When Will It Stop?

5 05 2011

We have reached that inevitable point in the semester. The End. And it is usually at this point that I try to admonish my students with all the usual kinds of things: Don’t stop learning. Don’t stop reaching. Don’t be afraid of change. And don’t let yourself become a dinosaur.

Easier said than done, right?

As I make these admonitions to this year’s crop of Evolutionary Marketing students, I have to ask myself if I am living up to my own recommendations. Am I practicing what I preach? Am I walking the talk?

Because it sure doesn’t look very good when it becomes a “Do as I say, not as I do” ballgame.

Still, I do wonder if I will ever stop embracing change. I like to think that I am forever on the cutting edge of all things new and cool, but I am sure I have some near misses as well as flat out air balls. As I get older (something I can do without any effort), I ponder the idea of whether I will one day pull off at the rest stop of life and say, “Ya know, I think I’ve had about enough. Let’s call it a life.”

It is precisely at that time that I will have joined the ranks of the dinosaurs, the dying and the dead.

God, I hope I never get there. I’m having way too much fun discovering new gadgets, new sites and new apps. “Kid in a toy store” doesn’t begin to describe my giddiness when I peruse the App Store on my iPad.

But I look at my aging parents and know that, if I live long enough (to quote my Mother), I may very well quit doing all this. My parents do not live on the same technological planet as do I. Sure, Mom tried her hand at laptops, but they just frustrated her to no end. She could never remember her email name (much less her password). A “feature phone” is good enough for her. Blinking numbers on the VCR (which they have now given up) were a daily occurrence in their TV room.

And how would I ever begin to explain Facebook, Twitter and YouTube? Smartphones? DVRs? iPads? Heck, to them that little “i” is just further evidence that they have spawned the most narcissistic generation to ever inhabit the earth.

So if I live long enough, will I one day be content to pull the plug on learning? New technology adoption? Life in the gadget fast lane? As much as I hope not, I am coming to the age at which I can see it as a distinct possibility. Yes, I hate that, but seeing Mom and Dad endure the throes of aging (they are both in their 80s) has caused me to rethink living and dying, young and old, active and passive.

I once told my students I planned to live to be at least 100, but I was still in my 30s when I made those boastful remarks. Now that I am in my 50s, I am a couple of decades closer to the finish line. Maybe living to 100 isn’t such a great idea. I also see my peers already starting to draw a line in the evolutionary sand. Just last night I bumped into a former colleague who said “I don’t do Facebook.” I am sure she wondered what was up with my incredibly puzzled look. I simply cannot imagine life without the social graph, but at the same time, I wonder if I would be so head-over-heels in love with it if I were not teaching it.

My goal is to keep up the pace as long as possible, but now realizing that I will probably reach an age at which I, just like my parents, say that’s about enough. I hope to delay it as long as possible. Heck, if I am lucky, maybe I will die sliding head first into a status update. At least no one will be able to make fun of me for not being with it.

More importantly, my desire for my students, all of whom are much younger than me these days, is that the Rest Stop Of Life does not even begin to look attractive for many, many years. There are lots of new things coming down the pike as we speak. And there are many more things to come the likes of which have not even been imagined. Don’t give up on the future. Because the alternative is just not that rosy.

It has been another great adventure this semester, and I thank each and every one of my students for providing great company as well as intellectual colloquy. May you go forth with the wild-eyed ambitions of a 5-year-old. May you always find yourself reaching for something more, something new, something better. And may you come to learn that, in the end, it really was all about the journey, and not the destination.

Because it really doesn’t have to stop.

Dr “Blessings & Peace” Gerlich

Do The Geo-Loco

4 05 2011

I am a slave to the social graph. Sure, I get paid to do this, since my classes carry such heavy emphasis on it. I am usually one of the first to jump off the diving board into the pool of new things, and once I am have found the waters to be inviting, I scream for everyone else to join me.

But sometimes few if any listen. Like now, with statistics showing that only 17% of the mobile population uses location-based services like Gowalla, FourSquare, Facebook Places, et al. And yet we post anything and everything else on our FB and TW feeds.

But maybe, just maybe, LBSs (or as they are also called, geo-loco) have jumped the social shark and sent people packing.

And perhaps with good reason. Many people cite privacy as a huge deterrent to using geo-locos. After all, you are broadcasting to your FB friends (as well as the entire Twitterverse) that you are, in fact, not at home. Yes. I’ll say that again. Not. At. Home. Furthermore, you have announced to any would-be stalkers your rather precise location. You cannot fool geo-locos, because they are GPS-based. You can’t “check in” to Red Robin when you’re sitting in an office 18 miles away.

Others simply quip that virtual badges and honorary mayoral bragging rights are not worth the effort. They may be right, but I don’t play along for those anyway.

You see, I use geo-locos (mine is Gowalla…could you tell?) to serve as a travelogue of sorts (my passport reads like a phone directory) as well as to provide content for my social media presence. I share only what I want to share, and push only what I want to push across to FB and TW. Basically, where I go and what I do is as much a part of the story of my life as anything else I might tweet about. What you read is what you get.

