The Social Not-Working Phenomenon

Last week, a Facebook friend posted this very telling status update: “The window of time in which my mind is really working is getting smaller everyday.”  Ouch.

Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago AdvertisingWe used to work together and this guy’s definitely not a slacker–he is however, truly candid.  And he speaks for a lot of us these days.  Between Facebook, Twitter, RSS feeds and website aggregators, we spend so much time staying connected that it’s hard to get anything done.  We’re so busy keeping up that we can hardly keep up.

Two separate experiences this weekend threw this growing time management issue into sharp relief.  First, a friend took me to a booksigning for “In With The Devil” at a home in River Forest on Saturday night. Learning about a book from the author is always fascinating but what intrigued me even more was the homeowner, or more importantly, the projects he cranks out of his garage workshop.  He and my friend had already collaborated on hand building two wood strip canoes–a feat of craftsmanship that bowled me over.  But now, he’s in the midst of building a personal submarine.  In his garage.  By himself.

I feel productive when I make dinner–I can’t begin to imagine researching and then slowly assembling a submersible watercraft powered by electric trolling motors.  I left the host’s house astonished by the ingenuity coming together just on the other side of his unremarkable garage door.

Second, I read John Lopez’ piece in the Arts & Entertainment section of the Sunday Chicago Tribune.  He described how writers, artists and musicians struggle to step away from the relentless e-stream, and the toll this constant distraction can take on their craft.  This challenge affects many people in our increasingly digital world, but it hits creative people particularly hard.   Realizing a personal vision requires dropping deeply into the work, and our overwired lifestyle fights that with every new text message.  Isn’t it interesting how neither the screenwriter (Aaron Sorkin) nor the two lead actors (Jesse Eisenberg and Justin Timberlake) of The Social Network use Facebook at all.  Hmmm…

A few years ago, pundits claimed that a sign of true power was to not be reachable.  These days, a sign of true will power is to not reach out.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


Thanks Twitter But I Don’t Want To Be Followed By Lydia Lancaster (ditzybabe83454)

My daughter and I attended the matinee of “Trust” at the Lookingglass Theatre yesterday.  This imaginatively-presented new play centers around an internet sexual predator and a freshman at New Trier High School.  We found it well-acted and decidedly well-intentioned, although that led to a few ham-fisted moments in the writing.  Still, this tale of the real dangers inherent to easy iPhone and laptop access is enough to make any parent yearn for more Luddite times.

So the topic of inappropriate web contact was already fresh in my mind when I received not just one but two consecutive notices from women I don’t know who nonetheless feel comfortable introducing themselves while topless.  Apparently these aggressively body-confident gals feel compelled to follow both my agency and personal Twitter feeds.

While it would feed my ego to pretend our Tweets provide the kind of entertaining and rewarding commentary that works like a bug light on nymphomaniacs, the truth is I fit a profile: middle aged professional male.  And so my inbox gets bombarded with pitches for every baldness, weight control and erectile dysfunction remedy imaginable.  These are the methods taken by some of the less savory corners of my chosen profession.

Spam goes everywhere–I get that.  And yes, I’m painfully aware of Internet Rule 34 (“If it exists, there is porn of it”).  It just bums me out that everything, everywhere merits a Parental Advisory sticker.  We were just looking to play in the social network, not ‘play’ wink-wink, nudge-nudge.

So no Lydia, I won’t be following you back.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

I Watched the 82nd Annual Academy Awards™…On Twitter

That’s right–Sunday night I skipped the show and conducted an experiment: just how different would it be to experience the Oscars in a crowdsourced way, by logging onto Twitter and only following anything with an #oscars hashtag?  Would it be as interesting to hear other’s thoughts about hosts Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin instead of developing my own?  Would the community discussion influence how I felt about the ridiculously-addendumed title “Precious: Based on the novel “Push” by Sapphire”? Would I be more involved with an annual event I find leaden and boring?

No.  No.  And no.  Experiencing the Oscars via Twitter doesn’t change much at all, aside from robbing one of seeing the dress Charlize Theron wore that apparently featured Cinnabons as pasties.  In the end, I lasted about an hour and a half before snapping off the laptop and heading for bed…which pretty much mirrors how I experience the show on TV every year.

Twitter isn’t a replacement medium, it’s an adjacent medium–a way to add sociability to an otherwise snoreburger fest of sitting in front of the tube and waiting for something to happen.  In the totally ephemeral 140 characters of @waxgirl333: “#oscars would be so boring without twitter”  She’s right–it brings an engaging new layer to passively watching any major telecast, whether it’s the Academy Awards or the Super Bowl or the Olymics (Curling?  Yes.  Hockey?  No–the game moves waaay too fast.).  During the long, boring stretches, you can check Twitter and see if anyone has something snappy to say.

Ultimately, the show didn’t hold my attention for three or four hours, but then again, few things do.  That said, from the literally tens of thousands of tweets that popped up during my shortened stint, here are twenty favorites:

trentvanegas LMAO!!!! As did the rest of the viewing audience #oscars RT @EW At Elton John party: The whole crowd just gasped at the sight of Judd Nelson

tommytrc RT @DonaBogart: Ouch. The John Hughes Tribute made me feel very old. #oscars

@MC1487 The song “Thank Heavens for Little Girls” will always creep me out, no matter the context. #Oscars #CreepyCreepy

@JacqKD Funny how Taylor Hackford doesn’t mention “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” in his career. #Oscars

@lilnerdette RT @popcandy: Actually, here’s a place where you can watch all of the animated shorts:

@SuburbanTurmoil Hey Rachel McAdams. Grandma called. She wants her curtains back. #oscars

@ianedgar Weird racially profiling direction. Black people react to other black person winning prize! They must be so proud. #oscars

@TheOnion: King Latifah Returns For Wife #Oscars

@matthewcrosby Not seen Precious but it looks like the world’s most depressing Eminem video #oscars (via @sonnypike)

@mtgcolorpie Coming up: Tyler Perry, Sarah Jessica Parker and a salute to horror films. My favorite sentence ever. /throws up

@TheDaveCarlson “Well I already have two of these” is the FAIL of the night. #oscars

@kateritchie Did charlieze not think before placing two cinnabons on top of her chest? Stylist fail. #oscars

daddyscratches I can’t remember ever seeing so many painfully sharp-looking shoulder blades and frightfully tissue-free collarbones in one place. #oscars

@moviecricket #oscars 12 down, 12 to go. Settle in, folks. On the bright side, no musical numbers since Neil Patrick Harris.

@quinnnorton: Have just realized this is the original awkward reality show. #oscars

@sreenet: Avatar: The second time you watch it, the special effects get better, but the acting and dialog get worse. #oscars

@NOLAnotes This co-hosting thing is not doing it for me. Two talents squandered instead of the usual one. #oscars

@nowtoronto Best way not to get your acceptance speech cut short: “Thirteen years ago, the doctors told me I wasn’t going to survive …” #oscars

@akmcquade Why isn’t bob costas explaining the difference between sound mixing and osund editing? #shutupcostas #oscars

@andylevy The first four hours of this show have really flown by! #oscars

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

B-G-B (Bonus Guest Blog): The Next Great Athlete Endorser…Stewart Cink?

ChaseGuest Blogger: Michael Chase

Michael Chase is an account director at Element 79 and a man with both a deep track record with sports brands and an enviable short game.  He came to Element 79 to work on Gatorade and help develop Element 79 Sports with projects for clients such as Discover, US Soccer, the Wade’s World Foundation, and Chicago 2016.  Before returning to Chicago, Michael spent six years in Portland: two working on Nike Golf (and his short game) and four at Weiden and Kennedy where he first began working on Nike (and his short game).  He began his career with sports projects for Coors and Midas at Foote Cone and Belding after graduating from the University of Colorado at Boulder (where the mile-high altitude helped his drives).  Later this afternoon, Element 79 will be relying on Michael’s total game at the AAAA golf outing in Harborside.  Long and strong Michael, long and strong…

Throughout my career, I have had the distinct fortune and pleasure of working with a number of wonderful companies and brands with their sports-related advertising and marketing initiatives. While I have a great deal of passion and energy for the business of sports, I am also a fan.  Okay, not just a fan, but a fanatic

Growing up, if I wasn’t playing baseball, football, soccer, basketball tennis or golf, I was watching it.  Some of my favorites in no particular order were John Elway, John McEnroe, Jack Nicklaus, Pele, Nolan Ryan and of course, MJ.  And like the rest of my friends, I bought what these athletes used, wore, and endorsed. 

