Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Georgia And North Carolina Are Getting Really Poor Really Fast. But Why?

Little store with signs in Georgia
Photo: Flickr/Richard Elzey

Today I took a look at this data from the University of New Mexico. It compares the per capita income of every state since 1990, and their relative rank against the other states.

It's fascinating. You can see the collapse of the manufacturing economies of Michigan and Indiana, and the boom of North Dakota's energy industry. And the tables also show that Arizona's boom was largely a mirage. And you can clearly track the collapse of incomes in Georgia and North Carolina.

Wait, what?

Between 1990-2012, both Georgia and North Carolina climbed their way to middle class, and then fell back again into the ranks of poor states.

It's easier to see the data rather than read it.

State Per Capita Income Rank, 1990-2012
This is an inverse graph. The closer a line gets to the bottom, the richer the state. Two states have massive income swings: Michigan and North Dakota.

North Dakota's dramatic improvement directly coincides with the oil and natural gas boom currently underway (it went from 38th to 12th in just six years).

Michigan, in green, has been hard hit by the decline in manufacturing. It was the 17th richest state in 1994, and fell all the way to 39th in 2010. It recovered some ground (as has Indiana) by 2012.

The gold line is Texas. It bounced around the upper end of the bottom half of states for all of the 1990s. Then, between 2004 and 2006, the economy went into overdrive and never really looked back. It's been a respectable 25th in per capita income since 2006.

So, what's happening to Georgia and North Carolina?

Update: Here's a view of the same graph with just Georgia and North Carolina. Remember the closer the lines are to the top, the poorer the state is becoming.

State per capita rank for Georgia and North Carolina, 1990-2012

Despite being two of America's fastest-growing states for much of 1990s and early 2000s, both Georgia and North Carolina have been losing ground against their peers. While incomes in all states grew over the 22 year period, the South's sunbelt economies were comparatively stagnant. None of them (with the exceptions of Texas, Louisiana, and Virginia) improved their relative ranking very much.

But Georgia and North Carolina stand out for falling precipitously over this period. Both achieved their income high water marks in 1996, when Georgia ranked 25th (where Texas sits today) and North Carolina was 29th (a spot now occupied by Louisiana). And unlike Arizona or Texas (which are holding steady) or Indiana or Michigan (which are improving), Georgia and North Carolina continue to fall.

Looking at the relative data another way, Georgia's per capita income in 1996 was $23,340 and in 2012 it was $36,869 - a 57% gain. North Carolina did a little bit better, upping incomes by 63% over the same period. But Texas raised its average income by 86%, and the entire United States posted a 74% rise.

External economic shocks are not to blame. Both states began their long, slow decline at the height of the Clinton economic expansion, and continued to plunge through the post-9/11 recession, the economic boom under President George W. Bush, and the Great Recession. Atlanta, Charlotte, and the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area were strong magnets for internal migration during this whole period.

State politicians cannot be solely blamed either: Georgia switched from solidly Democratic to mostly Republican only in 2002, and North Carolina has had statewide split party control until almost the present day. Switching parties and governing ideologies at the state level clearly haven't helped either.

What is clear is that the policy environments in these states are rotten, and both are on self-destructive paths. Whatever they are doing now, they should immediately stop and change course. The road both of these states have taken since the mid-1990s is a fast highway to economic and social ruin. Neither have much further to fall.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Great Monday Music: 'Lucius'

The band Lucius at The Madison Theatre, May 2014
Lucius. Photo: Flickr/Cindy Stutz

It's not Monday, but it's the first day back after a holiday. Here's some great music to start your week.

Meet Lucius, a five-person band formed by Jess Wolf (lead vocals and synthesizer), Holly Laessig (lead vocals and keys), Dan Molad (drums and vocals), Peter Lalish (guitar and vocals), and Andrew Burri (guitar, drums, and vocals).

I discovered Lucius when they opened for my favorite band Tegan & Sara on May 15 at the Buckhead Theatre in Atlanta. I was blown away.

According to Wikipedia, Paul Krugman is a fan.

Just click the playlist below to play Wildewoman, their latest album. Enjoy.


Friday, May 23, 2014

Social Media Isn't Dying. But It Needs To Grow Up Faster.

Coke's iconic 1969 ad, Boys on a Bench
'Boys on a Bench', and early example of powerful content. The 1969 ad showed African-American and white boys sharing a Coke on a previously segregated park bench. Photo: The Coca-Cola Company

Scott Monty's resignation on May 19th as head of Ford's social media team sparked a useful reflection on the state of the social media industry. For starters, you should read his blog. It's a classy way to say goodbye.

His resignation has prompted a trio of thoughtful posts by some of social's greatest thinkers. These are all must reads for anyone who touches digital in an organization or has a "C" in front of their title.

