Digital TV: Convert Now

By now you know the drill: broadcast television is switching from analog to digital signals. There are a few ways to keep receiving television of course: if you get cable or satellite nothing will change, but it you’re still using an antenna signal on an older television you’re going to need a DTV converter box. Fortunately you can get a U.S. Government issued coupon that covers most, if not all of the cost of these new set-top boxes before the transition on Friday June 12th, 2009.

While you probably know all about the Digital Televison transition, chances are you have family members or friends who still aren’t ready, even if they’ve already heard. So the Department of Commerce (partnering with the CEA) consulted with myself, as part of a group of American University students, to get the word out to young people so that we could help those we know prepare for the transition. Using a YouTube video contest, our objective was to strategically reach out to this audience so that they would be ready to help others get equipped in time before the transition. With our sights set on the original February 17th transition date, we were ready to use this contest to target these technology-connecting audiences.

Of course creating buzz with a YouTube contest takes more an announcement and a prize; although our partners had produced an original video and sent out press releases, the contest did not gain traction (or stand out from dozens of others competing on YouTube at any time). So my consulting group needed to do a little more: we created a social media presence for the contest on Facebook and used word-of-mouth marketing to engage potential entrants on YouTube.
We even wrote a script and shot a short video (watch above) mock-entry into the contest to show just how easy it could be to make a qualifying entry. These tactics helped to spur 12 contest entries, 5 videos of which were deemed finalists for the public to vote on the winning entry. More importantly the contest created discussions, both online and offline by contest participants and viewers, about the DTV transition within this target audience.

Ultimately it’s hard for any group to take credit among the myriad of messages supporting the switch, but I’d like to think our tactics contributed an outreach to a key public whose unique role might make the difference. Of course we’ll find out for sure on Friday June 12, 2009 just how many American’s television sets will be left in static.

June’s 7

Mr YogatoIn the month or so since my last update my life has become busier than ever as a full-time Intern and a part-time student. Perhaps therein lies the time-deprived unironic logic behind this month’s list of great ideas that have entered my life recently. A day late, a buck short, I’m writing this report…

Art: Artomatic. No curators, no judges, just open-source art. Unlike most art shows, this series is democratic ordeal more like a craft fair, stretched out for weeks on end of open submissions with fine art. Now in its 10th year, Artomatic uses over 9 floors of space in an unfinished office building which compromises the showroom and performance art venue for this show, which runs through the 5th of July in DC.

Commercial: Dirt Cheap. Those from Saint Louis know what’s up, but for the uninitiated this is a local advertisement for a chain of liquor and tobacco stores.  The ads have been running for at least the past 20 years, usually featuring the famous Dirt Cheap chicken suit and the trademark “Cheap cheap! Fun fun!” Sometimes the ads that stick in your mind the most can be the ones that seem the cheesiest.

Meme: Downfall. It’s not a new meme, but it has become one of the more enduring. (Here’s a Primer if you don’t know what I’m talking about). Like any good meme, Downfall continues to surprise me with the creativity applied to decidedly Shakespearean tragedy within real life.

Music: Pandora. As a 4+ year loyalist to it pains me to admit that I have been using Pandora lately. Without the benefit of the 19000 songs counted on the rival service, Pandora has done surprising work referring me to good music I would like. But mostly because I can use it in my browser at work.

Theme Party: Superhero. Grabbed a flier from a dude wearing a superman t-shirt in Williamsburg last Saturday. Besides a couple hundred people crammed into a warehouse with DJs, fire breathers, and a man on stilts, the main highlight were the great costumes by those who joined us. I played their Accountant, complete with a balance sheet and calculator. Perhaps not since Studio 54 has New York seen these costumed heroes.

Theory: Belief Formation. A belief is different from opinion, so a belief cannot be easily changed once it is set, unlike an attitude through communication. You need to be proactive in order to prevent an opinion about your reputation, responding to each negative criticism with at least 3 positive rebuts, from solidifying into a belief. Especially because we are more likely to believe the person pointing out our faults than the individual defending themselves, so it’s important to manage these risky discussions.

Word Game: Crossword Puzzles. Since I started work I’ve had the chance to play crosswords on my commute. Riding public transportation has put a free daily newspaper in my hands every morning, so I’m playing this game for the first time in years. So far enjoy the rock music references in The Onion’s crossword best, but I’m still trying the every day’s paper until I finally finish my first puzzle.

