United stock rebounded – just like BP’s did

At the close of trading today, United’s stock traded at $79.67 per share. That’s the same United Airlines whose stock dropped after social media buzzed about a passenger getting dragged off a plane. Remember that story?

Remember that story? Remember the tweets and Facebook posts about how upsetting it was that a passenger could be bumped from a flight, then roughed up to boot? Remember the days of self-inflicted bad PR? United became a cautionary tale for a few days. Yet, if you bought 1,000 shares of United on April 18 and sold them today, you’d be almost $12,000 richer.

British Petroleum had a much more dire disaster on their hands when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig blew in April 2010. The day of the disaster, April 20, BP traded at $60.48 per share. By June 25, 2010, share prices had plummeted to $27.02. Yikes. Yet if you bought 1,000 shares at that nadir then sold the day before Thanksgiving at $41.47, you’d have an extra $14,000 in your pocket for Black Friday (less whatever you paid to get a really nice beat-down rod to help with the crowd at Wal-Mart). While BP has never hit the pre-spill peaks, they stock has stayed relatively solid since.

For these companies, you have to wonder how much internal panic there was when each respective problem hit. In each case, a few news cycles getting raked over the coals meant short term stock drops. It’s hard to be patient and ride out the storm in those cases. Yet in each case, the stock rebounded. People kept pumping gas at BP stations. When United’s flights came up as the cheapest alternatives for a given route, people still bought tickets.

Social media vitriol might seem like it burns with white hot fire. But fires eventually burn out. That’s worth keeping in mind the next time some outrage du jour clogs up news feeds.




Crummy Little Podcast Episode 4: FUBU on a Klansman?

George Chidi, who is responsible for this hilarious video of a Klansman wearing FUBU sneakers, is this week’s guest on the Crummy Little Podcast.

George got some attention for that video, as you might expect, but what’s been missed was his coverage of the confederate flag rally from which that video came. He also spent a week covering a shady soccer stadium deal in DeKalb County, outside of Atlanta. It’s a long podcast, but it was a great conversation about news reporting, media, where it’s at and where it’s going. It probably could have been two shows, but I liked the flow of it.

This was an especially fun episode for me because George and I go back a ways. Long before I had a crummy little podcast, I had a crummy little radio show back at UMass on campus station WMUA. George was the news director at that station for a time, and even guest-hosted my show at least once (and did a better job than me, if I remember right). Needless to say, he’s done our alma mater proud since.

How SNL became bulletbroof

Last night, Saturday Night Live’s celebration of its 40th season was… odd. The broadcast was not crisp. Most of the jokes fell flat. The cuts from scene to scene were sloppy. Eddie Murphy could have been replaced by Damon Wayans without materially changing anything.

It doesn’t really matter, does it? Watching cast members from different eras collaborate and the self-referential callbacks to the earlier classics, served as a reminder that SNL has undergone more resurrections than the bad guy in a 1980s slasher flick. Even though there were a lot – a LOT – of seasons when the show was less-than-par, there’s a trail of would-be competitors in the show’s wake. Even as the Tonight Show yielded ground to Arsenio and, eventually, Letterman, SNL was never seriously threatened. (MAD TV’s mid-90s debut was probably the best shot anyone took.)

Depending on how you count, SNL has had three excellent cast eras and maybe one or two more very good cast eras. Maybe even more important, SNL has done well at making its content packagable for the social internet age. Topical sketches are very sharable due to relevance and length, and the rise of shorts videos – a presence since the early years but more integrated in the last decade – have only helped. More than any old media property, SNL has been the most clearly adaptable to the modern media environment. While they’ve been slow at times, they’ve generally kept up.)

Because of that evolution – and the continued waves of success – the show has It’s a brand name now.  A bad year (or even three) won’t force NBC to pull the plug. Like Tonight, Today, Dateline, and the nightly news, SNL is more than a series on the network, it’s a block of time. Even if the format changes, 11:30 on Saturday night will have a comedy show on NBC for the forseeable future.

Pity the successors to Lorne Michaels at the helm of the show, though – with the show such a proven commodity, NBC will likely expect success. Saturday night Live may be bullet proof, but the

Robin Williams’s death gets a White House statement. Where’s the one for Maj. Gen. Harold Greene?

