And a child shall lead them

If I were an executive creator director, I would require everyone on my team to spend a day with children in a learning environment. Pre-teens are your future bosses and customers, and they’re already influencing purchasing decisions made in the home. Understanding how they learn and how they interact with technology can open your eyes and make you better at what you do. On April 26, a classroom of fourth graders showed me how their creative growth comes from “finding flow” (or immersing yourself in activities that make you lose sense of time), collaborating with others, and finding your lesser strength (or challenging yourself to get better at a skill that makes you uncomfortable). I blogged about my experience  on the iCrossing Great Finds blog. I hope you find a few moments to read what I learned and share your experiences, too. My Great Finds post is not the first time I’ve blogged about what kids have taught me. In 2008 on Superhype I discussed how kindergarteners taught me the importance of the journey and the power of pure joy. If you create anything for  living or for personal joy — and I’m guessing almost every Superhype reader does — find time to be with kids. Volunteer your time at a school. Find a local institution that involves kids performing community service. Even if you don’t particularly like being around kids — or perhaps especially if you dislike being around kids — I guarantee you’ll walk away with an insight. Embrace the uncomfortable and learn.

For more on the lessons that kids can teach adults, check out this TED Talk from Adora Svitak.

Coachella and the future of social TV

I experienced the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival from my living room along with tens of thousands of others around the world who tweeted, blogged, and otherwise hustled content about the annual music festival as artists ranging from Bon Iver to the resurrected Tupac Shakur lit up the California desert. My experience and others like mine suggest that social TV really means the social screen. And consumer participation in social TV can mean a lot more than TV viewers taking interactive pools and responding to trivia contests. Rather, advertisers should pay closer attention to our consumers’ roles as content hustlers.

So far, advertisers have associated social TV with viewers tweeting and Facebooking about the content they’re watching. But for me the real fun of Coachella occurred when I went beyond tweeting the predictable “OMG Tupac is back!” and started capturing high-resolution screen shots of the live stream and posted them on my Facebook wall and Twitter account in real time. I became a real-time Coachella photo essayist, entertaining night owls like Vanessa Franko, who included one of my screen grabs in her Coachella Storify:

Brands can join the fun easily in real time, too, sponsoring social participants as we report on major events from our living rooms (“This Coachella livestream sponsored by PepsiCo”). The big-name bloggers probably don’t need to co-brand with advertisers. But a savvy brand would do well to build a network of lesser known influencers who together can create a ripple effect, as the research of Duncan Watts suggests.

Content hustlers like me are happy to accommodate, as we share content from major events like Coachella and the Grammy Awards across our digital living rooms.

Lessons on creativity from the making of “L.A. Woman”

One of the landmark albums of rock and roll almost died in the recording studio. But today L.A. Woman endures as a lesson on how a change of scenery can unleash creativity. In December 1970, the Doors were floundering as they attempted to make L.A. Woman at Sunset Sound in Los Angeles. Lead singer Jim Morrison, lost in the grip of alcoholism, had run out of songs to write, and the band played so poorly that longstanding producer Paul Rothchild quit. So how did the Doors manage to create what is widely regarded as a rock masterpiece? As it turns out, the catalysts for change were the loss of their producer and a casual suggestion by Morrison to find another place to record.

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Madonna doesn’t need all your luvin’

Wow. Madonna’s critics really have their knives out this week. But she might end up having the last laugh.

As you might have heard, sales of her latest album, MDNA, suffered the biggest second-week drop in chart history.  Since the news broke, the highly regarded Lefsetz Letter has stated bluntly that Madonna has lost touch with her audience. Forbes contributor Roger Friedman blames Madonna for creating boring songs and not caring. The problem is that her naysayers are measuring the wrong metric. Especially for multi-media brands like Madonna, sales of compact discs don’t count for much anymore – and haven’t for about 10 years. The real action for the Madonnas, U2s, and Bruce Springsteens of the world comes from sales of tickets and merchandise. We won’t be able to assess the health of the Madonna brand until the sales results are known for her 2012 World Tour, which begins on May 29 in Israel and comes to North America on August 28. So far, reports of preliminary ticket sales have been largely positive, but it’s best to wait until actual revenues are reported.

Ironically, MDNA was engineered to realize a sales drop – certainly not to the magnitude that Madonna probably expected, but a drop was indeed part of the plan. As Billboard reported, “MDNA’s” large fall was expected, as its debut was bolstered by sales gained from a concert ticket/album promotion as well as pre-orders from iTunes.” In other words, the CD supports the tour, not the other way around — a strategy that makes perfect business sense for a well established act.

By the way, do you know who previously held the record for the biggest second-week sales drop in history?

Someone by the name of Lady Gaga for Born This Way.

Your employee, your advocate

Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler got it right. In their 2010 book Empowered, they argued the case for companies unleashing their employees as brand advocates especially through social media. (And they continue to discuss employee empowerment on their blog.) Progressive companies understand that building the corporate brand and investing in employee brands need not be mutually exclusive activities. Fortunately my employer iCrossing is one of those companies, as illustrated in two recently published blog posts about the value of employees as brand advocates.

In “How CMOs Can Empower Employees with Social Media Guidelines,” published April 4 on the iCrossing Great Finds blog, I discuss how social media guidelines can support, not restrict, employees as thought leaders and brand ambassadors. I cite the example of how iCrossing tripled the volume of employee blog contributions and boosted visits to our Great Finds blog by 74 percent in one year by helping employees find their social voices with guidelines (which we recently published). Our approach is to go beyond the predictable guideline do’s and don’ts and provide ideas for how employees can use social to speak to our audience of CMOs.

Meantime, in an April 6 Great Finds post, my colleague Nick Roshon asserts that “If Brands Are Publishers, Employees Are Authors” His post focuses on tools that brands and employees can employ to boost authorship authority (especially at a time when search engines like Google are increasingly rewarding content authority).

Nick asserts that CMOs need to “build up their employees as authors of thought leadership . . . Because Google and Bing are already rewarding content authors by making them more visible to search. As Google and Bing embrace technologies that reward the most prolific and authoritative content creators, CMOs that encourage employees to create thought leadership will build more visible and connected brands.

In other words: you can either ride a wave in the direction it is going or someone else will.

How do you empower your employees?