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Playing Favorites

They say parents aren’t supposed to pick a favorite child. In my time working for Expect More Arizona, I have helped create countless projects to engage Arizonans in supporting education. I am proud of a lot of that work… but, I have a clear favorite.

In March of 2014, we launched TodayInAZ.org to provide parents and other concerned Arizonans one simple action they can take to support teachers and students. In the last year, I have created and designed at least 5 unique actions a week (with no end in sight for the campaign). The Today actions have increased our following and engagement on social media exponentially, building momentum and support in all areas of our work.

I LOVE this campaign dearly. But, it isn’t exactly my favorite.

Today Arts & Culture AdWe don’t want parents to have to visit Expect More Arizona’s website or social media pages in order to find us. We want to disrupt them in their daily lives, and provide these actions to families in their natural habitats. We are now able to do that, thanks to some new partnerships with arts & culture organizations across the state.

So, my favorite child is an offshoot of the Today campaign that combines my two deepest passions: the arts & education. Now, when parents visit any of 24 amazing arts & culture destinations in Arizona, they are given a worksheet with 5 simple actions they can do with their child Today.

The worksheets are available at the locations or parents can download them at TodayInAZ.org/Activities. Plus, if they take a photo of one of these activities, they can upload it to the site for a chance to win tickets to another of the arts & culture destinations.

So, if you have kids, you don’t need to pick a favorite. Gather them up, head out on an adventure, pick up a worksheet and enjoy my favorite project… Today!

Excellence Tour for Web

I’m very proud to have helped launch The Expect More Excellence Tour for my longtime client, Expect More Arizona. The Excellence Tour is a portal to see and share excellence in education across Arizona. Although we know there is still a long way to go before we see the type of world-class education Arizona’s students deserve, it is important to recognize and celebrate the models of excellence in our state. This reminds us that not only is excellence possible here, it is already happening across our state right now. Now, we must demand that excellence for all of Arizona’s students.

There are just a few highlights about the site I want to point out, and then I encourage you to visit, vote, and share.

  • A Google map is embedded where you can visit different areas in Arizona to see local submissions.
  • A “Thumbs Up” ticker on the map measures engagement with each example of excellence submission. It’s fun to watch those numbers climb throughout the day.
  • Each submission has its own unique URL, with buttons to share that page via Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and e-mail.
  • Visitors can vote for their favorite videos, encouraging submitters to utilize their networks (and their networks’ networks, and so on) to share their submission. You can only vote for a video one time per day, to encourage repeat visitors.
  • The user-generated content gives participants ownership of the site, and the friendly competition gives them a vested interest in driving traffic.

But, mostly, in an environment that often focuses on the negative, this is a nice way to stop and acknowledge great work that is happening in an increasingly challenging arena. It’s a way to say thank you to those who are expecting more of themselves and raising the bar for education in Arizona. And, personally, I don’t think we can say thank you enough.

Please visit The Expect More Excellence Tour to see the submissions and nominate your own!

 

I was very excited to be selected to be one of Gammage Theatre’s “Gammage Goers” for the 2011-2012 season. In this program, they harness the power of theatre goers’ online networks to spread word of mouth about current productions. They gain not only the exponential reach of the Goers’ networks, but the added benefit of a review seen as more credible coming from a family member or friend. The shows I was selected to review this year are West Side Story, Green Day’s American Idiot, and La Cage Aux Folles.

One of the questions I asked the panel when I interviewed to be a Gammage Goer was, “What happens if I don’t like a show?” (hoping the question wouldn’t immediately eliminate me). They wisely responded that having an honest, negative review only adds credibility to the program. So, it’s a good thing they feel that way, because I didn’t love this cast of West Side Story. As much as I wanted to like Uof A grad Kyle Harris as Tony, I just didn’t. I had seen him in Hair a couple of years ago, and thought he was great. To me, his voice doesn’t fit this role and his broad portrayal was distracting. The rest of the cast was good, but nobody blew me away.

