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Last week one of the inescapable stories in the United States was a controversial video showing a group of Catholic students appearing to clash with Native Americans. They were widely condemned and the video was endlessly dissected in opinion stories shared online and one of the students even went on television to defend himself. Over the course of the week, the entire story ended up becoming yet another example of how people choose to believe whatever they want.

Perhaps most interestingly, the one indisputable truth about nearly everyone who has posted their outrage about the incident is that none of them were there in person to see what actually happened. Everyone is reacting to a viral video – and that is the biggest problem of all.

In another story that received far less attention this week, Microsoft added a feature to its web browser automatically warning anyone who visits the Daily Mail website with the message: “Proceed with caution: this website generally fails to maintain basic standards of accuracy and accountability.” This is a proactive step that I’d like to see more technology platform and software providers try harder integrate into how media is shared online.

When we form opinions based on what we think we see (or don’t see) in viral videos, then outrage will continue to be the lens we use to understand the world. And that’s not good for anyone.

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How many times would you watch a movie? When it comes to the hot new thriller Searching from first-time director Aneesh Chaganty, you will need more than a few because of the number of easter eggs and elaborate side storylineshidden in the movie.

The film is about a frantic Dad, played by John Cho, searching social media for clues about his missing daughter. Many of the shots in the film are from the viewpoint of the screen, which created an early challenge of what content to use for all those side windows. To do it, Chaganty estimates writing 25 times more content than the actual screenplay just to fill those screens and managed them all in 26 different Google docs. And it’s not just noise.

All of this background content—images, email text, subject headers, news articles and headlines, text messages, and so on—are used to create parallel storylines that you will only notice the second or third time you watch. In the process, they have created a film that is redefining the rules of filmmaking and offering the rarest type of experience: something you can see over and over and always find something new.

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One piece of advice I am fond of sharing from the stage is about the importance of showing your work – something we are told to do in school but often forget. This brand video from Victorinox is a twelve minute journey behind the scenes into how their iconic Swiss Army Knives are made. The video, now a few years old, is boring, matter of fact and is too long … but it is also a great reminder that sometimes just showing what you do behind the scenes is interesting enough to be a way to engage your customers.

Victorinox Swiss Army Knives Production 2016 ENGLISH - YouTube

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Recently a contributor to Forbes named Panos Mourdoukoutas wrote an opinion piece suggesting that local taxpayers would be better off if libraries were replaced with Amazon. The article created an instant controversy and media reporting of the outrage led Forbes to quickly take it down. For years the expansion of contributors to the Forbes network has led to plenty of so-called experts with questionable credentials writing self promotional articles. Earlier this year, there was a long post about journalistic integrity, plans to hire more journalists and how those contributors would be rewarded. The intent to hire more journalists is a noble one, but the fact that stories are published on the site with little editorial oversight seems likely to continue unless Forbes gets serious about reevaluating the criteria for contributors, and providing more traditional journalism training. Sadly, this will likely not become a priority even now.

Forbes has been one of the most forward looking of the “traditional” business publications in opening its network to contributors that would have a difficult time getting those same articles published on a rival site or publication. The upside of this choice for the past several years has been that Forbes has far more content than rivals and therefore appears in more search results, has more people promoting those articles and delivers more page views and impressions to sell advertising against. The dangerous side, as this controversy demonstrated, is that the lack of oversight on all these contributors creates backlash. The bigger truth, however, is that the “controversy” generated is probably not a bad thing for Forbes. It’s easy for them to delete any offending article and chalk it up to a momentary lapse in editorial judgement.

As a result the entire story seems to strike at the heart of what it will take to succeed in media and publishing today. Is it better to open up a platform to all sorts of peddlers of content and mix the good with the not so good and apologize away any potential controversies, or to maintain a strict editorial standard and therefore produce less content and less page views?  The answer, at the moment, is anyone’s guess.

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Back when I worked at a marketing agency I remember those times when I would see a campaign so inspired it would immediately make me wish I had thought of it. This new effort from FCB New York is one of those envy-inducing efforts. The goal is to position LG TVs as the ones that your binge-watching experience of your favorite shows deserves and the clever idea is to let you watch those shows in a set that recreates the environment of the show. So you can watch The Crown inside of an actual British palace, for example.

The brilliance of this campaign even extends to how they decided to award these exclusive experiences. To enter, every obsessed fan must persuade LG, in 500 words or less, why they deserve the prize — which guarantees the winners will have a great story to tell and the ability to actually share it in an interesting way.

