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  • The Big Lebowski (Limited Edition) [Blu-ray Book + Digital Copy]
    The Big Lebowski (Limited Edition) [Blu-ray Book + Digital Copy]
    starring Jeff Bridges, John Goodman
  • The Big Lebowski (Widescreen Collector's Edition)
    The Big Lebowski (Widescreen Collector's Edition)
    starring Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi, David Huddleston
  • The Big Lebowski - 10th Anniversary Limited Edition
    The Big Lebowski - 10th Anniversary Limited Edition
    starring Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi, David Huddleston

A Privacy 9-11 Could Derail Social

I have a macabre habit. No matter how hard I try, I can't kick it.

Each year, come the first week of September, I deliberately seek out the most horrific footage from September 11th that I can find. I watch videos of the second plane hitting the World Trade Center at full speed and of desperate workers leaping to their death.

As a lifelong New Yorker, this is my way of coping with the tragedy. I purposefully make myself feel uneasy to remind myself that if we get too comfortable, we will forget and it will happen again.

Making a connection between a global tragedy like 9/11 and digital privacy may seem like a leap, but I am going to try. Hopefully you'll bear with me. My apologies in advance.

Flashback to early 2001 and you might recall that America was blissfully ignorant about our national security. Terrorism was something that happened elsewhere, never on our shores. It didn't enter our mind such an event could happen here until a few dozen suicidal extremists found a weak link in our system, commandeered our airspace with simple box cutters and murdered thousands of innocent people. They forced us to think the unthinkable.

Today I have an similar uneasy feeling about social networking and, to some degree, cloud computing. I believe that a Privacy 9-11 looms. I don't have evidence to support it. All I have is a bad vibe that too many people are apathetic about securing their privacy and this creates lots of weak links waiting to be exploited with digital box cutters.

The risk of a Privacy 9-11 is not rooted in technology. Rather, it's about sociology.

Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon and others have hardened technological defenses that protect our privacy. My concern is user apathy. Too many people today have a free-spirited attitude about their privacy. To be sure, there are lots of people who are paranoid. But we are outnumbered.

Anyone in security will tell you that a good defense is only as strong as the weakest link in the chain. Net, no matter how hardened our technological defenses are, it's my bet that somewhere someone will suffer a major privacy leak that impacts millions, sends shock waves through our system and makes us feel less secure than we did before. Such an event could slow interest in social networking and derail its marketing potential.

Perhaps this event is years away. Maybe it is completely far fetched. What's certain, however, is that as our once-analog social lives become increasingly digitized, now is the time for leaders to table the issue. Marketers, consumers, government and (not least of all) the platforms - all of whom have much at stake here - must work together to ensure that we are doing everything possible to protect and defend the digital privacy of our netizens.

Right now, we're not.

The risk of a Privacy 9/11 - a cataclysmic event that exposes the private information of millions of people - can be prevented if we act. Privacy, like terrorism, is something many don't think about until they have to. Some are doing an exemplary job of showing people just how their data is being used. Others - marketers included - need to go to the same lengths.

Consider, for example. The e-commerce giant doesn't rely on Facebook's arcane permissions screen to explain what data they share with your friends if you opt into their new social sharing features. Forrester analyst Auggie Ray points out that Amazon tells consumers in detail what will/wont be shared and the benefits in opting in. 

Much the same, Google last week simplified its privacy policy across all of its sites in an effort to make them more user-friendly. It also maintains a Dashboard that every user can look at to see just how much or little of their data is on Google's servers.

Finally, perhaps stung by prior criticism, Facebook too recently simplified its privacy controls. More importantly they gave users the ability to monitor for suspicious logins and even log out of Facebook remotely.

Amazon, Google and Facebook should be lauded for educating consumers. They see consumer privacy and security as a mutual responsibility - which it is. But this is only the beginning.

The next step is for marketers, government, media and platforms to stand together in shaping standards in how we educate the public about the risks of our increasingly socially connected world - and in setting behavioral norms. For example, a study released by Georgia Tech found that passwords today  should be a minimum of 12 characters . Too few sites mandate such lengths. A coalition could change this.

The time to prepare for a Privacy 9/11 is now - even if it means that we might make some people uneasy. It's for everyone's own good and it all starts with education.


