The Art and Science of a Viral Speech

Anyone who has ever sat down to write an executive speech understands how hard it is. It has to be: on-message, cover the relevant content (and no more), fit the exec’s personality, and be interesting. But these are just the basic requirements.

The most effective executive speeches are the ones that aspire to a higher goal: inspire the troops, motivate the line workers, compel the investors to invest.

I often read great speeches for inspiration. I keep a copy of Winston Churchill’s speeches nearby, and I rewatch Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a Dream” when I have a particularly bad case of writer’s block.

Here and there, I collect great speeches that have moved or inspired me, and I find that commencement speeches are some of my favorites because the best ones incorporate all of the essential components of a great speech.

The Art of a Viral Speech: Personal, Emotional, Funny, Unexpected

In my opinion, a great speech needs to inspire and motivate. To do this, it must evoke emotion, include a bit of humor and unexpectedness, be personal, and use story to illustrate the main points.

Here are some of my favorite commencement speeches from the Class of 2012.

Personal: Sheryl Sandberg, Harvard Business School

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg delivers an inspiring address about managing your career, using her own experiences as examples. She tells the newly minted MBAs that today’s career analogy is not a ladder, but a jungle gym. Her advice hits home because it’s illustrated with the choices she herself has made.

Emotional: Marina Keegan, Yale Daily News

Marina Keegan graduated Yale in mid-May, full of excitement and hope for the future. She decided that she could do more for the world by turning down the lucrative investment banking job and following her passion of becoming a writer. She was to start a job at the New Yorker today, but fate intervened. She died in a car accident on Memorial Day weekend.

Keegan’s commencement essay, The Opposite of Loneliness, reflects the conflicting emotions of youth. We can all relate to those feelings. Of having so much hope and fear as you stand on the precipice of your life, the one that is just – really – beginning. In it, she says: “We are so young. We are so young. We’re only 22. There’s so much time.” It’s emotional and heartfelt – and all the more poignant because of her fate.

Funny: Steve Carrell, Class Day, Princeton University

If we expect anything from funnyman Steve Carell, it’s that he will make us laugh. He does just that here, from skewering the class of 2012 for the way they communicate through technology to a series of silly pieces of advice, the best of which is the last: “Don’t take yourself too seriously.” This is good advice for speechwriters as well. The most memorable speeches are the ones that hold our attention with bit of humor.

Unexpected: David McCullough Jr., Wellesley High School, Mass.

Commencement is supposed to be a day that rewards all of the hard work that a graduate has completed. Commencement speeches, therefore, are supposed to recognize accomplishments. So, when a speaker uses the occasion to tell the graduates that they are, in fact, NOT special, that’s attention-grabbing.

David McCullough Jr.’s speech quickly spread through the Web because of its unexpected title and theme: “You are not special.” But the underlying message is that graduates should aspire to an extraordinary life and work hard to get it:

The fulfilling life, the distinctive life, the relevant life, is an achievement, not something that will fall into your lap because you’re a nice person or mommy ordered it from the caterer.

The Science of a Viral Speech

Each of these speeches went viral on the Internet.

How to Set Up Your Social Media Marketing Channels

A few days ago, I started writing a post about how to set up your social media channels. Alas, I never finished, and today I was scooped by Chris Brogan, who wrote about Starting your social media channels. On the bright side, it’s reaffirming when you find your head is in the same place as Chris’s.

Chris provides a great overview of the ecosystem and some strategies, so I’ll let you read his post first. Then, come back here and find out what I have to say about how to determine the best channels by knowing your objectives and your audiences.

So, go on and read Chris’s post. I’ll wait.

First Step: Defining Your Objective

Welcome back! Many of my clients want to jump in to social media right away, but beyond a belief that they “must” do social media, they haven’t yet worked out what they want social media to do for them.

Like any communications strategy, the first step to being successful is understanding your objectives. For some, it might be increasing awareness of the brand, while for others it’s to generate sales. And yet for some businesses, being there is most important. Social media is deceptively simple. We all see teenagers using it, so it must be easy to do. The truth is that there is a learning curve, and sometimes, your objective might just be to get up and over that curve.

Whatever your objective, it will determine the strategy you start with. That, in turn, will determine the channels you launch, the tools you use, the content you create and the resources you apply. It also gives you a measuring yardstick.

For example, let’s say I have a goal to improve customer service for my pet store business. My in-store sales staff has been spending 30% of their time answering phone calls. Many of the questions ultimately come to me and my partner, because we have more experience. I’d like to cut the time my staff spends handling calls in half.

So, my objective for my social media channel is to become the go-to resource for pet care questions, and the measure is reducing the time my sales team spends on customer service by 50% by the end of the year.

