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Do we deserve to choose Sawyer Fredericks as the winner of The Voice?

Do we deserve to choose Sawyer Fredericks as the winner of The Voice?.


Do we deserve to choose Sawyer Fredericks as the winner of The Voice?

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Nobody questions that reality shows and competitions dominate today’s TV landscape. Generally, this trend is seen as a molasses-creep down the abyss, the demise of American cultural relevance.

But last night, a young singer, songwriter, and guitar player from upstate New York won the biggest singing competition in the nation. He entered the competition at the age of 15, and at 16 emerged the winner. Why did America vote for him? What does this mean? And what got him there?

In the first stage of the competition, the “blind auditions,” the coaches/judges fought for the young man who had an original, authentic, roots-based sound. Sawyer chose Pharrell Williams, a coach who said that music was Sawyer’s “destiny.” Pharrell performed a victory dance unmatched by any other judge’s response during the auditions (and edited from YouTube videos, perhaps because it would have been prejudicial to other performers.) I was already on board, and clearly many others were too. But why?

Of course, Sawyer was a good looking, engaging young man with a distinct, appealing sound. However, his sound and vocal style were not popular. He was not an obvious competitor to lead the Billboard charts.

I’d argue that Sawyer’s music and his background – and attraction for America – are intertwined. I believe the voting public backed him not only because he deserved to win, but because he represents something we want to see in ourselves. And I don’t believe that unusual combination of qualities would have developed without a very old, American background that is rarely seen now.

Sawyer is a home-schooled kid who grew up tending animals and performing chores with his brothers on the family farm. He got into music around the age of 12 and started playing guitar and singing at local venues – farmers’ markets, and for charitable events. He was scouted for The Voice. He didn’t seek the competition.

But when Sawyer showed up at the auditions, the judges were electrified. Why? For the same reason that he won. Sawyer possessed an authentic American voice and vision that expressed what we see as the best of our country, and this was communicated through his vocal expression:  purity, individuality, and honesty, rooted in the traditions of our nation.

Sawyer not only has an individual, original, and powerful voice – literally and as an artist – but also represents what we want to see in ourselves. He’s a fresh-faced kid who’s proven that, with talent and opportunity, you can still make it in America. And with the innocence and purity of his vision, he’s told us that we’re still good, too.

But where did Sawyer come from? He’s a home-schooled kid from upper New York State. He was the best in the competition. He rose to the challenge, but was humble. He was generous to his competitors.

The question I think we must ask ourselves is: Is Sawyer, our shining light and favorite, an American anachronism?

Facebook in a time of (inter)national distress: Soldier killed in Ottawa

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This is a screen capture from the Facebook page set up for Nathan Cirillo after his death.


Closeness and personal contact: Much has been written about social media and the false intimacy these channels provide by creating a sense of community that may be more superficial than truly social. And I’ve agreed with many of these observations.


But today I observed a social platform rallying people expressing condolences for a life lost, and generating solidarity and pride. I’m talking about the Facebook page created for Canadian soldier Corporal Nathan Cirillo, who was killed by a gunman while standing guard at the Cenotaph in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada’s war memorial.


I first learned about the Facebook page on the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) website, around midafternoon. I recall there were a couple of hundred “likes” when I checked it. At 5:29 p.m., the number of likes had grown to 6,426. As of this moment – 12:59 p.m. – the number has grown to 87,1253. Viral.


Posts on the new Facebook page have come from people who knew Cpl. Cirillo, from those who appreciate the work that soldiers do for the country, and from those who simply feel sad. As I’ve watched the page evolve, new photos have been posted and personal stories about Cpl. Cirillo have been told. And a community is drawing together.


Why is this different? Because we are not individuals who already know each other or share interests and are communicating through Facebook: We are people who do not know each other but are being brought together through a social medium to express our feelings about a devastating event. Cpl. Cirillo’ s death is a symbolic flashpoint that epitomizes our sorrow, determination, and pride. The Facebook page has brought him to life – to tens of thousands of people, after his death – and has allowed us to view and express our feelings and determination about something much broader than our personal Facebook connections.

