, I guess my approach was the result of my own personality, along with my previous work at Jelly Belly, another fun brand with a lot of passion behind it.  My years launching and building Jelly Belly in international markets–including countries where people had no idea what a regular jelly bean was, much less a “gourmet jelly bean” selling at a crazy-high price, led me to a marketing approach that mixes a “why not?” attitude with some very carefully defined measures of progress.  In any case, the Mentos Geyser craze resulted in a year-over-year sales boost of 20%; this eventually dropped to a 15% y-o-y gain, but that’s still not too bad.

You’ve had a wonderful career in traditional marketing and are now at the forefront of the social web. What challenge do you see as these two worlds collide? 

Great question, and one I sometimes struggle with. There seems to be so much froth and frenzy over social media that I worry about marketers getting distracted by “bright shiny objects” to the detriment of making their brands truly more meaningful.  Until the day we’re all chained to computer screens 24/7,  consumers will continue to want contact with brands in many different ways and places, from in-store sampling to event marketing to fantastic customer service to active support for charitable causes. 

The social web clearly has the power to amplify the total brand experience; but brand marketers will be hurting themselves if they put all their eggs in that basket, either from infatuation or peer pressure.  

Pete, final question. In your career, you were also behind the amazing Jelly Belly marketing effort. If you had to describe me as a jelly bean candy flavor, what would it be?

Well, I’d have to go into the Jelly Belly flavor archives and say…Espresso!  Straight-ahead, high-octane, great balance … one of my all-time favorite flavors. 

Additional reading: Business Week article on how Coke finally embraced viral marketing.

Pete Healy is currently the director of Crowbar Marketing in Cincinnati, OH.

Is bigotry good for business?

The comment sections in some blogs, and many online community newspapers, is becoming a cesspool of bigotry, sexism and intolerance. Nobody has struggled more with the idea of online community than the American press.

I’ve wondered why newspapers, who have so staunchly defended the integrity of the published word, would suddenly open the floodgates of stupidity just because the forum has moved to the Internet.  My conclusion: Bigotry must be good for business.  My friend Jack Lail disagrees.  Jack is the much-respected News Director of Innovation for the Knoxville News Sentinel and a pioneer in online media.  He’s re-thinking the newsroom in the context of the digital era and dealing with these difficult issues every day.

Jack and I sparred on his blog recently and he has agreed to a point-counterpoint format for {grow}.

Mark’s point:

If I submit a letter to the editor of the newspaper and comment on a news story or issue, it has to come with clear proof of who I am, and even then might be subject to editing for appropriateness. Why then, would the same newspaper allow the public commentary in their online versions to turn into a virtual free-for-all of hate?  It just doesn’t make sense except that if the newspapers didn’t allow that liberal allowance for sensationalism, another media outlet or blog will — and there goes the readership and the page views that drive advertising revenues, just when traditional media need it most.

Nothing drives page views like controversy, and nothing drives controversy better than a redneck pissing match fueled by the anonymity of an online comment forum.

Some newspapers have justified this practice by explaining that our country has an important tradition of anonymous dissenters like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine.  But the irony is, serious dissent found on an op-ed page would require editorial identification, while the ugliness in the comment section goes unabated.

I believe the press has applied their standards inconsistently for economic reasons. They fear the anonymous comments (and readership they generate) will go elsewhere if regulated online. True?

Jack’s counterpoint:

The short answer is Web site operators don’t have the same legal liability in online comments as print publishers have with printed letters to the editors.

Yes, I believe comments increase the “stickiness” and time on site and a sense of community that articles alone can’t achieve. Anecdotally, I often hear people say the comments were better than the story (maybe in an entertaining if not enlightening way).

But basically, I don’t view comments as “letters to the editor.” I often find them more akin to callers on talk radio, where people are identified as “Jim” or “caller from Knoxville.” (If you applied the “same rigorous identification standards” to radio call-in shows, they wouldn’t have any callers.) The dynamics of online story comments are similar to what happens in forums and fairly open mailing lists.

They are, I think, a participatory experience unique to the online medium and whose benefits outweigh its negatives. That said, we’re still grappling with ways to minimize the negatives without stifling the speech.

Do we have story comments merely to generate additional page views? Maybe, but I suspect the cost of managing comments negates nearly all of the additional revenue. A page view on a news story is worth at best just a couple cents.

As Google’s economist Hal Varian recently said: “The fact of the matter is that newspapers have never made much money from news.”

Where does the {grow} community come down on this issue?   Over to you …

This dialogue was inspired by a post that originally appeared on Jack’s excellent blog, Random Mumblings. His original post also contains many important references on this issue.  For another timely perspective on the subject of hateful comments, read Jeff Jarvis’ blog post this week.

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