Thursday, June 25, 2009

Transmedia Task Forces

There are a lot of very smart people working at creative and media agencies. A lot of great talent to mine. There is no shortage of good ideas. In some cases, robust technologies on offer. In other cases, account management that is deft and multi-functional. Leaders who can do more than just sell. Creatives who understand business objectives. Media folks who get messaging and conversation.

Despite this, the agency construct, by and large, lends itself to failure. We've seen this and talked about it ad nauseam - how departments and disciplines operate in silos, how traditional and digital are at odds, how media and creative don't walk the aisle et cetera et cetera.

So my colleague Ezra Cooperstein, who works at one of the biggest media agencies in the world, made a great point: As the system continues to fight for its self-preservation, why not establish and deploy task forces that exist entirely to run point between these silos?

Ok, so you're probably thinking that this idea isn't anything new, and in theory it really isn't. However, when you look at all the "disruption" groups within agencies and networks, the idea still isn't working. In fact, I would venture to say that many of these groups exist purely to window dress and satiate the paranoia of clients and upper management who need to know that an integrated practice somehow exists or is being put into place.

There is also a much larger issue: finding people who can truly think and speak in a transmedia capacity. If you were reared in a big agency environment, chances are you were groomed as a specialist of one thing or another, or, if you were multi-disciplinary, you were probably discouraged from developing ideas in this way. I can't tell you how many people I know who have suffered this fate, and had to work extra hard to become competent in areas outside of their focus. I can also tell you that personally, this is the first time in my career where having multiple skill-sets has greatly benefitted me... although big (or bigger) agencies are still hesitant to hire me full-time. Go figure.

So, the questions remain: who would make up a task force and how would it operate?

A task force would likely be comprised of anyone who advocates ideas. Sounds rudimentary, I know, but if you really think about, the current system mostly prioritizes placement or mechanism first, and the idea second. How many times have you seen an idea shoe-horned into a media buy? An expensive application built without a strategy? A broadcast campaign with all stars and no substance, not to mention no calls-to-action with complementary media? A viral video campaign that spikes and then dies on the vine? The point is that there are media planners, digital strategists, traffic managers, art directors, web developers, copywriters and biz dev folks who all have the capacity to connect the dots on the landscape and are willing to collaborate. They just need the opportunity. They want to dive into new areas of innovation. They crave the challenge. And, more importantly, these are the folks that are invested in the future of the agency... people who are true "change agents" (Man, I hate that phrase...)

As to how the task force operates, well, this can be sliced any number of ways and really depends on what can be streamlined within the org chart. What often happens with disruption groups is that they have meetings about meetings and don't immerse themselves in the development nitty-gritty of the various departments. They don't really want to know how bad communications or operations can be, and they certainly don't want to management consult, nor do they know how. So, the simple solution starts with a staffing assessment (who is involved in development meetings and what roles to play) and implementing hard-line communication protocols, such as limited email correspondence, no mobile use during meetings and the mandate that everyone has to come to a development meeting with a potential solution set laid out. And the respect to all the inter-departmental briefs that are generated during "phases"... whittle that mess down to one initial brief, one mid-point summary and then an activation plan.

This is clearly fodder for a much deeper conversation, but you get the point. 

Look, we all seem drawn to this crazy business because of those intermittent and often fleeting connections we make with consumers. We recognize that advertising can be such a powerful thing. So maybe it's time we got our act together. After all, we're consumers too, and if nothing else, we owe it to ourselves. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Insights from the Blogwell/GasPedal Conference in SF

Well, aside from the fact that it was a glorious day in San Francisco (75 degrees and clear as far as the eye could see), the Blogwell event was a pleasant experience. Great turnout from brands, technologists and thought leaders in the social media space, and while many of the case studies were those we might have seen before, it was really nice to hear from the brand reps themselves who seemed to really flourish as speakers in the shorter interval environment. And of course, Andy Sernovitz brought his affable and always informative presentation style into the fold, sharing insights that were truly valuable and doing so in a very non-intrusive way. Andy certainly knows how to talk with people.

So... the trip was a success for several reasons. Starting with meetings we had with two of our technology partners, here's a recap:

- On the brand monitoring/social analytics front, we had some very exciting discussions with eCairn on business intelligence and the semantic web. In a nutshell, outbound keyword emphasis through text mining will become the new SSM methodology (social search marketing). This means that we are not only able to filter out sentiment at the highest or deepest level, but we can highlight keywords and retarget them for use in respective messaging in things like ad units and carry that sentiment over to new profile groups within the community map. More on this in the coming week...