May’s 7

Picking up on my friend Gabe Bullard‘s tradition (in turn borrowed from the Thomas Crone), here’s a monthly list of 7 things I’m enjoying these days. There is no particular order to the list, just a chance to pass along some genuinely worthwhile ideas and trends that wouldn’t warrant a blog post otherwise

Blog: Dork Yearbook.  This is why Tumblr is great;  Like Mortified, only geekier.  I could probably submit my own pics here, except I didn’t have a computer until I was 9 years old.  Just because a good blog doesn’t fit into a professional website’s blogroll doesn’t mean it need remain my guilty pleasure.

Meme: #sillyhats .  It started out innocently enough when @laurenreid photoshopped a whimsical hat on top of @gbullard‘s profile pic.  At some point, we’re not sure when, it became a meme of sorts.  You’re more than welcome to join in of course, with the right hashtag.

Music: Cover songs.  All my favorite musicians are making cover songs (or having their songs covered). Nothing new there, except there seems to be a dearth lately, or at least I finally have taken an interest.  This started well before Beck/Sonic Youth’s split-single covering each other’s songs.  Why re-invent the wheel when you can acknowledge your influences directly.

Social Network: FourSquare. Before I moved to DC I couldn’t really use Dodgeball, now resurrected as FourSqaure.  So I was skeptical about the usefulness of the network, versus my beloved Brightkite. Something about the gaming aspect, earning badges like Mayor of local establishments, makes this incredibly addictive.  Try the iPhone app, connect with Twitter, and see you around town!

Theory: Social Marketing. Contrary to the online connotations of it’s name, social marketing does not describe social media marketing.  Applying marketing techniques to positively change behaviors that benefit the public good has impressed me with it’s results. And it’s not Plato’s Noble Lie.

Video: Let Me Twitter That. As if my obsession with all things Twitter weren’t enough, this Andy Milonakis video has become something like a theme song. The video itself is ironic, original, and full of in-jokes that Twitterati will recognize immediately.

Word Game: Scrabble. I never thought I’d give this Hasbro classic a try after the Scrabulous fallout. But now that I can play with friends on Facebook, and make plays on my iPhone, this game is hard to put away.


If you’ve been wondering what’s been keeping me from updating the blog lately, there need no be any mystery: this is the home stretch of final projects for school. Not the least of which is my masters degree Capstone Thesis paper.

Any one of these projects could warrant a blog post of it’s own, and I will be glad to share more about them after each is completed.  In a meantime, here’s a little insight into what a Graduate student in communications can accomplish.

  • Practicum: My team has been building a long-term strategic communications plan for Living Classrooms, a non-profit that serves communities in the DC-metro area with hands-on environmental education and workforce development; they call it “Learning By Doing”.  This group does amazing work with young people who live in underprivileged areas, but one of the drawbacks of their success is having so many diverse programs it is difficult for newsmedia to make a clear focused story about what it is they do exactly.
    One solution I have contributed, which fits the group’s communication strategy, is by making a Blog and Twitter for them to get the word out. I’ll cue you in on how we plan to help a non-profit grow as donors face a recession soon.
  • Management: We’ve been given a mock assignment in this class, responding to an RFP from the American Red Cross.  Our group has been designing a complete response, including plans for a multi-city festival and a localization model for more than 700 chapters of the Red Cross.  We’ll be competing with another group for the contract in an upcoming presentation, which I’ll try to share here.
  • Social Marketing: Diabetes is not “Your Grandparent’s disease” any longer; it increasingly impacts younger people.  I’ve conducted an environmental scan of the issue, and conducted original primary research through in-depth interviews with students.  From there we’ve designed a comprehensive social marketing campaign, that doesn’t just change attitudes but people’s behaviors as well.  I’ve already built a mock-up of the online network presence, which is key to our strategy.
  • Seminar/Capstone: My thesis involves original research of a scholarly nature, but with real-world application to the problem of energy conservation.  Although I am exploring an academic subject, exploring through case study and interviews how individuals are motivated to change their behaviors, I am writing it so that anyone can understand the issue.  Hopefully my research will help me build the soapbox I need to come out of my degree with specialization in opinion leaders, agenda setting, and marketing as they apply  to the salient public issues that brought me into PR.