I loved watching athletes in advertising.  From Mean Joe Green and Coke to the cast of characters for Miller Lite’s Taste Great/Less Filling campaign, from Nike’s “Bo Knows”  to  Gatorade’s MJ taking on himself, the great ads came from brands with clearly-defined understanding of their roles.  The best brands tapped into insights that resonated with sports fans and took the time and energy to find exactly the right athlete to deliver their message.  I cannot stress that last point enough. 

It has become more and more challenging for brands to find the right athlete.  For years, Element 79 Sports helped brands do just that.  But with our seemingly unlimited media access to our sports hero’s lives, we know too much about today’s athletes and recognize they are not the bulletproof, do-no-wrong heroes they once were.  Worse, with so many sports vying for our attention and so many new media outlets splintering our focus, some of the old luster is gone.  Combine all this with a down economic climate where limited dollars exist to sign athlete endorsers and showcase them through marketing and it’s obvious the old rules have changed.  Those rules may even be gone completely and it is time brands recognize this.

Gone are the days of scouring the Q scores to find the best athlete for the job.  Today, brands need to consider a multitude of criteria to make this crucial decision.  Excelling at their sport and demonstrating an interesting personality is simply not as important as it once was.  One of the most important emerging criteria to consider is whether the athlete is doing a good job of marketing themselves.  Do they have their own website?  Is it any good?  Are they active in social networking?  And if so, as this recent SI article about Twitter and professional sports asks, are they being followed?

Some of the most popular athletes in the world of Twitter may not be among their league’s leaders in stats, but definitely make the most entertaining use of less than 140 characters.  This list of the Top 10 Twitter athletes tells an interesting story; while it contains some of the biggest names in sports (Shaq, Lance, and Serena), you might be surprised by some of the others (skateboarders Ryan Sheckler and Tony Hawk? Nick Swisher? Kareem?).  A new site called Athlete Tweets aggregates thousands upon thousands of tweets from hundreds of athletes from all different sports creating a sort of Twitter sports network.

522,894 Followers Is Waaay Above Par

522,894 Followers Is Waaay Above Par

PGA fans may know Stewart Cink but he is hardly a household name in sports.  Still, Stewart has nearly 523,000 followers.   He provides rich, personal details of his golf life through nearly 1,000 tweets and his Twitter bio, right down to which brand of shafts he uses in his clubs.  Fans comment on the courses he plays and his club selection–they definitely notice.

The brands who recognize this new playing field, the ones who embrace it and use it to create even deeper relationships with athletes through it will win. Social networking will radically restructure who is chosen to endorse brands, how they endorse brands and how those endorsement deals will be structured.  Brands can use sports to reach their consumers in more relevant and efficient ways than ever before.  And the ones that do will win.

Last year Buick made the tough decision to end their long relationship with Tiger Woods because they could no longer afford him.  Maybe they should call Stewart Cink.  Actually, they should tweet him.

by Michael Chase, Element 79

Still Confused by Twitter? Think of It As Today’s CB Radio.

A lot of people don’t get Twitter.  Actually, that’s okay; you don’t have to get Twitter.  But in these turbulent times of rampant social networking and changing media environment, not getting Twitter can feel awkward and uncomfortable.  Since nearly a third of their demographic is 35-49, it might help to think of it this way: Twitter is the latest iteration of the CB radio, albeit with a far greater reach and diversity of messages.

#Beer In Texarkana with @Smokey @YouLikeMe and @Bandit

#Beer In Texarkana with @Smokey @YouLikeMe and @Bandit

Remember the mid to late ’70’s?  Remember those big-collared days of polyester, pornstar mustaches and a nascent musical style called disco?  Back then, a great portion of America suddenly got all caught up in CB radio.  The Citizen’s Band, made famous by Smokey and the Bandit and a string of other mid-to-low budget movies, basically amounted to a big regional multiparty telephone line.  To join the conversation, people had to learn some words of a new language, christen themselves with a short and preferably memorable name or  handle, and learn some basic rules of participation etiquette.  Sound familiar?  A related offshoot of this phenomenon was listening to scanners, most of them tuned to police and fire dispatch.  People who geeked on monitoring scanners learned about local emergencies first, long before it became general knowledge.

CB radio represented real time media long before marketing eggheads coined  the phrase ‘real time media.’  Twitter too, works in real time.  It is the platform of now; what people are thinking and doing and concerned about right now, this moment.  People on Twitter participate in a huge, ongoing conversation that’s searchable and easily customizable.  You can jump in and talk or hang back and use it like a scanner, monitoring individual reactions and responses to the issues of the day.