But wait. There’s more.

I also am firmly convinced that geo-locos will be the next wave in marketing and promotions, because we (read: consumers and marketers) can use to them to receive/send deals. I have no problem with marketers speaking to me via my phone. Maybe it’s because I am a marketing prof specializing in social media. But then again, maybe it’s because I like a good deal. I believe Pavlov has already addressed this issue anyway.

Yes, it truly is up to each and every one of us if we choose (opt-in is the official jargon) to geo-locos. I enjoy posting these things as much as I enjoy reading the geo-loco posts of others. Why? Because they allow me to see behind the curtain of You…my friends. For me, getting to know my peeps at many levels has been the best part of social media. So when you see me check in frequently at Red Robin, you know that I love that place. When you see me earn a badge at Untappd, you know I am indulging myself in the pursuit of unique craft brews. When I post a picture of my entree to Foodspotting, you know I am having a epicurean experience worth sharing. And if I post a snapshot to Instagram, it is because I was inspired to be creative with the filters and wanted to bring you into the picture.

Sure, you may not feel like swimming in uncharted waters, but I assure you the water is comfy, and you can swim any stroke you wish. Or just float.

I’ll look for you in the deep end.

Dr “Gone Loco” Gerlich

Weddar Or Not

3 05 2011

There is probably no more popular a topic to discuss than the weather. Most of us have learned to keep our political and religious feelings inside (especially in social events the members of which we may not really know that well). But if there is one thing we can all invoke with absolute freedom is our love or loathing of the current weather. And more times than not, it turns into one big bitchfest.

Like this year. Holy cow, has this one been a crazy spring. Depending on where you live, insert the appropriate word(s): windy, cold, hot, windy, stormy,wet, dry or windy.

Can you tell I live in the Texas Panhandle? Dang, has it been windy this spring. Even the cats are complaining.

Which is why the new Weddar app is so much fun. It is the first interactive weather app, welcoming participation from the folks who have to experience the stuff, not the meteorologists who try to predict it. Users can post one of 9 “Weddar clouds,” ranging from “Freezing” to “Hotter Than Hell.” Users can also post comments, and soon will be able to add pics illustrating the weather.

I would like to propose a new icon for “Howling Like A Banshee.” We could just park that baby over Amarillo and leave it.

Politics, weather and world events come and go around the discussion table of our lives, but weather is omnipresent. Unless you live in Biosphere II, your day is influenced by it. You probably organized your outfit based on it. Your activities today will be affected by it.

So why not complain about it? Sure, we could also sing its praises, but what fun is that?

Weather is often used as a selling point for communities. I remember when I interviewed for this job back in 1988. The tagline I got from everyone was “warm days, cool nights,” following by less frequent references to “abundant sunshine” and “amazing sunsets.” Of course, they were only being partially truthful. “Blows like a sonofagun” was never once uttered. Of course, had I interviewed in April and not October, I may never have made it here in the first place.

Fort Myers Beach FL loves to brag on its weather, as evidenced by this shirt I saw there (I refrain from printing the barnyard epithet used with reckless abandon). Of course, they’re in the partial truth business, too, because they conveniently forget to tell us that the temperature and humidity spend 5 months a year in the 90s.

Still, the weather provides us all with something to talk about, because it hits every one of us squarely where we live or happen to be. The Weddar app (which is still self-funded and seeking a revenue model) is the perfect place to vent (or occasionally tip the hat). Because we would all like to hang the weatherman/woman out to dry.

And maybe just blow away.

Dr “Sunny With A High Of 75” Gerlich

Bin There, Done That

2 05 2011

The first of May 2011 will go down in history as the day that:

  • President Obama scored a huge jump in the polls
  • Osama bin Laden was killed
  • Social media trumped old media
  • Thousands of college students gathered outside the White House, and no beer was involved
  • All of the above

If you chose “All of the above,” give yourself a star and a happy face.

In another one of those “what-were-you-doing-when-you-found-out” moments, Osama bin Laden’s death now ranks right up there with 911, the Challenger disaster and JFK’s assassination. Cultural signpost. Historical marker. Turning point.

But from a social-technological perspective, it was the proliferation of social media usage that has sent a huge message to old media: you can’t beat tweets. If you believe the Mashable poll, then over 50% of people found out about the killing via either Twitter or Facebook.

Now to be honest, I found out about the killing in a rather old-school way. I had been at a late meeting at school (yeah, we academics work some rather strange hours), and upon walking into the house, my wife pointed to the telly. It was at that point I ran to the computer and pulled up both Twitter and Facebook. The trending topics on Twitter were of particular interest to me, because it showed how people the world over were framing their comments regarding this significant event.

But before I continue, I must deflate the Mashable poll a little. It is an opt-in survey (we already know how fraught with error those can be). Plus, it appeared on the Mashable site as well as was copied far and wide through the social graph. It was like asking a television viewers if they had seen any commercials.

In other words, Mashable (the go-to site for tech and social media info) was polling the choir. What did they expect to hear?