A Legal Eye on Social Media: Three Insights from One of the Industry’s Top Bloggers



Last week my class in social media marketing at UD hosted a guest lecturer, Molly DiBianca, Esq., a legal expert who has made a name for herself in this relatively new field. Ms. DiBianca crushed several dearly-held beliefs (guess what? On the internet, there are no legal privacy rights! You have no right to free speech! And if you’re a blogger providing an endorsement, you have a legal obligation to disclose receipt of free goods or services). Of course there are never any true generalizations in law, and for more information you can check out her blog:


or that of Eric Goldman, which she recommends:


What I’m going to focus on, though, are three things that are important to the self-employed social media consultant contracting services to another organization.*

Here comes the law(suit). Are you an employee, or a consultant?
Let’s say you make a big mistake. If you present yourself to others as an employee of the organization, and it’s reasonable for the public to believe you’re an employee, then in effect you are – and the company that hired you will end up paying the bills. However, if you are clearly a contractor and make the same big mistake, you are liable. Takeaway: Sign a contract with your employer, including a clause indemnifying yourself against such legal action. And take out insurance.

“I’ll just grab this photo and post it to Facebook . . .”
Sure, you can. But most of the photos and other images available on the Internet are owned by somebody, and if that somebody is actively monitoring online violation of their copyright, you could end up being sued. Who pays? See the paragraph above. Save yourself the potential pain, and buy your images from one of the many stock photo providers, or snap the photo yourself.

You’re managing a client’s social media account, and a customer complains.
This scenario makes everyone nervous! What’s the best way to protect your client and make the customer happy?

Ms. DiBianca reminds us that the primary goal is to mitigate the situation, rather than trying to resolve the issue through social media. Express empathy regarding the negative experience, but don’t accept responsibility – remember, at this point you don’t yet know the full story. Then take the conversation offline (by phone, or by asking the poster to friend you), verify the problem, and attempt to resolve it. Should you remove the initial post? If you feel it’s warranted – and if you have a clearly stated policy, on that platform, informing visitors that you retain the right to do so. In the exceptional circumstance that you acquire a troll, it’s okay to ban the offender.

Lots of food for thought. Clearly, beneath this transparent world of social media, there is an invisible legal framework. And it just may be the biggest social media presence of all.

*The contents of this blog post do not constitute legal advice, and the author assumes no responsibility for actions arising from it. If you find yourself in hot water over any of these issues, please speak to a legal professional!

Please don’t touch: What will happen when the most intimate sense goes virtual?


When I was a child, I had a Bambi storybook with flocked illustrations. I was entranced by the Disney drawings and the tale itself, but what I loved most – and the reason I remember the book even now – was the delight of reaching out and stroking Bambi’s soft fur.  It felt good to my little fingers, and it made Bambi seem more real.

Now imagine sitting and looking at the hand-held screen where you’re reading this. Open a new window to – let’s say – a great Caribbean resort with sugary-looking sand and glistening turquoise water.  Run your fingers over the beach and feel that sand, reach out for a wave and touch its liquid surface.

IBM tells us that in five years, this will be real.

So what does this mean for consumers of the online experience?

This is a seismic shift. Touch is perhaps the most intimate of our senses. Sight and sound? Very powerful, but less personal. We judge the accuracy of sight and hearing all the time, and our responses are readily validated through the perceptions we share with others (think Instagram, Vine, YouTube). In our day-to-day world, though, touch demands physical closeness, and often entails a crossing of boundaries. What will it mean if we begin to divorce touch from proximity and intimacy?

Virtual touch will expand our understanding of the physical world and make it more immediate.

For one thing, we’ll be able to touch things we never have before. I’ll be able to feel the leaf of a protected rainforest plant. You’ll be able to run your hand over the fin of a shark. This new technology will provide a tactile experience beyond our individual worlds, and add a dimension of richness to our online explorations. For those seeking to understand the difference between the textures of charmeuse and shantung, the answer will be at our fingertips. For students learning a new language, concepts like smooth, slippery, and rough will be experienced directly.  For viewers watching the news online, that fire on the other side of town may become more real than we want it to. And physicians who want to examine a wound long distance will be able to touch the injury.

Virtual touch will create a new form of shared art.

Virtual touch offers many creative possibilities.  Imagine curated online galleries dedicated to art through touch, using shapes and textures to create an independent experience greater than the sum of its parts, the way individual musical notes combine to make a composition or words create stories. (This is a prediction, but it’s not without basis: Returning to my low-tech childhood, I remember the classic haunted house. A blindfolded child is led on a tour of scary experiences – a hesitant hand reaches out and feels eyeballs, cold brains, squishy guts. Peeled grapes, boiled head of cauliflower, cold cooked spaghetti.)  It becomes real because it feels real. Reality is redefined.

Virtual touch will have more than a touch of the commercial about it.

In our society, most new products and technologies are driven by a commercial need. Initially, virtual touch will be paid for by the companies that can see a viable money-making application: vacation destinations, fabric purveyors, furniture makers, even car manufacturers enticing prospective buyers to feel those heated leather seats (I have, and they’re great!)  The ability to touch a product will make a purchase that much more tempting.