- On the video syndication front, Sharethrough (750 industries) has successfully created an overlay on the YouTube player that can not only track quant and qual data but can break down views into things like share ratios (among a few others). They've already launched two huge campaigns (one for Microsoft and one for Right Guard) using this new technology, and, here's the best part - it's still a completely opt-in mechanism. To boot, the player and respective content can be deployed as a rich media solution, the difference being that you have far greater sharing capabilities. We also talked about how to leverage the platform for dynamic focus group testing both with DR ads as well as actual product integrations; in this capacity, we would use this as both a profiling tool and an engagement "stick". More to come on this in the coming weeks...

- David Witt from General Mills on Yoplait Kids: blogging is just about the only way to reach moms online. Yes, you may have heard this before, but now you're hearing it from the source. Mr. Witt also lent some interesting insight into how mom bloggers provide scale in a very niche category. Another interesting note was on the fact that Mr. Witt's group can track repeat redemption with their coupon programs. He wouldn't give us the goods on actually how they do this (these are proprietary methods), but it was a nice discovery nonetheless.

- Joel Nathanson from Wells Fargo: during the worst of financial times since The Great Depression, the brand basically has made its strongest social media effort. The real takeaway here is preparation - don't wait for issues to arise, build your story and be preemptive. Wells has done terrific job of tapping into its rich history for this. Mr. Nathanson also spoke about how 3rd parties are not always reliable, so it is key to have strong back-up channels for customer service.

- Andy Sernovitz on the FTC crackdown of bloggers: the issues are largely attributable to a lack of a solid ecosystem to manage and protect content. Blog disclosure is easy, but what to disclose is not so easy. The new disclosure best practices toolkit greatly mitigates the risks, and is based on an open forum for collaboration and experiential input. The biggest risk right now is the failure to train. Agencies and contractors must be clear on guidelines with corporate internal groups, and everyone must spend the time to get it right... or at least close. Through a Twitter dialogue with Rob Reed (@maxgladwell) on this, I concluded that perhaps a failsafe is for corporations to conduct an ongoing dialogue with the FTC for "pre-approval" of their blogger outreach practices. More to come on this...

- Hilary Weber from Kaiser Permanente: in probably what was the most recent development from all the brands, KP talked about its new Beta-phase platform (KP Town Square Ideabook) that allows 160K plus employees to share ideas and experiences, as well as maintain basic and efficient communications streams. Some of the really cool features are things like searchable tags that are connected to people's profiles - great organic SEO. Mrs. Weber also talked about KP uses a wiki as a "family tool shed" for the business to house and optimize its information. Using wikis, the internal SM team has no developers, page designer or technologists. The takeaway: there's a big emphasis now on internal communities to collaborate on projects in order to maximize external efforts.

I did not attend the Cisco, Dell or SAP sessions (one can only be in one physical place at a given time...), but we did have a really nice chat with Kira Wampler from Intuit on using specific SM platforms to maximize frequency for their broadcast group - tying back to the dynamic testing methods mentioned earlier. 


Social media work as complements to other integrated marketing efforts. We have advocated this for a while now, but it's great to see all these case studies really focus on ROI measurement standards, and also be able to carefully delineate between engagement intent and purchase intent.

Successful outreach is all about trust. We need to trust ourselves before we can trust others to share conversations. A lot of what Andy and the brand reps talked to repeatedly was the notion of reestablishing a system of ethics and values that can transcend other areas of the business. By improving communication streams internally, the end product or service vastly improves.

All in all, great stuff. Aside from the stalwarts, we're seeing a lot of major brands that were skeptical even a year ago start to embrace social media and technology in some very profound ways. 

Here's to investing in the conversation.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The 10 Commandments of Social Transparency

Ok, so I've harped on the bulleted to-do lists that all too often fill our blog channels and community platforms. But in this case, I couldn't help share this list of well-articulated commandments that were developed through brainstorms with a colleague of mine.

The following list, in our humble opinion, constitutes key elements that all companies should abide by in their online outreach efforts:

1.    An understanding that being responsive to customers with service level agreements must entail knowing no boundaries, channel barriers or time constraints.

    Recognition that the online experience you provide is your brand. Great first experiences, like the theoretical ripple effect of a butterfly’s wings, are the catalyst for something larger, positive, profound, and influential that associates a company with trust.