Now I know something about the content I need (expert advice), who needs to provide it (my partner and I) and how I will measure success. I don’t know yet what social media channels I’ll need. That’s step two.

Second Step: Choosing Channels Based on Audience

This is probably the most critical step, because if you don’t define your target audience, you may as well not spend the time or resources on any communications strategy.

So who are the customers calling in for pet advice? Look through your customer call logs and evaluate the data. Are they young? Married? With children? Baby boomers? How many pets do they own? What kind? What is their income level?

Likely, what will happen is that several pictures will emerge. For the sake of the example, let’s say that retired baby boomers with one dog tend to call  your store most frequently. Mothers with elementary age children and several household pets make up the second demographic.

Now do a bit more research. Call a few customers back and ask: How do you find out information about your pet? Do you search online? Are you active on social networks? Which ones? Do you read blogs?

Another dimension is likely to emerge. The baby boomers say they spend a lot of time on Facebook, sharing photos of their grandchildren and their dog. The moms enjoy reading blog posts as they sit through dance class and baseball practice.

This creates two very specific places for you to start building your social media channels: Facebook and your own blog.

Suddenly, social media is a little less daunting. You don’t need to engage in every channel, just the ones that matter for your objectives and your audiences.

Feel free to share your tips and experiences for beginning your social media strategy below. I’d love to hear them.

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The Science of Viral Videos

It’s Friday, so what better topic to discuss than viral videos. For digital media marketers, understanding the science behind this type of content is vital. Forty-eight hours worth of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. How do you get noticed?

In this TED Talk, YouTube’s Trends Manager, Kevin Allocca reveals the reasons that a video goes viral: Tastemakers, Communities of Participation, and Unexpectedness.

What’s surprising about all of his examples is that none of them went viral overnight. In many cases, the videos were uploaded months before they became popular.

So, digital media marketers, you must be patient.

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Thursday Reads: Annenberg, Content Marketing, Cinemagram

Here are some of the things worth reading, viewing, and checking out this week.

  • USC Annenberg released their GAP VII survey of the PR industry a couple of weeks ago, but PR Squared posted a nice summary of the research by Burghardt Tenderich, associate director of the center. Bottom line: PR has a seat at the table, social media and internal comms are on the rise, marketing/product PR is on the decline.
  • If you haven’t had enough of the iconic Steve Jobs after reading Walter Isaacson’s biography, Fast Company has the legacy tapes, which cover the years between Apple stints. Be sure to check out the quotes.
  • On the importance of headline writing: there’s just too much out there to read, so a headline has got to speak to you. Another reason for hiring a trained journalist for your marketing newsroom.
  • On storytelling: how characters move the brand story forward, from Spin Sucks.
  • Can traditional marketers transition to digital marketing? Personally, I think many will not. Here’s Mike Moran’s view.
  • McKinsey Quarterly discusses how companies can harness social media to shape consumer decision making. My favorite line: “Knowing that something works and understanding how it works are very different things.”

Launch of the Week:

MaryLee Sachs, author of The Changing MO of the CMO, launches her new consultancy to help CMOs deal with the rapidly shifting sands of marketing.

Product of the Week:

Enterprise customer intelligence company, FirstRain, launches FirstTweets, which filters out the junk tweets and delivers companies high-quality, business-relevant tweets. Reviews are promising so far, and I’m testing it out. Look for a future blog post.

Video of the Week:

2.5 million views and more than 30K likes. In 10 days. I think that qualifies as viral.


Design of the Week:

The folks at The Mechanism, who have lots of cool things on their blog (and do cool design work of their own), shared this Aussie site. It meets my (very high) standards for quality and creativity.

App of the Week:

Credit again to the Mechanism blog, but I too am having fun with Cinemagram. My cats, not so much.

Created with

Why Marketing Will Soon Look Like a Newsroom

Newsroom panorama

Credit: victoriapeckham

Social media is changing marketing, reshifting priorities. That’s clear in the spending trends: AdAge reports that 59% of survey respondents say they’ll spend more money on social media ads in the next 12 months, with social media advertising jumping to 27% from 22%. (The survey was conducted by Advertiser Perceptions.)

And it’s not just advertising: CMOs say they plan to increase their social media budgets to 10.8% in the next 12 months from current levels of 7.4%, according to the latest CMO Survey from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.

But social media marketing is different from traditional marketing, and a key reason is that it requires content – good, quality content that helps readers solve problems or understand issues. This is vastly different than traditional marketing, which relies on pithy and memorable campaign slogans.

This is why content marketing is the hot, new buzz word for marketers. There’s a lot of information available about how to create content that grabs the attention of your audience. (The Content Marketing Institute is an excellent resource.) But what does it mean for the structure of the marketing department as we know it?

