Archive | March, 2013

Obama on Gun Control — A Message Management Case Study

30 Mar
President Obama's gun safety push presented as the lede story on the NBC Nightly News on March 28, 2013

President Obama’s gun safety push presented as the lede story on the NBC Nightly News on March 28, 2013

              President Obama’s latest push on gun safety was hardly a shot in the dark.   His call for universal background checks on March 28th was a highly coordinated, multi-event, multi-channel message that offers a strategic communication model on a dynamic public policy issue.

                 With the raw emotions subsiding over the tragic Sandy Hook school shootings and the success of gun rights advocates at thwarting new legislative bans on military-style semiautomatic rifles, the Obama administration clearly needed to re-engage public opinion and build groundswell.    With little political support for banning military-style assault rifles, his new objective is keeping alive the proposal of universal background checks for all gun purchases.  The new strategy involves putting public pressure on congress.  The new tactics involved a national day of action with a highly coordinated series of events and social media engagements that would swamp news coverage and buzz in a 24-hour cycle. 

Figure 1 - Barak Obama Tweet on March 28, 2013

Figure 1 – Barak Obama Tweet on March 28, 2013

                 At the core of the new strategy was a White House press event featuring the victims and survivors of gun violence.  

               “Tears are not enough,” said the President. 

               He urged activists and citizens alike to “turn that heartbreak into something real” by urging their congressmen to pass meaningful gun control legislation.  By using the bully pulpit of the presidency, Obama was able to command the necessary national news coverage and earn the A-1 lede slot on the network evening news. 

Accent Signage shooting survivor John Souter speaking at a Minneapolis news conference.

Accent Signage shooting survivor John Souter speaking at a Minneapolis news conference.

                But just as important to the strategy was sending the same message to communities across the country, especially in blue states such as Minnesota and communities where gun violence is a salient issue.  In that effort the White House coordinated with gun safety organizations to hold more than 100 media events across the country that day featuring local gun violence victims pleading for action.                         

               In Minneapolis, the event featured John Souter, a survivor of the tragic workplace shooting at Accent Signage on September 27th.  Six of his co-workers died.  Souter was shot twice.   It was his first time speaking about the unspeakable.                 

                “How has it changed me?” contemplated Souter.   “I’m not the same person that’s for sure.  I don’t laugh like I used to.  These things are with you every day.”

                He commanded the attention of every news camera, every reporter’s notebook in town.  The local news conferences served as a force multiplier to the president by ensuring that local gun violence victims would be seen and positioned next to the president’s remarks in the evening news coverage.


Barak Obama Facebook post on March 28th, 2013

Figure 2 –  Barak Obama Facebook post on March 28, 2013

                It was also no accident that in the middle of Souter’s emotional testimony, the Barack Obama Twitter page posted a simple message:  “Fact:  Since 1968, 1.3 million Americans have died from gun violence.” (Figure 1)                                

               The more than a half a dozen tweets were joined by Obama’s Facebook posting of an infographic showing support for universal background checks seemingly as popular at apple pie. (Figure 2)  The posting received 64,000 likes and more than 10,000 shares. 

               Likewise, the video of the president’s White House speech immediately uploaded to YouTube recieved nearly 13,000 views. (See video below)              

                By the metrics of social media engagements, earned media, and buzz, the strategy was superbly executed.    It shows that strategic engagement is no accident and it offers a modern model in multi-channel communication.   But real success in this case is whether the strategy activates votes in congress.  For the moment that is a much harder task.  The whip counts are still out.

When Holy Smokes Meet Holy Tweets

17 Mar


White smoke rising from the Sistine Chapel on March 13, 2013 signifying cardinals have elected a new pope.

White smoke rising from the Sistine Chapel on March 13, 2013 signifying cardinals have elected a new pope.

        In a world that communicates at the speed of light, the most important message in the universe wafted at the speed of smoke. 

         So much for the age of sophistication.

        But in that most ancient of means of communication, the smoke signals drifting from the roof of the Sistine Chapel collided with the ones and zeros that were beamed, typed, and shared around the world.   The strategic message immediately posted on the pontiff’s Twitter account @pontifex simply read, “HABEMUS PAPAM FRANCISCUM.”   The translation:  “We have a Pope Francis.” 

Figure 1

Figure 1

       In an instant, two memes went viral—the smoke and the Tweet.  

      Score one for the Vatican and its integrated cross-platform communications campaign.

