Why the iPad Won't Save the World (and why it might)

Fifteen years ago I sat in the World Room at the Columbia Journalism School and watched as a digital expert from Knight Ridder showed off a piece of cardboard.

Really, it was a mockup of a type of digital content delivery device (video below). The hope, he said, was that the device would have a touch screen and use a form of electronic ink. People would receive their "newspaper" overnight via telephone line and have it in the morning. The pictures would come to life as videos at a touch and it would save the newspaper industry.

Though, he admitted, the technology just wasn't there to make the vision possible.

I don't need to tell you that iPad achieves that vision. Only, there's one problem: it isn't cheap enough. Well, that's not really a problem, but let me get to that.

Back in the World Room my classmates went nuts. They were terrified of the digital divide, that the device would be expensive and that because of it newspapers would be available only to those with means and not to the majority of Americans.

No, the Knight Ridder people assured us, the only way this would work is if the device was cheap enough to be almost a giveaway item, like one of those cheap calculators you get at the local bank.

Obviously the iPad isn't going to be that cheap. And on one level that's a problem. But on another, not really.

The history of communications is littered with haves and have nots. In fact, it relies on it. The 1950s is often called the "Golden Age of Television" because the shows tended to be written for a more literate audience. Well, that makes sense when you consider that TVs were expensive, so only people who were wealthier (and more educated) tended to purchase them.

Flash forward to the 1970s and 80s and you see the same thing happen with cable television. Move into the early 90s and it's the Internet. All along the way advertisers tout the next media as having a "more educated demographic" and the fact that they have a higher disposable income.

As a particular medium becomes more saturated and reaches a broader audience, it's more difficult to find the desired demographic. Not to fear, another communications for (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) comes along to save the day.

So yes, iPad will have its adopters, and copies. People will design content for this class of devices, just as they design content for smart phones, in order to reach the desired demographic. Over time, the price will come down and the audience will expand.

Though, I doubt my bank will give me one any time soon.


Was it the Medium or the Message?

I don't think I'll be able to sleep anytime soon after Tuesday's election results -- everything is still sinking in. So let me see if I can get some thoughts down about the not so surprising surprise in Massachusetts while I'm still relatively cogent.

As I look back at the past few months, and read the very good analysis and insights of folks like David Meerman Scott and Mike Schneider and Mark McClennan, I'm starting to wonder if it was the medium -- as seems to be the opinion rising from the social media echo chamber (not to cast any aspersions whatsoever on any of these very good posts) -- or the message -- as seems to be the prevailing opinion of the television and radio pundits.

Let's focus on Twitter. The chart to the right (available on the Schwartz PR blog) shows the tremendous lead in twitter volume that Brown developed over the past week. It's clear that Brown (and of course his supporters and campaigners) leveraged social media to a much greater benefit than Coakley. But let's dig a little deeper.

Taking a look at their Twitter pages in particular tells us more than just how many followers they had. Oh, if you haven't yet caught the stats (where have you been?), Brown left Coakley in the dust when it comes to Twitter followers. But, as I tell all my clients, it's not about how many people are following you, but how well you engage with them. And it's here where Scott Brown won hands down.

Here's a screen shot from Brown's Twitter page shortly after the election was called:

I'll call your attention to a few things. First, look at the call to action in the background Twitter page image -- three simple steps to Republican victory. Next, note the variety of Twitter posts: @ replies, re-tweets, use of hashtags (oh, and TweetDeck too). Finally, look at his bio: it's another call to action.

Now let's have a look at Coakley's Twitter presence:

Not a bad looking Twitter page, mind you, but no messaging at all. No call to action in the bio or background image, just a few get the vote out requests in her tweets. While she uses hashtags, there's no use of replies or retweets.

A similar pattern arises when we look at Facebook.

So the question remains: did Martha Coakley lose because she didn't get social media, or because she didn't get the message out? It's a little bit of both, I think. Let's not lose sight that we need to look beyond simple follower numbers before we come to any conclusions. When it came to social media, she forgot that it's really all about engagement, not just eyeballs. Brown didn't beat Coakley because he had more followers, he beat her because he was better at engaging his followers. He stayed on message, and he used social media to get that message out.

It's not the medium or the message -- it's both! (And unfortunately for Coakley and Obama, her messages included (paraphrased) "I don't care about Boston sports," "I'm not really that much of a people person," etc.)

Oh, and lest we forget our independent candidate, here's a screen grab from his Facebook fan page that captures his campaign in a nutshell:


David Dahl on "Your Town": Fresh Ground #6

In episode 6 of the Fresh Ground Podcast, Chuck Tanowitz talks with David Dahl, editor of the zoned editions of the Boston Globe.

Chuck and David discuss the Boston Globe’s “Your Town”, how the editorial process works, how community bloggers can participate, the impact of layoffs, the accelerating speed of change in the industry and who their competition is (and isn’t).

Some of the more interesting excerpts:

“[Our] model is to link to [other sites] and in most cases, those bloggers are delighted to get the attention and get the links in”

“[Boston’s] Universal Hub [website] is a really clever, energetic aggregation site and I think Adam [Gaffin] is doing a really good job… but is he a competitor? In this environment, it’s difficult to define somebody as a competitor when, in a lot of these cases, we’re all linking to one another.”

“… is one of the most successful websites in the country, one of the top ten regional newspaper websites in the country [with] really quite a loyal following.”

“There are discussion groups. [Readers have the] ability to sign on and become a registered user on and create your own blog. There’s a terrific mom site that has created its own community. There’s another terrific site called Raw that has created its own community of amateur photographers.”

About the Fresh Ground Podcast: Each week, we feature 10 minutes of insights from people driving change in today’s competitive business and media landscape. We talk about the evolving worlds of media, public relations, marketing and business, with a special focus on creating more social organizations.

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Boston's Serfdom: Beyond Tech

In his Innovation Economy column this week, Scott Kirsner tells the stories of several tech companies that were sold to out-of-state acquirers over the years and openly asks the question: is it better to build and sustain or build to be acquired? In fact, he goes as far as wondering if Boston is forever destined to "serfdom to out-of-state companies."

It's a good question, but Scott limits his discussions to the local tech sector. The "problem" of selling off Boston's business assets goes well beyond that one area.

Take his employer, The Boston Globe, which is actually owned by the New York Times. How about Filene's Department Store, which, along with its Downtown Crossing sibling, was long ago sold to Macy's (the current result is a large hole in what was once Boston's bustling retail shopping district). Gillette is now owned by Proctor and Gamble, HP owns the computer company formerly known as Digital Equipment Corp and does anyone remember Shawmut, Bay Bank and Bank of Boston? No? How about Fleet Bank? No? Because all of them are now part of Bank of America.

Even the most iconic building in the Boston skyline, the John Hancock Tower, is owned by a real estate company based in New Jersey.

It makes me wonder if Boston's entire business culture is about being purchased by other companies.


Getting Set for LaunchCamp Boston

Working on LaunchCamp Boston has been a pretty exciting thing this week. We've seen the sign-up list grow with some wonderful participants heard from some wonderful people who want to take part and add to the discussion along with the many who were already on board to work with us on this project.

It looks like the Microsoft NERD Center will be packed on February 4th.

Our goal is to help entrepreneurs make the decisions needed to launch their brand, product or service. While a lot of events help you learn how to find VC money or learn how to sell sell, this one falls in the middle by taking on the PR and marketing angle.

I've worked with many companies over the years that have struggled with just this problem. Years ago it was pretty easy, as the marketing options were much more limited. But today, when your Website is more than a billboard and you're tasked with engaging with your audience through social media, and on top of that, still need the exposure offered by traditional media, it can get very confusing. Today even your customer service and product development teams have become key parts of your marketing and PR effort.