Will virtual touch alter our relationship to the world?

Finally, there’s a broader question.  While virtual touch may unite us through shared tactile understanding, will it change our relationship to the personal? What if an experience normally associated with emotional intimacy – let’s say, the first time you touch a newborn’s slight fuzz of hair – is felt not by touching an infant you know, but on a sensor pad? Will the sensation, free from context, create an emotional disconnection in which the virtual becomes real, and the true experience loses its emotional value? Will virtual touch change our perception of the intimate? Will it desensitize us?

Nobody really knows where this will lead.  What I do know is that my early memory of stroking Bambi’s fur is also wrapped in the warmth of a cherished bedtime ritual. What if my mother had been at my side as we listened, and saw, and touched the Bambi story onscreen? Maybe it would have been the same; I don’t know. And we won’t know until we can sit down with tomorrow’s children, and ask them what the new world was like.








1, 2, 3: Fundamental social media measures that marketers need to track


Social media have graduated from being purely “social” – they’re now an important element in the marketing mix. As a result, businesses expect to see a measureable return on their investment. So which metrics should you be tracking, and why?



You’re reaching out. But are you reaching them?

By definition, one of the most characteristic attributes of social media is their ability to connect people in an organic and pervasive manner: they enable companies to reach more customers and more potential customers. While reach is a relatively basic metric, it indicates whether you’re getting to your audience. (And if you’re not, the other measures don’t matter anyway).



Are you talking at or talking with?

Another key metric is engagement. Once you know you’re reaching your audience, are you getting through with a message that resonates? One of the key benefits of social media over traditional marketing tactics is that they allow businesses to converse with their audience in a measureable way by tracking whether people are responding to content. If the first building block of a social media report is reach, the second is engagement. If you’re connecting and growing your audience but your followers aren’t interested and engaged, it’s time to reexamine your platforms and content.



Reach, engagement, action!

The third key metric is conversion. You know you’re reaching your desired audience and you know you’ve engaged them with relevant content. But is your campaign delivering hard results? Has it moved your followers to take the action you’ve set as a goal? Tools such as Google Analytics allow you to track where your website’s visitors are coming from and which among them have taken the desired action . . . which is the ultimate measure of ROI.



There are many other valuable metrics that businesses should consider, and many knowledgeable bloggers. No matter who you’re reading, though, one thing comes through loud and clear. In today’s business environment, social media campaigns are expected to pay their own way.



Useful resources: How to expand reach; tips on increasing social engagement; ways to improve conversion; top 10 social media blogs
















Social media and politics: A discussion with the governor


I’m taking a course in social media marketing strategy at the U of D, with four thought-leader instructors. One of them, Holly Norton, had the social media connections to arrange a teleconference (more precisely, a Google hangout) with Jack Markell, the governor of this state – a great opportunity to gain insights from a politician who has been faced by crises as enormous as Superstorm Sandy during his term, and prioritizes social media in his messaging. While the conversation was guided by questions posed by the class, two key takeaways were clear:

Focus your messaging. Be authentic.

The first is that Mr. Markell’s social media communication is clearly defined. He speaks as governor, and his platforms do not include comment on policy decisions outside his direct sphere – for example, he steers clear of federal government issues. The governor speaks for himself as an elected public official, taking a leadership role and initiating conversations on matters that affect his constituents and agenda. He doesn’t hesitate to address controversial matters of community interest that fall within his rubric (for example, the STAR campus in Newark). His communications via social media are clear, directed, and focused on community relations and issues where he believes he can make a difference.

Know when to bring in the pros.

The second major takeaway was that Jack Markell has a clear understanding of the importance of social media and supports these platforms fully – and knows that he needs the assistance of an adept social media advisor.  Timing, details, and adhering to an established communication platform are critical, and today’s social media environment demands the management of a dedicated professional. Theoretically, at a bare minimum, an advisor must ensure a client’s image is consistently maintained across major channels (see the fallout that resulted when politician Rob Ford was unable to contain social media damage).  In the case of Jack Markell, his advisor, Kelly, makes sure the governor’s agenda and causes are communicated clearly and that conversations are managed across channels in an effective, appropriate, proactive manner.

The image of a public person can hold great power, and the intermediary who communicates a portrait helps define the leader we see. Jack Markell is engaged, and seen to be engaged, because he embraces social media. He also clearly recognizes that professional social media guidance is crucial to communicating his message as part of an overall philosophy and strategy.