I’ll be sure to tell you a little more about what I’ve learned… just as soon as I finish working through them of course.  Stay tuned.

Et cetera, Etc.

Here’s a few updates to previous posts, and some news on my professional life:

  • The Twitter Internship is soon to become simply An Internship.  Last week I was happy to join New Media Strategies as their intern, starting in May 2009. I’m looking forward to learning more about how they use new media tools, including Twitter where I got their attention to begin with, to participate in online communities where they promote and protect brands for their clients.  I think we’ll be a good fit together since we share the same inclination to try new online tools for ourselves so that we can understand any opportunities they offer for those we represent.
  • I have signed up for summer semester at American University.  The two last classes of my Graduate degree in Public Communication will be Crisis and Political Communications.  And since they take place in the evening, it shouldn’t be any trouble for my internship.
  • Rock the Vote, which I had previously applied for an internship, has begun to offer a fellowship program for young students like myself.  This largely self-defined fellowship encourages individual innovation using social media to reach young people and engage them in civics.  Although I probably will not be able to become part of their program because of my internship responsibilities, I hope to join their team and help out via Telecommuting over the course of their campaign.  Ask me or tweet Chris Kennedy for an invitation if you’re interested in joining the program.
  • To date I was able to raise $195 from 7 donors for People to People on Facebook.  Although this did not reach my goal, it surpassed my expectations, and has raised the bar for non-profits like PTP online.  I am proud of what I could contribute using these social media tools as an individual, and look forward to helping them in the future.

While some of these updates might warrant a post of their own, thanks for letting me be a little self-indulgent.  If you’re dying to keep up on the latest as it happens, why not join me on Twitter already? After all, it did help me get this internship, etc…

New Media, New Video

12for12: The 12 second Tweet on

Everyone already knows that putting a video on YouTube might be a good way to get the word out about your campaign. Of course it’s not very easy for yours to stand out, so it’s important to explore the new venues where your message could be seen and heard.

To be sure YouTube is still where it’s at: for most internet users it is the default site to visit when you’re looking for a video, making it the second most popular search engine behind their parent Google. But although YouTube is supported with the largest collection of video in the world, it is not well designed to support productions of high-quality content from the Entertainment industry; their video ubiquity does not equal market dominance in video forever.

Even as YouTube prepares to launch a new video platform for premium content (ie broadcasters and advertising), HULU has begun to establishing itself as a successful haven for broadcast programming and advertising on the internet. In a little over a year HULU has become the #2 video site (behind YouTube of course) with 34 million viewers in February, and is expected to earn at least $120 million in ad revenue for their operating partners – NBC and FOX. And while many platforms for online video have launched in the past few years, HULU is backed with a marketing budget of $50 million from their partners.
Continue reading New Media, New Video

American Forum

@acarvin and Katheryn Montgomery
@aCarvin and Katheryn Montgomery

Are Media Making Us Dumber?” The question may sound like an oxymoron in an age where information is instantly accessible, but ubiquity of human knowledge does not always equal individual understanding. So how are media changing the way we learn and communicate important ideas?

I went to an American Forum last night to hear different perspectives on the issue and try to get a few answers.  Although consensus was difficult to reach in this panel discussion between academics and communications professionals, I think everyone agreed that people read a website differently than a book or newspaper article. Continue reading American Forum

The Resume Website

a public, pay-per-use internet terminal

I knew it would help to build a website with my resume, but I didn’t realize how much.  Ever since publicly launching this site less than a month ago, I have been humbled by all the positive feedback from colleagues, classmates, prospective employers, and on social networks.

A few have even asked me to help build their own websites, although I haven’t decided how much to charge.  The truth is that almost anyone is able to build a website like this one. I had never learned how to buy a domain name, web hosting, or to set up the website until I tried it for myself.

I am a firm believer that blogs are capable websites for almost any purpose, so I devised my resume website as a WordPress blog (this part is free).  By hosting my own blog (not necessarily free) I needed to set up WordPress in their famous 5-minute installation.  This open-source software gives me the ability to customize by adding features and designs to my blog.  And since this is a blog, it doesn’t take any advanced knowledge of codes or programming to build it; making this website is as simple as writing with a word processor.