Content marketing is going to require marketing heads to rethink the composition of their staff, the skill sets that are required, and the tools that they use. What’s a better place to look for a model than the newsroom, which has a strong track record of producing informative content? And by newsroom, I envision a hybrid of TV, print, magazine and online, with a dash of customer service thrown in.

▪   Hire an Editor in Chief. Eventually, CMOs will take on this role. But as the marketing newsroom evolves – along with the skill set of the CMO – the most important hire may be a former journalist or editor who understands editorial calendars, assignments, and most importantly, determining the editorial focus based on what’s important to the readers.

▪   Producers. Content is not one-dimensional. It can’t be merely words on a screen. It needs animation, images, video, audio, and graphics. Like TV producers, they have full creative responsibilities, making decisions about everything that appears in the final version, from script to spokesman.

▪   Writers. Tasked with researching and writing stories, posts, scripts, and status updates, in line with the editorial focus.

Community managers already do some of this, in addition to managing the company’s responses to questions from fans and followers. Perhaps this role will morph into the modern day equivalent of the editorial page editor.

I’ll be writing more about the marketing department of the future – the tools it will need and the skillsets of its employees – over the next few days. Stop back and let me know what you think – and how you are thinking about reorganizing your marketing staff to meet social media marketing challenges.

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Turning Social Media Metrics into Business Metrics

How do you measure your social media program? In the number of likes or  followers? ROI? Clicks to your website?

All of these metrics have their place – just not in the C-suite. Executives and small business owners need an understanding of how their investment in social media is going to increase their bottom line. Full stop.

Most do not understand – or care to understand – that their organization has a lot of followers. The only time this does matter is when a crisis occurs and their Facebook page explodes with criticism. Reputation, they get.

In some ways, the challenges of social media measurement are the same as those of public relations measurement. You need to evaluate your programs using business metrics, and you need to communicate your results in the language of business.

I wrote an ebook about this several years ago, based on my graduate school work. I thought I’d share it here, so that you can download it (note that I wrote it while at Dow Jones, so they are the sponsor). I’ve also included a few updated tips for social media below the ebook.

Tips for Sharing Social Media Metrics with Executives

  1. Track sales. Nothing says success faster than revenue. Unlike PR, which has an indirect impact on sales, you can establish a direct connection between social media and sales. One way to do this is to use a call to action linked to a form on a landing page.
  2. Track opinion. Mine your conversations for opinions and suggestions about your products and services. This is a form of market research, and sometimes it’s even better than that, especially if customers uncover an unknown problem.
  3. Tie social media objectives to business objectives. This one is the most important. Don’t start any social media program without understanding how it supports the broader organizational objectives. Yes, everyone must be in social media today, but there are many ways to do it. Just make sure it makes sense for your business.
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Looking for Social Media Statistics?

I don’t know about you, but I’m constantly misplacing my social media statistics. This is frustrating, because they’re so useful. Nothing underscores the importance of a social media recommendation more powerfully than being able to support it with facts.

There are still many people who are skeptical about the impact that social media can have on their marketing campaigns and – more importantly – their bottom line results. That’s why I always provide a “State of the Union” on social media at the start of my strategy recommendations.

I’m a master searcher, having spent most of my career building online business information services for corporate librarians and knowledge workers (Boolean search language, anyone?). Yet, even I have a hard time keeping track of the latest social media statistics.

I’m not a particularly good bookmarker, and like many people, I appreciate visually represented material. This is why I’ve started to use Pinterest to keep track of the latest and greatest social media statistics. Feel free to follow my board.

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Social Media as the Court of Public Opinion


“Wow. Just wow.” Those were the leading words of Cecile Richards‘ letter to Planned Parenthood supporters about the impact of social media on her organization. This was the second example in just two weeks in which advocates using social media caused big organizations to reverse their positions.

Let’s run the numbers, shall we?

Susan G. Komen vs. Planned Parenthood:

The Entertainment Industry vs the Internet Industry (SOPA/PIPA debate):

Wow, indeed.

So what went wrong for these chastened organizations? Poor decision-making, sure. Total disregard for two-way communications? Uh-huh. Completely underestimating the wisdom of the crowd? Oh yeah.

For all people might scoff and criticize Mark Zuckerberg, this is exactly the type of open discourse that he imagines Facebook can help create. In his letter to investors, he says:

We believe building tools to help people share can bring a more honest and transparent dialogue around government that could lead to more direct empowerment of people, more accountability for officials and better solutions to some of the biggest problems of our time.