Hours after the news of Robin Williams’s death broke, the White House issued a heartfelt and sincere statement.

Major General Harold Green was killed in action several days ago, in Afghanistan. The White House was slow to respond to the death of a high-ranking servicemember, and has not yet posted a statement on the White House website.  

Most people don’t know Gen. Greene’s name, while just about everyone knew Williams’s.  He was so adept at shifting among adult-themed comedy, serious acting, and family-oriented silliness that most people have a favorite Robin Williams movie or appearance.

The Facebook and Twitter tributes back that up: Williams’s death is a trending topic.  And the Obama White House has a keen sense of zeitgeist (one that makes their apparent, frequent tone deafness tough to understand).  The White House statement on Williams passing will make it into news feeds and be retweeted, so speaking out on his death – and doing so quickly – becomes a priority.  

Treating death this way is unfair – not only to Maj. Gen. Greene, but to Williams, who deserves to be more than social media fodder for a politician.

RIP, Fred Phelps

Fred Phelps, founder of the Westboro Baptist Church, has passed away.  Since he was best-known for protesting military funerals and anti-gay public statements, many are responding with hatred and vitriol.

Through his usually-hilarious and frequently-shared Facebook page, George Takei has been outspoken about gay rights.  His response:

Today, Mr. Phelps may have learned that God, in fact, hates no one. Vicious and hate-filled as he was, may his soul find the kind of peace through death that was so plainly elusive during his life.

Celebrating Phelps’s death will be fashionable, much more so than strongly-worded obituaries of the murderous dictator Hugo Chavez about a year ago.  This will be especially true for those who want to make a big show of their own acceptance of gay people.  (“Look, everyone! I hate this guy who hated gay people! I’M SO DOWN WITH THE RAINBOW!”)

First, the time to show you support your gay friends and family members is every day, when you interact with them and show them the same love and support you show all your other friends.

Second, when someone dies who said and did hurtful things, the proper response is not to celebrate but to hope that, at some point in their afterlife, they realize just how hurtful they were.  And, you’d hope that once they understood that, that they were sorry and able to let go of whatever was causing them to do it.

In other words, our reactions should have been exactly what Takei said.

Leave it to Mr. Sulu to steer the conversation in the right direction.



Twitter predicts the Oscars… sort of

New Media Strategies predicted most of the major Oscar winners looking at social media data.  Brandwatch pulled a similar trick.

America has plenty of elections, from the crucially important annuals like the Oscars or the meaningless Presidential elections that we only bother with every four years.  In many of them, online networks and social media can predict results – winning candidates tend to be mentioned more on Twitter or liked more on Facebook.

While some will jump to the conclusion that online chatter will drive the support that pushes a candidate over the edge, that’s an over-simplistic reading of the situation.  Social media posts are tea leaves of human behavior, but not usually the initial driver.  It’s worth watching data trends and extrapolating results, but trying to create those data trends to ensure a specific outcome is a waste of time.  Daniel Day Lewis didn’t win an Oscar with social buzz, he won by making the legislative posturing surrounding the passage of the 13th Amendment interesting and engaging.  He didn’t even have to slay any vampires, so that was good too.  Similarly, online activity follows good political candidates, it doesn’t create them.

(Sidebar: What kind of a sick joke is it that Lincoln Motor Company is a subsidiary of Ford?)

If the correlation between online data and reality was more direct, according to Google we’d all have the flu by now.


Small is huge nowadays

Two seemingly unrelated pieces of patriotism struck me as oddly similar this week.  The first was, obviously, the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.  The second was the not-quite-safe-for-work homage to George Washington from cartoonist Brad Neely.

Neely’s work is kind of out there, but for those who share his sense of humor it’s spot on.  (A sample line: “And we danced, like those people in the hyper-tight light of fried chicken commercials!”  Seriously, what does that even mean?)  Even with limited exposure in venues like Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, Neely’s two or three minute videos are especially suited to a YouTube audience.

Obviously, the Navy SEALS who took down bin Laden crafted a much more significant piece of work on Sunday.  Their achievement, though, was a reflection of a changing military environment just as Neely’s videos reflect a changing media environment.

The major military conflicts to stop terrorism after September 11 targeted nations – specifically, Afghanistan and Iraq.  The plan was to smoke out terrorists by pressuring state sponsors of terrorism.  We found that the strength of our armored columns had limited effectiveness confronting the independent contractors who made up Al Qaeda’s network.  We could contain the snake, but we couldn’t do the one thing we set out to do.

