Are people confusing popularity with influence?

According to Klout, a company that “uses over 35 variables on Twitter and Facebook” as a Standard for Influence, Justin Bieber is the second most influential person of 2010.  Bieber is preceded by President Barack Obama and followed by Sarah Palin.  I wouldn’t consider this his usual entourage.
Here’s something else I found interesting about Klout’s 2010 influencers.  The top three most influential musicians are 1) Justin Bieber, 2) Lady Gaga and 3) Michael Jackson.  And the top three most influential TV shows?  1) Lost 2) American Idol and 3) Red Eye.  Stop and think about that.

Not to be insensitive to Michael’s family and fans, but he’s dead.  How is it he is more influential than all live musicians, except Justin Bieber?  It’s not that I have anything against MJ.  I love to rock out to a little Smooth Criminal from time to time and I completely respect the way he revolutionized dance.  It’s just I don’t understand how he can be characterized as currently influential.  Let’s look at another celebrity that’s passed on; this one is a personal favorite of mine – Walt Disney.   Walt Disney was an extremely influential person during his lifetime.  He was a film producer, director, screenwriter, voice actor, animator, entrepreneur, international icon, and philanthropist.  Many of his dreams became a reality, and to this day delight hundreds of thousands.  I truly believe Disneyland is “the happiest place on Earth,” and I love how his movies, shows, and theme parks bring out my inner child.  But that’s just it, the movies and theme parks created under his brand have this influence over me – not Walt.

I’m also curious about the kind of influence the TV show ‘Lost’ has on our society.  Are planes suddenly crashing onto uncharted islands?  Have we unexpectedly started time traveling?  I’ll give American Idol both popularity and influence.  The show has made an impact on our society.  From giving the everyday person a chance to make it big to the Idol Gives Back campaign every year, American Idol has given – and continues to give – us a lot.

Maybe my definition of ‘influence’ just isn’t in line with the modern world.  I relate to the definition found on “to affect or alter by indirect or intangible means.”  At Klout they look at how many people read your tweet, how many friends you have, how many people retweet/like your status and other similar variables.  Again, to me this sounds like a way to measure popularity.  Merriam-Webster defines ‘popular’ as “of or relating to the general public” and even “frequently encountered or widely accepted.”  That second option sounds exactly like what Klout is looking at.

Can someone or something be popular and influential?  Of course they can!  Being popular, or famous, certainly helps, but it doesn’t mean the words can be substituted for one another.  And it’s all relative, which makes it extremely difficult to rank.  I mean my parents have been extremely influential – to me at least, and perhaps a few of my friends, but they aren’t popular.   So what does that have to do with the world of social media?  Well, I think social media is an amazing outlet that allows people to express themselves.  But does that expression translate into authority? I’m not so sure.  Social media, and what we can do with it, is still evolving; it’s just one piece of the puzzle. What I mean is that a person’s track record on Facebook or Twitter shouldn’t be the only thing considered, and measured, when it comes to determining how influential they are.  So while I appreciate the concept behind Klout – as a way to identify and measure, and I’m assuming eventually market (there is already a ‘Klout for Business’) – I think it’s too early to assume they know all the answers.

How Social is Your Business?

The time of New Year’s and its inevitable resolutions is nearing.  Have you given any thought to what you’re going to do?  I usually have a couple, that way I if I break one I have another to fall back on!  I think this year I’ll separate them into themes too; I’ll make a personal resolution and a professional resolution.

What are they you ask?  Well, the personal one I’m still wodescribe the imagerking on.  There are the classics – eat healthier, lose weight, save more money, etc.  They’re all important, but they feel so mundane and I can almost guarantee you by Easter I will have quit. I just love those Sweet Tart chicks and ducks!  However, the professional one I’ve chosen.  I am going to be more social!  Not social as in I don’t like to talk with my colleagues, but social as in social marketing!

My resolution may not come as a surprise to many.  I mean it’s something I’ve already been thinking about and working on in some respect.  Take this blog for example.  But the goal is to step it up several notches.  I know I’m not the only one; although I may be the first to officially classify my commitment as a 2011 resolution.  According to IDC, an IT Research firm, small and medium-sized businesses will use social networking to “establish a free online presence that improves their ability to acquire, engage, and retain customers.”

I’m clearly a part of one of those businesses IDC is referring to.  And to tell the truth, I’m excited about what being social means.  It is a great way for us to engage in conversations with our customers; whether they are past, present, or future.  Being the numbers nerd I am I’m intrigued to see what kind of reputation (and ROI) my new social presence will bring me; but even though they say it’s difficult to measure, it’s a challenge I am ready to take on.  Plus, now that I’ve told all of you about it I have to follow through right?!