But more than that, they're often not sure what pieces of the vast marketing puzzle they truly need. LaunchCamp is about understanding that puzzle and having the information to make informed choices.

Among the highlights is a panel hosted by David Beisel of Venrock Partners that also features:

The breakouts sessions themselves look to be pretty amazing and a chance for smaller discussions, but also as interesting is the PR Imrpov. This is something created by Adam Zand in which he takes the basic facts about a business from someone in the audience and "pitches" it to a reporter on stage. In this case Adam will be pitching to Scott Kirsner of the Boston Globe, as well as one or two other reporters who we're still lining up.

If you haven't seen it, it's a great way to understand the skills involved in getting your name heard.

Our goal is that entrepreneurs come out of this event with a much better understanding of the skills they need to fill on their teams to get themselves through launch.


Lee Sherman on Distributed Communities: Fresh Ground #5

In episode 5 of the Fresh Ground Podcast, Chuck Tanowitz talks with Lee Sherman, who runs the MintLife Blog. Lee brings over 20 years of editorial experience to Mint, including stints at and Worth magazine.

Chuck and Lee discuss how to create a content-driven marketing strategy, as well as the and differences and similarities between journalism and marketing. Lee shares some key numbers around Mint’s content-driven marketing strategy, and how to avoid thinking in terms of technological silos.

Some of the more interesting excerpts:

“I think that having a journalistic mindset has allowed us to create content that is compelling, and that leads to traffic, and traffic leads to conversions…”

“[At] the end of the day, we’re a software company, and we’re trying to get people to sign up and use a personal finance application… [You] always have to [keep] that in mind, but … building an audience through compelling content was key to our strategy….”

“[While] we’re very careful about protecting people’s privacy … we know a lot about how people are spending their money, and we’ve produced a number of infographics which illustrate trends in consumer spending, and those things tend to get picked up by other publications.”

“We would not have a publication called ‘MintLife’ if it didn’t actually bring in users.”

“[We] initially were thinking of building a community into the blog, but one of the learnings that came out of our discovery process … [was the] notion of distributed community…. Because of how people navigate to our content, the truth is that the conversation about our content is really taking place outside of [It’s] really taking place on Digg, on Facebook, on Twitter.”

“[We] embraced the notion of distributed community, and started to look at ways to bring the conversation into the blog. We haven’t fully gone down this road yet, but it’s a direction that we’re going to continue to go to, and there are tools like Backtype [and] Facebook Connect [to make this possible].”

About the Fresh Ground Podcast: Each week, we feature 10 minutes of insights from people driving change in today’s competitive business and media landscape. We talk about the evolving worlds of media, public relations, marketing and business, with a special focus on creating more social organizations.

Listen Now:

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Our opening music is "D.I.Y." by A Band Called Quinn from the album "Sun Moon Stars" and is available from Music Alley, the Podsafe Music Network.


Hello? Is this Thing On?

Like any small business we here at Fresh Ground watch our pennies pretty closely. While we believe that there are many fine services worth paying for, we also realize that, for the short term, we can get by without many others.

In the past I relied pretty heavily on the ProfNet emails. These are emails sent out several times a day from PR Newswire that contain lists of requests from reporters. Looking for an expert to talk about security policy? Send out request. Need a mom to talk about how to create the perfect 1st birthday while still working a full time job? Send out a request.

But now there's Help A Reporter Out (HARO), as well as Twitter and Facebook. Most reporters who are looking for feedback use these channels for their instant gratification. What's more, they're free. HARO is closest at approximating ProfNet, though I always wonder if Peter Shankman will eventually burn out on it. He works pretty hard at it, mostly on his own.

So I asked my friends. I put out a Tweet asking simply whether ProfNet was worth the hefty ($2650) price tag or if the other tools worked just as well. I heard from plenty of people.

But not from ProfNet.