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Every year as part of my trend research and idea gathering, I go through more than a hundred business books and select my shortlist of 15 best ones published in 2016 to share with you. These are all profiled in a short presentation along with a review of each and my selections for the Most Original, Most Entertaining, Most Important, Most Useful and Most Shareable books of the year.

A summary is below as well as a link to the full presentation. I hope you enjoy this list of books and find a few to add to your own reading list!

All of my selections are profiled in detail in a Slideshare presentation which you can view either by clicking the image above or by using this link:

View All The Winners And Full Reviews Here >>

In order to make it easier to buy these books, here is a quick list of all the finalists, as well as my picks for the winners in five categories:

Quick Links To Buy All 15 Books:
  1. Disrupted http://amzn.to/2gOrLbJ
  2. Dealstorming http://amzn.to/2gOlvRj
  3. Ego Is The Enemyhttp://amzn.to/2gJqYwf
  4. Grit http://amzn.to/2fOFmi7
  5. Hug Your Hatershttp://amzn.to/2gOsdXy
  6. Illuminate http://amzn.to/2fOuuRz
  7. Invisible Influencehttp://amzn.to/2gBWbyt
  8. Messy http://amzn.to/2gJqPsV
  9. Originals http://amzn.to/2gJqPsV
  10. Never Split The Difference http://amzn.to/2gJqsOU
  11. Persuadable http://amzn.to/2gJqDJW
  12. Under New Managementhttp://amzn.to/2gC16iR
  13. Small Datahttp://amzn.to/2gBY3Yd
  14. TED Talks http://amzn.to/2gJqs1r
  15. Wonderland http://amzn.to/2gJr5Ic
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I heard the same story three times in a row yesterday, and it was illuminating.

Every year outside the well scripted confines of Manhattan an epic event called The Future of Storytelling brings together designers, technologists, builders and brand marketers to ask the most fundamental question facing any creator: how do you tell a story that people will care about? This year’s event gathered spoken word poets, a master perfumer, a world renowned magician and many other unexpected characters to discuss and question the future of the art of storytelling itself.

At an event like this, injecting a conversation about “corporate storytelling” might seem a bit unambitious. After all, how interesting could marketing be when you are literally following a presentation about the first human in history who is aiming to actually become a cyborg by implanting an antennae in his brain that allows him to “hear colors.”

Yet I was lucky to this exact challenge with perhaps the one person in the world of marketing and business who could best do it, General Electric CMO Beth Comstock. Over the course of three hour long moderated roundtable discussions with about 25 people per session, we debated everything from how brands might work with creators to why so much of “content marketing” is so tragically forgettable.

Personal Connection in Corporate Storytelling: Beth Comstock (Future of StoryTelling 2014) - YouTube
Over the course of those three hours – here were some of the most powerful insights that arose from our collaborative discussion around how any brand might best use corporate storytelling to make a lasting emotional connection with the audiences they care about:

1. Develop “Story Archaeologists.”

The brilliant thing about archaeologists is that they don’t create history, they only discover it and help us find the meaning behind it. Similarly, there are so many stories that brands have already behind the way they make the things they make. If you can simply get better at finding them more consistently, you can often unlock a hidden treasure of stories that are waiting to be shared.

2. Be A Participant, Not A Patron.

We expect a certain behaviour of our patrons – particularly when it comes to the Arts. The most obvious way for a brand to support a story is simply to sponsor it. Yet slapping a “Presented by” logo on a piece of storytelling produced by someone else is never the same as true storytelling. Instead, great storytelling requires you to be a participant and take a leap of faith to produce something.

3. Make The Invisible Visible.

When you make big intimidating world shifting products like a jet engine – it can be easy for the individuals behind it to lose their sense of purpose. The end product is often invisible to them. Yet if you can bring that engineer to the first flight of the aircraft using that engine, or connect the designer of the new MRI machine to the cancer patient who ends up using it then you can make the impact of what they do come to life. Those situations create amazing stories because you make the invisible impact of their work visible.

4. Hire People Who Are “Story Culture” Fits.

All storytellers are not created equal and the thing that separates them is passion. A great storyteller for GE must also love science and have curiosity. Without that combination of passion and curiosity, the beauty of the stories that GE might authentically tell could be lost. Great and visual storytelling isn’t about hiring the hottest agency to reshape an image and to make a brand “cool.” Instead, it’s about embracing the inner geek and being true to yourself.

