Twitter Digest


Unlike last week, things slowed down in the twitterverse for me.
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Have a great weekend.

From Art To Marketing Campaign, Sony Misses The Engagement

I’ve always been interested in the relationship between creative and business ventures. In college at The School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston I learned how to design things, then at Tufts University I learned how they were sold. What’s always amazed me is how many great marketing ideas have bubbled up from the art world directly into the business world. Unfortunately the business world does not always do them justice. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about.

The first video shows footage of a giant zoetrope sculpture made by Peter Hudsons, which he brought to Burning Man back in 2007. The piece animates a monkey that is swinging from branch to branch of a giant tree. The footage is not great quality, but you’ll get the idea and Peter explains how it works over the course of the clip. The link to his site above offers better footage of a more recent project brought to Burning Man in 2008. He’s done at least four such zeotropes to date.

With Peter’s zeotropes, there are several exercise bikes that are placed around the sculpture that actually power it. In order to set the piece in motion audience members must generate enough power to get it spinning and up to speed. Following this, the participants on the bikes cheer each other on, and are cheered on by the crowd. There are also a series of drums that are placed around the piece that trigger the strobes to create the animation effect. There is a brilliant reveal that takes place when the drumming reaches critical mass, the bikers get the piece spinning fast enough, and strobes snap into a coordinated sequence that brings the animation to life. Peter really says it best:


Below is a clip is  the BRAVIA-drome, the world’s largest zoetrope made for a current Sony advertising campaign. As you can see they had a slightly larger budget …. but they lost sight of the most important feature in the slickness of their presentation. The thing that Peter understands so well is the idea that engagement depends on investment.  Sony seems to have made something that is technically remarkable, and beautiful, but significantly less engaging. I think they dropped the ball, so to speak.


Choosing The Right Microphone For Podcasting

I’ve been exploring the idea of adding audio versions of some of my blog posts to this site. Would that be of interest to anyone? I’m also interested in conducting interviews that I could turn into a podcast. So, I’ve done some research into what it would take to create high-quality audio presentations, and I’m writing to share what I’ve learned.

There are a couple parts to making a high-fidelity audio recordings including, a microphone, a recording space, a recording device, and an audio editing suite. I’ll quickly run through each of these parts.

Microphones & Recording Devices

I started with the microphone because its the thing that senses audio input and I thought that it would have the biggest impact on sound quality. This turned out not to be the case and I discovered that it is possible to create a decent sounding recordings with a fairly inexpensive microphone, or even the microphone in your computer. Because microphones work in conjunction with recording devices I’ll talk about them together. Here are the three most common configurations I came across:

  • PORTABLE DIGITAL RECORDER – This is probably the simplest and most convenient option because it’s portable, and can be plugged into your computer to record directly into your editing suite. The downside is that the built-in microphones are not as good as stand-alone microphones and tend to pick up noise from the device itself.
  • PORTABLE DIGITAL RECORDER  + MICROPHONE – Same as above plus a higher quality stand-alone microphone. The downside is that you now have two things to carry, and you’ve spent more money. I should note that you can buy an inexpensive converter that will allow you to use the stand-alone mic directly with your computer as well.
  • USB MICROPHONE + COMPUTER  – This may be your cheapest option while offering the best sound quality. I’m assuming you already have a computer because you’ll need that to edit the audio, no matter which option you pursue. The downside is that it’s less portable, and you can only use the microphone with a computer.

There are other configurations that are common if, for example  you need to use multiple microphones, which usually requires some sort of mixer. However, in order to record podcasts and interviews, these should suffice. I spoke to many people, and read many online reviews, before choosing a unit to test in each category. These represent high quality instruments at a reasonable price. In other words, there are cheaper and more expensive options, but these offer exceptional value for the money. For some perspective, you can find solid stand-alone microphones starting at around $100. I won’t go into detailed reviews here as this information is readily available online.

H2 Portable Digital Recorderpicture-4

From left to right these are:
the H2 Digital Recorder ($180), a Shure KSM27 ($299), and the The RODE Podcaster ($229)

I decided to go with a USB microphone because sound quality was my first priority and I wanted to put extra money towards that. I also assumed that I’d always have my computer with me when I was recording. The benefit of having the computer is that you can quickly do test playbacks to adjust levels and manage room sound. As a nice added feature, the USB microphone also has an 1/8″ monitor jack on the side so you can plug in headphones and monitor the sound while your record.

In the case that I might want to record interviews with people on the street I thought I’d pick up one of these microphones for $15 which works with the free digital recording application I have for my iPhone. If you’re really on a budget, you could try using this alone. It’s supposedly better than using the built-in microphone in your computer (and is attached to a solid state device which produces less noise itself). That said, given the right recording space it is possible to make decent recording with just your computer.