    Admission that honesty and transparency trumps double-talk and corporate babble-speak. In fact, it’s this real discussion (warts and all) that constituents crave.

    Have a network of smart employees, marketers, agencies, and customers who prompt consumers to interact because they know that will increase the likelihood that consumers will transact.

    Have the foresight and knowledge that customer engagement means more than launching an online discussion board, it comes organically through enabling valuable and motivating experiences at every touch point.

    Tend to have empathetic staff that question what they do for a living and then juxtapose this against what they know their constituents actually need from them—implementing beneficial solutions as a result.

    An appreciation that new web analytics and measurement tools need to speak to where the visitor is going, and not merely to ‘where the puck is’. Conversely, measurement systems know where the visitor came from and why. Additionally, recognition that web analytics is not optimization.

    Acknowledgement that although user-generated content diffuses or mitigates corporate governance and editorial authority, it can be leveraged to benefit a company if a UGC strategy is well thought through, implemented, and measured. It may be humbling to point out that 1 in 8 natural search engine results for a branded keyword are user generated content.

    An innate ability to harness the talents of each individual employee to share their knowledge and leverage their personal connections.

  Realizes that effective word of mouth campaigns cannot be manufactured. They tend to be spontaneous, honest and truly viral events that incorporate humor, oddities, insider news, the taboo or the just plain awe-inspiring.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Have We Forgotten How To Listen? (Or Maybe We Just Never Learned...)

(special thanks to Kneale Mann for sending over this image...)

While having breakfast with my two friends, colleagues and blogmates - Ezra Cooperstein and Thor Clark - it dawned upon us that the mad dash for connectivity and conversation within social media has been roadblocked by one simple, undeniable fact: we don't really know how to listen.

Take Twitter for example. 

When you sign up for a Twitter account, you get the 20-person hit list of celebs that they suggest you should follow. Why? First of all, I don't give a shit about Ashton Kutcher (maybe because I'm 36 years old and straight - certainly no offense to my gay peeps). Secondly, most of these people don't actually listen or have substantive two-way conversations with their fan base. Ezra describes it as a "really loud chamber effect"... essentially, these people shout out relatively inane blurbs about God-knows-what, and to no one in particular. Third, if you look at the "subscriber funnel", you also find that the 90/10 rule which applies - in which 10% of the Twitter population generates 90% of the tweets - ignores the entire mid-tail of folks who actually have something of value to say.

Now, don't get me wrong - I find Twitter to be incredibly powerful and I use it often and with the best of intentions - but this really calls into question the social dynamics around how we listen, and why we should listen more carefully.

I think part of the problem, as articulated poorly in my previous post (sorry, that was a bit of mental masturbation...), is the fact that we're collectively still taking sides and operating in cliques. Let's face it, it ain't easy breaking into the Twitter mix, or to become a member of the "Twitterati" for that matter. 

The other issue is the sheer amount of content that is being slung around - creating a sensory overload of sorts. How can any of us listen, if we're too busy just trying to be heard?

Here are some considerations for improving this cultural deficiency:

- Listening more means learning more (duh...).

- We need to distinguish between what we hear and what has been said (don't dwell on the response before the statement is even finished - we are all guilty of this).

- Sit with your question(s); take the time to understand what is being said before you respond.

- Take the time to really get to know someone, even if it's virtual - do you want a relationship with a person, or a bot?

- Turn off the noise inside your head; interacting socially, even online, is somewhat of a meditative process - we need to be clear and authentic in our communication streams.

- Listening is more powerful than speaking. Really. 

I'm done talking. Say something, damnit.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Crowdsoothing (Who Am I, Who Are You, Why Are We?)

I've decided after many sleepless nights, apishly grooming myself in bed while the blue glare of the television screen loops random images across my imperious face, that I am a cross between William Safire and Andy Rooney

Professionally, I call myself a "Digital Brand Strategist", which really means that I reposition phenomenae with what I think are somewhat interesting labels and ascribe to them what I think are fairly quirky, sometimes serious and/or humorous aspects of human behavior. Oh, and then, where appropriate, I sprinkle in a neurotic dose of technological knowledge to make things a little more compelling. In a nutshell, all this mumbo jumbo often times produces results for my clients, at which point I let out an exasporated sigh, say to myself "How the fuck did I do that?", take a day or two off, and then decide to get back on the merry-go-round for another ride.