5. Create Wearable Meaning.

The thing that connects people is other people. We tend to think about meaning sometimes in the same way as logic. It has meaning as long as it makes sense. But they are not the same. When a story has true meaning, you connect with it so authentically that you would literally wear it. You would produce a t-shirt, put it on, and never take it off. Perhaps the biggest opportunity for corporate storytelling is to create and evangelize this type of meaning.

The Bottom Line:

Of course, over the span of the day our conversation branched into many different categories and the participants (who I am in the process of curating to list here) offered many other useful ideas. Ultimately, as one participant put it, the key for corporate or brand storytellers is to move beyond history to heritage – because a history is just a list. A heritage is something you can be proud of – and that is worth finding a way to share because people will connect with it and learn from it. Even if they end up hearing it three times in a row. If you enjoyed this, you might also like my article on why “7 Reasons Why GE Is The Most Strategic Brand On Social Media” … 

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In 2007 an association of about 50 Honda dealerships based in the Southern California area launched a bold experiment.

Faced with the reality that customers generally rate car dealers among the least trustworthy people in business, Honda and their agency at the time had an idea to change that perception.  The “Helpful Honda Dealers” concept was to prove Honda Dealers were helpful by sending them out into the community in light blue polo shirts to do everything from washing customer’s cars to paying for parking all day in Old Town Pasadena while covering meters with blue Honda signs saying “It’s on us.”

The Strategy:

Launched exclusively in Southern California with the relatively small budget of $25 million in February of 2007 – the program had an almost immediate impact. Just over a year later, AdAge magazine reported that the campaign had helped local Honda dealers close the trust gap against Toyota in their region and increase likelihood among consumers to visit a Honda dealership. As far as local dealership campaigns go, this was certainly enough to declare success.

But then the Southern California Honda Dealers Association did something that is sadly quite rare in the world of marketing. They committed to executing a good idea.

For years the campaign suffered from a lack of funds, but in 2012 Honda finally committed millions of dollars to regional advertising and gave dealer associations more autonomy to launch regional campaigns.  So the SoCal dealers were able to fund and double down on their campaign concept of the “Helpful Honda Dealers.”  Over the past two years, the campaign has produced a series of video ads like the one below:

They have also used social media frequently to share the latest news from the campaign and new ways they are helping the local community, as well as engaging with the people in Southern California who share stories of how Honda has helped them – such as the tweet below from their efforts this past 4th of July weekend to provide free gas for Honda owners:

Thanks to @HelpfulHonda for the free gas!!! #Honda pic.twitter.com/w5BnKycmy3

— Baker (@MetalFaceBaker) July 4, 2014

So with all this success in their region – you might think that other large dealer associations might be rushing to take this same concept in launch it in their own regions.  Or perhaps that Honda’s national marketing team may put more resources behind making this a campaign and promotion to be rolled out across the country.  Unfortunately, neither seems to be true.

The Missed Opportunity:

While the Southern California team of dealers work to single handedly change the perceptions of Honda dealers and connect with consumers in a smart and authentic way – only a few pioneering dealership associations like a small group of 10 Valley based dealerships in Arizona seem to be supporting the effort.

Meanwhile the Tri-state dealer association representing New York, Connecticut and New Jersey (a similarly sized region to Southern California with about 60 dealerships) is slated to receive an estimated $40 million funding from Honda for regional advertising, yet shows no signs of any integrated campaign on the same level as the Helpful Honda dealers effort from their colleagues out west.

In contrast, here’s a brand-centric tweet from their team over this past holiday weekend predictably focusing on one of their vehicles and offering no real incentive for participation:

Honda Satellite-Linked Navigation System with voice recognition: the way to find the best spots to watch the #July4th fireworks.

— Tri Honda Dealers (@TriHondaDealers) July 4, 2014

Aside from the larger regions, plenty of other mid sized regions like Detroit, Houston, the Carolinas, Central Florida, the Gulf Coast, and the Capital region north of New York seem to also have ignored this opportunity.

The Strategy Lesson:

Sometimes the best ideas for a campaign come from a place where people are most deeply connected to the customers they serve on a regional level.  More importantly, those ideas may only take full shape over the course of years until they become an embedded part of a brand reputation.

Changing marketing strategy every year simply isn’t as smart as finding a great strategy and committing to it.