Should you be on Twitter?  That’s a personal decision based on what you might want to accomplish with it.  Twitter may be a ‘real time micro blogging media platform that aggregates the collective zeitgeist 140 characters at a time’ but it is also merely a tool.  You can use this tool in many different ways but you don’t have to use it at all.  Personally, I’ve long been fascinated by those little Dremel rotary tools: they seem so precise, so flexible, so perfect for any number of fine sculptural and woodworking projects.  But as cool as they are, I don’t need one so I never bought one.

Twitter is a tool anyone can pick up and use but before you make any serious investment in it, ask yourself: ‘what do I want to do with it?’

10-4, Good Buddy.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Have You Friended the Pope Yet?

'His Holiness' Would Make an Epic Twitter Handle

'His Holiness' Would Make an Epic Twitter Handle


As reported in various news channels before the recent Holiday weekend, the Vatican launched last Thursday to celebrate World Communications Day, or Inter Mirifica: an outcome of the Second Vatican Council.  This year, the Pope’s message directly addresses ‘the digital generation’ through a website, e-mail outreach, and yes, a Facebook app.  No, you won’t be able to poke the pontiff or learn what his Smurf name might be, but this action represents a conscious, if occasionally unwieldy, move by this ancient organization into social media. 

The Pope’s message invites young people to become instruments for peace and promote a culture of respect built on ‘great synergies of friendship.’  Beyond the dismaying fact that the Pope himself resorted to saying ‘synergies,’ this move by the Pontifical Council for Social Communications drills home just how quickly our media environment has evolved over the past five years.  Obviously, technology has changed, but that’s not nearly as remarkable as how human behavior has changed.  The Vatican’s decision to turn to the internet as a means of spreading church gospel shows a practical awareness of where their congregation lives, plays and exchanges ideas.  With this new site, Catholics can now interact in this rich dialogue environment with a limitless supply of e-cards and banners from the Pope.  They can also follow and forward news and updates on YouTube or through a new iPhone app.  

What marketers refer to as viral messaging is merely a 21st century update of missionary work: a central organization creates a strong message, then sends out true believers with an imprimatur to take that message and spread it to people in far off lands.  The big difference is that today, you can do that simply by pressing ‘send.’ 

As Clay Shirky explains in his engaging, imminently readable book “Here Comes Everybody” (You still haven’t read it?  C’mon…), we live in a time where communications technology makes it incredibly easy to organize without organizations.  Because of this, organizations need to think beyond their own walls and self interests to consider outside communities that might share their thinking, values or interests.  These communities are not officially sanctioned extensions of the organization, because they exist solely on the strength of their members’ passion; call them ‘intramural organizations.’

Every large organization with a message to market must become aware of their own ‘intramural organizations’ and find ways to foster and encourage them.  When done deftly, large organizations can extend their marketing almost exponentially because these intramural groups excel at driving recommendation and word of mouth. 

The best way to spread any message—religious or secular—is to define your brand’s mission, and spread that.  The Pope’s doing it, why aren’t you?

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Facebook: Members Only Jacket of the Early 21st Century?

Someone Dial Up The Fixx    

Someone Dial Up The Fixx

A friend of mine makes a very convincing case for why we may look back on the whole Facebook phenom as something on the order of  the early 21st century’s Members Only jacket.  At this moment, we are all caught up in the novelty—the constant status updates, the endless movie, music and cultural trivia quizzes, even the emerging etiquette debates around friending that drive daily life around Facebook. But one thing most adults agree upon is that it is a massive time suck.

And that ultimately, may be what causes this white hot trend to cool somewhat: at a certain point, the benefits of all this new light connectedness may no longer outweigh the investment it requires.  Or more probably, in a world with seemingly infinite opportunities for distraction, this particular one may lose it’s novelty.  My friend makes a reasonable point.

But one need Facebook seems uniquely suited to fulfill became extremely obvious yesterday.  The number of continual updates and comments surrounding the Inauguration was stunning.  Dozens of people around our agency left their pages up all morning, commenting and building and sharing on each new thought someone posted regarding this historical event.  People wanted to participate and Facebook provided an outlet for all that emotion, all that desire, all those hopes and dreams and wishes.

So even if Facebook does prove to be the Members Only jacket of the current moment, a number of us will probably drag it out again sometime down the road…like when we walk on Mars.  Or learn that someone we don’t really know did something that stirs our better selves and highest hopes for our species; you know, like landing an Airbus on the Hudson.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79