Why do I do this? Well, I suppose I do this for a few primary reasons:

- No one really knows shit anyway, so why not try to make sense of all this shit? The operative word here is "try".

- Human behavior never ceases to amaze, especially when there's technology behind it. Automate us monkeys. Turn us into robots with feelings. Make that brand talk back to me (or dirty to me). Simply fascinating stuff.

- One of these days (hopefully before a nuclear holocaust), we're all going to call each other's bluff and go back to wearing pelts anyway, wielding clubs over our shoulders. At this point, I'll be out of a job and all the crazy platforms I've helped build will be obsolete. And hopefully I'll still be with my wife-to-be... if she hasn't been dragged into a cave by some other dude.

So what does this all mean?

It means that it's time we formally made a return to the truth. It's happening anyway, albeit at a clip that tends to blindside us. All the hype around digital next, and behavioral that, and cloud thinking over there is a train wreck of assumption and often surprising pieces of the obvious. But what we don't know how to do is obviate the need for these obsessions

Welcome to "Crowdsoothing", a way of calling into question, and answering, the who am I, who are you, why are we of our media-consuming existence. Let's face it: we are a culture saddled by fear, so we need a little consoling, a little soothing in our consumption. The experience is sorta like the movie studio exec in Barton Fink - I'd like some milk with my whiskey, please.

Crowdsourcing, a phenomenon brilliantly identified and formalized by Jeff Howe (yes, we follow each other on Twitter, thank you very much...), talks about how virtual communities have formed out of shared interest. As remarkable and inspirational as this groundswell is, an interesting thing often arises when we actually witness or participate in the wisdom of crowds, a "yang" if you will: we pull back or shut down altogether

Gary King, a social scientist and statician at Harvard University (yes, we also follow each other on Twitter, thank you very much) talks about unifying statistical analysis, vetting out partisan symmetry and establishing conflict causality in his white papers as things that are ultimately products of human behavior that are largely predetermined and heightened by an inherent need for rational and practical explanation. A common theme throughout (excuse my layman's interpretation) is the idea that our decisions, particularly within groups, are predicated on individual identities that shift when we are observed or take part in observation.

So let's apply this to social media. In a recent data-point analysis conducted by HubSpot on the usage of Twitter, it was discovered that only 24% of people actually put a bio description on their page, down from 80% a year ago. It was also discovered that...

  • 79.79% failed to provide a homepage URL
  • 68.68% have not specified a location
  • 55.50% are not following anyone
  • 54.88% have never tweeted
  • 52.71% have no followers

  • This is simply alarming. All this shared interest and potential currency, yet there is a blatant lack of commitment to any sort of formal relationship with the crowd. Further, the ambiguity new microbloggers employ suggests that they want to be a part of the conversation, but fear they will somehow not be accepted

    Now let's come full circle. The reason why I shared with you a truthful and self-deprecating account of who I am at the top of the post was to illustrate a point: aside from exchanging information and experiences, it is imperative that we offer up pieces of ourselves. Technologies themselves don't cause us to become disconnected or disenfranchised, it is our perception of who we are and why we are in relation to those technologies that does.

    So let's ask the questions and soothe the mode of consumption so that we can create a background of relatedness:

    Who Am I? The discourse or continued action of my role as it pertains to you, my functions, my role, my importance and relevance to you.

    Who Are You? The discourse or continued action of your role as it pertains to me, to others, those functions, newly discovered roles and the importance of spreading commonality as well as trust in the form of currency.

    Why Are We? The discourse and continued action of our collective conscience; desired needs, wants and passions, observations sourced through shared wisdom, and personalized or internalized as to cyclically affect individual thought and/or action.

    If we now apply these queries to a profile, it might look something like this: 

    Name John Doe
    Location Somewhere in Particular
    Bio Professional Description, colorful character description, several descriptors evoking a sense of personality and interest to engage with others, along with a higher purpose proposition.

    And if we summarize what this person's posts might look like or do, they would:

    - Share interesting information endemic to a trade
    - Share interesting experiences endemic to local culture
    - Generate insights about the world at large
    - Offer guidance in the explanation or use of relevant technology
    - Show humility, not hubris, in these observations
    - Be aspirational in nature
    - Invite people, even those with very different backgrounds, into the conversation

    Crowdsoothing is mere theory, but can very easily be indoctrinated into the daily flow of our digital, or even real-world, interaction. We have something special - many things that are special - within our new channels of communication. Let's not fuck it up by allowing history to constantly repeat itself... or at least dictate how we think or feel.