I did, however, in my immediate post-show video interview, want to focus on some of the positive as well. So, as you’ll hear in my interview, I believe that seeing a production of West Side Story is important context for understanding the groundwork that was laid for the Broadway musical to evolve.  Anymore, it seem like every show likes to tout that it “Redefines musical theatre.” West Side Story made that possible. Arthur Laurents, author of the musical’s book, said, “I thought maybe it would run for three months. I didn’t care. It was so not what a musical should be.”

Here’s my immediate reaction:

I should point out that my opinion of the cast was not shared by The Arizona Republic or my fellow Gammage Goers. For tickets and information, click here.

(Disclaimer: Tickets to the show for myself and my wife were complimentary in exchange for my participation in the Gammage Goers program. As I mentioned, they in no way influenced my response.)

This past weekend, I had the privilege of attending The US Open at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, MD with my brother. But, you’ll have to take my word for it, because I can’t prove I was there. The closest thing I have to a photo of myself at The Open is this picture of Rory McIlroy’s ridiculous shot on the 10th tee. See Rory’s left shoulder? It’s pointing to where we were sitting, about a pitching wedge away from him. I was unable to capture any moment of the tournament, and, regrettably, unable to share the experience with my friends as it happened.

Even though the PGA changed its cell phone policy earlier this year to allow mobile devices at tournaments, the USGA did not follow suit. Now, I can sympathize with professional golfers who don’t want the unwanted distraction of a “Baby Got Back” ring tone during their backswing – I’m constantly battling the unwanted distraction of sucking at golf during my backswing – but I believe trying to enforce a “turn-your-devices-to-silent” policy during tournaments will be worth the reward. This is a battle that stage actors, teachers, museum staff, movie theatre managers, and more have been battling for a couple of decades, and while it’s not a perfect system, people usually do the right thing out of respect for the venue, the event, and the people around them.

Let’s face it; golfers make a fairytale living based on ratings and attendance. Yes, they are paid by sponsors (those on their shirts and those who sign the winners’ checks), but those sponsors are motivated by the awareness and brand loyalty their sponsorship brings. In this age of the social web, prohibiting on-location online word of mouth doesn’t do any favors to the sponsors, the players, the fans, or the USGA. Let’s look at why:

Ratings: Not everyone’s life revolves around watching major golf tournaments. If I “check-in” on Facebook or Foursquare (unlikely) or post a picture of myself while at the tournament, a few people might tune in. Some might have forgotten it was happening, and my post is a subtle reminder to watch. Or, even more likely, a few friends and family might turn on the tournament for a while to try to catch a glimpse of someone they know in the crowd. True, I may only convert a handful of viewers, but it is estimated that 229,574 attended this US Open. Guess how many of them have smart phones and a few hundred Facebook friends.

Future Attendance: For a golf fan, like myself, being at the US Open is a pretty incredible experience. Other enthusiasts who, in a small way, live vicariously through attendees’ online exhibitionism may start planning a trip to The US Open in San Francisco next year.

Interactivity: As cool as it is to watch golf history unfold, it can be pretty difficult to watch a golf tournament live and follow all the action. Unlike watching football or baseball live, you lose all context watching golf in person. All you can see is an individual shot or putt, and not how the drama is unfolding across the course. The US Open has a pretty cool iPhone app, but imagine how an application could be developed to improve the fan experience with video and updates from the tournament. Plus, social media integration in the app could encourage and increase the various types of sharing described above.

The USGA ran the tournament smoothly, managing capacity crowds, keeping the grounds in great shape for players and spectators, and, most importantly, offering a delicious Maryland crab cake sandwich at the concession stand. Now, to follow in the footsteps of Rory McIlroy and take their game to a dominating new level, they should embrace new technologies to help increase visibility and generate more word of mouth.

Expect More Arizona, which I’m not ashamed to call my favorite client, launched a new campaign today, designed to help Arizonans make and keep a New Years resolution to expect more and do more for education. Below is the e-mail sent from Expect More Arizona.

Check out the site, and please use the easy links to share on Facebook and Twitter to help encourage all of your friends and family to resolve to expect more and do more for education in 2011.

If the witches and wizards in Harry Potter had a magazine, it would probably look a lot like Sir Richard Branson’s new Project. The iPad-only magazine brings a science fiction level of interactivity to a once inanimate medium. Opening the inaugural issue on your iPad, a well-designed, seemingly traditional magazine cover comes to life (see video below).