Media Companies Must Divide To Conquer

The following essay is also
my column for August.

Media Companies Must Divide To Conquer

The media is something that for most, if not all, of our adult lives, we have taken for granted. Media giants form the terra firma of the marketing industry, both its paid and earned disciplines. They provide the lifeblood of services and bring us the audiences we need to do our jobs.

However, underneath it all, the harsh reality is that there's a new digital dynamic present today. This will mean that many media companies divide themselves into dozens of smaller independent operating companies if they wish to survive. Many won't.

First, there is some good news.

Over the last few years, to their credit, traditional media outlets have done an outstanding job adapting to new technologies, including social networks, mobile and tablets--and helping marketers do the same. Rather than see Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, the iPad, et al, as threats, most media companies have embraced them as potentially lucrative revenue opportunities. And they've innovated too.

Nevertheless, the media business, as anyone who is in it will tell you, is still reeling in pain. To paraphrase NBC head Jeff Zucker, analog dollars are not being replaced quickly enough by digital pennies.

There are at least three currents contributing to the pain.

First, there's the sheer ballooning of information. According to TechCrunch,Google CEO Eric Schmidt recently said that every two days we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization until 2003. "The real issue is user-generated content," Schmidt said at the Technomy conference.

Despite Google's best efforts to organize it all, this is one of three new realities that will force us to make choices about what we consume and from whom.

This leads to the second current: time. Despite our Herculean efforts, time and attention remain finite quantities. And, increasingly, we are burrowing deeper into social sites. According to Nielsen, time spent on social networking climbed 43% since 2009. It now accounts for 27% of the time Americans spend online, and is the most popular online activity.

What this means for media companies is that, like it or not, social networks and social information networks are becoming their largest distributors of content, perhaps only second to Google.

Finally, and not least of all, we have mobile. According to Morgan Stanley, in just a few years digital content consumption from mobile devices will surpass the same from PCs. No matter how sophisticated these devices get, the rise of mobile will have a dramatic impact on how our global society interacts with digital information. The devices lend themselves more to pervasive media snacking over meals.

The upshot of all of this is that the era of one-size-fits-all media is coming to an end. Faced with infinite choices (and competition from people we know), finite time and attention and form factors that favor short over long, consumers are going to--as a coping mechanism--increasingly drill to find sources that align with their worldview and interests, and let the rest float by.

Media analyst Ken Doctor, in his outstanding book Newsonomics, makes a strong case that there will be only a dozen major global news players. This is down dramatically from the hundreds we have today. Given the above trends, the rest many not make it. But I am optimistic that they can if they see the light now.

To survive many media companies will need to divide themselves into dozens of smaller, independent units if they wish to survive. Although few will say so publicly, some are already moving in a direction of verticalization and specialization.

Consider, for example, ESPN. The juggernaut of sports news has been aggressively rolling out a network of local-interest sites, like and, in order to cater to rich sports towns. Now it's in the process of adding similar mobile apps to the mix.

This approach is smart. It slices and dices content into micro chunks that cater to diverse interests, rather than trying to be one size fits all. Granted, ESPN itself remains a whole, but others may not be as lucky.

Just as Ma Bell divided itself up into dozens of baby bells back in the 1980s - and arguably to the benefit of consumers and the telecommunications industry - many media companies will need to do the same to cope with the new digital dynamic.

Let's hope that they are just as open to structural change and verticalization as they have been to embracing new formats.


Hot or Not: E-mail Marketing vs. Social-Media Marketing

The following is also my column this week in Advertising Age.

Contrary to popular belief, video didn't kill the radio star, YouTube didn't knock off TV and Twitter didn't shut down blogging. However, in each case the steady advance of new technology definitely forced the incumbents to evolve. One can argue, for example, that some of the more established blogs on the web benefited greatly from building content strategies that engender massive link sharing on Twitter. Much the same, TV ad creative has changed to facilitate additional exposure on YouTube.

Enter e-mail marketing, which, to some degree, has been beaten down by regulation, and has taken a backseat to social networking. Nielsen revealed last week that e-mail's share of time declined 28%, putting it in third place, while social networking, the leader, climbed 43%.