The SoCal Helpful Honda Dealers campaign has evolved over seven years to become one of the most brilliant marketing strategies for a region of dealers working to change their reputation and relationship with their customers – and leverage that hard earned trust to sell more cars.  The only downside is how few others within the Honda marketing and dealer organization seem to realize just how effective this strategy really could be if they adopted and promoted it on a national scale.

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After two days of conversations about social media with 25 of the world’s largest brands, perhaps the nicest benefit is that you don’t hear the same conclusions or experiences over and over. For the third year in a row, I had the chance to moderate and lead the Corporate Social Media Summit in NY – which brought together brand marketers from Whole Foods, NASCAR, McDonald’s and Century21 to share the same stage.

During the event, more than twenty panel discussions focused on everything from internal structures and training to content creation and lead generation.  The hashtag for the event #CSMNY was even a trending topic on Twitter – offering perhaps the ultimate proof of short term social virality … being targeted by Twitter spam bots trying to usurp the trending topic.

From the stage, though, there were many key themes that emerged from insights shared by speakers.  Here are just a few of those themes:

  1. Smart Brands Don’t Care About Social Media. Yes, I am using an intentional link baiting headline for my first point – but across the first several conversations about “weaving social into the fabric of business,” it was clear that the biggest brands are all thinking beyond the traditional idea that social is a place to create and distribute all kinds of media. Instead MetLife Head of eBusiness Amir Weiss, Adobe Exec Jeff Feldman and TradeKing CEO Don Montanaro  all shared stories of how the idea of creating a “Social Business” goes far beyond content creation or social platforms and requires a new way of thinking about how social impacts everything from employee engagement to customer care.
  2. Better Timing Is Everything. For anyone who has worked on lead generation campaigns – the typical response rates tend to hover somewhere between 3% and 15% – so when Restaurant.com CMO Christopher Krohn shared that his post-dining survey gets a response rate of close to 40%, it raised more than  few eyebrows at the Summit.  What’s the secret?  It turns out giving people the survey immediately after they finished dining rather than waiting 24 hours made a crucial difference in how likely they were to share their experience by filling it out. Later in the event, multiple brands shared similar learnings around the importance of producing relevant and timely content that was either inspired by media and culture of the moment, or by being findable in the exact moment that someone most needed it.
  3. Motivate and Train Employees Through Content. It is tempting to think of creating content as purely a marketing tactic to reach customers who are seeking information or utility – yet some of the most powerful examples of content creation at the Summit came from brands who were actively using it to train or motivate employees.  Century21 CMO Bev Thorne shared that her organization actively uses internally created videos to train real estate agents on social media and answer the most frequently asked questions.  Whole Foods Director of Social Media Natanya Anderson also shared multiple examples of how content, leaderboards and curated showcases were used to inspire independent store owners and others to more actively use social media by rewarding and recognizing the best performing examples from across their network of locations on a weekly basis.
  4. Find A Way To Improve A Bad Experience.  If there is one universal truth about moving, it’s that no one likes it.  Packing all the things you own into boxes and then putting them on a truck (sometimes on your own) is never a fun experience. Yet U-haul Social Media Director Toni Jones shared a story of how her brand was able to turn that moment around by asking people to use the hashtag #myuhaul to share their photos of moving for a chance to be featured on the side of actual trucks in real life.  The promotion took off because it added an element of fun to an experience that usually is just the opposite.  In the process, the brand was able to make a deeper connection in an experience where usually people are given a forgettable experience by being treated as customers in a transaction and offered nothing more memorable to turn them into advocates.
  5. Separate Content Creation From Distribution. It is easy to spend most of your time when it comes to content focusing on it’s creation.  That is the hard part, of course.  Yet when it comes to getting the content in front of the right people, distributing that content can be almost as big of a challenge.  In a fascinating discussion between Huffington Post Brand Strategy Director Marcia Lesser, Marissa Pick from Euromoney and Amir Zonozi of Zoomph – one principle that emerged as being important was separating the act of creating engaging content from the process and method of distributing it.  Jen Lashua, Intel’s Editor In Chief, shared a similar piece of advice – sharing that it is important to always try new pilot programs with untried platforms to see if they pay off.  Some may be better for content creation, while others may work solely for distribution.
  6. Don’t Forget Your Employee Advocates.  Across multiple panel sessions throughout the conference a mixture of brand marketers like Dan Lewis from Molson-Coors and several software providers all pointed to perhaps one of the biggest missed opportunities in social media … activating employees.  By one estimate, a core group of several thousand employees can generate the same reach as a million customers.  Yet brands are typically not good at giving employees ways to learn about marketing efforts or to help promote them.  Now there are more tools that allow for that to be managed centrally – and the ideal solution most speakers shared was some mixture of selecting the right tools/platforms and combining it with proactive and ongoing training.
  7. Replace Big Data With Small Actionable Data.  Despite the popularity of big data as a buzzword, several speakers pointed out that the way they are making sense of data is by getting better at knowing what data to ignore.  Brands like Sprint, Whole Foods and McDonald’s are all seeking new ways to slice the data they do collect into pieces that are actionable and have more value for particular audiences.  In many cases, this means pulling out different types of data and insights based on the audience you are aiming to share those metrics with.  As time moves on, more brands will likely focus on this challenge of reducing the noise within big data collection to real meaning from those numbers.  Once that happens, the value of data finally starts to translate into better insights to power marketing decisions.

