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Eric Mower + Associates is proud to be announcing today that Centscere is the 2014 winner of the Market Ready Award. Centscere is the start-up company that lets social media users turn tweets and likes in to donations to causes they care about.

CentScere LogoLike our first Market Ready winner, Rosie, Centscere is just the kind of company we had in mind two years ago when we created the Market Ready Award as part of StartUp Labs Syracuse. It’s a breakthrough idea that’s far along in development. It’s been created by people who are open to innovative marketing ideas. How can we not be excited?

There are three big things I like about Centscere:

Centscere breaks the mold for charitable giving. It’s an entirely different way of making a donation – a digital version of collecting small change outside of a retail store. But instead of charities chasing down donors with their hands out, caring people can select the causes they care about. And then every time the donor does something he or she enjoys – engaging in social connections – they make a micro donation.

Centscere makes it easy for non-profits to connect with donors in new ways. For most charities, implementing digital fund-raising channels is either daunting or impossible. They don’t have the knowledge, technical expertise or experience to build it themselves. And many platforms that enable digital transactions can have high base fees. Centscere eliminates those barriers. As the platform launches, there is no cost for charities to become Centscere partners. And for signing on, they get access to a fully built, tested and secure platform for online giving. Centscere gets a small share of the money donated. And, of course, non-profits need to do their own work of promoting the Centscere channel, but that’s a requirement in any fundraising model. It couldn’t be easier.

Greg Loh and Centscere Team Market Ready Award

Celebrating the 2014 Market Ready Award with the Centscere team. From left: Frank Taylor, me, Ian Dickerson and Mike Smith

And most important, Centscere turns social in to something good. People of all ages spend hours of every day on social media and most of that time can feel like it is wasted. But not when every post triggers a small donation to a good cause. Centscere lines up perfectly with purpose-driven Millennials who passionately want their activities to contribute to a better world. So instead of being made to feel guilty about engaging in social media, now users can feel good about tweets and comments. And given how much social is woven through every aspect of our lives today – news, entertainment, shopping, and even friendships – why not make it a part of the way in which we give?

The small individual contributions that Centscere creates won’t meet the full fundraising requirements of non-profits today. As the platform grows in scale, however, don’t underestimate its potential to generate significant dollars. And for charitable organizations trying to engage with the next generation of donors they will rely on in the future, Centscere is an appropriate and natural way to build relationships and start a habit of giving that will create even bigger returns in the future. That’s good for Centscere. And the whole world, too.

Greg Loh is the managing partner of public relations and public affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s leading independent marketing communications agencies. Views expressed here are his own and do not reflect the opinions of EMA.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThroughout the second half of the 20th century, the “Mushroom Strategy” characterized employee communications in most of Corporate America: “Treat employees like mushrooms… Keep ‘em in the dark and feed ‘em guano.”

Back when the Mad Men personified the advertising business, the concept of mass communications embedded itself into many business practices. With the advent of mass media – network television in the mid-1950s – companies could succeed simply by buying large amounts of airtime and shouting over the din. Business followed the mantra: “We talk. You listen. You buy.”

People – consumers, stockholders and employees alike – were talked at… not talked with. And it worked.

But starting in the mid-1990s (the Stone Age in internet time) with e-mail and chat rooms, the rise and mass adoption of web-based interactive communications technologies fundamentally changed the dynamics, to the point of consigning one-way communication methods to an increasingly unwelcome role.

Two-way communications define the new normal. People blogging and posting comments, stories, advice, opinions, images and homemade video via all forms of social media in breathtaking numbers expect and often demand companies and organizations to interact the same way.

Nearly all your employees live in this world every day, which explains why the Mushroom Strategy no longer works.

I still see too many companies and organizations that regard employee communications as the proverbial ugly stepchild or crazy cousin. Instead, I argue, there are enormous business opportunities and advantages just waiting to be unlocked by doing things differently.

So over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing some new approaches and new strategies intended to encourage you to reevaluate the way you create, manage and deploy internal communications.

Greg Loh is the managing partner of public relations and public affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s leading independent marketing communications agencies. Views expressed here are his own and do not reflect the opinions of EMA.

Recovery reports from Superstorm Sandy are heartbreaking. On Friday, as neighbors cleared properties that were battered by flooding on Staten Island, the bodies of two more storm victims were recovered in a home nearby. Like most who were spared the ravages of Sandy, my thoughts and prayers continue to be drawn to the thousands of people still suffering along the Atlantic Coast.