Despite these attention currents, however, the reality is that e-mail is stronger than ever. According to an eConsultancy study of 1,400 U.S. consumers, 42% said they prefer to receive ads for sales and specials via e-mail compared to just 3% who said the same for social-networking sites and 1% who preferred Twitter.

Savvy marketers are beginning to see that if they leverage all of their channels effectively, they can increase their overall ROI and, in the process, establish a deeper bond with customers and influencers.

They will have help.

Quietly and steadily, email marketing is evolving and turning more social, thanks to a blitz of homegrown innovations, acquisitions and start-ups that are reinventing the platform. Many companies are building end-to-end "social CRM" tools that will help marketers manage their relationships by mashing up existing customer touch points and social-networking sites.

Here's a look at some of the companies in the space:

  • Constant Contact, an e-mail-marketing vendor, in May acquired Nutshellmail, a handy tool that helps individuals and businesses manage their entire social-networking presence via e-mail. Nutshellmail offers a suite of plug-ins, including one that makes it easy for businesses on Facebook to add an e-mail newsletter. Constant Contact is planning to build this into an entire end-to-end offering for small -and medium-size businesses.

  • Rapportive, which provides contextually relevant information to Gmail and Google Apps users about their contacts and the companies they work for, last week generated a fair amount of buzz for raising a seed round that included high-profile investors such as Paul Bucheit, Gmail's architect and now a key member of the Facebook team. Xobni, a similar technology that integrates with Blackberrys, Facebook, LinkedIn and more, raised $16 million earlier this year. Meanwhile, Microsoft's new Outlook Connector brings a similar functionality right to millions of corporate desktops.

  • MailChimp, a popular e-mail-newsletter platform, is in the process of integrating Facebook "like" buttons to campaigns. This will provide marketers with detailed analytics that reveal how many and who clicks on "like" and whether they progressed down the funnel toward a sale, thereby increasing overall accountability.

  • Flowtown and Rapleaf, meanwhile, are taking the opposite approach by helping marketers understand the social connectivity and influence of existing members in their online databases. Flowtown has an e-mail-campaign-management system that integrates with many of the larger platforms, as well as an array of powerful insights tools.

As more marketers apply analytics across the entire marketing spectrum (online and offline) and tap into tools like the ones mentioned above, the mentality will change from reach to relationships. In the process, both e-mail and social-media marketing may gain, but what's clear is that the two are increasingly made for each other.


Presentation: Six Digital Trends to Watch

One of the best aspects of my job is that I get to learn from incredibly smart people. Working for Edelman is like playing for the Yankees. Richard Edelman has an approach to talent that in some ways resembles the late George Steinbrenner (not the Howie Spira side of George, but the good side). The firm consistently attracts all-stars to the team and puts them in a great position to succeed. The result is that every day I get to hit the field with pros like Mike Slaby or Richard Sambrook or Carol Cone - it's all very inspiring. 

One of these people is David Armano - who I work very closely with - and we recently tag-teamed on this presentation on six trends to watch. For more head over to David's blog. As always, we're eager to hear your thoughts.


Tip: Tweetify the Lead of Your Emails

In this age of information abundance, we all get a little too much email. It's highly likely that - thanks to the message preview function - your recipient will make a decision about what to do with that message before he/she even opens it. This means that the first few characters of your note are essential. You got to hook 'em or they be gone.

Here's a little tip I am going to try - don't bury the lead. Instead, Tweetify it! Here's why...

Most email systems preview the first 50-75 characters of an email. Therefore, to be heard, you increasingly need to write your first sentence like a tweet - or more like half a tweet. Skip openers that start with "my name is" and get some of the meat in your first sentence. It will increase the likelihood that your reader will get further into your note.

Here's a good example. Brett Kelly, whom I have never corresponded with before, sent me a brief note about his new eBook on Evernote called Evernote Essentials. He made the point right up front, which piqued my interest and encouraged me to read on further. 

It doesn't matter if you're trying to reach a CEO or a friend, the model works. To practice, head over to this site and write your first sentence there. Then come back to your email client. Your recipient will thank you.

Disclosure: Brett sent me a free unsolicited copy of his ebook, which is valued at $25.