The Recording Space

The space in which you record will have a greater impact on sound quality than a choice between any of the above microphones (except maybe the built-in computer microphone and the $15 one). I tested them all in a furnished office as well as in a completely sound damped room (i.e. no reflected sound or outside noise). What I noticed was that recording in a proper room makes the worst microphone I tested sound better than the best one in the un-damped office. At the same time, the best microphone still sounded significantly better in an apples-to-apples comparison in each space.

Part of the reason I selected the USB microphone was because I knew that I’d want to find a good room to record in. If I could do that, I could probably bring my computer as well. Plus, if I ever mix in interviews from the street with the $15 microphone, they’ll sound more authentic!

The Editing Suite

I don’t have too much to say here other than that I’ve used two programs and they are indistinguishable from a sound quality perspective. They are Audacity and Garage Band. Audacity happens to be free, and has a great support community that makes all sort of plug-ins and filters, so I’d recommend starting with that.

Ok, that’s it for now. I’ll add more information here once I get some additional experience recording.

PR Cheat Sheet

Several people have recently asked me about how to get starting with a public relations practice, so I’ve put together a primer post on the subject. If, however, you are just looking for tips on how to write a press release, then I suggest you check out this great resource from PR Newswire. And, this diagram might be of use.


Ok, for everyone else, here’s something more substantial:

What is PR?

At it’s core public relations is focused on managing the flow of information that goes in and out of your organization and through third party intermediaries (The Capital “P” Press) between your business and your customers. Depending on how your organization is structured, this function may be managed by corporate communications, a public relations team, or under a general marketing team. What started changing PR was the advent of consumer generated media, company wikis, forums, and other online resources that have made the boundary between communities more porous. This has had the effect of distributing the public relations function deeper into, and across, organizations.

Still, organizations do make “official” announcements that are indisputably managed by public relations professionals. Official messages are not always intended for external consumption, but can also be directed internally for distribution to, and by, employees. It might be easiest to understand these messages as “accepted company stories”. These stories are often made available though communication guides embedded in wikis or FAQ pages. It’s also important to note that these stories are not always be defined in a top down manner. In fact, many of the most engaging and compelling stories arise from within organizations.

How is technology changing PR?

Companies are increasingly telling their stories through blogs, wikis, FAQs and other resources that are made available to internal stakeholders and consumers. Because of this, it is possible to efficiently deliver messages to the press without necessarily  having to contact them directly. In many cases, members of the press (including consumer generated media authors) are able to follow companies by simply subscribing to these services. Obviously, there are times when you’ll want to break news to specific news organizations in advance of making the story public through your website. In this case, customer relationship management tools (CRM) make this process easier. I’ve written about CRM tools in this earlier post.

CRM tools allow you to manage your relationships with your customers but also with people in the press (who may also be customers). When used correctly, these tools can enable you to serve your customers and the press more effectively. For example, they can help you keep track of how members of the press prefer to be contacted (e-mail, phone, fax, etc). They also offer tools for tracking the effectiveness of these approaches. For example, showing how many of your e-mails were opened and clicked through and where you get the best responses. And, in the case of phone conversations, you can capture notes about those conversations, schedule follow-ups, and make additional resources available to your contacts. You can also use CRM tools to capture articles that have been written about you in the past, tagging articles and making them available as a resource for your team. With a CRM system in place you’ll be able to understand what your contacts are interested in, while being able to share the relationship as a resource with the rest of your organization.

In house, or Outside Firm?

Not all companies have the resources to set up a CRM system and manage their press relationships, which means that it may make more sense to work with an outside firm. This decision is complicated  and there are many factors to consider including the size of your organization, your growth plans, and the amount of press interaction you expect to have. As a general rule, I would say that it’s preferable to develop an internal competence if possible, but that working with a PR firm along the way, and for ongoing support, can be very helpful.

Managing PR internally has several benefits:

  • MORE EFFICIENT CONNECTIONS – The press is always more interested in talking to someone from the company who is us as close as possible to the actual story. PR staff should be focused on serving as a conduit between the press and the relevant story teller. It’s easier to do this if you’re already working internally.
  • BETTER SUPPORT – PR teams should also focus on developing resources to support the story so that the story teller has everything s/he needs to make the story compelling and engaging. Internal PR staff will find it easier to obtain the necessary resources to support the story. External support can be helpful though to review and improve these materials.
  • MORE VALUE FROM THE RELATIONSHIPS – As internal teams develop a PR practice, they also develop relationships that have immense value over time. Whereas working with external firms decreases the likelihood that organizations will capture these relationships. Of course, people in the press are constantly moving around so it’s hard to keep your contacts up to date. Again, external support can be useful here but depends on how often you are in contact with your network. The less frequent, the more support you’ll want from an external firm. As a general guide, if you are sending out one release per month you can probably manage on your own or with the help of a good freelancer. On the other end of the spectrum, if you are sending more than four messages a month you might want support from a firm that offers ongoing practice development.