In Social Media Today, Frank Eliason traces the evolution of social media within organizations, and laments what it has meant for quality.

In Forbes, Shel Israel catalogues the mostly goings of social's early corporate pioneers. To Shel, Scott's departure from Ford is merely the last in a wagon train of folks who believed that social could revolutionize how companies talk to their consumers but who have now moved on to other roles. In Shel's view, "social media strategists are the beautiful babies being washed down the drains of companies who have otherwise fouled their bath water."

Finally, my friend Richard Binhammer calls on business to completely rethink how they are organized and what their social efforts can achieve.

And in a post-Ford interview in AdWeek, Scott himself voiced his concerns about the future of social within a marketing organization.

So is social media dying? No, it's just experiencing some of the awkward growing pains of being a teenager. But it does need to grow up faster.

You need great content: As anyone who has followed my work at Coca-Cola knows, I am a staunch believer that great, shareable, impactful content needs to be at the core of any digital strategy. If a consumer gives you five minutes (or, even better, ten minutes) of their time, they need to get something back. Whether you make them laugh, make them say "aww", give them a great recipe for the holidays, or a fun summer party idea, your content has to be good and it has to be useful. One of the smartest people I know, Jonathan Mildenhall, who was just tapped to be the next CMO of Airbnb, once gave my team a deep dive on creating this type of content. The title: #workthatmatters.

Jonathan Mildenhall's Nine Principle of Work That Matters
Graphic: #WorkThatMatters. Fast Company/Jonathan Mildenhall

Focus on all of your audiences: Over the last four years, I spent time with social media leaders at most big brands in America. The lion's share of planning and attention goes to reaching mass audiences of consumers. But if you go one click down, there are reporters who cover your business, investors, job seekers, influential core target groups and many, many more. All of these folks can be reached and influenced through social outreach. At Coke, for example, we found that LinkedIn is a powerful channel for reaching opinion leaders and investors with long-form content. We use Twitter extensively to manage conversations with journalists. The best social strategies think about how all of your audiences use social media.

Use data wisely: Today in my Facebook feed I've been pitched ads for hair care products, politicians in Maine (where I don't live), a start up called Single Grain (this one is a real puzzler), and a promoted article on the impending U.S. whiskey shortage (which was spot on targeting; I read it immediately). Social media is ushering in a golden age where brands can put great content with the right message in front of exactly the right person at the right time. This is unprecedented in marketing history, and should make the user experience better. But only if data and targeting are used wisely.

At Coke, we constantly look at performance data to optimize our social plans to create content we know audiences want to see. Is it perfect? No, but it's getting better all the time. And as a bonus, our organic reach numbers are still significantly higher than has been reported in the media. This is because even with algorithm changes, your content - if it's good enough - will still reach a large number of people.

Richard Binhammer is right when he says that huge organizational shifts are coming. Many organizations are not equipped to fully leverage social media's full potential. This includes legacy corporate structures that don't allow for the cross-functional nature of social media, the muscle to move fast (to capitalize quickly on social innovation), a commitment to always be transparent (this LinkedIn post by Target's Jeff Jones is an example of transparency done well), sophisticated social analytics capability, and a lack of a digital-first culture.

I don't think marketing's interest in social media is a sign that social is on the ropes. When more people across the organization take an interest in something, and bring creativity, cash, and enthusiasm to the table, that's a good thing. This is a logical maturation path for social in the enterprise.

Now is the time for social media strategists to rise up and take their rightful place at the CMO's table.

UPDATE: For more information on 'Boys on a Bench' and #WorkThatMatters, check out Jonathan Mildenhall's great blog post on Coca-Cola Journey here.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

It's Time For The New York Times To Investigate The New York Times

The New York Times Building
Photo: Flickr/samchills
If you search the New York Times website for articles about the unceremonious ouster of Jill Abramson you'll come up short. There's a very good piece from David Carr and a couple of other related articles, but that's about it.

No one expects corporations to air their dirty laundry in public. But the Times isn't just another corporation. It's America's paper of record, and millions of us rely on them to cover the news. And as uncomfortable as it might be for Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., the Jill Abramson story is news.

It's actually a messy story.

Was she fired because she was angry about pay and lawyered up?

Was she fired because she was "pushy"(whatever that means)?

Was she fired because of conflicts with the business side?

Was she fired because of bad office management and hiring mistakes?

Did this incredibly frank piece of self-assessment of the Times' digital gaps have anything to do with it? (If you can't read the whole report, Digiday published a primer here.)

We certainly know she wasn't fired because she was bad at her job. On her watch the Times won eight Pulitzer Prizes.