This is interesting since ProfNet is promoting its social media presence, boasting that they now have 10,000 followers on Twitter. It's not like they're being inundated with information on Twitter. A simple search on the phrase "Profnet" returned a managing sized list, mostly of people retweeting that Profnet is giving away a Snuggie. To get the Snuggie you have to retweet the following, now oft-repeated phrase: "#PR pros: Get your clients quoted in the media. Follow @profnet for updates on what reporters are working on. #profnet"

Maybe it's me, but responding to my question about their value may have been more than a blanket with sleeves. And if I can get the information by following ProfNet on Twitter, why do I need to pay for the email?

Oh, and the answer from my Tweeps was loud and clear: save your money.


LaunchCamp Boston 2010 is Feb 4th

Fresh Ground Communications is very pleased to announce the first LaunchCamp event, scheduled for February 3rd & 4th, 2010. LaunchCamp takes a fresh look at PR, marketing, social media and management -- and the technologies and tools that have evolved around these areas -- and attempts to identify the challenges that organizations face in the launch process.

The event is designed to help entrepreneurs make the essential decisions needed to launch their brand, product or service. It is organized by PR, marketing, social media and business professionals looking to identify and replicate some of the best practices in the market for moving entrepreneurial organizations along the growth curve.

The event is being organized in conjunction with the Social Media Club Boston, Social Media Breakfast Boston and PRSA Boston Chapter, and being graciously hosted at the Microsoft NERD Center. Fresh Ground is pleased to be the founding sponsor, and we're still looking for additional sponsors for the event.

Why LaunchCamp?
There are plenty of events designed to foster startups and help entrepreneurs find money, but there are very few events that focus on "the big splash:" how do you get the attention your company needs to grow and reach its business goals? This event is perfect for entrepreneurial organizations -- especially bootstrapped, angel-funded and early-stage venture-funded businesses -- looking to accelerate their growth using social tools and techniques.

Who is LaunchCamp Designed For?
This event is perfect for entrepreneurial organizations -- especially bootstrapped, angel-funded and early-stage venture-funded businesses -- looking to accelerate their growth using social tools and techniques. It is for both skeptics and those who need to convince the skeptics. It's also perfect for "intrapraneurs": innovators within larger organizations who are trying to create change.

LaunchCamp Boston 2010 is being held at the Microsoft NERD Center in Cambridge on the afternoon of Thursday, February 4th. There are two other events taking place before LaunchCamp:

  • On Thursday morning, we're hosting Social Media Breakfast Boston #16: a Social Media Breakfast Bootcamp. The bootcamp event offering entrepreneurs and business people with a little less background in social media to get themselves up-to-speed in advance of the LaunchCamp afternoon event.
  • On Wednesday evening (Feb. 3rd), Social Media Club Boston and PRSA Boston are hosting a panel on the State of Journalism, Media and PR in 2010.

Registration for all of these events is now open. To register or find out more about LaunchCamp Boston 2010, please visit

Speakers and a more detailed schedule will be announced shortly. If you're interested in speaking at the event or sponsoring the event, please contact






Paul Gillin on Social Media Marketing: Fresh Ground #4

Fresh Ground Podcast #4In episode 4 of the Fresh Ground Podcast, Todd Van Hoosear talks with Paul Gillin, veteran technology journalist, author, blogger, researcher and consultant. Paul is a popular speaker who is known for his ability to simply complex concepts using plain talk, anecdotes and humor.

Todd and Paul talk about how to start in social media, measure ROI, give up control (and why giving up control can be so valuable) and “ditch the pitch.”

This interview was originally recorded a little more than a year ago.

Some of the more interesting excerpts:

“Starting small is fine. There’s no reason that you have to make a big enterprise-wide commitment to social media in order to start some spot blogging, launch a podcast or do some video … training.”

“[A] lot of what goes on in social media is in fact what we have been doing on television, and radio and in print communications and in newsletters… We’re simply using a different means to do that, and we are creating a two-way channel around it.”