    Thursday, June 4, 2009

    SMADHD (Social Media Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder) A.K.A. "The Hyper Tweeter"

    Ok, so I have become somewhat of a social media junkie; I constantly update my Facebook, Twitter and FriendFeed accounts and always look forward to seeing if I've connected with new followers. It's kinda like crack - I've never actually smoked crack, but I get the feeling that the jonesing process is somewhat similar. 

    Despite this, I also find myself looping in and out of reality. Fact is, I'm not really interested in giving people the up-to-the-minute, play-by-play of my every move. 

    "Hey - taking a sh-- in Rockefeller Plaza."
    "Scratching my nuts in Central Park."
    "Receiving an award and shaking some important person's hand."
    "Surfing at third point - oh, sh-- just dropped my iPhone in the water."

    These types of correspondence (if you can actually label them as such), are really where microblogging has taken on a highly narcissistic front. Worse, if people aren't expressing the need to be into themselves, they are expressing the need to be wired... all day, all night, and at all times.

    Welcome to the phenomenon known as SMADHD, or "Social Media Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder", or, what some have come to know or be as a "Hyper Tweeter". Just when you thought humping like a siwwy waaahbbit was bad, now those like the carnally unskilled are transferring a bad habit into their PDAs and anything else they "input" on. 

    Granted, we live at a time where technology is moving at a clip far faster than us mortals can keep pace with, but we really do need to be more grounded in reality. I mean, isn't the whole point of connecting digitally intended to get us people developing stronger relationships in the physical world?

    Here are some ideas for shaking the habit:

    - Form a local "Tweeters Anonymous" group - and no, you can't do this via a tweet-up.

    - Spend some time outside; maybe walk a little more, get to know your dog, and make sure both hands are being utilized as to stave off the urge to thumb the 'ole keypad.

    - Try a phone call, or perhaps even an in-person exchange, before deferring to the screen.

    - Spend some more time, quality time, with yourself; no talking allowed or gazing into the mirror.

    - Help the underprivileged; chances are they don't have any devices, just a fundamental need to be loved and accepted.

    - Read a lot more - real books are preferred, but if you must use your Kindle, well, I guess we can make an exception.

    Good luck, and if you need to talk to someone just call 1-800-NO-TWEET - counselors are standing by...

    Tuesday, June 2, 2009

    Why Brands Should Rethink Partnerships with Bloggers

    The following is an article published today (June 2, 2009) in iMedia Connection on how bloggers and the brands they sometimes represent have been caught in the FTC's crosshairs. Here are a few specific examples that highlight just how convoluted this battle might become. The article was co-written by Emily Levin, a corporate IP and eCommerce attorney who did a terrific job of helping to break down the FTC's often confusing legalese. 

    Some of you may have heard by now that the FTC is planning to implement "self-regulation" policies for bloggers and other social media influencers who are either paid to write on behalf of companies or as affiliates of those companies.

    While the move seems restrictive, the reality is that as social animals, we do need rules. In fact, we would assert that by enforcing the virtues of transparency and authenticity, these types of policies are what will ultimately keep the net neutral. The challenge, then, is to help those in the blogosphere understand what exactly is being asked of them.

    Co-author Emily Levin is a corporate attorney. 

    The following is a constructive look at the FTC regulation of blogs and other social media. Since there is a clear disconnect between legal and creative license, these insights are told through the perspectives of a both a blogger and an attorney.

    We'll examine modern examples provided by the FTC to illustrate its revised guidelines.

    The question is, given the examples and the guidelines that the FTC derives there from, can the above-average blogger (let alone the everyday blogger) understand and conform their communications accordingly? And even if the blogger can't evaluate them from a legal or liability perspective, might they provide guidance and improvement nonetheless?

    Let's explore.

    FTC Example 5
    A skin care products advertiser participates in a blog advertising service. The service matches up advertisers with bloggers who will promote the advertiser's products on their personal blogs. The advertiser requests that a blogger try a new body lotion and write a review of the product on her blog.

    Although the advertiser does not make any specific claims about the lotion's ability to cure skin conditions and the blogger does not ask the advertiser whether there is substantiation for the claim, in her review the blogger writes that the lotion cures eczema and recommends the product to her blog readers who suffer from this condition.