Should I use the wires?

The short answer is probably not unless you’re a larger company announcing some really big news. That said, the same companies that send messages out over the wire, such as PR Newswire, offer a suite of support services that are useful. These services offer some of the functions of the CRM I mentioned above. They have tools to create lists, make notes on specific contacts, capture how they prefer to be contacted, etc. They also offer an updated database of contacts at most publications, which is a big deal because people in the press move around a lot. If you’re not using your list frequently enough to keep up, this service can be very helpful.

The problem is that the service is also quite expensive, so it only makes sense if you have enough volume to support a subscription. This is where the freelancers and PR firms that I mentioned above can help out. Since contacting people in the press is a core part of their business, they almost always have subscriptions to these services which they can leverage for you through your partnership.They also have experience working with the platform and can generally provide significant value, particularly if you’re just getting your practice started.

I should note, PR Newwire is not as savvy when it comes to consumer generated media, though I understand that they are making efforts to come up to speed. This is another area where PR firms can help out because they have established relationships with bloggers through their work for various clients.

How should I tell the story?

You should adjust the way you tell the story depending on how you are delivering it and to whom. The essence of the story, however, should remain consistent. For example, if you’re announcing a beta of a new product or service via twitter the message will not be the same as the press release you send out to your contacts via e-mail. In general, the formality of your message should be inversely proportional to the frquency on which it is sent out. Thus, twitter messages are frequent and informal and press releases, which are sent out only when you’ve got big news to share, are more formal. I am including a worksheet below that outlines three models to start thinking how a  message fits into a larger portfolio of messages.


Thanks for reading and I hope this is helpful. I look forward to your thoughts and feedback.

Why Has The Electronic Cigarette NOT Exploded?

It’s not that often that I come across a new product or service that has the potential to save lives and make money. I think the e-cigarette is such a product and is poised to disrupt the industry. What I find strange is that it hasn’t blown up yet …. but then, I might just be on the cusp of something here.

First, what is it?

Electronic cigarettes resemble real cigarettes in size and color, though they are not made of paper and tobacco. The tip has a fake ash on it that glows when you inhale, the main body of the cylinder is a battery, and the business end has a heating element in it along with a cartridge that contains propylene glycol. As in a theatrical smoke machines, the heating element reacts with the propylene glycol to produce the smoke. Cartridges are available with nicotine at several concentrations, without nicotine, and in a variety of flavors.

Image from New Scientist Magazine

Image from New Scientist Magazine

You can watch many video demonstrations of e-cigarettes online here.

I was skeptical about how convincing the experience would be, so I bought an NJOY Pro to test it out. NJOY is the largest domestic e-cigarette company with distribution in all fifty states and overseas. I have to admit that it’s very convincing. You’ll notice that some things are different than a traditional cigarette though, such as a slightly harder draw, the fact that it’s not soft like a traditional cigarette, it’s heavier,  and the flavor is not exactly the same. I found the flavor to be close to a hookah, which is more fruity than straight tobacco. I’ve tried a couple flavors and vanilla is my favorite so far. I should also note, that I have smoked cigarettes in the past but am not a smoker so I’ve been using the non-nicotine cartridges.

How can it save lives?

Approximately 20% of the population in the United States smokes cigarettes, globally you can raise that to almost a third of adults. As to be expected, smoking rates drop somewhat as nations become more developed. The health consequences and costs associated with smoking are overwhelming. In the US alone 6% of total health care costs were smoking related in 1999 (World Health Organization (WHO) Study) for a total of about 76 billion dollars. And, that doesn’t count all sorts of other environmental costs.

If electronic cigarettes are not bad for your themselves, and if they can help some of these people quit smoking than they should be able to save lots of lives.

Are they bad for you?

Helen Thomson’s article in New Scientist Magazine, Electronic cigarettes: A safe substitute? , considers this question:

So what precisely is the evidence for and against e-cigarettes? Laugesen is one of the few researchers tackling this question. In early 2007, his company – Health New Zealand – began a research programme to investigate what hazards e-cigarettes might pose. The research is funded by Ruyan but Laugesen insists it is independent, a view backed by the WHO. “Dr Laugesen is a respected tobacco control researcher,” emphasises Raman Minhas, technical officer of the WHO’s Tobacco Free Initiative.

Though Laugesen’s conclusions have yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, his preliminary results have been released and seem positive.

If you’re interested in getting more detail, check out the New Scientist article in full. You can also read about Langesen in Michael Field’s article in the The Dominion Post.

Will it the help you quit, and is it about quitting?