“When you can take a company … as big and as conservative as Procter & Gamble and say this company is making a huge corporate-wide commitment to a new way of communicating with its customers, that is … a pretty compelling case that this idea has gone mainstream.”

“There are paradoxes in social media… The more control you give up, the more control you get… The more you give away, the more you get in return… The more transparent you are, the more control you have over information.”

“The trend is very clear that people who influence important constituents are important to institutions, regardless of the media they use. As mainstream media continues to decline, and crumble in many cases, this may be all we have left in some markets.”

“The traditional [PR] pitch is almost a scripted engagement, and I know that if I ever want to play games with a PR person’s mind, what I’ll do is start asking intelligent questions… When you’re talking with someone who has a high level of knowledge, as most bloggers do, you can’t deliver a pitch. They’re not going to listen to it. They don’t play the game. They’re not trained in the game like journalists are. They are going to challenge you right off the bat. So you can’t go in unprepared. You can’t go in with a scripted plan. You have to go in with a plan for a conversation, and that requires a fundamentally different approach to PR.”

About the Fresh Ground Podcast: Each week, we feature 10 minutes of insights from people driving change in today’s competitive business and media landscape. We talk about the evolving worlds of media, public relations, marketing and business, with a special focus on creating more social organizations.

Listen Now:

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Subscribe to our podcast using our
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Our opening music is "D.I.Y." by A Band Called Quinn from the album "Sun Moon Stars" and is available from Music Alley, the Podsafe Music Network.


Journalism: Profession or State of Mind

During a recent Journchat, Chris Anderson and I had a bit of a back and forth about the idea that journalism is a state of mind as much as it is a profession. “It is a profession. Sorry. 100%” he Tweeted. Yes, he agreed that everyone has the power to communicate, but, he believes, journalism shouldn’t be the goal. “Everyone is empowered now. Zero barrier. But you don't want to be a journalist -- it's an unholy priesthood,” he continued. “It is essential not to paint yourself into a corner. America has rejected your sort of "objective" journalism for dead.”

Fox news and MSNBC have proven that bias can attract an audience, but by the same token, the New York Times continues to act as a standard base. What’s more, Wikipedia keeps making adjustments and changes meant to eliminate the bias from it stories, focusing entirely on the facts and grows stronger because of it.

No, journalism isn’t dead.

But the original question Chris and I were debating centered on whether content creators (bloggers, tweeters, Facebookers, you name it) are journalists. I believe it really depends on the mindset of the person creating the content. Some will consider themselves journalists, and they and their readers will hold them to journalistic standards, while others will not care about those standards, wanting just to tell the story of their day. The trick for us, as readers, is to separate the two.

This is an issue Sree Sreenivasan and I touched on during our podcast conversation. He looks at it from another direction: turning people with other skills into journalists. Sree pointed to the trend of the “programmer journalist” someone who has skills as a coder as well as a journalist. “I would hire and consider somebody a journalist if they make iphone apps with a journalistic mindset,” he told me about 10 minutes into the podcast. That mindset includes finding the truth, maintaining ethics, getting the story right and being able to get it out on deadline.

As for whether journalism is a mindset or a career, that depends on the person. “It can be both. It can be one for some, the other for others and both for many,” Sree says.

Part of our job as PR people concerns understanding this landscape so we can better guide our clients. We need to understand what gives a individual influence so we can better keep them updated with information.

Back at my previous job a member of my PR team messed up big time. Long story short, she made an edit that she thought was innocuous, got a story placed and later found out that her edit changed the very nature of the story itself. After hearing from the client’s customer and the editor of the publication, we cleaned things up, but during the issue the team member tried to put things aside by saying “it’s not like someone died.”

No, no one died. But I told her in no uncertain terms that the error got in the way of the editor’s credibility, and that’s all he and his publication have to sell.

Our job is to understand and respect that, whether we’re creating content for our clients or pitching stories. We can’t feed them false information and expect to be taken seriously.

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