So as hard as it may be to do, it's time for Dean Baquet to put some ace reporters on the case and publish a full reckoning of what exactly happened and why it happened. If the "church/state" separation between the business of the Times and the news is real, it's already underway.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Why Life Resets Matter

The famous Austin Motel in Austin, Texas
Photo: Flickr/Charles Henry
I've spent a lot of time lately thinking about hard resets.

This month's issue of Wired includes an article titled 'No Exit', a depressing tale of start up Boomtrain's quest for funding. But at the core of the founder's stories is a hard reset, when they both walked away from cushy jobs and Mediterranean vacations to build their own company.

This month, I'm moving to Austin. When the move is complete, it will be the sixth city I've lived in since grad school, and the third city my partner and I have chosen together since we met in 2009. Over the last few months, I've had friends and colleagues all over to the country decide to make similar leaps. They've picked up and moved to Seattle, San Francisco, New York, London, and Miami to do something new, cool, and challenging.

Mobility is one of the great joys of modern life. The ability to do something new, break out of your comfort zone, and experience a new culture was something completely out of the question for most people for most of history.

And sometimes, we need a total life reset: a new career in a new place with new people.

Scary thought right? But you should almost always do it!

You must love where you live: Too many people I know just don't like where they live very much. But cities are the other major relationship in our lives. It's almost impossible to be happy unless you love where you live. We are blessed to live in a country with extraordinary diversity, so go get out there and find somewhere that fits you better. I moved to DC to make it in politics (turned out it's a passion, not a career), NYC to experience the Big Apple first-hand, Seattle to get in touch with nature and learn to ski, and Atlanta to be back in sunshine and find my southern roots again. I haven't loved all these cities, and I wasn't ready to call any of them my forever home, but I've loved the experience of them.

You must love what you do: There's a quote by Dr. Seuss that I try to live by: "Why fit in when you were born to stand out?"

If you hate your job, you feel like a cog in the wheel of life, or you dread the end of the weekend, you know you need to be doing something else. And before you think of all the responsibilities you have, remember that you're probably carrying that misery home.

I don't know anyone who says that they wished they had worked more, but I know a lot of people who are happier because they have a passionate, fulfilling career.

Sometimes you need a change of scenery: Sometimes it's an amazing new opportunity. Sometimes it's your partner's amazing new opportunity. Maybe it's somewhere you just want to live, or you've hit a career plateau, or are a refugee from a bad job stint or relationship. Whatever it is, sometimes new faces and new places are just what the doctor ordered.

I met a woman at the beach yesterday who was a commodities broker in NYC, then a chef, and then a sailor. She's been to 47 Caribbean islands, and was back this week in the Turks & Caicos with her family. As we talked over a rum punch, I was reminded of a quote by the late Mark Shand, a British conservationist and environmentalist (and the younger brother of Camilla Parker-Bowles).

When asked about his life, he said: "I could have made more money, but I don't think I could have had any more fun."

Words to live by.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

What C-Suite Leaders Need To Understand About The Benham Brothers Fiasco

HGTV's logo

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post discussing the resignation of Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich. Eich quit after it was revealed that he supported California's Proposition 8 that banned gay marriage.

Now it's HGTV's turn to take the heat.

On May 7, the lifestyle network tweeted that they were not moving forward with a reality show hosted by David and Jason Benham, North Carolina twins who flip houses to help disadvantaged folks. While HGTV didn't disclose the reason, it's now widely known that this post on the blog Right Wing Watch detailing the brothers' anti-choice, anti-gay, and anti-Muslim beliefs drove the decision.

HGTV tweet announcing the Benham Brothers' firing

Predictably, a Twitter campaign under the hashtag #FlipThisDecision has been launched, and HGTV has come under fire for their decision. It probably won't work.

Social media is profoundly changing how brands approach social issues, and companies ignore this shift at their peril.

Consumers want brands to have values and stand by them: In this case, nearly 60% of Americans now support full marriage equality, and media and consumers are increasingly intolerant of beliefs that are perceived as racist and bigoted. I suspect HGTV knows exactly how their core viewer feels about diversity, which makes the decision to green light the show at all puzzling. On the flip side, Chick-Fil-A and Cracker Barrel have also successfully channeled their core consumers' beliefs. This trend will only accelerate.

Digital and social media are the new watchdogs: HGTV has known about the Benhams' statements for more than a year, and no traditional media outlet reported on them before the news broke on Right Wing Watch. It's clear that bringing digital leaders into the decision process early needs to happen in more places, more often. There is nothing here that was a surprise, and this controversy should have been spotted a mile away.

Brands need to realize that we're now living in a world of heightened scrutiny, and that investigative work can be done by anyone with a computer and some free time. The days of carefully managing friendly (and even not-so-friendly) journalists is over.