Still, it is how social media are used to either break or spread a story that has huge implications. Our Twitter and Facebook feeds are balanced with both personal contacts and corporate sources, many of which are mainstream media. We may have been likely to first find out about Osama via social media, but it was probably through a cnnbrk (CNN Breaking News) tweet or something similar.

And then we ReTweeted it. Shared it. Copied it. Pasted it.

After this, we joined the discussion by adding our 2 cents to the issue. We praised President Obama and our special ops fighters. Or we pleaded for this to be a unifying moment, not a partisan “our candidate did it!” event. We joked. We cried. We drew parallels to history (many erroneously reported that Hitler had also died on 1st of May, when in fact the best guess is 30th April). If ever Twitter and Facebook ran the risk of being broken, it was last night. The sheer volume was enough to choke a horse.

Most people get their news these days from social media, mostly because it is so convenient, and we practically live there. We share it as if we were all cub reporters, with few if any of us actually providing additional news. But perhaps most importantly, the social graph, especially Twitter, has become a CB radio for the times. It’s just a place to air anything and everything.

Had this been more of a street-level occurrence, the citizen journalist aspect would have been far greater (I am thinking of Egypt, or Japan’s tsunami). Given our time and distance from the actual killing, though, the best we could do was just repost it and chime in.

And you know what? That alone may be the most important aspect of social media. Sure, there will be times when citizens scoop the pros on a story, mainly because of sheer luck and proximity. We will probably never see mainstream media go away. They have already adapted well to the digital grapevine. No, it is the fact that social media provide us with a place to simply talk about things. To vent. To speculate. To celebrate. To praise.

No generation prior could ever brag about having a global fence over which to talk to others. It is catharsis writ large. We wring our hands. We hug. And we go on to tomorrow, better people for having at least thought about, and articulated on, the day’s events.

I may not have heard about it on social media, but I got there as fast as I could. And I found my friends. I read every last thing they posted through the night. In so doing, I feel like I know them a little bit better, a little bit deeper.

Maybe it’s time to break out that beer after all.

Dr “Tweet This” Gerlich

Going For The Gold

1 05 2011

Getting old has its privileges, among them being enough memories to fill a museum. Most of those memoris are probably not worth the neurons I used to retrieve them in the first place, but at least I am an ever-growing repository of examples for my students.

Like the 1968 Summer Olympics.

Yeah, I can still recall sitting in our basement in suburban Chicago, watching grainy black-and-white coverage from Mexico City. Thank fully, Mexico City is in the same time zone in which I grew up, so none of that middle-of-the-night coverage (although nothing beats curling as an antidote to insomnia like during the 2012 Winter Olympics in Vancouver).

But what little we saw on TV back then was pretty much it, other than even worse imagery in the next day’s newspaper. We knew the Olympics were going on, but reports were spotty at best. The notion of “real time” was still pretty new back then, and few could pull it off.

Of course, that is all different now. Global communications has made it possible for us to watch every swim stroke, every 100-meter dash, ever javelin throw. Forget about time zones. We can watch it all.

But even that is losing some of its luster, for the upcoming London 2012 Olympics are already gearing up to be the world’s largest utiliser of new media in sports yet. Never mind last year’s World Cup. That’ll pale in comparison.

A quick search of the 4 Horsemen of the Social Graph (Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and YouTube) reveals a plethora of official and unofficial sites and pages already up and running, preparing us for what will no doubt be the biggest media (new and old) ever. It will be a global extravaganza the likes of which we have never seen.

And to make sure they don’t drop the ball, the Sochi 2012 Winter Olympics and Rio De Janiero 2016 Summer Olympics are already getting their social media act together as well.

And it all makes perfect sense. Let’s face it. Most of us, as in all prior Olympiads, will not be able to attend. Ticket prices plus travel expenses are not exactly cheap. But now, thanks to the ubiquity of mobile devices, we can take the Olympics with us wherever we go. We need not find a telly to witness who wins the decathlon. Heck, way back in 2008, YouTube streamed 3-hours of pre-recorded Olympics content. It would not exactly be prescient to say today that we will probably be able to watch the entire 2012 Olympics live through one or more live streaming content providers next summer. In fact, just plan on it.

Which all means that the Olympics are becoming ever more a marketer’s fantasy come true. Where else could you unite the entire world and then pitch a product or service? Thus far, 46 corporations have signed on to sponsor the 2012 Olympics. And you can bet your bronze medal they’ll all launch their own Facebook pages to reinforce their brand.

As for me, I am the lucky one, for I get to teach a select group of graduate students from 15-25 May this year as we tour London and related Olympics venues. I am tasked with teaching basic sports marketing, but with a specific bent toward the Olympics and all it includes. We actually kick off our learning experience later tonight (01 May), setting the stage for what will be a whirlwind tour de force of perhaps the biggest marketing platform the world has ever seen.

And it sure beats watching that old B&W telly in 1968. I just wish we could all score some tickets and have to book a return trip. Now that would be a gold medal affair in my book.

Dr “I’m OK With The UK” Gerlich