Talking Shop about Disasters and Technology at SXSW 2014

Mar 11

A Perfect Storm

The Insurance Information Institute (III) joined with the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH), the Red Cross, and the National Weather Service (NWS) at SXSW Interactive Festival to talk shop about how technology is helping them improve how they engage with and support consumers to prepare better and respond to disasters.

With hundreds of panels, sessions, and events at SXSW focused on engagement, new technology (can you say wearables!) and social good and innovation across many topic areas, there were only a handful of sessions I saw that focused on crisis and disaster communications. Kudos to the III for leading the conversation on Saturday, March 8th.

Those attending were very interested in learning how leading organizations, such as the NWS and Red Cross, are thinking about the use of technology during disasters. Many were volunteers in their local communities or supported community programs to alert residents in times of crisis. Check out my synopsis of the session on our ogilvydo blog.

Do Health and Happiness Go Hand in Hand?

Feb 21

Two nights ago my husband and I stumbled across a growing viral challenge called 100happydays.  Simply put, the challenge draws attention to the fact that in our state of busy schedules and constant connection to communication (e.g., Facebook, Twitter), we as a society are taking less and less time to enjoy the moment, appreciate the joy, and bask in the happiness of life.

As such, the challenge is asking people to commit to 100happydays.  For 100 days, we are to reflect on one thing each day that makes up happy and share a picture that represents that moment of happiness, thus hopefully creating a habit of “stopping to smell the roses.” People who’ve successfully completed the challenge have claimed to: (1) now recognize what makes them happy, (2) be in a better mood, (3) feel grateful for the blessing in their lives, and (4) become more optimistic about life in general.

Well what doesn’t sound good about that? Sign us up!

So we officially started #100happydays!  And in pausing to reflect on my moment of happiness from today (which happens to be playing ball with my Labrador puppy this morning), I got to thinking…if all of these positive emotions result from reflecting on happiness, I wonder what other health benefits might result? Is there a link a between health and happiness? Could state of mind equal state of body?

Apparently yes! According to a research study from Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), benefits of positive mental health go a long way.  In a 2007 study, that followed more than 6,000 men and women aged 25 to 74 for 20 years, Laura Kubzanksy (HSPH associate professor of society, human development, and health) found that “emotional vitality—a sense of enthusiasm, of hopefulness, of engagement in life, and the ability to face life’s stresses with emotional balance—appears to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.”  However, Kubzansky is quick to recognize that it’s not a simple as “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” and notes that social context and environments also play a large role in a person’s ability to get to state of well-being.

According to another study published in the journal Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being in 2011, a review of more than 160 studies of human and animal subjects found that — all else being equal — happy people tend to live longer and experience better health than their unhappy peers.

So how do we achieve happiness? Aside from this 100happydays challenge, how do we really learn to live in the moment?

Matt Killingsworth’s TEDTalk shares insights as to what influences happiness, which was garnered from his research on happiness levels in more than 600,000 people. The video offers helpful ways to be mindful of your own happiness.

Another interesting result of the 100happydays – happiness is contagious! Sharing your happiness and optimism with others increases the probability that others around you will be happier.  So I challenge everyone to participate in 100happydays. Let’s see what we can accomplish for both our mental and physical health, as well as for society, by simply pausing each day to take a photo and reflect on a single happy moment. What are you waiting for? Stop reading. Start finding your happy.

Could a rebranding campaign have saved Swampoodle?

Feb 19

Swampoodle.

A rare breed of dog? Try again.

A trendy new restaurant serving swampy noodles? Nope.

I discovered Swampoodle one evening while consulting Google Maps. There in big letters just north of Union Station – “Swampoodle.” It turns out Swampoodle was a neighborhood of Irish immigrants that developed in DC in the second half of the 19th century.  The moniker can be attributed to the numerous swamps and puddles that resulted in the neighborhood when the nearby Tiber Creek overflowed. Swampoodle saw its demise in the early 20th century with the construction of Union Station.

I’ll just put it out there: Swampoodle is a horrible name for a neighborhood. Nothing about it evokes pride or possibility. In fact, according to Wikipedia, it had a “reputation for being a lawless shantytown, where crime, prostitution, and drunkenness were rife.”

(Side note: Why Google Maps includes a neighborhood that disappeared nearly 100 years before the technology was created should be the subject of another blog post.)