      We now know what followed wasn’t just religious history, but also a significant milestone in social media.  Twitter analytics tracked the number of tweets about the new pope running at a frenetic pace of 130,000 a minute.  It now ranks as one of the mot shared moments in the world, second only to this year’s Super Bowl at 150,000, and nearly doubles that of the Oscars at 70,000. (Figure 1)

Figure 2

Figure 2

       As people watched and waited for Pope Francis to appear on the balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square, they also retweeted  the message from @pontifex to the tune of more than 54,000 times.  That’s an impressive rate of sharing, although it stands in the shadows of President Obama’s election night tweet that was shared  by more than a half a million people. (Figure 2)

       Together they show how an institution steeped in tradition, deftly and strategically used two very divergent platforms to communicate to the world one of its most important messages of the new millennium.   

The Mobile Apps Revolution—How Brands and TV News Can Extend Engagement

11 Mar
TV news video app for iPad

TV news video app for iPad

     The spark that Guglielmo Marconi flung across the Atlantic in 1901 heralded a new world order.  From that moment forward, information transmission was forever divided between landlines and airwaves.  The past verses the future.  More than a century later the disruptive forces of technological innovation are still real—if Marconi could only see us now.

     The palm-sized computers we now hold in our hands have sparked an applications revolution that is every bit the information game-changer that Marconi ushered in with his wireless telegraph.  Just as radio led to television, computers led to the internet.  Now, mobile devices are leading to them both through applications—or apps. 

Figure 1 - ComScore U.S. Digital Future in Focus

Figure 1 – ComScore U.S. Digital Future in Focus

     The growth and usage of smartphone apps is prolific and real.  ComScore’s latest analysis of internet usages shows 37% of online minutes now come from mobile devices. (Figure 1)  Furthermore, four out of every five mobile minutes are spent on an app.

     Recent mobile research by Nielsen shows the average smartphone user now has 41 apps on their device. (Figure 2)  The dominant app by usage is Facebook followed by Google Maps. 

Figure 2 - Nielsen Smartphone Usage

Figure 2 – Nielsen Smartphone Usage

     Brands that that don’t embrace this new information revolution, including information providers such as news organizations, severely risk becoming marginalized in changing marketplace. 

     Sunil Gupta of the Harvard Business School has just laid out an impressive operational model for brands to build their own apps to extend their brand value on mobile platforms.   He does it by focusing on five categories:

    1. Add Convenience
    2. Offer Unique Value
    3. Provide Social Value
    4. Offer Incentives
    5. Entertain

     In Gupta’s model, he’s put the consumer first.  Far too many mobile news apps I’ve seen put the information consumer somewhere else.   Tap the icon and what comes up are stories that are 24 hours old, limited video, and information cluttered with pop-up ads.  Here’s what Gupta’s model might look like if we apply it in a customer-centric fashion.

1.       Add Convenience.  Here’s where most news apps fail with outdated information.  News junkies come to you for quick and current information, therefore stories and headlines need to be constantly updated.  Post short clips of video from the stories that are appearing, even if they are from a smartphone of a reporter in the field.  ComScore’s research indicates 60% of online searches for weather forecasts are all done on mobile devices, therefore those forecasts should also be constantly current.

 2.       Add Value.  Speaking of weather, one way to add value to a weather or news app is to create an alert system for approaching severe weather.  Another value-added strategy could partner with a local transportation agency to allow the app user to track commute times along a predetermined travel route.  Also, headlines broken down by zip code.

 3.       Provide Social Value.  Here’s where the app developers could build a feature to display the latest Tweets and Facebook postings from the organization.

4.       Offer Incentives.  The app could feature built-in coupons that tie in with a promotion or sponsor.  On-screen coupons to use at live events such as food discounts at ball games would be used as a strategy to build both app users and extend on-air sales.

 5.       Entertain.  This is where the app could offer clips of behind the scenes moments from entertainment programming such as American Idol or upcoming episodes of primetime news lead-ins.

     It’s a lot to think about in an era of shrinking staff resources and budgets.  But just as Marconi once upon a time proved to be a disruptive force in information technologies, mobile devices are proving they are just as disruptive.  The signals TV stations transmit from their towers are no longer the video and information dominant structures they once were.  As digital platforms grow and evolve, information content organizations need to develop multi-platform strategies or risk becoming yesterday’s news.

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