The recovery is revealing important learnings about emergency communications in the digital age. Major shifts in how people are accessing news and information means crisis plans need to be rethought.

Most public safety agencies and emergency planners have long advised citizens to tune to radio and television for the most current advisories before, during and after the storm. As with so many other things in the digital age, fewer and fewer people are turning there for news and information. An Adweek Data Points last month showed that while television is still the leading source of news for Americans, 39% of the people who were asked, “Where did you get the news yesterday?,” responded  desktop and mobile devices versus 33% for radio.

At Eric Mower + Associates, preparations for Sandy gave us the opportunity to test our new emergency communications system. During the past year, the agency completed a comprehensive update of the our emergency plan, including the creation of a new employee notification system called EMAlert.  We could no longer accept the risk that an emergency situation that cripples our information technology system could also cut off communications to our staff. We worked with a world-leading provider of interactive and mass notification systems to ensure that the agency can now quickly and easily reach EMA people wherever they are with email, text and traditional phone messages. With a secure, offsite technology partner, we have greater assurance that we can help ensure the safety of our people and continue business operations in almost any type of emergency. EMAlert worked exactly as intended in our tests on the day Sandy arrived in the Northeast.

As the recovery from Sandy continues, I see three major lessons for communications professionals who have responsibility for emergency planning:

  1. Update crisis plans to address the reliance on mobile communications. Based on the size and scope of your organization, establish the right approaches (with built-in redundancies) to get messages to key stakeholders on mobile devices. For EMA, it’s a third-party mass notification system.  For your organization, it may be a simple “text-tree” supported by Twitter and Facebook messages.
  2. Maintain procedures that rely on traditional media outlets as a hedge against disruptions to mobile communications. Difficulties in restoring power and cell phone service quickly in hard hit areas can’t be ignored. A Saturday New York Times story, “Fractured Recovery Divides the Region,” carries a poignant reminder of that fact from a desperate Long Islander whose home was flooded. “I just keep waiting for someone with a megaphone and a car to just tell us what to do…I’m lost.”
  3. Closely monitor social media to debunk rumors and false information. Sandy brought many despicable examples of bad actors carelessly or deliberately sharing falsehoods during and after the storm. As exemplified by the good work of BuzzFeed’s Jack Steuf, though, it does appear that the social world can successfully “out” falsehoods and their perpetrators fairly quickly.

Superstorm Sandy shows us emergency plans that advise having battery operated radios and extra batteries on hand aren’t ready for the digital age. And with the near certainty that virtually every business will someday face a major disruption, now is the time to upgrade your preparedness.

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The Technology page in the New York Times lamented Saturday that tech companies aren’t using phones for user support. According to reporter Amy O’Leary in Tech Companies Leave Phones Behind, internet companies like Quora, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn either don’t offer numbers for phone support or end up only playing a recording that drives callers back to their online customer support system.   The story suggests there is something wrong with this model or that it signals a fundamental culture shift in a digital world.

Not so.

Tech companies don’t leave phones behind. They’re an essential part of doing business, even in today’s online world. Having successfully reached Google and LinkedIn representives by telephone, I can assure you tech companies have phones for dealing with paying customers, in my case, an agency that wants to buy advertising. But internet and social media companies that offer a free service to users simply don’t have an obligation or revenue stream to support a costly telephone customer service system. A relatively small number of these companies have successful revenue streams, but virtually all would be driven under by labor intensive phone interactions with users trying to collect lost passwords or account for people who were mean to them on line.

You could argue that other “free” services offer users the ability to talk by phone. I could call my local television station and eventually find someone who would hear my complaint about commercials playing too loud or the sports action I missed due to a technical problem. But I wouldn’t find that after 5 p.m. or on weekends. Why? Because the phones at a TV station are there to serve advertisers not viewers. From my days in radio broadcasting, I can tell you that calls from the public with gripes about programming were an unfortunate side affect of needing phones to make and receive sales calls.

Online search services and social media sites are free to users. By maintaining that status, they already defy the conventional wisdom of, “You get what you pay for.” They deliver information, entertainment, communication and even commerce for free. There is no business rationale to set up call centers for users who pay nothing for their service.

The real travesty of this story will be when some opportunistic elected leader somewhere decides to grandstand by proposing a law that requires online companies to provide customer service support. When that happens, I hope legions of social media users get on their smartphones to call that lawmaker’s office and say, “No way.” Only I bet they won’t find more than an answering machine for most hours of the day.

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