Could a rebranding campaign have saved Swampoodle? With a revamped identity, could the residents of Swampoodle—or any modern American neighborhood—have gained a fresh perspective on their surroundings and thus themselves? A new name, slogan, or logo alone can’t restore a neighborhood or community, but they may just provide a rallying point to attract and mobilize change.

Urban rebranding is often driven by economic forces like tourism and real estate, which require a city or neighborhood to distance itself from an older, negative reputation to increase prestige. But there is also opportunity for branding to influence the culture of a neighborhood or city to change behaviors that positively affect morbidity and mortality, the environment, crime rates, etc.

The “I <3 NY” campaign (reviewed in a January 2013 GOOD blog post written by Lee-Sean Huang) is a great example of how branding can positively affect a city:

Milton Glaser’s famous “I Love New York” logo launched in 1977, a time when New York City was nearly bankrupt, business was suffering (or leaving), and crime was rampant. Glaser created the logo pro bono for the NY State Department of Commerce to promote tourism. Since the logo launched it has helped attract millions of tourists a year to the state and generates over $30 million a year in merchandise royalties. New York has also become the safest big city in America.

While branding can help attract tourism or investment, the impact of Glaser’s “I Love New York” was not merely economic, but also cultural. The campaign helped change New Yorkers’ perceptions of their city by focusing on the positive during a challenging time to spark a sense of pride and ownership, which in turn, translated into the political will to take action. Robert McGuire, police commissioner for NYC from 1978 to 1983, explained, “You don’t think of a logo as a catalyst for the restoration of a city, but in many ways, without that slogan, the turnaround in New York’s fortunes wouldn’t have been achieved so quickly.”

Today, the neighborhood formerly known as Swampoodle goes by “NoMa” (which stands for “North of Massachusetts Avenue”) and is one of the city’s fastest growing neighborhoods. It is not the most creative name, but following in the footsteps of neighborhoods like New York’s Soho and Tribeca, it certainly has a nicer ring to it than Swampoodle.

What regions, cities, or neighborhoods do you think could benefit from rebranding? Share your ideas or examples of successful rebranding efforts in the comments below.

Also, if you want to read more about Swampoodle’s colorful history, check out this entry from Ghosts of DC, which includes an excerpt from a Washington Post article about some of the neighborhood miscreants.

Super Bowl and the Second Screen: 4 Tips for Social Marketers

Feb 06

A year ago, Oreo set a new standard for real time marketing during the 2013 Super Bowl. One power outage and one tweet was all it took for their brand to swiftly become what everyone was talking about – even without a $4 million dollar ad buy. This year, companies talked up their social media “war rooms” that featured employees on call, with their fingertips constantly hovering above keyboards, waiting to strike when their moment of cleverness and relevance crossed paths. What were the results? In my eyes, very little.

JC Penney was #TweetingWithMittens. Hillary Clinton tweeted a right hook at FOX. Butterfinger chimed in on the safety that started off the game. But other than that, it seems as if Oreo pulled off a Twitter heist that transitioned real time marketing into a norm, inspiring social media engagement that almost felt forced one year later.

Have we come so far away from the authentic wit of a community manager that we have to incentivize with $1.5 million just to get our hashtag trending? I admit, although I did tweet #EsuranceSave30, and have a special place in my heart for John Krasinski, it did leave an artificial taste in my mouth.

As social marketers, it’s just as important to take advantage of these real time opportunities as it is for commercial brands. A prime example of this is how Pharrell’s hat at the Grammy’s inspired tweets by Smokey Bear. When Smokey’s social media agency, HelpsGood, saw the conversation growing regarding the likeness of the two hats, they took full advantage of this cross-section of pop culture and social marketing.

So how can we anticipate these moments during the Big Game, or similar events, to join the conversation while still feeling authentic?

  1. Take advantage of the event before, during, and after. Depending on the mission of your organization or client, there are ways to provide social marketing messaging beyond the run of the clock. Knowing that the majority of Americans are whipping up their favorite (albeit, unhealthy) snack for the game, tweet healthy alternatives. After the game, share messages about recycling. And heaven forbid there’s another power outage, why not share emergency preparedness tips?
  2. React to conversation that already exists. With Twitter timelines filling with feedback after each commercial, contribute in a way that’s relevant to your cause. For example, colleagues and I joked over Twitter regarding the food safety of the Chobani ad, a topic that we often touch on for one of our clients. How long had that yogurt been sitting out on the un-refrigerated shelf before the bear got to it?
  3. Converse with other organizations and followers, not just at. Some of the best real time marketing from this year came from organizations engaging with one another (see Tide’s reaction Vines). When relevant, promote your partners and engage with other brands. Similarly, responding directly to mentions indicates your organizations investment in its followers.
  4. Know your audience. Invest your resources on the platform that works best for your audience, at the times where they would most likely chime in. If you’re trying to reach your typical American mom, she’s probably more likely to be checking her social channels following the Goldie Blox commercial versus the Maserati commercial.