It’s significant, then, that the bin Laden kill mission was set up by intelligence and espionage, and executed by a couple dozen elite servicemen.  There was no invasion of Pakistan, simply a precise action focused on a single piece of property within the country.  One can’t help but suspect that had our leaders not announced the mission’s success, the rest of the world might never have known bin Laden was dead.

A small, elite unit was all it took to snuff out the world’s leading terrorist.  George Washington (who crossed the Delaware for a surprise attack) would be proud.

More of the year in YouTube

In a post on Pundit League yesterday, I followed up on last week’s best political videos of 2010 with another list.  You could call them the worst political videos of 2010, but that doesn’t really do justice to how bad they were.  These videos missed their marks so badly that you couldn’t help but send them to friends or post them to Facebook – entries included Dale Peterson’s angry, minute-long rant about why he should be Alabama’s next Ag Commissioner, a Florida state representative’s Kenny Loggins ripoff, and (of course) Demon Sheep.

After I finished the post, I noticed a running theme in the five worst political videos of 2010 that wasn’t present in the five best: each of the “bottom five” were official campaign videos (and, significantly, only one of those candidates won).  In contrast, only two of the “top five” were released by campaigns.  That isn’t surprising; judgement is often clouded in the stress of an election campaign, and some candidates simply stumble.  Those on the outside looking in sometimes have a clearer head and are able to drive points home more directly.

Another common thread was length.  The “bottom five” averaged 2:18 each, while the top five made their points in an average of 1:03 – less than half the time. That figure is not insignificant: 40% of online viewers abandon videos within a minute.


One secret to social success

It’s a little silly, and it’s definitely mixed schtick, but Conversation Agent’s Top Ten Reasons Conan O’Brien’s Social Media Stuff is Better than Yours has a few kernels of truth:

7.   Conan is having fun; you’re “engaging” customers…

6.   Conan’s staff is on a mission; yours has a mission statement…

3.   Conan’s team started their social media effort three months prior to launch. You started yours three days after launch.

As O’Brien counts down to his basic-cable resurrection, his promotional team is smartly using social media tools to catch a wave of excitement from the comic’s rabid following.  Much like the 2008 Obama campaign, they are playing off fan-generated imagery.  But at the heart of it, O’Brien and his team are just trying to make people laugh and have fun, and let that shine through.

The pursuit of success in online tactics has to flow from a genuine enthusiasm.  Campaigns – for both candidates and issues – often see their social strategies fail because they try to adapt their campaign to online tactics, rather than adapting online tactics to the campaign.

No Twitter posts from the Washington Post – Is that a good idea?

The Washington Post told it’s journalists to keep off of Twitter after a staffer spent 140 characters defending the publication of an unpopular editorial.  The piece, by the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins, made a case that gay teens committed suicide because they were mentally unhealthy.  It predictably raised the hackles of gay activist groups, who criticized the very idea of allowing such opinions to be published – which just as predictably led to the Post’s representative standing up for the First Amendment and the need for a broad marketplace of ideas.

It may seem ironic that, after a representative of the post contributed to this public conversation by citing the need for a public conversation, the Post shut down public speech from its employees.  In fact, Mashable roundly criticizes the new policy:

The Post is clearly trying to do some damage control, but in a time when it is often difficult to encourage traditional journalists to embrace social media and dialogue with readers, this will only discourage it further. News organizations should be encouraging dialogue and debate, not stifling dialogue between readers and journalists.

Actually, the Post’s policy is a good one.

Think of this in terms of a classroom debate.  A teacher poses a question.  A few students argue for one side, other students argue another.  The teacher provides facts and information, but shouldn’t be taking one side versus the other, right?  In fact, by removing their journalists from the discussion, the Post can do more to promote a discussion by not taking a side.

It’s important for media outlets to connect with their audience – as purveyors of information, they have to know what’s relevant, understand the various viewpoints are out there, and appreciate which issues pieces of information is most important to readers or viewers.  But if a journalist is supposed to (try to be) an objective resource, why would he or she want to participate in the debate?  Wouldn’t any journalist who did start to lose some credibility or give evidence of having some sort of agenda or bias?