From there on, every page turn (or swipe) reveals a surprising new interactivity. An article on upcoming cable TV series allows you to watch previews of each show. While reading about an innovative French record label, you can simply tap a band’s photo to listen to a sample music track. Looking for things to do in Tokyo? Project not only gives you insiders’ tips on some of the best locations, it takes you on a 3D walking tour of the city to get there. Even Project’s only advertisement, for Lexus, has slick functionality.

A concept like this can’t survive on flashy programming alone. This issue provides satisfying content, access to updated and current information, and a promise of a second issue before Christmas. Project is available for download from iTunes app store for free. You then can purchase the issue for $2.99, which will be billed to your iTunes account.

In early May of this year it rained in Tennessee. A lot. The record-breaking rain devastated the area and claimed 21 lives in the state. Businesses and homes were damaged and closed due to flooding, including the historic Grand Ole Opry. Right next door, Opry Mills Mall was underwater in every one of its 1.2 million square feet. Closed to rebuild, the mall needed a way to stay connected with its customers and evangelists until it can open its doors again.

A visit to the mall’s Web site encourages visitors to stay connected through its Facebook page, promising progress reports on the reconstruction. Lynn Kittel, Opry Mills’ 
Director of Marketing, turned to the social networking site as a way to keep in touch with customers, and even she has been pleasantly surprised with the response.  “People usually just think of a mall as bricks and mortar,” she told me on a recent phone conversation, “but this experience with Facebook reinforces that it is so much more than that.” Kittel explains that many of their visitors have emotional connections to the mall and use the page to express how much they miss being able to visit.

Before the flood, Opry Mills had around 1,400 followers on Facebook. That number has swelled to 8,476 (and counting) as of the posting of this blog. Fans post questions and comments regularly, asking which stores will return, requesting photos of their favorite stores, and seeking construction updates and timelines. Kittel responds promptly and always honestly, “We’ll tell you the truth. If I don’t have an answer, I’ll find out and get back to you.” She’s also been able to combat rumors and misinformation (including a story that piranhas had escaped from an indoor aquarium and were “running amuck in the mall”). She doesn’t delete the infrequent negative comment; in fact, she says that “most of the time, our other friends on the page come to our defense in full force.”

The mall posts videos and pictures of the destruction and reconstruction, generating enthusiastic responses such as: “Awww…makes me miss it so much” and “I might have a few tears of joy over this!!” The posts are never written in “marketing-speak,” and often have a touch of humor. Responses to questions and concerns are compassionate and personal.

Kittel understands intuitively what I constantly preach: Social media is not about “marketing,” but about building relationships, listening and responding. Opry Mills wants to keep its fans engaged with the process, and even solicits input from Facebook followers on what they would like the mall to become as they rebuild. “One of our posts that received the most responses was when I asked what kinds of restaurants they wanted in the food court.” By doing this, Opry Mills invites its base to take a vested interest in the mall; in turn, they will take more interest in its success and likely be more active to share items from or about the mall, and more responsive to specific requests from the mall to help spread the word. I’m anxious to see what impact Kittel’s social media outreach has on the success of the mall, and I look forward to following the grand reopening on Facebook.

A recent post on the Opry Mills’ Facebook page posed this question: “What weighs 4,000 pounds and had to be loaded into the mall with a helicopter?” You’ll have to visit their page for the answer.

Disclosure: My brother is an executive with Simon Properties, overseeing all of the Mills Malls. However, that’s simply the reason Opry Mills’ Facebook page was on my radar, and not why I’m using it as an example.

As the Mayor of 25 places nationwide, I think I’ve earned the right to question the value of foursquare. As someone who uses social media quite often as a tool to help clients generate word of mouth, I feel it is my responsibility to engage in and understand new media (especially when it was touted as being the next “mainstream hit”). I started using foursquare seven months ago, hoping to be ahead of the curve when it caught on. I’ve been using it pretty diligently, but I’m still not sold on its significance.

