Winner's Edge

Focused on strategic communications

Breaking through the noise of social media

Proven sources like academics and experts gain influence as people become more skeptical of peer recommendations.

Way back in the 20th century, “buzz” was the je ne sais quoi of the marketing world. Every company wanted it, but few presumed to know how to get it. Back then, corporations generally lobbed their products into the marketplace, bombarded consumers with repetitive messages and sat back and prayed that buzz would magically appear.

That, of course, changed as companies learned how to harness the Internet. And, as social media like MySpace and Facebook emerged, marketing became less of a monologue and more of a multiparty conversation. It suddenly wasn’t enough for companies and their spokespersons to speak down to consumers from the mountaintop. The new challenge was how to get consumers to say good things about a product to one another.

The rise of social media has been part and parcel of the devolution of authoritative information and the flowering of a million cacophonous voices. It not only changed the way companies looked at consumers but how consumers looked at each other. By 2005, surveys showed that when it came to the marketplace, Americans were beginning to trust their peers more than well-known authorities and experts. The following year, according to the Trust Barometer Survey conducted by Edelman, an international public relations firm, saw the emergence of “a person like me” as a credible spokesperson for companies and products.

By 2010, nearly four in five corporations were planning to move money they once spent on television advertising to some sort of social media campaign. Two weeks ago, Pepsi chose to forgo a high-profile TV spot at halftime of the Super Bowl for a social-media-driven charity campaign that will award the nonprofit organizations that muster the most votes through virtual social networks. Could there be any better proof that social media is the future of marketing?

But hold on, now comes Edelman’s 2010 Trust Barometer. The latest findings fly in the face of that formerly new conventional wisdom.

According to the survey, since 2008 the number of people who view their friends and peers as credible sources of consumer and business information dropped by almost half, from 45% to 25%. Similarly, in the past year, the number of people who view peers as credible spokespersons also slipped. Even more strikingly, however, after a precipitous decline earlier in the decade, informed consumers have regained trust in traditional authorities and experts.

What’s going on? Are Facebook friends turning on each other? Did we lose faith in ourselves? Is social media just a fluke?

None of the above, says Gail Becker, Edelman’s Western regional president. After sifting through the data, she concludes that consumers are merely rebelling against all the noise and reflecting the effects of uncertain times.

A few years ago, when peer-to-peer trust was at a peak, social media was still relatively new and its circles were manageable. But since then, the number of friend networks has exploded and every kind of business, for-profit and not, has sought to harness — we might say, exploit — them for their gain. That, according to Becker, has made people more skeptical of peer recommendations.

“Social media is more professionalized now and less organic,” says Becker. “It’s harder to know who to trust.”

And in troubled times, such uncertainty is magnified. All of this explains the rise in the number of people willing to pay attention to sources like proven academics and experts. After indulging the thoughts and opinions of anyone who was “just like me,” it seems that people are now looking for a firmer guarantee of clarity, objectivity and accuracy.

Although these findings are mostly about business and financial matters, they surely also have broader significance. They suggest that the flattening of authority may not go on forever, and that there are limits to Americans’ belief in Everyman.

I’d like to think that this bodes well for one of the old, authoritative sources of information, the traditional media. Unfortunately, so far the survey also shows that the credibility of television and radio news and newspapers continued to take a beating over the past two years.

Cacophony and crisis prove the need for objectivity and expertise. What a relief. Call it old-fashioned, hierarchical or elitist, but in an era in which issues are only becoming more complicated, it’s about time.

(reprinted from Los Angeles Times. OpEd by Gregory Rodriguez)


February 17, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What is the “Smart Grid” that Obama and Congress Want?

We’ve heard about the “smart grid” in the news and advertising. It’s a part of the new Waxman – Markey Energy Bill, and the President even mentioned it in his inaugural address. It all sounds promising, if a little short on details. So what exactly is a smart grid?


First a quick review of how electricity gets to us.

Electricity travels through wires, sometimes hundreds of miles, from power plants, solar panels and wind farms to homes and businesses. If you imagine these wires are roads, the high voltage lines you see strung on huge metal towers are eight-lane freeways with the capacity to move a large volume of electricity.

Substations are off-ramps, where the high voltage electricity is stepped down by transformers before moving out on lower voltage distribution lines into neighborhoods and commercial zones. Think surface streets.

This complex system was built over decades and has grown with each new wave of development. The responsibility for maintaining the extensive grid belongs to the utilities that use it to deliver electricity. Utilities act both as road crews – building and repairing lines and other system hardware – and as traffic cops – monitoring and controlling the flow of electricity as demand varies by region and fluctuates hour to hour. It’s a big job that includes everything from the critical (finding the source of power outages), to the technical (gathering information about supply and demand throughout the system), to the routine (measuring the amount of power delivered). All these functions have been performed by individuals since electric utilities first began.

Enter the digital age of wireless Internet connections… and the advent of the smart grid.

The smart grid combines technologies, hardware and software applications that make it easier to gather and relay information and respond more quickly to changing conditions.

For the utility, the hardware includes sensors positioned at regular intervals along the lines and transceivers to relay reports of downed lines or points in the system where congestion is occurring, so power can be re-routed. New software will calculate availability of renewable energy sources – when the wind is blowing and where the sun is shining – and factor that into the overall picture, so utilities will be able to maximize the use of renewable sources in the power they generate.

On the consumer side there are a number of “smart home” components that interface with the smart grid. Smart appliances will let you monitor your power usage from any Internet-connected computer and program them to run during off-peak hours or put them on standby when you’re away. Smart fueling will make it possible to charge up electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles at night when electricity is in lower demand and return some of that stored power to the grid at times of the day when it’s most needed. Smart meters will replace meter readers, and price electricity based on the time it’s used. That way, consumers can save money by conserving power and using certain appliances during “off-peak” hours. By logging onto your account with your utility, you’ll be able to check your consumption and decide where to cut back or change usage habits.

That same instant information from the new meters will also be useful to the utility.  A direct connection with your smart appliances will allow utilities to power them down for periods so brief you won’t even notice.  And the cumulative effect over millions of households will help to balance supply and demand, avoid system overloads, and prevent brownouts and blackouts.

Simple, but ingenious, smart grids represent a long range vision for electricity that will make this indispensible service more efficient, responsive and easier on the environment. For those who struggle with change, it’s important to remember that one thing won’t change; At the end of the day, when you turn on the lights, the lights will still go on.

July 2, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment