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Applying ‘The Long Tail’ to AmericanVETradio

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I do a lot of driving so I often listen to books in audible formats. When my college reading list included The Long Tail by Chris Anderson, I was happy to find a spoken version so I could listen to my book when reading its hard-copy companion was not possible. As I started listening to The Long Tail, I was intrigued by the first chapter’s opening story about how a book on mountain climbing, Touching the Void, became a hit long after its first printing. Its rise, a decade after it hit store shelves for the first time, came because Amazon readers posted positive reviews about this earlier book when they were rating a newer book with a similar theme. This word-of-mouth advertising revived Touching the Void to the point that it was outselling the younger book. Had it not been for the consumers’ ability to share such reviews, and Amazon’s ability to handle the sale of such an obscure title through its virtual selling platform, Touching the Void may never have been resurrected.

I considered the rise of online retailers like Amazon and iTunes through the lens of Anderson’s Long Tail concept. It is impossible to deny that online sales are leaping madly ahead and leaving other, less forward thinking retailers to shutter their storefronts. Take Borders for example. They were the only true bookstore in my hometown. I liked shopping there, but the company’s online sales structure was a mess. I despised it so much, I stopped shopping Borders Online because it couldn’t meet my needs. Eventually, the entire company fell apart for a variety of small reasons and one large one, which happens to be linked to online sales and social media. Here’s how former CEO Mike Edwards described it, as recounted in a story in Publishers Weekly. “Borders’ most critical strategic blunder, he [Edwards] suggested, was not taking the Internet seriously enough in its early days and initially outsourcing its online business to Amazon.com. ‘We just handed our customer base to Amazon,’ Edwards lamented. ‘The view was that people were going to be in the stores.’ ”

He went on to describe exactly what The Long Tail points out, that brick-and-mortar stores can’t compete equally with online retailers because consumers can use computers and smart phones to find the same or similar products more cheaply through the web. They can also find obscure or unusual products that physical retailers can’t possibly stock and still make the rent. Borders leadership also underestimated social media, which, according to our previous reading, Engage!, can be a death sentence for any company. Borders did not consider that consumers would talk to other consumers online about products and want to purchase more obscure, out of-the-ordinary products than any one store could possible supply easily. Their thoughts were still in the “we built it, they will come” pre-Web 2.0 era.

Before you call me a harbinger of death for the brick-and-mortar set, I’m not saying all physical stores are headed to bankruptcy just yet. On June 6, 2012, Nielsonwire released data about where shoppers like to make their purchases, “Shopper Sentiment: How Consumers Feel About Shopping In-Store, Online, and via Mobile.”

From “Shopper Sentiment: How Consumers Feel About Shopping In-Store, Online, and via Mobile.”

It seems that we still think that in-store purchases are the most reliable and safest ways to buy merchandise. I definitely fall into this demographic for some of the products I purchase. As a consumer, I like the tactile nature of shopping. And because I have very narrow feet, I will not buy shoes without trying them on. The same holds true for clothes. I’ll rarely buy pants or suits unless I try them on first because I want to know they’ll fit. For hard copy books, though, I almost always go straight to Amazon. I also shop at an online company called Audible once a month where I download–you guessed it–audible versions of books. I’ve had a monthly subscription there since sometime in the mid-90s. My husband thinks nothing of purchasing expensive items like digital cameras online when he wants to upgrade. He just makes sure he reviews the seller with others first and investigates the possible hidden costs like shipping and handling.

The Long Tail is more than just “why mom-and-pop physical storefronts are failing” though. It is also about some places that are able to make their way because of the niche service or products they provide. AmericanVETradio is this type of supplier, one that exists in the long tail. It caters to a niche market, Veterans and others like them who need a specific product, which, in this case, is information about Veterans benefits, services, etc. We are going to take the guidance that Engage! and The Long Tail offer about getting our name, AmericanVETradio, out there and getting experts to help us gain recognition in order to best serve our Veterans. They have to know where we are or we will exist only for our own benefit.

We’ll be looking at various social media platforms and blogging options over the next several months to help us improve our social media optimization. In the meantime, please stay tuned … and listen to AmericanVETradio!

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A Review of Engage!

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As part of my communications studies, I wanted to learn more about social and digital media. The first book we were assigned was Engage! by Brian Solis. Mr. Solis is considered one of the foremost experts on new media today so it makes sense to start with his book.

Summary: As a social media expert and evangelist, Solis makes a convincing argument that businesses that do not understand, use, and embrace social media will not be as successful as ones that do. Why, you might ask? Solis says it’s because people now have avenues to find and exchange information on their own. We don’t have to rely on what a company or organization pushes to us or the sites they try to persuade us into visiting. We contact friends, relatives, and others we think are experts, to give us opinions, ratings, and reviews. Therefore, organizations must understand whom they are trying to reach, what information they are trying to convey, and the social media tools we, the members of their audience, prefer to use for our information channels.