Media needs a "daily outrage": As I mentioned above, this was a non-event until Right Wing Watch created a social movement. Mainstream media then reported on that social campaign, creating a much larger (and ultimately effective) media cycle. The 24-hour news cycle thrives on the "daily outrage" and, with plenty of sources to choose from, all brands should expect to get hit eventually.

Every business leader should think about what just happened: a little-known blog succeeded in getting a series cancelled in less than week, before it ever hit the air, and after it was halfway through filming. If social media can topple dictators, it can topple a business. If you don't have a social listening center and a robust social strategy that includes a vetted issues management plan, you need to get one fast.

The Eich disaster, the Duck Dynasty kerfuffle, and now this fiasco make clear that no one in business or entertainment can expect privacy of personal belief. We urgently need to settle as a society where our fundamental freedoms meet our professional lives. Until then, we're living in the wild west and marketers need to get ready.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

What Mark Higginson's Sparksheet Article Got Wrong

Coca-Cola Journey homepage
Last February, Mark Higginson, a social media manager at a university in the UK, wrote an article for the marketing publication Sparksheet challenging Coca-Cola’s content marketing strategy. I lead the group that publishes Coca-Cola Journey, the subject of Mark’s piece.

For his analysis, Mark counted the social shares that are visible on every page of Coca-Cola Journey, and concluded that because social sharing was (in his opinion) low, “engagement” was also low, and that Coke's content marketing program is pointless. 

To prove his point, Mark looked at more than 80 randomly-selected posts. He found that some of Coke's content is a hit with readers, a few pieces are mega-hits, and that many posts aren't shared that often. In his view, this is proof that Coca-Cola's investment in real content is a large-scale, expensive failure.

Unfortunately for the reader, there wasn't any comparison to other publications to validate this hypothesis. Instead, readers were left to assume that the data proved the point.

So I decided to do the comparison myself, using Coca-Cola Journey, Advertising Age, the largest trade marketing newspaper in the United States, and Sparksheet. I selected May 4, 2014 as my research date, and used the "top" stories on each magazine's website as my sample set. I did this because I believe it's fairer to compare the best content available on a given date than to use randomly selected articles (this also avoids selection bias; I've let each site select their content for me).

First, social shares on Coca-Cola Journey, and its sister site Coca-Cola Unbottled, compare quite favorably to other marketing publications. The ten most popular posts have an average of 448 social shares per article. Unlike Mark, I also found the spread of shares across the articles to be fairly even: only one article has less than 100 shares, five have between 100-500, and four have more than 700.

Then I examined the top six posts on Advertising Age (they only list their top six articles). The average for these top posts is a massive 9,288 shares. But a closer examination reveals that this article (with 53,000 social shares) is the reason for the exceptionally high average. If we exclude this outlier, the Ad Age average is about 398 social shares per article. Like Coca-Cola Journey, shares on these posts are fairly evenly spread: one has less than 100 shares, one has more than 1,000 shares, and the remaining four average under 500.

Sparksheet doesn’t have a “Top Ten”, so I took a look at the nine “Editor’s Picks" on the front page. Together, these nine articles average about 110 social shares per article, well below the average for both Coca-Cola Journey and Advertising Age. 

In addition, Sparksheet also suffers from the "feast or famine" social sharing Mark finds problematic. All but two articles have less than 100 shares. The top piece has 334 shares and the second-highest shared piece has 267, well over half of all shares in the editor's top nine. In fact, all but two of the Coke Journey and Ad Age top pieces score higher than seven of the nine Sparksheet articles.

By Mark's reasoning, Sparksheet is talking, but no one is listening.

Distribution of Social Shares, Top 5 Articles

Based on the high level of interest in Mark's post, this isn't the case. Clearly, social shares alone are not a good marker of engagement or influence. 

All publications, even top newspapers, have some content that wins, some that's just average, and some that's not as popular. Coca-Cola Journey, Advertising Age, and Sparksheet are not exceptions, and that's why high-performing content strategies aren't based on virality. After all, Mark's article has been shared 519 times - a good performance for Sparksheet but only about average for a top trade magazine. Yet it generated thirty thoughtful comments and fifteen trackbacks, surely signs of true engagement.

Clearly there's something here worth exploring: what are good markers of ROI for brand journalism?

In the next installment, I'll explore what I believe are a few excellent standards for measurement. Until then, feel free to share.

UPDATE: A reader correctly pointed out that Coca-Cola Journey also features "Editor's Picks". To keep the playing field level, I have tallied their shares as of May 5, 2014. The average number of shares for this group is 274 social shares per article, still well above the average for the similar set of articles on Sparksheet. 

This is the first installment of a series on measuring the ROI of content marketing.

Read Another Post