Amazing, actually, that these three events (Komen, SOPA, Facebook IPO) happened within days of each other. I’m not sure if there is some greater god trying to tell us something or if it’s mere coincidence. Whatever it is, there are some important communications lessons here:

  • Behind-closed-doors decisions are gone forever. Transparency is essential for success in today’s marketplace. Every decision you make will be tried in the court of public opinion – and that court is much larger, and its voices much more amplified, than ever before.
  • Your stakeholders expect dialogue – before a decision is made. Communications theorists have called this two-way communications. In the days of mass media (yes, they are long gone), it was one (organization) to many (stakeholders). Now, it’s many stakeholders talking to one organization, and you’d better…
  • Listen, and I mean really listen – and don’t deny. It’s one thing to stand your ground. It’s another to be blind to reality. Komen apparently scrubbed negative comments from their Facebook wall (only in rare cases should you ever do this, and then only when it violates someone’s privacy). Organizations must take what their stakeholders say to heart and incorporate these views into the organization’s decision-making. Today, it’s the only path to success.

What leaders today need to realize: We no longer have a top-down command structure. It’s bottom up. The court of public opinion rules.

Diane Thieke is trying to reinforce her control over her kitchen. But, the dialogue isn’t going well. The three kittens are not budging from the kitchen counter. Follow her on Twitter.

Apple, Textbooks and the Future of Reading as Living Experience

English: Steve Jobs while presenting the iPad ...

Photo by Matt Buchanan. Image via Wikipedia.

Apple today announced that it would reinvent the textbook, disrupting the traditional textbook industry by developing interactive, digital versions of textbooks for students. Apple also introduced new software that helps authors and publishers create digital textbooks.

This is really interesting to me, because, like everyone else, I’ve been reading Walter Isaacson‘s biography of Steve Jobs. I’m reading the hard-cover copy of this book, which some people may find surprising. I’m an avid e-book fan, and I read them on multiple devices: my (2) Kindles, my (2) iPads, my (2) MacBooks, and even on my iPhone, which is always available because it never leaves my person.

But some books deserve to be bought, read, and displayed in hard cover. I’d read Walter’s bio of Ben Franklin (highly recommend) and, well —  I know it’s probably not obvious — but I also belong to the cult of Mac. (We do have one lonely Windows laptop in our house; but its owner, my son, knows that just one more slip-up — and it’s gone.)

Anyway, I’ve been reading this book in bed each night before lights out. But what I’ve discovered is that it’s not strictly a reading experience. It’s a multimedia experience. When Walter writes about the October 1983 Apple Sales conference in Hawaii:

 At that moment, a screen came down from the ceiling and showed a preview of an upcoming sixty-second television ad for the Macintosh. In a few months it was destined to make history…

“Hmmm,” I think. I’d really like to see that commercial again. Ah! The iPad is snuggled next to me, so:


Not only did I find this, but I also found a video of Steve introducing the commercial at the sales meeting. Suddenly, I’m watching a young Steve Jobs and following along with the words in Walter’s book! (I presume that Walter watched this “ad nauseam,” probably also on YouTube, sitting in bed with his iPad.)

A few nights later, I get to the part in the book about the 1984 shareholders meeting:

“We’ve done a lot of talking about the Macintosh recently,” he [Jobs] said. “But today, for the first time ever, I’d like to let Macintosh speak for itself.”

Wow, I think. I’d like to see that. So, back to YouTube (start at the 2:20 point, that’s where it gets good):

So reading, even in hard-cover, is now a multimedia experience — and a faster one at that. No searching around the house for the DVD (if you have it). And yes, it’s true that Kindle and iPad already enable readers to enrich their reading experience direct from the device.

But I’m quite sure that these YouTube videos are not embedded into the text. They should be. What’s more, the text should be constantly updated and annotated with more current information, opposing opinions, and links to reference materials, such as maps and CIA Factbook info.

This goes beyond what Kindle and Nook are already doing in allowing you to bookmark, annotate, and highlight passages. For example, this episode of This American Life aired on January 6, 2012, after Walter’s book was published.

Here is a unique perspective on the impact of Steve Jobs and the tech industry. As a reader of Walter’s book, would I be interested in listening? Absolutely!

Anyone who has furiously checked the shipping status for their new iPhone will recognize the Shenzhen name. It happens that I’m a regular This American Life listener. But what if I wasn’t?  If the book was living, it would automatically be updated with this rich information.

That’s what I expect for the future of ebooks, and what I think Apple’s announcement heralds. Reading as a living experience.

Diane Thieke is contemplating buying the e-book version of Walter’s book, so that she can read it on the train, but not break her shoulder carrying it around. Follow her check-ins on Twitter.Enhanced by Zemanta