What about you?  What resolutions are you planning for 2011?  Are any of you working on a social media strategy?

How do Intelligent Mail® Barcodes Help Your Direct Mail?

Have you been using the Intelligent Mail® barcode (IMB) technology?  It’s a barcode system for letters and flats that according to the USPS’s FAQ’s will “expand the ability to track individual mailpieces.”  The IMB will combine the current data schemes of POSTNET™ and PLANET CODE®.  Currently it is an optional format, but for mail houses to continue getting automation prices, it will need to be implemented across the board by May 2011.

IMB resized 600

Letters have been able to be processed with IMB since late 2006 and the technology was expanded to automation rate flat sized mailers in 2007.  The Postal Services feel most people have recognized the significant benefits of IMB the multi service barcode allows for.  These benefits include delivery forecasting, free address change service, and payment tracking.

The one line barcode will encode 31 digits into 65 vertical bars.  The data will represent:

  • a Barcode Identifier which indicates the level presorting completed.
  •  a Service Type Identifier indicating class type and other services requested.
  • a Mailer ID a USPS designated six or nine digit number assigned to the business mailing the pieces.
  • a Sequence Number designated by the mailer to the individual piece.
  • And a Delivery Point Zip Code.  The Delivery Point Zip Code is optional, which indicates the delivery point.  This can range from five to eleven digits.

Hopefully this gets you excited about the upcoming permanent change to IMB!  I know we have already started using it and so far are pleased with the results.  As always, feel free to let us know if you have any questions or concerns.

More Room for Your Direct Mail Budget

As we mentioned last week the requested postage stamp increase of an average 5.6%, to take place in 2011, was unanimously denied by the Postal Regulatory Commission.  Commission stated a failure to justify the increase in excess of the CPI price cap as its reason for refusal.

According to Chairman Ruth Y. Goldway in last Thursday’s press release: “The Commission finds that the Postal Service has shown the recent recession to be an exigent circumstance but it has failed both to quantify the impact of the recession on its finances and to show how its rate request relates to the resulting loss of mail volume; therefore, we unanimously deny its exigent rate request.”

The Commission does not believe the proposed increase would solve the “structural problems” unrelated to the recent recession that has led to the Postal Service’s volume loss.  The Postal Service is also trying to meet a 10-year payment schedule for future retiree health benefits, and was hoping to use this increase to help fulfill that requirement.  However, the Commission feels this rate increase would not have a successful impact on that situation either.

Many members of the Affordable Mail Alliance, including businesses involved with the Mailing & Fulfillment Service Association and National Newspaper Association, are applauding the Commission’s decision.  Both were opposed to the suggested increase and feared it would cause a decrease in their industries.  The decision is clearly a huge success for these groups which actively filed comments and letters petitioning the Postal Service’s request.

Extra! Extra!

Do you remember our post on Sept 2, 2010 about the possible postage rate increase?  Well, there is good news for those worried about how it could affect your direct mail budgets.

I just recieved the following statement: “The Postal Regulatory Commission has unanimously voted to deny the Postal Service’s July 6 request for a rate increase under “exigent” circumstances.”

We’ll have more information on those “exigent” circumstances later in the day, but I wanted to go ahead and start spreading the news!

Video Advertisements Through Direct Mail?

Imagine opening an envelope and pulling out a piece of Mylar that plays a video commercial.  Sound like technology of the future?  It is, but it’s the near far future.  HP and the FDC have been working on the flexible screens, using self-aligned imprint lithography (SAIL) technology, which they see being used for future cell phones and e-readers.  But really, like QR Codes, the possibilities are endless.

Last fall Entertainment Weekly used an electronic-ink technology when it included a 40 minute video in an issue.  Their display has been likened to recordable greeting cards.  HP’s SAIL will actually make production costs more effective since it allows for printing on rolls rather than sheets, like a newspaper.  And in just the last two months, LG and Sony have come up with their own versions.

What does this mean to you?  Although Volume 23 of MAIL: The Journal of Communication Distribution doesn’t currently foresee mail applications, I tend to yet again disagree.  The flexibility and thinness of the plastic allows it to be processed by the machines the post offices use, so why not use them?  I see realtors mailing virtual tours of houses.  I see car dealerships showing off inventory.  I see event coordinators displaying their services.  I see a world of creativity!

Of course, there is still a ways to go before this revolutionary product becomes available for individualization.  But still, the future of direct mail looks bright and full of opportunities.

…I wonder if they’ll self destruct too?!