Engage! gives us the descriptions of the different social and digital media platforms that exist as well as how to effectively use them. The book goes into detail about how to choose the best platforms; how to optimize your content, sites, and tools to get the best results; and engage with your customers and potential customers.

Evaluation: As someone who is pretty uninitiated to the whole New Media realm (I have personal Facebook, Google+, and Twitter accounts and have recently gotten into Flickr), I found the book helpful and comprehensive, but a bit hard to follow at times. When you learn a new concept or way of doing something, you can feel like a linguistic outsider. I had to go back and reread some sections because Solis referred to concepts in later chapters that my mind hadn’t fully wrapped itself around yet on the first read. I also forgot what some acronyms stood for or what his new term meant. The Glossary and Index helped somewhat, but not for many of the acronyms.

This world of new media can also be overwhelming, as illustrated in this graphic that was used a marketing event for a company called Buddy Media.

For those of us not used to social media, this book, like the graphic above, initially made my head swim with all the new terms. It seemed like a completely different language. Like anything new, I’ll eventually “get” it, but it is going to take several trips back to the book before I feel comfortable incorporating much of what Solis advocates.

At times, I also felt like I was being preached at by an evangelist. I understand that social media is a new and necessary way of reaching our audiences. However, some of us have to take baby steps rather than jumping headlong into the deep end of pool. I had a client once who insisted he needed a blog to reach out to his employees and gather feedback from them. Against our recommendations, he got his blog. He posted to it and asked the employees to leave him feedback or ask questions. Being unfamiliar with this new way of interaction, they posted nothing, and he didn’t take it upon himself to write anything else for months. By leaving his blog idle, he lost all credibility.

Practical Application: For my client, Clark Taylor and AmericanVETradio, we have to start small. AmericanVETradio isn’t selling a standard product like a book or an airline trip; it is selling a service, an online radio network dedicated to bringing Veterans news and information in one easy, entertaining package. Clark’s goal is to provide information to American Veterans through a platform of online music and entertainment. Therefore, we‘re going to have to look at Solis’ Five Ws+H+E: Who, What, When, Where, How, and (particularly) To What Extent (Engage! pages 13-15) we want to engage with our audience. We need to understand which tools they are comfortable with that we can manage during our infancy. We want to ensure that what we start we will be able to sustain and build onto logically later.

Clark has talked about starting with a Twitter account and building from there. I think Twitter and Facebook might serve as the easiest and most fruitful paths to start down. With a Twitter feed, we can highlight stories coming up on the air and build a network of followers who can then retweet the updates to others. We can do similar posts on Facebook. I discovered another, somewhat similar, internet radio station, American Veterans Radio, which is slightly more than two years older than we are, but has only been on Facebook since last August. They don’t seem to have anything other than a Facebook account to support their station, and the site doesn’t seem to have a lot of interaction.

Since we won’t have credibility up front, we will be able to use Facebook and Twitter feeds from organizations such as the departments of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Defense who will own the information we will be using. For example, the Associated Press is hosting a Twitter chat with the VA on May 30 about Veteran benefits. VA, through its Twitter account, @DeptVetAffairs, is asking people to tweet questions using #APVetChat. AmericanVETradio could do a story about VA benefits and the chat, and then tell people to go to Twitter to tweet their questions. Our Twitter feed could also retweet the info for our followers. Once we have built a core group of followers and have established some credibility, I think we can move toward other new media such as blogs. It all starts with baby steps and confidence. Steve Radick, an innovator in government social media, wrote a blog called “Two Things You Need to be Successful When Using Social Media.” He says you need loads of self-confidence and extreme self-awareness. I think we’re working to develop both.

This Blog is Dedicated to Helping Veterans

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Welcome to AmericanVETnews, a companion blog to the AmericanVETradio internet station. The upfront disclaimer is that I started this blog as part of my graduate coursework. You can find out more about that in the About link.

In 2007, when I became a Veteran, I realized how challenging it could be to try to understand and partake of the benefits I was entitled to. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has more challenges than I want to get into here in this blog post. Suffice it to say that it can be incredibly difficult to navigate the VA system at times, even if it’s just information that you seek. If you have ever wandered around the VA website, you probably understand.

Clark Taylor also understands the information challenges Veterans have because he’s a Vietnam War Veteran and retired federal government employee. He started Soldiers Radio and Television (SRTV) in the early 1980s as a broadcast dissemination tool for the Army. This year, Clark is focusing his expertise on building an internet radio station just for Veterans, AmericanVETradio. At this writing, the station is in its infancy. I would love to help Clark make it as successful as SRTV.

Another disclaimer–I am one of Clark’s former SRTV Soldiers and success stories. I hope this blog helps me show him how much I appreciate his dedication to me when I was a young Soldier and allows me to help my fellow Veterans get the information they need.