Rohit Bhargava is the Chairman of the Corporate Social Media Summit, creator of the new B2B Social Media Marketing Certification program and a popular keynote speaker on business trends, social media and the future of marketing.  He is a two time TEDx speaker and has been invited to headline events in 27 countries around the world.  

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The greatest word The Simpsons ever offered to the English language was “craptacular.” When Bart Simpson used it to describe Homer’s Christmas decorations, he introduced a much needed concept for us all: something that was so bad it might actually be good.

Today we are in the age of instant startups, where launching an idea from a garage suddenly seems needlessly spacious. Yet with that ease of creation also comes the occasional silliness.  Or perhaps not so occasional. According to Bill Gates, as much as half of all Silicon Valley startups may be silly, and two thirds of them may be going bankrupt.  So in my own attempt to celebrate a day filled with jokes about “Gmail Shelfies” and plenty of other April Fools gags, I thought it would be fun to create my own list of a few craptacular startup ideas. You know … ideas so bad they might actually be good.  Here they are:

1. Escapr – Take A Vacation Without Taking Time Off.

Need a quick escape from your daily life?  Escapr can help. Just choose your departing airport to see ALL flight options (because when you’re escaping it doesn’t really matter where you go). After you book the best flight and hotel, the site will automatically create fake doctor’s notes to get you out of work, create an Out-Of-Office email reply (with the appropriate apologetic tone), send a car to pick you up and drive you to the airport and partner with a mail order clothing retailer to send a bunch of clothes in your size to your final destination.  There is no annoying time researching your trip, and no evidence for anyone to find after your escape is over that you ever took the trip.

2. SelfieSilencer – The Social Ego Muffler

Sick of duck face photos?  Too many friends sharing those annoying “look at me after I worked out” selfies?  That’s not a problem anymore with SelfieSilencer. This is a mobile phone app and browser tool that automatically filters out images of selfies on all social media platforms. And the best part is you don’t have to worry about accidentally missing out on important celebrity selfies (like Ellen at the Oscars) because our built in Selfie Influence Meter algorithm will identify those critical selfies and make sure they still make it through.

 3. Cloakr – Disappear Socially. Be The Real You In Real Life.

Do you feel like you can be the “real you” on social media? Probably not. But we don’t care about solving that problem for you. Instead, we want you to be yourself in the real world interacting with real people!  We invented Cloakr to be a single kill button for all social media sharing.  When you enable Cloakr on your phone, we plug into every social media profile and turn every type of sharing or update off.  So when you’re “Cloakd” – you’re completely invisible to all your social media connections.  Sound nice?  Check out our site and get Cloakd today!

4. KarmaAlert – Karma Happens. Don’t Miss It.

You don’t have to be Indian to believe in karma. When you meet someone who is rude, angry, selfish – often you know it will lead them towards bad fortune … but sadly you probably won’t be around to see it.  We want to change that.  With KarmaAlert, you can sign up for a text message that will automatically be sent to you whenever that obnoxious person you met experiences their “karma moment” of misfortune.  You can spend a moment to delight in that misfortune they so richly deserve, the universe returns to its regular order, and you can go merrily on your way.

What’s Next?

Clearly the next step in “embiggening” (another Simpsons word!) these concepts is to hold a Hackathon event to challenge teams of developers and entrepreneurs to build and launch them.  But I need your help.

Which of these startup concepts would you like to see built in real life? Or maybe you have a better suggestion?  Please comment below on your choice for the most promising idea and maybe together we can get enough people interested to build it.  After all, any entrepreneur can ask why.  More of us should choose to ask, why not — because you don’t create something craptacular without first making a commitment to try.

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