Recently, I found that a good friend of mine was on my heels in the week’s foursquare points race (this was the first time anyone had come close to my points total). I let her know that I felt her creeping up behind me, and that I was planning to step up my game to beat her. She replied that she was up to the challenge and even went on to mock the fact that my being Mayor of “Bed, Bath, & Beyond” ought to deprive me of my man card. The exchange went back and forth for a while about our competition on foursquare. Here’s the important part… the entire exchange was conducted via text message, and not through any social feature provided by foursquare.

And, therein lies my biggest problem with the site. It seems to fall under the category of “Social Media,” but there’s almost nothing social about it. There’s no way to actually interact with each other, short of looking up where a friend is at that moment and immediately going to the same venue (Can you say restraining order?). It is all about ME, ME, ME! As I’ve written time and again on this blog, social media should be about relationships and conversation, meaning not only talking, but listening and responding too. It should be about US, US, US!

Now, let me point out a few caveats to my dismay about foursquare. First, I live in Phoenix, a city where it hasn’t caught on and isn’t used as widely (seriously, I only checked in at “Bed, Bath, & Beyond” a couple of times, I swear). In New York and San Francisco, for example, I hear it is much more common. Also, I do see value for those marketing products (particularly retail). Foursquare allows you to engage with potential customers when they are geographically near, and make them an offer right on the spot to either draw them in from a location nearby or to encourage a purchase while they are there. Plus, the possibility of becoming the Mayor of a venue (for having checked in at that location more than anyone else) encourages repeat traffic.

Foursquare’s biggest worry doesn’t come from this blog post, of course. Its popularity will be threatened by sites like Twitter and Facebook incorporating their own location-based features into their existing sites.

As a marketer, I feel like, after 7 months, I get it. I don’t need to test or explore it any further. If a client asks me about foursquare and how it could be useful to their organization, I can intelligently explain the uses and benefits. As a person who uses social media as a way to connect, however, I’m completely bored with foursquare. So, I’m going to take a hiatus. I’m not sure if I’ll come back, but if I do it will be because of changes that make it more social and unique from experiences I can get from any other site.

If taking a break from foursquare means I run the risk of losing the title of Mayor of Thrifty Rental Car in San Jose, so be it.

It’s probably a golden rule for marketers to not choose favorites, but, if you know me, it’s no secret that Expect More Arizona is easily my favorite client. It’s not just the amazing people I get to work with (from the Board on down to my colleagues I drive all over the state with) or the really cool work I get the freedom to do, but to believe so firmly in the organization’s mission and to get to contribute to its success continues to be rewarding on a daily basis.

This year, we’re taking our message up several notches with a non-partisan campaign designed to make education the top priority in this year’s elections. With that in mind, last week we launched the “Vote 4 Education” campaign. You should start to see the signs and other materials pop up in communities across Arizona any day now. And, definitely, visit the Expect More Arizona web site to read the 4 questions and 4 actions to help you Vote 4 Education.

But, one part of the campaign that I’m really excited about is the Voter Resource Center. Here, we’re trying to make it really easy for people to share the campaign materials, both online and off. We’ve included all the campaign materials that you can download and print, and we’ve supplied widgets and images so anyone can embed campaign images on their web site or blog (as seen in this post). We also provide images that we’re encouraging friends to use as their social media profile pictures

Expect More Arizona and the “Vote 4 Education” have the potential to make a significant change in a struggling Arizona. Education must be a priority now. We can’t wait to fix education until after we fix our economy. Education – building a stronger workforce, creating an education system that will attract new businesses and top talent, instead of deterring them – is the key to restoring our economy. So, join me in voting 4 education, beginning by voting Yes on 100 on May 18.

Sign up at ExpectMoreArizona.org and connect with the organization on Facebook and Twitter.

The jury is still out, but I think I’m going to give Facebook a thumbs up for changing from the Fan Page to allowing users to  “Like” a page. Here’s why… In the past, I’ve had clients who were uncomfortable asking people to become a “fan” of their organization or their work. The semantic change might help these clients and others feel a little more comfortable with building relationships through Facebook without sounding too self-serving or cocky.

That’s my initial impression. What do you think?

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