While I would be happy to make a few bucks helping my friends build nice looking websites, but I think they might learn some valuable skills by trying it for themselves.  At least a few of my friends have been doing just that on their own websites.   And until this site makes the first page of Google search results for my name, it’s going to take a lot more to make my own name stick out from all the other Matthew Hurst’s of the world.

Building this website has been an ongoing process, helping me to consider how it could be improved by incorporating feedback.  There is almost always a better way to do this work, so I really appreciate all the feedback so far, but I have trouble taking credit; after all it’s just another WordPress blog.

In Your Hand (an Internet)

You have seen them walking along the street with their heads down and their hands out in front of them, thumbs fidgeting on a handset that looks less like a phone and more like a mobile computer.  And you wonder what they see that could possibly be so interesting that they’re about to walk into a streetlight (or get mugged).

Although you can’t tell if they’re reading an important email or just texting their friends, there is an increasing chance they are reading a website.  In a Pew study of mobile phone use before 2008, at least 19% of Americans had already used a cellphone or PDA to access a website, and since then use of cellphones like the iPhone that can access web represent an increasing portion of any website’s visitors.   Because these devices use a smaller screen, and mobile websites might be loaded for different purposes, communicating on a mobile website is different.

Some differences seem more obvious than others: like most writing for websites, a mobile website should be succinct, with catchy hooks that make you want to click through and read the rest of the story.  Most mobile web browsers will only display around 50 to 75 words of legible text on screen at a time, so you’ll need to make the point quickly.  The screen itself promotes sites that are easy to navigate with narrow vertical scrolling, as opposed to the wide horizontal columns used on monitors for navigating most desktop web browsing.  And because people are using the web on the go, they are visiting sites for different reasons; one trend is location-based information services that take advantage of GPS and Google Maps (which should be the subject of another post on this blog of its own).

This website is specially configured for reading on mobile browsers, including the iPhone and Blackberry handhelds; simply visit the site on your mobile device and it should look a little different.  By utilizing a plugin to WordPress, you will be able to use most of the features in this site on your mobile device, including the latest blog posts, sending an me an email, leaving a comment, or just searching the site.  I would like to welcome any feedback you might have about my own mobile website, so that I can make adjustments for these rapidly changing communications tools.

The Twitter Internship?

Work ExperienceSure Twitter is great for getting feedback from your work and building relationships online, but what if Twitter actually helped generate work opportunities instead of just creating work for you? That is exactly the opening I discovered for myself, and all I had to do was make a comment on Twitter to find it.

In my search for a summer internship in DC, using Twitter has become indispensable for learning about the social media and PR firms I might apply to for work.  Not only does it help me understand those communications companies on the cutting edge, but the participatory nature of Twitter helped a company find me.  Before I knew it I had the inside-line on internships offered to me, even as no such positions are being publicly offered.

About 3 weeks ago I bookmarked the website for New Media Strategies, using a service which publicly shares my bookmarks through Twitter.  I was surprised when NMS, who must have been following public discussion of their company using Twitter (as they would for any of their clients), replied almost immediately to my update on Twitter directly.  I was impressed, and we started to follow each other on Twitter.

Almost a week later I had finished a short internship inquiry application, with the intent to discover any more job openings at NMS, but their website did not make it entirely clear where such applications might be sent.  So I sent another message on Twitter directed towards NMS, inquiring about where to send my application, which replied to me a name and email address of the right HR rep for social media.  Their employee was also polite enough to include their personal Twitter feed, giving me access to someone inside of their organization that could help keep track of my application.

After a few modifications to my resume and a new cover letter, I am happy to say my application has earned the attention of New Media Strategies.  I am definitely excited in learning more about this possible internship, although I am still seeking and applying for positions around DC.

To me the most revealing aspect of this whole development is how new communication tools, like Twitter, mirror the process of networking in real life.  While NMS took advantage of Twitter as a tool to monitor public opinion about their organization, it also gives individuals like myself powerful access to information that might otherwise have been achieved with a phone call or a fishing letter.

At the very least, the counselors at American University were impressed with the job offering I found outside of those being posted online.  Perhaps a little initiative and novelty in communication might help me stand out from the rest of the job market in my internship applications for this summer.

Public Communications, Online Marketing, and Social Media Strategy