    FTC Position: Advertiser and blogger are both responsible for blogger's (1) false or unsubstantiated statements and (2) failure to disclose clearly that she is being paid for her services.

    Blogger Position: The FTC recommends that advertisers should train and monitor their bloggers, but will bloggers live in fear that their statements are not sufficiently substantiated and hold their tongues?

    It seems that the most pre-emptive way to avoid the substantiation snafu is to qualify or preface any threads with a set of personal guidelines. While this may conflict with the more random nature of blog threads, it could establish etiquette that is top-of-mind. Further, this would engender a type of social responsibility that could be spread throughout the blogging community at large.

    FTC Example 7
    A college student who has earned a reputation as a video game expert maintains a personal blog where he posts entries about his gaming experiences. Readers of his blog frequently seek his opinions about video game hardware and software.

    As it has done in the past, the manufacturer of a newly released video game system sends the student a free copy of the system and asks him to write about it on his blog. He tests the new gaming system and writes a favorable review.

    FTC Position: The reader is unlikely to expect that the blogger received the game for free, and this would impact his review. The Blogger should clearly and conspicuously disclose that he received the gaming system free of charge.

    Blogger Position: Should a blogger always have to disclose when they received a free sample? Would it matter whether a manufacturer a) targeted a particular blogger; b) sent samples to random video testers; c) gave samples to everyday people at a conference or d) handed samples out to people at a trade show? Would it matter whether the site was hosted by a) the manufacturer or b) a student?

    This poses a curious and considerable debate over the free exchange of ideas, and cross-posting or cross-linking in particular. In other words, one man's roost is not necessarily another man's fodder. With respect to content, it seems necessary that the original blogger qualify the "spread" of information, and to the best of his abilities, credit those in his affiliate network of sites with the potential legitimacy of a product's credibility. From a product standpoint, it also seems fair to say that "neutral" links should be provided that show those product specs in an indifferent light. Ultimately, self-imposed qualifiers can help regulate within environments that have varying guidelines.

    FTC Example 8
    An online message board designated for discussions of new music download technology is frequented by MP3 player enthusiasts. They exchange information about new products, utilities, and the functionality of numerous playback devices.

    Unbeknownst to the message board community, an employee of a leading playback device manufacturer has been posting messages on the discussion board promoting the manufacturer's product.

    FTC Position: Unclear, but the implication is that there would be liability for nondisclosure by the employee. The Poster should clearly and conspicuously disclose her employment by the manufacturer to members and readers of the message board.

    Blogger Position: If an employer has a blog, should they be required to have a social media policy? Should they be liable if they don't? What if the employee disobeys the social media policy, should the employer be liable then?

    These scenarios are certainly not uncommon, and a social media policy does not preclude an employee from liability or great risk to his or her reputation as a blogger. The key here seems to be that both the employee and employer need to construct a shared risk arrangement in which proper editorial monitoring is conducted, along with structured milestones that include issue management guidelines. Again, full disclosure is paramount to not only building trust among community members, but also in helping to define corporate outreach policies that may still be nascent.

    FTC Example 9
    A young man signs up to be part of a street team program in which points are awarded each time a team member talks to his or her friends about a particular advertiser's products. Team members can then exchange their points for prizes, such as concert tickets or electronics.

    FTC Position: The rewards program impacts the credibility of the endorsements. The rewards should be clearly and conspicuously disclosed, and the advertiser needs to make sure of this.

    Blogger Position: How can the advertiser ensure the necessary disclosures are being made?

    A company can't really play watchdog over conversations that occur in the street and expect its message to spread organically. However, if the incentive program includes very detailed milestones that reflect various potential outcomes by virtue of these conversations, then the risk is greatly mitigated. In other words, the milestones define the disclosure guidelines. The thinking here is that if a product garners enough attention through word of mouth, the conversation will inevitably change, and therefore the representative -- on behalf of the brand -- has ample opportunity to course-correct messaging and/or respective content positioning.

    In all scenarios, a definable and adaptable sense of social responsibility is required to ensure the credibility and protection of all parties and products involved. And while the unpredictability of blog or social conversations can be a wonderful alternative to the more intrusive nature of advertising messages, we are still in the infancy stages of what this all means for brands, bloggers, and consumers alike. We must defer to good personal judgment and work together to establish parameters that allow for self-expression in ways that are positive and proactive.