That being said, never underestimate the importance of good old spontaneity. Happy tweeting, everyone!

Vaccines: Is Success in Preventing Diseases Making it Harder to Take Action

Jan 27

As a new mom, I have to admit one of the harder things I’ve had to do was hold my son as he received his first set of vaccinations (and subsequent vaccinations) – to see the surprise on his face and then the tears were enough to bring this momma nearly to tears herself. But we hugged it out, and both of us were on to laughing and playing minutes later. I spent a lot of time reading about vaccinations while I was pregnant and in the first several months of motherhood, and there is a lot out there – do it or not do it? Are they safe? When should you do it? Should you space them out more than is typically recommended? Should you do separate vaccinations or are the grouped shots ok? There seem to be as many questions as answers. But despite the many questions I had about vaccines, I never questioned whether I would give them to my son. I’ve seen the effects of polio for my cousin who had the disease as a young child, and I know the great harm that can result. Rather, my questions stem from what happens to a public health imperative when the perceived risk seems to be fading.

I am fortunate to be raising my son in a world where many health risks no longer exist because we have been successful in eradicating the disease. We’ve moved from a model of intervention (for the most part and in some parts of the world) with these diseases that are inoculated through vaccinations to prevention. But as the perceived risk has declined, so has the urgency to take action. When we have the opportunity for not worrying about an impending outbreak, many start to consider whether the disadvantages (time, money, pain, side effects) outweigh the benefits (immunity). Recently, the Council on Foreign Relations released an interactive map illustrating vaccine-preventable outbreaks from 2006 to the present. It’s a striking visual look at the decision to decline vaccinations and that ripple effect.

This is not a phenomenon that is isolated to vaccinations; in fact this is almost an evergreen topic. For example, applying it to food – when food is abundant, we can be selective about what kind of food we want to eat, the ingredients, the processing, and the packaging. And we can focus on preventing or avoiding perceived risks. But when food is not abundant, the concern shifts more to getting food, no matter what kind.

As a social marketer, this is a dilemma that we do, and will, face in perpetuity. As we start to make progress against public health crises – whether that be through vaccinations, food security, or even violence prevention – and as we continue to shift our thinking and our policies towards prevention from intervention, I leave you with these questions: how do we continue to make progress? Are responses to public health crises cyclical, tied to time and space? Are we destined for a 2-steps-forward-1-step-back model? How does success change when we’re talking about intervention versus prevention? What are your thoughts?

4 Tips for Managing the Drop in Organic Reach on Facebook with a Small Budget

Jan 10

Have you noticed a change in your Facebook organic reach over the last few weeks?   If so, you’re not alone. Last month, Facebook tweaked their algorithm to focus on “high-quality content.” While traditional news outlets are seeing 69% jumps in referral traffic from Facebook, brands, small businesses, nonprofit and government organizations are seeing much smaller organic reach to their Facebook pages, about 44% since December 1.

Facebook said the reason behind the algorithm change was to display only the most engaging content in the Newsfeed in order to keep people coming back to the site over and over again. While they don’t mention it, one could speculate that profit is also a big reason for switching the algorithm. Facebook understands how powerful their site can be as a marketing tool, and now that people are convinced of the power of social media marketing, they are ready to make more money from the countless companies and organizations that use their site to communicate with their customers and constituents.

This decrease in organic reach has huge implications for all organizations with Pages on Facebook. It means that advertising on Facebook is becoming essential to reaching your existing as well as new fans. But what do you do if you are a nonprofit or government organization with no budget for paid promotion?

1. Create Engaging Content: Make sure your Facebook content is resonating with your audience and garners likes, clicks, comments, and shares with a focus on the latter since the Facebook algorithm weights comments and shares most highly.  Look at your last month of posts to identify trends in what your fans are interested in and see how you can build on that success. Your organic reach will naturally climb if you’re content is resonating with your fan base.

Looking for new ideas? You can increase your engagement rate by creating posts with pictures and video, hosting Facebook Chats that encourage commenting, and creating series of posts that engage the user (e.g., trivia or “day in the life” posts).