If the evidence is pointing to the fact that e-cigarettes are AT LEAST better for you than traditional cigarettes, than the real question is whether or not people will transition to e-cigarettes from traditional ones. In other words, even if people don’t quit smoking there will be massive health care benefits if they simply transition to an e-cigarette. Here’s an interesting article from the NY Times that supports this idea, but also talks about A Quitter’s Dilemma: Hooked on the Cure.

My own experience with the e-cigarette tells me that people will be willing to switch because of the fidelity of the experience, the ability to regulate nicotine, the health benefits, and the cost benefits. On the last point, If you calculate the cost of the batteries which last for about 300 charges, plus the cost of cartridges, which cost about $1 – $1.50, but last as long as about half a pack of traditional cigarettes, than the cost of smoking e-cigarettes is significantly less than smoking traditional ones. And, we can safely assume that this cost will go down as e-cigarettes gain adoption and greater competition.

Marketing: A Grass Roots Approach

E-cigarettes have only been on the market since 2004. In that time, they have developed a small user base with Ruyan, the largest manufacturer, claiming to have sold over 300,000 units in 2008. That’s a tiny sliver of the potential market, and compared to growth rates for comparable products like nicotine gum that seems odd. On the other hand, they have not been brought to market is a comparable way. Thus far it’s been a grass roots effort. I think this gels well with such a new and disruptive product. The slow growth may also be an indication that additional product development is required. Don’t forget this is a completely new product category so there will be a lot of learning to do about how customers actually use the product. You can bet that it won’t be the same as a traditional cigarette, and that product development teams will be iterating quickly to keep up. When I spoke with NJOY they also said that they are working on a second generation of technology that will make the e-cigarette an even better experience. I don’t have details on this, but they did say that patents are pending.

This approach will also provide some time to conduct additional scientific research into the health issues/benefits of the product, and those studies are surely underway. There is also a need to conduct additional studies to measure conversion rates of traditional smokers, and eventual quitters. Like nicotine gum, it’s likely that a significant percentage of the converts will become regular users of the e-cigarette rather than quitting all together. Meanwhile, the folks at NJOY have partnered with McMurry (marketing) and TSC Group (distribution) and are gearing up to make a giant splash once they have all their ducks in a row.

Meanwhile, consumer generated media will continue to proliferate around e-cigarettes with online forums and video demonstrations, though I’m not seeing much response for the manufactures in these forums. This seems like a major missed opportunity to engage and gain insight, though I did see one post in which NJOY offered a discount code to forum members “smokey”. So you’d think they’d have a following on Faceboook, right? Only 125 people currently in the group though. MySpace? Not there. NJOY events? Nope. I see a huge opportunity to create a core group of evangelists around this product before the big marketing push. Any campaign should tap into what’s happening in the forums, for example, users are developing their own language around the topic. Traditional cigarettes are called “analogs”. Also, many of the posts I came across included footers with a mention of how long they have been “analog free”. Plus, there is also a secondary market developing around “juice” refills.

Marketing: It’s Not A Cessation Device!

It’s important to point out that e-cigarettes are not positioned as “smoking cessation devices”, meaning that they are not making any health claims which would be subject to FDA review. This positioning is unlikely to change unless significant medial benefits can be demonstrated through research. That said, you’ll see plenty of testimonials online about how people are using e-cigarettes to quit. Knowing that it won’t be positioned as a cessation device, I think there are some interesting opportunities to talk about other potential benefits. From my conversation with an NJOY spokesperson, my guess is that you’ll see e-cigarettes with caffeine and/or vitamins coming soon. I think that’s a good way to manage the legacy of negative perceptions around smoking which is a huge challenge.

Marketing: Bringing Value Through Innovation

Here’s one idea based on what I’ve learned so far that would bring value to NJOY, or any other player in the industry. This observation is not “feature” related, but focuses on the overall experience of the device. The fact is that features can be managed by product development teams, but it’s much harder to create an experience for the customer that is bigger than any feature set.

When people transition for traditional cigarettes to e-cigarettes their behavior fundamentally changes in many ways. For example, they no longer have to go outside to smoke. This changes the ecosystem in which smoking takes place and presents many opportunities. In the past, you might have seen ash-trays where smoking took place, or a cigarette box on the surface of a desk. Though the legacy of these objects has been overwritten by smoking policies, the memory remains. Following this, there is an opportunity to make the chargers for the e-cigarettes tap into this legacy. Currently chargers look like ugly cell phone chargers, but there is no reason they couldn’t be more attractive and inviting. Based on this, it should be possible to make smoking more social again in environments that have been off limits for many years.

Plus, the actual act of smoking changes. You don’t have to light up an entire cigarette to enjoy a single puff. How does this change the way we use the device, and how should this impact the design? And, that’s just the tip of the iceberg when you consider the opportunity to bring community and technology into the conversation.

Thanks for reading, and I look forward to your feedback.