2. Diversify your Social Platforms: Don’t put all your eggs in Facebook’s basket. Think about other platforms like Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn, etc. that can help connect you to your audiences. These platforms may also eventually change their policies to make advertising essential to getting your message out, but for now this is a free option.

3. Make the Case for Paid Media Support: If Facebook is an important platform for your audience and there is no where else to reach them, then you need to make the case for paid media within your organization’s leadership. Facebook offers cost-effective options (think $200-500) for promoting a post to the very specific audience that you need to reach. You don’t need a huge budget to make an impact with Facebook Sponsored Stories. When looking at 2014 planning, see where paid media can fit in.

4. Weigh the Cost/Benefits of Participation on Facebook: If your organization can simply not afford or is not allowed to do Facebook advertising then it’s important to consider the costs vs. benefits of having a Page at all. Is your reach and engagement enough to justify the time and effort you spend creating content for the Page? We especially caution creating new Pages if there is not a plan for advertising support.

How is your agency or organization planning to deal with the drop in organic reach? What strategies are you recommending to your clients?

Faith: A Foolish Notion, or Something You’ve Got To Have?

Oct 24

faith noun \ˈfāth\
: strong belief or trust in someone or something
: belief in the existence of God : strong religious feelings or beliefs
: a system of religious beliefs

Sitting in the pews of the historic sanctuary at Sixth & I last week, it shouldn’t have surprised me that the concept of faith played so prominently in Malcolm Gladwell’s talk about his new book David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. Heck, the title of the book references one of the bible’s most well-known stories.

But I was surprised. The way I understood it, the book explores the struggle of underdogs vs. favorites and the notion that adversity can be an advantage in disguise. Fascinating. But faith? How did that fit in? Within the first five minutes, Gladwell offered his theory on the science of success, declaring that faith and the spirit of the Lord are critical to the triumph of any “David.” And without these key components, one cannot overcome “Goliath.”

This is uncomfortable territory for me. Religion and faith did not play a prominent role in my upbringing. In the age-old science vs. faith debate, I’m squarely in science’s corner. For some I realize that a belief in science and faith are not necessarily mutually exclusive, so I was curious. Admittedly, I have always been intrigued by people who, after overcoming a particularly rough time, can say “my faith got me through it,” or in the eloquent wisdom of Martin Luther King, Jr., “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”

Lovely words, but I wanted to see the proverbial staircase before I took that first step. And I was hoping that Gladwell’s remarkable ability to deconstruct complex psychological and sociological phenomena through powerful storytelling would somehow make the concept of faith more accessible to me (now that he had brought it up).

Gladwell called out two stories in his book as shining examples of faith’s essential role in overcoming the odds to achieve greatness. He explained that the people in these stories were able to perform acts of courage because they came from godly traditions. Read the rest of this entry »

#Mamming: Memes for Good

Oct 23

I started off my week with a delicious doughnut (everything in moderation!) and a discussion of #shutdownpickuplines, #300feministsandwiches, and Scarlett Johansson falling. Why you ask? Our office gathers once a month for KreMEME Monday to share the latest memes, discuss why they trended, and see how we can learn from these Internet unicorns.

As social marketers, it’s important to make sure the tactics we implement are not only based in theory and tied to our strategy, but also relevant. Enter: #Mamming. Breast cancer survivor Michelle Lamont and her friend Michele Jaret decided to riff off of #planking, and created #Mamming (the act of laying your (clothed) boobs on a flat surface). As ThisIsMamming.com explains:

#Mamming is a chance for all of us to show solidarity with the millions of women getting mammograms this Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Because when a woman reaches a certain age, doctors recommend that she get a mammogram to screen for the disease, and the procedure involves laying her boobs on the machine’s flat surface. It’s awkward. But it can save her life. Because when breast cancer is caught early, over 90% of women beat it. So let’s all embrace the awkwardness of mammograms and inspire more women to mam where it counts: at the doctor’s office.

If you’re more of a visual person, you can watch the #Mamming video to fully understand.

So why does #mamming work?

It makes light of a hurdle to breast cancer screening. I’ve heard countless times how uncomfortable and borderline painful mammograms can be. This message will continue to be reinforced as I get older and it certainly isn’t going to motivate me to schedule that mammogram. #Mamming provides clever social proof by embracing the awkwardness of a mammogram and making it seem like no big deal. If all these people can lay their boobs on tables, benches, or even a piano, what’s stopping me from mamming at the doctor’s office?

The ask is simple. From the social media perspective, what they’re asking people to do is easy: share a picture of yourself, anywhere, doing X or in this case, a picture of you, laying your (clothed) boobs on a flat surface. There’s no hoops to jump through here. Just a picture and a hashtag and you’ve helped to raise awareness for breast cancer screening.

The next time you have a brainstorm or are working on a program plan, remember, that social marketing can and sould have fun. Whether it’s coming up with something original or joining in on a relevant trend, creative content, like memes, can go a long way to raise awareness with the ultimate goal of prompting action.

Now, it’s time to get mamming. If you’re a guy or gal, under the age of 50, do it on Instagram. If you’re a lady, over the age of 50, give your doctor a call and mam away.

An App that Changes the World? Tell me more.

Oct 03

We created a culture that loves to share.  We inundate social media with daily updates, political rants, pics of delicious food, and sometimes we err on the side oversharing.  In turn, we have less of an online filter.

What happens when we take this phenomenon and use it for social good?

mPowering Action platform and mobile app, launched earlier this year, allows users to share stories and convey what global issues they care about most.  As a tradeoff, users can access exclusive content from their favorite celebrities.  The app targets youth under the age of 25.

I can’t help but get excited about this app-ortunity.  Matt Petronzio, Mashable social good writer, immediately captures your attention in his article, “The App That Will Make Sustainable Energy Cool.”  Since we are in the business of social change, we are tasked with engaging American consumers to change their lives for good.  Why not connect with youth interested in our cause?

This past Sunday, a 16-year old girl hosted an Ovarian Cancer Awareness Day at a local hospital which included guest speakers, survivors, and educational awareness materials.  I was thoroughly impressed with her interest, organization skills, and overall ability to pull together such an elaborate event.

It makes me wonder what other youth can produce now that they have the ability to get involved with global issues they are passionate about.

If you or someone you know is interested in getting involved, the mPowering Action platform will match and connect goodwill organizations with youth interested in their mission.  To get your organization connected all you need to do is fill out a short questionnaire.

New Beginnings

Sep 20

“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, I will try again tomorrow.” – Mary Anne Radmacher

As a member of the Social Change Marketing practice, we work for clients, campaigns, programs, and initiatives that strive towards the goal of behavior change. In short, we aspire for people to embark on new beginnings—a conscious or subconscious decision to think about things a little differently or a little clearer. To reframe. To refresh.

I don’t mean to imply that suddenly, as in a cartoon, we have an epiphany moment where the light bulb goes on and we say “ah ha!” In reality, it is gradual yet iterative changes that develop into new beginnings—whether the end goal is to lead a healthier lifestyle, practice financially conscious decisions, or to be free of mental impediments. This was beautifully illustrated in a video I saw this week entitled, “New Beginnings.”

Filmed at sunrise on the 57th floor terrace of Four World Trade Center in lower Manhattan, “New Beginnings” features New York City Ballet (NYCB) principal dancers Maria Kowroski and Ask LaCour in Christopher Wheeldon’s pas de deux After the Rain. The video was posted by NYCB at sunrise on September 12, 2013.

A man and a woman stand tall—strong pillars against the wind whistling around them. As the music begins, cascading like falling raindrops, the couple begins to sway. Their effortless movements are synchronized and grounded. While they mirror each other, their rhythm mimics the melody of the music. And like a lullaby the simple and repetitive score supports and propels them into motion. As their hands touch for the first time and they look out at One World Trade Center, their bodies separate, exploring the intricacies of the sparse yet fluid music.

Despite its title, the choreography (and music) lacks any [new] beginnings (or ends). One movement flows into the next as the dancers seamlessly skim the surface of the skyscraper’s terrace. Indeed there is something otherworldly about the score and the dancers that evoke a sense of tenderness, and perhaps even sadness.

[“New Beginnings”] is a “testament to the resilience of the human spirit, and a tribute to the future of the city that New York City Ballet calls home,” articulates NYCB Ballet Master in Chief Peter Martins. “New Beginnings” is sparse. Simple. And painfully beautiful. And even without a storyline, it takes you on an incredible journey of change.

“Courage doesn’t always roar” and changes of behavior and perception don’t happen overnight. It’s not about a giant leap or a huge lift. It’s about repetition and intention, about thinking clearly and understanding where you want to be. And having someone there to support you; to guide you. So that at the end of day you have the strength and the courage to try again tomorrow. And to keep trying to be better, to live better than you did the day before.